I played Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition last night, and I liked it.
That’s not new. My friends and I have been playing D&D 5th since it came out several months back, and we’ve been enjoying it the whole time. It’s really too early to say how much of that is down to the new edition’s quality and how much is about our group, but I will say that this is a high-quality game with a lot of thoughtful design in it.
Playing the newest version of Dungeons & Dragons has become a ritual for me. I started all the way back in the early 80s, when I was in second or third grade. I played Basic, Advanced, and Second Edition through childhood and into high school. I don’t have any clear memories of 2nd Edition being a big deal, but I know I bought it and played it. It came out in 1989, my senior year of high school. At that time we were way into Call of Cthulhu and, weirdly enough, TORG. Vampire: The Masquerade was just around the corner, and throughout the first half of the 90s I was more World of Darkness than anything else. So much so that my first paid writing gig was for Wraith: The Oblivion in 1995, which marked the transition from hobbyist to profesionalist.
Third Edition D&D came out in 2000, when I was living in California and just starting up Cryptic Studios. The group of us there decided it would be fun to jump back into D&D after all these years. Aside from a single playtest session when I interviewed for a job with Wizards of the Coast I hadn’t played in forever. It was one of the few games going I didn’t do freelance writing for. So, we bought all the books, made the characters, and played for a while. Not that long if I recall, but not for any reason other than people were busy.
When I moved back to Florida, I ran or played in a number of Third Edition games, including an attempt to run the World’s Largest Dungeon. History repeated itself, and interest wore away, replaced this time mostly by board games and other RPGs. But lo and behold, when 2008 brought D&D Fourth Edition, that same excitement rose again. We bought all the books, and played a campaign for quite a while until the game ran out of steam and ground to a halt under the weight of all those power and spell cards. Still, we had a good time for a good long while.
And here we are in 2015, and D&D 5th Edition has once again supplanted other RPGs in my group. Although I’m damn sure going to make these guys play Dreamhounds of Paris with me at some point in the not too distant future, right now we’re all a flutter with the new new D&D. I’m playing a bard who cooks instead of sings and is supposed to be based on Gordon Ramsay. As it turns out, I can’t keep up his level of vitriol, but I do say, “Fresh, local ingredients” a lot. We’re all having a lot of fun.
System wise, it’s stripped down from the baroque wonders of 4th Edition, or the mechanistic min-maxing of 3rd. The one system that strikes me as really elegant is the Advantage/Disadvantage ruleset. When you have advantage, roll two dice and take the higher. When you’re at a disadvantage, roll two and take the lower. It’s so simple and flexible and just works well. I also like that they squashed the range of to hit bonuses and difficulties. And they made bards a solid character class, which seems crazy, but I swear is true.
So far, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition gets my nod of approval. It’s totally D&D, and a good one to boot. We’ll see how long it holds my interest and attention. At some point I’m going to need to start playtesting my Napoleonic Dinner Party RPG, and when that happens, I’ll have no patience for dungeons or dragons.