Days of High Adventure
Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules First Impressions: The Magic Is Back

CJ Miozzi | 4 Jul 2014 03:30
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Open any 4e rulebook page and you're likely to be reading a passage describing a rule at least tangentially related to combat. The combat system is deep - much deeper than 5e's - and there was a need to focus so many pages on explaining how that combat works. But D&D was never a wargame - it was the evolution of wargaming into a new genre, the roleplaying game. Tactical combat maneuvers aren't what captured our imaginations as children - it was the fantasy of playing a hero on an epic adventure. 5e puts the focus back on the magic of that experience.

The Basic Rules break the game down into the "three pillars of adventure:" Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat. Where the brunt of 4e's focus was on combat, 5e shines greater spotlight on exploration and social interaction.

When describing the ability scores, the rules highlight how low and high scores in every ability may be made manifest through roleplaying. The chapter on races emphasizes how important your character's race is to her story, and a good 75% of a race entry is focused on flavor, not mechanics. Even humans, who had the dullest of entries in all previous editions, have been made exciting, with nine ethnic subdivisions according to the Forgotten Realms setting. In the class descriptions, flavor comes first and foremost, with poignant questions posed to get players thinking deeply about who their character is, and explanations about how the different classes might see the world. A section on roleplaying advice offers insightful tips on different approaches to portraying your character; it even encourages players to pay attention to the DM's roleplaying in order to better understand an NPC's personality and use that knowledge to their advantage.

There are even mechanics now built-in to encourage consistent roleplaying. Character creation has you pick out two personality traits, a flaw, a bond (such as to a village) and an ideal (such as honor), then reward you when you play up these characteristics in a compelling way by allowing the Dungeon Master to grant you a bonus on a roll. Backgrounds, which existed in previous editions as variant rules, are now a part of the core experience; players must choose a background upon character creation, which grants both mechanical and roleplay bonuses, such as having a contact in the criminal underworld.

A new set of "expenses" rules eliminates the tedium of tracking mundane upkeep costs such as food and lodging while adding roleplay flavor by having you select from different levels of lifestyle, each with an associated daily living expense and boons. For instance, living like an aristocrat may be expensive, but you'll make connections among the social elite. New rules govern downtime activities between adventures, including crafting, practicing a profession to cut down on lifestyle expense costs, researching, and even training - which, for a steep time investment and cost, allows you to learn a new language or gain proficiency with a new tool. This is the first time I've seen a mechanic built into the core rules that allows you to train your character without needing to gain XP.

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