Monday, November 21, 2016

ArborDale Campaign III

The first adventure map
I am, in many ways, still creating adventures the way I did back in the day when I was first playing AD&D. After we had run Keep on the Borderland and Isle of Dread into the ground (yes, I know they aren't AD&D adventures, but I had the BX sets with the AD&D books, so ...) and started creating adventures on my own, my notebooks were crammed with graph paper maps, drawings, lists of encounters and campaign notes. I never realized I was keeping my first campaign journals back then, but that's essentially what they were. My daughter recently texted me list of digital campaign management tools when she last saw my scattered ream of loose-leaf sheets that were stuffed into my trusty portfolio, to whit:
But in my defense, I had just transported all of my ArborDale files into a nice three ring binder. Anywho, with that explanation you can perhaps appreciate my next two pics which show the initial notes for this first leg of the journey.


Everyone's DMing style and adventure/campaign writing style is different; and I don't always use the style captured above, as I also have reams of type-written documents detailing other portions of the campaign and region around ArborDale. However, the time and space I have for campaign creation is often limited, and my handy-dandy yellow pad I carry everywhere often ends up being the go-to for notes and ideas when I have a few minutes to write them down. And with my DMing style, less is more as I improvise and create around a mental picture or idea in my head which the notes alone do not often capture.

Sadly, this work is often not captured after the fact. And a set of one or two hand scrawled notes as pictured above do not capture the details and color of an actual session. This can make sharing such work difficult at best. Despite many efforts over the years I have not transformed my better adventures and campaigns from notes, to rough draft to final draft to finished draft, to edited copy to polished publication worthy material. That my friends is still a far off dream.

With that being said allow me now to list the basic adventure outline up to the groups arrival at Broken Finger.

I: Request from Friar Briar
   A. Fester as Guide
   B. Findalyn as Healer
II: Cypress Ferry
   A. Fairy Offerings
   B. Nahongunonalolla
   C. Path to the Bauble
III. The Lair of Nylyssa
   A. The Ward against Agilgrim
IV. The Witch & the Wagon
   A. The Remedies
   B. The Dead
   C. TimeSlip
V. Crossing the EverRun
   A. The giant beaver
VI. Blood Donation: The Stirges
VII. The Dark Watchman: Wolf Pack
VIII. The Hunt: The Giant Boar
IX. Cries in the Night: Water Baby
X. Things that Crawl in the Dark: Giant Centipedes
   A. Lair of the first attempt
   B. A conspiracy is detected aka "Something's rotten in ArborDale"
XI. The Blood Swamp
XII. Approaching Broken Finger

The actual unfolding of the encounters listed above were colorful and successful. But as you may already be able to tell, the notes themselves do not do justice to the actual play sessions. This I will detail next time as a complete narrative. I'll discuss why I think it was successful and begin to foreshadow why I thought the next section, much more thoroughly detailed was not nearly as well run as the first. As we progress through the campaign thus far I'll also explain why I decided to run an actual out of the box module from AD&D and why I was not wholly pleased with it either. Then I'll be prepared to give my overall impressions of why 5e isn't really an "old school" game in the classic sense, but why that's okay and what it might mean for other grognards like myself who are trying to live in the ebst of both worlds--something 5e itself tried to achieve. Lastly, I'll explain how all of this has changed my design trajectory and future plans for the campaign and my D&D play for now.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

ArborDale Campaign II

Some time ago I mentioned the new 5e campaign I'm running, which was designed as sort of me foray into what might be called "old school" 5e. Another time I'll wax philosophical about why 5e really isn't a game to be played "old school", but for now I wanted to follow up on a request to post some of the initial encounters of the adventure, and my attempts to play the game with a "classical" element woven in. So I'll be publishing some of my homemade maps and notes to give you an idea of what I threw together as well as how play went through each phase of the campaign.

First, you may or may not recall, I'm playing with my two older teenage daughter and son, my ten year old daughter and a family friend in his mid twenties. We play each Sunday afternoon for about a three to four hour session at the kitchen table. All players have played before except our family friend, who is now of course hooked for life on D&D, and gaming generally. The campaign started with a fifth player, teenage nephew, but he lives in California, so can only join us When he's visiting. The roster of characters were:

Rogar, Dragonborn Ranger from the Western Outlands.




Calie a female Tiefling Monk struggling to bring her chaotic urges under control






Bones SkullSplitter, the Dwarven fighter

Kiedis the half-org bard who made his way through life compensating for his looks and parentage by way of entertainment and storytelling








And, Adrya the half elven Sorceress of Copper Dragon bloodline


Arbor Dale

Before we can get quite underway, we have to step back a bit and frame the campaign against its backdrop. In fact, an understanding of the realms round about is critical to the overarching direction of the campaign as a whole. And the immediate backdrop is the Kingdom of ArborDale.

The Idyllic and romantic gem of the outer provinces is the small but legendary kingdom of ArborDale. The Legends say ArborDale was blessed by the goodwill of the Gods and tended by the Druids, like a garden of solace from the world. The actual city of ArborDale hosts legendary Castle ArborDale and is presided over by the beneficent Fawn King and his beautiful Queen Serienne. The most noteworthy natural feature in ArborDale is the vast and kingly Oakwood roughly divided into the Upper and Lower Oakwood separated by the wide blue EverRun River. The Amber Wood embraces the kingdom’s eastern borders, filled with the beautiful amber trees, their golden green leaves making the large wood glisten like a jewel of Amber. The Amberwood is said to be the home of the Golden Dragon Hedrimyr in legend, and is tended by his followers, the golden skin Dawn Elves though none of seen such a creature, let alone the legendary wyrm itself.

To the south lie the cooler and wet lands of The Bogs. A vast swampy area, more like a sprawling shallow lake filled with ancient Cypress trees. These massive trees fill the northern portion of the area and the give the name Featherwood to that region, a token to the feathery like needles of those giant trees. Further south yet, the Feather Wood gives way to the WetWood, aptly named for its almost constant presence of dark green waters that carpet the forest floor. Drapery Moss hangs heavy throughout the forest here and though the sight is one of striking if strange beauty, weird and fell creatures are said to make their homes here. The Cat River and its thousand tributaries feed this huge area and is home to the legendary giant CatFish that some brave fisherman hunt for a living.

In the heart of the Dale hidden within these forested regions as if by an arbor lies the city of ArborDale. More like a large town, ArborDale boasts almost 20,000 citizens if the surrounding farms and landholdings are included in the population count. Mostly forest folk, lumbermen, foresters, farmers, hunters, and fishermen the Dale is a rich and bountiful area. Though over 90% human some  2,000 or so demi-humans make their homes here as well. The majority are halflings that live in the rolling plains to the northeast of ArborDale along the HighRoad Shires.
My first sketch of ArborDale, long before the Campaign came together
Now, what the characters don't know alot about is the more ancient history of the times before ArborDale. Most of the citizens of the Kingdom of Arbor Dale doesn't know the long ago histories as anything more than fairy tale legends, more distant than the fanciful tales of Herimyr the Golden Dragon of the East, or the Silver-Maned Unicorn said to be protector of the great Western OakWood. The Kingdom of ArborDale is one of the western-most kingdoms of what are commonly called The Outlands. 

The Outland Kingdoms are what remains from the frontier of a great Empire that defined the height of human civilization long ago. The Empire long ago fell apart and several kingdoms arose in its stead. The Empire had established a peace and prosperity that had not existed previously in these once wild regions at the borders of civilization and so these lands now had enough stability and peace to arise and establish themselves in the wake of the waning Empire. The originally benign Emperor had established an extensive chivalric court, an extensive network of monasteries that in turn established a collegiate system for the education of the masses and generally raised the literacy and wealth of the common folk as well as allow for the development of a thriving middle class.

A subsequent sketch roughing in the Outland Kingdoms
Upon this structure and order rose the basis of many subsequent kingdoms, the focus on our campaign being the Outland Kingdoms and specifically ArborDale. Most of the above ancient history (circa 500 years before present) is remembered as the Golden Age, and the Empire as the Golden Empire or at times the Eastern Empire. It is thought to be a time of great political, philosophical, religious and magical wonders and advancement. Most of what is good, noble and worthy of trying to achieve again is, in the Outland Kingdoms, generally seen reflected in the long ago history of the Golden Age of Empire. It was a time seen when the Gods routinely talked to their priests and priestesses directly guiding the path of the world's history; a time when the ArchMages walked the earth, immortal, cosmically powerful and almost Gods themselves. The truth of the matter is lost to the knowledge of men, and the little sage historians know seems to tell a far stranger tale.

But these tales live far in the past. As does the dim, dark memory of a sinister figure called The Skull King, Prophet of Death. History has done much to obscure the tale, but the Skull King is rumored to have been a rebel prince who broke from the Empire, pursuing dark magics to attempt to kill the Emporer and overthrow the Empire. His evil was seen to be so great and deep that he did not desire to simply take over the Empire, but abolish it utterly. The legends speak of a Champion of the Emperor, some say the Emperor himself, who faced and defeated the Necromancer, chasing him deep into the belly of the World and through it to other worlds and dimensions of Time. The myths, for they are seen as such by many, and some say the Skull King was a long ago fallen God of Evil conquered by the Golden Light of the Empire, and a metaphor for men to conquer the evil in themselves in order to bring about the Golden Age again. 

Just how these ancient tales fit into our day and the current Campaign of ArborDale remains a mystery to our characters and most within the current story-arch. As are lands beyond ArborDale, which I continue to detail, but do not pertain directly to the current campaign.
The adventure map of ArborDale
To keep these entries manageable, I'll detail the encounter areas and adventure hook along with initial NPCs next time. This first part of the adventure went quite well, something I can't say for the second leg. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

O.K. Paizo May be Getting Some of My Money Again Soon

Paizo's Starfinder RPG
I'll admit right up front, my experience with science fiction gaming is limited to a few games of Traveler, a little more Star Frontiers, one foray into Shadowrun, creating characters in Space Opera and after that, mostly Gamma World. This is despite being an avid Star Trek fan in all its incarnations, a lover of Star Wars, Babylon 5, BattleStar Galactica, Dr. Who, Firefly, Stargate SG1, Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Asimov, Bradbury, Poul, Bova, and well ... you get the idea. Why I could never get a long term Sci Fi game going with my gaming buddies is a mystery to me, since we all loved Sci Fi and spent as much time arguing about that as we did D&D.

Then the other day I ran across the ad for Paizo's Starfinder Sci Fi RPG and my heart skipped a beat. Just like when I saw all those other Sci Fi games I mentioned sitting on the game store shelf all those years ago. Would this be the one? Could this game recreate for me the kinds of adventures Kirk, Spock and Bones had on my little black and white TV all those years ago? Would this be my gateway into world spanning rebel alliances? I envisioned all the colorful scenarios I could play out with my own kiddos who consumed Clone Wars episodes as fast as they came out, and could quote Dr. Who dialogue and dressed up as Enterprise red shirts for halloween? Certainly they would be as excited as I felt when I saw this new Paizo offering.

So, to summarize what we know so far: As Charlie Hall's Polygon article states, the game seeks to capture a swords and planets type of space fantasy ethos. And goes one to describe the setting as one in which magic coexists to some degree or other beside technology. The Starfinder universe is also the universe of Golarion, except that Golarion has gone missing and the entire known population of the Universe has amnesia about its past and their current trajectories. Shades of SyFy series Dark Matter?
Dark Matter
Well, probably to some degree, only on a much larger scale ... intriguing? Evidently trhe "Starfinders" are those amnesiac inhabitants of Golarion who make up the heroes of the StarFinder Universe. They are called Starfinders because they are out to "find" in the stars, the answers to the mysterious roots of their past, and the still unknown destiny of their futures. And then there is the novel idea of hyperlight travel through what is evidently called The Drift in StarFinder. Not sure of the details, but the idea of hyperlight travel ripping off huge swaths of Heaven or Hell and adding it to the Drift is enough to make my spec fic heart go flutter!
Space Demon by Pumpkin Pie 92
If you were to press me for my favorite sci fi series of all time, it would be a difficult choice. I am a Star Trek fanboy through and through, but if I could only have one, and one only. I might choose Babylon 5. And what do we hear about StarFinder's main "city" Absalom? Well, here I quote directly from the article itself, "It's a kind of a Babylon 5-style place," Sutter said. "You could play an entire campaign there and never leave Absolom Station, if you wanted to." Well, if you had just gone out and made the perfect Sci Fi game for me it would look an awfully lot like Starfinder is starting to look.

New races are planned as well, so the game is not just a mashup of Pathfinder and Sci Fi. Androids are present as are the ever required and iconic space battles. This is where I hold out hope and am inspired by their design goals. The basic concepts the designers sketch out in the article point out that combat will be based on the highly successful Battletech system, though I'm unsure how much they can even say that. I thought BT was sold by Wizards some time back, but I suppose the basic idea is fairly universal. But the danger of course is to not lose focus on the roleplaying aspect of the game. Here Paizo says the aim is to keep each role in combat important and actively involved in space battles. It's a tall order, but I'm hopeful for them.

At any rate, I'm excited and whether or not a get a long term game up and running, Paizo is likely to get another couple hundred bucks from me within the next year. And that my friends is not a bad thing in this case.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Being Magnanimous as a Gamer

http://wocado.com/wp-content/uploads/wocado_word0106_A.jpg

Okay, this entry is going to be a sort of fan-boy geek-out essay, so if you don't like that sort of thing, you just might want to go sit in a corner and suck on some persimmons. But one of the most valuable lessons I have been taught over the past decade in my gaming career has been from my current living gaming hero: Jolly Blackburn. He probably would be thoroughly embarrassed by the following ode, but because I think he stands as a shining example of what it means to be magnanimous in a hobby that has more than its share of grognards and grumbling grannies he deserve this nonetheless.

Now, the thing is, I count myself as one of those erstwhile grognards of the more irritatingly vocal type. Hell, my entire blog has been a tribute to critiquing the current wave of gaming as a nostalgic clarion for the preservation of the gaming past. And I have not always been magnanimous in my efforts. Thus Jolly and his character and personality have served as a good example for me to more carefully consider my words about gaming and how they might make others feel; and more importantly how they might negatively effect the hobby as a whole.

Jolly's example, however, is less about pontificating this fact than living the life of what I would consider a gamer who lives by and honors the old guard while eagerly and openly embracing the new media, movies, books, games and talent that serves the industry we love so much. In other words Jolly is old school. About as old school as it gets. But Jolly is also on the cutting edge, enjoying, celebrating and reveling in all the new talent and creativity that is serving the speculative fiction industry has to offer. So in him I have a role model that I can identify with as having come from the same old school roots as myself -- AD&D 1e and 2e, while boldly championing the evolution of gaming and its offshoots in all directions.

When I first came to KODT, and later Hackmaster--my preferred in-print game--Jolly struck a chord with me because he was so clearly steeped in an old school ethos. However, one cannot read KODT or the current iteration of Hackmaster and not appreciate how he and his fellow designers at KenzerCo also are keenly aware of and sensitive to the new wave of gaming as well. I know Jolly gets a lot of the lime-light in regards to Hackmaster and KODT, but he is quite clear that Dave Kenzer, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansen and his wife Barbara and others deserve much of the credit, power and creativity behind both products. Another sign of his magnanimity; and, I'm sure, of his much more public profile in social media circles. Jolly is immanently approachable in that sense.

In addition, having listened to numerous podcast interviews and video segments, Jolly is always self deprecating, humble, and refuses to be drawn into edition wars and criticism of other companies, other games, and especially other designers. He is just a nice guy. I have also watched as he interacts and listens to others on his Facebook page, on KCo's, now somewhat quieter, forums, and other outlets where he is willing to engage old friends and new comers alike with the same open, honest and welcoming attitude that endears him to so many. In this way, and I am not sure he has simply taken this role because he is a natural at it, if he really likes it, or he drew the short straw at KCo, Jolly has become the "face" of KCo to the public. When one thinks of Hackmaster and KODT, one cannot help but have Jolly spring to mind. Though I know the other designers are as every bit as involved as he is. And this in no way is meant to steal any of their thunder, skill or importance as I have watched interviews with them and video snippets of their play as a group as well. I also greatly admire Dave Kenzer for different reasons, but this post is meant to communicate how inspiring and important it is to be magnanimous as a gamer in today's world. I hold Jolly in that esteem.

And while we're on the subject of Jolly, if there's anyone who knows gamers, gaming culture, tropes or gaming psychology any better they are certainly not making it known like Jolly and the KODT crew. I simply can't communicate how important KODT is to me. I'm not going to say it's more important than gaming, but KODT has kept me going when there has been no gaming in my life. In a world where my gaming past seems to hold itself up as a golden age that cannot be reclaimed, KODT is there for me, like a breath of rarefied air of an age of gaming that, to me, represents the Camelot of the gaming world. It makes me laugh, smile, nod knowingly and hang on every cursed cliff-hanger each issue. I don't know how Jolly does it, but he captures something for me that is the very essence of gaming. Something rooted not altogether in the games, but the gestalt of the games, and the unique and priceless gaming community of which we are all a part. My hat goes off to him, my heart goes out to him and I pray the magic never ends.

But Jolly's magnanimity doesn't just end at gaming. I have seen him be a proud champion of movies, books, TV series and the like which sometimes get too much negative press and add a bit of positivity, humor, practicality and support. The most recent Ghostbusters re-make was a prime example. Before it was even out, fan-boy haters were griping because it wasn't the original cast, it wasn't funny enough, they were all women, and one actress in particular singled out for being "wrong" in even more ways. The fact is, many of the critical comments were misogynistic, racist and just plain bull-headed. But Jolly not only defended the film as a reaction to those prejudicial negativities, he championed the film to give it a chance. And he did. And he was in a camp of numerous distinguished critics who also found the film funny and engaging. Was it different from the original, yes. But a good film re-make or update does not have to be a copy of the original in tone or detail. I'm a fan of the new ST movies. I don't quite like it as much as TOS or TNG, but I did enjoy them. And by all critical accounts the second was worse than the first but I liked it better! I think, and this is just my take, that magnanimity requires that we extend to new efforts in speculative fiction of all types, games, and entertainment that caters to what could be called the nerd-geek-gamer culture a benefit of the doubt and a fresh open mind and perspective. The fact is we live in a world awash in superhero/heroine movies, Sci Fi, games, tabletop and video, and even comics are seeing a resurgence, or at least coming back. We should rejoice that what started long ago with Tolkien, Stan Lee, R.E. Howard, Carter, Lovecraft, and yes Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson has become the de facto entertainment industry of the world. It is a good time to be a gamer. And if we become too bitter, critical beyond reason, or just plain nasty we not only hurt people, we hurt the industry and ultimately ourselves. I think Jolly does a good job of modelling how to be a positive force in teh gaming world.

So, is my reason for posting this just to point out how awesome Jolly is? Well, maybe a little. But truthfully the reason for this post is that I'm sharing a bit of a vision for myself and my blog. What I would hope to do is be excited about all gaming, all facets of it. D&D has spawned so much of the current interest in and products of the current spec-fic craze. It is not alone of course, Comics, literature, and film all synergistically work towards the present day. I hope to do so with graciousness, with serious discussion, with humor and with magnanimity. I say we sit back and enjoy it some. As my brother said, it is a good time to be gamer. Let's all complain less and be a little more magnanimous. I'm certainly going to try.

~Important end-note: The above post in no way represents the opinion of the owners of this blog or the gamers it represents. That one "weak-kneed", mamby-pamby, pansy dice caresser can't buck up and own what real gaming is, and denounce the rest is not our problem. Sure he may deserve some kudos for being all soft and friendly with those imitators and wannabes that are gaming diceless and playing inferior systems, but we certainly know where the truth lies. And, if he really is such a devoted fan of KODT, as he claims to be, then he would realize the magazine itself makes known in no uncertain terms that anyone who is out there suffering through Pathgrinder, wasting their time behind a screen playing World of Hackcraft, or challenging other gamers to tournament sessions of DAWG the roleplaying game should cash in their dice bag and go take up shuffleboard. Respectable gamers everywhere have a duty to be the gatekeepers of quality and true old school gaming ethos in film, in literature and at the gaming table. And we all know what that means--if you don't play Hackmaster, you're not gaming. And if you aren't using officially licensed product, your not playing it right. We are sure this Jolly fellow is a nice guy in as far as that goes, but don't let yourself get all fuzzy over some guy who can't tell the difference between diceless roleplaying and superior Hard Eight products. And yeah, the new Ghostbusters wasn't all that bad, but H8's upcoming SpookHackers the RPG will give you a much closer experience to the original, classics films. 

-- The management


The Man Himself
https://atroll.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/jollyblackburn.jpg

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

D&D 5e Review (ArborDale I)


So, my kids bought me the books for 5e for Christmas! Pretty cool since they are pricey and I would have eventually bought them anyway. I had played 5e during the playtest a couple of times and was not unimpressed by it's ability to play quickly, with little to bog down in the way of mechanics. The action in a 5e game stays pretty rapidly paced. I was not overly fond of the power level difference between monsters and players but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Well, since the kids bought them I decided we would try and play the game in a campaign instead of our old Castles & Crusades standby. I thought, since we are now about seven or so sessions into a campaign of sorts, I would review the game in the same manner I did Hackmaster when we gave it a whirl about a year ago or so.

So without further ado, and in the same style as my last review here is my ratings for the new and re-tooled iteration of D&D.


Overall Impressions
So I use a four star system from * (1) to **** (4) Stars to rate the game where one star is the lowest rating and four stars is the highest. I broke my analysis into a total of 5 areas. My opinions for ratings were as follows:
Ease of Play: ***
Speed of Play: ****
Realism: ***
Fun: ****
Old School Sensibility: ***

It is important to know that the current age of gamers in this group is 24, never gamed before, 16, 15, 14 and 11 have all gamed several times, with myself as GM. This has undoubtedly affected my feeling of the game and general gameplay.

Introduction
We have been playing a relatively straightforward homebrewed mega-dungeon set in the kingdom of ArborDale. The PCs were enlisted by a local friar to investigate some mysterious lights that had begun appearing on the top of a distant volcanic monadnock called The Broken Finger by the local populace, The rumors were that it was haunted, but those long circulated ghost tales had remained unsubstantiated for as long as anyone could recall. However, with the appearance of the strange nighttime lights the local peasantry were becoming concerned and pressing the Friar to do something to allay their growing fears. The Friar, however, upon some investigation over the past month has become increasingly troubled that there might be something even more sinister than a distant haunting afoot, though he has kept the particulars from our innocent PCs. The PCs include, a Tiefling Monk named Calei, devotee of the Goddess of Dance and practitioner of a rare dance-like martial art form. She had been raised by "dark fairies" as a child and so has a chaotic streak which causes her no end of troubles in her studies in the monastery. There is also a Silver lineaged Dragonborn Ranger from the distant ruined forests of The Broken Lands to the West. The outlands are a mystery to most as they lie beyond the border kingdoms of which Arbor Dale is one. Rhogar the Outland Ranger, has undead as a favored foe and tells of the forests of Broken Lands being rife with the remains of the living from the long ago Time of the Dead. He, now at third level, travels with a ghost-like White Wolf as a companion. The Dwarven Fighter Bones McGreedy, is a grumpy sort with an grumpy battle-axe to match often itching for an argument the two of them. Bones, due perhaps to his irascibility, has made fast companions with the party's guide obese and overly sweaty Uncle Fester the Donkey Husband. Bones has lent Fester his hand-axe, as Fester has become a less than willing companion since the party endured capture by hobgoblin/cultist slavers and he was forced into the heart of adventure. Magic power is supplied by the party's sorceress, an Elven Outcast named Adryha. She, for reasons unknown even to herself, was cast out of Elven society and raised herself in the company of wild beasts. Whether through her own resourcefulness and inner need or from birthright she began to manifest strange powers which aided her in her survival and yet also nearly spelled her doom. She was rescued in her young Elven teen years by the spirit of a Blue Dragon that resided in an ancient set of ruins deep in the wilderness that had become her home. This ancient spirit sensed in her some level of kinship with the dragonkind and thus tutored her in the ways of mastering her inner power and leading her into successful sorcerership as well as the other necessitites of culture such as her oen Elven tongue as well as draconic and common. She has grown suprirsingly close to Kiedis, the half-orc rapier wielding lute strumming bard, as she has no real prejudices against orc-bloods having been raised alone and away from her kind.
This party of adventurers have passed through a two session wilderness romp followed by an infiltration into the ancient ruins atop the Broken Finger. They have since escaped from the capture of the cultists and humanoid forces within the ruins and fled to the lower level of the finger. Having explored most of that level they finally met the visage of the First Necromancer Nividian whose, ancient spell-trapped visage has sent them to be imprisoned in a distant pocket dimension called Averoignne from which they are now questing their way back.

Ease of Play
5e runs quickly. I will admit to stumbling some as I learn the rules, and still feel as if I am acquiring facility with the rules. There are some rules I am not overly fond of, but they do not inhibit play, and the system is not at all clunky or awkward. Once grasped most rules can be adjudicated quickly and fairly to the satisfaction of all concerned. I would rate the game moderately difficult for new players, and not difficult for players with an experienced GM. Character design can be somewhat challenging the first time, but is not overly complex. I would say new players can be up and running inside of 45 minutes and perhaps as little as 30. With guidance new players can create a PC in 15 minutes, just as can experienced players who need to roll up a new PC. And using the shortcuts--if you know where and what they are for quickbuilds can ensure than 15 minute max in most cases. Oh, and by the way I am talking about the full rules, not the basic rules, which, due to less options can go a little more quickly.

Speed of Play
Actual play in 5e is as quick as any game I've played in the D&D line. I suppose there are some rules hitches that might slow down things if you're not used to how the work, but that is not the fault of the game as it is a learning curve. And even then they only slow it down due to the time it takes to look them up or learn how they work. I wouldn't put it on par with a streamlined version of basic rules such as BFRPG or LoTFP or LL, but it is awfully close. And the added rules of 5e give some flavor that those games don't possess. Most combat sessions run under 15 minutes,

Realism
Not particularly designed to be realistic, 5e does classic high fantasy rather well. It would do better if it toned down the player power levels, but then it would potentially lose some of its appeal and fun for characters who like that. But this power level, though not "realistic" in the sense of more medieval and less fantasy doesn't aim for realism per se. However, a greater equality between mosnters and players might aide the verisimilitude. The area I am perhaps most concerned about is the healing rates and ratios which are based on the assumption of abstract hit points, but to allow full healing each night is in no way realistic, especially when a PC has dropped to zero HP. I understand the lesser renewal of HD for healing kind of gets a the fact that players are "wearing down" as they go--but that represents fatigue better than it does wounds with claws, bites and weapons. This is of course where the gritty rules come in. I haven't incorporated them yet as I don't like any of them perfectly well, and we are just getting used to the game as written right now. But this is the one rule I will likely play with as we go forward. The realism in 5e is sacrificed some for player survivability and speed of play. Not necessarily a bad thing, and not too noticeable in play except for my angst over healing and power levels.

Fun
This is a fun game. I have enjoyed it more than 3.5, 4e or Pathfinder. I would rank it behind 2e for me in terms of preference, upon which I don't think it improves but certainly comes closer than recent iterations have. The game is liked by many players because players have a high survivability and a fair degree of power at lower levels. I haven't played high levels yet, as we are now level 3. We also have yet to have a player death. We've come close, but none so far.

Classic Sensibility
As mentioned above 5e does a better job than recent version at emulating a more classic style of play. I would like to see death saving throws done away with and healing made a tad more realistic. I would also like to see player power level stepped down especially at lower levels. These are not deal breakers, by any means and for what it does 5e is quite nice to play. I am currently testing a favorite old school module in 5e land and we'll see how that goes and plays compared to our play to date. That might give a nice comparison as well as insight into how old school resources play and how much "conversion" is required. Though technically not a part of my review there are opinions a plenty that support the idea that 5e has hit a sweet spot for many gamers and I applaud WoTC and the design team for achieving their goal of bringing people back into the fold and not losing many new converts in the process. Moreover, society seems more aware than ever of those two little letters Dave and Gary first touted so long ago: D&D.