Well, the holidays have started, and seemingly on cue the weather here in the UK has improved dramatically. A couple more weeks and I'm off myself on the annual trip to the Balkans. Meanwhile, I've noticed the blog has passed the 40,000 visitor mark over the weekend, which is great news indeed.
The subject of this post is really 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, and the recent play test I've been participating in. I'm not going to go into massive detail here, but just wanted to air a few of my own views on the topic.
There are great hopes for the new edition. As a group we ended up being somewhat disenchanted with 4th edition, although I should note here that my son has started running this version of the game with his school friends, and it seems to have gone down well with a generation of kids raised on Pokemon and Nintendo. It does make you wonder whether new blood will really only be brought into the game via an edition that appeals to their own experience - e.g. collectible power cards and plenty of fighting - rather than the game of their fathers' generation.
It all sets Wizards something of an interesting challenge. How do you tap into the Old School movement which has been growing in strength since the launch of 4th edition, attract players who have gone from playing 3rd edition to playing Pathfinder, and still appeal to a new market of teens where you need to take on console games in the battle for their attention spans (limited at the best of times)? A seemingly impossible task?
Perhaps not. I have to say I'm favourably impressed with what I have seen of 5th edition so far. I've enjoyed returning to the Caves of Chaos, the sample adventure, as a player. I ran it myself a couple of times when I was at school, when it appeared as part of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but there are enough changes to the dungeon to catch me on the hop. It is a welcome trip down nostalgia lane.
The game also comes at a time when some of our group - myself included some weeks - are suffering from exhaustion at the end of long working weeks. I have to say my work situation has improved somewhat this year, leaving me feeling less tuckered out by the time the Friday RPG slot comes around. But certainly during term time we seem to be leaning towards a simpler system that is based heavily on combat and exploration and less on the intrigue and intense role playing of the games we used to dabble in (mind you, if I look back at my RPGing in the last decade, the bulk of it has been d20-oriented). D&D 5e seems to slot into that nicely.
I'm sure other games, like Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Castles & Crusades would work just as well. But D&D 5e has been streamlined, it seems, to avoid the complexities of Pathfinder which have been making that game harder to GM at the higher levels.
So what's to like about D&D 5e? The real strength of this system, and indeed what I would have done myself if the Wizards had come to me and asked me to launch the game's fifth edition, is that much of it is optional. You can seemingly play the game with a highly stripped down old school approach, or you can add further layers of complexity according to your tastes. This means there could be no one 'true' way to play the game, and groups can configure the game to their own personal tastes accordingly. If Wizards can stick to this approach with the final edition, then it could well be a success. Flexibility will be the key.
There are some issues I have with it as it stands. The new initiative and surprise system does not, IMHO, work very well, and I'd suggest ditching this in favour of the previous one. I continue to find it confusing and unrealistic. Some of the spells at first level have been tweaked - classics like Sleep for example - and as a group we're not convinced these are improvements. However, clerics and in particular magic users, seem to be more effective and less vulnerable at 1st level, which may not be completely old school, but at least does not lead to the situation where low level parties are wiped out on a regular basis, or the GM is pulling his punches until at least 4th or 5th level.
I also like the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, whereby a character with an advantage in a particular situation can roll d20 twice and pick the better result, or the worse one if they are at a disadvantage. This is an excellent idea, and can additionally be improvised into the game by the DM. I hope they keep it. A good example is the way Kobolds have an intrinsic advantage mechanic in certain situations (I won't spoil the surprise) which makes them a much tougher proposition than they were in AD&D.
It looks like we'll be taking a break from D&D for a bit. The summer vacation is upon us, and soon our little band will be heading off for their August breaks. We may get a little bit of Call of Cthulhu in before we go, if the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, RPGing will be back in September.