Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Review
Well, it's finally out. This is the review you've been waiting for, the one you expected as well as the one you secretly hoped you'd never read. They've finally released D&D 5th Edition! Of course, a lot's changed about the publishing industry and the way we read books since 4e came out, so it's probably no surprise to see 5e now. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if we started getting new editions every few years, since it's all just a download away, on your computer, Kindle, console or iPhone.
Ed. You may also wish to read this article for further thoughts about 4th Edition.
Of course, the RPG industry has also changed, and that's got some people down on D&D. Understandable. World of Warcraft is still top of the charts, of course, now claiming that they're on par to break 100 million players by the end of the year. What with the 6.0 changes and the latest expansion, it's easy to see why millions are willing to shell out $25 a month; that's less than a single night out to the movies, when you factor in the cost of gas.
But enough about WOW; let's talk about D&D 5th Edition!
To Begin With
there's no more delineation between Players and Dungeon Masters
The biggest noticeable change here is that we're not talking books, any more. At least, not physically. Instead, you've got one big download and then the ongoing subscription, sort of a trickle download thing like Steam used to do when Valve was still around. We'll get to that soon enough.
I'll assume you own 4th Edition for the purposes of this review. If not... good luck. A few years ago I'd have sent you down to your FLGS to grab a copy off the Used Books shelf, but of course the last one closed up shop last month, so that's not an option. You want print you'll have to check out Ebay or Amazon. Irrelevant, though, since what you REALLY want is 5e, right? Right.
So with that, let's look at the D&D Handbook, what we formerly called the Player's Handbook. Why the name change? Well, that's because there's no more delineation between Players and Dungeon Masters. Everyone is a player, and the DM is just a piece of code on the D&D server now. All automated! Sign up and create your characters, and the DM automatically generates a sequence of events for you, perfectly balanced. No prep time, no need to wait for the DM to get his crap together. More on that later. For now, let's look at what's in the D&D Handbook.
For the most part, this is the D&D we know and love. Most of what was in 4e is still here, except it's all been refined and streamlined even further.
Hit points still work the same, but healing surges have been completely revamped. Now every player can use a healing surge in place of a standard action if they want, without any penalty. You won't have to rely on the Leaders to heal you up; you can solo if you want. And best of all, healing surges reset after every encounter -- infinite healing! -- so now you and your group can charge into every encounter without having to spend a half hour discussing, planning or resource managing.
Alignment has also gotten a much needed revamp. Nine alignments were way too many in 3e, and even 5 was cumbersome in 4e, so now we're down to just three: Lawful, Good, and Unaligned. This is a heroic game about good vs evil and I'm glad these rules emphasize that.
there's no messy character generation process at all
And then there's the biggest change, which is the merging of class and race into one set of Character Packages. This is really old school, and I mean OD&D old, when elves were a class. We're back there, and it really feels natural. It's not really a surprise. I mean, 4e was already pushing certain races towards specific classes: Tiefling Warlocks, Dragonborn Paladins. Playing things like Dwarf Wizards and Gnome Barbarians never made sense, so there was never any reason to allow it. With these Character Packages, you get perfectly balanced numbers every time.
In fact, there's no messy character generation process at all. Pick a package, and your starting stats are all precalculated. Gone are the bad rolls when generating a character: 13 Strength, gone! Now you're a fighter, you get a 20 Strength automatically. Everything is balanced like it should be. Armor is picked with the best option chosen for your character (Paladins get their Plate, Rangers get their Scale, etc). Weapon specializations are picked, and weapons distributed, and now all weapons do a d10 damage so everything is balanced. No unfairness!
Here are the new Character Packages you can pick from:
Martial: 1/2 Orc Barbarian, Dwarf Fighter, Dark Elf Ranger, Halfling Rogue. Each of the martial classes has a different weapon specialization. Barbarians use axes, Fighters use sword and shield, Rangers use two swords, and Rogues use daggers; missile weapons are hand axes, crossbows, longbows and shuriken, respectively.
Divine Classes:Aasimar Cleric, 1/2 Elf Druid, Human Monk, Dragonborn Paladin. Divine classes also have different weapon paths, all using bloodless weapons. Clerics get maces, Druids get shillelaghs, Monks get bare-hand attacks, and Paladins get warhammers.
Arcane Classes: Gnome Bard, Genasi Sorcerer, Eladrin Wizard, Tiefling Warlock. Arcane classes get different implements. Bards get lutes, Sorcerers get staffs, Wizards get wands, and Warlocks get orbs.
Multi-classing? Gone. Nobody did it anyway so why keep it?
Magic and Powers
No more needless decision making or wasting time
And now let's talk about magic items. Moving the magic items to the PHB in 4e was a great decision. Who wanted the DM to mysteriously roll on magic charts to dole out surprises? In the old days sometimes you'd get something you couldn't use. In 4e the players already got to pick their own items when they were found instead of the DM, and now it's one step better: there's no need to pick! Since there's one logical set of items for each Character Package, there's no need to mess around with random charts. Here, at each level, the game tells you what you get. Level 2? Here's your +1 Magic Sword, sir! Level 5? Here's a Healing Potion and a Magic Shield. It's awesome; you get stuff as you level without having to worry about random bad stuff.
Class Powers also get a much-needed revamp and work the same way. Instead of making you agonize over a couple of choices at each level, each Character Package now gets a standard power tree that tells you what you get at each level. No more needless decision making or wasting time; each Character Package gets the same thing when they level up. The kickass part is you are totally free to role-play what the power looks like though. Like if you want it to be fire-based you can say it's fire-based. Sweet!
The best thing though is the revamped and streamlined combat. You don't have to sit around wasting time while you try to decide what power to roll for. Each time your turn comes around, you just play the power card with the highest value, and the game makes it really clear which one that is. So if you have a Level 10 power, you play that one first, and then Level 9, and so on. Once you get all the way down to Level 1, you just use that one over and over. But since every encounter is balanced to only go for about 4 or 5 rounds, that means most of the time you'll never get all the way back to your turn more than a few times. This is really cool since you are constantly using new powers each time. Of course 4e already worked sort of like this, since it always made sense to use your most powerful Encounter powers first, followed by At-Wills, etc. But that meant you always saved the Daily powers up for the last encounter of the night. Is it 11:30 and we're quitting at midnight? Daily time. BORING. Now everything is an At-Will and you just go in order through the power list. Much better.
Plus since magic items are now tied to character advancement all the numbers are added up for you on the power displays. No math required! Just roll a die, or use the pre-built in roller embedded into the document, and go for it! Spiffy!
Entitlement is the new word in Role-Playing
Now let's talk about what used to be the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. These have been entirely replaced with the DM (Dungeon Maker)'s Dungeon Scenario. When each player signs up their character on the server and downloads the D&D Handbook, they just plug in the name of their group or campaign and the Scenario is generated and downloaded to the book.
This Dungeon Scenario is custom-tailored to your specific group, and perfectly balanced so no one ever has a chance of dying. It's like being in your very own novel as the heroes! Each Scenario includes a brief introductory scene (you can role play if you want to but why bother, you can skip this) and then a Dungeon Delve to enter, with a monster encounter and some treasure, all pre-designed in the book and well-balanced. Kill the monster and move on. Just run through 5 two-page encounters and you get a level. 10 pages per level, 500 pages total, lots of content, and all of it is predictable, fun and fast!
And yes, you heard me right: that's at least a guaranteed level every night. Entitlement is the new word in role-playing, and Dungeons & Dragons delivers. Begone unfairness, imbalance and asymmetry! Everyone is rewarded at the same pace regardless of ability or effort. The reward is playing the game.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, you'll be pleased to know that skill challenges are gone! Players still have skills of course but they don't have to mess around with role playing through them. Just roll the d20 when the game tells you and see if you passed or not. Skill challenges are way streamlined, so there's no more need to determine if you succeed or fail by accumulating 7 or 8 die rolls (TEDIOUS!). It's just one roll to see if you succeed immediately, and if you fail, then another roll to see how long it takes you to succeed.
The best part about the scenario is that every encounter is totally unique. You won't have to fight ten rooms of goblins; you'll only meet them once. Each Dungeon Delve has unique creatures and different treasure that's perfectly balanced to where your level is. No "too easy" or "too hard" encounters. And yes before you ask, (SPOILER WARNING) in the final you all fight the T-------e and when you kill him you get to reach level 30 and win the game! Then your characters get Achievements and you get to pass on your best magic item to your next character.
Of course, the next time you pick one of the twelve Character Packages, the entire scenario is re-generated for you. Next time through, you can try it in HARDCORE mode and get to level 50. I think there's even an IMMORTAL mode after that one but we haven't got that far.
In closing, you should definitely download a copy of D&D 5e. I'll post the torrent later. Since it's a free game now (completely ad supported in the ebook, but I'll write an article soon on how to block those) there's no piracy going on with 5e. Just download, share, and play! It's an amazing game that brings a new dawn to Role-Playing, and best of all it's definitely something you can play with your friends while you're waiting for a WOW raid to start. You can level up 5 or 6 times before the raid, then play some WOW, then do a few more during the raid... You can all hit level 50 inside of a week or two of playing 5e, even if you only play it around other activities, so it's easy, it's quick and it's fun. Campaigns don't take years any more - just a month. With D&D 5e, it's really like an epic fantasy story that you can always win. Adventure, excitement, balance, and awesomeness.
A++++++++ Would Play Again!