5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Review, Part Three

Whew. Been sick as a dog for going on two weeks now. It’s been unpleasant. Finally, here is the last part of my ruminations on the new, 5th Edition Player’s Handbook.

PART THREE: Magic!
As I mentioned in my other posts, I’m a huge fan of what I’m seeing from 5e. I’ve also alluded to the fact that some of my favorite changes are in the way magic works. I finally get to talk about why.

First, let me mention the spell-casting classes and the way they get/use spells. I really like where they’ve gone with this. While the core mechanic is remarkably straightforward and works for all magic-users there is also a pretty interesting difference between playing a sorcerer, a warlock, and a wizard. Once again the great strength of the wizard is their remarkable versatility – as it should be – along with devastating power.

I’ll admit that in some places I think that the damage scaling is off. The 3rd level Fireball probably does not need to start at 8d6. That seems a bit crazy. I also think that (though when has this not been a problem) the damage scaling of the attack cantrips is a little wacky considering how quickly they scale. But really, I’m mostly just complaining to complain about damage numbers. There is so much more to this magic system than damage.

My favorite… Concentration. Concentration has been a thorn in the side of gamers since 3rd ed burst onto the scene. First is was a magic skill based on Constitution. Then Pathfinder changed it to a meta-mechanic outside the skill system but it was still relegated more to a punitive “attempt to cast your spell” kind of roll rather than something evocative. It was just another number to manipulate on your worksheet (er, character sheet) rather than an interesting mechanic. 5e doesn’t disappoint with their new version of concentration. Mainly because it creates a choice point for casters. There are so many exciting buffs/effects that would be great to have as ongoing durations. But many of these are now based on Concentration and a caster may only have one Concentration spell in effect at a time. I love this. Now I have to really think about what effects I want to hold up. I can’t just pile on a bunch of buffs and then get back to shooting. I have to consider what I want to concentrate on. I sincerely hope that this is not a mechanic that ends up with a bunch of work arounds (like “sustaining focus” magic items (Shadowrun reference) that allow for keeping more than one concentration spell in play or other such weirdness. Concentration is a powerful limiting factor and allows for the possibility that it can be ruined, which keeps some of the “we need to protect the mage” aspects in play. I also appreciate that some concentration spells for characters such as Paladins are only useful to them when engaged in combat and so they constantly run the risk of being lost due to damage. I want more of this please.

I’m also happy to see more disparity between spell lists again. Sure, past incarnations (and Pathfinder) have unique spells for each class but these spell lists seem more unique and inclusive than they have in the past. Also, when it comes to spells, some elegant work has been done to keep the classics but in new, exciting forms (I’m looking at you Bigby’s Hand spells).

One small complaint about the book itself though. Despite the different spell lists, etc. I still wish that the individual spell descriptions said what class/spell list they were associated with. Right now, still in the process of learning the game, I hate reading the spells and then having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to reference the spell lists for, “wait, who can use this again?” I’m sure adding one line to every spell description adds up in terms of overall character count/space but it sure would have been handy – particularly given that we don’t have PDF versions of the books. It’s a minor complaint though for what is, arguably, one of my favorite gaming books I’ve read in the last ten years.

Overall, again, I’m very happy with 5e on paper. Now to the real test. This weekend I’m taking a break from my regular game to run a one-shot of 5e and then, starting next week, I’m kicking off a regular 5e game on another night. Can’t wait to see how this goes. If I could just get over being sick…

As always, thanks for reading.

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One response

  1. I am looking forward to your observations as you play through the levels, Mike. From what I have read on the LinkedIn hobby group WotC has made the commitment in 5e to unite the “young” WoW gamer with the “old” role-player (munchkin crawler + story enthusiast).

    I still think you like it, mostly but not entirely, because it still has that printer’s fresh smell on the pages. Time will tell. Enjoying your take on it though.

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