Unboxing and Thoughts on the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

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So this weekend I was playing the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition starter pack and noted some obvious differences betweent this edition and previous editions of the game, I can’t say if this version is better yet because I only have a sample of the rules and there isn’t enough information to really create characters in the starter edition but I can say some of the differences and my initial impressions so far.

See my Unboxing of the 5th Edition Starter Set

First from the characters I can tell you that the system of advantages and disadvantages is kind of fun, the fact that you can roll 2 D20’s and have to pick the highest or lowest depending on advantage or disadvantage gives you as special extra boost or bane if you are in a situation. This helps when a rogue in stealth gets to make an advantage attack roll and gain that sneak attack damage, but also when you have lucky skill and roll a 1 which happened far too often which this dice set and you get to reroll and take the alternate roll instead.

The six core attributes to Dungeons and Dragons remain mostly unchanged through every edition, but some slight tweaks put some skills under Intelligence and others under Wisdom. The starter set makes no mention of Bard, Sorcerer, Barbarian or Druid characters, just your basic Fighter, Rogue, Wizard and Cleric listed here. 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons introduces reactions and bonus actions which is interesting. In 3.5 you ready an action that can trigger on another turn, but reactions allow you to even cast some spells in reaction to something happening, like a Wizard can instantly cast Shield as a reaction to being hit or struck by a magic missile which could negate a hit after it already struck technically in some cases.

You can also ready spells to trigger as reactions instead, and the ability to cast many spells as rituals without using a spell slot is interesting. There is more copious healing in 5th Edition than 3.5 Edition in that you heal with merely an hour of rest, you get a pool of hit dice that you can choose to recover. I think this is from 4th Edition and I didn’t like that every character can heal so much and so quickly, in the later editions I can see it allows you to get back into the fights quicker but also diminishes the specialty of the Cleric and healer role. A warrior even has a recover skill where he can recover hit points as a bonus action (not even take a move or attack action) in combat, so basically he has like an Insta-Cure Light Wounds in 5th Edition.

Wizards and Clerics have extremely powerful offensive magic at 1st level, and cantrips which can be cast unlimited without memorization can even do 1d8 damage on a successful save or attack role. This means a Wizard or Cleric technically never needs a weapon as their cantrips can do as much damage as a longsword on a hit. Even more, a 1st level spell can do up to 24 points of damage (4d6 for Guiding Light) on Clerics and Burning Hands does 3d6 for Wizard at level 1, even Magic Missile does 3d4 damage at level 1.

I think Spellcasters are overpowered compared to other classes in the first few levels, it may even out later, but even with warriors and their damage bonus and wielding a weapon two hands to get higher damage die don’t have the damage capacity of a level 1 Wizard or Cleric spell from what I can see. I do like how they consolidated spells and you can prepare lower level spells in higher level slots to increase the effectiveness of the spell. Instead of Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds…etc you now have Cure Wounds and if you prepare it at a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or higher level spell slot it will scale up it’s healing dice appropriately. This reduces the number of duplicate spells at different levels that have only a higher number of dice as a difference. Some spells now require you to prepare them as a higher level slot to get extra damage dice, this lowers the effectiveness of Level 1 Magic Missile when you are level 9 or higher, as you usually won’t want to waste a higher spell slot, it won’t automatically do 5d4 damage just for being a higher level anymore, though there are still some spells that scale up with your level, this is mostly cantrips which scale up which again means a wizard and cleric can almost always do more damage with a cantrip than a weapon with a warrior until they get multiple attacks per round.

Saving throws are simplified, now you have just saves vs your ability score. Base Attack Bonus is completely gone and replaced with Proficiency Bonus which applies to both attacks and spells for spell casters. I like the concept of death saves, and that there is no -1 to -9 HP to keep track of now, once you hit 0 you simply make a death saving through each round, 3 successes and you stabilize, 3 failures and you die. You can also have someone stabilize you, or you can be healed to 1hp. I like that there is a 3rd level revivify spell now that can bring someone back to life with 1hp, instead of the 5th level spell raise dead. This helps lower level clerics revive allies down in a fight if they went down a short time as you only have a 1 minute window to revive them with this spell.

Features and Traits are similar to Feats in 3rd Edition though there are none but the default ones with the pre-generated characters so I can’t say how many there are and variation of them. So far though the edition looks pretty lean, again a little bit less realisim, I prefer characters who need to spend longer periods of time healing off injuries and having to find rare herbs/medicines to heal rather than every character being able to recover so much HP just by taking short rests for example. The way spell preparation is done, where you prepare a pool of spells, and then can cast any in that prepared spool based on # of slots, means you can have more variety of what you can cast, instead of being locked to a 1:1 spell to slot, this may mean that there is no need for the Sorcerer class in 5th Edition as essentially this merges some of what the Wizard did and some of the benefit of Sorcerer in 3rd Edition.

So far on the quest that came with the starter set, my players (kids) wound up being slain at the entrance to the first quest in the 3rd combat, due to some unlucky dice rolls and decisions which led to one character getting unconscious from a 30′ fall leaving the others to be horribly outnumbered in a Bugbear battle.

Have you picked up the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Starter Pack yet?

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Updated: July 20, 2014 — 6:18 pm