April 21, 2014 by brennon
Dungeons & Dragons has never been the biggest role-playing game in my groups collection. Sure, we’ve played the game but most of our time has been spent with the likes of World of Darkness by White Wolf or more recently the Dragon Age RPG by Green Ronin. Of course we’ve also dabbled in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play as well in it’s various iterations being lovers of the miniatures game. That hasn’t stopped D&D being one of my favourites however, evoking that somewhat generic but comforting fantasy feeling I feel you sometimes need.
With all that said Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has now finished it’s playtest stage and it’s nearing release later this year around August 2014. The Escapist Magazine posted up some snapshots of Barnes & Noble potentially leaking the information earlier this year and it immediately made me yearn for those big handbooks packed with monsters, adventure hooks and classes. Should we be excited? I certainly am.
You Walk Into A Dungeon…
I began playing Dungeons & Dragons in it’s 3.5 iteration and yes while that doesn’t make me an old hat at the system it did inform me as to a certain way of playing the game. There was a great sense that the game got more complicated and in-depth as you leveled and generally it was a great learning curve. 3.5 wasn’t perfect however, no system is, and there were plenty of ways to exploit the system in some fairly ludicrous ways.
4th Edition somewhat changed that approach making it more accessible throughout the entire experience and while that was good it did feel more simplistic. Nothing wrong with that of course but that combined with the way the game focused into combat (which were pretty much made to be beaten) meant that it left a few of my friends with a bad taste in their mouth.
I’m going to meet some moans and groans from people potentially on the topic of 4th Edition and it’s combat but I think it’s a fair assessment. I have a friend who is practically the God of all rules when it comes to 4th Edition and while he loves a good story he couldn’t help but see how the last edition (or current as it stands) tended to funnel players towards scuffling against enemies rather than enjoying the role-playing aspect of things. This is all of course subject to the Dungeon Master doing the story telling but previous editions and indeed other role-playing systems handle the narrative side of things a lot better; at least that’s what we felt. If you disagree then by all means comment below.
I enjoyed 3.5 and I feel my group got the best out of 4th Edition but 5th Edition (or Next as we’ve been playtesting) seems to have hit the nail on the head. Not only has it managed to, seemingly, cater to both the grid based and the minds eye player but they’ve managed to balance the mechanics in favour of the narrative driven player and the fighter who just wants to get stuck in. There is a very seamless blend between dealing with NPCs in both ways and we’ve found ourselves looking at alternatives to dealing with problems other than sticking a sword in someone.
Removing the push towards a grid and tiles in 5th Edition also meant that combats have been a lot more inventive and players have all started describing their actions and coming up with ‘rule of cool’ ways to get some extra bonuses. On the whole everything feels less ‘gamey’ with the removal of the feeling of invisible walls closing you in and corralling you into a certain way of playing.
Combat has also got a lot more deadly. Healing has been limited somewhat and you don’t feel like you’re chugging potions or indeed crouching behind a wall like you’re in Call of Duty waiting for your health to regenerate. It’s always a bit of a sore subject bringing this up with D&D players but I think they’ve got the balance right this time around. Of course with the enemies getting deadlier so do the player characters and we’ve have plenty of moments where someone has blasted a huge hole in that knot of rather dangerous looking enemies.
Let’s just hope this hasn’t done too much damage…
Well played Penny Arcade, well played.
Players Handbook +4 Vs Dungeon Masters
What this has all done is made me yearn for a return to Dungeons & Dragons. I have already written up a massive list of different plots and hooks for heroes and as much as I want to be ‘in’ a role-play I can’t wait to Dungeon Master it as well. Referring to the links above from The Escapist it looks like we’re getting a Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set first alongside the Players Handbook. Barnes & Noble showed no signs of putting up the Monsters Manual or Dungeon Masters Guide and whether or not those are a way off it or just a mistake rectified is yet to be seen. Interestingly the Starter Set is coming in at a fairly reasonable price but the Players Handbook is somewhat pricey. I’ll be interested to see what the eventual cost of the combo-set is going to be.
Story wise it appears as if Wizards of the Coast are looking to centralise things when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons. The plot running through proceedings follows Tiamat and her dragon cults taking over the Forgotten Realms. I’d imagine we’ll see the world of Drizzt and company becoming the standard place for your adventures to take place. There’s no reason why you can’t make up your own worlds and dimensions of course but I like that it’s all being tied down into a recognisable world.
I’m chomping at the bit for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and I will find someway of playing it when it comes out even if my mates won’t. Combine that with the news of Dungeons & Dragons: Attack Wing and the potential for more board games by Wizards of the Coast and I’m sold on this franchise this year. Have any of you played the play test material and are now looking ahead to the release later in the year?
Drop a comment below and let’s chat caves filled with wyrms!