Saturday, July 5, 2014

D&D 5th Ed First Impressions

If, like me, you've been living in a hole and more or less avoiding any and all news about D&D's upcoming 5th edition then you might have missed the news that they released the free basic rules on Thursday, July 3rd. Being as Free is not a price point I can really ignore for what is widely considered the grand daddy of all RPGs, I decided to head on over and check things out. What I found was interesting, intriguing even. To the point that I'm sad I doubt I'll be able to get my group to try it due to constraints of time and other games we have going on. Still, I'm breaking down my initial thoughts below for those who are interested.

Oh, and for those who just want the file. Click anywhere on this line and you'll be brought to the official release.

I never played 4th ed. I want you to keep that in mind as I am going through this as some things that may seem new to me might be true of 4th ed. Got it? Awesome, let's go.

Not Your Daddy's Edition....Or Is It?
As a gamer who has ventured far and wide from the D&D pastures one of the first things I've noticed is that 5th ed is taking ideas from pretty much every previous edition of D&D and some from other games that are simply like D&D. This is, in my opinion, a good thing because they were able to cherry pick features they liked, refine them for their game, and implement them in a system designed to work with that.

That being said, the core aspects on your character sheet haven't changed. You still have hit points. You still have the same six attributes you've always had. The races are the same. The classes are the same. When you play this game there will be no mistaking that you are playing a D&D game and that's fine. However, the feel of mechanics may go a bit quicker or different within those confines. I think this is a good thing, but some purists may balk at it.

This is one of the new mechanics and I'm not sure I've seen it anywhere else as a staple mechanic of a system. It works simply. If you have Advantage then you roll 2D20 when you make a check and keep the higher of the two. If you have Disadvantage you roll 2D20 and keep the lower of the two. This is a very quick and straight forward way of quickly giving a player an edge, or a setback, without having to worry about bonuses and penalties. Did the player take a bracing action before trying to lift the gate? Give them the advantage.  Are they trying to win at cards with someone at the table cheating? Give them a disadvantage. It's quick, effective, and I imagine it will be a staple mechanic for D20 games for a good while.

Character Customization
This is one area where there are definite steps forward and steps back.

On the downside, you don't have skill points and feats seem to be rarer choices in this edition so it is harder to make your build uniquely yours. You can't be a thief with 20 ranks in performance lute for instance. Instead everyone has a "Proficiency Bonus" (which is the same for everyone and governed by character level) and when a roll includes something you are proficient in you add that bonus. This means that regardless of class that a fighter with acrobatics will be just as proficient as a rogue at acrobatics. The Rogue may be proficient at more things, but barring special abilities they can't be more proficient at any one thing.

On the upside, every class seems to have a number of archetypes ready for it. The free rules only provide one archetype for each class but more are promised in the PHB to be released later. These archetypes mean that you can have two rogues who are very different from each other because of the archetype

In short this means that in an individual game a character should have no problems being 'unique' from the other players, but over time and multiple games if you've seen a "Spell Filcher Rogue" once or twice you've seen a very similar build a half dozen times. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that given a few months (probably more like a few hours) there will be "most optimal builds" for these classes just because of the more restrictive build paths. And yet, that isn't necessarily a bad thing because...

Also as a note, the skill system with proficiencies is basically how skills worked in AD&D second ed. You didn't have a skill level, you just had a list of things you were proficient in and that was that.

Oh, there are also Backgrounds and some personality rules to further customize your character, and to reward you for playing your character to what was chosen for them. Backgrounds seem like mini-classes where they add some proficiencies and other nice stuff, while personality is done with a system similar to aspects from FATE where you define some ideals, bonds (i.e. connections to characters/places), and flaws and playing to those gets you Inspiration which can boost other rolls and such.

Easier To Make Encounters
Reading these rules it seems like the game will be much easier to make encounters for than other games. Why? Because if I am writing an adventure for 3-6th level characters then I know a bunch about these characters already. I know their base proficiency bonus, I can say the rules assume a standard party, I can even know some of the proficiencies that are going to be had. If the group has a Rogue I can be absolutely sure that the Rogue has thieves tools and is proficient in their use. Which means that I can set a trap/obstacle that is bested by a rogue with thieves tools and know by what I set the difficulty at what percentage of players will get to use that option (or on average how many attempts it will take to work.)

This is a good thing for pre-boxed adventures, and not a bad thing for custom adventures which makes it ultimately a good thing. Especially as the community begins to share their encounters and situations to get better help working through things.

All in All
All in all 5th ed looks interesting. Interesting enough I'll probably grab the PHB, DMG, and Monster Manual to see if I like it. I may even see if I can con people into playing it. I like some of the changes they've made. I like how races only give you t hings and don't take away things (at least so far.) I like how proficiency makes character creation faster because instead of the thief having to spend and math through 168 skill ranks they just have to choose 4-8 proficiencies. I love that a 1st level fighter gets a bow with 20 arrows, a martial weapon, a shield or another martial weapon, and then a cross bow or 2 hand axes. Level 1, that is awesome that they come in that well equipped and really shows the idea that at level 1 your character may actually be a "somebody."

This might be the edition to "come home" to and give it another try. Time will tell.

As a note, there will be no post on Monday. Consider this Monday's post. :)


  1. Hey a mostly positive an encouraging review! Good to see one of those.

  2. Some gaming friends just asked if I was interested in playing D&D5. Tough one! I'm a sucker to want to give it a shot, but hesitant to commit a significant amount of precious regular playing time to it. Maybe I can talk them into a one-shot....

  3. Nice review. I wanted to add the comment that rogues have a skill called Expertise that lets them get double their proficiency bonus on two skills of their choices. They will still have a clear advantage on a number of skills. I really like the fighters can have a unique set of skills again like they had in 2e.