Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The 5th Edition

I've had the opportunity, now, to play the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons with my wife, Frank, and Jason. In person, even! Jocelyn didn't like it (not enough dungeon in the dungeons and dragons, and too many farmers, orcs, and above-ground fights), but otherwise I thought the session went alright. Jocelyn and Frank insisted on making two rogues, leaving Jason to play a paladin-aspirant of the Order of the Golden Swan.

My own rule of thumb in 2e games has been that paladins, knights, etc., generally aren't recognized as such until 3rd level. How refreshing, then, to find that levels 1-2 in 5e are sort of pre-levels that go by very quickly and that you actually choose an "archetype" at third level. Paladins swear their oaths, rogues get their thieving skills on, etc. Vury vury interesting.

IN play, the rules are simple but effective. They're not my beloved finicky 2e, which requires the precise calculation of every little detail, but perhaps they're better at what they do for that. 5e appears to be a game you can jump into fast, play a bit, and then leave lying around. Where 2e is a commitment, 5e is an evening's entertainment. A lot of the 5e improvements come in character creation, where you select gear packages rather than being given a load of gold to go and spend as thou wilt. Buying equipment has always been the longest and slowest part of AD&D character creation, and its interesting to see ways in which it can be optimized.

The old race-as-class dragon rears its head a little as well; elves get a single cantrip that they know, because elvish society is magical and everyone learns a little magic. Interesting! I once proposed something similar for a certain 2e setting.

Obviously the game is, at default, much higher magic than 2e--that dungeonpunk creep has been going on since 3e. That's fine, as the Nightmare-King setting is specifically designed to be higher magic; rather than relying on the alternative universe style ("what if?", or "what would the world be like if x, y, and z were the case") I've been exploring a 70s fantasy satire a-la Vance; more of a ridiculous way to highlight the foibles and worst aspects of mankind.

The important thing is that the rules feel like an older edition. Advantage is a handy way to get rid of the need to memorize bonuses (+2 for attacking from behind, +2 for the enemy being unaware, +1 for attacking from up a slope... so now I have... +5? And that means I get to do my backstab, so...) and provides a lower bar for system mastery to new players. I know, I have ranted and raved about system mastery being important and required, and the high bar weeding out those who really want to play and those who just want to have a power trip... but that's neither here nor there. Perhaps I'll address that in another blog.

Combat is sufficiently brutal. Tactics that worked in 2e still work here (flank 'em, surprise 'em, ambush 'em, etc.) Frank went down in the second round after shooting some arrows. Interesting that the charge mechanic has been removed (maybe it's in a feat?), replacing it with dash, which simply allows you to use your attack action to move a second time.

Spells aren't interruptible anymore because they only take the time of your actual initiative count to cast them. AH WELL! Magic, in fact, looks wholly different, but I haven't had the chance to sample it because no one is playing a wizard, warlock, or sorcerer.

At the end of the day I will always prefer 2e to 5e. However, 5e is a light-hearted cousin that does well at emulating an OSR playstyle. When it's time for a quick romp in the old megadungeon, 5e probably does that better. When I want to immerse myself in a fully realized world, it'll be 2e I turn to, as an old friend and companion.

I can't believe I don't hate a new edition of D&D.

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