So, I've had mixed opinions of 5e D&D for a while now. Part of this is feeling pretty burned by 4e. Not for the reasons most people say; my group generally really liked the overall direction 4e took (in terms of powers for characters), just not the specifics. For me running 4e, the main things that didn't work for me were:
- Almost all effects were too transient. Damage went away quickly, status effects went away quickly, etc..
- Monster stats were just broken at the mid and high levels. You really needed to rework quite a bit of the content to make the game work.
- Once the game got into paragon play, characters were far more complicated and yet more powerful. As a GM, just remembering and understanding what the players were capable of was a serious chore. Also, with every character having multiple escapes, it was pretty challenging to pin characters down. (Essentially, fights became trivial or gigantic day-long battles).
- The big kicker: WOTC just churned books out in large quantities to start, with minimal play testing. My perception of their attitude was that the community would figure out what worked. But really, what it meant was that within a year of coming out, there were multiple books that you didn't need to look at because almost all of the content had been errata-ed in the electronic tools.
As with most things, these were probably fixable problems, but for a GM with less time on his hands, it was no longer the right system for me to run.
Enter 5e. I looked at some of the early play tests, and it definitely wasn't going in the right direction for me. At times, it became too basic, without a lot to differentiate characters. At other times, they introduced a huge number of rules that just felt like they would be clunky to play at the table. And I was pretty concerned that the feedback wasn't going to change that. Well, on that count I was wrong. At least with the 100 page free PDF, it looks playable. It may not be a game I would choose to run a game in the near future, but it is definitely a game I could run or play.
Here's some thoughts on what I saw in the basic rules.
5e appears to my eyes to be a cross between 1st edition/cyclopedia and 3rd edition. Clearly, they've decided that 4e alienated too many people and so the ideas in that edition are mostly gone. Short rests and long rests work similarly to 4e, but I don't see a lot of other concepts in what they shipped. I would say that at least with the basic rules, thev've attempted to streamline things. So the rules are relatively clean (consistent systems, like 3e started out as), but they reduced some of the complexity. It looks like even when feats go into the game (advanced rules), a character will have fewer of them.
3e and 4e both added stat increases as characters leveled. 5e does the same thing, with a cap on how far you can increase a stat (20). More generally, they've gone out of their way to try to narrow the range of effects and bonuses. So fighters are better at hitting than clerics, but the difference between them doesn't increase as the characters level. Also, when feats are added in, they replace stat boosts. So if you just want to keep things simple, you can. Just take the stat boosts. I'll be curious to see simple and complicated characters will mesh together. Will players playing simple characters feel like the people with complicated characters are eating up all of the time at the table? Will the players playing complicated characters be more effective because they've found some sweet spot of character optimization?
There are five or so tiers of play, and generally bonuses kick in when you change tier levels. I suspect the sweet spot is going to be the 5-10 range, just like every other edition. ;)
Spellcasting has some big changes. Preparing spells is now more distinct than casting them. So on an adventuring day, you decide what spells you want to prepare (and the number is probably a bit more limited than earlier editions, which should make spell memorization go a little faster). Then, at casting time, you expend spell slots to cast the spells you memorized. You only need to memorize a particular spell once. So you don't need to memorize two magic missiles if thats what you want to cast.
Spell slots are differentiated by level, and generally, the more powerful the spell slot, the more powerful the effect. So, for example, a cleric only really needs to memorize "Cure Wounds", and can use it with multiple spell slots. Expend a 4th level slot and you'll heal more than if you used a 1st level slot. Clerics automatically prepare the spells from the domain they chose.
The spell list will be extended in the PHB, but the basic list looked light on buffing spells. I hope the level of buffing doesn't reach the problems of 3e and Pathfinder. Looking through the combat spells, some of the things I noted:
- All casters have a few cantrips and they can cast these at-will. These are not your grandfather's cantrips. These are more like at-will attacks in 4e and quite potent. So, wizards start out with a couple of decent at-will powers and don't have to resort to throwing daggers.
- In general, if you cast an actual spell, the effects of combat spells is better than it was in 3e. So, for example, a magic missile starts out with 3 missiles (the effect you'd get at level 5 in 1e/3e). A fireball starts at 8d6. But the don't scale automatically. If you want a more powerful magic missile, you have to expend a higher-level spell slot. At least with my casual read, the scaling seemed rather anemic. Will I use a 3rd level spell slot and get 5 magic missiles, or use it to toss fireball instead. I'm sure there are situations where the magic missile is more useful, but most of the time, I'd save the slot for the fireball.
- Some spells can be cast as a ritual. It takes time, but doesn't expend spell slots. A nice balance. Wizards can actually do these out of their spell book, which probably makes up for the fact that wizards still end up spending money for basic class abilities when no other class needs to.
A couple more thoughts and I'll wrap this up.
Actions are somewhat of a cross between 3.5 and 4e. Each turn, you get a move and an action. When you need to perform special moment actions (i.e. standing up after being knocked prone)., they are usually just rated in how much of your moment you need to expend. Most of the time, you can include one "item manipulation" as part of your action. So running in, drawing your sword, and attacking is just that simple. Not a lot of rules to track for drawing swords.
There are bonus actions (usually granted by class powers, at least in the rules I've seen), and these are generally limited by what you are allowed to do. And I think I remember that you are limited to one per round, regardless of the effects. There are reaction actions as well, which are interrupts. But fewer of them than in 4e. Attacks of opportunity are still around, but they expend your reaction action, rather than being triggered separately. (That's something that frustrated me in 4e; needless complication having them as separate concepts).
For actual gameplay, they made a couple of simplifying decisions that appear as if they will significantly streamline play. The biggest one is the system of advantage/disadvantage. In 3e and 4e, there were often dozens of small tweaks to apply. +2 to this roll, +2 to that roll. +2 to someone else's next attack. A real pain in the ass to remember all of those bonuses at the table. With a couple of exceptions, 5e does away with all of that. You either have advantage or you don't. You either have disadvantage or you don't. So, once you know someone has advantage, you can stop, and just let them roll! :)
Normal: d20 + bonus
Advantage: roll 2d20 and take the higher roll.
Disadvantage: roll 2d0 and take the lower roll.
Both: Same as normal.
So, to sum up my thoughts of what I've seen.
- Intrigued enough that I decided to buy a player's handbook. I'm enough of a rules/systems geek that I'm curious to see how it fits together with more options/advanced rules.
- Not sure when/how I will actually play it. Generally, most of the people I would play it with were burned by 4e and want to try other game systems. Still hoping to accommodate that, actually. ;)
- I feel like overall, they've tried to simplify some of the experience at the table. Fewer bonuses to track, tighter range of effects and bonuses, simplified terminology, etc..