Tuesday, August 23, 2016

D&D 5e Review (ArborDale I)

So, my kids bought me the books for 5e for Christmas! Pretty cool since they are pricey and I would have eventually bought them anyway. I had played 5e during the playtest a couple of times and was not unimpressed by it's ability to play quickly, with little to bog down in the way of mechanics. The action in a 5e game stays pretty rapidly paced. I was not overly fond of the power level difference between monsters and players but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Well, since the kids bought them I decided we would try and play the game in a campaign instead of our old Castles & Crusades standby. I thought, since we are now about seven or so sessions into a campaign of sorts, I would review the game in the same manner I did Hackmaster when we gave it a whirl about a year ago or so.

So without further ado, and in the same style as my last review here is my ratings for the new and re-tooled iteration of D&D.

Overall Impressions
So I use a four star system from * (1) to **** (4) Stars to rate the game where one star is the lowest rating and four stars is the highest. I broke my analysis into a total of 5 areas. My opinions for ratings were as follows:
Ease of Play: ***
Speed of Play: ****
Realism: ***
Fun: ****
Old School Sensibility: ***

It is important to know that the current age of gamers in this group is 24, never gamed before, 16, 15, 14 and 11 have all gamed several times, with myself as GM. This has undoubtedly affected my feeling of the game and general gameplay.

We have been playing a relatively straightforward homebrewed mega-dungeon set in the kingdom of ArborDale. The PCs were enlisted by a local friar to investigate some mysterious lights that had begun appearing on the top of a distant volcanic monadnock called The Broken Finger by the local populace, The rumors were that it was haunted, but those long circulated ghost tales had remained unsubstantiated for as long as anyone could recall. However, with the appearance of the strange nighttime lights the local peasantry were becoming concerned and pressing the Friar to do something to allay their growing fears. The Friar, however, upon some investigation over the past month has become increasingly troubled that there might be something even more sinister than a distant haunting afoot, though he has kept the particulars from our innocent PCs. The PCs include, a Tiefling Monk named Calei, devotee of the Goddess of Dance and practitioner of a rare dance-like martial art form. She had been raised by "dark fairies" as a child and so has a chaotic streak which causes her no end of troubles in her studies in the monastery. There is also a Silver lineaged Dragonborn Ranger from the distant ruined forests of The Broken Lands to the West. The outlands are a mystery to most as they lie beyond the border kingdoms of which Arbor Dale is one. Rhogar the Outland Ranger, has undead as a favored foe and tells of the forests of Broken Lands being rife with the remains of the living from the long ago Time of the Dead. He, now at third level, travels with a ghost-like White Wolf as a companion. The Dwarven Fighter Bones McGreedy, is a grumpy sort with an grumpy battle-axe to match often itching for an argument the two of them. Bones, due perhaps to his irascibility, has made fast companions with the party's guide obese and overly sweaty Uncle Fester the Donkey Husband. Bones has lent Fester his hand-axe, as Fester has become a less than willing companion since the party endured capture by hobgoblin/cultist slavers and he was forced into the heart of adventure. Magic power is supplied by the party's sorceress, an Elven Outcast named Adryha. She, for reasons unknown even to herself, was cast out of Elven society and raised herself in the company of wild beasts. Whether through her own resourcefulness and inner need or from birthright she began to manifest strange powers which aided her in her survival and yet also nearly spelled her doom. She was rescued in her young Elven teen years by the spirit of a Blue Dragon that resided in an ancient set of ruins deep in the wilderness that had become her home. This ancient spirit sensed in her some level of kinship with the dragonkind and thus tutored her in the ways of mastering her inner power and leading her into successful sorcerership as well as the other necessitites of culture such as her oen Elven tongue as well as draconic and common. She has grown suprirsingly close to Kiedis, the half-orc rapier wielding lute strumming bard, as she has no real prejudices against orc-bloods having been raised alone and away from her kind.
This party of adventurers have passed through a two session wilderness romp followed by an infiltration into the ancient ruins atop the Broken Finger. They have since escaped from the capture of the cultists and humanoid forces within the ruins and fled to the lower level of the finger. Having explored most of that level they finally met the visage of the First Necromancer Nividian whose, ancient spell-trapped visage has sent them to be imprisoned in a distant pocket dimension called Averoignne from which they are now questing their way back.

Ease of Play
5e runs quickly. I will admit to stumbling some as I learn the rules, and still feel as if I am acquiring facility with the rules. There are some rules I am not overly fond of, but they do not inhibit play, and the system is not at all clunky or awkward. Once grasped most rules can be adjudicated quickly and fairly to the satisfaction of all concerned. I would rate the game moderately difficult for new players, and not difficult for players with an experienced GM. Character design can be somewhat challenging the first time, but is not overly complex. I would say new players can be up and running inside of 45 minutes and perhaps as little as 30. With guidance new players can create a PC in 15 minutes, just as can experienced players who need to roll up a new PC. And using the shortcuts--if you know where and what they are for quickbuilds can ensure than 15 minute max in most cases. Oh, and by the way I am talking about the full rules, not the basic rules, which, due to less options can go a little more quickly.

Speed of Play
Actual play in 5e is as quick as any game I've played in the D&D line. I suppose there are some rules hitches that might slow down things if you're not used to how the work, but that is not the fault of the game as it is a learning curve. And even then they only slow it down due to the time it takes to look them up or learn how they work. I wouldn't put it on par with a streamlined version of basic rules such as BFRPG or LoTFP or LL, but it is awfully close. And the added rules of 5e give some flavor that those games don't possess. Most combat sessions run under 15 minutes,

Not particularly designed to be realistic, 5e does classic high fantasy rather well. It would do better if it toned down the player power levels, but then it would potentially lose some of its appeal and fun for characters who like that. But this power level, though not "realistic" in the sense of more medieval and less fantasy doesn't aim for realism per se. However, a greater equality between mosnters and players might aide the verisimilitude. The area I am perhaps most concerned about is the healing rates and ratios which are based on the assumption of abstract hit points, but to allow full healing each night is in no way realistic, especially when a PC has dropped to zero HP. I understand the lesser renewal of HD for healing kind of gets a the fact that players are "wearing down" as they go--but that represents fatigue better than it does wounds with claws, bites and weapons. This is of course where the gritty rules come in. I haven't incorporated them yet as I don't like any of them perfectly well, and we are just getting used to the game as written right now. But this is the one rule I will likely play with as we go forward. The realism in 5e is sacrificed some for player survivability and speed of play. Not necessarily a bad thing, and not too noticeable in play except for my angst over healing and power levels.

This is a fun game. I have enjoyed it more than 3.5, 4e or Pathfinder. I would rank it behind 2e for me in terms of preference, upon which I don't think it improves but certainly comes closer than recent iterations have. The game is liked by many players because players have a high survivability and a fair degree of power at lower levels. I haven't played high levels yet, as we are now level 3. We also have yet to have a player death. We've come close, but none so far.

Classic Sensibility
As mentioned above 5e does a better job than recent version at emulating a more classic style of play. I would like to see death saving throws done away with and healing made a tad more realistic. I would also like to see player power level stepped down especially at lower levels. These are not deal breakers, by any means and for what it does 5e is quite nice to play. I am currently testing a favorite old school module in 5e land and we'll see how that goes and plays compared to our play to date. That might give a nice comparison as well as insight into how old school resources play and how much "conversion" is required. Though technically not a part of my review there are opinions a plenty that support the idea that 5e has hit a sweet spot for many gamers and I applaud WoTC and the design team for achieving their goal of bringing people back into the fold and not losing many new converts in the process. Moreover, society seems more aware than ever of those two little letters Dave and Gary first touted so long ago: D&D.