Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #15 - D&D 5e

Back in 2015 I gave my first impressions of the 5th edition of D&D. Beyond that brief campaign I haven't clocked much 5th edition time but my impressions remain - it's a great game. It takes a number of lessons learned from the 3rd and 4th editions of the game.

Here's my big takeaways on the 5th edition. First, it takes away the necessity of 3.x games to very carefully balance encounters and to plan player characters from first level. It removed the "grind" often found in D&D 4th edition and stepped back from a number of decisions made in there that made the game feel less like D&D. One interesting lesson it took from 4th edition was a "proficiency bonus". When making a roll in something core to your character you add it to your d20 roll, otherwise you don't. A fighter would add it to attack rolls with his sword, a wizard would apply it to her spell rolls. Any character would use it for skills he or she is proficient in. It applies to certain saving throws for your character. Otherwise you pretty much roll a d20 plus ability modifiers. However, the proficiency bonus is modest, starting out at +2 and maxing out at +6 at 20th level. Magic items are also made a bit more modest - and one could easily do a game in a low-magic world.

Mechanically, the only real complaint I have with the game is characters seemed a little too tough to me and advancement seemed a bit too quick. The second of those issues is certainly very easy to remedy, assuming all at the table are in agreement.

In many ways 5th edition feels a bit like pre-3.0 versions of D&D and AD&D, albeit much cleaned up. You could probably take Keep on the Borderlands for Basic D&D and run it with perhaps a half hour or hour of conversion ahead of time - and I suspect your game wouldn't hurt much if you converted on the fly. It wouldn't be as smooth as running a 1st edition Call of Cthulhu adventure with 7th edition but it would be far easier than trying to run a 3.5 adventure with 4th edition D&D (I can't imagine doing so on the fly).

That said, there's a few things that stop D&D 5e from having a better ranking. Mechanically, it's a superior game to Basic/Expert D&D. Despite that you'll be seeing that version of D&D later in the list. Why is that? This list is my top list of games, trying to rank the "fun" I have with those games. For me, there's a certain magic in those older versions of D&D - from the world building advice to the art to the feel of the game to the supplements and adventures that come out. For me, 5th edition is a bit lacking in that intangible aspect. If it were the first version of D&D I encountered, I might very well rank it a lot higher.

D&D 5th edition does seem a bit like an "evergreen" edition. Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro doesn't seem interested in a stream of supplements or adventures, releasing them only occasionally and has outsourced some to other companies. This is probably both a plus and a minus - over time, games like 3.x and 4e changed quite a bit, with an unending stream of splatbooks. It's nice to get away from that treadmill. However,  sometimes one might want a bit more.

With 3.x I said I'd join a game as a player quite readily but I'd need some time to think about DM-ing such a game. For 5e, I could see doing either quite readily.


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