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I have been playing D&D for over a decade. It started with finding a 2nd Edition box set in my friend’s dad’s closet, hearing stories about the fun times they had playing, and fortunately a new edition of D&D had arrived; Third Edition to be precise. After completely messing up the rules and ending up with a 14th level Fighter in a party of 8th level adventurers, we doubled down and read everything we could. Over 50 accessories books, hundreds miniatures and a metric crap-ton of single session characters, we were telling epic stories in a custom campaign world and correcting our own mistakes. When 4th Edition came out, we saw it as more of a conversion to a World of Warcraft system and had made a significant investment in 3rd Edition and its 3.5 rules, so we skipped it.
When my sister’s friends saw the dusty tomes of D&D lying around the house, they picked up a Starter Set for 5th Edition and asked me to teach them. I wearily agreed, not ready to see how far the game had fallen from my beloved 3.5, but after functioning as a DM for a few months, I think I love it.
Now, for experienced D&D gamers, this is tricky. This version seems to be a proper love child of all the previous versions: the d20 system introduced in 3rd Edition is still the core mechanic, but the skills have been compressed. Rituals and class progression trees from 4th Edition are still around. Combat mechanics have been radically simplified to almost 2nd Edition levels (thankfully THAC0 is still missing). But here’s where it gets interesting; this game was designed for the beginner/novice/Role Playing Game uninitiated. In this, the designers have succeeded beautifully.
Jumping from the Starter Set to the Player’s Handbook (PHB) was perfect. Sure there were things to learn. No one knows whether to take the Life Domain or the War Domain, go Assassin or Arcane Trickster, or specialize in Evocation or Necromancy when they first start. But with simpler skills, you don’t have to choose much to be what you want. With three general paths, you don’t need to worry about how you get to your prestige class. Without feats, you don’t need to plan out eight levels ahead to be what you really want. That is joy for a new tabletop gamer.
Granted, as a player, which I will be this Friday, (yep, already have three DMs in training), I sorely miss the variety and options that even the Core Rulebooks offered. Choosing Feats and Skills was like being a kid in a candy store. I miss the combos like the Spiked Chain with Combat Reflexes, or Cooperative Spell with a fellow spellcaster. Worse, multiclassing doesn’t seem as appealing thanks to Proficiency bonuses. However, seeing the benefits of higher levels, it feels like Prestige Classing is already built into the classes. Also, it seems playing has the same feel to it, as my brother who played with my original 3-3.5 group jumped right in after getting a character off the ground, with only a few rules-based corrections.
There is something to be said for the Role Playing aspect as well. In earlier editions, the mechanics took a heavy chunk of the books, and the 3.0 PHB was reduced to a few pages worth of background stuff like height and weight, with a few statements in the class sections as a role play guide. It took my first group some serious consideration when it came to stepping towards acting in character, but the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook has a wonderful Background chapter, where you can choose from Soldier, Acolyte and more, and roll for things like character traits and flaws. This is actually a wonderful thing, because as a player in a tabletop RPG, it’s good to have a starting point, and the inexperienced may not know where to start. Thanks to this chapter, one of the characters, Ping the Monk, has become a jovial, friendly character built around the “says the wrong words” feature (“That story was inedible! Please share another one!”)
There is still some learning to do, but over the first four sessions, players go right for their d20 instead of asking what to roll, spellcasters have the spell desciptions ready for when their turn in combat rolls around (mostly) and table chatter is at a minimum or lower than my voice when I speak after a quick explanation of DM Dice and what that may mean: mostly damage, but they still think I may use the Polymorph spell I told them about.
Now that the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual are out and have been dissected, here are the main pros and cons:
Great for Beginners – Picking up the game is easy thanks to streamlined design, Class choices and less skills.
Excellent RP Section – Making a backstory is simple with set backgrounds and traits you can roll for.
A Bit of Everything – Any player of older editions will find influences from their edition of choice, from spells to mechanics.
Abilities Matter More – With a saving throw for each ability, your ability choices go further.
Abilities Matter More – Having to balance your scores is tougher with six types of saving throws linked to ability scores.
No Set Magic Item Prices – Prices have a range of value based on five rarity classes. No help there.
Scaling for Level is Strange – You calculate encounter toughness based on an XP Threshold formula, meaning it’s harder to throw something right out of the book.
Customization is Lacking – While great for beginners, journeymen will find the options lacking and in need of homebrew elements.
So what is the verdict here? Simply that this is a version that is more approachable for new players than previous versions have been, while still retaining the best features of older versions. That makes this edition one of the best, if we are only judging by the core rulebooks. As we all know, supplementary books form the full experience, but it’s unfair to compare when 5th has only just arrived. Will my opinion change as more material gets released? Of course. Will higher level play bring challenges or new opportunities? Don’t know. Will I be as happy with 5th Edition five years from now? I’m willing to find out. New writers and new ideas can be hit or miss. However, I’m in no rush to switch my 5th Edition players to another system. There’s still so much more to explore for them, and they’re ready for the challenge.
Check out the counterpoint of this first topic of Still Debating! If you have an idea for a future Still Debating post, let us know in the Comments below!