Back in October I had a visit from the D&D fairy. He came, bearded and majestic into my house and presented me with a copy of the 5th Edition Players Handbook. I said thank you.
Then I read it.
Then I read it some more.
Then, well, then there was the Tea and Jeopardy Advent Calendar and Christmas, New Year etc. But now, now it’s time to talk about the book. Is 5th Edition any good? Does it work? Does it look like fun?
Quick answer: Yes.
The longer answer is going to spread over a couple of posts. This one is going to talk about the races and classes, the artwork, that kind of thing and the next post will focus on how things work in play. So, here we go…
The book feels nice and solid and well able to survive the rigours of adventuring on the train, bus or back of a car. The cover art is dubious but the general art quality is good and it was nice to see an effort has been made in terms of male / female representation. There’s a clear index and it was easy to plunge in. It’s also nice to see the recommended reading list in there as well. The 5th Edition world presented here is very generic but they give plenty of places to go for inspiration if you fancy a world off the beaten fantasy track.
All the standard races are there: elves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-orcs and of course, those pesky humans as well as tieflings (half-demons) and dragonborn (half-gerbils*). I’m possibly showing my ignorance here but I always wondered why you didn’t get half-dwarves or half-gnomes or crosses between those races or, for that matter, orcs rather than half-orcs. But I digress. Each race has a set of unique benefits. Unlike previous additions the focus is positive, races getting bonuses and specials rather than negative modifiers, which I like.
Here we’re getting to the serious business and I have to say 5th edition excels. You can choose between: Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard. Each class has a cool trick or two up its sleeve and there are built in options for customisation. Most of the classes have three different types you can choose when you hit third level.
For example, the Paladin can become a Devotion Paladin (ie standard, chivalric sort), swear an oath of the ancients (nature paladin) or become a vengeance paladin (badass vigilante paladin).
Perhaps the most noticeable shift is with spellcasters. 5th ed makes them cool. No longer are they an extra bag to carried by the party until they hit fifth level, spellcasters are now capable from the start and, thanks to having infinite castings of their cantrips, always able to do something.
The system is solid and streamlined. Compared to 3rd edition it looks positively joyous to run. Numbers are much smaller (base attack bonuses go up to +6 at 20th level rather than +20) and multiple attacks use the same modifiers unlike previous versions where each attack had a different bonus to calculate with.
Stats are therefore more important and armour class much more significant, even at the higher levels.
Attacks, skills and saves all run off the same proficiency bonus and the system has a very neat advantage or disadvantage method for most issues so instead of dealing with lots of numbers, if your character ‘has advantage’, they roll two d20 and take the best result. If they ‘have disadvantage’, they roll two d20 and take the worst. Simple but widely applicable.
There’s also insight points, awarded for good roleplay that players can spend to get advantage when they really need it.
If I’m sounding overwhelmingly positive about this, it’s because I am. I think it captures the nostalgia of earlier editions but ditches a lot of the clunkiness.
I still think a Ranger is fundamentally not as interesting or potent as the other classes but that’s probably as much down to my personal preference as it is to the system.
If you’ve played D&D years ago and fancy getting back in, I think you’ll absolutely love 5th Edition. If you haven’t played before, this is the most accessible version of the game I’ve seen.
*just checking you're awake