On Dungeons & Dragons, the Fifth

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . "

So, I'm gonna do what I do and analyze the crap out of this. A few words first, however are needed.

Remember the rules: I mean only exactly what I type. So, you know, respond to that. Not any meaning you've added in.

Secondly: This is a game for 12 year-olds. That's who it is written for. Teenagers. Kids. It says so right on the box (Ages 12 and up)

Onto the rule document!

It's Pretty Good

So let's just get this out of the way first. Overall, it's pretty good! I would play it. I would run it. It isn't my preferred edition -- I'm way more excited about what I'm doing with B/X for Numenhalla for instance, but I don't feel like I'd have to have a conversation with someone before playing like I would have to do before I sat down to play a 3.x/4/PF game. Much like OSR play, I'd feel ok grabbing a random pregen, sitting down and starting to play.

It's important to keep this in mind going forward, my overall impression is positive! I'm not going to reiterate it while I'm tearing anything apart. Also, I have not received the starter set yet, which expands on this basic set; anything said in here refers to the free basic rules .pdf only.

Also, releasing the basic .pdf for free is really awesome. You can get some free monsters for basic from here! It is also the only logical way for WotC to continue to stay a player in the rpg game. The pathfinder SRD is a large part of its success, and the sooner they can figure out their license and get a searchable html version of the rules on the web, the sooner they can compete.

Version 0.1

It's incomplete. No monsters. No magic items. It is better, in my opinion, to release this now and add to it, rather than wait till it's complete. It is the modern model -- get feedback, revise, and re-release.

That said, the formatting and layout is terrible. There's no cover. The tag at the bottom on odd pages changes from D&D BASIC RULES V 0.1 to D*D BASIC RULES V 1.0. Tables are often pages away from where they are referenced, which is an issue for those of us on tablets. They had to release a printer friendly version due to the beige wash on the background. Classes are mentioned ("Without the uplifting and magical support of Bards and Clerics. . .") and aren't included in the basic rules. Copying and pasting doesn't appear to work consistently from the .pdf. No table of contents. No index.

Hasbro made almost 2 billion dollars in profit in the last 12 months. The above mistakes are amateur hour and are embarrassingly unprofessional.

Pillars and Foundations

First, Yay! A discussion about what game-play should consist of! Secondly, Boo for implying that these pillars are the only pillars.

I've talked about the three pillars of megadungeon play before. The three pillars of different styles of play (megadungeon, hexcrawl, sandbox, adventure path) are going to vary! They listed the three pillars for sandbox play, but the document clearly supports the other styles, some more than others.

The Rapid Experience

The experience point table is a good design decision for new players! It allows players to select a class with fewer choices and then, because they will level so quickly to level 2 and 3, allows them to make other decisions after having played a while. For experienced players, starting characters at level 3 does not imply that you've missed a great deal of the 'development in play' being that most players will hit level 2 or 3 in just a session or two. I think it's an excellent compromise between character customization and speed of staring play.

Hitting the Target

Man, 110 pages is a lot. And it's only going to get bigger. The rules are short and concise. The spell lists are short. The major archtypes are all presented (The fighty fighter, the theify rogue, the blasty wizard, and the healing cleric) and it's still 110 damn pages. And that's without any monsters or magic items.

That said, the basic and expert (B/X) page count combined is 138 pages.

The thing's hollow — it goes on forever — and — oh my God! — it's full of spherical cows!

Yeah, so there's been a lot said about the fact that non-proficient saves don't improve, meaning as you face more powerful opponents, you become more likely as you become more powerful to be affected by their detrimental effects. Wizards can, after level 5, do 2d10 damage in combat at will, which is more than any single melee attack. Of course by that point fighters are attacking twice, but then fighters can't cast 8d6 fireballs either. Why don't fighters get nice things? Et. al.

All of these arguments and discussions are dumb. Dumb means in this case that they don't matter and are pointless to have.

I once started a several hundred post discussion when I played Pathfinder on the relative utility of the wizard versus the sorcerer. The general consensus was the wizard was in all cases superior because the delay in getting the new level of spells cost the sorcerer too much. However, in actually play, events in the campaign caused the wizard a lot of problems because he couldn't do all the things that were assumed to keep up his power level. Whereas the sorcerer continued to be very effective, not feeling as if he was falling behind at all, because he needed neither time nor money.

The flat bonus curve (+2 to +6) is fantastic. It means a dozen orcs are relevant for a much longer time. It means you don't have to stop using ogres after level whatever. In actual play, it means focusing on play instead of worrying about how high your pluses are. Reading these rules I have less concerns about threats and building adventures and creating characters than I do about first edition. Also, it says right on page 3 that combat is just one focus of the game.

The argument isn't one-sided of course. We haven't seen optional feats yet. Will their be traps? Will they spin things out of control?

The truth is, given enough time, they almost certainly will. There is a need for content, and traditionally rules sell better than settings or modules. The game will bloat and inequalities will become more evident.

But unlike other versions of D&D, this one explicitly points out that they are optional. Meaning, much like B/X, I can have a game I like and never feel like I have to put anything else in it that I don't want.

So overall, this is a net improvement.

Tune into part II for more tomorrow

Hack & Slash 
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  1. Yeah, I think these rules look like fun too. I'll be playing it tomorrow so we will see how they play. Though our DM is already adding houserules. I liked the last playtest document a bit better, just had a more bare bones presentation and it had more stuff included. It was also a lot more incoherent, so kind of a trade off. The multi-class rules weren't in the basic rules they just released, but they were one of my favorite parts of the playtest packet. Basically a cleaned-up version of the 3E multiclassing and it works pretty well. Mostly because the character classes aren't all front-loaded with abilities at first level. Lots of the classes get fairly major bits at second level.

  2. No table of contents. No index.

    Quick note - As you pointed out, these will be updated several times over the rest of the year. The page count is going to change as things are shuffled. As someone who has done layout with ToC and indexes, I can tell you it would be a crap ton of work (and soul destroying) to edit the pages in these every time (and likely result in lots of errors). These features may be added toward the end of the process. The PDF does include chapter bookmarks.

    No excuse for not including a cover (although one of the first complaints on the WotC forum was that is was not printer friendly because of the parchment background).

    1. 2 billion dollars in profit is enough to pay a single dude to do that full time.

  3. I liked it a lot too, for the same reasons you point out.

    However, this: "Copying and pasting doesn't appear to work consistently from the .pdf. No table of contents. No index."

    The text in the PDF is wonky. For example, the search function (my primary mode of navigating PDFs) doesn't work properly: some text gets found, other text doesn't. Probably related to the copy-paste wonkiness.

    1. There's about megabyte or more worth of tags and notes in the document that mostly come through as garbage some sections have a tag between every word, I stripped them when making a print copy for myself before I realized the print copy was available.

  4. They did fix the copy-paste issue for the print friendly at the very least. That should mean that the non-print friendly will get that fix in the next revision.

  5. As primarily a 3.X player, I think the new edition is looking rather good. I only got about an hour and a half in with the starter set due to some shenanigans, but after reading through the Basic PDF, I think it's generally an improvement. If only there were some magic items, more monsters and encounter generation guidelines, I might switch over to 5th for my current campaign.


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