Sunday, October 25, 2015

First Play- Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

    Yes, I know I'm about a year late to the party :)
    Yesterday I ran my first game of D&D 5th, with 2 players who had played it a few times, and 4 players who had never played it.  So, here are some off-the-cuff impressions.

Simple But Flexible
    This is a turn away from the rules-heavy 3rd/4th editions to the mechanically lighter original D&D.  Which is good.  Every action is basically 4 things: attribute + proficiency + d20 roll (normal, advantage or disadvantage) + class/item/spell modifier (if any).  That's a pretty easy formula to get used to, and a lot of it is binary.  Either you have proficiency or you don't.  Either you have advantage or you don't.  Things don't stack, so if you have 2 things giving advantage and 1 giving disadvantage then you roll normally.  I'm not as sure about that, I kind of think it would be fun to pile up modifiers Fate Aspect styled, but it's fine in play.  Lots is also fixed, the proficiency bonus is the same for all characters of the same level, and attributes don't change very often.  Really easy to adjudicate on the fly.  The tight mechanics means even being bad at something still gives you a chance to succeed or contribute.

Not A Lot Of Class Abilities, But Usually Enough
    At first level most characters had 4-5 skills they were good at, and one or two decent abilities.  It was not as much as in Pathfinder, or even 13th Age in some ways, but it seemed to be enough.  I am a believer that the fewer abilities you have the more flexible they need to be.  Having Advantage on tracking Goblins is pretty specific, but having Advantage when Tracking is a bit more flexible.  5th falls just a little on the "too narrow" side to me, but is still playable enough.  Really, that's up to the players and while one did comment that he felt short on options everybody seemed to roll with it okay.

Decent Starter Adventure - The Lost Mine Of Phandelver
    I did pick up the Starter Set box a while back, so I ran the adventure straight out of the box (just adding a few monsters here and there since I had 6 players to start with).  It is not high fiction, but it is a pretty solid adventure/ mini-campaign.  We only got about halfway through it, but each the locations and encounters had enough interesting bits to keep everyone engaged.  It also goes from clearing a cave to talking to NPCs, and while the traditional goblin fight leads things off, there are a varity of opponents after that.  Overall I was satisfied with it, and it has enough dangling plot bits that I already know how I can continue it if the players want to keep playing.

Worst DMG Ever

    Wow, I cannot say enough about just how godawful that stupid DMG is- it's like it was written by children instead of experienced game designers.  A million random-roll tables to build everything from worlds to plots to plot twists to NPCs !?!?!?!  Really?  Have you never heard of the Internet?  A Google search will give you literally thousands of random generators for anything you want.  But even more importantly, have you never heard about creativity?  About building a world and NPCs and scene for a reason, to illustrate a point or convey an emotional beat?  For a purpose, not "because the dice said so"?  Really?  I would have expected a book like this back in the early 80s when the industry was new, not now.  And the stuff you really need, the peek inside the designers' minds to help you understand the fundamentals of the game?  Barely there at all.  No table for "expected wealth by level" to know how much loot and magic the monsters are scaled to be challenging against.  The section on making your races, classes, backgrounds, spells and magic items - the foundations of understanding the game's power and options - that's a whopping 7 pages.  And most of it boils down to "look at the existing and make up your own stuff" which is, well, pathetic.  You really never made a chart of abilities you think work for each level when you designed the classes yourselves?  You just threw darts at the board and hoped you'd get lucky?  Like I said, not very professional.
    There are at least about 10 pages of how to build a monster, so some solid advice, though I highly recommend you go to The Angry GM and check out his articles on building a monster in 5th.  And the obligatory list of magic items.  Not much else of use if you've ever GMed any RPG before.  I literally would not buy this book if I could find the magic items somewhere else.

Rangers Suck
    My players were a group with a Cleric, Barbarian, Fighter, Bard, Sorcerer and Ranger.  All were okay except for the Ranger.  What the hell happened to the Favored Enemy?  Talk about weak-sauce.  You learn their language, when the game already gives you more languages than anybody in even modern times learns.  You have Advantage to track and recall information about them. And THAT IS FRIGGING IT ?!?!?!?  W with a T and a giant all-caps in bold and italics F.  That's not a favored enemy, that's a favored friend.  A casual acquaintance.  No combat bonuses at all?  I remember back in D&D Next them talking about adding abilities to the favored enemy that would be targeted at that race's abilities.  So, a favored enemy of dragons would mean you were immune to fear, since all dragons had a fear aura.  That would not only be good against that favored enemy but also all other monsters with the same ability.  So, flexible.  Instead we went from that, I have to say brilliant, idea to this weak snot?  Somebody dropped the ball.
    Otherwise, the Bard's inspiration only applying to one character also kind of sucks.  If they can do it so infrequently then it should at least effect the whole party.  The rest of their abilities are useful enough though.  The Barbarian's Rage is crazy strong, he soaked damage like a sponge.  Everybody else seemed okay.

    I've got some more ideas, and a more detailed write up on some elements of 5th that I'm working on.  So I'll try to publish a more detailed review, or at least look at certain aspects of the game, soon.  Again, I'm pretty late to 5th so odds are you can find lots of people talking about everything I've noticed already - but since it's new to me I'm gonna blab about it anyways ;)

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