Friday, May 29, 2015

Final Thoughts on 5E

Crossposted from my Facebook feed

I like to think I gave it a fair shot. We ran 4 sessions and took the characters from 1st to 3rd, and I used the intro module with just minor modifications. It just didn't fly. Here were my problems:

1) Character stats give minimal differentiation and not enough skill: There was a big push for simplicity in reducing the number of skills, giving a saving throw to each stat, and having all skills and attacks use the same proficiency modifier. This in and of itself is not a problem, though the decision to reduce all of the bonuses made it hard to have a character stand out in a skill since the 1-20 range of the die swapped the 0-6 range of stat bonus + proficiency. That made it hard to use stats and proficiencies to enforce niche protection.

2) Character powers are too fiddly: Every class has lots of little powers and distinctions and branch points that everyone has to remember. Our fighter forgot his action surge. We all forgot the halfling’s luck ability, or the chaos sorcerers’ probability shifts. Everyone had to keep looking up class powers. Every arcane damage cantrip had a follow up condition. These million fiddly buts ran directly counter to the simplicity implicitly promised in the other half of the character rules

3) The combat and adventuring rules were too simplistic: there was a whole bunch of stuff that we kept stopping to look for in the rules (like charging) that were just gone. But not all of them – lots of things were now DM discretion for advantage and disadvantage, but a lot of other things still had specific rules. Pick one or the other guys.

4) Spellcasting felt wrong: The design read as being innovative in several ways but it grated. My personal sense of fantasy meant that the unlimited use combat cantrips felt wrong - I know there’s an argument for giving spellcasters attacks that are as reliable and damaging as hitting someone with a staff, but it doesn’t sit well with me and felt too super-hero. The Cleric’s player kept getting confused as to whether she should be further selecting from her spell list. The concentration rules hindered a lot of clever ideas. The saving throw changes made it much more likely that magic would fail. There were so many minor tweaks of existing spells that all of our existing system memory was actually counterproductive. I love the ritual rules, and the new rules for daily charges on devices, but all told the bad outweighed the good.

5) The healing rules are whacked. Not only do PCs get lots of healing quickly, not only is there no good dramatic possibility for wounds, but there is so much healing potential in the party (fighter’s healing surges, ranged healing spells for the cleric, the paladin laying on hands having a ton of effect with no negative HP) fights went on way too long at the end. Add in the swinginess I mentioned earlier and we ended play with a way to long fight where PCs getting hit took them for 4 to 0 points, and they then got healed to 4 points and went right back to fighting, but the swinginess of the dice means that for 6 rounds no one hit anything and we just went round the circle over and over. The clear tactical advantage of some actions meant that circle covered the same territory time and again.

All told we had some nice bits in the mini campaign, but any future D&D will be done in 3.0 (for me) or Pathfinder (for Jay) or a modified Basic Set if I want something without the crunch. 5E, in trying to satisfy everyone, ended up neither fish nor foul. I passed my PHB onto Jason’s family and the basic Set box onto Kris and Nick. It’s not something I’ll come back to.