So, I downloaded the basic rules for D&D 5E at the weekend and gave them a quick read through. I also read half a dozen blog reviews of them and was somewhat taken aback. Now none of these bloggers were fans of 4E, some preferring 3.5 and some more into Pathfinder, so why all the vitriol?
One of them pretty much summed up what all of them were getting at, he saw the basic rules as being ‘low on innovation’. In his view Wizards were just ‘trotting out the same old tired franchise material’.
I did wonder if any of them had read the same release that I had. Also this ‘same old tired franchise material’ has been played and loved by hundreds of thousands of gamers. Gamers whose shelves are full of D&D Novels and modules based in these well-realised and expanded worlds. I wonder what these bloggers would have said if Wizards simply abandoned all that?
To be honest you really need to have balls of steel to take on a project like this. D&D had been in decline since the release of 4E and the hopes and expectations of many thousands of players were hanging on 5E. Men and women who had abandoned 4E as the trashy attempt to woo computer gamers into table top roleplaying that it was. Even if Gygax and Arneson themselves had returned they would know that a significant proportion of the community would hate them no matter what they produced.
Well I had carefully avoided the D&D Next releases and playtests, because I wanted to be surprised, and I have been.
What I see in the Basic rule set, which when all is said and done, is just a few excerpts tacked together to market the main books, is quite refreshing. It feels like the guys went back to OD&D and AD&D to get the feel, took a look at the improvements made in 3.5, considered the resurgence in “old-school” gaming and decided that simplification and rules that actually work was what was needed.
What I see when I read this free release is an intention to return to roleplaying as opposed to rule-playing. The mechanics need to be able to be read and understood in a single session and just be automatic after that.
There seems to be plenty of depth and freedom in the character creation process, so you can create the character that you actually want. The inclusion of backgrounds that may actually affect the character in game terms is welcome and I am keen to see how this is expanded upon in the PHB when it is released in August. I shall be pre-ordering it.
The actual game mechanics look smooth but I will reserve judgement on those until I have played with them. I like the advantage/disadvantage idea, as well as the greater reliance on primary attributes for skills and saves. How this all balances out shall be key to the whole enterprise.
I can see why the initial knee-jerk reaction to the basic release has been all about the ‘lack of innovation’. However, I would much rather have a set of rules that work and do not get in the way of play, than all the glittering baubles some other systems offer.
Having now written and published some games professionally I have been at the mercy of reviewers myself. The most precious comment came from a blogger who, while bemoaning the ‘lack of originality’ in the rules system, said “but they actually work”.
I love D&D and I want a set of rules that work. I expect that I am not alone.