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5 Reasons to Play DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 5th Edition

You enter a dark, dreary article buried deep below the surface of Nerdist.com. With only a torch to light your way, you stumble blindly down the corridor, keeping your hand pressed flush to the wall for guidance. Tripping over a pebble in your path, you accidentally put your full weight on the rough-hewn granite of the walls and suddenly, you feel your handhold depressing into the wall. Before a poisoned quarrel can bury itself in your exposed flank, a friendly, pale-skinned author snatches it from the air.

“Greetings, traveler!” he says. “It seems you are out of your depth. This here is where we talk about Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and why you should definitely, absolutely, positively be playing it.”

Your eyebrow instinctively raises, but you decide to listen to what this weird little hobgoblin has to say.

…Okay enough of that. That was fun though, wasn’t it? Remember how fun Dungeons & Dragons used to be? Remember when you and your group took one look at 4th Edition and you were like, “Sup, Pathfinder?” I do too, and with the release of today’s D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook (complete with a droolworthy Tyler Jacobson illustration of King Snurre, the titular king in 1978’s The Hall of the Fire Giant King) and Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, I’m happy to say it’s time to come home to D&D.

5. It’s accessible to newcomers

While 4th edition tried to simplify the arcane, often obtuse labyrinth of rules that was 3rd Edition and 3.5, it missed the mark and wound up dumbing down the core gaming experience in a way that alienated many longtime players. As a result, Wizards of the Coast saw something of an exodus as people moved away from D&D and sought similar games like Pathfinder to scratch that classic pen-and-paper itch. Yet what about those who had never played before? Why should they pick up 5th Edition? Well, for starters, it is largely designed with them in mind.

While many of you are likely scoffing and saying to yourself, “Pfft, D&D isn’t that hard,” let me remind you of what a wise man named The Dude once said: “You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.” Do YOU know how to grapple in 3.5? The answer is no, no you don’t. No one does. If you said, “Yes,” give yourself forty lashes with a wet noodle for lying to the class. For example, skill checks. Hello darkness, my old friend. A returning mechanic in 5th Edition, skill checks have thankfully been greatly streamlined to allow for greater ease of play. Gone are the ranks which you would invest in potential skills like Diplomacy or Perception. Instead, they are not intrinsically tied to one of the six core ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. While ranks weren’t necessarily all that difficult to use, they also didn’t need to exist, a fact which 5th Edition acknowledged and rectified with a quickness.

Many of my friends and colleagues had expressed a long-time interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but felt deterred by its seemingly insurmountable learning curve. What 5th Edition manages to do so well is create a feeling of pick-up-and-playability from the word “go.” During our recent livestream of the 5th Edition Starter Box, several of the players had no prior roleplaying experience. Yet, once they got a handle on the simple math at the core of the system and a few basic concepts, they were fending off ambushes, parrying blows, and adventuring with the best of them. This sense of accessibility is, perhaps, what D&D does best.

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4. It finally feels like D&D again.

Yet that accessibility doesn’t mean they’ve dumbed down the game. Quite the contrary, actually. One of the biggest complaints I heard about 4th Edition is that it didn’t feel like D&D. What that meant exactly differed from person to person, but the most frequent definition was that it was “too video game-like.” Procedural rules, especially when it came to combat, were simplified and systemized, forcing players to use their class-allotted powers in order to deal the most damage on any given turn. It took the spontaneity out of combat, which is something that is ingrained into the very lifeblood of D&D itself. You know how when your characters in Final Fantasy reach a certain level, you can pretty much just hit “X” at light speed and you’ll kill your enemies in a few annoying rounds? 4th Edition was a lot like that; you pretty much knew exactly what power or ability to use each round in order to finish combat as expediently as possible.

5th Edition realized that this was a problem and has managed to streamline some of the more archaic or head-scratchingly dense rules while maintaining the integrity of previous iterations. Subjectively, this is one of the most easy-to-play, enjoyable Editions, to date, as it blends some of the best elements of past Editions to create a sum greater than its parts. This is no longer a game that merely rewards slavish devotion to intricate knowledge of rules tables or lends itself to min-maxing a la Skyrim; rather, this is a game that rewards creativity, the spirit in which the game was created in the first place and that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

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3. Advantages and Disadvantages

No, this isn’t a section about the pros and cons of 5th Edition. Rather, it’s about one of the most fascinating new additions to the ever-evolving formula that makes Dungeons & Dragons the wonderful timesink that it is. Dubbed “Advantage and Disadvantage”, the new mechanic is simple in theory: when a player who has an Advantage attempts an action during combat or while exploring, they are allowed to roll two twenty-sided dice (d20s) rather than the traditional one. To determine success, the player is allowed to use the higher of the two rolls as the result. Likewise, when a player has a Disadvantage, they roll two d20s and are made to use the lower of the two results.

As I learned the hard way, this doesn’t always work in the player’s favor (helloooo, falling damage!), but it provides Dungeon Masters with a wonderfully intuitive built-in mechanic for interpreting non-standard actions a player might take. If a rogue skulks in the shadows of a bell tower and uses his vantage point to snipe at the orcs below, he gets an Advantage as long as he maintains his position. And if you’re like me and you try to backflip out of a second-story window while wearing plate armor, well, you’d better believe that’s a Disadvantage. But that spirit of creativity is precisely what makes the game so exciting, and this is a fantastic way to give DMs the tools they need to implement those off-the-wall ideas into the game seamlessly.

2. THAC0 is still, thankfully, dead.

Enough said. Sorry, AD&D fans and mathematicians, but some things will never change.

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1. The community

Back in the day, prospective players had to find an open dining room table, basement, or take refuge at their local comic book shop or gaming store if they wanted to find a quiet place in which to slay dragons, wield vorpal swords, and gallivant about the countryside. Magazines like Dungeon and Dragon opened up the hobby to a wider audience and provided a steady stream of new content and homebrew rules to keep campaigns fresh and make players feel like they were part of a shared world. Yet, as the license phased out of Paizo’s hands and those magazines went away, the Internet increasingly filled that void for lonely gamers looking to connect with other ready and willing players. Thankfully, this is something that did not go unnoticed by Wizards, who have done a tremendous job of creating a vibrant community on their website. Want to share your war stories? Play a forum-based campaign? Nerd out about the rich inner lives of mind flayers? It’s all right there at your fingertips.

In fact, Wizards is so focused on making D&D a community-oriented activity that they have made the basic rules of 5th Edition available for free in PDF form. While this isn’t quite the open D20 System license that lead to a proliferation and oversaturation of overly complex (and sometimes monumentally fun) game variants and campaign settings, it is a tremendously smart move and a way to help bring in a new audience of gamers that might be deterred by the $49.95 price tag for each of the three core books. Catering to your existing audience is important, but as Wizards well knows, the only way that the game is sustainable in the long run – especially in this era of video game dominance – is to bring in new blood. And the best way to do that is to make your product available to as large of an audience as possible.

The release of the mammoth Player’s Handbook is just the beginning. The Monster Manual, a bestiary of all the nasties in the D&D universe, arrives on September 30th, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide won’t hit shelves until November 18th.

Based on the success of our Starter Kit livestream, we’re going to be integrating Dungeons & Dragons into our Twitch livestreaming plans down the line, so hopefully, even if you can’t get a group together on your own, you can join us for those. While we’re eager to sink our teeth into the “Tyranny of Dragons” campaign arc, we’re also hoping to delve into some classic modules as well. It’s too early to tell if this is going to be the critical hit that Wizards needs for the D&D brand, but no one can deny their incredible initiative.

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Will you be making the switch to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition? Why or why not? Or do you just want to share one of your favorite war stories? Let us know in the comments below.

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167 comments

  • I will be picking up the PHB at the very least. I am hoping for WOTC to sell a PDF copy but I’m not holding my breath. My group is not so eager as I am to switch to 5th Edition. We still play Ravenloft in the 3.5 rules and have a Pathfinder game starting soon. We’re old school gamers and have been thru every version since 1st Edition Advanced. Yes, we survived THAC0. I’m anxious to see what campaign settings are released besides the Forgotten Realms.

      • @Anna Wiliby:
        Don’t be such a damn hipster. THAC0 vs. AC isn’t like comparing Eric Clapton vs. Jeff Beck era Yardbirds,  It’s a question of superior engineering.    First of all, the purpose of an attack roll is to determine a binary outcome: hit or miss, by rolling a die and comparing the result to a target number. This involves a procedure composed of separate operations:

         
        Descending AC:
         *Player declares their intention to attack
         *DM derives the target number (1E=crossreferencing values on the combat matrix; 2E=subtracting targets Armor Class from the attackers THAC0)
         *Player rolls a d20, adding any relevant modifiers, and compares the result to the target number
         *If the result is =/> target number, attack succeeds and player rolls damage; if the result is <target number, the attack fails.
         
        Ascending AC: *Player declares their intention to attack *Player rolls a d20, adding any relevant modifiers, and compares the result to the target number (in this case, the target’s AC) *If the result is =/> target number, attack succeeds and player rolls damage; if the result is <target number, the attack fails. 
         The key difference here is that in systems with ascending AC (5E, 4E, 3E), the to-hit target number of a target is simply stated as the target’s AC. In descending AC systems (BECMI/RC, 1E, 2E) the target number is derived using target’s AC as part of the calculation or reference value. 
         So given that the purpose and output of the two systems are identical (determine hit or miss), and that one system accomplishes this goal using less operations than the other (ascending AC), and is therefore a superior system from an engineering standpoint. 
        One may prefer descending AC out of sentiment, but this is not a rational position. 
         Also, descending AC has certain intuitive problems as well, such as magical +1 armor DECREASING the wearer’s AC.

      • To be fair THAC0 was AD&D 2nd edition, and when we switched to that from 1E there was plenty of grumbling among the “old” players (which now that I look back were probably just high school kids) complaining about whippersnappers who couldn’t use tables.

        • Thaco wasn’t replaced by AC it was replaced by BAB. Descending AC was replaced with ascending AC. And yes, it makes much more sense. I one wanted to play some old 2e adventures without thaco and descending AC, all one has to do is subtract from 20 to get BAB and ascending AC.

        • 5e has skill ranks, the difference is that you are proficient or not in a particular skill, so anyone can make an Athletics check using their strength bonus, a character proficient in it gets a bonus that is based on their level.  It is pretty similar to 3E except you level up all your skills you know instead of distributing points.  Also, the math is much more flat so you don’t end up with +25 bonuses and DCs of 45.

      • I started playing with AD&D, but I really grew to love the game with 3rd Edition. It’s natural to cling to what you love. 5th Edition takes some of the best elements of the more “complex” versions, but streamlines certain elements to make it more playable on the whole.

        • I feel it should be mentioned that the simplified rules are not the only rules. If you prefer a greater degree of complexity, there are hooks in the rules where you can add-in additional (and more classic) rules.

  • Sounds good, that they’re dealing with issues of 4th’s problems, but sadly, I don’t know about others, but I am so broke, I can’t afford to keep buying new games at $50 a pop. Ugh. I know the artwork is incredible, but enough.

    • My group is made up of grognards and people who started with 4e.  So far, it has been slightly confusing for the 4e people who are not super into the rules because there is not a card for every action they can take but I think that will pass quickly.  You will probably find that combat is much faster, which means it can happen more often and more of the story can be got through.

      • For the 4E ex-pats, they will feel fairly at home with the non-caster classes. They work a lot like Essentials characters, and there are even pseudo-encounter-powers for the Fighter in particular going Battle Master.

        Soft casters like the paladin and ranger are also good ways to get used to the new-old casting style, since they don’t have the finnicky extra bits the wizards and clerics get.

  • I hope it is not as simple.  No version of D&D had been difficult.  Throughout it’s history D&D has been one  of the easiest gaming system’s out there.  People should try Rolemaster or any of the Palladium games if they want a look at difficult.  Or check out an old Avalon Hill wargame.  Good Luck with that, lol…

  • I enjoyed 4th ed and got back into the game. However didnt like the changes to the online tools. They where great at 1st. Love just having my chara on my Small notpad, and being able to store and update him online. But hated the silverlight version of the chara builder, and that when I stop playing
    Hopefully with 5th Edition they give us a digital copy of the books when we buy the hardcopy.

  • Interestingly, I am starting a classic 1st edition campaign back up. I’ve played every version (except 5th) and I am picking the one that, to me, is the best balance of complexity and openess.

    I was going to go white box, but decided that a lot of things I liked were actually in AD&D 1st, so that’s the plan.

    Also, at roughly 150 bucks retail for all three books I can’t justify the expense for a system I will likely never run. I wish all those who want to luck! 

    I decided to go back to reffing again after my DM decided that he was going to force 4th down my throat and has now decided that it’s going to be 5th that I “have” to play.

    • Just finished our 1st Ed campaign. The rules are not as simple as I remembered and I’m happy to go with the evolved 5th Ed from now on. And still play in my biweekly Pathfinder game as well.

      • I might play at a convention some day and see if I like the system. I’ve just been down this road to many times to want to invest even the time. I would rather spend it playing than learning a new system.

  • My group abandoned D&D when 4th edition came out.  It was basically WoW in paper form.  Tanks taunted, dps spammed abilities  as soon as they came up, and healers played whack-a-mole.  The same rotation every encounter.

    We’re currently in a 2nd edition revival campaign, but looking forward to 5th edition (we’re reading through our PHBs and seeing if we’ll convert over or just sideline them until the DMG comes out).

    • i don’t understand people who say this. i guess if you only tried playing it with the core handbook maybe but i’ve been playing 4e for years and that’s not my experience at all. i’ve built ap retty complex bard/wizard character with loads of cool charm powers and shit. it’s fun. it’s not just wow on paper.

      • Yeah, it is weird thinking “4e is WoW on paper” is an insult.  “So, 4e is a printed World of Warcraft – the most popular MMO out there that’s an excuse for Blizzard to print money.  And you think that’s an insult?”

        But it does work as an insult when you realize something – we nerds like to feel smarter than everyone else.  And for many people, D&D was their game, not everyone’s game – /theirs/.  They figured the (complicated and often contractory) rules, they sifted through the player options (ignoring the ones that were traps meant to snag the unaware) until they made their own personal tiny gods.  They “earned their fun.”  It was their exclusive fun-thing.  4e was aimed towards a new, wider audience – like World of Warcraft?  Come try out it’s great grandaddy and play some D&D 4e.  And the old grogs who played 3e and older saw WotC aiming 4e at a new, different audience – one who didn’t “earn their fun” and got to play and have fun right away – and got pissed.  It was no longer /their/ game anymore.  It was aimed at /everyone else/.

        This isn’t a new thing – when 3e came out, there were pissed off fans on Usenet who slammed 3e as “printed Diablo.”

        • Or…you know. We don’t like WoW. Videogame RPGs are a dumbed down version of tabletop games. And that’s fine. That’s what  they have to be. TTRPGs have to be somewhat complex in order to allow for more real freedom and spontaneity. To play a TTRPG that essentially has the same complexity and limitations as a videogame RPG is incredibly frustrating, especially when you realize that they just want to cash on on WoW’s popularity.

  • 4th edition showed me that Wizards just wants to do the change-the-game-every-few-years-so-gamers-have-to-drop-another-few-hundred-bucks thing. Pathfinder wooed me away and I shan’t be returning. It’s hard enough to get my friends to try Shadowrun or Earthdawn because of different rules. I don’t need to add yet another learning experience to my book shelve. Also, skill ranks are one of the best things to happen to RPGs, it’s nice to have a scale of how good someone is at something and not just able to do it or not.

  • The price point is a big issue for me. If you’re going to be in the RPG game these days, you need to be selling PDFs. I’m an avid Pathfinder player, and I don’t own a single physical copy of their materials, and it’s saved me a shload of money. I don’t have the liquid income to be dropping 150$ to learn whether I like the game or not, especially after doing the same with 4th edition and discovering that I didn’t.

  • I love what they have done. One thing I don’t get are all the people who like PDFs I need to have the hard copy in my hands. Reading on a screen just isn’t the same.

  • Been playing the Starter Set with our group and it is the most fun we have had with D&D in a while. But really good DMs/players can have a good time playing any edition. This one just makes it easier, especially for new DMs.

  • Fourth Edition drove my group and I to Pathfinder, and though I wish WoTC well and am pleased to see that they’ve repented from 4th Ed and seem to have provided a better product, nah…we’re good. We’re sticking with Pathfinder.

  • Just perused my new PH5e, and am pretty pleased with the changes.  We’ll need to play a few times to see if the whole “no bonus spells based on attribute” thing takes the poor spellcasters back to 2e cast-magic-missile-and-hide or not, but overall, quite a good reboot.

  • I’m super psyched for 5th ed. The PHB is full of lovely little things. My only gripe is the release schedule. I have a campaign going and I am SO EAGER to transition into the new edition, but without the DMG I’m want for support. 3.5 Edition I was glad to move from because of the untenable bloat of rules, and even though I gave it a couple attempts Pathfinder came off as the trite and bitter off brand of the same thing. Back on track I would say. ; ) Can we call this AD&D3?

  • D&D died in my eyes when 4th came out. I will never spend a penny on any of their stuff again. I was driven off and never to return. I rarely play pathfinder, and would rather make my own game.

  • I was part of the testing back when it was D&d next and as person that has started with 1st and 2nd edition, I have come to love that you don’t start out being able to on everything almost form lvl 1. You have to really fight again to get to lvl and be on. 

  • My group will surely be moving onto 5th edition.  We switch when the new edition comes out and just like everybody else we have our arguments as to How we don’t like what changed from the previous edition, but the additions always outweigh the disappointment.  I will surely attempt to join you on the twitch cast. 

  • Sometime ago I was angry at all the editions but now I am fine with it, played them all and even though 1st edition is still my favorite, I decided that whatever floats people boat, they can have at it.  If i were to make any changes myself, it would be 1st edition with a bit of 3.5 in regards to moving up in abilities and skills.  After all, it only makes sense that a character will get better as he adventures.

  • As an old grognard and D&D player from back in ’79 I was disappointed with 4th Ed… It was the bastard child of AD&D and Magic: The Gathering… I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t D&D… Now I’ve played some of the basic rules set and looked through the PHB and I can say “D&D is BACK!”I really like what they did with the spell system so far, LOVE LOVE LOVE that the named spells are back, Loving the layout of the book, it’s the game I grew up with and love…

  • I hope the new and/or current players can get behind this new Ed…but for me, I’ve spent too much time and money with 1st, 2nd, and 3.5 to do it all again.  i was happy with the original rules and 2nd Ed. was an extension to me.. then was forced into 3.5 if i wanted to keep playing and have come ti grip with that set.  WoTC i wihk you the best of luck and hope you might consider throwing us long time friends a bone every now and then with some updates in the older setting styles..  ty

  • I don’t think the author has much perspective – Pathfinder *is* D&D 3.5 with minor tweaks as it was released under the D20 Open License. 3rd/3.5 was the best Era because of the streamlined rules and cross compatibility it offered with other genres (like D20 Modern and D20 Future). Thousands of supplements, adventures and rule sets were published by other companies, and that was truly a golden era for gaming. To say those rules were ‘obtuse’ is just plain uninformed.

    Wizards of the Coast made a huge mistake by killing off 3rd/3.5/D20 in favor of Pokemon-like rules of 4th Edition, and Pathfinder was released mode or less as a rebuke of 4th Edition. From what I’ve seen in the free PDF, 5th Edition is little more than a rollback to the 3rd/3.5 Edition rules with a few fan-polled changes, and hardly worth the investment.