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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.