Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Year of 5e

As Venger Satanis has pointed out, we're a now a year on from the release of 5e's PHB. He's curious to hear how people feel about it now.

I've been playing a lot of 5e lately, more, in fact, than I've been playing any other system. I have one face-to-face game that meets at least twice (and sometimes three times per month) with a huge group (seven players fairly consistently, making the largest group I've played with regularly) and a single one-on-one game that meets nearly weekly. The game is fun.

The first thing I'll note about it is how solidly designed it is. The action economy is subtle, low-key, and the solution to issues that have plagued every single version of the game that has come before. The complexity ramps up slowly (though I have players who are still not sure what a proficiency bonus is and what you apply it to). The classes are nicely delineated. The races do what they do and then get out of the way. Backgrounds, on the other hand, remain fun up through at least the mid levels.

I've not played with any characters beyond 7th level so far, so I've not been able to see what breaks down at later levels. Nothing feels broken, but when the PCs start dishing out damage in the triple digits it'll make you pause for a moment to catch your breath. (Yes, a group of 7 PCs focused on a single target can drop three-digits worth of damage around 3rd level without breaking a sweat.) HP inflation is everywhere you look, but it actually leads to AC being less important which means low-level monsters can still be interesting threats to mid-living characters.

Magic is badly nerfed. Yes, that flattens the power curves, but I keep wanting to do things with cool spells like charm person that would have been perfectly feasible in TSR-era D&D that are now a lot tougher. Likewise, monsters are a lot more focused. The maralith is a choppy-choppy melee monster, and she really doesn't have much else in the way of interesting combat abilities. She's really, really good at chopping things up, but...

The biggest issue I have with 5e, however, is that, at its core, it doesn't really know what it wants to be. (Thanks to Natalie Bennett for much of these insights, inspired by my frustration with 5e's succubus.) EXP is principally awarded for killing things, implying that combat remains the focus as it has for WotC's entire range of D&D versions. And yet there are monsters that feel confused as to their purpose, like the succubus who's clearly fallen in the gap between plot-instigator and melee-bruiser. It's not a game about exploration (though bits of it kinda want to be), while, at times, it wants to be a game about plots and stories.

So every now and then 5e will do something to frustrate your expectations. And after you get over the shock you'll be annoyed, largely because most of the time it's such a well-behaved rules set that plays well with everyone at the table, including (and possibly especially) the DM.

It's not an OSR game, but it isn't OSR-unfriendly, and it certainly fixes some of the issues you run into with TSR-era D&D. If you're a fan of the OSR and you're thinking about running 5e, the first thing I'd suggest houseruling is EXP. EXP-for-gold fixes a lot of 5e's more obnoxious issues. Pay very close attention to the rules for bonus actions and concentration; neither work the way you might assume and both make the game a lot more manageable at the table.

I haven't bought anything for 5e yet beyond the core books. I'll probably pick up the Rage of Demons adventure book just to see what they do with it, and how they do things like stat blocks and the like. So far, it's been very friendly towards updating old works and I've not felt any lack of cool things to throw at my players. We'll see if that continues to the be case as their current PCs rise in level, retire, and we start new campaigns.


seaofstarsrpg said...

My local group has been very happy with 5e, though we have only made it up to 5th level and our DM is happy award experience for things besides just killing monsters. So, it is working out well.

trollsmyth said...

seaofstarsrpg: Yeah, I had to resist really, really hard changing the EXP rules because I wanted to see 5e as close to RaW as possible. And it created exactly the sorts of problems I was expecting it to. ;p

Does your DM reward for monsters + other things? What's the fastest way to earn EXP in your DM's game?