Friday, July 4, 2014

What I Think of Basic D&D (5e)

Last night, I read through all of the 110-page Basic D&D document.

Overall, I'm impressed. It feels like a leaner version of 3.x, with enough dials to turn it up and down. It also feels like a more cleaned-up game than either 1st edition (full of power creep, arbitrary distinctions, and ill-explained abilities) or 2nd edition (especially once you get to the splatbooks).

I'd play this game. It's pretty cool. It looks easy to get started with, too - a set of predetermined basic stats you can just choose, lay out, and go with; prechosen gear; and not a lot of rolling or choices to make. There is even a "Quick Build" advice section that gives solid advice on how to arrange your stats and what to take and do.

Looking at the high-level characters, it seems like they generally advanced the breadth of their abilities rather than just mindlessly piling on more power. Abilities like the Rogue's "Reliable Talent" that makes all rolls below 10 count as 10 when using their skills, wizards getting specialized spells, and fighters getting to either grow into an archetype - all of that makes it seem like leveling up is broadening your powers and not simply making you overwhelmingly more powerful.

At the same time, there is more of a heroic lean, much like in later D&D editions. High level guys get to do things low-level guys don't, and not just because they have more HP and a better to hit and better spells. I'm fine with that - I like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, after all, which sets the power level up to "awesome." Still, it seems like you can start without a long-term level by level plan to improve (3.x, ahem) and make the decisions as you go. That I like. I just want to make a guy and start to play, and not be crippled compared to the guy who mapped out 20 levels worth of progression to ensure he got to take the best feats and character levels.

There a few things I found a little negative. The HP inflation is kind of off-putting, but I suspect it plays better than it reads to someone who thinks Huge Ancient Red Dragons have 88 HP. And it does seem like healing is pretty easy and common. But if that's combined with more lethal monsters, it might put the 15 minute adventuring day to rest while still making combat dangerous and deadly. We'll see.

At the same time, the complete and clear explanations of statuses, the spells having crisp descriptions, the powers have clear limits - it doesn't seem like an inflated game. Attributes go up, but they're limited to 20s, I can't see how you start over a 17 with racial mods, and you get all of 7 of those 2-point increases with the Fighter, who gets the most.

Overall, like I said, I'd play this game. It's got a lot of what I liked about 3.x D&D with a lot less of the "know the rules before you can play effectively." It's NOT the second coming of white-box D&D or 1st edition AD&D or whatever. It seems to be a nice mesh between the various editions. And like I said - it looks like fun.


  1. I think that's a pretty good assessment, and near to my own thoughts. It's 3e after spending an afternoon in the dungeon with B/X, and picking a couple of things off 4e's corpse. It does make me want to see the DMG even more to see how Wizards pulled off the ways to make 5e (or really 7e) can mimic other editions.

  2. I haven't finished reading yet (not quite half way through), but what you say is similar to the impression I'm beginning to get.

  3. I'm a little weirded out by the experience progression and a few other things, but a lot of that is just (like your note about the 88hp Huge Ancient Red) my own expectations and conservatism. I look forward to seeing how it plays out in the full game.

    1. That's my main feeling - some of what weirds me out isn't stuff that is "What, no, not what I want" but rather "those numbers are too high compared the numbers back in my day." Still, it had better be different, and patch the annoying spots in earlier editions, or it's not worth doing.

  4. What do you think of the higher "spell slot" mechanic, e.g., use a 2nd level slot to memorize a 1st level spell and get a bigger effect?

    1. I'm curious about it, honestly - I'm intrigued by how wizards will work in play. I like their greater flexibility and more generally available magic. That's the kind of wizards I'm used to in GURPS and had in Rolemaster, so the idea that you can juice up spells by overcasting them with a higher spell slot seems fine with me.

  5. I like how everyone comes with a background separate from his class/race.

    I like how subraces are listed with their effects right there instead of just saying "This is an elf" and making entire separate pages down the line for "This is how this kind of elf differs from the one you're already playing."

    I like how it says that not every priest is a Cleric, and in fact most are not; being a Cleric is a vocation that chooses you, not one that you can just up and decide you want to do. (In in-universe terms, that is.) I like making clerics with non-Acolyte backgrounds.

    I like dropping the skill system and making the feat system an optional rule DMs are free to forbid playing with. I felt that the way these were incentivized and used in 3rd Edition was not really good for the purpose of character customization. Better the flat bonus with no stacking from redundancy than "Take this exact combination of feats and dump every optional skill point you receive into a single skill or you suck."

    I like how the default stats don't give any 18s, and you aren't allowed to take an 18 if using point-buy.

    Things I'm not quite as keen on:

    Elf wizard still seems like a very questionable class/race combination to me, human wizard only slightly less so. At least High Elves get +1 INT. Still, elves seem like better thieves or even archery-focused fighters than they do wizards, just like all editions before this one.

    Dwarf fighters are actually kinda redundant as the dwarf race gives a bunch of proficiencies that all fighters have; being able to use light, medium, and in one sub-race's case heavy armor is a lot more meaningful to a wizard or a thief than it is to a fighter.


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