Pathfinder GM Runs 5th Ed. DnD

I ran two games of DnD 5th Edition yesterday.  It was my first time running the system after I procured the Starter Set for the new edition.  I ran a game for some of my school students who asked me to run them a game and then I ran it later that night for my regular Pathfinder players.  This review takes a look at the new edition from my perspective – a Pathfinder GM, only the game has changed.

The Good

I am talking largely from the perspective of running the rules presented in the Starter Set here.  I have read the Next materials and have the free Basic Rules in my pile of things to read soon but I decided to run the rules straight from the Starter Set and so the comments I make are related to that.  I have had a good feeling about this edition and liked the read through so here we go.

5th Edition DnD Starter Set box image
The new Starter Set for 5th Edition DnD. My players did not realise the cover was a homage to the old Basic Boxed Set cover

Firstly, the module The Lost Mines of Phandelver is a pretty standard affair as far as modules go and that is the way it should be.  You will see familiar baddies galore with a touch of the bizarre and of course a Dragon in the mix as well.  Last nights game handled part 1 of the adventure.  It is a light adventure with a good start filled with action and some hooks into later parts of the adventure.

I liked the pre-generated characters.  They are straightforward and lay out the rules all on the one sheet along with a standard progression path and more information on the back.  I got questions from both games of players that wanted to make up their own characters but I stood firm on this and wanted to run the set as is.  From my regular group I knew that the player that asked would ask as he does not like stock standard characters, and that is what these were.  But to me they offered a really good way to teach the game.

The rules are very simple and in playing the game they become very easy to use and transparent to the game.  I had five players in each game and in both they were picking up what had to be done in short order.  The focus is on the action and the story because the rule set is so simple.

From a combat perspective they have really dropped back a step similar to 2nd Edition with a focus on reduced hit points for creatures and lowering fantastical AC’s and to hit bonuses.  There is a lot less adding up to do and the combats run smoothly and quickly.  Since the start of 3rd Edition DnD there was a focus on meatier enemies by beefing up the hit points and reducing the number of opponents to provide satisfying combat.  This does not work, it offers repetition.  When you are in the seventh round of a combat and you are just repetitively doing the same thing it becomes boring, not satisfying.  More interest is provided by more enemies with less hit points.

Basic Dungeons and Dragons boxed set 1983
The Basic game from the 1980’s. The cover is the inspiration for the new edition cover

I normally can get through three ‘encounters’ in a night with a game of Pathfinder and last night I did at least nine in the same or less time with 5th Ed. DnD.  Admittedly these are low level encounters and I actually spend a lot of time with players that are new in my Pathfinder group but there is a significant gain here with the number of encounters and gaming we fit in.  For my students we only got one encounter in (as we play at lunchtime and half of that was taken explaining the game) but with the regular group we completed all of part 1 of The Lost Mines of Phandelver.

I really enjoyed the game last night.  I got to ham up some NPC’s and invest my energy into role playing them rather than looking up rules.  It was fun.  At the end of the night I did a quick whip round and asked all the players if they liked it and they all said they did so things were looking up in that regard.

The Bad

I ran into something in nearly every battle where I thought “The system is broken there.  I will need to make a house rule on it“.  That is a very big problem for me.  I really get the feel that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) have listened to the KISS (keep it simple stupid) brigade and they are really light on with the rules now.  It works for speed but there are things that are just broken.

I will give two of the examples that I was thinking about largely last night.  The first of these is surrounding the idea of opportunity attacks.  Believe me, I get where WotC are coming from trying to simplify these.  In 3.0 edition you needed a lawyers degree to be able to understand the 17,000 clauses and sub clauses of that rule as to when to apply the opportunity attack.  In fact if it were not for this rule I would probably have continued to play that edition of DnD.  But instead whenever something came up and you were in a threatened zone it would be back to the books to see if that matched one of the clauses to trigger the response.

Well, the new edition has made it the simplest EVER.  An opportunity attack can be made only when an opponent leaves your threatened zone if they are not using the disengage action or the dodge action.  Simple.  Broken.

Why broken?  Well, let me quote a section of the opportunity attack rules for its intention.

In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for enemies to drop their guard. You can rarely move heedlessly past your foes without putting yourself in danger;

Yet, with this version of the rules you could expend all of your move running circles around an opponent and not draw an attack of opportunity.  In fact you can sheath your sword, draw out a crossbow and fire it and you are still not considered to have dropped your guard.  You can be completely unarmed and unarmored and casting a spell but still no opportunity attack is available.  This failing also somewhat relates to my next example, where you can stand up from prone but still be considered not to have dropped your guard for an opportunity attack.

This leads into the absolute waste of time having creatures being able to trip or force people prone is.  In the game there was a creature (and as I am trying to avoid spoilers for the module I’ll not name it) that could force people prone.  The halfling rogue got forced prone.  Sounds bad doesn’t it.  Well, not really.  On his turn he just stood up again, offering up no attack of opportunity as he did not leave a threatened zone, and attacked as normal.  Broken.

The only advantage of a prone character is present if there are different types of creatures in the combat and the creature that forces the prone condition acts first.  Let me illustrate this with two examples.

There is a creature called a bullywump for the sake of this example and it has tentacles that trip people on a successful hit with a failed Dex save.  Let us say in an encounter there are two of them and three feral dogs in combat with a fighter.  Let’s say the initiative is Bullywump, then the fighter, then the dogs.  The first bullywump hits and knocks the fighter down.  The second bullywump also attacks but does not gain advantage becasuse they are considered to attack at the same time and the fighter was standing to start with.  The fighter has his turn and stands up and attacks.  The dogs attack and the fighter is standing so the prone condition was pointless and wasted.  Broken.  If you rearrange the initiative so the fighter is last and the dogs are second is the ONLY time that this would have any benefit.

There were other issues that I began to think about last night but these were the main ones.  I have other issues that I think will become pertinent as they start to level so I may write about them later on.

The Ugly

On the short drive to his house I spoke to one of the players about my concerns and we kept coming back and saying “Yeah, we could house rule it”.  That makes me very worried.  I run one nights gaming in what is meant to be the new slick game full of shiny and happy and I already have a list of things that need house rules to make them function properly?

I was talking to people over on Reddit in regards to my thoughts of some spells recently and I was getting a consistent reply.  If you want a simulation game (meaning something that operates with real world response) that the new version of DnD is far from it.

Running the game I had fun but I was troubled by that fun.  It is a broken system.  Apparently rules simplification for the new DnD meant breaking realism.  Sure, Pathfinder is complicated but at least it offers a semblance of tactics and realism.  Sure Pathfinder has a lot of Feats and DnD has done a fantastic job of limiting these but at what cost when the rules just offer no direction.

My Final Thoughts

I will be running this game for a while and that is OK.  But if yesterday was a reflection of what I can expect in the future I am not sure I want to invest into in the future.  Yes, I had fun and the focus was on role playing but this game does not offer me the depth that I want to play at.  Sure, it is the Starter Set but the Basic Rules mirror that and I can not see the core books (Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monsters Manual) changing much of that.

I tell you what though, it has taught me a few things that I can do to make my Pathfinder games a little more fun, if only from my perspective as a GM.  I am going to take these lessons forward into my games and inject that life into the game.  For that the Starter Set has been worth the price I paid for it.

I have other games where I have fun in the same genre that require only the smallest of tweaks for me to be happy with so why would I move to a system that will only work for me if I modify it heavily.  And if I modified it heavily would my players still want to play it.  Good luck to those that take the system forward and play it becuase they like it.  I can not see myself being one of those people though.  the more I dwell on this experience I think the Starter Set may actually be my only purchase from the 5th Edition game.


  1. Yes good game warts and all 🙂 I currently play in Marks pathfinder games. I enjoyed 5th edition d&d starter, the games pace and tone were classic d&d.
    ..We initially struggled with unfamiliar rules were discovered as the module unfolded and where we were unsure of rules we looked until we found what made sense on most. The system was elegant and simple, but I think we found ourselves over thinking a lot of the rules. I had a look today at several rules that troubled me and think I have worked out how they work and if so they gel pretty well for me. Certainly not the complexity or realism of pathfinder, but a simple game that would be great for a high fantasy campaign.The prone rule seemed a little strange to me too.Bravo to Mark for running the game ! Look forward to next exciting episode 🙂


    1. While I love Pathfinder / 3.5 (I can mangle and manipulate that system at an instinctual level after 14 years of playing it), one of the last words I would use to describe it’s systems is “realism”.


      1. Agreed. Realism is not the word. Simulationist is probably better. Realism is definitely not.


      2. Perhaps realism is a poor choice of words, ( as the most realistic rpg is still a far cry from reality) but the intent was to convey that the new d&d is much more simplistic and lighter on details in comparison to pathfinder.


  2. The specific issue with being prone that you cite is actually addressed in the Basic Rules (the free pdf that anyone can download from the WotC website). Basically, if you’re prone you can only crawl, unless you get up as your action, you get disadvantage when attacking, and enemies within 5′ get advantage when attacking you.

    So it’s a function of the fact that you were using the very limited starter set rules, and not the more complete free Basic Rules.


    1. Actually, the starter set has precisely the same rules as you list here. I think it may be the fact that I treat all attacks as simultaneous that is my undoing with this rule. If I did not then multiple attacks would gain advantage prior to the player being able to stand. Part of the issue I have here though is there is no penalty to standing up so attacking from the ground or crawling are just rules that will never get used. Mind you it is feasible that someone who is prone can take an attack of opportunity if someone leaves their threatened zone (which is ridiculous but the rules do not prohibit this) and therefore would make the attack with disadvantage.


      1. Actually, there is a penalty to standing up – it takes up half your movement for the turn, thus significantly reducing your mobility.


        1. I understand this penalty exists but it is not much of a penalty. You start the round prone do you;
          a) attack with disadvantage and stand up then move half your speed;
          b) attack with disadvantage and crawl away so you can attack with disadvantage again next turn
          c) stand up and hit with no disadvantage and then walk away
          d) do nothing.

          The option is always going to be c). I never said there would be no penalty, I just said that prone was useless as a condition 🙂


          1. You can’t technically walk away as that would be a Disengage action (you can’t attack *and* Disengage). As you noted, you can move within the creatures threat zone, but if you walk away, you do get Opp Attack against you.

            But yes, the prone condition works more with multiple attacks or a group that has initiative over the target. Keep in mind that a creature can delay their initiative or set up a “Ready” action that says they will wait until a creature is prone to attack.

            This means the dogs could hold their action and swarm once a creature is down which would simulate pack tactics fairly well… the creatures are circling and closing until a target goes down and BAM they are all upon him at once.

            If you get really creative with delaying initiative or Ready actions, the prone condition then becomes a severe impediment.

      2. In fairness, on the one hand you say that you don’t use the initiative rules, and then complain when the rules for the prone condition (which rely on the initiative rules, because they determine when you and your enemies get advantage/disadvantage) don’t work. That hardly seems to be a fault with the rules so much as your decision to toss out initiative.


    2. Getting from being prone only cost half of your movement not your action. The only way a prone opponent can remain prone during his turn is for his movement to be reduced by other means.

      Knocking somebody prone is only effective when there are multiple attackers. The target can be knocked prone by an earlier attacker then everybody afterwards gets advantage.

      Also if the prone character attempt to use an reaction to attack while prone he will be at a disadvantage.

      If you are fighting one on one with no other terrain consideration then there is little advantage in knocking somebody prone.

      On the other hand it can make zombies even more terrifying when a character it attacked by a horde of them.


  3. Note that I’m coming to this from the perspective of someone who’s been playing D&D since 1979 and who still actively runs three different “D&D” campaigns – one 3.5, one DCCRPG and one 1981 B/X D&D.

    Honestly, the changes to the AoO rules I see as improvements instead of “broken” as you keep calling them. They are the same AoO rules as we had in editions prior to 3x. Instead of triggering AoOs when you cast spells and use missile weapons in melee range, you get disadvantage on your attack rolls. This makes everything move more quickly and mitigates the old “5 foot step then shoot” or “5 foot step then cast” that I deal with night after night in my 3.5 game.

    I’ve never liked standing up from prone triggering an AoO because it lead to “tripped, stand up, free hit which then trips…” loops. The advantage of rendering someone prone in 5e is that they lose half their movement to get back up, thus reducing an enemy’s mobility, as well as granting your allies advantage over said enemy until it does get up.


    1. I agree and disagree here. The 5 foot shoot or cast can be negated by feats allowing a step up so the idea you can get away with such a simple tactic is not entirely a catch all. Also, the idea of the trip loop should not work as the AoO must be a basic attack which does not allow for a trip. Although if it were a monster special power I would have no issue with it as it is like standing over them and pushing them back down if they try to get back up.


  4. I recommend playing a game without a grid. Then perceived problems like “running circles around enemy” go away. And many of the other rules might make more sense.


    1. I don’t use grids or maps of any sort with this game. I sometimes sketch a little what the room looks like but not much else. The only real ruling I have a problem with is the prone rule at the moment. I may make a house ruling that it takes full move to stand OR it attracts an attack of opportunity. I think I would be happy with either of those options 🙂


  5. Honestly, your “the bad” sound less like problems with the game and more like areas of the rules you are unused to and so approached with apprehension. Personally, I much prefer the rules for being prone found in 5th, and those penalties do come into play.

    The penalty to attacks made while you are prone don’t come into play on your turn (as you will, as you noted, just stand up). Rather, they come into play when creatures provoke opportunity attacks. You can’t shift in 5th. In order to move away without provoking an opportunity attack, you have to use an action, which means you are not making any attacks when you do so. If a creature gets knocked prone after an attack, the creature that knocked it prone can move away with the knowledge that the prone creature will take disadvantage to its attack of opportunity.

    If multiple creatures are attacking a single foe, or a single creature gets multiple attacks (with at least one which can knock creatures prone), then subsequent attacks (by either other creatures or the same creature) will be made with advantage! That is a great bonus/tough penalty considering the generally rapid pace of combat in 5th.

    Finally, that movement penalty can be lethal if you are fighting a fast (movement 40) creature that can also knock creatures prone (like the wolf or mastiff). It moves up, attacks, and if it knocks you prone it runs 20 feet away. You get an attack of opportunity with disadvantage, but the next round, after you stand up, you can’t reach that wolf/mastiff. Then you either move 15 feet (or less) towards it or 15 feet (or less) away from it. If you move towards it, it just repeats the tactic. If you move away from it, then it uses its 40 feet of movement to run up to you and attack. Yea, the next round you get up and attack it. The thing is, the round after that it attacks you, and if it knocks you prone, it runs 20 feet away again. Overall, as a result of being prone it drastically reduces the amount of damage you deal per round as a result of the way it uses that condition in combination with its movement rate.

    I also don’t see the issue with people running in circles around each other. In real fights, people do circle each other all the time. They don’t stand locked in one place trading blocks. It even adds a nice extra dimension to tactics in combat as allies can try and flank a foe in order to lock it into place (as by circling around one foe the other will get an attack of opportunity). There are some optional rules in the DMG that allow you to gain advantage against a foe you are flanking, so depending on the game, that can be a particularly nasty/effective tactic.

    I think you need to get used to the rules and give the game a bit more of a fair shake… just my 2 cents. But hey, in the end, play what you love! If that is Pathfinder, then that is what you should play.


    1. Hi Dave, thanks for the long and thoughtful reply. I find myself agreeing with almost everything you say here. I have played D&D solidly since that post in person and find that those parts of the rules fit nicely in exactly the way you mentioned. The only one I had not thought of was the one you illustrate with the wolf/mastiff. I had not thought of it that way. Thanks for reading.


  6. I don’t have it available atm to check exactly what they are, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned that the DMG has options for more complex opportunity attack rules.


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