Monday, November 17, 2014

My Players Talk About Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I thought I would jot down some general impressions from myself and some of the players in my group, following our first try at D&D Fifth Edition.  As a bit of backdrop, I ran the free mini-adventure from Goodman Games “The Wizard’s Amulet,” which I remember running back in the days of the third edition of D&D, but has now been renovated for the latest iteration.  The adventure features about ten pre-generated PC’s, with the optimal group size of six (I had seven), all at first level.  There is an introductory battle (almost a skirmish), a somewhat pointless exploration encounter that is more of an homage to the early days of D&D, and a final ambush that presents a steep challenge to a 1st-level group.  It’s possible in the final battle for at least one PC to die.
In terms of how the game went over with my group, most everyone (even the new players) like fantasy as a genre.  It was the first style of game the group played when they came together, and we’ve done fantasy games for years until about a year-and-a-half ago when we switched to superheroes, and now science fiction.  So getting back to fantasy was going to go over well with this group.

That having been said, the “old school” vibe didn’t necessarily set well with them.  Many of them came in at third or fourth edition, and 5E has a lot fewer options when it comes to gameplay, not to mention a slimmed-down tactical element of play.  We used miniatures, but it wasn’t as hard and fast as 4E, and at one point the players started trying to flank their opponents in expectation of a bonus, but there wasn’t one because 5E doesn’t have one (at least not one in the PHB).

The overall lethality troubled the players as well.  In the final combat the seven PC’s faced five skeletons, five zombies, two half-orcs, and a human sorcerer.  In their 4E-trained brains the skeletons, and maybe the zombies should be “mooks,” one-hit point opponents.  They were dismayed to discover that the skeletons had 13 each, and the zombies over twenty, making them more than equal to the PC’s in terms of durability.  I myself found this to be a bit steep in play, and held back on the half-orcs and sorcerer in the final battle, but still had two PC’s drop below zero hit points (they were revived in play).  That’s a big difference from 4E, where an N or N+1 encounter might only cost you 25% of your hit points.  And that didn’t sit too well with some of the players.

Not quite the pushover I used to be, eh?

A couple of players commented that, after almost two years of Cortex+ games (Marvel Heroic, the homemade Mass Effect RPG, and Firefly), the Boolean yes/no of the d20 mechanic wasn’t as interesting.  As one player put it, it sucks when it’s your turn and you roll one die and fail, then wait fifteen minutes for your turn to roll around again, only to again roll badly.  In 5E there isn’t the “fail forward” notion that’s in a lot of games now, including 13th Age, a close game to 5E. (Ed. Note: “Fail forward” is when players can opt when failing on a die roll to instead succeed but with negative consequences, or have the failure have some future benefit down the line.)  I would quickly consider throwing that idea, 13th Age’s “contact, near, far” range options, and their “three unique things” into a 5E game if I ever ran one.

With a one-shot with pre-gens there’s not going to be a lot of character development, and I did have some people say it wasn’t the deepest of plots, to which I could only suggest it was an introduction to the rules, not the kick-off of a longer game session.  That's less of a commentary on the rules than the adventure.

There's a lot of interest in some parts of the group for continuing to do a fantasy game.  Now if I can just find it in myself to find it interesting as well...


  1. I think my main problem with the final trap is that it dumps the PCs in a kill box. 5th doesn't let you break out of those as the heroic style of 4th would, but it also does not allow the various old school solutions that would make the fight unnecessary or work in the party's favor. If run as written it feels like "rocks fall, everyone dies."

    1. I think is interesting that the pre-gen cleric (the only one available) doesn't have Turn Undead as an option. It basically forces a prolonged combat with quite a few opponents (more than I actually used, since the half-orcs and the evil sorcerer didn't engage).

      I wouldn't say it was "rock falls, everyone dies," since every lived, even with two PC's dropping below zero hit points briefly. I'd even make the claim that the group is a little spoiled by how 4E tended to play sometimes. But the lack of tactical play meant it was difficult to draw off opponents or let the squishier PC's hide behind people.

  2. So, "we're mice, we scurry" wasn't an option, huh?