So far so good. You get a sense that there is definitely a vibrant and large city here to work with. I like city games, they’re tough to run but they can be very fun. I’m not crazy about the breadcrumbs trail thing where each bar/shop we go to has someone we ask about the next clue but I’m having too much fun to care.
One weird thing is how ever-present The Law is. Our party is reminded that the City Watch is on its way to the Yawning Portal. We walk past a crime scene and the Watch tells us not to get involved. Every NPC reminds us about the law in the city. The adventure must be telling the DM to do this. I’m guessing because this is the first adventure really set in a population center for an extended period of time. The Laws and Punishment section of the Port Nyanzaru description is basically nothing. Other adventures have towns and cities but you’re not there very long, they’re not where the adventure is, and many are ruled by the evil aligned NPCs. I kind of want to tell The Watch, “sorry I guess I’ll go back to the tavern and work on my novel.” I can appreciate the realism of it, but this is the first adventure I can recall that features being hassled by The Man.
The omnipresent law is juxtaposed against a gang fight between the Xanathar and Zhentarim. That seems to be something we’re getting involved in but the NPCs are all very furtive and don’t want to volunteer information. Then the cops tell us to not get involved. Being Lawful Neutral my inclination is to believe them and not argue. I can’t tell if we’re supposed to push back against this or listen because our party is leaning towards The Cassalanters as “The Villain” for this playthrough of Dragon Heist. Word to the wise, if the Gang NPCs and the Cop NPCs keep telling you to not get involved eventually the players will listen to them and not get involved. It’s like the adventure sets out a hook but then baits it with shit.
We did almost have a moment where the Wild Magic Sorcerer went Murder-Hobo and triggered his wild magic thing in a shop. As a 1st level character who knows for a fact that reincarnation exists my character would not be too too upset at being fireballed for no reason. But as a matter of policy I think you want to step on Murder-Hobo behavior and specifically crack down on players damaging other players outside of combat. From a method actor/storyteller player perspective, my character wouldn’t wanna hang out with someone attacking shopkeepers with chaos magic. I’ll give it another session before I decide if maybe I want to play a character who would be a bit more tolerant of the chaos-jokey-ness. The party still needs a cleric, I was hoping to play this cleric. This gets back to the social contract of the group. If the group is fine with murder hobo and you’re not, you are the one who needs to change.
The New AL gold rules definitely change playstyle. NPCs have their hands out for bribes. The DM is asking “do you walk for hours across the city or do you get a cab?” These are flavor questions. They’re important for character and world-building but now you’re demanding a scarce resource for them. Gold has become a catch-22. You give PCs too much, nothing has a true cost. You don’t give them enough, they don’t spend what they have. It has to be stressful for the DM because you run into situations where the players are expected to either make a persuasion check or bribe someone. I think we almost ran into this in the Skewered Dragon. The PCs fail that persuasion check, now they need to get this information from an uncooperative NPC, and no one is going to part with the gold to get this plot coupon. Now you have a bottleneck in the adventure, which is something you want to avoid at all costs.
I think what has to happen at least while playing a hardcover adventure is you need two gold tracks. You have your “AL gold” where it’s the fixed quantity per level to be spent on permanent AL stuff. Your gear. Your spell components. Then you have your “Adventure Gold” the rewards indicated by the book. You have AL rewards that you can take to any AL game and then you have your Disney Dollars, your money that is only worth something at the table during this hardcover. Because otherwise this doesn’t work. You can’t gamify a mechanic and abstract it but then the hardcover book still operates as under the simulationist model of “persistent characters in a real world.”
I’m seriously thinking when NPCs offer us a reward to do something, I’m going to ask them to pay it directly to the city wagon drivers or give us some kind of “Volo Bucks” that they will make good on in the event we need to bribe people. Pay us in anything but gold. Pay us in gift cards.
I think what this first session hammered home for me is that I want to roleplay my character “to a point.” I have my naïve sage character here to learn everything they can about Waterdeep. Me the player knows I can’t be wasting money at the trinket shop because money is going to be very scarce and I’ll need it for spell components or When I Really Need It. My Character is fascinated by the Wild Magic Sorcerer suddenly levitating and summoning unicorns. Me the Player isn’t going to be writing down 1d10 necrotic damage on my 9 HP 1st level character because The Sorcerer is being a problem player.
Slightly more defensible is the insistence at using Healing Word to heal the dying PC because I don’t technically have the movement to get over to him after the fight’s over and cast Spare The Dying. I prefer Theater of the Mind so I rolled my eyes at this but the table culture is “we use a grid” so social contract dictates this is the norm even if I disagree.
All in I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes and exploring the different NPCs we’re going to meet. I am curious if we will continue to feel the pinch of not having enough gold to feel like real people who would live in this city. It is very difficult not playing a charismatic character because inevitably persuasion checks are asked for when you talk to people.
I think Mike Shea had mentioned some time ago that Adventurer’s League is almost like a different game on some level for some players. There are players heavily invested in trading items, collecting magic items, carefully tracking and spending their downtime days. I look at my complaints and where I’m having trouble and I see that what it fundamentally comes down to is this: I don’t want to engage with the D&D metagame on this high a level. I’m very happy about having more roleplay and social interaction opportunities in Season 8. But for the loot changes part of it, this additional abstraction or gamification, whatever you want to call it, that part isn’t for me. But that part of it is a core part of the social contract you agree to when you play AL. Admitting this makes me feel better, like I’m starting to diagnose my problem in a more constructive way as opposed to bitching on the internet.
I think one thing I can do to help myself is DM more. When I’m DMing I’m not rolling my eyes at the concept of downtime days, I can run Theater of The Mind, and when I do feel the urge to get on the player side of the screen I have a big pile of rewards I can just spend and not feel the irritation of so much bookkeeping to go along with this fun hobby.