Last week left the Blarg! feeling nervous about the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons 5e game planned by the gaming group. Our game, a straightforward march through the jungle to retrieve an artifact, nonetheless kicked ass from beginning to end. Here's a few reasons why:
Character gen in 5e goes very quickly indeed, producing PCs that are balanced and maybe even too similar. Our pre-gen characters, though, came complete with "backgrounds" already added--quirks, codes of honor, prejudices--that helped us jump right into roleplaying. Without them, my gnome would not have been a loudmouth jerk, the elf would not have a pet mouse, and the healer would not have removed his armor to give last rites to some unfortunates whose corpses also housed a bunch of giant centipedes. Owie. But the roleplaying earned us...
This is the "benny" or the "fate point" of 5e, a chance for the player to affect his own fate. When you do a good job, your character gets Inspiration, which can be used at your own discretion, say, if your PC needs help on an especially important role. I've always said that D&D lacked a reward mechanic for good roleplaying, so I'm glad to see it in 5e. How can you apply inspiration? Glad you asked...
Let's say you're playing a dwarf fighter. All game long, you've been rolling like shit--nothing higher than a 5. Okay, fine, it's frustrating but no real damage done (because you haven't hit anything). But then a big damn snake rears up out of the underbrush and bites you for a fuckton of damage. If you fail your CON save against the poison, you're doomed. It's time to roll... with advantage! A new mechanic for 5e, Advantage and Disadvantage allow you to roll 2d20 instead of one. If you have Advantage, take the higher number; if Disadvantage, the lower. It adds a degree of emotion to the roll that wasn't present before--anticipation in the case of Advantage, and desperation in the case of Disadvantage. Besides, if rolling one d20 is fun, rolling two is more than twice as fun--it's squared. Of course, if you roll like our dwarf, even Advantage won't help...
4.) Death Rolls.
Time was, if you hit 0 HP, you were unconscious, but not dead. That didn't happen until you reached -10 HP, which meant that few people died from combat--they just got knocked cold, waited for the battle to end, and got healed. In 5e, if you reach 0 HP, your troubles are just beginning. You must then make a "Death Roll" every round against a straight DC 10. Make it, you score one point. Fail, you lose one point. If you gain three points before losing three, you live. Otherwise, you reap the benefits of a simple character gen system to have a new PC in minutes. I love the suspense this generated as our healer tried to decide whether to heal Therin the Rogue in the middle of combat, or hope he survived until later.
5.) IT'S D&D, GODDAMMIT!!!
It's all here: rolling initiative, d20s to hit, dwarves, elves, rogues, monsters, spells, levelling up, classes, multi-classes, the whole nine yards.
Is it "realistic"? Fuck, no.
Is it groundbreaking and innovative? No. Indie games and GURPS did all the groundbreaking and innovation for them.
Is it versatile and flexible, able to switch genres and settings in a heartbeat? Yes, but only if you want to switch from Forgotten Realms to Dragonlance and from sword & sorcery to high fantasy.
Is it MOTHERFUCKING DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS?!?! Is it a game that blends the best of 1e with the best of modern games? Is it very unlike that unholy afterbirth that was 4e? IS IT, IN FACT, A GAME WHERE A GNOME SORCERER CAN USE SHOCKING GRASP TO ELECTROCUTE A SAVAGE CANNIBAL ON HIS JUNK?!
You're goddam right it is.