D&D 5e Basic Rules Review

Author: Andrew /

Hey everyone!  I mentioned a little while ago that I would do a review of the Basic Rules released for D&D 5th Edition once I finished reading them, and I finally finished (what a hefty read!) so here we go!

First things first, if you would like to check out the basic rules for yourself (which you absolutely should), you can find them here.

Wizards of the Coast (the developers of D&D in general) had an interesting time with 4th edition, released back in 2008.  The issue was mainly due to the significant alterations made to what was the traditionally accepted way of doing things [Please note that the bulk of my experience started with 3rd edition].  To my knowledge, the mechanics of old revolved around a few things:

  • Leveling up based on a table unique to your class.
  • Having your attacks represented as simple, generic equations (like 1d20 + Strength Modifier + any additional special things you may have added, like a Feat bonus).
  • Feet-based movement.
  • Flavor heavy rules / book text.
4th edition made a departure from this in a number of ways that achieved some pretty cool (but divisive) things.
  • All classes leveled up based on the same table.
  • A simple attack statement was replaced by a huge number of different powers (things you could do in combat) that all did different things.  Each class had their own, making the class portion of the book rather large.
  • Square-based movement, meaning the game assumed that you were using a grid with figures on your tabletop (whether digital or actual).
  • Rules had much less flavor in favor of a robust combat system that allowed for heavy, semi-simulation level combat scenarios.
All that having been said, 4th edition did achieve some very notable things, including a much lower barrier to entry for players new to the hobby as well as an exquisite level of balance between the classes.  The balance ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword in that, while very evenly balanced, the classes could tend to feel overly similar in how they play, which, in turn, could make the classes feel as if they lost a sense of identity to some players.

Well, 5th Edition, you'll be happy to know, is a massive return to form, and shakes a lot of the issues that players did have with 4th.  When reading through the rules, the largest influence seemed to be 3rd Edition (and 3.5) as well as Paizo's Pathfinder system, which has been D&D's major competitor of late.

The PDF released (linked above) is 112 pages of awesome RPG awesomeness that is jam-packed with flavor and information in equal measure.  It also showed that WotC was very serious in their massive playtest efforts and their decision to include the community in the process of developing this latest iteration of the system.

I think the first thing most people notice is the new way difficulty is managed in D&D.  In the past, difficulty or ease in a given situation was accounted for by the DM giving you a bonus or a penalty number to whatever check you were aiming for.  5e brings in a new mechanic called Advantage / Disadvantage and it's beautifully simple.  Any time you would have advantage or disadvantage, you roll two d20's instead of just one.  If you have advantage, you take the higher result, if you have disadvantage, you take the lower.  This means more dice rolling (which is more fun) and less math (which is less fun).  I'm very excited about this one.

One of the other things I saw (as did many other reviewers, I found) is the wealth of flavor to be found in 5th Ed.  Everything you read is suffused with a sense of lore (if not displaying it outright) and it all has a place in the world.  Whether you're reading about character classes, magic, items, combat rules, or anything else, it all has a wonderful story to it.

It's plain to see that this system cares about Role Playing.  One of the best inclusions in the system that displays the importance placed upon RP is the aspect of character creation dealing with Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws.  In 5e, when you create your character, choosing these things is a hard-and-fast part of character creation instead of something you did just if you felt like it in previous.  You choose two traits, one ideal, bond and flaw for your character background.  When you choose those things, they give you your characters feelings about certain things, things they care about, weaknesses that could be played against, etc.  This allows the DM to give rewards to players who role-play well according to these things.  Inspiration generally gives Advantage (which allows a player, when they need to make a check, to roll twice and take the better of the two results).

This brings us to Character Creation itself.  From looking through the PDF, though only 4 classes were featured in full class write-ups, I found mention of others leading me to believe there may be potentially over 10 classes!  I believe they are at least the following:

  • Fighter
  • Rogue
  • Cleric
  • Paladin
  • Druid
  • Wizard
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Ranger
  • Bard
I may have missed a few but at this point, things are looking very robust.  In keeping with the similarities to 3rd Edition, each class has it's own leveling table that goes from level 1-20.  The level-up bonuses range from ability score increases to combat techniques to special abilities like the Rogue's famous (or infamous) Sneak Attack.  One interesting change I found was that Feats are no longer a mandatory aspect of character creation, which as far as I understand, is a large departure from tradition in general.  Now, at any point, when you level up and would receive an ability score increase, you can instead elect to choose a Feat instead.  This makes things interesting in that a Feat is now equated with an Ability Score point, which is generally a substantial power increase.  If this proves to hold accurate, Feats should be excellent additions to your character, should you choose to take them.

The second change I noticed was that in past editions of D&D, any given ability score's maximum at character creation was 18 (unless modified by a Race Bonus which could potentially add as much as 2, making 20 the absolute highest without house rules).  In 5e, the max ability score at character creation (before racial bonuses) is 15, which is substantially lower.  This, to me, is a sign of numbers getting reigned in, making small numbers in the early stages of the game more impactful.  If using the point-buy system alternative to rolling your stats, the maximum you could have is 15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8.

A third change is how robust the races are.  When you select a race, you get a bevy of different bonuses, some being RP related such as familiarity with certain legends and lore; others can be combat related, like things such as Darkvision, which lets a character see in low-light conditions, not discerning color, but instead seeing things in shades of grey.  Another thing I noticed were sub-races.  For instance, you may select Dwarf as your race, which comes with a +2 bonus to Constitution.  Once you select Dwarf, you also select a sub-race which in this case is either a Hill Dwarf or Mountain Dwarf, which receive an additional +1 to Wisdom or +2 to Strength respectively.  I found that the races have a huge amount of flavor and really give you some meaty stuff to make you feel like you're that race.

Combat seems to have been simplified a great deal in the removal of powers.  You have your normal attacks with specific features available that can alter those actions.  Also, with movement brought back to Feet instead of Squares, the game lends itself better to the Theater-Of-The-Mind play style much better than 4e, with its insistence on using a grid.

There are other smaller things too that are really looking cool including how armor now works, removal of Healing Surges in favor of Hit Dice, slight changes to how rests work, a return to 3e style spellcasting, etc.  The document is very much worth reading so definitely go check it out.

At this point, I'm very hopeful and optimistic for 5e and think it should be a brilliant return to form for the granddaddy of RPG's.  If you're really chomping at the bit, you can check out the 5th Edition Starter Set, it also is excellent and extremely well put together.  You also can't beat Amazon's price at the moment!


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