The “free version” of the new fifth edition D&D rules are out – 110 pages of pdf, available at Wizards of the Coast.
My initial reaction is that I like it. Background: I’ve played D&D from the original BECMI “Red Box” Basic through 1e AD&D, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, hated 4e, play Pathfinder. (Plus many other games of course).
Things I think it does right:
1. As a free PDF, it will really help draw in new/casual players. Game stores can have a couple copies laying around. You can forward a copy to a friend who has expressed interest in the game. It’s not as nice for future in-play use as the free hyperlinked SRD approach of Pathfinder, but it’ll be very accessible to new players.
2. The three pillars of adventure are listed as exploration, social interaction, and combat. They list combat last and try hard in this PDF at least to not give it primary billing, which may result in less pure hack and slash than in the future. The Combat section itself is only 9 pages! (Obviously there’s rules affecting combat everywhere else, but that was nice.)
3. Clear call-outs to GM discretion. GM describes, you say what you want to do, GM narrates the results. That gives me hope that we won’t see the return of the rules that cater to the over-legalistic players, which leads us to…
4. Light rules. Now, we’ll see how much of this is because of the short format and how much they’ll run over this once the PHB is out, but this is pleasingly not all legalistic and rules heavy. There’s already people fretting over the “Rules of Hidden Club” and other “rules as written” minutia as they have in past editions, even though the Basic rules say clearly “you know, GM discretion whether you can sneak up on someone, man.” The spell descriptions take a couple steps back towards being sane in length, with type, casting time, range, components, and duration being the only “required fields.” I’ve written before on the relative sizes and bloat across the editions – using the Knock spell as a benchmark, this one is 132 words, shorter than 3.5e’s 206 words but longer than BECMI’s 122. Replacing 100 fiddly bonuses with advantage/disadvantage – seems fun, we’ll see how it works out (I imagine smart min-maxers will find a way to have enough advantage that it’ll always cancel out any disadvantage).
5. Inclusivity. They totally even one-up Paizo on this, by openly saying in the Sex section “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is yours to decide.” It’s just a short statement saying “Yes, you all can play too, and play characters like that if you want.” If backed up with art and more diverse characters in stories, then maybe we’ll get more women, people of color, people of differing sexualities, etc. into gaming, which I think is fine and dandy.
6. Hits the high points that made D&D such a classic in the first place. It doesn’t try to sell “some new thing we made up just for this edition” like Dragonborn, it is the big 4 classes and big 4 races. Not sure of the need for the subraces, especially the dwarven ones (“the hillbillies and the mountainbillies are fighting again,” said no one ever), but perhaps that’s more included just to show that it’s possible.
1. The art. First of all, there’s not any. It’s not that we’re “entitled” to it and sure, “it’s free what do you expect” – but this is being put out to try to be a thread to draw people into the game, and it would benefit from a freaking cover with a picture on it. We all know that blog posts, articles, etc. of all descriptions convert readers a lot more when there’s media in them. Same goes for when you forward a PDF to an RPG-curious friend. Second of all, the one piece is in the back and it’s from the Basic set cover; I’ve seen some of the other cover art online. What’s with the art style, it all looks like you’re viewing it through static? It’s not like the pop-off-the-shelf Elmore stylized colors of the 1980s, and it looks like every other damn fantasy cover out there. I think they’d be better served going a little more of a modern direction on it, some anime influence, at least some more vivid colors and lines.
2. They jacked with the PDF so you can’t cut and paste out of it. Really, Wizards? That just makes me *want* to pull it up an Acrobat and fix that little problem and re-disseminate it. I had to retype in even the small quotes in this review. Weak. [Edit: Apparently you can cut and paste out of the "printer friendly" version. Thanks waxeagle.]
But other than that, I like where they’re going with it. If only there will be restraint such that the rules stay light (more content is fine – having more classes is great, having more rules for everyone to keep in mind and follow isn’t) then I’ll be tempted to use it because I am so tired of spending hours rules-wrangling on Pathfinder.