This review is long in coming, I know. I think I originally promised it over 6 months ago, but life intrudes. I am finally playing in a 5th ed game, and thus far I am really enjoying it. The first published adventure, no so much, but I’ll discuss that towards the end. I started my D&D career in 2nd, played a ton of third, made it all the way to 27th level in 4th, and enjoyed them all. I loved the concept of 4th edition when it came out, but I’ll admit, in hindsight, the power system limited role playing creativity inside and out of combat. While selling people on 4th edition, I often commented that it had no more, and no less roleplaying framework then 3rd ed it. Having come out the other side, however, I will admit something about the structure of 4th edition tended to take people out of the descriptive, roleplaying mindset, and into the technical, tactical mindset. I know this happened in my game, and from comments I heard in the store I was not alone.
5th ed seems to have fixed that at least, by falling back, for the most part, to the 3ed edition base system. Gone are powers, and back are spell slots. All through the play-test, I was down on 5th edition. It felt limited, boring, and stilted, with almost no new ideas. I felt like it was 3rd edition again and frankly, pathfinder was already doing that just fine. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the published 5th edition does in fact make solid changes from 3rd and 4th, and is a game I am very much enjoying playing, and creating character for. I’m not doing to try and compare and contrast every aspect, as I’ll get bored long before I finish writing, but I’ll hit the highlights, and if anyone has specific questions, I’ll answer them in a follow up post. (I promise it won’t be 6 months later, and I will actually pay attention to the comments this time, pinky swear!)
First off, character creation. It flows well enough, you’re still picking a race, and then a class. The races feel interesting, and different. Gone are the plus something, minus something ability stats from 3rd ed. Closer to 4th, all the races have some sort of ability score bonus, but they removed the negatives, just bonuses. Even humans now stat bumps. Most races come with minor bonuses, spell like abilities, vision modifications, etc. The old spell system makes this much more flexible, so the races end up feeling more unique and interesting. in 4th, I feel like you typically picked a race that matched your classes ability needs, and ignored other options. That can still happen here, but stats are not quite as import in 5th, so there is a bit more freedom to pick a race you like, and go with it.
5th Edition has 11 classes, and each class has at least 2 and sometimes 3 or 4 specializations. Somewhere between prestige classes in 3rd, and paragon paths in 4th, the specializations allow you to tailor your class in fun and unique ways. The Rogue, for example, can go thief, and gain lots of pick-pocketing and second story style abilities, assassin, focusing on disguise, trickery and massive surprise damage, or arcane trickster, gaining spell slots focused on advancing their roguish ways. All in all, they give you lots of ways to tailor your character, without the needs of the power system, or stacking on more and more basic classes. Every class gets this treatment, and I feel you can easily see multiple characters running the same class, in the same party, with little or no overlap. Lots more creative freedom here then I expected.
The spell-casters fared a lot better then I expected. Spell slot magic is back, but it is much changed. Most spell-casting classes have spell slots, but none have to memorize individual spells into those slots like they did in 3rd. Spell slots are much more flexible in 5th edition over all. Almost ever spell improves if it is cast in a spell slot that is higher then its default, meaning every memorized spell can be made more useful just by casting it out of a higher slot. Different classes handle their spell slots in very different ways, leaving the classes each feeling unique. Almost every class can end up with spells depending on their specialization choices, but I’m going to focus on the three most closely related spell casters, the wizard, sorcerer, and warlock .
The Wizard is closest to the classic 3rd ed spell caster. He gets lots of spell slots, the largest spell list, and has the easiest time learning spells, but he can only prepare a certain number of spells per day. Once prepared, however, he can cast those spells as often as he has slots. He only regains his slots after a long (day ending) rest. The Sorcerer has slightly fewer spell slots then the wizard, and his spell list focus most on the boom spells. Every spell he knows, he can use as long as he has an open spell slot. He also gains spell points which he can spend on the classic metamagic abilities, or to turn into additional spell slots. He also regains his spell slots only after a long rest. Finally, the warlock has a smaller spell list, focusing on mostly non boom spells. He gets the fewest spell slots, and his slots increase in level as the character does. He can only even cast his spells at their highest level, trading flexibility for power. Augmenting his limited spell selection are a number of spell like abilities granted by his patron. Unlike the other classes, the warlock regains all his slots after a short (1 hour) rest. It leaves his class feeling unique compared to the other spell casters in a lot of ways. (Disclosure, I am currently playing a warlock, and really love this clas
I’m not going to go over the other classes at length, but I can if people would like me to. I spent most of my time focusing on the spell-casters for the campaign we are playing. If you want to have a better compare and contract of the other classes, leave a comment, and I’ll answer in a forth coming article.
Once you have selected your race, and class, the next huge difference in 5th edition is the background system. Every character picks a background that reflects who they were before they left on the adventuring path. Not only does your background give you some skill proficiencies left over from your old life, but it encourages you to select a Personality trade, an ideal, a bond, and a character flaw. Each background comes with a table you can roll on for each selection, (this is still D&D, so of course we need the random table) , but the rules encourage you to pick from the list, or make up your own as suites your character. They are simple options, any nothing impressive for an experienced roleplayer. That said, I love that the game is devoting time to building out a character, and giving you a semi structured way to do it. For new roleplayers especially, i feel like this is a huge step forward. For a lot of people, D&D will be their first role playing experience ever, and having a whole chapter of character creation be based around your characters actual history, and personality, rather then just stats and roll playing is a huge step forward.
This rolls us directly over into the other new system, the inspiration system. At any time, as a reward for clever thinking or roleplaying, the DM can grant “inspiration” to a character. This gives them a one time bonus to use on a roll. Most importantly, the character can also gift their inspiration to another character. It’s an incredibly simple system, but the fact it’s in D&D at all is another huge bonus. Giving a first time DM a simple way to reward roleplaying, and allowed the players to reward and encourage each other is a great simple mechanic. Again, it’s nothing experienced roleplayers need, but I see it helping new groups getting started for the first time.
This has gotten longer then I planned, but I’m not going to try and go over everything. The advantage disadvantage system, saving throws, etc are all worth discussing, but I’ll leave them for another post. The first points I will make is on combat. It’s simple, and it works. Gone are the swift actions, free actions, full actions, etc. Each round, you get a move, and action, and a reaction. Every action, you can do a number of basic actions (attack, cast a spell, hide, search, etc) during your action you can also do one simple thing. Want to draw a sword, cool, do it. Get out a potion, pull a lever, any one simple thing, you can just do. If you want to do 2 simple things, the second one will need to take your action. It’s a very stripped down system, and it works pretty well. As characters level up, many of the classes start to acquire bonus actions they can also use during their turn. The rogue quickly gets an additional dash, disengage, or hide action to display their mobility, for example. You can only ever take one bonus action per turn, so gaining more adds options, but does not over-complicate things. Characters can gain additional reactions as well, allowing them to do more then just take a swing as a retreating enemy.
There is much more to cover, including my thoughts on the first portion of the first adventure, but this has run long as it is. I know there are not that many folks reading, but if you have any questions, or anything you would like to see me cover in the next installment, let me know.
For now, this is the outerdork, dorking out.