Cardboard Children: Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

Hello youse.

Running a live session of D&D Fifth Edition is far easier than you’d think. First of all, you need an audience of nice people – we have plenty of those in Glasgow. Then you need some good, funny players. I had those too, all of them friends of mine, all of them involved in the TV comedy game in some capacity. Then you need Dungeons & Dragons itself. I had the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual behind my DM screen. Oh, and I also had the new Dungeon Master’s Screen.


We had a two hour slot to run this session, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. To my knowledge, it’s the first time a pen-and-paper RPG session has ever featured at a major film festival. That’s something, huh? And man – in a kind of gaming Inception type thing, there’s even a REVIEW of the event over at Bleeding Cool!

So, two hours, an audience of people who may or may not know what D&D is (it turned out that most of the audience had never played before) and the pressures of being LIVE AND IN THE FLESH meant that I had to put considerable thought into how to run this thing.

Actually, I didn’t. Because here’s the deal – D&D 5th edition is a beautifully designed, beautifully written game. It makes the process of playing an RPG incredibly smooth. I had a quick adventure written up and flung together in a couple of hours, I rolled up characters for every player in far less time than that, and I knew how to play the damn thing within fifteen minutes of reading the rules. D&D 5th Edition swings the emphasis back towards storytelling, and that makes for a delight of an experience for newcomers and veterans alike.

Stop. What do you think Dungeons & Dragons is like? Maybe you think it’s a big dry book with lots of tiny text and a million tables of numbers and statistics. Maybe you think it’s some boring big thing that is far too in love with its own lore, and tells you about guys called GUMBERGONG and ILLIMBROSQUAT. Well, you’re dead wrong. This edition of D&D is an arm round your shoulder, a word in your ear, a warm invitation to the world of role-playing. The rules, covered in the Player’s Handbook, are dealt with in a handful of pages. New additions, such as the brilliant brilliant advantage/disadvantage system, are grasped within moments.

(Let me break in to talk about Advantage/Disadvantage for a moment. Most things in D&D are decided by the roll of a 20-sided die. For example, when attacking – you roll that d20, apply any modifiers, and hope to beat an enemy’s armour class. The Advantage/Disadvantage system is a beautiful storytelling/gameplay device for the DM to call upon whenever he feels it necessary. Your enemy was just distracted by a stampede of horses? Then you have advantage. Roll TWO d20s and use your higher roll. You’re trying to attack while underwater and you have a terrible fear of jellyfish? You are at a disadvantage. Roll TWO d20s and use the lower roll. It’s a simple, fast way to kick the narrative here and there in a logical manner without disrupting play.)

The rest of the Player’s Handbook is just cool stuff that you can stack onto what you already know – characters that can play inside the world of D&D, spells that can be cast, gear that can be carried. And everything illustrated beautifully, and explained in detail in plain speak.

The Player’s Handbook is a ball kicked into your hands. It’s a nudge – go play. Within a half hour of reading the thing, skimming the character classes and the rules and spells, I was feeling the urge to roll some dice.

But hey – I had to pull together a quick two-hour session. That’s where the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual came in. That DM Guide is a TREAT. It’s a joy to read – a book full of love for a great game system and a great world of adventures. You could quickly fling together an entire dungeon just by rolling on the tables provided in the book. It’s full of suggestions for backdrops, dressing, motive and monsters. There’s also a strong system for balancing your dungeon, ensuring that you populate your session with monsters that your adventurers will find challenging but not deadly. But my favourite part of the book is the giant section on magical items. Every item is fully illustrated (and beautifully, this too is a gorgeous book) and richly fleshed out. Seriously, when you read this section you will say “Oh, cool. Oh, that is cool” every 30 seconds. These items really capture what’s best about this edition of D&D – every word, every bit of art, is there to inspire you. You could build adventures around these items.

Towards the back of the DM Guide, it drills down into how to run the game. It leads you through the process of creating your own monsters. And then it suggests a huge amount of variants and wrinkles that you can use to make your D&D game truly yours. The DM Guide is a toolset and a sandbox and I think it’s absolutely essential if you want to run a game of D&D. You’ll be blown away by it, I guarantee it.

The Monster Manual continues the streak of great books. Again, every monster has its own unique illustration, and I love the fact that the book really celebrates the dragons of Dungeons & Dragons, featuring all those beautiful types and colours, good and evil. Every monster’s description is a strong seed for an adventure, and every stat block is clean and useable. This is the book that rounds off the feeling that you’ve got a whole world in your hands. It’s saying “Here are the monsters, and some NPCs and some wild animals, and here’s a suggestion as to where you might find them. Now go and fight them, or charm them, or ride them, or pet them, or be them.”

You should buy all three books. They’re absolutely worth the entry fee.


And so I fling together a quick, funny little two-hour session.

I roll up some cool characters with that Player’s Handbook.

I roughly sketch a map.

I make some notes about characters and potential puzzles.

I pull some traps and set dressing from the DM Guide.

I fling in some monsters from the Monster Manual.

To ensure that some of the audience get to try D&D, I quickly create a new Monk power. I call it “Shifting Soul”. At certain points in the session, the Monk will Soul Shift to gain Inspiration (these are tokens players can spend to gain advantage or cancel disadvantage). With every Soul Shift, a new member of the audience will take control of the Monk. A new personality, a new approach, with new ideas! (It worked brilliantly.)

And then we play.

This is pen-and-paper RPGing as it should be. Full of story, with enough rules just to serve you, not to enslave you.

Now is the time to play D&D again. The door of the dungeon is open, and it’s warm inside.

There’s really nothing stopping you, is there?



So impressed was I with this new edition of D&D that I’m making a promise right now to keep you all up to date with this edition as it develops. In a month or two I’ll tell you about the Tyranny of Dragons books The Hoard of The Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat.

Oh, and hey – why not just go and download the basic rules for D&D right now?


  1. aliksy says:

    Advantage/Disadvantage sounds like someone realized a dice pool is better than rolling one die, but couldn’t quite kill the sacred cow.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      It may seem like that but it works well and does away with the endless modifiers that plagued the game in its previous two editions.

      • aliksy says:

        It does sound like it works well. I was never a fan of 1d20 + ability score modifier + equipment bonus + positioning bonus + racial bonus + bless bonus + aid (wait that doesn’t stack) + bard song (does that stack?).

        More broadly I’m not a fan of rolling one die and adding stuff to it. Besides the weirdness of your worst possible result being just as likely as any other result, you often get to a point where your modifiers are so great you can’t fail.

        I mostly play stuff derived from the WoD games nowadays, though.

        • mechabuddha says:

          In 5e, you still add some stuff to your dice rolls. But the overall power curve is significantly flatter than previous editions. An extremely min/maxed level 20 character will have about a +7 or +9 bonus to their attack rolls, which means they’ll still be missing ~40% of the time against armored opponents.

        • gwathdring says:

          I’m not a fan of that core DnD additive system either. But don’t get me started on White Wolf …

          White Wolf has brought to table some of the most poorly conceived versions of a dice pool system I’ve come across. And the fewer degrees of separation between a game and SCION, the less respect it deserves. That was one the hottest mess my gaming groups have ever been messed up by. Blargh.

          White Wolf has just as noble a tradition of excess junk and broken systems as the DnD lineage. There are a lot of great systems out there; White Wolf is better at settings and fictions than systems.

          • damoqles says:

            You’re talking about the old WoD, I presume? Because nWoD fixed a lot of kinks in the system.

          • gwathdring says:

            Better isn’t the same as good. I think it’s still a bit of a mess.

      • RedViv says:

        It’s probably the most comfortable RP/storytelling trigger I have had as a DM. Just good/bad mods, not having to decide which of the 20 results on the dice are maaagical enough for a situation.

        • gwathdring says:

          I’m not much on d20s in general. They have too wide a span for how swingy a single-die system is; mechanics that work well with swingy results are usually not going to make proper use of the 1-20 span and mechanics with that much specificity usually aren’t going to work so well when they’re also as swingy as a single die system is.

          I find them a little bizarre.

          • Zekiel says:

            Personally I just hate how they roll! They just keep going forever.

            To be honest the only dice is really enjoy rolling is the good old D6. Nothing else feels right. Probably why I used to love Games Workshop games so much – I don’t think they ever conceived of the existence of any other dice!

          • Screwie says:

            Give me something with a nice probability curve, for sure.

            Advantage/disadvantage is a nice system, possibly the best design decision in 5e, but it’s not without its problems. Chiefly, there’s no meaningful way to measure a mild disadvantage against a severe one, or to compound multiple disadvantages into a single check.

            The natural extension would be to add more dice to roll but this just doesn’t work for a 1d20 check. Rolling, say, 4d20s and picking the lowest is essentially saying “make this check four times and you must pass them all or you fail” which is basically approaching unmalleable chaos.

            As it stands the advantage system is a fantastic idea that could be even better, and doubtlessly will be better in other RPGs that are not married to that die.

          • mechabuddha says:

            @screwie If d20s are too swingy, try 3d6. You’re never going to get higher than 18, but the curve is much more normalized.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      That description fits a lot of 5E’s design, actually. It’s a very toe-in-the-water approach, where it borrows liberally from other (and IMO, better) RPGs but doesn’t necessarily understand why other games do it that way, and the force-fits it into the existing D&D framework. That still makes it an improvement over 3E, but I struggle to understand why I should care given how much legacy cruft it brings forward and how strong the indie RPG scene is. It’s doubly frustrating since the 4E baby appears to have been thrown out with the bathwater; it was an imperfect edition (with even less perfect marketing) but it’s a shame to see so many of its good ideas discarded in the name of courting the Pathfinder crowd.

      • Screwie says:

        Yup, absolutely agreed.

      • gwathdring says:

        My feelings as a design geek and perpetual DnD toe-dipper who plays other things but enjoys a session here or there well enough.

    • aircool says:

      Sounds just like the FFG RPG’s such as Star Wars and Warhammer. They’ve been using that idea for a while now.

    • Merus says:

      In practice: it’s significantly better than a dice pool, because it feels really impactful when you have advantage or disadvantage, and the resolution mechanic takes only a moment longer than a normal roll. Dice pools usually involve a moment where someone puts ten dice in their hand, lets them go, and then spends 10 seconds working out what that means. In D&D5, you look at two dice and read off one of the numbers. Done.

      I have no problem with D&D filching good ideas from indie RPGs. Oddity/trinket tables should be a standard construct; what a great way to flavour the world while rewarding players.

      • gwathdring says:

        That’s how White Wolf does multi-dice systems. That’s not how a lot of pool systems work.

        Take Ghost/Echo–it’s a small, elegant dice pool system that has a maximum pool size of 4 and that uses dice assignment rather than success counting or addition. Psi-Run is another interesting dice assignment game.

        Mistborn Adventure Game has pools from 2-10, but it’s a ORE variant so you’re not counting successes but just looking for matching sets–and in this streamlined version you’re not even intersted in set width–just the highest number that shows up at least twice.. It’s not as quick as a single number check, but it’s not as slow as success counting or dice assignment and it has some really slick features like spending dice from your action pool to defend yourself against opponents who act before you, leaving your action less likely to succeed.

        There is of course the classic FATE/FUDGE system which is almost as quick as a single number check and always involves exactly 4 dice. You could argue it’s not a “pool” system since people usually mean a system wherein the number of rolled dice changes.

        Don’t Rest Your Head has some very cool dice mechanics.

        There’s Danger Patrol where you’re doing success counting, but typically with pools substantially smaller than 10 dice–you have a main Trait die (varying polyhedrals) and various Danger dice added through fictional declarations or acknowledgements and occasionally gear/power usage, where a success is anything above a 3 and a failure on danger dice gives the GM resources with which to screw you over. It’s really not hard to read the d6s for a 50/50 success/failure, and you usually don’t have a ton of them to read or roll.

        The problem in White Wolf games is quite simply that reading a pool of d10s just isn’t as easy as reading a pool of pipped d6s–at least for me. I can pattern-group pipped d6s more easily on the fly than d10s. Maybe that’s just me. In either ease, I don’t find the process so much longer that it has a meaningful impact on gameplay. What slows down a White Wolf game is all the different things that happen in a dice pool–you’re looking for success, crit fails, crit successes and sometimes special additional features for certain powers. Further the process of figuring out how many dice you roll can sometimes be a bit tedious. Similarly, in dice-assignment games, the whole point is to slow down and make a decision about your role so it being slower than a check-the-number system is irrelevant; if the game is being run right, then your assignment has drama and weight to it rather than being a tedious in-between state.

        And as much as I have issues with White Wolf’s systems, I think that applies somewhat even to those. The idea that a system is better because it involves less fussing with dice is silly; fussing with dice is neutral. Some people quite like the feeling of taking fate into their hands and throwing it across the table. What makes it a good or bad design isn’t how much dice rolling there is (except in SCION where you have to roll physically stupid numbers of dice; we didn’t even make it to Demigod and we were already rolling 10-20 dice … and the system didn’t do anything to make that specifically more interesting to make up for the awkwardness whereas MAG, mentioned above, does some slick things with dice pools beyond just giving you more successes). I’m more concerned with other aspects of the implementation than how quickly on a scale of 1 to 4 seconds you can figure out what result you rolled.

        • gwathdring says:

          It’s really oddly joyless to break down how much better it is than dice pools to “It takes something like at best a few seconds and at worst a fraction of a second less to translate the dice roll into the system’s language.” As though the only thing that matters in these sorts of games is how many *seconds* we spend on the mechanics.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    I don’t play, I just read rulebooks, they tickle my imagination. From my perspective 5th Ed looks like a big step up from 4th. 4th felt like “we want to be an MMORPG” in some ways, and too many powers seemed to require having miniatures to set up. Exaggerated art style wasn’t for me either.

    5th made classes feel more distinct again, but still made fighters have some fun combat options. Beautiful art too, occasionally.

    • ribby says:

      did you see that goblinpunch blog recommended a while ago in the sunday papers? That has some crazy ideas for sparking the imagination and the links on the sidebar are good too

      • Lars Westergren says:

        Yeah, I saw your recommendation in the forums, thanks for that. It’s a good site, some really interesting articles.

    • Zekiel says:

      I’m even worse, I don’t play, I just read online articles about what other people think about the rules. And I’m happy that 5E seems to be so well received. I spent a lot of time enjoying the 3E rules, and then raising my eyebrows a lot at the 4E rules (and then being slightly disappointed that NO COMPUTER GAME EVER used them since I was rather interested seeing how they would work in that forum).

  3. aliksy says:

    Are those the latest basic rules? They’re dated November 2014.

    Also, random ability scores? Are you serious? That is a completely terrible idea for a game that’s going to last longer than one sit-down. That is, unless you want to spend months resenting your “buddy” who rolled three 18s, or feeling bad for your other buddy who rolled a four. There is absolutely no advantage to random ability scores that couldn’t be done with chosen scores. “Oh but if I roll weird i can have fun playing it!” you might say. Screw that. You can just pick weird stats without subjecting everyone else to it.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Random is the default option but the rules do provide for a set array and a point-buy method.

    • PlanetTimmy says:

      From the rulebook (link to

      You generate your character’s six ability scores
      randomly. Roll four 6-sided dice and record the total of
      the highest three dice on a piece of scratch paper. Do
      this five more times, so that you have six numbers. If
      you want to save time or don’t like the idea of randomly
      determining ability scores, you can use the following
      scores instead: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

      This option is also presented later as an option the DM may wish to allow

      You have 27 points to spend on your ability scores. The
      cost of each score is shown on the Ability Score Point
      Cost table. For example, a score of 14 costs 7 points.

      Ability Score … Point Cost
      8 … 0
      9 … 1
      10 … 2
      11 … 3
      12 … 4
      13 … 5
      14 … 7
      15 … 9

      So there’s basically three options to create ability scores – I quite like rolling them – the four dice: choose three method of rolling the scores means the chances of getting several bad scores is pretty low, and you still have a chance of rolling really well.

      • aliksy says:

        Yes, I saw that, but random ability scores are presented as the default, and random ability scores are a terrible idea for long-term games.

        I mean, really, are you going to force your buddy to play a character where he rolled two threes for his stats? If yes, you’re a terrible friend. If no, you shouldn’t be using a system that gives you bad outcomes you’re just going to fudge anyway.

        • Screwie says:

          5e also adapts 4e’s healing surge system, except in place of recovering fixed blobs of health you now roll to find out how many hit points you recover – making them irritatingly unreliable.

          Random for random’s sake is terrible, but thankfully a lot of it can be easily houseruled safely away.

        • welverin says:

          Well, it’s always been a part of the game. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from saying ‘these stats are awful, reroll it,’ which is exactly what my DM does if the rolls we get fall below a certain threshold.

        • nearly says:

          I’m pretty sure this isn’t a new method for determining ability scores in this edition of D&D. I also don’t understand the point of complaining that you might have to fudge some numbers: this is a game played by rolling dice. It’s going to happen.

          • aliksy says:

            Yes, it’s pretty much always been in D&D and it’s been stupid ever since characters were expected to live for a long time.

            It’s a stupid rule. If your rules encourage you to fudge things, then your rules need work.

          • gwathdring says:

            I’ve always hated the argument that fudging and houserruling is just part of the system.

            As though it’s just common knowledge in RPG design that when you make a game, it’s ok if it doens’t function properly because your fans will fix it and some of them will like the “broken” version better anyway.

            That’s a shit attitude for a designer. Sure, nothing’s perfect. But you either own your design and defend it, own that it isn’t perfect and try to do better next time, or you fix it this time. That’s plenty of leeway, right there. Designers and/or their designs don’t need more leeway then that. If people tend to either fudge it or find it a thorn in their sides? It should be fixed.

            It’s just not fun for most groups to have one character that’s great at everything, a bunch of mediocre characters, and one character who’s just over the automatic re-roll threshold and is shit at even the stuff that’s essential to their class, and worse than shit at the rest.

            You want varied characters? Use point-buy or pre-made stat lines or a Trait system or an Advantage/Disadvantage system or pre-made character or anything else. Use randomness when what you want is randomness. when what you want is for some characters to be perfect at everything and some to be shit at everything and most to be haphazardly in between. Use randomness when it’s ok for some of the PCs to be heroes and some of them to be out of their league. When you want a system to be cruel and capricious and unpredictable.

            Know the tools. DnD suggests to me everytime I pick up one of it’s rulebooks or play a session of it, that it doesn’t know it’s tools. That it instead takes a bunch of tools, throws them into a box, and sells that box to the DM. That sounds so lovely and freeing right? But the thing is … some designers will give you a toolbox carefully crafted from the tools it carries, lovingly polished and carved and bolted and fastened and adorned and handed over to you, a proper and useable structure in it’s own right that contains, too, the tools to refit it to other purposes or create other structures. Some designers will give you the toolbox and teach you in great detail how to use the tools in it. Some designers will build you not just a toolbox, but a workshop. Or a house.

            DnD 5e is stingy compared to a lot of games that cast themselves as Toolboxes. It is rigid and bulky and expensive compared to a lot of games that aim to be light and plug-and-play and/or introductory. It’s slow and clunky compared to games that want to be innovative and shiny and edgy. And it’s thin compared to games that aim to be deep and simultionist. It feels like a game that wants to be all things to all people and as ever it ends up kind of unfortunately dull to me. There are so many games out there. I don’t see what makes DnD 5e special other than branding. Is it really more accessible? More open? More familiar? More streamlined? To whom? Compared to what? I just don’t see it.

          • jrodman says:

            Well, I think houseruling *is* part of the system, but not in the way you mean.

            The fact that houseruling is common indeed doesn’t excuse bad design, but it does mean that good design should probably strive to be flexible enough to accommodate modification without too much difficulty.

            That said, random stats are fine: IF you are playing a game where that won’t result in rapid death, or if rapid death is sort of the intended flavor (DCC), or if they don’t really have *that* big an effect on your survivability (for example really old D&D where the benefits are relatively minor). They can be *one* way to spur player creativity about what their character is, by having them “find out” about their chracater instead of “designing” one. You know, the role that dice rolls play in the rest of the game.

            But if you are planning on playing a longer running, combat heavy, relatively tactical game in the style of most 3e or 4e D&D, then yeah random stats seem like a poor choice. And so you may be right they’re a bad default choice for 5e D&D, especially given the content that WotC has published for it so far.

          • gwathdring says:

            I don’t think it comes down just to survivability. It also has to do with viability, character envy, viability in one’s role, ability to cross over into other people’s roles, etc.

            It doesn’t matter if your character can just not die. It’s also about how much agency your character has. In a game where you’re making lots of checks and success at checks affords agency and access (or put differently, a game that is success-gated rather than involvement-gated or failure-gated), in a game where failing a roll is frequently uninteresting … having markedly less success than other characters not because of a choice you make about your character but because of the roll of the dice? That’s kinda lame whether the game is 4 hours or 400.

            It’s not just about getting killed because of your stats. It’s not just about combat. It affects everything that involves stat-based resolution!

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          Phasma Felis says:

          [quote]Yes, I saw that, but random ability scores are presented as the default, and random ability scores are a terrible idea for long-term games.[/quote]

          It’s quite possible that the majority of all tabletop games ever played, ever, have used random-roll ability scores. If random-roll ruins games, it’s certainly taking a long time to do it.

          People like random-roll. It has always been a huge part of D&D. You’re totally allowed to think they’re crazy and use one of the other options presented (in the same paragraph, even). But I’m not sure why you think WotC should have ignored the majority of their fans, any more than they should listen to a guy who says “throw out all that goofy Tolkien elf/dwarf shit.”

          • Screwie says:

            Some people like random stats, just like some people like adversarial DMing. But not everyone does. Especially in a game where a couple of fluke damage rolls will kill you dead.

            I won’t argue that random stats have a right to exist given the history of DnD, but I do question the sense in making the option most likely to give new players an unfair shake (and a lousy time) the default one.

          • gwathdring says:

            I think a lot of people familiar with “gaming” get stuck on the idea that because something works within gaming canon, it’s “popular” or “people like it.”

            A lot of people quite markedly feel uninvited into gaming. Because gaming isn’t just about playing games; social politics are unavoidable in any hobby, but if we want to understand design we can’t just design things that make the regulars cheer. There are a lot of people out there who never come in the door because they don’t like anything we’ve done so far. And we can say gaming just isn’t their thing and that’s true to a point. But there’s a lot of unexplored territory out there.

            There are a lot of good games with a lot of old, oft-repeated mechanics. Let’s have some new stuff. The old stuff isn’t going anywhere.

          • Baines says:

            Random stats work for beginning players because beginning players don’t really know what to do with their stats. They won’t really understand the tradeoffs that they might be making under other point allocation systems. They might not even really know what kind of character they want to run, and the dice falling in a particular way may get them to try something else.

            Random stats also prevent a measure of min-maxing. This isn’t just a munchkin thing, as it is only sensible for even non-power gamers to aim towards optimal builds unless they have an amazing reason to do otherwise. Random stats can get you out of your comfort zone and experimenting with different things.

            Once you know what you are doing, switch to other stat allocation systems if you want. (Of course if you play in a high bodycount game, it might not even be worth the time. (Like Call of Cthulhu, where you learn to create characters fast. Or Paranoia, where I think it might have been possible to die during the character creation process?)

    • jrodman says:

      Games don’t have to be about stats. You can certainly play with awkward abilities and have a rollicking good time. It’s only games that are all about heroics where it feels wrong. It’s only in very combat-heavy campaigns (like stock ones in the 3/4 era) where you feel gimped as a chracter. 5e, despite it’s middling, waffling nature, does NOT push players hard down that road.

      • gwathdring says:

        DnD isn’t a combat-only resolution system. It’s resolution system doesn’t JUST affect combat-only games.

    • Josh W says:

      I don’t particularly like D&D’s approach, but starting with a random character can be pretty good, and most games don’t actually last longer than 3-6 months anyway – people’s lives seem to change too much.

      The sort of thing I prefer is having random backgrounds for people who want to start quickly, like the way the warhammer rpgs used to do it; roll a rat catcher and have a tiny ruthless dog, or be an agitator for peasant rights, or a practiced battlefield scavenger with lots of sneakyness.

      Most of the starting careers aren’t particularly glamorous, and leaving them to be an adventurer is a perfectly reasonable desire. And it helps that you’re making the best of your characters beginning, just like they are.

  4. teije says:

    Very interesting – not a big fan of the 4th edition, so I’ll have to check this out.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      It comes across as a simplified third edition or a cleaned and modernised second edition so if you liked them you’ll enjoy it.

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    There are some great ideas in D&D5. Advantage/disadvantage is ace, and the backgrounds work well although they were a bit more interesting in the playtest version of the game. It provides lots of mechanical options for player-characters without getting bogged down in optimisation sub-games like the previous two editions did, at least not yet.

    I like this edition a lot and I have only one real problem with it; the layout and organisation of the core books is a bit wonky. The PHB is the most readable but the Monster Manual is a mess, with loads of two page spreads being split across non-facing pages and other such schoolboy errors. It looks a bit amateur hour in places and that’s a shame.

    Oh, and The Hoard of the Dragon Queen is appalling but that’s not a criticism of D&D5.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Got to agree on the rulebook part, I’ve actually downloaded a PDF of the rulebook and started moving the entire thing into an easily referable onenote notebook. Makes rule lookup soooo much easier … and I don’t have to wear out my hardback XD

    • mechabuddha says:

      I hear you on the Monster Manual. There are some monsters in there that aren’t in the tables of contents! But they *are* in the index! Who designed that thing?

  6. Wytefang says:

    Tabletop RPGing always seems like I’d love it but in practice, it’s just deathly boring, unfortunately. Too many rules to read (no matter how easy an edition seems) and then the fact that every single activity requires (usually) input from all players involved, and you have a game that simply falls down under the weight of its own preponderance. Let’s say you have 4 players and they come to a locked door. It might take (at a minimum) 5-10 minutes to get everyone’s actions, resolve them, etc… Now imagine a few locked doors, some harder puzzles, and the biggest time-sink of all, combat – and heaven forbid if it’s too big or too involved of a combat. Yet the expectation is that somehow grown adults can find the time for a 4-6 hour session? Really? Not any adult gamers that I’ve met.

    So it remains a game that I admire from afar and really wish that it worked. I know that online RPGing can help a wee bit with finding good times for everyone and/or players and digitizing some of the mundane tasks but overall, I’d guess most people would prefer to do the gaming in real life, face-to-face. Maybe if they come up with some sort of digital DM who can rules check and run the dice stuff entirely, it might be worth playing some day.

    • Wytefang says:

      I should clarify, it’s not “deathy” boring, it’s just clunky. I do still admire the concept behind it, it’s really a great one, but it just takes too long to do everything and the payoff is rarely worth the time investment.

    • aliksy says:

      Your experience is not my experience.

      Play a lighter rules system. D&D is pretty crunchy, and that slows things down.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Yes indeed. It’s bad form to say “you’re playing it wrong” but I have to say that is an atypical experience of role-playing games.

        • Wytefang says:

          I don’t mind someone saying “You’re playing it wrong” if that’s correct but honestly, I may have exaggerated the pace and game length a tiny bit, but overall, having spoke to plenty of RPG gamers, I’m not off-base here.

          • jrodman says:

            You do have to make what you want out of it.

            if the party is plodding, discursive, argumentative and fiddly, and you want to “get on with it”, then some expectations need adjusting. It’s simply true that not every player an really work in every group.

            But you can certainly say “I’d like to playing this with a much lighter, faster paced, feel that doesn’t get bogged down in details” and see where you get. But I would certainly suggest trying something far simpler as an experiement, instead. There are many options. My friend likes Cthulu Dark. I enjoy Dungeon World. For straight-up dungeon crawling Torchbearer is a hoot.

            Personally the campaign I’ve been running for a year is using B/X D&D from 1981 largely because the ruleset is tiny, but I wanted to inflict a number of ancient adventures (with custom embroidering) without redoing lots of stat blocks.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      D&D, despite the most recent editions’ efforts to streamline things, is still on the heavier end of the spectrum in terms of rules-iness. If you’re interested in tabletops but want something quicker to run, try looking at the indie market, which also has the perk of being much cheaper. Just pulling up a few things on Indie Press Revolution, you could load up on Dungeon World, Dread, Fate Core, and Fiasco, which would be 4 flexible, lightweight systems that cover a ton of genres, all clocking in at about half the cost of D&D’s 3 core rulebooks.

    • April March says:

      Man, saying tabletop RPG’s are too complicated is like saying videogames are too violent. You’re just playing the wrong ones.

      I don’t play enough (or… at all) to make a truly informed suggestion, but perhaps you’d care for a more narrative driven system? FATE, Dogs in the Vineyard, even Fiasco… or if you’d want an approach like that but likes rolling dice and having stats, there’s ORE and the Apocalypse Engine games.

      • jrodman says:

        I highly recommend the Shab-al-Hiri Roach as a role playing warmup/introduction. Fiasco is great fun but you need to have people with the creative juices flowing to really go somewhere.

  7. aircool says:

    So does it still have rules for everything including wiping your arse? I’ve only got 3.5 to compare with, but that was just soooo not the D&D I remember.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      No, you would be thinking of F.A.T.A.L.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        Anal Circumference Potential, which is a thing that is real and used in certain rolls in FATAL (such as when determining whether an object with certain Circumference causes damage when inserted into, you guessed it, your anus), is something I will probably never be able to forget. Even though I’d really really want to.

    • jrodman says:

      Much less hidebound than 3, but still too fussy and rulesy than suits my taste. I don’t really want to have to “roll for religion” to find out if my cleric knows about some particular diety. I want to shout out that the diety is my god’s diametric opposite and they are in an eternal struggle and let the GM deal with that.

      • Pofruin says:

        Well as a matter of fact he is. And he smites you. Roll fort save 213216541 or be incinerated.

        As a long time GM I realy dislike when player decides to wrect MY fun and rather than play with me starts playing against me.

        • Dawngreeter says:

          “Player Suggestion” is and has always been a way for players to play with GMs. It requires some quick thinking, but there’s a lot of payback there. I mean, there’s potentially a whole session worth of fun in that short and simple example that jrodman gave. Why are these deities constantly opposed? How does it reflect on their clergy, are they philosophical about it or are we talking more about the “raise their city, salt the ground” approach? Why is the player character in question ok with that? Or maybe he’s not? You can work out a ton of depth in just a 10 minute back-and-forth between people seated at the table. And everyone’s experience is all the richer for it.

          Of course, Suggestion normally doesn’t work on already established elements of the world. And in D&D, everything is usually set in stone ahead of time.

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            Harlander says:

            The secret to happiness in this situation is to work out beforehand what kind of style the game’s going to be, and make sure the GM is running the same style of game the players are playing.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Oh, absolutely. I didn’t mean this to sound like “the right way to play” or anything like that. Just wanted to clarify that Suggestion isn’t a way to play against the GM but a really, really useful collaborative tool. That doesn’t mean a GM not liking it is anything other than personal preference.

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            Harlander says:

            Yeah, I guess the reply was more to Pofruin than you.

            Personally I really preferred the fill-in-the-blanks ‘implied setting’ that was 4E’s Nentir Vale to the detail-heavy, hidebound-feeling stuff like Forgotten Realms, but everyone’s got their own tastes

          • jrodman says:

            Indeed, it’s necessary to work out the general shape of the game ahead of time, or at least for the GM to tell the players the expected tone. And as a player in some games you can have out of character conversations like:

            “You know, if we make that true, my entire planned storyline for the next month is kind of fucked.”
            “Oh, well I don’t care that much about it, we’ll strike it from the record.”

            But if the game tone is “player creativity will be rewarded with death” then I’ll politely decline to play.

        • jrodman says:

          Speaking as someone who IS a DM the vast majority of the time, your table must be very boring.

          • Pofruin says:

            I see huge difference between suggesting something or even doing something instigating in character and deciding something way outside of his characters capabilities and dumping it mid seasion to “deal with”.

            And even that can be ok if we play small through away campaign or single shot. But in longer running campaign every worldbiulding element is or rather can be interonected in later stages of game. Thats why I like more or less defined settings since its common ground known to all to fall back onto and plan their actions and activities.

            Even heavily narativistic systems (atleast those that retain GM’s) limit players capability to affect the setting with variuos plot point mechanics and GM’s validation. If you ARE DM at the table and switch somethings on the fly to boost up drama its also fine. Mostly its enough to stick to it afterwards or to find anothe Drama point to fix any issues you created yourself.

            P.S. I indeed got bit boring at my table lately. Mainly cause I got tired and bored and stoped moving story along and putting effort into world building. And instead opted to react to player created drama while keeping minimal amount of forced story hooks thrusted upen em. Turns out in the long run games become boring when the players get their way since makining decent oposition to THEMSELF is rather chalenging.

          • jrodman says:

            So you made an enormous assumption about what I meant by deal with it, and then responded in a manner that contributed nothing.

            I meant that the DM would have to use that new point in continuing to provide their part of the story. Which I of course love to do as a DM which is why I said I like a game system like that.

            As for your personal game becoming boring when players participated in fact generation, I’m sorry it didn’t go well for you. It’s certainly not a universal experience, and it certainly doesn’t require story-game mechanics. My players participate in generating opposition both directly and indirectly (via their guesses), and it plays out quite well. I wouldn’t call it “player drama” because that’s far too tainted a word, and suggests that player participation in story is attention-seeking, and it often is not.

  8. Underwhelmed says:

    If you like D&D for the story telling aspects, I would really recommend you check out 13th age. 13th age’s team claims some of the major players involved in the design of 3rd, and 4th editions, but the game is geared for faster play, with even greater emphasis on characters and story’s. Combat is constructed in a way that still preserves some of the tactical feel of 3rd and 4th, but battles typically last a half dozen or so rounds as opposed to 3rd-5th’s dozens.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Oh gosh yes. 13th Age is lovely. I say that from a GM’s perspective as I haven’t played it as a, um, player yet, but it’s full of great storytelling ideas and is nice and light, so the rules don’t get in the way. The monsters are excellent too.

      • jrodman says:

        I spent a while reading the 13th age rulebook but it wasn’t really clicking. Do you have a pointer to anything that really grasps the heart of the icon system (is this the right game?) and/or what actual play is like?

        Even if I don’t have anyone to potentially play it (when they take a break from my minimal 1981 D&D stuff, they will want to play something in a totally different genre), figure out additional rpg systems broadens your gaming skillset, I find.

        • thekelvingreen says:

          The icon relationship system is one of the best parts of the game and also one of the most annoyingly poorly explained; I worked out how to use it in the end (I think) but the core book is not great at explaining it.

        • Underwhelmed says:

          The Icons are, as mentioned, both the hardest concept to grasp initially and the best.

          I think of them like this: Imagine a game in a world in which there are already ultra-powerful heroes that have changed the world. Now imagine being part of the next group of heroes that appear after them. Over the course of a typical campaign, the players will rise to a point that they become integral to the balance among those icons and may even rival them in power.

          Really though, their role is up to you and the other players.

          • jrodman says:

            Yeah, but how does that actually work?

            It’s a lot of fun when those “icons” are actually from the last campaign. Everyone knows their quirks and motivations, and it’s kind of scary to have the weird shit you decided to do come back to haunt you from a world power far beyond your control.

            But dreaming them up feels odd. I’m not sure how to make it work at the table.

          • Screwie says:

            There is some great advice on icon use out there. Here are a couple of neat ideas from Mike Shea and
            Grant Howitt.

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      Harlander says:

      I’ve got to join in the praise for 13th Age. When I want my D&Desque fix – and I often do – it’s my go-to game.

      It’s true what’s being said about the icon relationship system, though. Really needs some better examples in the book, for a start.

  9. aircool says:

    Also… are the downloads 5th edition?

    • welverin says:

      The ones ROb linked to up there? Yes, and they give you all of the actual rules. What they lack, and thus why you’d need to buy the books, are options, i.e. there’s a limited number of races, classes, spells, monsters, and magic items.

  10. Voodoo says:

    I think the starter guide is briliant, the fat has been trimmed off the rules, the adventure is great fun, it is very easy to get into the game in minutes.
    I’m less in live with the core books
    – the PHB is quite messy, it is not that easy to find some sections, I would have loved a section with all the important rules (spellcasting, healing, simple combat…), in this regard, the starter book is much easier on newcomers and D&D veterans alike
    – the DMG is not very inspired either, I can understand that people love magic items but I’m no fan of campaignes with lots of magic items, seems to suck the magic out of it. Plus, there are not, in my POW, that many good ideas on how to flesh out your campaigns, not even a “AD&D style” table for about anything (wich I would have found more fun than pages of magic items with very little on how to make them unique.
    – the MM is the worst offender compared to previous editions: I would have loved some more fluff on how to integrate monsters in your campaign, some special traits (not always technical traits) to make them really distinct, like some previous editions did.

    Overall, we all agree that this edition is a huge step back in the right track compared to 4th ed, I think the starter guide is really really great but don’t consider the core rulebook anything special per se apart from the steamlined rules.

    • Digital Osmosis says:

      We all agree? Glad to hear it! I took the actual game design of 4E as an radical improvement in what D&D is and always will be, an overtly complex murderhobo simulator. But now I see I didn’t actually have fun all those times I played. Silly me, how could I have had fun when FIGHTERS had DAILY POWERS? I also used to think 5E was an poor amalgam of bits of better games that fails to capture either the mechanical elegance of 4E’s combat or the narrative focus of literally any other RPG ever published (but especially Dungeon World and FATE.) But yes, I’m glad we’ve all reached a consensus. I shall begin deleting my dissonant opinions immediately so as not to disturb the hive mind. Carry on.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      Eh, I wouldn’t say “we all agree”

      The 3rd edition derivatives are a morass of rules, redundant skills, and feat systems that were a step in the right direction when they were first added, but were never molded into anything that really added to the game outside of the tactical combat. 4th edition put the tactical combat front and center, and while the classes seem a lot more rigid and short on customization compared to 3rd, the truth is that there is actually more flexibility and a greater number of viable builds in 4th. By making every class a essentially spellcaster in 4th, they solved the biggest problem that has plagued every edition of D&D that came before it: magic users had lots of options, and non casters had nothing.

      4ths biggest sin, is that it got a little too distanced from the story elements, and the game system itself didn’t really fit into what is typically considered D&D. The single most frequent issue I have had players voice, is that the game plays more like a boardgame than an RPG. The thing is though that they got the combat mostly right, or at the very least, less bad than the 3rd editions. With 4th, a player could pick any class they wanted, and there was little concern that they would pick a “wrong” class that would leave them ineffectual compared to the power classes. Some builds were better than others, but you never had to sigh and shake your head when some poor bastard wanted to be a monk either.

      I haven’t played 5th enough to have a solid verdict on it, but I will say I like some of the changes that were made compared to the 3rd edition, but they left too much of what made 4th good behind. I’m not even sure I like it as much as Pathfinder which is really the best version of 3rd.

  11. derbefrier says:

    MY group has been really digging 5e. We’ve been running through the module Horde of the dragon Queen(dont know what issues thekelvingreen has with it but we are enjoying ourselves) and have been having a blast with it. A lot of changes we like, some not so much but overall we like it. I think a lot of us like how it seems less focused on min\maxing with things like hard caps for ability points getting rid of a lot of the modifiers and using the advantage mechanic instead etc.. . The classes have a lot of cool stuff (I have been really enjoying the fighter. battle tactician tree has some fun stuff.) cantrips, yes level 0 spells cast at will and not using spell slots YES! The background stuff is pretty cool and encourages roleplaying as does the addition of the inspired mechanic( DM awards it for good roleplaying and it gives you the ability to gain an advantage on a dice roll) Combat seems to move much faster but we are still low level so that could change.

    WE like it and i am sure it will go into the regular rotation of 3.5e and Mutants and Masterminds.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I won’t derail the thread with moaning about Hoard of the Dragon Queen but we found it suffered from the editing issues that plague the rest of the core books (missing maps, characters without profiles, orphaned text), some absurd situations (the cultists’ secret cave seemed like ti was designed by a five year old), and far too many moments where player choice didn’t matter.

      I did derail the thread a little bit. Sorry.

  12. imperialus says:

    Anyone else still play 1st edition? My current campaign has been going on for six years now and shows no signs of slowing down.

  13. J Arcane says:

    I highly recommend a read of this Fail Forward piece on the kinds of people that Wizards has chosen to stick by in consulting on this game: link to

    Hiring reactionary douchebags was one thing, I always took it for a token gesture anyway, but then actively lying about and dismissing the reports of harassment in the community from these two more or less soured me on the company and I’m unlikely to consider another Wizards product until a significant change in management and probably a new edition comes along. I wrote my own D&D anyway, I don’t need theirs anymore, and certainly not if the money and mindshare is going to people who’re willing to defend the pack of psychotics I sadly once would’ve been forced to call colleagues.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I would also recommend the many rebuttals, where it is pointed out that the above article has no basis in any sort of research and evidence.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      RPGpundit has always been infamously and hilariously crazy, and Zak S certainly sounds unpleasant, but from what I can tell, they were only employed as glorified playtesters. That’s not a choice I would have made, but I’m not sure it should taint all of D&D by association.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Here’s the most eloquent of those rebuttals, for anyone interested:
      link to

      • Josh W says:

        That seems a fair assessment; the original article seems like someone was trying to say “don’t hire arseholes”, but decided that dark insinuation would do a better job, and be more acceptable as something important, than just calling them arseholes.

        And the problem with dark insinuation is it’s playing the same game you’re supposed to be against; if you feel someone is a poisonous gatekeeping influence on your community, probably best not to spread any poisonous gatekeeping tactics yourself!

        By all means take anonymous information from people that have been wronged, but present it in as fair a manner as you can, check your sources etc. It’s probably actually quite tricky to simultaneously keep anonymous sources and meticulously defend accusations, but journalists do it all the time. Part of the trick seems to be establishing a pattern that anyone can see is true, while not specifically naming any victims of it. Works for politics anyway. (Not to mention this response article actually does a pretty good job of it).

      • jrodman says:

        Thanks for this. I found this article elsewhere but didn’t want to stir up shit by asking for more information. I admit I was unreasonably persuaded by it because I don’t like the targets.

  14. Dawngreeter says:


    Why is it always D&D? It always happens. Someone usually dealing with some other type of gaming decides to dip into the gaming’s perpetually neglected middle child that is tabletop RPG (which will be forever addressed as pen-and-paper because, lol, olden times amirite?) and it’s always D&D. And the tone is always something along the lines of: “This is some obscure shit that no one knows about, let me tell you about the weird dice that you get to roll and you can be an Elf and your friends will have to address you as Lord Woodgreen Prantsyerbow and you get to use paper and pencil like your great grandparents did!”

    But, ok, I’m jaded. Sigh.

    This wasn’t a bad introductory D&D article. It’s fine. It’s just… I mean…


    Is there anyone who is interested in games that doesn’t know about D&D? There are actual RPGs that are not D&D and that are actually good (unlike D&D, which is actually objectively really bad) and that people actually don’t know about. Y’know? Take the enthusiasm usually reserved for the next Fantasy Flight board game, or any game that uses meeples, and apply it to absolutely any game that you find on the front page of Yes, even Numenera is fine. Even though it is shit.

    You know?

    Never mind. I’ll be angry in the corner over there if anyone needs me.

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      Harlander says:

      It’s always D&D for the same reason that there’s people at my RPG club who only play D&D despite different games being offered every few months.

      I was going to say it’s the gateway drug of RPGs, too, but then, the first RPG I played was Dragon Warriors, so…

    • mechanixis says:

      D&D has high production values, a large community, and a long history. For the 95% of people who don’t want to devote the frankly massive amount of time, energy, and money necessary to develop a palate for pen-and-paper RPG systems, D&D isn’t perfect but it sure as hell ain’t broke. In that regard, everyone on here trying to judge it purely by the balance of its mechanical systems seems just a little bit Rain Man.

      You can rant and rave about how no one shares your nuanced appreciation of fine wine, but most people are just looking to have a few drinks and enjoy themselves. Welcome to the frustrations of an aficionado.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        I’m not raving about lack of fine wine appreciation. I’m saying that there are easier ways to to enjoy alcohole. With less hangover.

        I’m saying that there are RPGs which you can learn and have a productive session in one evening. I’m saying there are games where you can enjoy the whole deal without learning one thousand poorly put together subsystems. I’m saying there are RPGs which are MASSIVELY cheaper than D&D (or even legally free, in case of, say, Eclipse Phase). Some are even all of those combined. Imagine that! Introducing someone to RPGs without telling them they should really take a month to memorize three large tomes! Why, that might border on approachable.

        • Lumberjack_Man says:

          That’s the beauty of 5e – you don’t have to memorise anything really, nigh on everything is resolved by a d20 check against one of your 6 core stats. All those unwieldy lookup tables are gone. The DM’s guide has no rules as such, it’s more a guide on how to craft your own adventures (2/3rds of the book is literally that).
          The free download of the abridged Player’s Handbook covers all you need to get playing and is about 30 pages tops.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            I haven’t read 5e, but I have to say that I really don’t believe you. I believe that it is lighter than many of the previous editions, because, well, it can’t possibly be heavier. But I don’t think the starter rules cover nearly anything and I don’t think you just roll a d20 and check against a stat.

            I want to hit an Orc that’s far away. What’s the range of a longbow? How do I calculate if someone is in rage? What’s the to-hit penalty, according to range? What are the possible damage modifiers based on stats, class and type of arrow? Are there special rules if I’m making a ranged attack against an Orc that’s in close combat with an ally? How many attacks can I make in a round?

          • Asurmen says:

            What sort of argument is that? I’m ignorant and you’re informed but I’m going to disbelieve you anyway?

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Knowing every sub-edition edition from 2nd to 4th, and having seen some early ideas in 5th, I’m fairly comfortable with saying what I said. 4th was the only one that attempted to be really different and 5th is a direct reaction to many fans not wanting D&D to be very different from what it always was.

          • Lumberjack_Man says:

            Well, you know, when you pick a ranged weapon and you fill in the little box on the character sheet you note the range of the weapon. When you attack you make your roll against the target’s AC. You take your DEX bonus (ranged weapon), your proficiency bonus (only if you’re proficient in the weapon of course), add them to your roll. Hell you don’t even have to do that as you already wrote it in the little box on your character sheet. Out of normal range, but within maximum range? Disadvantage. Enemy in close combat with another? Advantage. Simple really. Obviously the DM should be able to tell you the distance to the enemy, or make a skill check to work out distance, with a d20. Not proficient in that skill, disadvantage roll.
            Rate of fire is gone; at low levels a character can only make one action per turn (excluding movement). One shot. At later levels choices can be made by certain classes to get bonus actions, these can be used to attack and thus more shots. One of my L2 players has two shortswords and can make a bonus attack, the first is treated as normal, the second doesn’t get the skill & proficiency bonuses.
            This is all in the starter rulebook, except the bonuses open to classes at higher levels. But if you’ve got that far you probably ain’t averse to paying £25 for a PHB though are you?
            It really does all boil down to your core stats and the bonus that your stat level infers. That and the advantage/disadvantage system.
            Let’s not forget that this is D&D (or even just RPG’ing in general) and the rules are there as a foundation, YOU CAN MAKE UP YOUR OWN.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Well, that does seem a bit lighter than previous editions. That’s nice.

            I’m fairly sure we can agree that it is still by no means simplicity itself but, ok, I’ll take what I can get. It’s a more streamlined combat system than other editions. Which still can’t seem to figure out why it’s a bad idea to have a subsystem for everything, including wielding an offhand short sword, but hey, it’s not D&D if every situation isn’t an exception to the base set of rules.

        • Deano2099 says:

          Do you not see that, for people coming from a video and board gsme background, that all the systems are an advantage? They’re people used to learning rules, but less used to improvising and actually role-playing. So the game that is rules heavy and can actually quite RP-lite? Yes, that’s a far more ideal gateway game than something simpler that requires more imagination.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            You misunderstood. I’m not saying rules-heavy RPGs are inferior. In fact, I tend to like them (but, then, I like a lot of RPGs). My go-to system in which I’m by far the most comfortable is the new World of Darkness, and it is by no means rules-lite. The point isn’t that people should avoid crunchier systems, it’s that there are systems with far, far fewer rules in play which produce equal or better results than D&D. Vast majority of system knowledge you will gain in D&D will be awkward, have very little pay off and will and will be wildly internally inconsistent.

            You want rules in your RPGs? Awesome! New Exalted (third edition) will be out in a month or three and you will be able to fine-tune and optimize the singing, shining apparatus of interlocking mechanical superiority that is your character to your heart’s delight. I know I will.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      I like that nobody that uses the word “objectively” in an opinion apparently has any idea what the word actually means.

    • jrodman says:

      I lean in the same direction but it’s very hard to take you seriously when you toss around “Objectively Bad” regarding a game style as flexible as RPGs where simulation of combat, storytelling, and imagination play varying roles in accordance to the whims of the group.

      • Dawngreeter says:

        The fact that people sitting together at a table and trying to have fun are by nature flexible does not mean a game they are playing is helping with the flexibility. And D&D is forever doomed to be a fairly clunky and unimaginative combat system, with particularly appalling magic sub-systems, that keeps on trying to be simulationist and tragically failing at it. Which is why I believe 4th edition was the best of the bunch (though still not particularly great), as it actually tried to be honest about what it is and present itself as a tactical simulator.

        The game is as objectively bad as you can get. Maybe some would prefer that we stay ambiguous in stating such things, but the game is not very good at the best of what it does and terrible at everything else. There are specific examples of games (a lot of them!) which are better at anything you care to mention about D&D. Objectively bad is an adequate way of describing it.

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          Harlander says:

          The game is as objectively bad as you can get

          DeadEarth. Hybrid. RaHoWa. FATAL.

          Even “D&D’s mechanics are as bad as they can be and have people still play it” is a bit of an overstatement, because, well, DeadEarth.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Well, I didn’t say “objectively the worst RPG ever made”. It’s, unfortunately, very very far from being that. And by that I don’t mean that I’d prefer D&D being the worst game in existence. I mean, OH MY GOD F.A.T.A.L. MY EYES ARE BLEEDING! Not to mention RaHoWa. Also, ten Internet points and a deep, profound sympathy to anyone who knows where Moonstone Bazooka comes from.

            A thing can be bad while still being better than some other things.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Also, now I need to look up DeadEarth. I thought I new all the usual suspects that make up these lists but, nope, DeadEearth is unknown to me.

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            Harlander says:

            DeadEarth’s main mechanics aren’t actually that terrible – what’s bad about it is the mutation system, which is a d1000 table of some of the stupidest stuff you’re likely to see, including a large number of mutations which just flat-out kill you instantly.

            And you roll multiple times on it in character generation, and there’s mutations which make you roll multiple more times

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Just read a touching blog post about a guy who had two characters die at character creation in deadEarth. Holy cows, I need this book. Thank you so much for mentioning it, it was an unforgivable oversight that I was unaware of its horrible awesomeness!

          • jrodman says:

            To be fair, Traveler characters can die during creation but a lot of people like it. Personally I tried to read through the character creation rules recently and had so many questions as to how to interperet the words that I gave up. But maybe I was reading the wrong edition.

          • Premium User Badge

            Harlander says:

            Traveler characters can die during creation but a lot of people like it

            A lot of people like celery, too, and they’re equally wrong :p

            At least in Traveller you’re balancing the higher advancement of risky careers against the chance of injury or death. In deadEarth it’s just pure randomness. It can produce some pretty funny results if you do manage to survive, though

        • jrodman says:

          You can certainly be unambiguous in your castigation of D&D in ways that I will agree with completely without employing the very awkward and poorly-fitting “objectively bad”.

          Hodgepodge, low orthagonality, and unnecessarily complicated without significant payoff are problems, and in a purpose-built tool like a programming language can even be shown to make it poorer to fit purpose (although programmers as a rule will almost never accept that a language they use is actually poorly fit to purpose). But with a game, there is no a-priori fittedness, and hodgepodge and miscellany can provide things that people enjoy precisely because of their clunkiness, even though you can fairly describe such things as flaws.

          Thus your terminology is ill-suited to your task, and “objectively bad” at producing the meaning you wish to construct.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            I disagree. Objectively bed, as opposed to subjectively bad, is exactly what I wanted to say. I in no way wanted to imply that “it’s not my cup of tea” or “I personally don’t enjoy it”. I wanted to be clear in stating that the quality of the game is sub par.

            I realize some people like PHP D&D and are aware of its flaws. The fact we can clearly agree that those are, in fact, flaws makes them objective. Something that possesses a lot of flaws is bad. And, yes, maybe someone will like that. Maybe someone will stroll along and start explaining how D&D’s complete inability to deal with anything that isn’t killing a monster in a rectangular room is actually a good thing because “true roleplaying is when you don’t roll dice or use mechanics” or some other blissfully misguided sentiment. and that’s awesome for them. But you don’t say, yeah, that guy’s right. You say everyone’s allowed to like whatever they want, but what he’s doing is campfire storytelling in between awkwardly abstracted tabletop wargaming sessions. And that’s what makes it bad. Objectively.

          • jrodman says:

            Has identifiable flaws != objective.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            Which would make the flaws subjective?

  15. Pofruin says:

    Kinda wierd question, but since it seems most of comments are from well informed people in all of the RPG fields. The question I want to ask: what are PnP with best character development systems. While DnD is not perfect I don’t know better ones for that purpose. Here I make distinction between character creation that is rather well made in alot of other systems. In most lightwiegt systems development seems like afterthought tacked on the system in case someone decides to play more than a single shot. In narativisic systems its more of question who you “want to be” not “what can you do” if you make enough effort into your game.

    I like biulding characters, and even more that that I like biulding a plan and developing into it making small corrections along the way. What are systems that can scartch that itch?

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Almost any RPG which isn’t level-based.

      New World of Darkness is my ‘default’ system, and it works quite well. The One Ring RPG is pretty awesome too with only some minor kinks, if you prefer classic fantasy. I’ve never actually played it but on paper, Burning Wheel looks pretty great.

    • jrodman says:

      You really have to spell out what you mean by best character development systems.

      The real question behind *that* is “what sort of game do you want to play?”

      In some games, building your character is simply what accretes over the play. What did you learn about your own character, and what did you write down and how did it relate to the other players.

      In other games, you acquire POWERS and grow in STRENGTH of some kind. Perhaps this occurs in some linear fashion, or perhaps it occurs by combining options from the game system (whether feats, multiclassing, or collecting skills). In some games you *make them up*. For example in Scarlet Heroes you have a little list of “traits” which are freeform text bits with a number. They might be “Necromancy: 1” to indicate that you’re a mage who works with death magic at some entry level of skill, or they might be “Swamp Herbalism: 3” which suggests that you’ve got a high level of expertise in the various plants that can be found there. Maybe that’s your job and you’re among the best at it.

      So you really should think: do you want to play a game about become powerful through mechanics? Or becoming powerful through the story progression? Or perhaps becoming powerful is not the sort of trajectory you want, and becoming a richer more detailed persona is the progression?

  16. gorzan says:

    During the last two years I thought a lot about starting a game of D&D. I’ve bought both the player’s handbook and the DM’s guide for fourth edition, but am yet to play a single session. This made me think it might be worth waiting till I could get the fifth edition books, even though it would hurt knowing I bought the other ones for nothing, since they seem so much better for new players. That was, of course, until I searched for info on when they might get translated, learning how wizards won’t license any non-english edition of the game. Both me and my girlfriend would be good with an english version of the books, but the people we’d be playing with only speak spanish. So this situation feels like a massive fuck you from wizards. At least now I won’t feel like I’ve wasted my money on the 4th edition books.

    • jrodman says:

      The spanish-speaking rpg market is not as large, but the refusal to license is a total dick move. We still haven’t got an OGL-equivalent for 5e. it feels like hasbro/wotc is just trying to keep too much control over their baby and stifling it.

      Perhaps take a peek at link to ? That’s the products on drive thru rpg which are rulebooks and are in Spanish.

      Poking through the list, the ones I recognize are Apocalypse world, Dragon Age, El Rastro De Cthulhu, FATE,
      Anima, Traveller, Vampiro La Mascarada, Werewolf. None of them is quite D&D, but perhaps one of the options will work well enough?

      Pathfinder as you probably know has a (dated?) online PRD in spanish link to

      And of course there is link to

      And if you knew all of this already, sorry for my wrong guesses.

      • gorzan says:

        I knew about Devir and Pathfinder, and some of the systems in drive thru rpg too, but not all of them and some look interesting. The thing is I would only be really interested on them after having played some d&d. Every person on that potential group has really enjoyed some d&d based pc game, so there’s a certain familiarity with the setting wich would get everyone excited, that’s why I feel it would be a good start.
        Thanks for the info anyway, might be useful eventually!

  17. TWChristine says:

    I just wanted to inform everyone that there’s a PnP subforum on the RPS boards if anyone is interested! We also have two games currently running..a Dungeon World one and D&D 5th Ed, with another Dungeon World potentially starting up.

    I also created a Steam group for anyone interested in that as well (admittedly, nothing much happens on there, but I figured it’d be a way for like minded people to see who might be interested in starting a game).

    • jrodman says:

      How do I locate the right people? Are you playing-by-forumpost or roll20.netting it or?

  18. Lumberjack_Man says:

    As a 20 year veteran of D&D I have to say I’m absolutely loving 5e.
    I’m DM’ing the starter set quest for a group of 6 in which 4 are complete RPG newbies and bar taking ages to roll up their characters so that they have a real feel for their personalities (I wanted to ROLEplay not ROLLplay) the games have been really fluid and pacey.
    I’m also a PC in a 5e version of James Maliszewski’s Dwimmermount campaign (of GROGNARDIA), with some very experienced people, ironically this is slower game; but then again it’s projected to take us 3 years of play.
    It’s beautifully streamlined; to the point that I realised just how many house rules I’ve been playing with over the years that I’d forgotten were not part of the core rules.

  19. Hunchback says:

    I wish i had friends in my new country, to play D&D with. I really miss my late-teen years when i’d spend whole weekends playing D&D with the old gang back at home. *sigh*

  20. Josh W says:

    To people who’ve played it, I heard an objective with this edition was to make it faster, making it easier to fit a game session into a small amount of time. Did it work? Is the game noticeably more fluid than before?

    • jrodman says:

      It is more fluid. A small skirmish combat can be resolved in 5 minutes.
      I wouldn’t call it terribly streamlined as compared to the rest of the RPGs i’ve played over the years. It still has a close-up focus and a lot of rules and rolls.

      • Josh W says:

        5 Minutes, that’s not bad, my template is whether you can finish a dramatic combat in the time it takes for a piece of dramatic combat music to finish, which is maybe about 3 – 9 minutes. This is because there’s always someone who thinks they have the perfect music for this combat on their phone, and it’s nice for them to actually turn out to be right.

        • jrodman says:

          Probably not. I can’t do that in Basic from 1981 with a sizable party.
          Probably not in Dungeon World either.

          • Josh W says:

            I think in dungeon world you just about can; when you get close to the end of a song, people tend to speed up, so it isn’t too unreasonable. I think we’ve done it in a few other more crunchy games, particularly when executing a pre-prepared plan.

            I suppose it’s as much about “can you end a fight quickly in the right situations” as about the average length of a fight.

  21. Erithtotl says:

    While a lot of the ‘indie’ RPG scene has a lot of value, its very hard to get groups of players to play them. Most people I know who are gamers have to be a decent amount of work in to find a group, and once they do, they are at the mercy of what that group is interested in playing. Beyond Pathfinder and D&D, it’s hard to find groups even for relatively popular systems like Shadowrun and Star Wars.

    I’ve tried to introduce my Pathfinder group into say, Eclipse Phase, but its been a struggle. With D&D players have a shared common fantasy background that they can all pull from (via Tolkein and similar) and the rules are easy to find at bookstores and Amazon, and groups are common.

    So for those trumpeting various indie games, great, I’m glad you enjoy them, but it’s highly unlikely you are going to get random gamers to dive into those.

    I’m curious about 5th edition. I didn’t go for 4th because I felt its ‘balance above all’ mantra stripped the game of a lot of flavor and personality. But while I love the Pathfinder flavor for the most part and am comfortable with the 3.5+ based rules, I never look forward to spending a 30-45 minutes building out an NPC that might be in the game for one encounter.

    I’m more likely to try and sell my group on Star Wars next time around rather than go for 5th edition next campaign though.

    • mechanixis says:

      Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Soliciting a group of people to play D&D is hard enough without needed to first sell them on a tone, setting, and system they aren’t already familiar with.

      I’m sure that all these other systems people are rolling out are very well-designed, but when you need to find five or more people all on the same page just to play the game, far and away D&D has them all beat in practicality.

      • Screwie says:

        I wouldn’t agree, as in most cases an RPG demands only what setting details and tone you choose to put into it. Most can run on vague details and things of note that can be filled in as needed.

        There are of course exceptions to this but fantasy RPGs in particular are most accommodating of this attitude, because like D&D they all derive from and thrive on the same Tolkienesque tropes. Many of them are derived from or a reaction to one D&D edition or another.

        • jrodman says:

          You have to put in more work though, to build out belief in an unfamiliar world. You get a lot more out of it of course.

          • Screwie says:

            But you still have to do that in D&D too?

          • jrodman says:

            My comment wasn’t really about D&D or not-D&D. I was saying that relying on “generic fantasy” or “generic modern world” or similar as your setting allows you to skip the work of world-building, while actually doing anything a bit different requires more work for everyone to build out the world. I think a lot of D&D players just use the genericland.

            I did in my current campaign because I wanted to get started right away, and because i thought it might be a 1 shot. I regret it a bit because I tried to tell the players “these are the things I am putting on the map. Tell me about anything and everything that isn’t on the map already.” But they basically just mostly stuck with the things on the map. Probably I should have taken out a hex map and said “you are in this town, tell me how you got there”, drawing nothing else.

            We are playing roughly generic extruded fantasy product; I’m leaning on a prefab setting. As time goes by though, we are derailing it a bit. One of my players has decided she was raised by lizardfolk, explaining her choice of a lizardlike god. The players decided that my generic doogooders society who has sent them on a few quests to find evil artifacts for safeguarding are actually collecting them for a nefarious purpose, so I had to make that come true of course via some means. One player has nearly pathalogical hatred for a certain evil humanoid race. I was already going to have them find a land where the rules regarding same work rather differently, but now I just *have* to make a group of people who are the product of interbreeding. And so on.

            So even with a boring base, you can start personalizing, if you want. But that too takes encouragement and effort.

            I’m just saying some people don’t seem all that interested in that side of the hobby. And I don’t really fault them, I’d just rather play at a table that is interested in that stuff.

          • Screwie says:

            Ahh, I misunderstood. Fair enough!

      • gwathdring says:

        I know a lot of people who are turned off by DnD’s school of fantasy. DnD is by no means the only (or the easiest to learn) game that uses that particular kind of generic fantasy.

        Getting people into Dungeon World or Torchbearer is not thematically more of a stretch than DnD. And Pathfinder is the same damn thing as DnD for most purposes–unless they dislike it’s highly specific changes the the rules having played both games, you can’t possibly argue that Pathfinder is less accessible than DnD. Barnes and Nobles often sells just as much Pathfinder as they do DnD and have done so for years. Both in terms of recognition and in terms of touching the generic-fantasy nerve, DnD is not the clear winner you imply.

        The only thing it has is brand recognition.

    • gwathdring says:

      You seem to be starting from the assumption that DnD isn’t a tough sell itself. I find there are lots of people I could NEVER get to play DnD that I can get to play other games.

      The idea that Tolkien-esque fantasy is somehow more approachable than Fiasco’s coen-brothers-film-starring-you shtick is crazy to me. That’s such a ridiculously narrow default you’ve got there …

      There are also a lot of people who aren’t “gamers” precisely because the deafults in gaming don’t appeal to them. Using settings and tones and ideas that are unusual in the world of gaming open the door to playing with people who aren’t gamers, but would be if gaming had any desire to invite them in.

      From a SU&SD piece on Different Play

      “One of the really vital things that Apocalypse World did, something which shook up the way indie designers were writing at the time, was to build mechanics around the principle of ‘fiction first,'” is how Avery [Mcdaldno] puts it. “Its mechanics triggered on specific actions. They demanded and responded to what was going on in the fiction. I think it challenged a design approach that had become canonized and calcified at the time, of writing “conflict resolution” mechanics that treated all opposition as similar, that asked you to apply some traits to a die roll and then find out whether you earned your narrative stakes. Apocalypse World pointed out how toothless, distant, and inert that approach was. It was important because it challenged designers to think really concretely about how their mechanics engaged context, detail, and fictional positioning.”

      You can drape the design tenets of Apocalypse World or any other non-DnD school of design over the fictional trappings of DnD. I can’t imagine DnD is utterly perfect for everyone who plays it. If there’s anything you don’t like about DnD, there’s probably a game system out there that changes that up while keeping most of the things you DO like. If the reason you like DnD is purely social or cultural comfort rather than fictional or mechanical or experiential comfort? Well …I guess that sort of brand-based thinking is rather foreign to me. I can’t imagine it being very fun to play DnD with the sorts of people who only like it because it’s cool (/uncool/nerdy/popular/famous) rather than because of anything about actually playing it.

      Saying you don’t like indie RPGs is like saying you don’t like indie movies or indie music … when you hear a song on the radio, you can’t tell if there’s a publisher backing it! You can’t tell if it’s signed to a label! Same with games. Indie games are just … games. And just by the very nature of large financial systems, the most financially successful stuff is going to be safer and more homogenous than everything else. So if you don’t like indie games or indie rpgs or indie-whatever … well, there’s nothing wrong with you I suppose. It’s just that in my experience very few people have taste that’s perfectly stereotypical of the time in which they live. It happens and there’s nothing WRONG with it. But I’m sure there are plenty of your gamer friends who would enjoy something else, too, if they actually enjoy DnD for the experience of playing it rather than for it BEING DnD.

  22. The Unnamed Council says:

    While of course this story is about playing D&D 5E in front of an audience (which is rare ;-)), in terms of RPG experiences I love Savage Worlds. It actually IS fast, furious, fun and offers a huge amount of settings to go with. As a dad of three vicious spawn it’s hard to “get the band together”, so I more or less recently have turned to the Fantasy Grounds VTT. It has an excellent Savage Worlds plug-in that makes all the character generation and NPC handling actually much easier than at the desktop.

    There is even a virtual Con for it – call FG Con VI (Apr 17-19), and it’s free for all players.

    Oh – and you can play D&D with Fantasy Grounds, too ;-).