Last night started our experiment in running 5th edition like a story game. The idea of this is to use the basic materials (fortunately the DM pdf came out just in time). If the basic materials can be used to easily run an off the cuff, story driven, kind of game… then all of the hype about the system is true!
So I’m going to start off with my first impressions. Character creation was still a bear. Overbearing, time consuming, and confusing. There’s not much you can do to solve this, but the barrier of entry for most concepts is high. For example: spell slots and prepared spells are different concepts. They are counter-intuitive, and the text within the class descriptions doesn’t make sense. Very poorly written.
My biggest gripe is the unwieldy number of proficiencies that players get. I understand that progression in D&D is limited to predetermined factors. So picking up new proficiencies is only slightly more likely than improving an attribute score. Inundating people with them in the beginning is the compromise.
This leads to my noticing a fairly big hole in the system. Not that it upsets story games, but it certainly is a detriment to crunchy games… Most bonuses do not stack. This means that a race with a proficiency that matches a class is a wasted “advantage”. Overlapping is bad. So players are less likely to put together race/classes that are cool because it hurts min maxing.
That is just a small number of the weirdness that bogged us down to an unstoppable crawl. Having players pre-make characters is basically impossible. Not even my own pre-gen was fully done before game time.
So if you can get past the crazy barrier of entry into the game, there are some amazing things that made last night’s game go extremely well. The first is inspiration. Players want to role play, because inspiration is exactly like dishing out willpower in wod, and similar to dishing out fatepoints. As a concept it WORKS!
Secondly, the proficiency system, combined with the difficulty chart (DC ratings), makes roleplaying a major focus. It was actually kind of hard for us to gloss over dialogue because most attempts to lie, cheat, steal, and provoke flowed naturally into the mechanics. One big benefit is that “DM is GOD” is a firmly established D&D trope. As a DM, I can establish 2 goals for a single roll (10 discovers if the npc is lying, 20 discovers if the player next to him is). I can make the player roll, give me a result, and not reveal the secondary tier if he fails. If there are not 2 clear results with different difficulties, it’s still very informative to see the spread between the DC and the actual result. 10 positive spread? You intimidated the monster, his mother, and the goblin across the street!
The third related point is that the DC’s in the game establish that “nearly impossible” is within grasp. If somehow players can roll a 30, they can do things that would otherwise be told as “NO!”. On the same token, most players can never roll a 30. So most of the time the DM can still say “NO!”. Both are very important concepts. They play out nicely.
This did show us a pitfall. The flat d20 rolling isn’t too bad because stat bonus+proficiencies tend to bridge the gap a lot. But most stats bonuses are -1, +0, or +1 on average. Only highly focused stats get +3 and above. Most players who roll saves and ability checks have only a 50% chance to do “easy” tasks. Anything harder than that becomes unreasonable. But highly focused stats are normally +6s and +7s with proficiency. That means that it’s just as unreasonable for those people to fail at any task. So I found that players with low scores pretty much automatically fail reactive checks and players with high scores make rolling pretty redundant. It’s an unfortunate side effect, but not that big of a deal really.
In the end, we were very successful. We pulled a monster race out of the manual and turned it into a PC race pretty quick. (Post to follow). The monster list covered most NPCs by just reskinning. The DCs are intuitive to cover the strange actions that players always want to do.
Now, I can’t objectively say that 5e is a story system in one post. So this is going to be a series of posts following the game and comparing aspects of it to other games. Hopefully other GMs can see what the system has to offer and make a decision on if it fits their needs. Because honestly, it’s all about the group.