Dungeons & Dragons has returned with a 5th edition of the classic fantasy RPG. TGN’s Enrico Nardini shares his adventures and experiences in this newest rendition of the Forgotten Realms.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D Next, 5E) dropped a few weeks prior to Gen Con 2014. I can say in all honesty, despite my current employment, I just wasn’t that excited. That doesn’t mean 5E is not a great product, hasn’t generated buzz, or wasn’t worthy of my attention. When D&D Next was announced and public playtesting and feedback began, I was interested. It was a bold move (seemingly in the right direction) from an industry leader. But, as a year passed with nothing new on the shelves, and older editions got their premium rereleases, I simply moved on.
That’s the problem when you drop into an extended developmental period. Everyone else continuing to release product pulls ahead, and newcomers can get a head-start. There is no dearth of fantasy RPGs on the market, and there are only so many games that even I can play. New releases are dropping all the time.
Let’s Go on a Quest
Yet, this is still D&D we’re talking about - a new edition of D&D, the unseated king of the fantasy RPG market, the product of a more transparent design philosophy must be worthy of my critical eye. Months have passed, and there are six releases currently on the shelves. Instead of reviewing each book individually, I’ve formed a playtest group to tackle their first published adventure (excluding the beginner box), Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and I’ll be sharing my experiences with our readers.
My group meets on Sundays. Our first task was character creation; that was the focus of this first session.
What would a campaign be without characters? Well... It would be nonexistent.
We devoted our first session to sharing our concepts and creating characters using the new Player’s Handbook. 5E’s character creation strikes a nice balance between detail, speed, and functionality. The basics of almost every edition of D&D are still present: generate stats, pick race, pick class, pick spells (possibly), and buy equipment.
The Customizable GM Screen from PEGInc.
D&D 4th Edition excelled at party balance, something I cherish. There is nothing worse than being in an RPG with a broken character hogging every beam of spotlight. 5E is seen in many ways as a return to older forms, but I was happy to see the return of point buying stats (as per 3E onward) and pre-constructed arrays as options. When combined with the quick build’s equipment packages, character creation was a snap.
Choosing a race got a bit more interesting in this edition of the core book. There are a number of options, both common and exotic. Many races have subrace options (something generally found in splat books). You’re not just a dwarf; you’re a Hill Dwarf. This adds further customization in terms of a variety of ability score bumps, powers, and racism... err... I mean... character development.
Backgrounds galvanized my group’s interest. This is something new for 5E and very refreshing. Your background is what you were doing before or while being an adventurer. These aren’t necessarily jobs but life paths - though they often include a career of sorts. (Is being born a noble a career?) There are a number of them included in the Player’s Handbook, but I’m sure there will be more on the way. This kind of thing has supplement written all over it; The Player’s Guide to Backgrounds is no doubt on the way.
Backgrounds provide you with a number of in-game advantages. You get additional proficiencies, languages, and equipment based on your these origins. You also get a Feature (a special ability of sorts) and a personality trait, ideal, bond, and flaw. These are short, one sentence descriptions of aspects of your character’s personality.
Acolyte Ideal - Charity. I always try to help those in need, no matter the personal cost. (Good)
Acolyte Flaw - I judge others harshly, and myself even more severely.
We decided to roll all of our background characteristics. This added some amusing randomness without unbalancing the game. It also gave us ample story threads to flesh out, resulting in some interesting ways to tie characters together.
Whenever you roleplay these characteristics, you gain inspiration. Inspiration grants you advantage on a roll (roll two dice and take the best number). It’s very similar to invoking aspects in FATE, and it makes roleplaying your character more meaningful by supporting it with game mechanics.
I often hear the previous edition criticized as being the one that “took out the roleplaying.” That has never sat well with me. To know what a game is about, look at the mechanics. What is D&D about? Essentially, it is a game about killing monsters and taking their stuff in the pursuit of becoming more efficient at killing monsters and taking their stuff. This myth that previous editions were about more than that boggles my mind. We, the gamers, wove our stories around those mechanics. We made it about roleplaying.
Civilians from Reaper Miniatures.
That’s not to disparage dungeon crawls. I adore dungeon crawling! One of my fondest gaming memories was a Warhammer Quest campaign from high school. We added tons of roleplaying, but it was certainly not supported by the mechanics of the game.
Backgrounds drive you (in theory at least) to use your character’s growing narrative in the game. They provide mechanical reinforcement that encourages roleplaying by rewarding the player with an in-game advantage. That is a big step in the right direction, if you intend for this to emphasize roleplaying and not just being a murder hobo. Hopefully this will be the edition that “puts the roleplaying in.”
Preparing for Adventure
A Dungeon Master’s work is never done. I spent part of the week reading through the first chapter of the adventure. It's pretty basic. There’s a town under siege, and the party comes to its rescue. The text is well written, easy to understand, and beautifully illustrated but didn’t wow me with any cool plot twists and turns. There are many chapters left to go, so a more complicated story may be on the way.
I pulled all of the materials from my collection that I thought would still be helpful with the new edition. These included my GF9 D&D generic token set, my Paizo Initiative Tracker and Flip Mats, a set of wet-erase markers, and my PEGInc. Customizable GM Screen. (By the way, the Customizable GM Screen is a great purchase for any gamer. I highly recommend it.) After a quick Google search, I found an GM screen insert for 5E made by a Reddit user that had everything I needed. A beautiful picture of Tiamat from the Wizards of the Coast website was also added to set the proper mood.
Civilians from WotC, Lead Adventure, and Old Glory.
I love gaming with miniatures. My collection of fantasy figures is vast and includes miniatures I have painted and a deep collection of pre-paints. The first chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen features a lot of civilians, so I spent some time beefing up my collection. This included some excellent figures from Lead Adventure that I had been meaning to give some brush love.
I gathered my books, accessories, and players. It was time to leave the safety of our mundane world. A world of fantasy adventure lay ahead! In the next installment, we’ll look at how the first session went and highlight some of the new mechanics.
Are you playing D&D 5E? Leave a comment about your experiences!