Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition gets it mostly right


I think the idea with the starter set is that it gives you enough to get started, and I presume the extra space in the box is so that it has room to contain the Player’s Manual, Monster Manual etc once you get them.

The criticism that the Starter Set doesn’t contain enough is very reasonable, although I think the idea is that if you want to delve further, you can just download the freely available basic rules from Wizards of the Coast ( http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules?x=dnd/basicrules ). I have the Starter Set myself, and hope to play it with my son and a friend or two soon; I think the basic rules are enough to top it up. I agree though; it might have been nice to get some of that stuff in the box.


It doesn’t help anything that Horde of the Dragon Queen (the only module with a compelte rule set) is pretty linear and dull, but it’s a good “first time” adventure that gives the DM and players everything they need to set a stage and not just operate PC bots.

I do appreciate the amount of online support WotC is giving 5e, the basic rules and supplements allows for completely free play without just torrenting the books.


You criticize it for providing a built-in game universe to start with? The book very clearly (in Appendix: E, as you mention) tell players they can draw inspiration from anywhere. The book very clearly and explicitly mentions alternate worlds you can play in the Appendix on Gods, where it mentions not only the deities from the Forgotten Realms, but also Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Eberron and real-world mythologies like Egyptian and Greek. The book makes it very clear that your imagination is the only limit.

AND it also includes a default setting (Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms) to help new players get started without having to build a new world of their own from scratch right off the bat—to help new players get their heads around how to construct a world within the framework of an RPG by providing an in-depth example—and you criticize it for that. You completely misinterpret it as an attempt to narrowly define what fantasy is, rather than seeing it as a jumping off point for new players who might not even know where to get started.

There’s no pleasing some people.


I’m still waiting to see what the 3.5e holdouts think. There was a lot of pushback against 4e and on the surface 5e looks like it might encounter less resistance. It will also be interesting to see if the 4e material basically evaporates overnight as people rush to the new system.


I’m always sort of baffled when people complain that 4e put a lot of emphasis on miniatures. Of course it did – players had been using miniatures since 1e, because they’re invaluable in showing you where you are, where your friends are, or where the monsters you’re fighting are. If you want to, use pennies, or make paper standees, or any other way to envision the dungeon, but trying to play with no miniatures or maps is incredibly frustrating. Nothing like spending half of your game asking the DM to explain where everything is for the hundredth time.

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I agree with this, mostly because 3.X is unplayable without a combat map and miniatures. I have been using a map the entire time I have played the game.

BUT people used to not use maps all the time because they didn’t try to follow movement and range by RAW. It was more of a “I stay back and launch arrows” or “I charge in and attack” type instruction that the DM could say “you can easily reach the goons in front” or “the monster clearly sees you but there is still a football field between you”. It’s really easy by keeping things general, and the 5e rules simply include both options (miniature rules probably outlined in detail in the DMG). After playing light-weight systems like Dungeon World I don’t know if I want to go back to maps again.


Up front, let me say I am not an edition warrior. But by way of explanation: 4e was completely unplayable without miniatures and a tactical combat grid. Many of the class powers relied on forced movement of enemy miniatures (to push away from your miniature, pull toward your miniature, or slide in some direction). You just can’t escape it.

For historical perspective: 2e offered tactical combat rules through the Player’s Option series. But the default for the game was 1e’s “1 minute round” where you just describe what you’re going to be trying to do for the next minute of combat (no map or miniatures), then everyone roles initiative to determine what happens first. 3e made the battle grid the default because most people seemed to be using it anyway, and because it solved some other problems that they were having like facing. (Everyone agreed that making people keep track of which PC the monster had his back to was excessive, but some classic actions like the thief’s “backstab” seemed to demand it. The 3e flanking rules come out of the discussion of how one can say conclusively whether “backstab” works without tracking facing, and the flanking rules are the most difficult thing to gloss over if you just don’t play with a grid.) And yes, they still alienated a lot of 2e fans who hadn’t been bothering with the grid.

From 2e to 4e (and 5e) the core rules of tactical combat has remained VERY consistent over the years. But most of D&D isn’t about the core rules, it’s about the optional/sometimes rules baggage that spells and character classes bring with them. 4e brought a lot of grid-related baggage.


When considering the Starter set, you also have to remember that most of the rules are available for free, online, in PDF format. Just like they have been since the beginning of third edition.

Also, each edition of D&D has been a refinement of the ideas of the one before it. The common design problems of one flow very naturally in the rules changes of the other. Despite improvements, each edition has side effect that end up leading it to have a very different feeling from the edition before it. That’s why they try to get back to basics with this edition, rather than use it as an opportunity to “tune up” 4e into something more efficient but probably even farther from AD&D.

GURPS Lite is free.

Just sayin’.


I’m a little confused how an article with this subheading:

Peter Bebergal hasn’t been this impressed with anything bearing the D&D name since he first cracked open the original Player’s Handbook in 1978.

can both feel very wishy-washy about a product and also feature a closing line like this:

Will I play the new D&D? I’m not sure.

I was expecting a encomium, from the subheading. Is “get the social equity of the trip-over-the-headline-and-share crowd” the new Buzzfeed linkbait?

The author does seem to like it…I think?.. but it hardly feels like “best thing I’ve seen since 1978!”

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All of that is very true.

Personally, I don’t understand why using a gridded map or miniatures would alienate anyone, that’s all. Whatever edition you’re using, it just makes things far easier to envision and plan.

Personally, I like tactical grids, but there are elements that make them a pain:

  • You need a mini per monster. You can get a cheap set of plastic monsters that you use for everything (we got several use one of the D&D Adventure System board games), but you still need something. You can use coins or buttons or salt shakers, but that will eventually get confusing.
  • it needs to be a certain size to accommodate 1 mini per 5 feet, and that means dungeons become huge on the table. If you don’t need a battle grid, you can just have a single drawing of the dungeon (as discovered so far) and tell players “you’re in this room; the obviously relevant items are a large, bloody alter, and ten kobolds with hatred in their eyes.”
  • Implicit in a grid system is that movement and distances matter in a fine-grain way. If your player turns are long enough or the room small enough, they don’t. (That’s why the 1 minute round works in 1e.) So you spend a lot of time tracking something that doesn’t really matter, just because the designer chose a turn time short enough to force it to matter.
  • implicit in rules that assume a grid system is that positioning matters. It clearly does for some (the 3e rogue, most 4e classes), but clearly doesn’t for other. The fighter will run up to the biggest threat and swing. He doesn’t really need to move a mini around to do that. So it’s really a distraction for some people.

I will say that combats where we use a grid (most of them) takes a full gaming session, but similarly-sized combats where we eyeball distances and state general goals take about half an hour. There’s something to be said for that.

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Where the Starter Set really goes wrong, however, is that it doesn’t provide rules for creating characters, relying instead on the idea that giving players pre-made characters will allow them to jump right into gameplay.

I don’t agree at all. I think most people want to test drive the game right out of the gate. Not spend 30 minutes making characters before they get their feet wet the first time they play. Plus, you CAN make your own characters. Wizards of the Coast made the full rules available for FREE download before the starter set even hit shelves.

The last 3 games I’ve played have had little or no miniatures. More roleplaying than roll-playing. Not always, but sometimes seeing the minitures and concretizing things on the table isn’t great for letting your imagination run wild.

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Sure, every group and DM has a different style of play; I’m playing two different games right now on an ongoing basis – one 4e and and one 5e – and the 4e game is very role-play heavy; we often spend weeks without even getting dice out. The 5e game is much more battle driven. That has nothing to do with the editions or the rules, it’s just how the DM is running the two different groups, and they’re fun in different ways.

What’s really interesting is contrasting those with the new Star Wars system, Edge of the Empire. It uses all custom dice, no d20s at all. No grid – you just eyeball where you want to go. We use minis but they aren’t essential. Extremely DM driven: you tell the DM what you have in mind and they decide what dice you should roll or how things play out. Very different, very fun.

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My biggest complaint with 5e is that it abandoned a lot of the things that 4th got right (and I came from 3.X originally).

The absolute biggest of which is the ‘martial characters are incredibly weak compared to spellcasters at any level past 3’ problem which plagued all other versions of D&D. Allow me to quote from somewhere, and note that this is the druid, not the wizard, which has the most game-ending potential. http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?622716-3e-what-was-the-exact-moment-you-realized-Caster-Supremacy-Share-your-tales-of-woe/page7

To head off the response: ALL OF THIS IS FIXABLE WITH A GOOD DM AND A GOOD GROUP. But it’s a shame they just doubled down on a fundamentally broken component.


I used lego for tactical grids before, and while it doesn’t have the verisimilitude of a real minis thing, it can be awesome for quick changes and all that and lets you do 3D environments very easily. Note: you either need to tear off arms of your minifigs or just use 2x2 block towers to represent players/enemies.


I played loads of RPGs during my childhood and teenage years, starting with a lot of the 1e D&D Basic Rules, and later doing a lot of Traveller, MERPS, Dragon Warriors, Toon, Paranoia, TMNT etc. We never used miniatures, so when I first had another look at Dungeons & Dragons and found it required miniatures to play, I wasn’t interested.


I started playing AD&D 2nd edition in the mid 90’s. I loved it, but it was a terrible system. Everything had it’s own custom unique table which you had to memorize, hunt for, or bookmark. 3 and 3.5 were much simpler and more streamlined. Yes, the shift opened a huge number of technical loopholes that you could munchkin to death - check out http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8096183/1/Harry-Potter-and-the-Natural-20 for an interesting case study on the problems with using the Rules As Written. But the very first thing in every edition of the DMG is the most important: the DM is in charge, and if (s)he disallows something, it doesn’t happen. Being a good DM is fun but really difficult. As with all games, who you play with is key. In a game about telling shared stories, style is central, no matter the rules or edition number.

I never played 4th Edition, because at that point I had no group demanding it and because 3.5 worked quite well for my tastes. I’ve also never been inclined to spend money on miniature and I draw maps terribly. Whenever it really mattered exactly where characters were I’d use poker chips or coins, and/or use pads of graph paper. It’s definitely useful, but fussy for my taste most of the time. I want D&D, not Warhammer 40k.

What annoys be more is what all the edition shifting does with the novels set in the “official” D&D settings. After more than 20 years Dragonlance was simply discontinued, and scores of characters I’d followed through dozens of books were never to be heard from again. To accomodate sudden shifts in the laws governing magic, they had to invoke world-shattering events in Forgotten Realms (in 2e->3e, Lord Ao casts the gods out of the heavens to walk the world as mortals; in 3e->4e they killed off the goddess of magic, driving nearly all magic users mad (or killing them), and advanced the timeline 100 yrs (destroying countries, dynasties, most extant characters in the intervening years).