You enter a dark, dreary article buried deep below the surface of Nerdist.com. With only a torch to light your way, you stumble blindly down the corridor, keeping your hand pressed flush to the wall for guidance. Tripping over a pebble in your path, you accidentally put your full weight on the rough-hewn granite of the walls and suddenly, you feel your handhold depressing into the wall. Before a poisoned quarrel can bury itself in your exposed flank, a friendly, pale-skinned author snatches it from the air.
“Greetings, traveler!” he says. “It seems you are out of your depth. This here is where we talk about Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and why you should definitely, absolutely, positively be playing it.”
Your eyebrow instinctively raises, but you decide to listen to what this weird little hobgoblin has to say.
…Okay enough of that. That was fun though, wasn’t it? Remember how fun Dungeons & Dragons used to be? Remember when you and your group took one look at 4th Edition and you were like, “Sup, Pathfinder?” I do too, and with the release of today’s D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook (complete with a droolworthy Tyler Jacobson illustration of King Snurre, the titular king in 1978’s The Hall of the Fire Giant King) and Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, I’m happy to say it’s time to come home to D&D.
5. It’s accessible to newcomers
While 4th edition tried to simplify the arcane, often obtuse labyrinth of rules that was 3rd Edition and 3.5, it missed the mark and wound up dumbing down the core gaming experience in a way that alienated many longtime players. As a result, Wizards of the Coast saw something of an exodus as people moved away from D&D and sought similar games like Pathfinder to scratch that classic pen-and-paper itch. Yet what about those who had never played before? Why should they pick up 5th Edition? Well, for starters, it is largely designed with them in mind.
While many of you are likely scoffing and saying to yourself, “Pfft, D&D isn’t that hard,” let me remind you of what a wise man named The Dude once said: “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” Do YOU know how to grapple in 3.5? The answer is no, no you don’t. No one does. If you said, “Yes,” give yourself forty lashes with a wet noodle for lying to the class. For example, skill checks. Hello darkness, my old friend. A returning mechanic in 5th Edition, skill checks have thankfully been greatly streamlined to allow for greater ease of play. Gone are the ranks which you would invest in potential skills like Diplomacy or Perception. Instead, they are not intrinsically tied to one of the six core ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. While ranks weren’t necessarily all that difficult to use, they also didn’t need to exist, a fact which 5th Edition acknowledged and rectified with a quickness.
Many of my friends and colleagues had expressed a long-time interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but felt deterred by its seemingly insurmountable learning curve. What 5th Edition manages to do so well is create a feeling of pick-up-and-playability from the word “go.” During our recent livestream of the 5th Edition Starter Box, several of the players had no prior roleplaying experience. Yet, once they got a handle on the simple math at the core of the system and a few basic concepts, they were fending off ambushes, parrying blows, and adventuring with the best of them. This sense of accessibility is, perhaps, what D&D does best.
4. It finally feels like D&D again.
Yet that accessibility doesn’t mean they’ve dumbed down the game. Quite the contrary, actually. One of the biggest complaints I heard about 4th Edition is that it didn’t feel like D&D. What that meant exactly differed from person to person, but the most frequent definition was that it was “too video game-like.” Procedural rules, especially when it came to combat, were simplified and systemized, forcing players to use their class-allotted powers in order to deal the most damage on any given turn. It took the spontaneity out of combat, which is something that is ingrained into the very lifeblood of D&D itself. You know how when your characters in Final Fantasy reach a certain level, you can pretty much just hit “X” at light speed and you’ll kill your enemies in a few annoying rounds? 4th Edition was a lot like that; you pretty much knew exactly what power or ability to use each round in order to finish combat as expediently as possible.
5th Edition realized that this was a problem and has managed to streamline some of the more archaic or head-scratchingly dense rules while maintaining the integrity of previous iterations. Subjectively, this is one of the most easy-to-play, enjoyable Editions, to date, as it blends some of the best elements of past Editions to create a sum greater than its parts. This is no longer a game that merely rewards slavish devotion to intricate knowledge of rules tables or lends itself to min-maxing a la Skyrim; rather, this is a game that rewards creativity, the spirit in which the game was created in the first place and that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.
3. Advantages and Disadvantages
No, this isn’t a section about the pros and cons of 5th Edition. Rather, it’s about one of the most fascinating new additions to the ever-evolving formula that makes Dungeons & Dragons the wonderful timesink that it is. Dubbed “Advantage and Disadvantage”, the new mechanic is simple in theory: when a player who has an Advantage attempts an action during combat or while exploring, they are allowed to roll two twenty-sided dice (d20s) rather than the traditional one. To determine success, the player is allowed to use the higher of the two rolls as the result. Likewise, when a player has a Disadvantage, they roll two d20s and are made to use the lower of the two results.
As I learned the hard way, this doesn’t always work in the player’s favor (helloooo, falling damage!), but it provides Dungeon Masters with a wonderfully intuitive built-in mechanic for interpreting non-standard actions a player might take. If a rogue skulks in the shadows of a bell tower and uses his vantage point to snipe at the orcs below, he gets an Advantage as long as he maintains his position. And if you’re like me and you try to backflip out of a second-story window while wearing plate armor, well, you’d better believe that’s a Disadvantage. But that spirit of creativity is precisely what makes the game so exciting, and this is a fantastic way to give DMs the tools they need to implement those off-the-wall ideas into the game seamlessly.
2. THAC0 is still, thankfully, dead.
Enough said. Sorry, AD&D fans and mathematicians, but some things will never change.
1. The community
Back in the day, prospective players had to find an open dining room table, basement, or take refuge at their local comic book shop or gaming store if they wanted to find a quiet place in which to slay dragons, wield vorpal swords, and gallivant about the countryside. Magazines like Dungeon and Dragon opened up the hobby to a wider audience and provided a steady stream of new content and homebrew rules to keep campaigns fresh and make players feel like they were part of a shared world. Yet, as the license phased out of Paizo’s hands and those magazines went away, the Internet increasingly filled that void for lonely gamers looking to connect with other ready and willing players. Thankfully, this is something that did not go unnoticed by Wizards, who have done a tremendous job of creating a vibrant community on their website. Want to share your war stories? Play a forum-based campaign? Nerd out about the rich inner lives of mind flayers? It’s all right there at your fingertips.
In fact, Wizards is so focused on making D&D a community-oriented activity that they have made the basic rules of 5th Edition available for free in PDF form. While this isn’t quite the open D20 System license that lead to a proliferation and oversaturation of overly complex (and sometimes monumentally fun) game variants and campaign settings, it is a tremendously smart move and a way to help bring in a new audience of gamers that might be deterred by the $49.95 price tag for each of the three core books. Catering to your existing audience is important, but as Wizards well knows, the only way that the game is sustainable in the long run – especially in this era of video game dominance – is to bring in new blood. And the best way to do that is to make your product available to as large of an audience as possible.
The release of the mammoth Player’s Handbook is just the beginning. The Monster Manual, a bestiary of all the nasties in the D&D universe, arrives on September 30th, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide won’t hit shelves until November 18th.
Based on the success of our Starter Kit livestream, we’re going to be integrating Dungeons & Dragons into our Twitch livestreaming plans down the line, so hopefully, even if you can’t get a group together on your own, you can join us for those. While we’re eager to sink our teeth into the “Tyranny of Dragons” campaign arc, we’re also hoping to delve into some classic modules as well. It’s too early to tell if this is going to be the critical hit that Wizards needs for the D&D brand, but no one can deny their incredible initiative.
Will you be making the switch to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition? Why or why not? Or do you just want to share one of your favorite war stories? Let us know in the comments below.