Tuesday, September 30, 2014

First Impressions from D&D 5E

Last month, me and my group began exploring D&D 5E, as a break between our D&D 3.5E and our ACKS game planned for a month or two into the future. I ordered the D&D 5E starter box, as well as the Player's Hand-Book (PHB), from Amazon.com, and we had a goodf chance to try them, two sessions by now. In the first session, the PHB hadn't arrived yet, so we used the Starter Box in conjunction with the free D&D 5E Basic Rules, and generated characters. The group is composed in the following manner:

Me (Omer) - the DM
Alon - plays Francis, Halfling Rogue (Criminal)
Avi - plays Argent, Human Cleric of Helm (Noble)
Shaked - plays Shane, Human Fighter (Soldier)

As you can see, no Arcane spellcaster in this group.

We played so far two sessions (the third will be played next Wednesday), each approximately 3 hours in length. In these 6 hours, we managed to create characters (about 2.5 hours, mostly getting used to the new rules), have some role-playing and travel, and three battles. We reached the Cragmaw Hideout (smaller goblin den) and have cleared part of it, more next time.

The main impression is this - we had LOTS of fun! All of us! Everybody was VERY satisfied with D&D 5E. Most of these people are used to 3.5E, while I'm used to both 3.5E and OSR games. And we all enjoyed 5E very much! So much that we're considering to convert "season 2" of our D&D 3.5E campaign to 5E!

The highlights of our experience are:

1) Combat is much faster than in 3.5E, and a bit slower than in the typical OSR ruleset (such as BFRPG). It is less tactical than in 3.5E, but more interesting in terms of stuff PCs can do than many OSR games. All in all, a good compromise. Players felt that their characters had something cool to do in each and every round, IN ADDITION to attacking and moving. In three and a half hours of post-chargen play, we had three significant battles, plus role-playing and exploration, a food break for us players and DM and some banter. This is faster than my experience with D&D 3.5E, where fights tend to last longer and be more complicated.

2) The party no longer needs a dedicated healer, except for emergencies. In three fights where characters were wounded, our Cleric did not cast a single (!) Cure Wounds spell, but rather concentrated on being an awesome combatant and, once, cast Bless (a buff requiring concentration). Why? Because there are many ways for characters to renew their hit-points, from 1-hour Short Rests (where you roll your Hit Dice for HP healed, e.g. a 1st-level Fighter can, on one Short Rest a day, roll 1d10 +CON bonus and heal that in HP), to the Fighter's Second Wind ability (renewed after each Short Rest). This did not feel too unnatural, too, as the fighter now feels very tough, and able to shake off mass damage, while the 15-minute adventuring day is gone.

3) Combat is always interesting, despite being simpler than in 3.5E and 4E. The main reason for this, I think, is Bonus Actions - various abilities you can use IN ADDITION to your main action (e.g. attack). So you don't have to choose between attacking and being cool, you can do both, all while not being overpowering (these Bonus Actions usually are not game-breaking in their implications but rather add coolness and options to combat). The simple task system also encourages characters to try out new things, and not stick to the rules.

4) D&D 5E is VERY easy for the DM to adjudicate. Very much so. In a nutshell, you have a small number of skills, and you are either proficient in a skill or not; if proficient, you roll 1d20 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus (proficiency bonus ranges from +2 at level 1 to +6 at level 20). There are much less modifiers than in 3.5E; instead, a task could be either normal, at a disadvantage (roll 2d20 and pick the lowest) or at an advantage (roll 2d20 and pick the highest). You can either have an advantage and a disadvantage and these are not cumulative. So adjudicating a new thing a player wants to do is simply a matter of figuring out which skill is most appropriate, deciding whether there is an advantage or disadvantage involved, and selecting a difficulty class (I used 10 for easy tasks, 15 for moderate and 20 for hard). Always everything can be adjudicated this way.

5) The system seems to encourage role-playing and getting players into their characters by a system of background character hooks, such as personality traits and faults. playing by these hooks gives you Inspiration - a one-time chance to gain an Advantage on any one roll (or cancel a Disadvantage). Inspiration is not cumulative and cannot be accumulated so hoarding is discouraged. In actual play this system led to more role-playing than I used to see in 3.5E.

All in all? A great experience. It isn't going to replace ACKS as the go-to campaign system, but it might as well replace 3.5E for us for "new-school" play and maybe even for certain "old-school" things.

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