July 9, 2019

The tabletop: First impressions of D&D Fifth Edition

 Truxx the Dwarven barbarian furiously swung his great axe, easily destroying the first dungeon door.
Once through, he cried, “Here’s Johnny,” and proceeded to obliterate the first Black Guard soldier in his path with a single, mighty blow.
Four more Black Guard and a large war dog turned to face the bare-chested dwarf as a cohort of Truxx’s fellow adventurers swarmed to his side and the battle began in earnest.

Dice scattered across the table as players flipped through the pages of their Dungeons & Dragons handbooks — it was an old scene, an oft-repeated story and for many, a trope of the classic tabletop gamer .
And, rightly so. Few games have encapsulated the gaming experience as effectively as D&D, and in my opinion (as long as we don’t mention Fourth Edition) none have done it better.
The books, however, were brand new — well, to me at least.
Wizards of the Coast released D&D Fifth Edition in late 2014, and while I was looking at returning to pen-and-paper gaming at the time, I chose to invest in 3.5/Pathfinder, rather than get duped into another Fourth Edition debacle.
As more and more people raved about the new rules, I dug my heels in and bought more 3.5/Pathfinder books.

Fast forward five years. My nephew and I are sitting at a table with four other players and a Dungeon Master, who are all rather new to Fifth Edition. In more ways than one, we were setting off on an adventure together.

Starting with character creation, there were several subtle changes between my old and trusty 3.5/Pathfinder and the new setup. Long gone was the list of 532 skills and saving-throw formula boxes. Instead, there were several new sections: personality traits, flaws, features and a simple, small equipment box.
Right out the gate, I could see Wizards decided to return to D&D’s roots of narrative adventure, rather than the min/maxing madness I’d become so accustomed to.
Creating my character still required about an hour and a half, but rather than picking weapon stats and shopping for basic adventuring items, that time was spent getting to know my story.
Why was I an adventurer? Who was my family? What was my destiny? How did I fall into this trade? And, what about me was flawed?
For many, these questions have been asked by DMs at the beginning of every game — at least to some extent.
But now, it was built right into the character, and rather than a simple backstory, I had something tangible to guide my character’s decisions.
Tieflings and Dragonborn were now basic character options, which was interesting, but I stuck with my staple Dwarf and opted for the barbarian class — inspired by the resurgence of Gortrek in another of my passions: Warhammer.
Once at the table, the game flowed naturally despite our group’s collective lack of experience in Fifth Edition.
The older members of our group said it reminded them of Second Edition, and I admit it had a nostalgic familiarity to it. But, decades have passed since I cracked a second edition book, so I couldn’t say as to why.
With class features in place of feats, everything I needed to play a melee-heavy character was contained in about four consecutive pages. Although, I did notice magic casters still needed to flip back and forth through the handbook.
The rule structure is built within the same framework as 3.5/Pathfinder, but Wizards simplified and streamlined many actions.

In short, it played out less like thumbing through a rule book while occasionally roleplaying, and more as if the rule book existed simply to enhance roleplaying.
I’d nearly forgotten what that feels like.
Whether you’re new to the tabletop, an old fanboy or simply looking for a different game night experience, I can confidently say there has not been a better time to give D&D a shot in the last two decades.
Ask around for a group at your Friendly Local Game Shop, or drop by your library and pick up the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
You can’t really play D&D wrong, so don’t be afraid to dive into it with some friends. Bonus points if you do so in your parent’s basement.

 The war dog’s burnt carcass lay atop Truxx’ prone body.
“Could ye torch the mutt without burning me to a crisp next time?” the surly dwarf grunted at his warlock companion, patting down the flames rippling through his chest hair.
Wurdox, a stuttering half-orc cleric, stepped between the dwarf and the remaining Black Guard soldiers.
“Fuh-fuh-fuh, frag’s sake,” the cleric spewed. “Stay down, dwa-dwa-dwa, dwarf.”
Truxx grunted, slithering from underneath the dead dog and rising to his feet through gritted teeth. At least three ribs were broken, and a dozen different lacerations striped his torso.
Undeterred, he grabbed the limp beast’s legs and made to hurl the carcass at its owners, but slipped in a pool of his own blood and landed flat on his back instead.
“Welp, I think it’s best if I just stay here for now,” Truxx muttered under his breath.

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