5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Review, Part Two

My continuing exploration of the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook. As you know from Part One, I’m a fan. I really enjoyed what I saw in Character Creation with the variety of options, the balance of simple choices against more fiddly choices to appeal to a broader range of players and the addition of the backgrounds which add without creating weird pigeonholes. Now I want to look at Part Two of the book.

Part Two: Playing the Game
Part Two opens with information about using the Ability Scores to make checks – and the related skills for each attribute. The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic is discussed, as well as Proficiency Bonus. I like the mechanics they’ve built around Advantage/Disadvantage. First, it’s incredibly simple to explain and implement at the table. You roll an extra d20 and either take the highest (Advantage) or lowest (Disadvantage). I’ve mentioned before that I am fan of the Barbarians of Lemuria system and the idea of a bonus die or penalty die is an easy thing to implement. I also appreciate that WotC heads off a great deal of confusion and system manipulation by making it clear that Advantage/Disadvantage apply only once no matter how many ways a roll might be influenced AND that they cancel each other out no matter how many times a roll might be influenced. This seems like an elegant way to remove cheesy exploits (TM) which might otherwise have become annoying.

Proficiency bonus is treated in the same fashion, with a very simple explanation and a general rule that it only ever applies once. This is solid design and again, I like the fact that it is so easy to teach to a new player. I don’t feel like I have to sit around discussing corner cases or the intricacies of BAB progressions and other such stuff.

Along those lines, Combat is incredibly simple in the new edition. I smiled all the way through the combat chapter as I read the rules. First, the combat rules are short and concise. Second, I really like the new action set up. I really like the Action (+movement), Bonus Action (if you have an option for one), Reaction set. Bonus actions and Reactions are one per round so you’ll have some tactical choices to make with some characters about the best way to spend your actions. This makes me happy. I can already see Rogues and Rangers really having interesting turns with bonus action options. I liked the streamlining of Two-Weapon fighting (and the fact that anyone can do it though only some characters can do it really well).

Many of the complicated rules of editions past are dealt with in simple terms here. Opportunity attacks, invisibility, grappling, and shoving are all well represented with simple rules that should satisfy most groups. Shoving is still an issue from the point of view that certain terrain set ups make it easy to get instant kills even on really dangerous opponents but no rules are going to be perfect. It’s a small complaint easily adjudicated at each group’s table.

There are a few oddities, such as the mounted combat rules which, like Animal Companions, I feel are still a place where the game isn’t really sure what it wants to do… and it shows. I think that the movement in combat (between attacks) and opportunity attack rules needed to be explained better (as to how they interact) as it caused me to sit and think about the intent for a minute (does moving between attacks provoke?). Basically, the entire “rules to play the game” take up less than 30 pages and they seem coherent and well thought out in all the most important places. The exploration and combat rules are very concise and gone are complicated “Skill Challenges” and other difficult and awkward subsystems.

Most of all, I want to point out again how excited I am by the new action economy. 4e was a bloated monster with all the different action types (in and out of turn) and all the corner cases that popped up when so many powers started interacting at once. Overall, the emphasis seems to be on keeping the action moving, not layering mechanics when a simple answer will do, and putting the narrative weight on the players and DM. For this alone I’d be sold on the game but considering the other changes, well, I’m a happy DM.

Next time I’ll dive into the Rules of Magic. Much like the rest of 5e, some of what they’ve done here really impressed me and I think the rules for magic will keep high level casters feeling appropriately powerful while also keeping them a little more honest and forcing them to make more difficult choices than they had to in 3e or 4e.

Thanks for reading and get out there and try some 5e!

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