Yesterday, we got together, went through character generation, and played several hours of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set. To paraphrase: I wasn’t a huge fan of 4th Edition because I am a habitual minis player and 4th Edition felt like a minis game. I did love the board games – Wrath of Ashardalon and the like – because I love roguelikes and those games felt like the right balance between a roguelike and a ridiculous dungeon run. 4th Edition needed grids, minis, rulers, and careful measurements to play and combat bogged down. It wasn’t the D&D I remembered so the books went largely unread and the game went unplayed.
D&D5e is not D&D4e.
Character generation is good old fashioned D&D character generation. Pick a race, pick a class, apply some bonuses, pick some weapons, fill out a form, and rock & roll. I picked a Mountain Dwarf Fighter because smashing imaginary goblins with a two-handed maul is fun and because I love Violet from Rat Queens. We all filled out our character sheets wrong in the same way – it’s the bonuses from the stats which count, not the stats themselves but because we were all trained by AD&D 2nd Ed we are still thinking the Fighter needs an 18/00 strength to be effective and, well…
Backgrounds shone. We didn’t have many to pick from, this being the Starter Set, but I see a glorious future of entire splat books dedicated to backgrounds alone. Two of us picked Soldier and one picked Criminal and we came up with some tenuous relationships between us. Rolling randomized on tables to create character personalities came up with some mixed results but the concept of backgrounds works.
Combat is what we all care about. Gone are the 5’ steps, the grid requirements, and the trappings of a minis game that starter in 3 and exploded in 4. Combat was fluid and fast – we managed to get through 5 combats in less than three hours which might be a world speed record for D&D. Granted, these are 1st level characters with 1st level character combats so they’re expected to be fast. Goblins squish. But there was a good balance of risk, reward, tension, and fast play to keep combat fun.
The Advantage/Disadvantage system is a bit of genius. It forces the players to think more tactically without the need of physical tactics. Players want to get the drop on monsters to get those Advantages so they’ll work harder, think more, and work together to get those pluses while trying to stay away from situations which give them Disadvantages. (For those not yet exposed to it, Advantages are when you can roll 2 d20s and take the best, and Disadvantages work the same way to the enemy’s benefit.) This gives the combats more color and encourages teamwork.
To understand the general tone of game play, go back to D&D 3rd edition and instead of shooting off into 3.5/Pathfinder, pull out everything that feels extraneous – most of the mechanics around Feats, measurements – and put in a more fluid saving throw, skill and combat system. It is not AD&D 2nd Ed like people have claimed – there is no THAC0, the d20 is still king, it is still all rolling and adding – but there’s an essential AD&Dness mixed with the enormous improvements found in 3rd Ed to make 5th Edition. It feels like Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s a super good game if you are in the mood for the kind of cheesy, ridiculous fun playing D&D brings. And it has all the feel of murder hoboing without the overhead.
Will play again and will acquire the core books when they come out.