Fifth Edition, First Impressions (Part 2)

Unfortunately, the day and night got away with me thanks to other pulls on my time, so this won’t be quite as lengthy as Part 1…

I wrote mostly about the character creation process in Part 1, though I did touch on some of the things I feel may be the most important new developments in the game.

Particularly, I’m thinking of the Background stuff and how it works with the Inspiration system. This is something that actively encourages and incentivizes roleplay, a component that’s not been seen in D&D to this degree in… well, ever, as far as I can recall.

More importantly, the Inspiration system genuinely seems to encourage that in-character roleplay and decision making right there during the combat scenes! I can’t really express just how giddy this makes me. Sure, you can just wade in and tactically master the situation as the numbers dictate (as with many games), but you’re going to have to pull out that sacrifice play or that expertly-delivered speech that indicates why the bastard in front of you has to face justice (based on your Background information) if you want to gain the Advantage.

The Advantage/Disadvantage system is another piece of awesome, at least so far as I’ve seen in our first game. It boils a lot of situational things down to a final decision on the Game Master’s part as to whether or not you have:

  • Advantage, in which case you get to roll twice and take the better result, or
  • Disadvantage, in which case you must roll twice and take the worse result.

This boils out a lot of the fiddly bits of “+2 from this circumstance, but -3 from that circumstance… oh, but you get +1 when you…”

Instead, you might jump off a ledge down onto your opponent (Advantage), who has a table between the two of you (Disadvantage; Advantage cancelled). You decide to use the the rafters above for an Acrobatic maneuver, regaining the Advantage (with a good roll, that is). So you wind up with the better of two d20 rolls because you got creative.

This. This is what this game has needed for a long, long time. A simple, effective way to handle all the interesting and creative situations and ideas that come into play when storytelling meets action.

This is what I’ve needed for D&D to be fun for me.

From what I experienced last night, this approach goes a long way towards making life a lot easier on the GM as well. A character will have some specific hard bonuses from their character’s stats (and items, eventually), but so much of the “this-but-that-and-also” of previous editions (and, yes, other games) is very elegantly folded into a more narrative adaptation of the surrounding and prevailing conditions, as well as the descriptive approach to action a player might take when leaping into battle or creatively casting a spell.

Ross, by the way, proved extraordinarily adept at using that system to buckle Morgan’s swash all over the map. The rest of us caught on as the game progressed, in large part thanks to his initial headlong dive into things and Darryl‘s quick adaptation to the flow.

There are still Hit Points; like Alignment, I don’t think it can really be D&D without Hit Points. New characters start with a decent number, and much better access to AC than I recall from previous editions. You’ve got some decent survivability built in right at the start; Ross proved, however, that you could still get very close to dead if you get in the way of too many blows or arrows.

Healing and recuperating seemed fine; decent access to getting your “Second Wind” or otherwise between-battle recovery without too much cheese.

Combat rounds run pretty much as you’d expect on the very basic level, but there was a much more natural flow and far less sense of restriction from what I grasped. You can move pretty much at any point in your round, at least as Darryl explained; I played based on his instruction, not reading the Combat section, so if we were “getting it wrong,” apologies to all.

But if we were getting it wrong, I’m glad we didn’t play “right,” because that flow made a lot of sense to me.

Roll initiative. On your turn, describe what you’re doing. You’ve got a Move Action in there, and you can Attack. There’s Bonus Action stuff that I think accounts for things like drawing a weapon and such, but I’d need to either read through or play some more to be sure.

There wasn’t all that mess from the old Attacks of Opportunity; just some circumstances that made basic sense as to when someone might get a free swing at you. However, since anyone (apparently) could declare that their action was to Withdraw, you didn’t have the AOO “traps” to be sprung in the same old (and often annoying) way. From what I could deduce, no one is going to be able to pull that chain-fighting, threaten every living thing within the room with AOO nonsense I ran into years ago.

There’s more to say, but I gotta get to bed. You can bet on a Part 3, I think; maybe after I’ve read some more of the freebie doc, or maybe not until we’ve played our second session.

However, I do want to say that there’s another foundational idea that really stuck with me. It goes straight to my ability to call on my Animal Handling skill to creatively address issues with a pissed off wolf in a combat where we managed to take out his master.

Rulings Over Rules.

The new D&D strongly urges the GM to use common sense and play with the basic mechanics of d20+whatever Skill applies (you’ll add your Ability mod and a Proficiency bonus, if you’ve got any training) to address just about every single kind of challenge you can imagine. Rather than go digging for specific rules for figuring out how I calm a distraught wolf down rather than just bashing his head in, Darryl and I both felt very comfortable and confident in just having me roll vs a reasonable target number.

(My only Natural 20 of the night resulted in a much more reasonable wolf and an end to that combat).

At the same time, when Andrea wanted to help me use Medicine to try and revive the wolf’s master (we needed information about where our dwarven employer was), she rolled against a base TN. Success would have given me Advantage (roll twice, keep best).

Clean, fast, and enjoyable.

Honestly, I went in expecting to be underwhelmed.

Now I am looking forward to the next session with some genuine anticipation, and I am definitely planning to pick up the core stuff.



  1. Darryl Mott Jr. July 25, 2014 2:56 pm  Reply

    During your turn, you get an Action and a Move. Your move is simply moving your speed (or half speed if climbing, crawling, etc.) There’s a set list of actions I specifically didn’t go over because I wanted to bring them up as you tried to do things. I think lists of things you can do on your turn can impede the thinking of some players. “If this is what I CAN do, then everything else must be something I CAN’T do.”

    But basically, you can use your Action to Attack, Cast a Spell, Dash (double movement), Disengage (a fighting withdrawal from melee combat for no OA), Dodge (all attacks against you are at Disadvantage), Help (which I screwed up on during the Medicine skill test but I got right in combat…you spend your action to give someone else Advantage, no roll required), Hide, Ready an Action (this is your basic hold action, but you have to declare a trigger like “When a goblin comes around the corner…”), Search, or Use an Object.

    There’s also a list of incidental things you can also do on your turn which don’t take up your Action, and I judged on the fly how much it would take to do some of these (like stashing your crossbow securely so it’s not flapping around and drawing your mace vs. dropping the crossbow on the ground to draw your mace). If it seems like it would take as much effort as attacking or casting a spell, it takes an Action. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

    Bonus Actions are typically racial, class, spell, or possibly background and feat (none yet, but maybe in the PHB) abilities that let you do something in addition to your Action. Fighters have Second Wind as a Bonus Action. Goblins racially can Disengage as a Bonus Action. The “Healing Word” 1st level Cleric spell is cast as a Bonus Action. So not everyone gets a Bonus Action, but they can still do other stuff on their turn besides just attack/cast a spell/etc. (the example list is on p. 70 at the bottom of the first column if you’re curious).

    Yeah, it’s nitpicky to differentiate, but coming out of D&D 4e and Pathfinder where you HAD to be nitpicky in reading the rules, it’s a hard habit to break.

    • spfannon July 25, 2014 4:18 pm  Reply

      Thank you, Darryl! This is just the kind of stuff I’d like to share as part of this!

      And I think the Help Action gets added to my Things I Love About 5th List.

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