Sunday 13 July 2014

Could the latest edition of D&D be the best yet?

Just before I went on holiday Wizards of the Coast dropped the free Basic D&D PDF for 5th edition, so I've had a bit of time to give it a read through. I was assuming it was almost going to be a quick play guide, but it was a nice surprise to see that it's a nice 110 pager chock full of stuff. Sure, it's not a complete game yet; Mearls has said that it will evolve as the core books are released later in the year, but ultimately we should end up with an entirely free game, which is great.

Pretty much every RPG blogger has given their view on the new D&D but what's the harm in offering my own? Honestly, I'm really liking the design decisions the team has made. I love that there is just as much, if not more, about roleplaying as there is about combat. It feels like they really took the criticisms received from the previous edition and, while picking the aspects that worked from all editions. Personally, I really like what I see and it could be the best edition yet - for my tastes anyway.

So what's cool?

Advantage and disadvantage: If you've not seen people yammering about this mechanic then you've not been on the internet in a while. Foregoing previous modifiers, the new mechanic is elegant in its design: if you have advantage you roll 2d20 and take the high roll. If you have disadvantage you have the opposite. I don't think this is totally new to roleplaying games, but it's a really nice way for the DM to make a quick ruling and it's something that other rules can be hooked onto (i.e. if X has advantage then Y), which wasn't previously possible with plus modifiers.

Backgrounds: These are a bit like class kits from 2e but can be used by any class. Backgrounds offer skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, equipment, a feature and several random tables for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, all created to enhance roleplaying. For example, the Folk Hero offers your character animal handling and survival proficiencies, along with your selection of artisan tool and land vehicle proficiencies. In the end you're left with a flavourful character with a tonne of roleplaying hooks. Very cool.

Lifestyles and downtime: Taking a page from Shadowrun's book, the latest edition gives a list of character lifestyles, from wretched (free, you're homeless) all the way to aristocratic (10gp per day, you're powerful and probably mingling with the political elite). These lifestyles don't give any hard mechanics, but they do offer plenty of roleplaying potential and somewhere for players to spend their money.

The rules also offer a list of activities characters can do in their downtime, including getting a job, which affects your lifestyle. There's also rules for crafting (300 days and 750gp worth of raw materials nets you a suit of full plate), researching between adventures, training and recuperating. All of these things offer rich alternatives to dungeon-crawling and combat.

What's not so cool? 

Magic system: This is just a personal preference, but I still don't like the magic system. It's post-vancian, allowing you to expend spell slots how you wish. If you have three spells per day, you can prepare three different spells and use the same spell three times or any other combination. Cantrips are still here, but the system still isn't to my liking.

Limited character options: Right now, each race has only two sub-races to choose from (except humans who get nothing), and there are only a handful of classes and races at the moment. However, as this is a living document this will be updated, so I'm really just nitpicking here.

No art: Boo! I know, I know, it's a free document - but a big part of D&D is the art and since this will be a gateway for a lot of people unfamiliar with the game it would have been great to have some art in the book. Ah well.

Overall, I'm a big fan of the new edition and from the looks of it quite a lot of other people are too.

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