D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver Interlude – Some Musings, Part 1

We didn’t have a D&D session this week due to our massive geek-boner for the Game of Thrones board game (which is SO FUCKING GOOD AAAAARGH HOUSE GREYJOY FTW) and we won’t be having one next week either due to a general fustercluck of schedule clashes, so I thought that this may be a perfect time for me to reflect upon the actual rules of the latest edition of the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game, and let you, my lovely gorgeous readers (all three of you) exactly what I think of them!

Now, 5th edition. Hoboy. From what I can piece together from the general white noise of the Internet, 5th has generally been well received. There are some who don’t like it, which is fine. I mean, some people enjoy a bit of coprophagy, which is fine too as long as I don’t have to kiss them. Am I equating people who don’t like 5th edition with people who enjoy a hot turd sandwich? Hyperbole? Me? On the Internet!? Perish the thought.

Alright alright, let’s dial it back. Some people don’t like 5th. Some people have done fucking 2 hour video rants about how they don’t like 5th. Cool. Good for them. They have some good points. I mean, 5th is like any other game, it’s not perfect. No game is (although Game of Thrones was pretty excellent NNNNGH WHY AM I NOT PLAYING IT NOOOOWWWW). I’m not some 5th fanboy, singing its praises from the rooftops; there’s still a lot of quibbles I have with it, but Jesus Christ, it’s not 4th edition.

D&D: The Boardgame (includes optional roleplaying if you're some n00b scrub who's into that shit)
D&D: The Boardgame (includes some roleplaying if you’re some n00b scrub who’s into that shit)

Okay, okay, now to be fair, 4th was alright in its ways. I could do a whole other post on the virtues and flaws of 4th, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re talking about 5th, which actually shares a few elements with 4th. And with 3rd. And apparently with 1st and AD&D, but I wouldn’t know about that. My pre-3rd edition D&D knowledge can be summed up as “THAC0”, “elves are a class, not a race”, and “fuck Tomb of Horrors, seriously fuck that nonsense”.

"I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 672! Guess now! Haha, it was Pisces! Your character and your next three characters instantly die. BEST MODULE EVAH!" - Gygax, 1978
“I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 672! Guess now! Haha, it was Pisces! Your character and your next three characters instantly die. BEST MODULE EVAH!” – Gygax, 1978

So what do I think is good about 5th, and what is not so good?

Advantage/Disadvantage, and the Death of Maths : This, I think, is probably my favourite thing, so I’m mentioning it first. Advantage and disadvantage gets rid of nearly all the tedious maths that dominated 3rd and 4th. Nothing grinds a game to a halt like the following;

“I’m flanking! +2 to hit with my melee attack! Oh, and I’m in range of the bard’s song, that’s another +1! Ah, but the necrotic aura of this monster gives me a -2 modifier. But I’ve got a magic weapon, that’s +1! And I’m bloodied, so my class feature gives me another +1! And my target’s undead, so I have another +1 from my feat!”

“You forgot that it’s dark. You have another -2 for that.”

“Oh yeah. So… umm… +2, then +1, but then -2, and another -2, but +1…”

AAAARGH.

Advantage and disadvantage do away with that nonsense. If you’re in a position where you have an advantage (outnumbering, sneak attack, hitting a prone or restrained target), you roll 2d20 and use the highest result. If you’re in a position where you’re disadvantaged (poisoned, dazed, prone, etc), you roll 2d20 and use the lowest result. You either have advantage or disadvantage, or you don’t. There’s no stacking, so you can’t have three instances of advantage for example; it’s either yes or no. A/D usually applies to attack rolls, but it’s also used for saving throws and ability/skill checks. It speeds up play, cuts down on tedious grindy maths, and can easily be implemented on the fly. It’s my favourite mechanic of the new D&D.

Proficiencies : I hated Base Attack Bonus in 3rd edition. And skill points. Oh god, the bean-counting of skill points. 4th edition I feel had it right with skill training; you’re either trained in a skill (and get a bonus) or you’re not (and get nothing). A bit simplistic maybe, but I prefer that to the fiddly alternative.

In D&D 5th, every character has a proficiency bonus. This starts off at +2, then increases as you level up, and from what I understand, all classes level up the proficiency bonus at the same rate. Basically, your proficiency bonus gets applied to everything you’re proficient with and that would require a d20 roll, so attack rolls, saving throws, and skills. I’ve yet to pick up the Player’s Handbook, but I’d be willing to bet there’s some class features and feats that let you add your proficiency bonus to other things as well, like AC or initiative or damage rolls. Some classes – for example, the thief – let you double your proficiency bonus for certain rolls (in the thief’s case, Stealth and lockpicking). It’s a decent mechanic, and I like it. Again, anything to cut down on fiddly book-keeping.

Another thing I really like is tool proficiency. These are things like thieves’ tools, crafting gear, vehicles, and even stuff like playing cards. In previous editions, use of these items would’ve been covered by skills that weren’t as popular compared to more useful stuff like Perception,  Stealth, Insight, etc. It basically means that the rogue doesn’t have to waste one of his precious skill selections of Disable Device or whatever, as he already knows how to use thieves’s tools; the same goes for a wizard with an alchemy set. Good stuff.

Hit Die : Healing surges were a decent idea in 4th; if you needed to heal, but no-one wanted to play a cleric, you could do so. During a rest, you’d expend one or more healing surges, and recover a certain amount of HP. You only got a certain amount of surges a day, and it typically wasn’t as good as being healed by a specific spell, but it was something. Hit Die are that in 5th (though I loathe the archaic term “Hit Die”; I would’ve preferred something like “Resolve”). Every level increases your HD by one. During a short rest, you can roll any number of HD to recover that much health, but you don’t get back the HD you expend until you take a long rest. It takes the pressure off the cleric, cuts down on the need for healing potions, and eliminates the much maligned “5-minute workday” (though to be honest if a DM lets players get away with the 5-minute workday bullshit, they’re just as bad as the rest of their assclown group).

Fight Smart or Die Young : D&D is lethal again! Characters don’t have the high HP and absurd defences of 4th, so even a fairly experienced character is at risk if outnumbered or caught off-guard. During my Phandelver games, my group puts a lot of thought into tactics and contigency plans. When I’ve run D&D 4th (designed to be far more tactical), my group at the time had no plan other than “hurr durr hit it with sword”, because they could count on their high HP, high defences, and copious amounts of healing to brute-force their way through pretty much any encounter. I’ve read so many accounts of that first encounter in Phandelver nearly TPK’ing a new group, and that’s just some goblin archers! Some people don’t like that. I love it, because I’d rather have my players feel threatened by what they’re fighting. If they’re invincible, then what’s the point? How can a hero be heroic if there’s no true adversity to overcome?

Backgrounds : One of my favourite things about d20 Modern was Occupations; basically what a character did before they did this adventuring lark, or what they do inbetween games. Backgrounds are now a thing in 5th, giving extra flavour and non-mechanical perks to characters. It’s only a little thing but I adore it.

Classy Classes : Fighters aren’t shit anymore! Yay! Fighting styles are awesome, second wind is great, action surge is brilliant. Clerics and wizards have big flashy spells and nice basic at-will cantrips, yay! No more days of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards, every class seems perfectly viable and balanced… so far. The Fighter is now actually good at *gasp* fighting, and is the only class to now get multiple attacks per turn. The Wizard is still a walking Swiss army knife of blasting, control, and utility, but definitely seems to have been toned down. Rogues have lots of fancy bells and whistles, and Clerics… well, they’re still Clerics, but that’s not a bad thing. The new “Archetype” mechanic is great, essentially acting as a “sub-class/prestige class” mechanic; a Rogue may be a Thief, Assassin, or Arcane Trickster, and each will have different tactics and class features. Combined with backgrounds, it’s now very easy to have truly unique and memorable characters; what’s the story behind the Battlemaster Fighter with an Acolyte background, or the Circle of the Moon Druid with a Noble background?

To Grid or Not To Grid? : You couldn’t play 4th without a gridded battlemap. Fact. You can play 5th with a map or not, it’s your call. Some like “theatre of the mind”, and don’t use any kind of map or models at all. I’m going for the middle ground, and in future games I’ll be aiming for the abstract-but-visual representation used in FFG RPGs like Edge of the Empire or the Warhammer Fantasy RPG. I’m just glad we’re done with that “blast 5” and “burst 3 within 10” kind of crap.

So there’s a lot I like. I haven’t covered everything, but that’s the main stuff. Of course, like I said, 5th isn’t perfect, and I’ll discuss the quibbles I have during my next Interlude.

Gareth

 

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