Over Gencon I got to play in a few D&D 5th edition games. Mostly one hour events that WotC was running, but also a 4 hour event. This Friday, as our normal game was cancelled, I ran a one shot to get a feel for the system from the other side of the screen. Today I figured I'd go over the system and give some of my thoughts.
It's About What You'd Expect...
Let's not kid ourselves here, this is D&D and so it feels like D&D. It feels more like Pathfinder than D&D 4th edition, and different people have cited similarities to different versions of D&D when talking about the game, but it is D&D. I say this not to be rude, but to point out that if there is some core aspect of D&D that you loathe and do not want to play then it is probably in this game as well, or the feel of it will be there.
Streamlined and Aerodynamic
That said, the system is very streamlined. The designers put a lot of work in to making things go smooth where they can. Whether you love it or hate it, the new proficiency system is essentially a faster way of dumping all your skill points into a core set of skills, only you actually get more of them for traditionally "low skill" classes like Fighters when you factor in racial proficiencies and background proficiencies. At the same time, getting rid of "Reflex, Will, and Fortitude" saving throws in favor of each stat having its own saving throw not only adds some more diversity but helps to keep things simpler. As a GM getting into running the system, I liked this. It made things easy to intuit and understand.
Advantage / Disadvantage
This is an awesome mechanic because it is easily understood, easily employed, and does its job well. It gives the GM a quick way to reward creative thinking or to show just how hard a task is. A player wants to lift a heavy door with nothing but their muscles? Sure, but not only is the DC a 20 but they're rolling at disadvantage as well because getting a grip is hard. That other PC have a great idea to take an enemy by surprise in the middle of combat? They get to make their attack with Advantage.
One of the fun things to do as a high AC person is go on the defensive (everyone attacks you at disadvantage as you actively defend yourself) and see how much tankier you feel. It's pretty awesome. It also brings up something else...
You Feel Powerful From Level 1
Whether it's the robust starting equipment, the large number of proficiencies, or the backgrounds themselves the characters in D&D 5th edition are more powerful at level 1 than they have been in any other edition. You aren't playing the farm boy who just picked up a sword for the first time and decided to go explore the tombs of ancient liches, you are playing someone who has been in a few fights, had some training, and is now striking out on their own. Sure, story wise, you can do the farm boy thing (it's actually easy) but the game starts you off further along. In some ways I've likened it to starting at around level 3-5 in other D&D and D&D-esque systems, but that isn't exactly right. Low level spells can do a lot of damage, even cantrips, and just in general care was taken so that even at level 1 you feel like you are an adventurer who does this professionally, not just some wastrel trying to get lucky.
Fleshed Out Characters
One of the cool things is that if you do char creation the whole way through you end up with a fairly fleshed out character. Between your race, class, and background you've already got a character with a bit of a story. My Dark Elf Rogue who was a Sailor implies a different life story than my friends Dwarven Cleric who was a Mercenary. This goes further when you take in the personality traits - which are suggested by background but you aren't restricted to those. For a game often derided as being just a dungeon crawl or tactics game, this direct relation to the narrative is a welcome touch and it shows that the designers were serious when they wanted to bring the role play back into the game. The fact that it can help get inspiration (a powerful mechanic to reward RP) is just further icing.
Overall I rather like the system. It was a fun one shot with the plot stolen from Quest For Glory 1 and the players had a good time. I'd be intrigued to see how the game holds up over a campaign, but sadly I don't have the time right now. Perhaps soon though.
Do you have any thoughts on 5th ed? A favorite feature? A least favorite feature? Let me know in the comments.