Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Dungeons & Dragons at thrice the speed

Between September 2014 and February 2015 my Forgotten Realms 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign was an adventure that I had co-written with Stubborn called "Skin Deep". Normally I am more likely to use modified versions from published adventures rather than writing adventures from scratch, so Skin Deep is somewhat special for me. So when I decided to run a 5th edition D&D campaign at a local role-playing club with a different group, I decided to use this adventure. Especially since my 4E experience with the adventure had been somewhat spoiled by my players at the time deciding to run away rather than facing the main villain, and I wanted to see whether different players would play this differently.

Yesterday we had the second session of that adventure. It went very well, and we all had a lot of fun. And while I have been somewhat critical of 5th edition in the past, one of the advantages of the new version really began to sink in: It is so much faster! What my 4th edition players did in session 1, 2, and the start of session 3, my 5th edition players did in their first session. Their second session covered the events of the rest of session 3, session 4, 5, and 6. On average the 5th edition group progressed through the story at thrice the speed of the 4th edition group. And the more combat there is, the faster 5th edition becomes in comparison to 4th.

Of course you might argue that fast advancement, whether in story or in character power, isn't the ultimate goal of a role-playing game. A 4th edition fight that takes 2+ hours can be interesting because it has lots of tactical options. But it also has a lot of waiting around for your turn. We had 4E sessions in which nothing else happened than a single big fight. In comparison a 5E game in which the players manage a fight against a dragon, a fight against a beholder, and two fights against troglodytes, and still have the time for role-playing encounters with a druid as well as a tribe of deep gnomes leaves you with a certain satisfaction of having gotten a lot done in one evening. And given how 5E at lower level is very survivalist, the players of course enjoy gaining one level per session through the fast progress.

For me as the DM the main advantage of fast progress is that less time spent on fights means more time spent on the story. The Skin Deep adventure appears to be more fun done in three sessions than done in ten sessions. It is easier to achieve a good balance between story-telling and rolling dice in 5th edition than in 4th. At the end of my previous 4E campaign we had some sessions that were only role-playing and some sessions that were only one fight. Having shorter sequences of both in one session conveys the dual character of Dungeons & Dragons as "role-" and "roll-"playing game much better.


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