What Are Your Thoughts on D&D 5E

July 7, 2014

An Honest, Heartfelt Answer to an Ask.FM Question

From my ask.fm page at http://ask.fm/TheAngryDM . The answer to this question was too long, so I have to put it here. 

Ok, let’s have it. What do you think of 5e/Next? Better? Worse? Just different? – Anonymous

I’ll answer this, but here are the caveats. First, I don’t own the Starter Set yet. I can only judge the Basic Rules. Second, I haven’t run this final release version. I ran a bunch of playtest stuff and was following the playtest very closely, but I haven’t seen the rubber hit the road with the final version. Third, this is just my personal opinion. My gut reaction. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me. Seriously. I wasn’t even really going to talk about it, but since you asked…

Look, I don’t care about the little detailed fiddly bits. Races are races, classes are classes, and they are all pretty much the same as they have always been. The mechanical expressions change a bit, but that’s the equivalent of moving the furntiture around. What I really care about is how the house is designed. See, no matter what, the structure of the house is going to limit where the funiture can go and what furniture you can have. If your bedroom is only 8′ by 8′, you ain’t getting a giant-ass waterbed in there. 

The structure of the game comes down to this: action resolution, scene resolution, and the overall structure of the game. And honestly, those things haven’t changed. Advantage/disadvantage has streamlined action resolution a bit, but it is still ability check + competence + d20 vs. DC and succeed or fail. Advantage/disadvantage is a nice mechanic but it also robs actions of some nuance given that you either have it or you don’t and I think the way I run social interaction is going to suffer most of all from that. But it is still basically d20. Scene resolution is still the same as well: unless you’re in a combat, scene resolution is the same as action resolution. And D&D combat remains D&D combat. Perhaps the full PHB/DMG will change this. And the structure of the game, the way the game is built, is still: encounter-based, goal-oriented, action RPG. So, it is still D&D.

All of the other details like how to express the tropes of a given class within that framework, it’s all details. The few little bits that try to push the structure in different directions (like inspiration) are pretty insubstantial. Like a fart in the wind. Mainly because they interact through the advantage/disadvantage mechanic.

The other thing that will be of personal interest is how this game teaches DMs to run it. But I will have to wait for the DMG.

Now, that is all just fact/analysis. None of that is my opinion. So what IS my opinion?

Well, I’m emotionally removed from my opinion at this point because playtest. None of the big structure stuff really changed through the playtest and it hasn’t changed in full release. But… 

I’m torn. On the one hand, it is return to form. It is Final Fantasy IX. It continues the evolution of 3E and streamlines and simplifies the game. 

But I’m also disappointed. Or at least, I was. I’ve had times to come to terms with it. See, for all that I personally disliked 4E, I respected 4E for its courage. It broke a lot of things. It tried to be different. And it tried to really be new and fresh. And there were parts of it I really liked. 5E doesn’t feel brave. It doesn’t feel new. It feels like the game I’ve been playing for 25 years. 

And the thing is, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I mean, it is. It is for WotC and it is for D&D and it is for scads of new players. But I’m not sure its a good thing for me. There’s too much of a sense of “I’ve done this already, there’s nothing new here.” 

So, honestly, my opinion is mixed. I think they hit their goals, but I’m not sure I liked the goals. I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the PHB and the DMG to see what ELSE is in this game. I’m waiting for the killer app of the 5E rules. But I also probably have to wait until November to see it. Which, truth be told, annoys the s$&% out of me. 

Long story short: it’s fine. It’s D&D. It’s exactly what you would expect if you tried to distill 40 years of D&D down to it’s essence. Which means you’ve already been playing it for up to 40 years. So, if that’s what you want, you’ll like it. But it hasn’t wowed me. It’s just more of the same.

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