D&D 5E – an initial review

D&D 5E PHB

I have been listening to and reading a number of reviews of the new basic rules for D&D and as usual the same level of schizophrenia and factionalism is apparent. Well I’m not interested in any of that so I’ll not address it here.

Having read through the free Basic rules once I have been impressed with the obvious intent of the writers, though the execution is not always as I’d like it – there again it never was be unless I’d done the job myself 🙂

The level of clear though and overall simplification is readily apparent and, to my mind anyway, is to be applauded. After the exponential complications of 3E (and its heirs 3.5 & Pathfinder) and the reduction of D&D to a combat-orientated skirmish game in 4E, I welcome the return to basics and the increased focus on actual roleplaying.

Character generation, though restricted to just the archetypal four races and classes in this free edition, is broad and allows players to freely create engaging characters. The additions of new items such as traits, goals, flaws and others really puts some depth into even 1st level characters, and the DM is encouraged to give in game rewards to those roleplaying their characters.

I expect that a certain type of player is already calculating how they can min-max these, but with the reduction of feats to an uncommon option this will make things much easier for the DM. I gave up DM’ing 3.5 a few years back mostly because I had inventive players who kept finding and exploiting game-breaking feat synergies. I honestly could not keep up with this and provide a suitable level of challenge.

The general simplification of the rules in all areas will help DM’s enormously. Allowing them to concentrate on creating interesting and challenging adventures and campaigns rather than constantly having to keep up with flow of new developments and game complications. It had got to the point that the average DM had to read, understand and retain more material than if they had been studying for a doctorate.

I was not alone in actually giving out a list of books and rules, or inventive synergies, that were or were not allowed in a game before play. Anybody else get tired of Spiked Chain + Combat Reflexes + Enlarge + half a dozen other feats and abilities that turned a fighter into a whirling zone of death?

So, overall, well done chaps. However, I do have one or two gripes and the first is a biggie…

Why are we still generating attributes on a scale of 3-18, just to derive an attribute bonus from them. We do not actually use the 3-18 attribute number for anything else at all. So why not just generate each attribute in a range of -1 through to +4 and be done with it?

The second is inactive defence. To hit someone you roll a dice and try to equal or exceed their armour class. If they are very agile they may get a bonus added to the armour class (if the armour is not too heavy), other than that there is no participation by the target in their own defence. For fox sake RuneQuest brought in the concept of parrying in the late 1970’s man! It added a huge dimension to combat and made people consider carefully how they were going to defend themselves. In D&D it is still rock up to Armour’R’US and buy the heaviest you are allowed to wear and can afford.

The third is the nonsense that mages and others cannot buy and use decent armour. I’m sorry but the excuse that somatic movements are inhibited by armour was lame in 1974 and is still lame now. I didn’t know that spellcasting required a course in interpretive dance? if you want to restrict this a bit just say that the armour check penalty applied to various acrobatic pursuits by heavier armours also applies to spellcasting. Job’s a good ‘un, thank you, thank you I’ll be here all week.

The fourth – restricted spellcasting. Apparently the human body cannot take the constant wracking energies of spellcasting flowing through it and thus a spell caster is restricted on casting more than a set number of spells per day. Originally brought in to stop people casting two hundred fireballs a day this is now well past its sell-by-date. It is also undermined by the fact that cantrips and orisons can now be cast unlimited times per day. So my cleric can only cast one Flame Strikes per day (8d6) but can cast six Sacred Flames (1d8) a minute, twenty-four hours per day. Bless you sir!

It is odd that whereas most other classes abilities require a dice roll of some sort to make their skills and abilities work as you would wish, spells just happen. It makes you wonder why mages and clerics go to college at all if there is no skill in what they do. However, if we required a successful skill roll (modified by an attribute, the situation and accessibility to VSM components) to cast a spell or channel the required energy then Mages and Clerics could be potentially useful 24/7. Indeed there could be an array of skills, perhaps one for each school of magic or clerical domain, thus spellcasters could specialise in some and not in others (in a meaningful way).

The fifth and last – all characters are trolls now. No matter how badly mangled you were in your last fight a good night’s sleep will see you right. Now I know this is heroic fantasy folks but really? Even if we rationalise it using the ‘most hit points are fatigue’ argument a sword through the guts or a mace over the head is going to have some lasting effect if not cured magically.

What this rules does is dial down the threat level of all the characters’ enemies. Why fear taking on a battalion of Uruk-hai if you know that you will recover from your mistake almost as fast as Wolverine?

Honestly I have never liked hit points. The idea that a character continues to perform at full capability even when full of arrows until that last hit point drops, then they are dead meat never made any sense to me. In RuneQuest damage meant something and could disable you progressively. It created a different approach to combat, and a possibly more realistic one.

So we have some decent improvements, but some basic idiocies are left untouched and some new ones introduced. It is certainly better than 4E and probably better than 3.5 and Pathfinder. I’ll review my thoughts when I get my hands on the Players handbook.

 

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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 5E – an initial review

  1. Nice read, but:

    “Why are we still generating attributes on a scale of 3-18, just to derive an attribute bonus from them. We do not actually use the 3-18 attribute number for anything else at all. So why not just generate each attribute in a range of -1 through to +4 and be done with it?”
    I strongly disagree here: 3-18 attribute range is what AD&D and D&D is and I am glad they stick to it, even if it truly, as you state, does nothing in terms of mechanics.

    And if you seek realism, why do you even look at D&D?

  2. 00edge says:

    I really liked the wound/vitality system used by the first D20 (OGL) Star Wars and Spycraft. Both were released in 1999. In this system of tracking “damage” your “wounds” is equal to your constitution and your “vitality” increases every level (instead of having hit points). When a character is hit by an attack, then the “damage” is subtracted from vitality first. This represents the movie/TV equivalent of all those near misses that the action stars have happen around them. If a character is unfortunate enough to be critically hit then the damage goes straight to “wounds” and is more akin to an actual open cut, bullet to the shoulder/leg/etc, or other such make you bleed and hurt wound. DMs were even given the option of adding crippling effects to wound damage (scars, lost limbs, etc). This system works well in keeping even high level characters afraid to go all willy-nilly into a fight, because there’s still that chance they’ll be crit and crippled.

  3. Pingback: Fifth Edition Day (or I Forgot to Remember to do This Yesterday) | World Engineer

  4. Adam Ness says:

    I kind of liked the wound/vitality system, but it made the combats weird to describe…. “Your enemy swings his axe at your head and (rolls a 16) “hits”… Well, not really hits, but you know… tires you out some so you won’t be able to dodge more hits later. His buddy fires and arrow and (rolls a 4) misses… But you know, actually really misses, not just a close miss like his buddy with the axe.”

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