jar of dice

5 and 5 for D&D 5e

The newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons may not have that new game scent anymore, but over a year of regular play has done a lot to display its virtues and vices to me. Before we get to the five things I like most and least about the game, I’ll provide a bit of background.

I was all set to ignore 5e (still being called D&D Next at the time), and paid no attention to the public playtest. My fantasy RPG itch was being scratched by Pathfinder, after all, and really, could any game dethrone Second Edition AD&D as my favourite fantasy RPG of all time? But 5e was released, and it got a lot of positive attention… and my mother, the person that got me the Mentzer Basic Set for my eighth birthday and set off a lifetime love of RPGs, gifted me with the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual… so I gave it a shot. And I’m glad I did.

That out of the way, let’s get to five things I really like about 5e:

  1. Advantage/Disadvantage. More than anything, I love advantage and disadvantage, and their lack of absolute codification. Replacing the horde of small bonuses, and especially bonus types, used in D&D 3rd edition (and its derivatives) and 4th edition with this simple rule was genius.
  2. Spellcasting. Spells that scale based on the level of spell slot being used is a thing that should have been done several editions ago. Thankfully it’s a thing now. Further, rituals are back from 4th edition. This is a good thing.
  3. Concentration. More to the point, that many buffing spells require concentration, meaning that a caster can only have one in effect at a time. Gone are the suites of buffs players cast before every encounter. Good riddance.
  4. Return of the horde. The so-called “bounded accuracy” that 5e is based around means that low challenge threats are still threats far into a character’s adventuring career. My players, with 6th level characters, are still struggling against the mobs of low challenge mooks that amass around the big bad guys and gals. That’s right, mobs. I can use tons of enemies because of…
  5. Quick combat. Combat is resolved relatively quickly in 5e. Much more quickly than in 3rd or 4th edition, certainly. I like this, it means I can run two or even three combats in a three to four hour session but still have time for exploration and role-play. Wins all around.Paizo goblin

Lots to like, right? All is not sunshine and unicorns however, as the next five points will detail. Without further ado, five things I dislike about 5th edition…

  1. Tieflings, and drow, and dragonborn… Oh my! Call me stodgy, but I don’t think these three races… well, two races and a subrace… should be part of the core game. Of course, if my players would let me, I would disallow every non-human race in my games…
  2. Short adventures. Where are they? The campaign length hardbacks are nice, for the most part, but 5e suffers from a dearth of short adventures. Sure, I can and do convert adventures from previous editions, but come on, The Lost Mine of Phandelver from the Basic Game is a fantastic, sandboxy short adventure… I’d like to see more in that vein.
  3. Dying. By the gods it’s difficult to kill a character in 5e. But the characters get dropped to death saves, often multiple times in an encounter as their companions bring them back to consciousness. It’s silly.
  4. Encounter design. One of the best aspects of 4th edition was the ease with which a DM could put together an encounter. With 5e’s lighter engine, I was expecting that it would be even easier to design exciting encounters. My expectations were in vain; 5e is more difficult to generate encounters for than both 3rd and 4th editions. This is exacerbated by…
  5. Creature creation. Unlike the previous two editions, 5e doesn’t do a very able job of explaining how to create monsters, and more importantly in my opinion, npcs. There’s a table of benchmarks creatures should meet… but special features are not addressed in any meaningful way. Please, design team, give us something better.

So there they are: five and five. Have you been playing D&D 5e? Why or why not? What are your likes and dislikes?

More Dinosaurs Please

What kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? There is something about them that just seems magical, special.  Maybe it’s because while there is evidence they existed, it isn’t like any one of us is ever going to get to see a real live one.

Which could be one of the reasons they show up in Pathfinder (and other RPGs).  If you live in a world with dragons, ogres, and gelatinous cubes, it stands to reason dinosaurs are just as likely to be walking around.

If you loved them as a kid (or adult), and I mean really loved them, you probably know exactly how many claws a T-Rex has, what the difference between a brachiosaurus and an apatosaurus is, and why a pterodactyl is super awesome, but isn’t a dinosaur.  If you just think dinosaurs rock, and want to call the long-necked ones a brontosaurs, that’s cool too (I did until I had Rugrat #1 – he will take any chance he can to correct me and my dinosaurs knowledge).

In either event, maybe you want to see a little more dinosaur action in your game.  Heck, maybe you want a whole dinosaur world!

Forget the dragons!
Ditch those gelatinous cubes!
And ogre – take your stinky self somewhere else.

It’s time for a foray into the prehistoric world!

There are lots of cool ways to do this: the party ends up on an island (think Jurassic Park); the party steps through a portal into a prehistoric world; the whole campaign is set in a world where dinosaurs are more common.  Whatever set-up you chose, what you need is more dinosaurs.

I have combed through the Bestiaries.  There’s a bunch of dinosaurs, and a bunch of other prehistoric beasts, but there’s definitely room for more if you want a whole campaign set with these radical reptiles.

Or there was.

Flaming Crab Games put out a fun Letter back in September.

Letters from the Flaming Crab: Dinosaur Companions details 25 new prehistoric creatures (mostly dinosaurs), and includes a bunch of them as animal companions, mounts, and/or familiars.  But more than just a bunch of stat blocks, this product also includes encounters. What do you players do when they find an injured dinosaur? Or when they have to pass through a nesting ground?

Yes, I worked on this project. Rugrat #1 is obsessed with dinosaurs and I could not pass up the opportunity.  He’s on the verge of gaming, and we are trying to draw him. A way to add something he loves to something I think he’ll love was a no-brainer. I actually had him brainstorm some of the dinosaurs he’d like to see, and we talked about what sorts of things the dinosaurs might be doing.  It was awesome to see him use his imagination.
Never fear though, at the end of the day, Letters from the Flaming Crab: Dinosaur Companions was written by a great team of writers (who aren’t 6 – that I know of), and overseen by J Gray, a talented developer.

If you love dinosaurs, or you have someone in your life who does, this is a great PDF to pick up.

Grab it today and make your game a little more prehistoric.

And because I don’t want you to think this is just a plug for an awesome product, here’s an encounter (not found in the book). The troodon can be found on the SRD, while the maiasaura is in Letters from the Flaming Crab: Dinosaur Companions.

Encounter: Egg Thief

The PCs emerge from a dense jungle and find themselves at the edge of a large clearing filled with nests of maiasaura eggs. A dozen huge reptiles are spaced throughout the breeding grounds, paying close attention to their unborn children, and don’t seem to have noticed the PCs.  On the outskirts of the breeding grounds, fifty feet away from the PCs, a troodon can be seen eyeing an unattended nest.

Two rounds after the PCs arrival, a second troodon is seen across the clearing; it makes a move toward a nearby nest, and several maiasaura immediately take notice.  With a lot of noise, the soon-to-be-mothers charge toward the invading egg thief.  The nearby troodon makes its move, scurrying toward the closest nest. 

If the PCs don’t retreat, the maiasaura quickly notice the troodon near them fleeing with an egg, and attack all apparent invaders.

It’s “The End of the World (RPG)” as we know it….

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse by Fantasy Flight Games – $19.95 .pdf

Thanks to comic book/tv juggernaut The Walking Dead, zombies have been hot for the last few years. Someone more academically inclined than myself could doubtless express why these perennial favourites have captured the zeitgeist, but, in my opinion, I simply think people enjoy stories about people whose lives are relentlessly crappier than their own. That said, I recently had a chance to read The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse by Fantasy Flight Games; in technical terms, this is a 144 page full-colour hardcover book or .pdf.

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