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D&D 5E Running a School Setting: Need Ideas

Xeviat

Adventurer
Supporter
Hi ENWorld.

I'm going to be running a new game with a mostly (all but one) new group of players. The game is going to center around a knight's academy, a rather important organization in the country the character's are in. The Church is both the religious center of the country, but also the trainer of its elite knights, and is the judicial part of it's government. Not all of the players are going to be warriors, so not "knights" in the armored warriors sense. I'm still in the really early planning stage, waiting to get everyone's characters before I really start thinking of where I want the story to go, but I do want to start thinking on how the setting will focus me.

One thing I do want to do is use a slow rest variant to slow down the pacing of the story. 8 hours rest will be a short rest, and 2 days of no more than light activity is a long rest (basically, a weekend). I'm thinking of combining this with some more generous healer's kit healing (basically the Healer feat, but taking longer and without a bonus, so the benefit of the feat is a bonus to the healing and being able to do it with an action) to extend things.

Now, the academy they're attending is more of a West Point, so not children. But I may want to utilize stuff like the downtime rules to simulate some classes to see if characters are impressing their instructors and making connections with other students.

Additionally, I'll be wanting to send them off on little missions for training.

Any ideas to throw in? Have any of you run a successful school setting game?
 

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aco175

Legend
Is this a campaign starting at 1st level or something to take place before 1st level and the 'students' will have more generic powers instead of PC powers?

I would have buildings that cater to mages and clerics as part of the grounds. Something to cater to all the classes, even some shifty fellow classman that can cater to rogues.
 

Xeviat

Adventurer
Supporter
Is this a campaign starting at 1st level or something to take place before 1st level and the 'students' will have more generic powers instead of PC powers?

I would have buildings that cater to mages and clerics as part of the grounds. Something to cater to all the classes, even some shifty fellow classman that can cater to rogues.
I'm actually starting everyone at 3rd level, as has been my general table rule since early 5E and not liking level 1 play. The cadets have had to prove themselves to come to the academy, so they're not new.

They'll definitely have some split up in their classes for their competencies.
 

I'm still in the really early planning stage, waiting to get everyone's characters before I really start thinking of where I want the story to go, but I do want to start thinking on how the setting will focus me.
If everyone is willing to buy in to the concept (we're all students), good start. Can players be anti-church and infiltrating it? Suggest you'll want a unified approach to this before the campaign starts.
One thing I do want to do is use a slow rest variant to slow down the pacing of the story. 8 hours rest will be a short rest, and 2 days of no more than light activity is a long rest (basically, a weekend). I'm thinking of combining this with some more generous healer's kit healing (basically the Healer feat, but taking longer and without a bonus, so the benefit of the feat is a bonus to the healing and being able to do it with an action) to extend things.
Depends on what you're wanting to accomplish. If you want a slower pace, just drag things out between adventures. Remember, many classes are heavily reliant on the short rest (e.g. warlocks), and they have very special class abilities that rely on short rest. There's nothing more anti-climatic than "we're chasing the bad guy through the dungeon," only to take an 8-hour break. And, it's my experience players don't like to charge in depleted. They'll respond by simply taking those long breaks, or by not playing characters so reliant on short rests.

If you don't like the way healing works, there's a slew of threads on alternatives on these forums to what happens when you hit 0 HP. I utilize one of those. It doesn't slow down play; instead it triggers players to approach situations differently.
Now, the academy they're attending is more of a West Point, so not children. But I may want to utilize stuff like the downtime rules to simulate some classes to see if characters are impressing their instructors and making connections with other students.
If you're starting at 3rd level, remember those are highly experienced folk, capable of some amazing stuff, and some players may rebel against the idea they're "experienced" but being treated like they are novices. You're also assuming players will want to impress instructors, or give a crap about fellow students. Be very wary when constructing a narrative that players may not embrace. My recommendation is a serious Session 0 for unified purpose between all the gamers. They all need compelling role-play reasons to be proving themselves.
Have any of you run a successful school setting game?
I started one adventure at 1st level in a "school" setting. The lessons got boring quickly as the players rebelled against the idea of being nobodies who knew nothing. After, some expressed if they wanted to play that game, they could look through their high school yearbook! It was also assumed that teachers wouldn't waste their time sending students on suicide missions, so seriousness on missions wasn't...that serious. Verisimilitude came into play.

A school setting was the framework for the original Baldur's Gate computer game, wherein the school got invaded and the 1st level nobodies were quickly left to fend for themselves taking what little they had learned. That's the conflict that can take a zero to a hero. While cliché, it works.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Here's my advice.
If it's going to be a school, give every character a calendar to manage. Especially if you are doing slower rests.
Doesn't have to be complex. Just stuff like "If you want to retrain your X, it with take 3d6-Int mod days". Then they jolt down the date the retraining happens.

Also 3rd level is 5e's "End of apprenticeship" level. They'd be upperclassmen at least by how the game works. So you'll have to gauge things up or down to match what you want to see.

Also a school designed to create teams of knights would have groups purposely put togther by competent superiors. So if the party's role design is off from the school'sideal setup, it would be seen as a punishment, corralling troublemakers, or setting them up to fail. So you'd have to decide what the academy's ideal is and judge the players'PC based on how close they are to it. Your missions would be tailored to the "ideal" and the party's success would be based on how they handle their deficiencies and abundances.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
One thing I do want to do is use a slow rest variant to slow down the pacing of the story.

So, I find a problem with that idea. The story doesn't slow down just because the PCs need to stop and rest. If the PC has a fight with some lackeys, and have to take a couple of days to recuperate, that means the boss of those lackeys gets to continue moving unopposed. The world does not stop while the heroes spend days in the infirmary.

Any ideas to throw in? Have any of you run a successful school setting game?

The basic thing to note is that the physical school itself, and any day-to-day patterns around it, will quickly fade into the background of player attention. They are, for the most part, static, and thus not terribly interesting. The interesting bits will be the people. So they will need to be layered.
 

Xeviat

Adventurer
Supporter
So, I find a problem with that idea. The story doesn't slow down just because the PCs need to stop and rest. If the PC has a fight with some lackeys, and have to take a couple of days to recuperate, that means the boss of those lackeys gets to continue moving unopposed. The world does not stop while the heroes spend days in the infirmary.

What slows the pace of the story is I no longer feel pressure to fit in at least 3 combat encounters with time between to short rest to create balance between the fighter/monk/warlock players and the more long rest focused characters. An encounter a day here and there will be fine, and a series of easier encounters may feel more tense if to casters are feeling they need to conserve their big spells.
 

Xeviat

Adventurer
Supporter
The basic thing to note is that the physical school itself, and any day-to-day patterns around it, will quickly fade into the background of player attention. They are, for the most part, static, and thus not terribly interesting. The interesting bits will be the people. So they will need to be layered.

Good call out. I do think I'll handle daily activities with something like the downtime rules, some checks to see what is achieved. You bring up a great point that I will need to make sure the NPCs are interesting. They're going to be a very important part of the story.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
What do you see the group doing at the school?

One of the Harry Potter movies can be summarized "Don't mess with the monster in the basement. The students go check out the basement. They have to deal with the monster plus clean up the mess before an adult notices."
 

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