Hello everyone. It's that time again. Chup-at-Cabra
has requested a review of 5th edition, and I promised to give a review after I had a sufficient idea what I was doing. Having just gotten home from our second session, I feel now is a good time to give the newbies impression before I get deep into the mechanics later in the campaign. This is for you Chup-at-Cabra
As a preface, I will do my best to avoid saying things like "mechanic ____ is just like ___ from edition ___". If you want that, there are plenty of blogs that are doing just that and having flame wars over their disagreements. I may make comparisons, but I will try to do my best to review just on it's own merits. Another thing I should mention is that I never got into 4th edition. I will be talking about how a lot of 3rd/3.5 edition mechanics have stayed or disappeared, and those of you who mainlined 4th edition will be yelling "Of course it's gone!", but just so you know, I made the jump directly from 3.5e to 5th edition, and will be making some comparisons based on that. That said, let's dive right in.
Actions and You
Our journey begins with the 5e action economy. Breaking from the mould of previous editions, this system has tossed out Move actions entirely. During each turn, a character is allotted it's full move speed in movement (barring any modifiers which we will discuss later) as well as a single action. In addition to this, there are two special types of actions called "bonus" and "reaction". These work very similar to "free" and "immediate" actions from previous editions. A character can only ever take one bonus action and one reaction per round. Some spells, abilities, and class features allow you to play with these special actions, but in general they have a pretty static use. Reaction is generally used for opportunity attacks (attacks of opportunity) and bonus actions are normally used for class abilities. Movement can now be spread out over your entire turn. That means that the ability to move, do an Action, and move again is entirely in the realm of possibility as long as the character's movement for the turn has not been exhausted. Some situations, such as climbing, swimming, standing from prone, etc. can reduce the character's allotted movement for the turn.
Alignment: No longer an awkward conversation at the dinner table
Next let's talk about the thing that's started more party conflicts than deciding who is going to pick up the bar tab for the party. Alignment. In 5th edition, alignment has no bearing whatsoever on any part of the game besides how someone plays their character (i.e. only as much as you let it). Alignment class restrictions have gone out the window (something that Wizards of The Coast played with in 4th edition). Yes, that's right, the chaotic evil paladin is just as qualified for the class as the lawful good barbarian is for his. In addition to that, to further remove the previously built up black and white alignment system, all of the, as my GM put it, "boss detecting plot abilities" disappeared. No one gets the ability to just casually glance around and see who is evil and who isn't, but as I said, it doesn't even matter anymore. There is a 1st level spell called "Detect Evil and Good" but that isn't so much an alignment radar, as a sphere of supernatural baddies radar.
Racism: Or the lack thereof
Now let's get down to the races. As a preface, level adjustments from race went the way of the dodo (a carryover from 4th edition which everyone liked). I am glad that Wizards decided to listen to the player base on this specific subject. So who made it in, and who didn't? In 5e, races come with the base race, and then two or three variants to choose from. For example (pulling from the first race in the list), Dwarf has it's own list of age, usual alignment, stat modifiers, racial abilities and so on, but then you get to pick which *type* of dwarf you are. The two options in the PHB are Hill Dwarf and Mountain Dwarf. Each one with it's own additions ability score change and special ability which you get to stack on top of the goodies from just being a dwarf. You with me so far? Good, let's move on to the next shocker. Elves.
Elves get three subraces. High elf and Wood elf are the standard fare, and then you get to the third option: Drow. That's right reader, Drow are now a standard race. And yes, you can have a good aligned drow, there is even a sidebar specifically talking about that exact subject, but as mentioned before, alignment means practically nothing in this system.
Halflings get the Lightfoot (sneaky variant) and the Stout (hardy variant) subraces.
Humans don't get a subrace, instead they get a variant option on their traits. A base human adds 1 to all ability scores, but the variant human increases two different ability scores by 1, gains proficiency with one skill (see the skills section below), and a feat (see the feat section below)
Dragonborn (some of you who never perused the Draconomicon have never heard of this race before, but it has changes from previous editions). In 3.5e, a dragonborn was someone who went through a ritual of rebirth, but in 5e it has become an entirely separate race, created by the dragon gods and hatched from dragon eggs "combining the best attributes of dragons and humanoids". Similarly to the dragonborn from previous editions, they get a breath weapon and resistances to the type of energy that is in that breath weapon as well as the usual list of size, age, and alignment leanings. There is also a variant race called the Draconians, which are a variant race from the Dragonlance setting. Draconians are born from corrupted Dragonborn eggs and trade off their breath weapons for special abilities. There are no stats as of yet, so either those need to be ported in from a previous edition or more content will be released in the future (I'm hoping for the latter).
Gnomes get the forest gnome (nature variant) and the rock gnome ( the more stereotypical tinkerer gnome that most people think of). Forest gnomes get a powerful cantrip called Minor Illusion, which is basically free reign to make lots of wierd noises and silent images.
Half elves and half orcs don't get any subraces, but then, they already are sub races in some respects. That's not to say that they don't get nice things, because WoTC made sure to give all the races some love, but they just don't get as much customization as the other races.
The final race on the list is the Tieflings. That's right, Tieflings. Since 3.5e/4e, Tieflings have stepped onto the stage as a playable race, and that trend seems only to continue. Tieflings get lots of nice innate spells and abilities from the blood of their infernal parent, and now that they don't have a level adjustment, they are likely to see a lot more play.
Backgrounds: Everyone has a story to tell
In addition to picking a race and a class (which will be discussed afterwards for reasons mentioned later) you also get to pick a background. This includes anything from a scammer on the street to an noble to a wandering nomad and everything in between. A background gives you additional starting equipment, proficiencies, and some nice roleplaying cues. Each background contains a Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond, and Flaw which gives you a good idea of who your character is and how they interact with other people. If you don't want to come up with one, there are handy roll tables to randomly generate a set (often with hilarious and interesting results). My only gripe, as a concept driven character builder is that I wish this section had come before the class section. As I said, I believe that the character should be fit to the concept, not the other way around. I can, however, see Wizards' logic in this. Most new people just want to sit down with some dice and make rolls happen. From this perspective, making a race and a class first and then adding flesh to the bones does seem easier for newbies to pick up (a stated design intent of 5e), and honestly, it's a minor gripe, because experienced players don't have to follow the helpful guideline section at the beginning which walks you through how to make a character. In the end, it's a matter of opinion.
Classes: No, not the ones at school
Next on the chopping block is classes.Oh boy. Reader's buckle up, because it's about to get real. So, in 5th edition, each class gets basic features, as well as the option to specialize in one of several paths around 3rd level. Each class also gets ability score improvements at various times, with some classes getting them more frequently than others (remember this point because it will become relevant in the feats section).
Each class also comes with a "quick build" section, which outlines your two main stats and gives you a background path to pick (this is why I mentioned that first), allowing for characters to be built in minutes. I won't be going in depth to analyze each class because that could fill an entire blog entry in and of itself. Some classes do get interesting features, and many of the problems from previous editions have been fixed and modified. For a good teaser description of each class, I will direct you to page 45 of the PHB.
Proficiencies: Who ever thought being able to play the mandolin would come up?
Next let's talk about proficiencies. A character gets proficiencies based on his race, class, and background ,which can cover weapons, armor, skills, tools, and musical instruments. As a character levels up, his proficiency bonus increases, starting at +2 for the first 4 levels, increasing to +3 for the next 4 levels, and so on and so forth, increasing by +1 every 4 levels up to +6 at levels 17 to 20. When using an item or doing a check with something he is proficient with, the character gains his proficiency bonus to the check on top of whatever modifiers were already there.
Skills: Turns out it did come up
I am afraid to discuss Skills I will have to talk a bit about mechanics from previous editions, despite my stated intent otherwise, sorry about this. Anyway, on with the review. Just like in 4th edition, Skills are no longer a grocery list of individual skills that can be taken, but rather have been clumped into "sensible" groups. Like 4th edition, a character is "proficient" with a certain set of skills (based on race, background, and class), to which he adds his proficiency bonus. Another happy carryover from 4th edition is that *all* skills can be used, but most people are only really good at a handful of tasks ( i.e. proficient with them). This removes the situation where only one person in the party was even able to do a skill, so everyone else sat there twiddling their thumbs. Sure that person might still end up doing it simply because he's better trained, but if he fails horribly, at least the rest of the party gets a chance to try. Additionally, helping someone with a skill is no longer limited to whether you are trained in a skill or not (for further notes see the Advantage/Disadvantage section below). Another thing that I want to take the time to specifically mention is that *everyone* gets the ability to have seeing things as a trained skill. Spot and Listen have been rolled in one skill called "Perception", and unlike 3.5e, everyone gets the option to take that as a "proficient" skill. Earlier I put the word sensible in quotation marks, and I would like to address that now. Some of the skills in 5th edition just plain overlap. Nature and Survival are interchangeable in some situations, and Stealth and Slight of Hand have a bad habit of trying to trade places. I think these could have been better arranged and consolidated, but it is easy to work around.
Feats: Now almost an endangered species
I have been alluding to this the entire review so here it is. The first thing you have to keep in mind is that *nobody* except variant humans (as mentioned before) gets feats. There is no longer a 1st level starting feat or feats every third level. Instead, WoTC startled us with a rather ingenious mechanic. Remember when I said that all the classes get ability boosts? Well instead of taking said ability boost, the player can forgo it and instead get a feat from the list, leading to the players deciding whether they want better stats or special abilities. Some of the weaker feats give a stat boost anyway, but in general feats are a tradeoff between better stats and special abilities. As in previous editions, some classes (like fighter) get the option of more feats, but in this case they get more ability boosts than others, leading to a net gain of the same thing.
Bonuses: The rumors of their demise aren't so exaggerated
Advantage/Disadvantage: Why you care
Hardcore old timer's might whine about this, but honestly, this is probably my favorite part of 5th edition. Bonuses have pretty much become non-existent. If it isn't a stat modifier or proficiency bonus, + numbers have almost disappeared (though I am sure there are some fringe cases). Instead, there is a new mechanic called Advantage and Disadvantage. Advantage and Disadvantage can be gained from class features, situations (such as being prone), actions in combat( such as Dodge), feats, and spells. Advantage and Disadvantage is a roll-keep system. By that I mean that you roll a certain amount of dice, and keep only a certain number of them (normally denoted with _k_). In this case it is 2k1 (roll two keep one), and the situation tells you which to keep. When you have Advantage, you roll two d20s and keep the better. When you have Disadvantage, you roll two d20s and keep the worse. By helping someone do something, whether it be an action in combat (this I believe is where flanking disappeared to) or a skill check, you can give them advantage. Advantage can also cancel out Disadvantage (and vice versa) in situations where you have both. Why do I think this is better? DnD is stigmatized as being a system where a bunch of modifiers are floating around, always waiting to pop up and have to be figured in. This leads to a lot of confusion for new players. By rolling all of that up into an easy to remember mechanic, the system has become a lot more (you guessed it) newbie friendly. Occasionally a cover bonus to AC or miss chance will rear it's head, but those are few and far between unless you actively seek them out.
Inspiration: Not just for bards anymore
Another new mechanic to this system is something called Inspiration. As an incentive for playing your character in accordance with his backstory, the DM can award a player an Inspiration point, which can be spent to give Advantage on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. Additionally, to reward people for playing their characters right, you can give your inspiration points to other people. This lends itself to a positive-reinforcement type of role playing environment, which can feed on itself. All it takes is one player to start acting out his role, and then it can snowball until everyone is in character, which from experience I can say can lead to a deep, meaningful, and fulfilling session. This is good for both ends of the player spectrum. For veterans, it encourages them to make an effort to roleplay rather than just jadedly walking a cardboard cutout around and rolling dice. For new players, it encourages them to not be nervous and to really express themselves and get into character. This also allows veteran players who are keeping a weather eye on the players who are new to role playing to reward them for coming outside of their shells and really getting into the act.
A few words on the setting (possibly more)
I myself have some qualms about the default setting of Forgotten Realms, and not because the last major update it saw was 3rd edition. Between petty gods squabbling for worshipers, the Wall of the Faithless, entire sections of the realm ruled by undead, and great chasms leading directly to the Underdark, the Forgotten Realms world is not a nice place to be. As a default setting, it is fraught with peril, and maybe that isn't the most friendly of places to drop people in the adventure that comes in the starting box, but regardless, it is up to each individual to make his own destiny in this harsh new world.
As I stated before, this is my outlook on the system having only played two sessions and spent several hours reading the PHB. I will post again later when I feel that I have gained sufficient mastery beyond the "getting by" stage and am more into the "intimately familiar with the inner workings" stage. Thanks for reading everyone.