Back in 2006, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons, decided to go into a different direction (WoTC is a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.). They took the then well known 3.5 version of the worlds oldest fantasy role-playing game and went with a simpler approach to attract new blood to the game. The new simplified 4th edition would be fast, easy to learn, and still have tons of new supplementary material to keep new players coming back for more. The problem? That while the game was a great idea for some, the stalwart gamers that had been playing for years didn’t really care for 4E as it was called. Citing too many departures from what made D&D great, they left and went to a successor to the game they had been playing since 2000, Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG. Pathfinder RPG is essentially D&D version 3.75 – a more natural evolution to the rule set and closer to what the gamers wanted.
[pullquote_left]What is the proof? The fact that Paizo has outsold Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 4E brand nearly 10 to 1 since 2009.[/pullquote_left] Pathfinder has officially taken over as the premier tabletop fantasy game OVER D&D. After several years, WoTC (Wizards of the Coast) realized that a drastic change was needed to regain gamers back into the fold. Thus D&D NEXT was conceived. A new edition to the game, that would have the largest and longest playtest in tabletop RPG history. For nearly three years, they re-designed the game and relied on almost real-time feedback from the gamers that made D&D a household name, to make this new edition the best it could be. And now here at GenCon 2014 we have the result.
The Player’s Handbook – for 5th edition
So what did they change? What’s different? They listened to the gamers – and what they got was …. essentially a different version of the same game as 3.5 or Pathfinder with some changes here and there.
No longer used Will, Reflex and Fortitude, now all saves against DC (Difficulty Checks) are based on the 6 primary ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. The base classes from 3.5 are all there with addition of Warlock. Races include the typical D&D races with the additions of Dragonborn from 4E and Tieflings rounding things out.
The D20 is still the primary dye used to calculate things like initiative and skill checks. Combat rounds are the essentially the same
as 3.5 or Pathfinder as well – with a Surprise round starting things off to see if you are flat-footed or otherwise off-guard.
Encounters and Monsters look and feel like they used to – adding more depth and dimension to a game that had been lacking with the simplified almost trading card style version of what 4E became. Probably the most surprising are the character classes themselves and leveling. The experience point tables have been re-worked and class abilities have been more carefully aligned to each specific role to give some uniqueness for players to choose from. Spells also have had some changes but for the most part they look as they did under 3.5 and follow the same range and duration rules.
New this time around is something called Advantage and Disadvantage. This is a modifier to a roll that can enhance or detract from a DC you are trying to achieve either through ability checks or something else. As the player becomes more proficient and gains experience in his class – these modifiers can become more pronounced.
The book itself has a wonderful layout with great artwork, clear type and fonts and easy to understand layouts of rules and charts for new players to understand. One thing I did notice is the placing of the explanation of ability scores and what they do should really be at the front of the book as has been traditional and instead they placed it somewhere in the middle.
So what is the end result here you may ask? Well WoTC has essentially pushed the reset button on their own game. And they kind of had to. Paizo, their biggest competitor, has taken much of their thunder from the good ole days and frankly made it better. They have the best designers and the best artists working in tabletop gaming right now. So the new 5th edition – looks a LOT like Pathfinder RPG with some minor cosmetic changes. It is WoTC’s hope that this new version will be more appealing to gamers and thus will allow them to switch or at least try 5E as an alternative. After all – some of the best campaign worlds are still owned by Wizards, campaigns like Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk, Darksun, and Spelljammer to name a few. And those worlds are begging to be played by gamers new and old. And even though I myself fell out of love with D&D after 3.5., I want to see them succeed here because their success is good for ALL those vested in tabletop gaming. Even the other companies. We need D&D back. Let’s hope this new edition will jumpstart Wizards and roleplayers everywhere.
“You’re in a dark corridor that goes on for at least 60 feet. The walls are obsidian, smooth to the touch. Your torchlight flickers off the surface revealing a well-kept marble floor. As you approach the end of this long and darkened hallway, you see that it opens into a massive hexagonal room. Pillars are in the center surrounded by sconces of green fire and torchlight. Beyond the lit flames and darkness you here the fervor of wails and chains, you also here a scream from a woman in the distance. Suddenly, the flames go out. Your torches are dark. And fear begins to grip you. Several feet away you hear growling….What do you do? – the Dungeon Master to his table of players 🙂