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