D&D 5e Basic Rules First Thoughts

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.

The negatives:

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.

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33 responses to “D&D 5e Basic Rules First Thoughts

  1. Two quick things.

    1. just a heads up (in no small part because I was checked on it this morning), advantage and disadvantage are states, if they are both on, then it’s a straight roll (so multiple advantages don’t cancel a disadvantage)

    2. The printer friendly version is more ammenable to copy/paste. You can find that on the same download page as the nicely formatted one.

  2. Yes, they *really* messed with the ability to copy/paste. Even *most* more advanced extraction methods I know couldn’t pull the text easily. Luckily I know lot’s of ways. SRD on the way (with no references to WotC trademarks or copyrighted words or phrases however.)

  3. I don’t care if I come across as some kind of curmudgeonly grognard, I think they could have left #5 out. Completely. I don’t play RPGs to indulge my no-longer-secret taste in boffing sheep and I wouldn’t play with those who did. Why, oh why, does ‘inclusivity’ now mean wearing your ‘gender tolerance’ on your sleeve? Can’t we just do our thing, they do theirs and let the GM, whoever he/she/it may be, determine the outcome?

    This ‘rainbowing’ of everything to pass the PC hurdle – because God forbid a GM should overstep his bounds and waggle a finger at a same-sex relationship in an imaginary game – is reaching new limits of silly.

    Or so it seems to me.

  4. Centurion13 you’re comparing people of different genders and orientations as people who have sex with sheep? I’m glad at not your table, and you should be, too.

    • I know! The sheer effrontery, eh? Let me guess, you’re outraged. But number one, an anus is an anus and if we’re going to demand respect for one orientation with the barrel of a gun, we might as well demand it for all of them. And number two, that sample was selected at random from the wide spectrum of potential sexual oddities. I’m not picking on homosexuals.

      So calm yourself.

      Meanwhile, the phrase “sex and DnD” is and has always been pretty much an oxymoron. It was generally accepted back in the days when I was a young man that if you were exercising your right to the second, it was because you weren’t very successful at acquiring the favors of gurls. Or boys. Or whatever. Thus my head-scratching over the sudden attention to detail when it came to “sexual orientation and Dnd”. Since when was that an issue?

      And yes, I was a wash with the ladies, and yes, I played all-weekend stints at the local gaming club (Don’s Dungeon!). And no, I didn’t do it so I could simulate a loving relationship with a female elf instead of chase gurls. In fact, when the topic came up (and every so often, in a town adventure, it did), faces would redden and collars become suddenly tight and everyone would hurry the scene so as to get onto something they were more equipped to handle. Like killing things. And stealing loot.

      • sigh. I realise you are non-reformable. But your unapologetic sexist and homophobic stance cannot go without comment from me either.

        I am very glad that attitudes like yours are very uncommon these days in Brighton where I roleplay.

        You may not realise it but there is a big gaming community out there who come from all sorts of backgrounds and who want gaming products aimed at them too (which have strong female roles, roles for different ethnicities, different sexual orientations). This is how WotC etc will make money. Pleasing their market. Moreover, most folks in Western Europe at least, unlike you, find homophobia and sexism offensive.

        Don’t worry – I am sure there will still be far too many Conan the Barbarian style products on the market for angry white men. 😉

      • I don’t know why I even bother, but…

        Just think about it for a second. Did you play a character who was some kind of sexual cypher, of totally mysterious and unknowable gender identity and sexual orientation? Or did you just play a character who was assumed to be straight, even though you never played out your PC’s sex life? Did your character have to *do* anything to be straight?

        No? Someone else’s character doesn’t have to *do* anything in the fiction to be gay or trans or gender-nonconforming. It’s just a part of who they are as a person.

        This freakout you’re having about “sexual oddities” is the result of something that *you* are bringing to the text, because you’re myopically focused on sex acts rather than how people live their lives.

        • Nope. Never did any of that stuff. We never used the game to ‘explore’ our sex lives, or perversions thereof. We played to have adventure, to go places we could never go in real life, to do things that we could never do as young men and women in the latter part of the 20th century. What the heck does playing a transgender have to do with piloting a 150-ton starship? If you were a homosexual fellow player, we’d never know it and couldn’t care less. Because the game wasn’t about that. Were you a fag? No one cared. They just wanted to know if you could Cure Light Wounds – and quick! The homosexuals, if they were present (and they probably were), knew it. They probably didn’t care either.

          You didn’t care if the other player was a woman or not, because playing the game wasn’t about picking up girls. Who wanted to spend their precious game evening embarrassing the other players with ANY expression of sexuality? It just made things uncomfortable. See, this was the place where you could set all that aside and be someone else for a change.

          And what would *you* know about my focus? You’re the one who seems to think sexual practices or preferences are important in an RPG. They’re not, from what I’ve seen; at least not for my generation.

          Freakout? Please. You might try to pass off my text as the scribbling of an emotionally unstable individual – and thereby undermine the content of what I have to say. But that’s textbook ad hominem, and old hat where I come from. And in this case, you’re wasting your time.

  5. I can copy and paste just fine out of both versions. Maybe it is Acrobat XI, maybe it is Acrobat Pro. I downloaded my copy at 7pm CDT last night, so unless you got a different build than I did, and the feature changed between builds, there is no problem with copy and paste out of either PDF.

  6. Don’t know what problems you are having with Copy/Paste. I can copy and paste out of either version with no problems. I am using XI Pro, so maybe the version or the edition is a factor. Or maybe you got an earlier version and it was jacked. Working fine.

    The rules are an extract from the PHB, so not likely for a dump on them. However, a lot of character options are in the PHB that are not in the PDF, some of which, I wish would stay out of the game forever (Kender, Dragonborn)

  7. 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.

    Oh yes, so much yes. Sometimes when my group plays Pathfinder we feel like a bunch of lawyers trying to break a case. It’s tiring. We’ve been trying to find an alternative that’s lighter in terms of rules but still gives plenty of options for players and we’ve had some success with 13th Age but everyone seems quite positive about D&D5.

    • Does anyone know if they’ve settled on a name for it yet? Some refer to it as D&D Next, others AD&D 5th Edition, still others D&D 5.

      • I believe it is referred to as “Fifth Edition” in the starter boxed set but I haven’t received my copy yet so I can’t confirm it.

    • We are aren’t we? 😉 Although concerned we don’t get our fingers burnt as we did wasting £££s on 4e! Plus a few of us have invested heavily in Pathfinder rulebooks. But PF can resemble a meeting of lawyers!

  8. For what it is worth, I can only cut and paste out of the “Printer Friendly” version.

  9. Look guys, I understand you’re taking a simple statement of inclusivity and taking it as “teh gheys are coming for my game,” but it’s frankly sounding a bit ignorant.

    1. @Centurion13 – Many games are not 100% gender neutral “let’s just kill orcs and try not to talk to each other” power fantasies. In fact, I would say expectations have changed since the 1970s, even in computer games nowadays there is sex and gender orientation as a part of the game as well as what we like to call “roleplaying.” So “Well we don’t have that problem” is not really relevant; many – I would venture to say most – do.

    2. @Jack – I’m glad that wherever you live you consider the problems of gays etc. to be a thing of the past. You’re probably just deluded, however, as it’s not the case in most of the US and certainly most of the world.

    3. Both of you – you might consider that there is such a thing as alternate gender/sexual orientation folk that have, indeed, been frequently excluded from playing with others and from depiction in media and as a result are looked down upon and disenfranchised. You’re not using any argument that people haven’t used against women, blacks, etc. to pass the buck from helping with any remaining discrimination, “Well at work *I* don’t judge by someone being male or female, so the fact that the women get paid less must be whining.” “Well, the days of racial discrimination are long past and it’s fashionable to be all black-loving, but now people reverse discriminate against us racists! No fair.” So no, you’re not on the sidelines, you are actively part of the problem, so of course people are calling you out on it.

    I’ll close by noting you are both complaining about “bringing all this sex stuff into my game,” while you’re talking about it on the order of 1000% more than the 5e rules do, which just say “be whatever, it’s fine.” You’re the ones obsessing over it, not them. If it’s truly “irrelevant” or “a solved problem for you” then kindly STFU. It’s reasonably pathetic that in the face of a new edition of D&D and all its manifold glories y’all are spilling so much bile over a 4-sentence paragraph designed to welcome everyone into the game.

    With that, I don’t really feel like hosting a forum about gay vs anti-gay debates, so further comments about “the sexing” on this article will be deleted.

  10. I’m finding myself very much down the middle, the main reason knowing that these rules are “incomplete”, since the PHB will likely offer a fuller, more robust (i.e. more options) ruleset for 5e (that’s my perspective anyway, yours may vary).

    I liked a few things, like how spellcasting memorization/preparing works. Good change there (but would be far better served using a Spell Points system). Still, it keeps Vancian for those of us a little more nostalgic than others while being a bit more dynamic than previous versions.

    I like the attempt to make Fighter more than a weapon with feet and saving throws. I don’t think they quite got it, but it’s a very nice way to make Fighters more interesting. Fighting Style and Archetype should be combined into Combat Style….but I can see the wisdom in keeping them separate as well.

    I don’t like the re-introduction of nonsense rules. By that I mean rules that exist for no creative or flavourful purpose except to serve game balance. Examples: Preserve Life’s healing cap of no more than half the target’s max HP, Arcane Recovery placing a restriction on a restriction (half-wizard level slot recovery AND no slot recovery higher than 6th….just cap it at 18th level as 9 slots and leave it be). If the rule exists to curb a power/spell/ability from getting out of control at high levels just by it’s intended natural progression, it’s a broken ability at it’s core. Toss it and replace it with something that CAN scale without becoming broken.

    Somethings I’m a somewhat neutral on (at present).

    The game feels very static as far as progression goes. It seems there will be very little variance in abilities, modifiers, etc. It almost seems like there won’t be much difference in what level you happen to be playing at. This eliminates the near-algebraic calculations needed with the insane amount of bonuses/penalties of editions past (good), but also somewhat removes the feel of progression and that sense of reward and power you get from levelling up (bad). This view may radically shift though once I get to play it.

    I like that abilities cap at 20 as far as ability increases go. It feels right that mortals can only achieve so much through natural means. Conversely, it’s also kinda crappy since 5e is clearly centered on your ability scores mattering so much, and not being able to progress them past a certain point is kinda pout-worthy. Especially so since ability boosts are a core part of each class.

    Overall, I’m interested in D&D again. Right now more from a curiousity stand-point (since I abandoned the brand in favour of Pathfinder RPG when 4e came out). The 5e PHB will be the ultimate determination for me as far as 5e goes. I’d like to see what it adds.

    • I agree with you about the nonsense rules; there was an ability in one of the playtest rulesets that gave the fighter a 1d6 bonus to I think attack rolls but it was capped at a bonus of 3. Why bother with the die roll? There’s less of the fun-killing in the “final” version but there are a couple of instances of it, as you point out.

    • The more static progression and lower stats is a big plus to me. 3.5/PF is hateful to play over about level 12. The swing is too much and you get “glass cannon” syndrome and about a dozen other unfortunate side effects that we didn’t have in Basic/1e/2e, so I’m jazzed to see that back. It’s not a coincidence that the hated “munchkins” of that era are now the self-entitled “optimizers” of today’s…

      • I know some people enjoy it and that’s fine, but I cannot stand the optimisation game that is so prevalent in Pathfinder. It sucks all the fun out of it for me.

        • Hang on. You mean all that during all those times we have spent with our heads buried in rulebooks you were having unfun? 😉

          Yes. It is for this reason we are desiring a similar system for dungeon crawling and epic style fantasy adventuring. Simpler, faster, well supported and resourced, whilst allowing for plenty of verisimilitude. 5e is starting to look like the real deal. 🙂

  11. I’m watching the LiveStream of some D&D employees playing through The Lost Mine of Phandelver from the new 5e Basic set. These are possibly some of the worst players ever…No, seriously…EVER!

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  13. From what I’ve seen in D&D Basic v0.3, I’m profoundly disappointed that they continue to devalue Skills. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of 3E was the introduction of a simple yet functional Skill system that let you customize your character by making significant choices about where to allocate your Skill points. I found it added richness to character creation, and opened up vast new possibilities beyond dungeon crawling and wilderness exploration. Dungeon crawling and wilderness exploration can be tremendous fun, but so can investigation, social interaction, and the many other activities that a good skill system supports.

    Sadly, they stripped that away in 4E, and so far it looks like D&D Next is going to continue that trend.

    Characters get no bonus Skill points for high Intelligence. The selection of skills is limited – even a Rogue only gets four, or five if human. I don’t see any Craft or Profession or Appraisal skills. There’s no concept of differing levels of skill; you either have a skill or you don’t, and your ability in it is determined exclusively by your character level and your attribute bonus, with no room for further choices during character development. There doesn’t even seem to be any provision for acquiring new skills during play – as far as I can tell, you make your Skill selections at character creation, and that’s it.

    Maybe they’ll address this as the game develops; but I have to say that for me, the lack of a textured and flexible Skill system is a major drawback.

    • Am with you 100%.

      The Basic set has the fundamentals on which the other books are based.

      Thus I am certain skills will be covered in a future box/ book. Books like Skills and Powers from ages back with options. 🙂

      • So is “Basic D&D” an actual overview of the system, or a simplified version of it?

        I noticed that they left out Feats, but the PDF explicitly says that Feats will appear in the PHB. so that didn’t bother me. However, they do discuss Skills; so I assume that means that this really is the baseline skill system – and any changes to it will be in a “Player’s Option” type supplement that isn’t considered part of the core rulebooks. Is that the case?

        • That is my understanding of it. For the moment, I would treat the Basic Set as the equivalent/ comparable to the Moldvay one. The difference being the rules in the current boxed Basic Set eg Advantage, are constants and new books will offer greater choice/ flexibility as bolt on extras. Which I hope includes skills.

          But obviously we both eagerly await the PHB when more will be revealed!

          Certainly what is the case is that numerical increases are being kept low. Flatter progression which should make D&D more playable at higher levels. Pathfinder becomes very mathematical by 10th level+!

  14. did a little digging on skills: good link here http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?284560-D-amp-D-5th-Edition-X-Where-s-the-Craft-(RPG-System)-skill

    in there we find:

    “Skills

    – As mentioned above, Skills have been replaced by Ability Checks. There are no Skill points. Instead, your Background grants you four trained Skills. When you make a check for a task related to one of your trained Skills, you get to add a Skill Die to it. It starts as 1d6, but increases as you gain levels up to 1d12.
    – Rogues get extra trained Skills and a lot of other Skill based crunch.
    -The variance math of the Skill system is such that experts have a significant chance of losing a skill contest against a rank amateur.
    – The list of Skills is highly granular, and mostly mirrors the 3.0/3.5-ish list.
    – How, whether, or to what degree non-combat Skills (Knowledge, Profession, etc) should be included is hotly debated.
    – This whole issue of how Skills are handled is currently up in the air.”

    Thus – for the moment, this probably won’t be the game for you. I am awaiting the PHB and DMG to see where this game goes. It would be nice is an expert would beat an amateur hands down. That is reality!

    Ben F

    • Thanks for the link! Disappointing news, though. Especially the idea that non-combat Skills should be dropped – and *especially* the idea that *Knowledge* should be dropped. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? 😦

      I was just reading a(n interesting) post on Enworld that differentiates between “Combat as Sport” and “Combat as War” styles of play:

      http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?317715-Very-Long-Combat-as-Sport-vs-Combat-as-War-a-Key-Difference-in-D-amp-D-Play-Styles

      The summary is that “Combat-as-Sport” treats combat encounters as contests that should start on an even footing and have the participants slug it out, while “Combat-as-War” assumes that PCs will make clever plans to give themselves an advantage before the combat starts, or come up with methods other than slaughter to achieve their objectives.

      A detailed and workable Skill system supports Combat-as-War. My reaction to the C-a-W bee example in the article is “YES! *THAT* is D&D!!!” – so anything that supports C-a-W is a Good Thing as far as I’m concerned.

      If D&D Next is going to encourage the C-a-S approach by continuing to treat Skills as a troublesome afterthought that you only use when you have to in order to reach the combat encounter, then yeah – it probably isn’t a game for me.

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