Dungeons & Dragons 5e

I got the Player’s Handbook (PHB) for the new Dungeons & Dragons for Christmas. I bought also the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and the Monster Manual (MM). I read them all during the Christmas vacation, and had some thoughts. The last products in the TSR D&D line I have bought have been Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition. Its PHB was published in 1989, so there’s 25 years of game development between the versions. I have read D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, and some Fourth Edition D&D material, but I have never played them, so here I’ll also compare the 2E and 5E.

The first impression from the 5E game is good. The production values are obviously good, with color pages, and the layout is at least good in that it doesn’t distract or annoy. The concepts of the game are explained in the PHB, as is usual. The PHB also has all the player stuff – how to create characters, how the game system works and for the D&D paradigm, a long list of spells.

The DMG has a lot of good gamemastering advice, especially for beginning Dungeon Masters. I think this game has potential to be the first roleplaying game for many people – Wizards of the Coast and more imporantly Dungeons & Dragons are still known names even outside the roleplaying community, so I think the advice is good. The DMG also has advice on how to modify the game rules and assumptions to have a different game from the PHB default. This is a good thing in my opinion, and I think the most fun can be had by trying out different things, and not just play “vanilla” D&D.

The Monster Manual has most of the staple monsters, and some surprises, at least to my 2E sensibilities. Darkmantle and Grimlock are not that common in the older AD&D material, and the inclusion of many planar monsters, for example the Gith (the Githzerai and the Githyanki) and the Slaadi, indicate a more  higher power game than for example the basic AD&D 2E, where the planar monsters were in a separate appendix. There are a lot of useful monsters, and each of them has also multiple story hooks written. I think of monster books as a starting point, and this is a good one for that, but if the DM doesn’t have the time to fiddle with the monsters, the monsters are perfectly usable directly from the book.

I haven’t yet played the game, but it looks like a solid product. Compared to the 2E, it’s a more high-power game with more dedication to the characters. The process to generate the characters is more involved and more geared for generating just the character the player wants to play. This is of course in contrast to the original D&D idea of rolling something up and seeing where it goes. The power level is seen in more special powers, which also work out to lessen the “linear fighter, quadratic mage” problem in the 2E and earlier games. The spellcasters still seem to be a powerful force, especially the cleric, the mage and the sorcerer, but now there are things for the fighter to do other than hit things with other things.

The one change I probably would change in my own games is the healing rate: every character heals to full hit points after a “Long Rest”, which is basically a night’s sleep with no interruptions of more than one hour. I think the newer D&D games (3.X E, 4E, Pathfinder) all have some mechanics like this to make healing faster, and the old D&D way of healing one or two hit points per day was too slow. I am not sure how I would change this, but making long rests hard to perfom in wilderness or dungeons might work.

The spells have also changed. The durations of many spells is Concentration, and one spellcaster can’t have more than one Concentration spell active at the same time. This limits the available boost spells quite a bit. The old “fire and forget” spell system where all casters have to prepare all their spells (like “2 magic missiles, one grease, three fireballs”) every morning has been changed: now the main spellcasters prepare a spell list and can cast spells from that list as many times in any combinations as long as they have available spell slots. This makes for a more streamlined optimization and prevents “we really could have used that one spell but I used it earlier today” problem present in the old games.

The power level in general seems to be set for fast advancement and heroic adventures. This is probably a good thing, because there is much fun in playing fantastic super heroes. I still played in one very good AD&D campaign where after a couple of real-time years of playing, some characters got to the second level. There is of course the possibility to play intrigue adventures, and the background you choose for the player feel modern in the way that the characters should even by the book be something else than just a collection of numbers.

One thing I thought I would find in the DMG but I couldn’t was estate management rules. In the AD&D 2E game most characters were assumed to build a castle or a stronghold at some point in their careers and become more involved in running things, and all this was missing. The Mentzer box editions of D&D had even rules and prices for building castles and this was fun for us when we played it, years ago. Now the characters probably should be “adventurers” for their whole lives, that is, to take on bigger threats and go where normal people don’t.

I have also bought a couple of games modeled after the original (rather, the boxed Mentzer editions) D&D, There is a larger movement behind these, the so-called Old School Revolution (OSR), and more games than I have had the time to read. I have two of them, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dungeon Crawl Classics. They are in a way a divergent line from the Mentzer D&D – they are the modern reimagination of that game, as much as or even more as the D&D 5E.

The philosophy between who adventures and why seems to be different in the OSR games and 5E. In 5E the adventures are superheroes, capable of feats impossible for the common people. They know it and they are admired for them. They adventure because they can and it’s expected of them. In contrast in OSR games the characters have powers, but they might be ostracized for them, and mostly they adventure because they have to. Also the attachment to first-level characters is very different – a D&D 5E character is the product of a clear vision and has had a lot of choices made, whereas an LotFP character can be generated in five minutes. This of course means that the lethality is (probably) different: it’s not that big a thing to lose a LotFP character, because not that much has been generated for it before the game, but on the other hand losing even a first level D&D 5E character means more time and effort making a new one..

Both these types of games can be fun, and I have enjoyed them both. It’s still fun to see the two different game types. I also think that the D&D 5E could not be, or at least could not be what it now is, without the Old School Revolution. The Pathfinder RPG is also partly responsible for the D&D 5E – after the not very well received Fourth Edition, Wizards of the Coast might have just said that the market is not there. The OSR and Pathfinder both showed that there is a market for this kind of thing, and I think the D&D 5E team took good things from both OSR and Pathfinder for their new game.

All in all, a solid product. It does its basic game well, and the rules seem simple enough to modify if needed to accommodate different stuff. There are of course power differences between the classes and races, but I think they are more of a matter for any particular group – if the people want to minmax and optimize their characters, the possibility is there, but it’s also possible to just pick whatever seems fun and play that.

Discworld, read

In February I got the idea of reading all the published Discworld novels, in order. I had read most of them over the years, but in a haphazard way, reading mostly just the one that happened to be on either the bookshop or library shelf at the time. I knew, both from reading the books and using the Internet, that the books were very different: the Discworld has grown and developed with each book. I wanted to see the development, and I thought the best way was to read the books in the order they have been written.

I decided not to buy any of the books – I have owned some, but I’ve given all of them away. Mostly this is because I’m a collector, and it annoys me if I own a part of a series, even when the series is not even meant to be read in order. I considered buying ebooks, but I still don’t have a good reader, and I couldn’t find any package deals for the Discworld books. Therefore I used the local library and the absolutely brilliant Helmet search engine to get the books. It used to cost 50 euro cents to order a book to the local library, but halfway through the project, Espoo decided to make away with the price. I usually reserved the next one or two books in the Helmet system when I was halfway through the one I was reading, to keep me well-stocked in books.

I made the first loan 18th of February 2013. It was the combined edition of The colour of magic and The light fantastic. I finished today, 15th of August 2013, so it took me almost six months to read all the books. I read all the novels, both “adult” and “young adult” ones, but not the picture books, science books or other assorted items. You can go look on Wikipedia for the list of the books I read: I read the books listed in the ‘Novels’ section. It took me a bit over 26 weeks to read the books, and as there are 39 books, I read almost exactly one and a half books each week, on average. This was a bit faster than I thought I’d read them, especially as I read other books during the time and there were some weeks when I couldn’t read novels properly, because I had other more pressing things to do.

What struck me the most was the development of the writing. The first books are quite entertaining, but not that very well written in my opinion, and I did notice a marked improvement in the style. Of course the plots do develop as does the world. The overall story picks up pace quite early in the books in my opinion, somewhere around Guards! Guards! when the Watch starts to appear. Of course there is much development in the later books, and the books from about The Fifth Elephant onwards have a pretty strong theme of the developing Discworld.

I hadn’t read the last Tiffany Aching book, I shall wear midnight, before this, nor The last hero. They both were good books, although the Aching story got a bit darker than the previous ones. The last hero seemed like an experiment and a bit like a probe for the YA books, though the first of them was published the in the same year.

I did like the later books more than the earlier ones. The more developed world and especially the small continuity things got of course more pronounced in the later books. This was the first time I saw many of the references to earlier books: when I read the books one or two a year, I forget the names and other details, and they get harder to follow.

I liked this project, but I don’t think I’ll re-read the books, at least not for a few years. The next novel is scheduled to be published this year, so I can read that while still remembering much of the earlier ones. Now I’m also somewhat happy I don’t have to read anymore Discworld in some months, but I got quite a lot of ideas for an RPG campaign in Discworld.