D&D 5e, Part Two

So this is part two of my observations about 5E started in my last post.

I’ve spent a little more time with the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.

A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…

The Short Version (again)
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.

Character Creation
Honestly, I don’t yet fully know how I feel about this. I like the new character sheet – it feels like an old school character sheet but with some notable differences (like prioritizing the stat bonus over the stat) which I find interesting and useful. Many d20 system-style games have simply done away with the base stat and gone to the bonus but I think keeping the 3-18 range is nice. 4d6 drop the lowest is probably the most common version of “roll your stats” and with a solid point buy option in the rules as well I think they covered everything.

The basic 4 races are covered well and each is pretty exciting. The use of subraces is awesome and really evoked 2e for me as I was reading, while still feeling like a new game. This makes me excited to see the full PHB and the treatment of some of the newcomers to D&D. One of the great innovations of 3e/4e was the fact that you could make effective characters (maybe not optimized, but effective) with almost any race/class combination. I’m a huge fan of this and happy they continued this trend.

Classes look solid. They all have something and the clever implementation of advantage/bonus actions seems like it will be a big part of 5e design. Obviously, with smaller design space it may become an issue at some point but if they are planning to keep the splat books to a minimum this may not be as much of a problem anyway… time will tell on this front. I like the idea of Backgrounds.They seem well-integrated into the system and to provide evocative, helpful choices without being all-important decision points. That’s a good thing. Yes, some of this stuff doesn’t need mechanics but these seem to be well considered and I think they are going to become a fun part of the new game.

We don’t know a lot about multi-classing or implementation of options like “feats” yet but from the little clues we have in the PDF, I’m happy with the direction I see this going in. It looks like a real trade-off and a genuine way to expand the design space without overwhelming the core choices. Again, we’ll see as it grows, but the initial implementation looks very well thought out.

I haven’t run a combat yet. I’m still trying to process how I’ll fit in time to play 5e around my Star Wars game and everything else I do during the week but… it says something that I actually want to do it. I’ll freely admit to being predisposed toward not wanting to play this edition. Now, I’m intrigued. Other than that, I’ll say that I like what I see about the combat chapter. It seems straightforward. I’m a fan of removing tactical/map & mini based combat as the core option (though I’m sure it will be supported as a play-style, which is good) and the focus on simple actions again feels like they learned real lessons from their previous iterations and really worked to keep the good stuff. I look forward to trying this out for the first time.

Magic and Spellcasting
I’ll start this by saying that I’m not really sure why the Fireball needed a base 8d6 damage (I get it, because they changed the scaling, etc.) but it feels really strong now at level. On the whole, I really like the “cast it in a higher slot” as an alternative to all the metamagic craziness of previous editions. Again, tough to say how it will grow and change across the life of the edition but just the basics we see now are very encouraging. Not sure yet if this will change but… I did love the discussion of “Spellcasting Services” in the equipment chapter and how no prices were attached. It was more about whether or not you could find someone willing to do it and what they’ll want in return.

One thing I’m still missing is the fact that spellcasting is still so simple. One action, no chance of failing for most spells. I get why, really I do, but after playing Adventurer Conqueror King with its system of asking you to declare spells in advance of initiative and then a chance that they get ruined before you go… that’s good stuff. This is fine, and probably “fun” but it seems too consequence free considering how overwhelming magic gets pretty quickly.

Something I’m wishing for…
So, this is just a little tidbit from me and my own wish list. I get why they are using Forgotten Realms as the default setting. I get that this makes sense for them from a product standpoint and a game standpoint. I do. But as they go forward with this edition, as they dive into the next incarnation of D&D I have to wonder… why not bring back Birthright? This incarnation feels like it would be perfect for Birthright (with the subrace rules and the focus on offering options through backgrounds) and its vaguely 2nd ed feeling. But more than that… we live in an era of geekdom practically ruled by Game of Thrones (btw, Birthright had a novel of kings and tragedy title, The Iron Throne, just sayin’). Birthright is the dark fantasy game of kings and armies with a vibrant, well-detailed world and history that D&D already has sitting right in front of it. Sure, it’s not really the best choice for the “core” setting experience but it seems a shame not to revisit this wonderful world perfect for the tastes and environment of the now. It’s always been a personal favorite and I’d love to see it come back.

In closing
Again, this is long enough. I can say without reservation that I’m heartened by what I’m seeing and I really think the new rules have a chance to be a great D&D, that feels like D&D and brings the community back together again to some extent. That said, we still know very little and we’ll have to see more when the full PHB comes out in August.

Thanks for reading.


7 responses

  1. I felt the same way about the Forgotten Realms. it just feels a little over-exposed, particularly how prominent it was in 4th edition. But I get where they are coming from.

    In terms of the magic, I like how they limit/balance buff spells with concentration as well as the neo-vancian bent

    1. I really do get the use of the FR. It’s a very well developed setting that is ‘generic’ enough to be accessible to players of any generation of gamers. That said, I for one am not a fan of some of the settings like Dark Sun (I know you are) and Eberron. I think Birthright would be a perfect choice for 5e. But, I’m also a little biased.

  2. I love that they have gone back to the abstraction of the game, moving away from the blow-by-blow minutia micromanagement of 6-second bronc riding to the more player-centric abstract and imaginative minute combat round featuring the cliffhanging from segments to countdown the effect of spell casting and bringing the players at the table together as a team with a caller.

    O, sorry wrong game…. :-/
    You know, I would love to see/listen to an AD&D 1e actual play. I would love to have the players bring in their knowledge and savvy, and laugh at some inspired clichés and boggle at the originality the DM sets up to test the ability of players he (or she) knows well. But it won’t be Mike Mearls to run it. And guys who can swing that lead, like Tim Kask, are getting old. There is a fun play style that is dying out to roll playing and having to script players movement. (Expect splat books by July 2015.)

  3. I got a good chuckle out of this. Thank you. It would actually be really interesting to hear some genuinely “old school” players play 1e. I’m pretty sure that would be a fascinating experience.

    That said, I don’t know that the play style is dying so much as it is not as fully represented in D&D anymore…

    …that said, 5e might surprise you a little. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty neat.

    1. I think the old school GM as God style gets a bad wrap. Rulings instead of rules at the table epitomizes GM = God (or system); and rules light in the current vernacular. The thing is if the GM actually does think he is God in real life, he has a problem. The old saying is “with great power goes great responsibility….” Lots of us old guys know this unwritten rule from the original comic books that gave us our culture.

      Of course, as now, there were many dickheads. Only we, at the time, knew that dickhead was not a class of character (or background) to be played at our tables. That exclusivity would be a ruling over a rulebook.

      So, yes, I think there would be a great interest in an old school blind system play where the audience does not need to own a rule book or be familiar with every rule ever written to enjoy the game (because rulings, because players would be appealed to instead of their characters stat sheet and because the GM understands that with great power comes great responsibility towards the players). A kind of game that anyone, but in particular the people who have never played any RPG, could get into. It would also be refreshing to hear/watch an actual play as a game with chance and risk and player skill rather than to meta-listen for the feats, moves, and skill contests. A story narrated in first person by all participants with the fourth wall constantly broken by the GM saying, “if you do that, you feel you’ve an X percent chance of success,” and players saying, “I rolled X, is that enough to hit?” [Non-players would get caught up by that drama, IMHO.]

      But I do believe, from everywhere I have electronically traveled, that this style is dead. I may not be the only one who plays this way or is unconcerned whether I know the rules before I begin play, but I can count on the fingers of one hand all the people I have met in the last 4 years who do play this way vs. all the trolls I have met who know nothing about this play style and ridicule it (because it lets down the group, or because the casual players are not serious enough, or because it is simply not a masculine enough contest for the GM to min-max tests against the players in a game that uses rule books to break everyone else often comprising a table full of clichéd-ridden player characters stolen from an RA Salvatore novel; a type of game I am not good at, find frustrating and immensely RP uninspiring, and want no part of – like many who first come to play RPGs and find out they are unappreciated).

      With great power comes great responsibility, we used to know. I often wonder what player type I am: the kind comfortable enough to show up at any role-playing game at a moment’s notice, play as a party member, and create my own back story as I go (supposing I live past the current scenario).

      1. > But I do believe… that this style is dead.

        I disagree. This style isn’t dead.
        Some of us still play this way.
        Some of us are even going so far as to teach our kids to play this way.

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