This session was relatively free of the bugaboos that haunted the most recent sessions. The party knows where they’re going, knows what to do, and has the tools to do their job, so the single point of failure isn’t a major concern, and the wandering encounters in the cave means there’s always a risk for rest.
A big win this time around was an aspect of 5e that is easy to overlook: how bounded accuracy plays into making the characters feel like they have come quite far.
This party had, before, encountered ghouls and stirges (“random” encounters when they had unfinished business in the goblin cave), and had struggled with them a bit, using cleverness and positioning to protect themselves, but still feeling that the encounters were dangerous. Some of this was the psychology of low-level PC’s (“My hit points are so tiny!”), but some of it was legit fear at the damage being dished out.
In their initial raid on Wave Echo Cave, they encountered these creatures again, with the benefit of an extra level or two under their belts, and they were much more confident. Still a little uneasy, but they handled the creatures admirably, demonstrating the power that they’ve gained in terms of depth and breadth of resources. The casters broke out powerful spells, and the warriors made good use of narrow areas to ensure ample crowd control.
I love that there’s no treadmill. 4e D&D, as well as some RPGs (like Final Fantasy VIII) get the sense that the goal is to provide a consistent challenge, but a consistent challenge is often grindy and same-y in practice. As demonstrated here, 5e is much comfortable with variable encounter difficulty – of not meeting the expected challenge – and it’s something that contributes mightily to the looser, more open feel of 5e. That, and you never get the “trash mobs” of a videogame – you can skip over fights you are bound to win, Earthbound-style.
It’s frickin’ delightful, and something to keep in mind – players who can compare their ability against some metric that doesn’t move with them are players who feel accomplishment.