Edition Wars? Huh! What are they good for?

Alright, I’m going to talk Fifth Edition D&D. Hold on to your hats, it’s going to get old school in here.

First question, just to get it out of the way, is 5E a good system?


Second question, will you like 5E?

Yes, again.

Third question, should you switch over to 5E from your current system?

And there, mysterious hypothetical questioner, you have hit the nail on the head. 5E brings a lot of really good, really fun stuff to the table, but whether or not it’s for you and your group remains to be seen. I can break it down for two groups who are going to absolutely love it, but otherwise it’s going to be a case by case decision. First off, if you’ve never played D&D before, or your group is going to have a lot of people who are new to tabletop, this is absolutely the game for you. Second, if you’re in a D&D group, or you have friends who enjoy D&D, but you cannot decide on an edition to play, pick this one.

Fifth Edition plays smoother than absolutely any other version of D&D or similar RPG while still retaining the freedom that makes pen and paper such a marvelous method of mutual entertainment. Streamlining efforts have been pushed to the brink, tying almost every action directly into a stat roll, one way or another. Stats pour directly into attacks, skills, and saves, without any intervening stage such as Reflex Saves or Pathfinder’s Combat Maneuver Bonus, making number crunching far simpler. Most bonus and penalty stacking has been replaced with an intuitive advantage/disadvantage system that translates to rolling twice and picking the higher or lower dice depending upon whether the circumstances are favorable. In fact, there are fewer steps all around between the player declaring an action and the results being known. There’s also a straightforward system for replenishing abilities, as resting for a day tends to put everything back to normal. I was initially skeptical of this, but upon experimentation, players burn hp at an alarming rate, and playing well enough to survive to rest is worth the benefits of resting.

That’s just mechanics, and while mechanics are important, they aren’t why we play these games. So let’s talk about narrative. 5E bakes narrative right into character creation, with every character picking a AD&D-style background that grants both a non-numerical mechanical ability (such as contacts in the underworld for a criminal) and forces the player to think about who their character is and was. This also benefits the canny game master who can use their player’s actually existent backgrounds as a source of plot hooks and immersion as characters interact with friends and family from their pre-adventuring days. The Monster Manual includes at least a full page of background and setting detail on every monster, the Dungeon Master’s guide is as bountiful in role playing advice, alternate rules, and magic items as it’s AD&D 2E grandfather, and, this is the kicker for me, the DM screen has a random name and random “Something happened” table on it.

If you’ve got a favorite previous edition, you’ll recognize the bits in 5E, like a much saner version of 3.5’s feats or spell casters keeping one or two tiny spells they can cast forever, a la 4E, and if you’re new, this will come easier to you than any of the other options.

In conclusion, this isn’t my new favorite system, but it might be yours. I’m glad I picked up the books either way.


Fifth Edition Impressions

So I forget how much of this I’m legally allowed to say, because I didn’t actually read my playtest agreement.

Ok, I’ve been running a D&D next campaign off and on for over a year now, mostly at my FLGS, and occasionally as part of or an alternative to encounters, and I have to say, so far I like it.

At it’s core, it’s still D&D, you still roll a twenty sided dice to try and make monsters dead, but like every edition that starts with a new number, there are some big jumps. If I had to give a blanket statement, I’d say it’s 3.0 mixed with second ed with the cream of fourth edition and pathfinder mixed in. But let’s get down to business.

What’s different? Well, when I told you you were rolling a twenty sider, I wasn’t just whistling Dixie. The base mechanics of the game have taken on an interesting new form, with the central mechanic focusing on “checks” and “saves”. Bare with me here. Every action now ties directly into an ability score based roll. I know that was already true, but there’s no extra steps here. Want to stab a bloke in the face? That’s a strength check to which you might get to add a melee base attack bonus. Don’t want to catch on fire? Make me a dex save buddy. Want to avoid surprise? Make a wisdom check and add your skill dice for spot.

Oh yeah, skill dice. Instead of skill training or skill ranks, your character gets a couple of skills he’s trained in, and anything that comes up involving those skills he gets to roll a small extra dice (d4 at low levels) and add that to the d20 roll. Skills aren’t tied to a specific stat anymore, either, so while climbing might usually coincide with a strength check, you might get to add your climb dice to a constitution save to avoid falling from a wall while being shot with arrows.

The name of the game is now tightness. We all remember playing that one 3.5 character who could literally end the world at level five, and that is very specifically not what NEXT is about. It harkens back to 2nd ed, where advances in character effectiveness were a privilege, not a right, and tempers it with a healthy dose of the 3.0 philosophy of expanded utility rather than compounded effectiveness. What that means is your character isn’t going to skyrocket to godhood, but when they get better at something, you’re both going to feel it and appreciate it.

So what makes a D&D next character? Classes and races are still here, but characters are rounded out with backgrounds and specialties, which determine skills and feats respectively. The backgrounds act like skill packages with flavor and a special rule attached, while a specialty is basically just a pre-planned feat progression, and while both of these come with numerous examples and options, players and DMs are also encouraged to make their own. It’s worth noting that the skills and feat are in no way class dependent, although some feats still require certain prerequisites, so it’s entirely possible to make a rogue who spent his formative years in the clergy or a barbarian who is a noted scholar of hidden lore. And that’s awesome.

The first edition races have all made themselves known so far, each with a couple neat variations. Races provide an ability bonus, a base speed, and a special ability or two. Many races also have racial weapons, which do more damage in their hands, making slings a viable weapon for the first time in recorded history. The core classes are pretty polished, and barbarians, monks, rangers, paladins, and druids are all here as well.  No word on bard’s yet, but we all know they’re coming. Character classes are basically a toolbox of special abilities, as your skills and feats are irrespective of your class. Classes also provide you with an ability bonus, chosen from a few relevant abilities.

A big thing for spell casters, and one of my personal favorite additions in NEXT, is the decision to make all cantrip spells infinite in uses. That’s right, one of the few improvements 4th managed to bring to the table survives in the newest edition. Veteran players, no longer will your wizard need to carry a crossbow for the first three levels because you blow your entire spell wad in the first two rooms of the dungeon! Rejoice! The cantrips are also better now, but modified so their ability to be used constantly cannot be abused.

Anyways, go to your FLGS and play, this game is shaping up!