A Cleric in Ravenloft: Beyond Good and Evil

So last afternoon/night/early this morning I brought my Halfling Knowledge Cleric to a new group for a game of set in Ravenloft.  It was a damn good game.  I was not expecting it to go for about 11 hours.  I once had a game go far later than expected to about 2 in the morning.  But now I’m an old man and I need to caffeinate and eat appropriately to prep for such an endeavor.  So what advice and experiences can I bring to you from this game?

First things first, all props to the DM.  I haven’t been on the player side of the screen for a regular game in a long long damn time and players have it good good GOOD.  I am only thinking about how my characters exists in relation to the other characters and the world.  The DM is doing so much goddamn work I’m thinking, did I actually do this at some point?  Did I consider myself the #ForeverDM like some damn fool?  DMing is fucking hard and this guy did a great job for 11 fucking hours which is about 3 hours more consciousness than I was prepared to bring to this show.

Now I say that in order to grant myself enough cover to make some critiques.  For starters, we began this game at level 1.  I now have a few years of 5e experience under my belt.  I officially subscribe to the belief, best enunciated by Sly Flourish, that if you’ve played 5e before just start at level 3.  5E D&D starts to feel like D&D at level 3.  Level 1 is for the uninitiated.  But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?  As Mike Shea said, reaching level 2 in 5E should require “one giant vulture and a stern conversation.”  And level 3 should not require a whole lot more.  I think you should reach level 2 in about one hour and level 3 at the end of your first session.  Assuming that is a 4 hour session.

But what’s the point of complaining about that?  For me, I like the feeling of having more options than level 1 and 2 provide.  The real value in complaining though would be because level 1-2 5E characters are Fragile As Fuck.  One lucky hit is not only possible but likely to outright kill a 5E character from almost any monster.  And there were times when I felt like the group was very fucked.  This DM sent two large encounters with 7-10 zombies.  Now, knowledge cleric bread and butter is the Sacred Flame Cantrip.  It does 1d8 damage.  Zombies have 22 HP.  So I felt like my contribution was mediocre and control over my survival was  out of my hands.  That powerlessness was kind of stressful.  Yet we survived and it felt like we won by the slimmest of margins.  And that’s the feeling you want to deliver to your PCs.  You want them to feel genuinely challenged and this was it.  That last encounter though, either the DM fudged the roll or we got shit ass lucky because we were fighting 10 zombies and a dude.  Fortunately the zombies all died when we killed the dude but we were one round away from annihilation.

I enjoyed playing a cleric.  I have mixed feelings on having one clear combat option most turns, get to a safe place and use Sacred Flame.  I realize a part of this is the level.  The cleric gets a whole lot more tricks than say, the Champion Fighter.  During the second fight, I felt a bit of a sunk cost fallacy.  Zombies were attacking from two directions.  The map was very much like the main hall from Resident Evil.  The Blood Hunter ran off and got cornered by 3 zombies, he’s getting fucked.  The Bard and the Barbarian were holding off 5 or 6 zombies coming through another door.  The best strategy would be for us to group up.  But the blood hunter is fucked if he doesn’t get some help.

The Bard and I fell into this strategy where we were both buffing one of the melee characters who had much higher damage output.  Our support classes are the power gamer’s best friend.  I put a healing word on the blood hunter to keep him up, then cast Protection from Good and Evil to prevent the undead from touching him.  That wound up being more valuable than 1d4+4 HP.  That spell, Protection from Good and Evil, has to be one of the strongest, most game changing spells in the game.  If you know what you’re fighting, and in Ravenloft, you often do, it inflicts permanent disadvantage by one type of creatures against one opponent, no save required.  Ostensibly this is balanced by it being a concentration spell.  This is probably a “me” problem.  I have difficulty imagining the monster immediately making a beeline for the spellcaster if it was already targeting someone.  My tactics are kind of shit.

If the knowledge cleric was bracing and straightforward in combat, out of combat the road opens up a bit.  Because with a short rest after we leveled up to 2 I could gain proficiency in anything for ten minutes.  I usually used it on Persuasion checks because my scholarly cleric has a 9 in both strength and charisma.  Boy, negative modifiers kind of suck.  I know negative modifiers were more common in earlier editions because by custom people rolled 3d6 for their stats instead of point buy or 4d6-drop-the-low.  And I know some of the old D&D used percentile dice or nonweapon proficiencies I just don’t really know how those systems handled skills.  I have an impression that players had more input on their character’s skills rather than the process 4E began of static bonuses.  In 5E you’re either proficient or you’re not.  A good ability modifier can compensate for not being proficient and being proficient can compensate for a bad ability modifier at higher levels.  But the number of ways to get proficient or get a from a low modifier to a high modifier are very limited in 5E.

The “Guidance” spell is also something I grew to enjoy over the session.  Guidance is a concentration spell that gives +1d4 to an ability check if cast within one minute.  It became practice during our Curse of Strahd game for the player with Guidance to shout Guidance whenever someone began to make a skill check.  Being that I’m just joining this group it takes a dash of courage to interrupt and announce that intention.  Also, do people think it is weird to cast a spell in polite company if you’ve been chatting for more than a minute?

It was good times.  5 Stars would go again.