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Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: The Hit List

Posted by Andrew on

Saturday marks the beginning of my first real shot at Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Internetland currently buzzes with information and reviews, mostly positive with some criticism thrown in for good measure. As an experienced DM, I have quite a few things I'm looking forward to seeing in practice, as merely reading the rules hardly gives an accurate picture of what's in the actual play. So far the book certainly reads well, I appreciate the varied art styles present across the colorful pages. I'll jot down a full write up next week after getting a game under my belt, in the meantime here's my “hit list” of the new edition, for good and ill.

1: Advantage/Disadvantage. If there's anything D&D 5th edition gives us that's worth noting, it's the removal of nearly all circumstantial modifiers and introduction of this system. At first glance the minimalist in me loves it, removing the need to calculate multiple modifiers to a single d20 roll makes my inner child yell “squee” at the top of his little, shrill voice. It makes my outer adult do the same thing. Bookkeeping and rules referencing are the bane of fast play, and I like my games like lightning.

2: Advancements and Specializations rolled into base class: This made me go “hmm” when I realized what happened. Many of the classes and paragon paths from 4th edition as well as prestige classes from 3.5 simply got rolled into the baseline. Each class now has several builds inherent to their abilities, effectively enforcing some sort of specialization on characters. I don't find this as a bad thing, the option of playing a simple beatstick fighter still exists. Shadowdancers, avengers, assassins, eldritch knights, arcane tricksters, wardens, shugenja, all are mentioned in the classes presented as build options. Curiouser and curiouser.

3: Hit points at 1st level are reduced to slightly above 3.5 levels: This concerns me. While negative hit points don't exist, if a character takes damage in excess of his hit point maximum equal to said maximum it's lights out and roll a new character. A huge criticism I've had of 3.5 and earlier lied in how deadly the first level was. While the particularly squishy types had a hit die boost, even wizards and sorcerers begin with 6 hp, a single orc has a decent chance of outright killing a PC with a hit while a hobgoblin can do this with alarming regularity. The types of monsters a DM can throw at level one parties without a serious chance of nobody making it through the adventure consists of kobolds, small groups of goblins, and mundane animals. While I understand this kind of fits the zero to hero trope D&D attempts to emulate, it doesn't help much for a good game. Check out the number of intro adventures that feature goblins or kobolds as the primary menace and you'll see what I'm talking about. Some even feature zombies or skeletons.

4: Player advancement: At first glance, the new experience table makes me think the first few levels will fly by in a flurry of dead kobolds and copper pieces. This mitigates my hit point concern a little bit, and I'm wondering if that's the intent. It takes a lowly 300 xp to advance to level two with those meddling goblins and kobolds provide 50 and 25 xp each, respectively. Considering the Dungeon Master's Guide isn't released until November, the only other guidelines we have for awarding XP can be found in the Starter Set and the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module. The starter adventure has characters comfortably into level two by the end of the first session, while the module looks very close in application. This reminds me of the older days of D&D, where moving from level 13 to 14 with your wizard required months of gaming rather than the 2.5 sessions that seems the norm now.

5: All the little stuff: Coming from a D&D calender dating back to late 2nd edition, helping my players make characters has reminded me of how many small changes the game has undergone. Handaxes are now simple weapons, every class gets either magic or something close enough to count, no more lesser or greater versions of spells, no more bonus spell slots, spell concentration means something totally different, all the conditions changed, the word “proficiency” has a new definition, the minutiae add up so quickly I'm going to have to forget a lot of what I know about previous editions. This is very difficult for me, but I'll cope.

I'll post early next week after I can collect my thoughts. No game should be judged without playing, time to kick the tires and see what she can do.

Keep gaming, Mojo out.