Some personal thoughts on 5th edition D&D

By Tony DiTerlizzi. Awesomest fantasy illustrator evar.

When I finally gave 5th edition D&D a chance, I was quite pleasantly surprised. The distance from the old school games that I love wasn’t that abyssal and I could see us running our games using the 5e engine. I even invested in the Players Handbook. Now that I have some actual 5e playing mileage under the belt, I’d like to comment some things that I’ve discovered in play and when reading the rules.

This thursday we concluded our fifth 5e gaming session in Dave Valderhaug’s “Dire’s Maw” homebrew game set along the Sword Coast in Forgotten Realms. Awesome game with some even awesomer gamers. Each session have been about 1.5 to 2 hours, so we can say circa 10 hours of play.

Feel

There’s a really good D&D feel, playing 5e. No more “character builds” and focus on optimization. It can definitely be used for  old school games if you play it that way. Also, the backgrounds and other fluff options help fleshing out the character from start.

Power level

5e characters are definitely much more capable than their old school comrades. I’m a little on the fence about this. On one hand, I appreciate the higher capacity of 5e characters. At the same time, I wonder if the characters aren’t a tad too powerful. Especially my Wizard, who can cast really powerful spells quite early. Last session I cast three Burning Hands, toasting nearly an entire coven of Cultist scum. And after a short rest I got one spell back. That’s power. Unless the old school DM ups the opposition some, there’s an obvious risk of PC walkover.

Last session we broke 3rd level. Leveling up is really fast if you’re used to older editions. We have something like 1800 xp each so we’re really over the required limit as well. Again, nothing wrong, but I think I prefer a tad slower progression albeit not as slow as in the original rules.

Combat

Quite similar to the old game. No real game changers here. And that’s good in my book.

Skills/tasks

This is where 5e excel in my opinion. The skill/task system has worked very well and not gotten in the way of the game. Compared to Pathfinder, where there can be a lot of computation at times, this is a real step forward and I’ve already snagged some ideas for my old school games (see here and here).

Compatibility

My initial happiness with 5e was immediately lessened when I saw the monster stats. They’re not 3e/PF complicated, but definitely more elaborate than their old school monster buddies. 5th edition’s monster stats are quite simple but different enough to make your old gaming collection hard to use unless you do some serious conversion.  Mostly, this is a difference in power levels. 5e as a whole is up-powered a lot compared to older versions of the game. For me this is a huge bummer.

Concluding thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy playing 5th edition and I will probably get the rest of the core books as well. As a player, I’ll definitely play 5e. Love it!

Being behind the GM screen is another thing though. The differences between the old school games and 5e is large enough that I think that I will remain in the old school fold for my own games, at least most of the time. Maybe I’ll run a test game at some point.

Thing is, if it plays old school and feels old school for the players, why change systems and go through the hassle of re-learning rules? If I want something “more” than say Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry, Blood & Treasure or Fantastic Heroes & Witchery already do about the same things that 5th edition, but they are evolved neo-clones more closely related to the old school. And they are much more compatible with all my old and new OSR material than 5e ever will be.

Just my 2 gp…

New illustrated version of “No Country For Weak Men”

No country for weak men 2nd ed

Yesyesyes! Here’s a new version of “No Country For Weak Men”.

For those who doesn’t know about it, it’s a free PDF adventure set in a cold northern land. Here’s a review of the 1st version. It is written for Blood & Treasure, but easily converted to your OSR game of choice.

I was quite happy with the old version, but I missed some nice art to give it the right ye olde schoole feel.

Fortunately, Claytonian JP and Jim Magnusson stepped in and helped out with some nice illustrations. For free. So now it’s a bona fide DIY collaboration project come true!

There’s some general fixes of language and layout and I have removed most of the references to Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque due to incompatibility issues between the OGL and the Creative Commons licenses.

Click the pic for a downloadable PDF.

Stay frosty. Or the Draugr will get you.

Building Better Worlds

Starting out a new world

Starting out a new world – Terra Innominata

After having been in dark fantasy land for a long while now, recent 5E D&D online playing in Forgotten Realms have made me think about a more traditional high (well, not THAT high) fantasy world to use as a base for adventures.

While there is a bunch of nice worlds to use, they often contain a lot of stuff I think is lame. Also, worlds like Forgotten Realms, Glorantha, Greyhawk and Mystara have existed for so long and have so much official lore written about them that most of the time I just feel dis-empowered and kinda loose interest when I read the books.

My way of handling this is to cannibalize stuff from all over the place and put it into my own loosely defined “Frankenstein world”. I did this with my long standing AD&D game long ago when I mixed up The Known World (predecessor to Mystara), Glorantha, Hârn, Shadow World with my own stuff.

So my next project is a large standard fantasy world to house stuff from all the cool settings out there. The picture is a first sketch of my “Terra Innominata” world with mini-settings from OpenQuest and RuneQuest plopped in. Got the idea for the map outlines this summer when I lay on the beach and some particularly interesting cloud formations came into my view.

At this point I have four different fantasy worlds going on:

1. Nexus Mundi (OSR dark fantasy, much inspired by the excellent works Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque)

2. Innominata Maligna (d100 dark fantasy, basically Ravenloft minus the in my book lame things).*

3. Terra Innominata (d100 standard fantasy, collecting a bunch of cool d100 settings into a coherent whole).

4. Mittelwelt [work name] (OSR high fantasy, mixing up the things I like about Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, NOD and others).

I have also been thinking of using the same world for both d20/OSR and d100 gaming. It would certainly make things easier, but also is laden with some problems as some basic assumptions (like how gods and magic works) are quite different.

But building better worlds is fun. Weyland-Yutani was right.

* = apparently I’m not alone in the Ravenloft critique field, as Jack Shear in running a series of interesting blog posts on the issue.