Now that all of the core books have been released for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I thought it was a great time to look back and reflect on the new edition. I've also had more time to play and find issues in this edition, which I will talk about below as well as some house rules I considered.
How It's Awesome
In general, I found low-level play a blast with very few complains (up to level 10 or so). I thought that in general the classes are fairly well balanced while still being mechanically different. I particularly liked the extremely deadly first level, as it meant that tactics played an incredibly important part. The reduction in the number of magic items players received (or even need) allowed me to run several long spanning games with no magic items at all and still have them be effective at their level. The idea of bounded accuracy is in my opinion a good one. Its use throughout the system allows you to challenge and injure even high level players using lower level enemies. It also allows mobs to be effective while at the same time go down easily as well as the party to be starved of resources. The game itself is quite easy to house rule, modify and improvise on using simple ability scores. The books are generally high quality as well, with tons of nice art and they even provide the basic rules for free.
High-level Play Issues
In general, the majority of problems I saw ended up happening at higher levels. An example is cantrip spell damage scaling with level (I personally hate this as it means a first level spell does less than a cantrip). I like having a general sense of balance between classes, even if the balance is asymmetrical. In general, I found the rules did a decent job of this. Naturally, though, for classes like the Wizards, any kind of unbalances come from not the class itself but the spells they have access to. There are a few spells that scale with level but not with spell slot (hold person is the biggest problem), meaning that for a rather low level slot they can cause great effects to even high level characters. The DC's of Wizard spells also scales regardless of the ability score it targets, while the other classes do not get their proficiency bonus added unless they are proficient in those saves (as determined by their class, plus one feat). The Wizard, however, has spells to give themselves higher Armour Class (AC). The rogue (who need stealth or a party member to be effective), with their proficiency, expertise and inability to roll under 10 when taking checks seem to always surprise enemies unless the opponents use magic or have rogue like proficiency and expertise in perception (combined with the Assassin archetype, on average does incredible damage against non-constitution based characters). They also, because of the inability to roll lower than 10 and massive bonuses either can't fail to disarm a trap or pick a lock, or the Dungeon Master has to place very high DC's (whether this is a problem or what makes sense is up to you, but I felt it noteworthy. It is definitely not as significant as always surprising enemies).
I don't like the default +1 to all attributes for humans, when it looks like most others get a feat or two worth of bonuses. Luckily, there is the optional rule that uses a feat instead. This kind of customization in general is really nice to see.
My biggest problem with the system, however, comes from the subclasses. I don't even know how many characters I've had at my table so far but I don't remember seeing one Champion fighter. Similarly, every ranger I have seen so far was a Hunter. Maybe it is just me but some choices seem to be significantly worse than others when it comes to subclasses or class features, meaning that they don't get picked. The obvious answer to this is to either remove classes the Dungeon Master doesn't like or to give the classes that the Dungeon Master feels are lacking something extra to make them more even.
I have one or two really small nitpicking things, such monster attacks that age characters (since this is another incentive not to play an older character and effects humans harder than dwarves), which I am tempted to just ignore. The other main nitpick I had was with no fleeing choice given to players in the default rules. I can add my own, take it from a different edition or take it from the Dungeon Master's Guide. However, having the players not know how running away works by default seems strange to me, in a system that seems to be closer to the older editions, where you could run into a fight you couldn't win. I also still miss the morale system of older editions and how each creature had a morale rating to tell how brave it was (those of you with older books can use it just fine, though cross referencing is a little bit annoying), but I'm convinced most people don't care about it.
The traits, flaws and bonds system adds a more structured way to create characters to role-play but more veteran groups may find themselves ignoring it, particularly because some things don't fit neatly into those categories, forcing you to repeat things in different wording in each section (which, admittedly, can be a good way to explore your character). I tried to use it at first but ended up throwing it out, as I found it too mechanical for what my group tended to do already. The ease of throwing it out, however, is more a testament to the system and how easy it is to modify.
However, I noticed that in general it is quite easy to house rule the problems I had with the system. The monsters also generally follow the same rules (except a couple that get multiple attacks before the players do), meaning house rules carry through the entire system.
- Cantrips don't scale.
- You can't take expertise in stealth or perception as a rogue.
- Starting at level 5, monsters and players get half their proficiency bonus to saves they are not proficiency in, rounding down (to make this fair, this includes monsters). To make the increases more even, you can just always give half proficiency, but this will make Wizards worse pre-5th level.
Bolded points are proposed house rules that I'm not too sure about, as they cause large changes to certain classes.
The above half proficiency rule means assuming even levels and a score of 10 in the attribute targeted, target has 25% change to resist, while targets proficiency in the save still keep their old rating. The odds of resisting an effect decrease with level, but more slowly than currently.
In general, I enjoyed playing this new version of D&D, particularly at low level. There are some issues in my view but they are workable and the overall system has so far been easy for me to house rule. Overall, the flexibility and ease of play is something I have enjoyed greatly. There is still room for customization through feats, but at low levels the class choice, ability scores, skills, backgrounds and role-playing (traits, flaws and bonds) provide most of the distinctions between characters.