Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player's Handbook - First Impressions

After all the waiting and anticipation of a new Dungeons and Dragons edition coming out, I'd completely forgotten that yesterday was the official release date. I'd intended to pick it up via Amazon for 40% off the cover price next month, but found myself near the local hobby store, and made the impulse decision to pick up the book at full price.

I'd only intended to give the book a cursory look last night, but I sat down with it about 6:30 or so, and didn't put it down until after 11:00.

I'm pretty impressed with the production values overall. I like the color of the paper, finding it a lot easier to read than the stark white of 4E, and not as dark (although I have to check) as 3E. The font is nice and readable even for me, and I like the use of Serif and Sans Serif fonts in certain places. A lot of thought was put into the overall typography and layout of the book, and it shows.

It took a bit, but I'm now completely sold on the artwork. I was never a fan of the 3E/4E art direction, finding it way too cartoonish and/or comic-bookish. There's nothing wrong with that on its own, but for a game that's supposed to be highly universal in the tones and settings it is applied towards, I think the overall look was too specific. The new art, on the other hand, does a good job of looking ahistorical, while at the same time, grounded in a "fantastical reality" - people actually look like people, creatures like actual creatures, and so forth. Art is terribly subjective and many will disagree with me, but I think it fits a perfect balance of the fantastical and the realistic, reminding me of some of the better 1E and 2E color art from back in the day (which, nostalgia aside, varied WIDELY in quality). Also, it was really great to see a lack of cheesecake art - no chain-mail bikinis or exaggerated "boob-plate" armor. All depictions of the female form were tasteful and again, grounded in a balance of fantasy and reality. This was a big win for me, as I feel it gives a very positive view of female PCs as something other than Black Widow-esque sexy femme fatales or nearly nude magical pixie maidens.

After a single skim through the whole rulebook, I spent most of my time reading the character creation material. I like the balance of the races and classes, some minor quibbles aside. Halflings are now much disengaged from their Hobbit origins, which is I suppose smart, but may alienate some purists. The Dragonborn and Tiefling races don't interest me at all, but since they are carry-overs from more recent editions, and I suppose were middilingly popular, I have no strong feelings either way. I suppose after 40 years, there's room for some original races! I also like that there's a lot of callbacks to how different D&D settings handled differences in the races, as well as discussions on how each race sees itself and other races interacting within the generic campaign setting framework.

As for classes, it was interesting to see how many and to how much of a degree characters have access to spells. Three different "arcane" classes, as well as Bards, Paladins, and Rangers getting much beefier spellcasting abilities (at least, as compared to what I remember). I might go so far as to say the pendulum has swung too far in giving too much access to spellcasting, but as so many multiclass combinations had to do with adding magic to a class, I suppose it makes sense.

I do feel as if the career paths start a little early at 3rd level, but in earlier editions by that point players already had a pretty firm grasp of what they wanted for their character. For the most part, I feel the paths are most reminiscent of 2E class kits, and while some of those back in the day were a little lame, others were really colorful and added a lot to the build. I've seen people complain that the paths are too binding, i.e., "Why can't I play just a plain old vanilla Fighter?", and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the answers for this question - and many more - are to be found in the DMG.

There's a bunch more to comment on, but overall I'm definitely liking what I see. I felt 3E was too crunchy and bean-county for "Dungeons & Dragons", although I liked the move to a unified mechanic and a more modern (for the time) RPG design approach. I had little love for 4E, finding its attempt to make a tabletop RPG into a weird board game / video game just unappealing to my own personal sensibilities. 5E actually feels a lot like a blend of Castles & Crusades and Pathfinder, two games that were very well received, and I think overall that was a smart design choice. This game FEELS like "Dungeons & Dragons" should feel to me, after 40 years of game evolution.


Chris said...

Awesome. Can't wait to get my copy, even though I haven't played in YEARS.

Victor Raymond said...

Pretty much my impression, as well. I do have to say, though, that it might not be enough to get me to switch over from OD&D or related retro-clones. I would happily *play* in a 5e game, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

Although I don't play, I've often been impressed by the great guidebooks they put out. Worth browsing even if you're not a player.

sandhya said...

The design of the game is very nice.