The 5th Edition

The latest version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), currently known has D&D Next, is Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) latest attempt to reboot the worlds most popular tabletop role playing game. The game is currently in beta stages and WotC is receiving feedback from fans who have been testing out the new rules. WotC is trying to bat a home run with this game by trying to win back fans after the D&D 4th edition failure, while at the same time converting older fans who have been perfectly content playing older editions of the game.

D&D

While I was at PAX this year, I had a chance to play a demo of Dungeons & Dragons Next with an official representative of Wizards of the Coast. You can see a video of the game I was playing here. I really had an enjoyable time playing the game and after it was over, I was able to talk to our Dungeon Master and ask several questions about the new edition and how it was progressing. Unfortunately, I left the gaming table somewhat disappointed with the state of Dungeons & Dragons Next and I don’t expect the things I would need to buy the game to be addressed by it’s release sometime in 2014.

In a nutshell D&D Next is still too complex for my tastes. Please don’t get me wrong, I do think that the 5th edition of this game is a lot better than 4th edition. I figured that out just by looking at my character sheet. Gone are skill checks from your character sheet. Now if you want to do something outside the box that would be considered a skill you just use your Ability Score Modifiers and add them to your D20 roll to see if you accomplish your goal. This is a nice example of how the game has been cleaned up and streamlined. But the sad fact is that you are still doing a ton of math, adding all your extra points of damage from weapons or abilities, rolling extra dice for advantage and so on. I found this to not only be confusing, but also detracting and slowing down the story being played out in front of me.

I do understand and respect that there are gamers out in the world that enjoy the mathematical crunch of a good game mechanic. I am just not one one of those gamers. When I first looked at my printed off character sheet for a level one Cleric for 5th edition, I let out a sigh of disappointment. Already I knew that if I had to write out this character by hand that there was no way I could fit all the information I needed on the front and back of one character sheet. Which to me is very disappointing. To me when I think of a tabletop role playing game, I think pencil and paper. I feel like I should be able to write down everything I need with a pencil and one sheet of paper. I shouldn’t need to print off the character sheet from my computer or need several index cards to write down all the extra information my character has. That’s just not fun for me.

When D&D Next was first announced, I was feeling very optimistic about it. I recall early talks of this 5th edition by WotC being modular. Think three ring binder of sorts that would contain the rules for how to play D&D in its most basic form. Rules light if you will. Then, as you wanted to add eliminates from 2nd, 3rd, or 4th editions of the game, along with extra character options you could just by adding on packs or sheets and inserting them into your binder. D&D Next. The edition for everyone. I thought this was was a great idea and something I could see myself buying. But shortly after the first beta of the game was released for public testing, I knew that this great idea was no longer going to be an option for fans.

The truth of the matter is, I cut my teeth on D&D. I love the name of the game and I want to support it. But the reality is I have found that I enjoy gaming with a modern clone of the original D&D game called Swords & Wizardry. I would rather play a game called Dungeons & Dragons. I want to come back home to my roots and play and support the game that has been around since before I was born. I just don’t see that happening with D&D Next. But like any fan of the hobby, I will continue to hold out hope until the official rule books are released and and I can see for myself what WotC is asking me to buy.

14 thoughts on “The 5th Edition”

  1. Great review. I feel a little the same but I do think that this version is far more rules light than any version of the Advanced D&D game. The only thing that comes close is the basic version of D&D out of the early 80’s.

    But you are right. I think it is a little too late and too little to bring me back to the system.

  2. I really wanted D&D Next to bring back the ‘good old days’ of my AD&D playing in the 80s and early 90s, and it just seems to be getting further away with each iteration of the rules now.

    I’ve decided to go with 13th Age for my fantasy RPG. Rules that have a teeny bit of crunch but a game that is story and character focused.

  3. Fear not! Gamer. I’ve been active in the playtest since it was first opened to the public. And while there is probably a bit more complexity in base 5E, the way it’s organized and centralized, it’s probably easier to understand and play, even than OD&D. What you may or may not know is that the playtest rules is an amalgamation of a lot of different “modules”. The basic understanding is that they’re testing multiple pieces at once. When the rules are finally finished and release, there will almost certainly be a baseline game very much like what you’re looking for. Fewer options, fewer moving parts, just your race, class and stats if that’s what you want. Then, as you gain experience, you can add backgrounds, feats, skills, whatever you liked from other editions of the game. The best part is that the game is designed to work even if one player wants to user a certain character module (feats for example) while another player chooses not to. One thing you’re simply mistaken on though, is the character sheet. I’ve built half a dozen characters from scratch for this latest iteration and it’s not been this easy to do so since basic. They’ve made HUGE improvements in that area. I very much liked 4E but building characters in that edition was pretty painful (but fun if you liked that sort of thing). Not nearly as painful as 3.5/Pathfinder, but bad. In 5E, it’s the first time you could roll up a character in under 15 minutes since the 80s. My level 1 characters never even rolled over onto the back side of the sheet of paper (Graph paper of course!). This game will do great with just pencil and paper. I promise you that. I’m begging you to give this game a chance, because I’m like you and enjoy a similar kind of game (by the sounds of it). And they have listened to you/me in making 5E. They’ve seen the OSR explosion, great games like S&W, LL, Castles&Crusades, Dungeon World, Joseph Bloch amazing work, etc. They’ve ripped all the minutiae out and put it safely out of sight into optional modules. They’ve made feats completely optional. They’ve streamlined and minimized the bevy of mathematical bonuses so you rarely have to add more than a single digit number to your rolls. They’ve flattened the power curve so that even at high levels, the numbers you’re working with are relatively small. If they make all those changes in answer to our requests and people like us are STILL not interested, then they’re screwed. D&D will die. Die dead. Dead dead. Don’t get me wrong, I support the OSR (I own a ton of S&W hardcopy, just bought Monstrosities and its AMAZING!). If you want to play S&W, that’s great. I love Matt and FGG and all of them. I want them to do gangbusters. But don’t forget the game that made it all possible. Give 5E a fair shake. Pretty please?

    1. That review might actually get me to pick up 5th edition when it comes out. Not sure I’ll actually adopt it, but I’m interested in seeing what will be produced from those ideas.

  4. I’ve found myself rather disappointed with D&D Next as well. The first few playtest packets had me rather excited. However, as the game started to develop and the playtest feedback started to come in, my enthusiasm for the game began to dwindle, mostly because the game didn’t really seem to have a clear design goal beyond “unite the D&D fan base” and the system started to slowly resemble a “franken-system” to me. I know some people really love what WoTC is doing with the game and that’s perfectly fine. However, I doubt I’ll actually purchase the game when it comes out and will probably stick with Pathfinder and some of the retro-clones I’ve grown attached to.

  5. I’ve been disappointed in some things, though others I genuinely do like. However, it’s things like removing the skill system entirely that annoy me the most, particularly when combat is left as complex as it is. It’s feeling more and more like a combat simulator with some utility spells bolted on, and that’s a deal breaker. On the other hand, I’ve never particularly liked any edition of D&D, and of the lot of them this is currently the most appealing.

  6. Seems like they have a wide spectrum to care for. I found it too simple, too few character customization options, too less tactics and such. These things should come as modules, but for a base I was unable to test. I’m not looking forward to the outcome for me personally.

  7. Honestly, I don’t think D&D is relevant anymore. They made a huge mistake by basically handing the 3.x franchise to Paizo. Pathfinder is thriving, while D&D4 failed. And D&D 5 basically has to fight against Pathfinder for market dominance. They gave away their market position, and I don’t see them recovering it.

    1. I think the problem that 5th edition is going to have is making people believe its necessary. The fans of 3rd/3.5 have Pathfinder and the new reprints of the rulebooks, the fans of the older editions have their books and the retroclones, and the fans of 4th edition will probably feel betrayed by the change and will stick with their edition. The D&D fandom is incredibly splintered and I’m not sure they can bring the different sides together under one banner like they want to.

      1. That’s pretty much what I’m saying, Cody — D&D (the core product line) has stopped being relevant. Between Pathfinder, OSR, and the trickle of 4th edition loyalists, who cares what WOTC does? After removing those factions, who’s left to care? Even 4th edition wasn’t very relevant, which is why it failed.

        The lingua-franca of RPGs right now is really Pathfinder. Sure, there are other “languages”, but that’s the common tongue. Not 4th edition. And to change that, they have to offer something that will pull people away from Pathfinder.

  8. Thanks for the review. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but will at least sit down at a con table and give it a shot. I agree on wanting a one page character sheet and keeping the story going without bogging down on rules. Hopefully they can clean things up before the release, but there are plenty of older editions and retro clones available if they don’t!

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