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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: The Hit List, Part 2

Posted by Andrew on

I know I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again and again anyway. There is no way to judge a game until you've played it. First glance shows little more than major concepts and aesthetics, a thorough read through shows basic mechanics but no interactions. Those interactions, those individual steps that together form a larger, more complicated dance, make up the heart and soul of a game. I put little to no stock in simple analysis or theorycrafting, without actual play experience these things are nigh useless. After nearly a week of contemplation and rumination I have responses to my hit list, and they're mostly positive.

1.On advantage: Simply put, I love the advantage system. The lack of adding and subtracting modifiers to a d20 roll makes things move smoother, but what really makes the difference is from my side of the screen. All I have to say is “disadvantage” or judge whether or not my players want advantage. Player mentality will generally mean they want advantage, so they will rarely ask if they have disadvantage. A simple “yes” or “no makes my life much easier. Through the Breach takes almost all mechanics out of the hands of the guy running the game, the few times I've run that particular gem I've never left storytelling mode. While I doubt in a game like Dungeons & Dragons this will ever happen, the simple judgment of advantage certainly helps. Despite this being a completely new system, something that normally stretches the first session into a crawling slog through rules references and index consultation, last Saturday was probably the smoothest game of D&D I've ever run. I can't view this as anything but a good thing.

2.On specializations: I can't comment on this, as all my players just hit level two. No specializations yet, not seen in play at least, so I have nothing to say. Moving on.

3.On Hit Points: My main gripe with this issue is the lack of good low level foes. The prepublished adventure I'm running uses kobolds and cultists as the primary enemies, both of which are just about the weakest enemies conceivable by D&D standards. The cultists listed are little more than commoners with crappy weapons, kobolds are worse. The one point where a more challenging foe to fight popped up caused my paladin to drop from full HP to unconscious in one hit. It didn't kill him flat-out, but it sure came close. After a good, solid perusal of the basic rules I found that a creature of challenge rating two or higher is considered a deadly encounter for level one player characters. The number of these available in that same document can be almost counted on one hand, and they're not precisely exciting monsters to fight as a climax. More on that later on.

4.On advancement: I assigned XP through the session rather than the end, and all my PC's leveled up without any difficulty. There were five encounters all said and done, one wound up being entirely roleplaying as opposed to combat while the climax wound up being nothing but a plot ploy. Not my favorite, but it works for the adventure. Fully half the XP granted was for saving townsfolk from the rampaging bandits and standing up for what's right as opposed to putting pathetic weaklings to the sword. As adventure design, I love this. Wrapping up level one so quickly does help assuage many of my fears as well.

5.On details: We didn't hit too many small changes on our first run, but the rule for group rolls bears note. Whenever the characters tried to stealth their way past the cultists only three out of five needed to succeed their stealth checks. This means that while in my party contains two classes with loud armor, the paladin and cleric, they still have a good chance to make it through a situation without attracting attention due to the three sneakier types helping out. In most other games the moment a single person fails their stealth roll the whole gig is up, making a stealth party just about unplayable. With four people at the table, one is bound to flub a roll. I think this opens up a whole new world for playing Dungeons & Dragons.

In conclusion, my experience thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. I'll have more write ups later, I probably won't get a true review and rating up until the beginning of 2015. Roleplaying games are complicated, beautiful things, and they deserve a real shake before judging them. Consequently there are plenty of games I've been initially positive towards and later disliked. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, I'm looking at you.

Until next time, keep gaming. Mojo out.