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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: D&D Starter Edition (5e)

I seem to be in the habit of playing only every odd numbered edition of D&D. I skipped 2nd Edition, played 3rd Edition to death, and got into 5th edition (after selling all my 1st and 3rd editions of the book) because Bowen, after reading The Hobbit, started pretending to be certain characters in the story, and of course, the grand-daddy of all RPGs inspired by Middle-Earth is D&D.

I picked up the 5th Edition Starter Set for $12 on Amazon, thinking that at worse, it would turn into reading material. The starter set comes with 5 characters, no character creation rules, and no rules for going above 5th level. It comes with a set of polyhedral dice, and a 32-page starter adventure. There are no miniatures, but the game doesn't really need it, as 5th Edition is a bit of a throwback to the old 1st edition.

Things seem pretty loose: most DM adjudications are pretty much only "advantage" (roll 2 d20, take the highest) or "disadvantage" (roll 2 d20, take the lowest). Most modifiers do not stack, and there are very few "named" modifiers, which I remember being significant load to take care of. This is a good thing, because I was going to run a game for 3 6-8 year olds and their Dads, and we already had our hands full with the kids.

Bowen had set his mind on playing "Gendalf", his imaginary version of the well-known Wizard. On an initial reading of the rules, I was quite impressed: the power scaling of the characters are much different from the 3rd edition of the game. Characters' proficiency bonuses do not scale up rapidly: at high levels in 3E games, you can pretty much ignore the d20 unless the results are a 1 or a 20. The modifiers overwhelm the d20. The maximum proficiency modifier in 5e at 20th level is a whopping +6 (as opposed to +2 at 1st level). That means the threats scale quite differently as well.

The rules for spellcasting are also quite different: spell casters now "prepare" spells by selecting what spells they have available (and again, the scaling is very low), but now they can use whatever spells they have prepared in the spell slots they have at will. Spell slots scale very slowly and there are no ways to get bonus slots. On the other hand, cantrips have been boosted in power and can be used an unlimited number of times, so the Wizard is never stuck shooting crossbows and can always hurl an attack cantrip (which while doing the same amount of damage mechanically, does add quite a bit of flavor).

The packed-in adventure is intended to take in characters from 1-5, and is very reminiscent of The Keep on the Borderlands in all sorts of good ways. The characters are thrown into an open world, and have the flexibility to go in whatever direction they wish (and also get themselves killed an a number of creative ways). It took all of 30 minutes of play for my characters to jump off script in a way that only D&D characters can.

All in all, Bowen loves the game, and has now made me read The Players Handbook or The Monster Manual to him at bedtime. The game sessions double as practice sessions for arithmetic, and he gets excited about the game sessions. And any thing that gets him wanting to read more is good in my book. Recommended.

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