Friday, January 2, 2015

My (Very Late) Thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

I truly believe we are living in a golden age for RPGs. Roleplayers have an amazing array of choices, in terms of games available and avenues in which to buy and play them. The giant RPG publisher may be mostly dead, but not for lack of RPGs being made and sold. 2014 was an exceptional year within this golden age, and I believe it will be remembered as a landmark year, partially due to the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

I'm not going to bore you with a breakdown of the rules and mechanics of play—I'm writing this way too late to have anything new to say in that realm. What I'd like to do is just share some thoughts on what I've seen, and what I think of it.

The first thing I should note is that for me, this feels like an alternate history 3rd Edition. Now don't assume I'm bagging on 3.x. It's a great game, and I got years of great play out of it's myriad variants (D&D 3.0, Classic Spycraft, and Mutants & Masterminds 2E being my highlights). That said, it was a huge departure from the original 2nd Edition core books. (I should note I was completely out of the D&D loop during the Black Book era of things like Skills & Powers.) When I read through and played 5th Edition, it felt more like a natural progression from those original 2nd Edition books than 3rd Edition. So what if Wizards of the Coast never released 3rd Edition in 2000 and managed to keep the 2nd Edition line, as I remember it, going? Then add in the things designers have learned over the last 14 years, and took the same "it still has to feel like D&D" approach. I believe 5th Edition is pretty damn close to what that 3rd Edition would look like. Why is this an important thought to me? Well, the original three 2nd Edition books were my favorite D&D iteration. (Yeah. I'm that one guy with 2E as his fave.)

The Player's Handbook is very well done in 5th Edition. I love how you can play through your whole class using only one section of the book, with only minor departures if you decided to play a spellcaster or take an occasional Feat. I think 13th Age does a better job of compartmentalizing the classes, but that book departs more from the feel of D&D for me (not a bad thing, just different). Speaking of "an occasional Feat," I love that Feats aren't really necessary in play. I was skeptical when I'd heard this, but it's true. The trade-off between raising your stats and getting a Feat is perfect. I think Feats are great in concept, but they got way out of hand in 3rd Edition.

There's been a great deal of positive sentiment for the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, and I have to agree. In fact, I'd say this is the best DMG ever made. The main reason? It acts as a true Dungeon Master's, well, Guide. The tools for building a world, creating a campaign, all the tables—I'm sure this will change over time, but today, I can't imagine what changes I'd make to this book. Truly brilliant.

As for the Monster Manual, I don't have much to say, other than I'm glad it's not a binder with loose leaf like the original 2nd Edition core—which has stood as my second-biggest 2nd Edition complaint (second only to racial level limits from AD&D in general). Other than the binder kerfuffle D&D has never really had a bad core monster book.

I'm hoping to run a D&D campaign in the near future, and for the first time, I'm actually interested in trying organized play. I'm sure I'll have more on that last thing after I try it.

Until next time, do good, avoid evil, and play more games!