Wednesday, November 5, 2014

D&D: the New 5th Edition

I can remember my first Dungeons and Dragons box set: the red soft-back books, the colorful, gem-like dice (the d20 was purple!), and the excitement of opening it as I sat in the car of the old Potter Village parking lot as my mom continued shopping.  She must have known it was the only way to shut me up so she could keep going about her hunting and gathering.  I was already somewhat aware of the game, thanks to the Girdners, who lived next door, and my cousins Mitch and Chad.

Now, a thousand years later, the Fifth Edition has come out.  I have been in and out of the game ever since I was seven or eight years old (maybe sooner), playing in junior high and high school, and then in college, and I even ran a game in the barracks when I was in the Navy the first time, which was the most fun campaign I'd ever been a part of.  That was 1999-2000 and the last time I've actually played, though being a old nerd, I wouldn't mind playing again.  When my son is old enough, I'll be corrupting his group of friends for sure!

My favorite version of the game, as I'm sure a lot of folks will agree, was 3.0 and 3.5, which was so good that when Wizards of the Coast (who conquered TSR quite some time ago -- actually, that's not fair, I should say rescued TSR, which was in dire straits)...  Where was I?  Oh yes, when WotC had a crisis of confidence and moved on to 4th edition, which resembled in every way possible the online game World of Warcraft, another company (Paizo) resurrected and improved upon the 3.0 system, creating their own version called Pathfinder, which I'm happy to see if still flourishing to this day.  (Wow, that was a long sentence!)

So after WotC broke down in a desperate attempt to attract WoW players, I had given up on them and the game of all games, the great grandfather of all role-playing and video games.  (That's right: without D&D, all you guys who think Xbox is cool but rolling dice is for dorks, you wouldn't have anything.)  BUT, this year, WotC came out with 5th edition, and I must say, I LIKE IT!

Allow me to hit some highlights as to why I think Wizards of the Coast has once again brought D&D back from near death.  I can sum it up nicely by saying that they've simplified game play while adding more depth to the characters.  The rules now get out of the way and allow you to just play.  In previous versions, there was a chart and table for every damned thing you could think of.  Rolling dice took precedence over having fun and telling your own stories.  Things would slow down so you could consult the appropriate charts and rules, which took ten minutes to find, and then calculate the new math.  In 5th edition, the math is simplified so you can pretty much keep track of everything in your head, which allows for the story to continue uninterrupted.  Character creation, meanwhile, has taken on more dimensions, allowing for a greater diversity of heroes with more customizable abilities.  It's win-win, people!

Some examples for you:
-- The general game-play rolling has been streamlined with advantage and disadvantage.  Instead of looking up modifiers on a chart, you might have one of these conditions applied to your rolls.  In either case you roll two d20s when you make your hit, skill check, or whatever.  If you have "advantage," you take the higher; "disadvantage," you take the lower.  Done.  Simple.  For example, if you are wearing noisy heavy armor, you have disadvantage on your stealth checks (rather than modifiers to your roll).
-- Proficiency.  While I do like the 3.0/Pathfinder system of putting points and levels into skills, this is way easier.  Every character has a Proficiency Bonus based on their level (and it's the same bonus across all classes).  You add this one number when determining bonuses to hit in combat (if you are proficient with the weapon), casting spells, using skills and tools you are proficient in, and making saving throws (that you're proficient in).  If you are not "proficient" in those areas, you don't get this bonus to the roll, you just roll it without.  When you get skill slots, you become "proficient" in those skills, add this bonus and your ability modifiers.  One number, so many easy uses.
-- Saving throws.  Branching off the above, all saving throws are now Ability-based.  So saving against poison is a Constitution save, while dodging a trap or dragon breath is a Dexterity save, and resisting a charm spell is a Wisdom save.  And some classes are better at dodging than enduring poison.
-- Critical hits.  No rerolling to see if it's really a critical hit, and no weird per-weapon multipliers.  Did you roll a 20?  Then roll twice as much damage.  Period.
-- Resistance and Vulnerability.  If a creature has resistance to a certain damage-type, it takes half damage.  If it is vulnerable to that type, it takes double damage.
-- Class features.  Every class has multiple paths it can take starting at 3rd level.  You could have two or three characters of the same class in your party that are all unique in how they play and where they are going. Each class also has its own mechanics in a way, which is cool but kind of counter to the "simplification" philosophy.  For example, the ways that Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks use and acquire spells are all slightly different, but in a good way.
-- Background.  Another nifty addition to character creation is that everyone picks a Background as well, which comes with its own bonus skills and special abilities, along with motivations and personality traits that help flesh-out the character.  Examples include Soldier, Criminal, Guild Artisan, Hermit, and Noble.

Now comes my favorite part: the naked women.

I mean, character creation!  I might enjoy making characters more than actually playing them.  I just like making up interesting characters with different traits, stories, and abilities, which also lends to my writing.  In fact, coming up with game characters has led to some story, even series, ideas.  And I expect this will as well.

I plan to make up a new character for each class in the new D&D system, maybe more than one.  Of course, this will take some time: months, maybe a full year!  I'll do it here and there as time and inspiration allows.  But it'll be fun along the way!  My intention is to take each class and make someone different than the norm, so we'll see how it goes.  I'll roll out Ability scores based on the 4d6 and discard one system, and I'll roll d3+2 to determine a random character level. At 3rd and 5th levels I'll give them a magic or special item.

The first one will be a Warlock, as inspired by my friend Josh, who is back in the Midwest and getting to actually play the game.  He made a Cthulhu-type Warlock, which made me want to make one!  So I did, bloggable sometime in the near future...


  1. I didn't get to play much D&D, though I did paint a lot of the figures for War Hammer etc. I must confess, I am a WoW player, though.

  2. Thanks for the confession, Lynda! You're in like company here. :)