Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Recommending 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons

The new 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is a weird beast. On the one side it profits from lots of "lessons learned" by the developers, making some things better than in previous editions. On the other side it contains a lot of bad relics from the past, put in out of pure nostalgia for players who complained that they didn't want the innovation of 4th edition. So who should be playing 5E?

In my opinion 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is the best D&D edition for new players who have not played D&D or other tabletop roleplaying games before. Between the $20 Starter Set and the free Basic Rules pdf a group of new players gets a very complete game for a low investment. And this version does a far better job to introduce new players to actual roleplaying than any previous edition. If you play the Starter Set with the pre-generated characters with their pre-generated backgrounds which are carefully integrated into the the Starter Set adventure, you get the start of a very good roleplaying campaign. There is a good balance between personal goals and group roles, so that anybody who makes just a tiny bit of effort to see his character as more than a bundle of stats will certainly have a great roleplaying experience. If, as I hope, the first Tyranny of Dragons adventures are designed in a way to be playable directly after the Starter Set adventure, a new group of players would be well on their way to a great first D&D experience.

For experienced players, 5E is a lot more problematic. Most experienced players will want to create their own characters instead of using the pre-generated characters. That leads on the one side to them losing the integration of their background story into the adventure, and on the other side they will quickly feel that the basic rules are too limited for character creation. Only four classes, only four races, only five backgrounds, no feats yet, it is actually hard with the basic rules to create characters that are significantly different from the pre-generated ones. So experienced players will want more options, which means buying the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual: Full D&D 5E is a lot more expensive than Basic D&D 5E.

For people who enjoyed 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, 5E will prove to be downright unplayable. Melee characters will sorely miss their powers. Healers will be shocked to find out that their healing spells aren't free bonus spells they get in addition to other more fun spells any more. Wizards will be delighted at first at how completely overpowered they are now, until everybody else quits the game in disgust and they find that they can't well play without anybody willing to play the underpowered classes. And sooner or later everybody will run into a situation where the "bounded accuracy" combined with high damage and low health will lead to combat results that feel extremely random and luck-based.

As a side note, Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is also the first edition since a long time that doesn't support any foreign languages. As teenagers in other countries don't necessarily speak English well enough for a roleplaying game, there are huge markets that are downright excluded from 5E.

My recommendation for anyone speaking English and wanting to try out a pen & paper roleplaying game for the first time would be to pick up the 5E Starter Set and Basic Rules, playing with the pre-generated characters. For anybody who already played previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder in English my recommendation would be to try to forget everything and *also* play the 5E Starter Set with the pre-generated characters. Or stick to whatever you were playing before.

I think you're somewhat biased against 5th Ed. simply because it's not another iteration of 4th, which you clearly loved.

My only comment is that 5th can and probably will be enjoyed by any player, newbie or veteran, that does not like strategic grid-based combat. Anything else about wizards being OP and people ragequiting is plain silly. This is not an MMO where people roll the 'flavor of the month' class to 'pwn noobs'.
Different people have different priorities in role-playing games. You are wrong in saying that class balance matters to nobody. It doesn't matter to you, it might not matter to some other people, but there are certainly players out there for which class balance is important.

And I find it revealing that nobody ever came up with an explanation why an unbalanced game would be better than a balanced one. Claiming "it doesn't matter" is an admittance of failure by itself.
What one sees as 'unbalanced', another sees as flavorful. In that regard it's true, that I don't care much about perfect balance if the lore, setting and roleplaying opportunities become richer from not having everyone being completely homogenized due to combat concerns.

In that case, for me at least, an unbalanced game is indeed better than a balanced one. MAybe I'm just old school when it comes to game design choices.
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