D&D 5th Edition – part 2


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.


About Craig

For those who need to know these things: - I'll never see 50 again. - I'm tall enough to see well in crowds and fat enough to leave a wake. - I'm well married to a woman with twice my smarts, three delightful and challenging children (er-hem), and one cat overlord. - I am Welsh. - I have to work for a living, but do nothing that makes me perspire.
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4 Responses to D&D 5th Edition – part 2

  1. micka1938 says:

    I think most modern roleplayers haven’t experienced roleplaying as we did in ‘the old days’. There’s a group at the local club I go to who play Pathfinder each week and have done since they had a choice between that and 4th edition. Having watched them play its not roleplaying anymore, its a boardgame where you move your figures square by square to attack the bad guys using your stats on a character sheet and dice (when they started they used 3.5 and I joined in but dropped out after an incident where I said my character was going to stand beside a doorway then peek around to see what was in the room, I was told by the very experienced GM that if I wanted to look in the room I would have to stand in the square in front of the doorway. How’s that roleplaying?). Put any sort of rules similar to the old school style in front of them and they will not touch them with a barge pole (I’ve offered to run old school games sessions for the guys at the club, no interest at all… 😦 ).

  2. I’ve actually seen a lot more positive than negative, but that might be my confirmation bias!

  3. Craig says:

    In my mind 3.0/3.5 was the first set of rules which set D&D on the path to becoming a skirmish wargame. It introduced the absolute dependence on a gridded playing surface, rules on movement and attack of opportunity, reach and others. Dozens of feats were rolled out that supported this as well. Honestly sometimes I have thought that I am playing a very complex chess game rather than a RPG.
    4E just made it worse ands essentially turned almost all characters into combat avatars. D&D became a medieval version of Call of Duty.
    I have actually had players get upset if I run a session in which there is no combat at all. I was once told that to do so was not in the spirit of the rules!
    I am hoping that the removal of feats, some simplification of the core rules and other changes might bring it back, but I expect that it will not convince those who have been brought up on 3.0-4E.

    • micka1938 says:

      That sounds like the Pathfinder group at the local club…

      I’m looking forward to the next Wednesday club session as I have got six volunteers (one of which I belongs to the Pathfinder group) to try the original WEG d6 Star Wars rpg! I love the simplicity of the first edition which I simplify even more to make the PCs feel like they are in one of the films (for example, if a PC shoots and hits a Stormtrooper, the Stormtrooper goes down rather than roll to see what type of wound it was, that only happens with PCs and major NPCs). Plus there will be NO squared maps! I may draw out some rough maps on plain paper for them but that will be it, the will need to roleplay… 🙂

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