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This week marks the offical release of the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons. 40 years this game has been moving along in and out of popular culture…sometime maligned and sometimes lauded. Love it or hate it, at the end of the day it is the grandaddy of a wonderful and vibrant industry of creators and free thinkers that have brought to us a wealth of games from all genres and a great varying of rules and mechanics. There is in my humble opinion a RPG/Sim out there for everyone (Fantasy Football I am looking at you). In my life I have purchased, played, and run a large number of RPGs, most pen and paper, and a handful of digital ones (Mass Effect series being my favorite of that category…More on that later). No matter what I always return to my first love…D&D. I got my start at the ripe age of 8…and I never stopped playing it. Other games have come and gone yet D&D has remained the most constant presenter in my life of hobbies.
Over the past 14 years we have seen 2 other editions of the game come out. In 2000 Wizards of the Coast fresh from their purchasing of TSR, delivered to us a massive evolution of the Game with 3rd edition. Gone was THAC0, gone were positives to Armor giving your a negative armor value, gone were many things that for 26 years were, what many considered sacred cows of the game. Some things were familiar and stayed the same, the Vancian Magic system most readily comes to mind. This edition of the game changes a lot of things and perceptions of how the game was played. Miniatures became staple of the game, we started having debates about Euclidean Geometry when it came to movement, we began a new arms race with the inclusion of the feat system. All these things were good…and all these things were bad to some degree or another. Me, myself and I? I kept playing the game they way I wanted too. Story was key to me and always will be.
2008 saw the release of 4th Edition, which changed the face of the game again. I say in a new an interesting way…many will disagree with me. That is okay they can disagree with me all they want I still like and will defend my appreciation of 4th editions for the years to come. 4th added a more robust tactical element to the game, with new mechanics and the what would seem the death of Vancian Magic all together in its place a powers & spell system that revolved around at-will abilities, encounter abilities and daily abilities. The game took some interesting steps forward…yet I kept playing the game they way I wanted too. Story was key to me, and always will be.
So this leads me to today July 15th 2014…the offical release of D&D 5th Edition. (Granted they are just calling it D&D which is fine by me) So lets take a look at this new yet oddly old feeling edition of the game.
First things first mechanically speaking the game retains much of it’s basic wheel house from the past 2 editions. Roll a d20, add a modifier, subtract any modifiers, calculate result…and PROFIT!!! Err see if you succeeded or failed. Pretty darn easy. However they in this edition at least in the Starter Set and the Basic Rules that you can download for free right now, go ahead I’ll wait…
Dum de dum dum dum de dum dum de dum de dum de dum dum….
Got them? Good. Now where was I oh yes it feels like they have taken many of the rules from previous outings and distilled them to a more basic set of rules. They have fine tuned the engine by being more minimalist with things. You don’t need to use a grid map and miniatures anymore, you don’t need to worry about a over expressive tactical combat simulator. It can all return to the Theater of the Mind, so many people remembered from the days of their youth. However they added a very modular aspect to the game this time around…want to use a battle map and miniatures. The rules are still there just optional. While we only have the basic rules we know the more expanded and crunchy Player’s Handbook due out next month in August will include a series of these modular rules to add to your game or not. They took the approach of really allowing you as a play group to customize your game experience to fit your groups play style without having to kit bash a lot of house rules. While you could do that in previous editions this time around it is really feels like they have made this seamless and easy way of doing things.
So far with only the 4 basic classes available to us that Class design has been handled pretty darn well this edition. The classics are there Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard. They will be joined by the other mainstays like Druid, Paladin, Bard, Sorcerer just a name a few more again when the Player’s Handbook is out. However lets get back to the four classes we can talk about. The Starter Set comes with a High Elf Wizard, a Dwarf Cleric, a Halfling Rogue, and 2 Human Fighters. Each class feels exactly like they should. They are those comfortable gloves that fit wonderfully. Mechanically what I find great is while we are given 2 fighters, they are very different from each other. One is a front line melee fighter, and the other is a more nimble archery based fighter. Moving on from them is the Rogue not only are Halflings rigged (Racial Ability Lucky…Rolled a natural 1 on that attack roll…go ahead roll it again and take the 2nd result)…Rigged I tell you they rogue can really dish out a punishment with it’s sneak attack and other tricks. The Cleric and the Wizard have gotten some upgrades in the spell-casting department.
The Spell System the “innovation” I think is incredible. You have a number of spell slots of various levels (as in original D&D through 3rd Edition), but they’re independent from the spells you prepare at the beginning of the day. When you cast spells, you can cast any of your prepared spells, as long as the slot is high enough – and low-level spells may be more effective when you use higher level spells. So, if you have three first level spells and prepare sleep, magic missile and say Tenser’s Floating Disk, you could cast three sleep spells during the day and nothing else, or one of each of the spells, or two of one and one of the other…This flexibility, in a lot of ways, combines the sorcerer and wizard from 3rd Edition. However Clerics get the same flexibility which is great, and that get further modified by the Cleric’s chosen domain. Right now all we have access to is the Life Domain…more are coming to be sure.
Speaking on character advancement. It feels much like 4th & 3rd editions. Your character gains abilities and features as you level. At 3rd Level your character gets to specialize. Want to focus on being that Fully Armored Defending Tank style fighter then that’s the specialization you take, just another great way to focus your characters efforts.
However characters are not just a set of mechanics. Backgrounds come into the mix. Story is a huge emphasis in this edition and they open up the flood gates on this concept. While we all make characters and even sometimes we come up with backgrounds this edition it brings additional and fun way to do this. By choosing your characters background from a list of things like Folk Hero, Sage, or even Criminal you help shape your characters abilities and skills. You also might get tangible benefits to your character. Like being from a Noble might get you a free stay at an inn, or maybe you get to stay with the Mayor of the town(your friends can stay in the barn). Your a folk hero, mostly likely you worked on a farm in your characters youth. Chances are you might have Animal Handling as starting skill. This background choice also comes with some great elements to spice up your character…Ideals and Flaws. Granted you can of course make up your own but their suggestions can help flesh out your character if you are drawing a creative blank.
What is good about getting characters to do this is that when a character plays into his strengths and flaws the DM can award the character Inspiration. Think of this kind of like a Benny from Savage Worlds. It allows the character to gain Advantage on a task by spending the inspiration, or to give another player his inspiration if they feel the PC deserves it. So speaking of Advantage, just what the heck is it…
Well one this editions big new mechanics is Advantage and Disadvantage, probably one of the most innovative and unique mechanics in the new edition. Instead of passing out modifiers, the DM instead passes out Advantages and Disadvantages: the former lets you roll 2d20 and take the better result, the latter has you rolling 2d20 and taking the worse. It’s a design to curb a bloat of conditional modifiers, such as those for flanking, cover, terrain advantage (“I have the high ground!”), aid another, and what have you. Instead of worrying about stacking modifiers from a bunch of different sources, just make it into an Advantage or a Disadvantage. It speeds things up and is a great way to grant on the fly bonuses for clever actions…or negatives for stupid ideas.
I am going to wrap this up as it’s past my bedtime and I am starting to get fuzzy. Onver all the feel of this edition is back to Story…all the rules and changes and additions lead to one thing. A game that is easy to play, and has good clear rules so that the Story can take the driver’s seat. From just the Starter Box alone and all the musings about the upcoming Tyranny of Dragons multi-Adventure coming out in a few months. The Story you will tell around the table looks to be the most important part agian. I for one am looking forward to many great stories being told with this edition, and playing the game the way I always have wanted too…Story is the key to me, and always will be.
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