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Review of infamous Dungeons & Dragons, 5th edition

Dungeons & Dragons. The most famous title of the role playing game universe. It’s hard to present such a behemoth without seeming very small next to it, but it would be hard to present the role-playing universe on our dedicated portal without talking about it, without presenting it! So, let’s go for it! Let’s give it a try!

First thing, a little history. Dungeons & Dragons will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary (in 2024) and many rumors say that a sixth edition will be released to mark the occasion. But at the moment, all eyes on its 5th edition, which we will present in this article, after our little recap. The game was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, who comes from the older wargame scene, and in particular from Chainmail, a wargame created 3 years before by Gary Gygax. The role-playing game genre is older, but Gygax and Arneson are really the ones who set the foundation for the genre and popularized it around the world.

The game and the license take off in the 80s, despite some resistance in some very traditional religious circles, but without much consequence for the license. A little later, in 85, the company founded by Gygax is in great financial difficulties and an internal struggle sees the result of the eviction of Gygax from his own company. The situation did not improve and in the 90’s, as the company was on the verge of bankruptcy, Wizards of the Coast, with the financial power it had amassed thanks to the Magic cards, bought TSR and all its licenses. But let’s not fool ourselves: it was clearly D&D that interested the giant Wizards.

During these years, the editions of Dungeons & Dragons followed one another:

  • 1974: Dungeons & Dragons
  • 1978: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (for many the most famous)
  • 1989: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2
  • 1995: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2.5
  • 2000: Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition
  • 2003: Dungeons & Dragons 3.5
  • 2008: Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition
  • 2014 : Dungeons & Dragons 5E (Formerly D&D Next)

The revolution is mainly done under the Wizards era, with the 3rd edition which brings a completely revised system named D20 system, still known and used nowadays.

D20 system took a lot of time to adapt, but it was still very well thought out and made the roleplaying game, or rather the Dungeons & Dragons license, much more accessible to the average person. It made the game faster, the rules smoother; in short, it was a very good evolution of D&D.

A few years later, the 3.5 edition was released. It is a revamped version of the third edition that was designed with the help of the community and their feedback on certain rule points, as Wizards always values their players’ satisfaction.

Then came the 4th edition in 2008. This edition totally changed the game. Characters are divided into levels and ranks, new classes/races are introduced. However, the essence of D&D has been changed completely in this edition.

The 2000’s is the golden age of MMOs – and Wizards, not being fooled, wanted to jump on the opportunity and was largely inspired by the MMO system to create its new system, inspired by video games with more defined roles (tank, healers, etc.) and a more linear progression. It’s almost like a tactical game and not a role-playing game. And this new version has totally broken the community. Yes, this edition surely attracted a new audience to the role-playing game, but the old ones totally disavowed this version, cried scandal and left for other horizons (including Pathfinder, which had the success we know and which had boasted, at the time, to be the unofficial heir of D&D).

In short, this disenchantment has hurt the license and did a lot of harm. And in 2014, the 5th edition was received with a great deal of skepticism. Not to mention that many young players, who surveyed the jdr in the 90s and 2000s have aged and perhaps no longer had time to look into role-playing or had taken their habits on other licenses.Overall, everything had to be redone, despite the name Dungeons & Dragons.

To do this, Wizards made available, during the development of the game, the rules in development, accompanied by scenarios, to return to their habit and to what has always made the success of the game: the return of its players and its community to make the rules.

D&D essentials kitWe return to a system where the game master is again central in the game, with a task of “narrator”, while the 4th was more in the group tactics with some story phases to cut out the combat parts.

The sauce picked up. Slowly at first, then with passion. Dungeons & Dragons 5E is a success, both with players and commercially. The 5E system has since been used by many other role-playing game publishers for their own licenses, even the biggest ones (such as Fria Ligan, who changed the system from Symbaroum to 5E for its new edition).

In 2021, Wizards wishes to take things in hand and decides to recover its licenses to, from then on, publish D&D5 themselves in multiple languages more or less simultaneously, with certainly more follow-up and listening of its community. They want to unify players around the world.

And in the last months of 2021, the new editions of D&D5 was published. Edition that has been slightly revised with the various patches that have taken place since 2014.

And yes, I understand now this love for this new system, this fluidity in the game so antipodes to what was done elsewhere. And the funny thing is that in the end, it’s a simple mechanic that makes me say, like many, that it’s great. It’s the system of advantages and disadvantages.

It’s the nerve center of this whole edition, a system that gives players extra game dice. Do you have an advantage? You roll two 20-sided dice (2D20) and keep the better of the two. A disadvantage? You keep the worst of the two.

No more modifiers of any kind. And it works, the game is terribly fluid, the interpretation of the GM made easier, as well as his general management. For example, a Game Master can grant an advantage (or disadvantage) by the description that a player would make of an action. The rules also give advantages and disadvantages in their attributes, spells, etc. But more on that later.

Everything that is a tactical battle has been completely set aside, the emphasis is on epic battle descriptions. It is quite possible to play without a game board, in a very easy way where, before or elsewhere, it is sometimes much less obvious (if not impossible).

The progression is also much more fluid. You can evolve very well and choose your progress and skills as you go along. You don’t have to feel obliged to take this or that gift to be able to access this or that career change at a given level. It’s much freer and allows much more customization of your characters.

Moreover, if before it was not at all obvious to make a character evolve, Wizards has greatly oriented its works in the opposite direction: nowadays, playing a level 1 character and raising him to level 15 is totally conceivable in an epic campaign. We play legendary heroes, great adventurers. Not some guy who’s out of his shack and ready to take down the local wild rabbit hole.

To that end, in English, Wizards has brought a new vision to their books. While they still make scenario books that can fit into any campaign created by a Game Master, the main effort is in the development of a complete campaign book. And on the cusp of the 5th edition, they have brought the iconic “Temple of Elemental Evil” back to the forefront. Good for the artist! This campaign, terribly familiar to older players (those from the 70s and 80s), now covers the entire evolution of a player character, from his or her beginnings to retirement!

Another point that has also won over the public: before, DD was complex. There were tons of books on items, additional classes, class expansions in themed expansions (paladin and co., foxholes guide, etc.). Now the focus is completely different. Because of its centralization of activity, Wizards now offers books that are much more focused on the lore (the universe) of the game. Campaigns, scenarios, contexts, everything to make the adventure as immersive as possible.

Moreover, many emblematic universes of D&D are currently coming back. Ravenloft, released in 2021 to name but one, is an alternative to the classic “Forgotten Realms”. Wizards has also recently launched a rapprochement of its two big licenses, D&D and Magic, by making crossovers between the two: elements of one appearing in the other. Another idea to bring communities together.

Let’s go back to the core books of this 5th edition.D&D booksThe Player’s Handbook is just over 300 pages long and focuses on the rules, the different tables. As said before, everything has been streamlined to speed up the game. Including the reading of the book. You understand very quickly what you have to do to create characters. It is very well framed, although very classic and terribly simple. What gives a lot of depth in D&D5, it is not the complexity of the characters by a multitude of gifts and skills. Here, what influences a lot… are the backgrounds of your characters (essential). They not only help to define the character, to give him a soul, but they also directly influence the game whether it is by the devious imagination of a GM or by giving advantages (see above) if they are played in game. It also has a direct influence on the experience rewards at the end of the game, if you really needed something extra to motivate players to play “RP”.

To further illustrate this general simplification, the combat section, which was the most important part in the 4th edition and imposing in the 3rd edition, is only about… twelve pages long in the 5th edition! You don’t have to be an eminent mathematician to calculate the bonuses of an attack roll, defense roll, or any other such gimmick. Now: roll a D20, add your ability and skill (your possible mastery of a used weapon for example) and… basta. You may or may not apply an advantage or disadvantage roll depending on the RP situation of the fight. You take an enemy by surprise? You have the advantage, so you roll 2D20 and not 1 and you keep the best. Simple, very simple. And perfectly coherent with a dynamic and immersion oriented game.

Another example of combat simplification. Previously, we had degressive bonuses according to the number of attacks, or for ambidexterity, for example. First attack at +6, second at +2, etc.

D&D diceHere, all that is over. You have several attacks? They have the same bonus. Less than the first attacks of the old editions, but more effective than the second or third attacks, for example. This allows you to keep a cohesion of combat on the course, so that the monsters don’t die too quickly. It also allows you to expand the bestiary accordingly, because a low-level monster won’t kill itself with a careless move if you have 10 levels more than it. It will still be able to pose a threat to you.

In terms of character progression, we now have a much more stable progression. Before, there were some levels that brought almost nothing to your character, except for an extra life die. And because of the slow leveling up, it used to be very frustrating sometimes. Now, each level makes the character a little more experienced by adding new abilities at each level. This makes for a much more consistent progression and a much more controlled learning experience than before: the player experiences himself in parallel with his character. Each gift you decide to choose brings things. You don’t have to plan your character years in advance to get the advanced gift you want. You take it if you have the level you need and then that’s it.

As far as skills are concerned, there are fewer of them than in edition 3.5 and they are now linked directly to characteristic points. If you have no skill points, you apply the points of the linked characteristic. If you have skill points, you add them up.

Let’s talk about magic now. This is perhaps the area that has changed the least, but still has a tendency to reduce. For example: there are not multiple healing spells. There is one. More or less effective depending on the level you put it at in your training. At level 3, it will be more effective than at level 2, itself more effective than at level 1. The same goes for most progressive spells like magic damage or the eternal magic missile which increases in power (or quantity of projectiles) according to the level used.

Unlike DD3 or Pathfinder, if you play a low level wizard and you run out of useful spells in a fight, you can always cast direct damage spells, of lesser power of course, but you have to admit that for a wizard it will always be more efficient than walking around with a rapier or, for the more cautious, a bow or another ranged weapon to compensate for the absence of magic.

Anyway, I won’t get into the return of this book, I think you’ve learned the gist of it.

The Master’s books and the bestiary give advice and help to the game master, as before. They are just as well explained and illustrated as the player’s book.

Let’s move on to a little bonus that arrived shortly after the release of the basic books with the initiation kit called “the essential kit”.

This is a wonderful gateway to D&D5, and brings a simplified, but complete, version of D&D5 to start a game quickly. It contains everything you need: a summary of the most important rules, a small initiatory campaign for low-level characters, playable races and classes (some are missing compared to the player’s manual), game aids with cards of all the items described in the campaign for example, etc. Very well decorated too, it’s a must-have to get started. It takes you to the northern reaches of the Forgotten Realms and is playable by one to five adventurers, plus the dungeon master, of course. And frankly, for 19.99 euros, it’s really not much.

By the way, the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons published by Wizards has also dropped in price compared to previous editions by third-party publishers. There was even the complete pack for less than 100 euros recently on Amazon (in promo) and in full price it is 125 euros, from memory, against 150 before, I think. And the books, independently, are 40 euros.

So from now on, Wizards will provide new books, expansions, etc. following closely the original releases. Unfortunately, past books that should have been translated by other publishers before Wizards took over will not have a translation systematically, but some will still be handled. But the important thing is that the next releases will all be translated (I talk about it here).

Moreover, I mentioned it at the beginning of the article: rumors are flying about 2024. A new edition will be released. D&D5.5, D&D6, we don’t know, but it will be compatible with the whole D&D5 set.

So, I hope I’ve given you the desire to have a look at it.

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