Saturday, July 5, 2014

DND5E - First Pass

Hmm. Just finished a couple quick skim-throughs of the D&D Basic Rules, which I downloaded this evening. Yes, it's nearly 2am here in Asuncion, but I took a long nap today.

Um...where's the game?

We've got character creation, quite a few tables for creating random background/personality (there are some game mechanics in here, as well as a notable omission: the example character of Tika Waylan lists an "urchin background" that is not present in the book), a giant equipment list (plus "random trinket" tables), rules for ability checks, exploration, combat (big section), and downtime between adventures, and...lastly...a good list of magic spells for clerics and wizards. And that's it.

There's no information on running the game, no information on creating adventures, no information on running NPCs ("monsters"), no information on treasure, and (perhaps most basic of all) no information on how XP is earned/awarded. In other words, no information on what the objective of the characters are, or what they're supposed to do.

Because, you know, if I'm going to sit down to play a game, I kind of want to know what actions are going to reward me. If there is no real objective to the game ("Many people who play keep their campaigns going for months or years..." says the introduction) than the only real "carrot" of play is leveling up. Not only to become a badder badass, but in order to "open new content"...whether this be  the acquisition of new spells and class features, or simply moving into that realm where characters "confront threats to whole regions and continents" (explicitly stated as being in the level 11 to 16 range for characters).

So, yeah, how do I level up? I mean, if that's all there is?

Rules don't say (gosh, didn't I find this same f'ing problem with the free Beta rules of Dungeon Crawl Classics? Oh yeah...I did). The "Basic Rules" of the new Dungeons and Dragons are incomplete. This is not a game...this is a 110 page briefing on how to play at someone's demo table at a convention (along with a lot of extraneous stuff that's only necessary if the demo is going to feature pre-generated, high level characters).

It seems that people are looking at this package and seeing "here's what I like, here's what I don't" and analyzing its individual game mechanics in comparison to 3rd edition or 4th edition or 1st edition or whatever edition. Um...okay? But until I know how THIS game works, who knows how it's all going to go together? I'm not like I'm just perusing the text to pilfer ideas.

Look at this floating reroll they call "inspiration." It's cool, sure...but how do you get it? "Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons." Like? "Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game." So...does that mean it's arbitrary and variable from table to table? Who knows? There's no section that explains how the DM does anything.

In short, the D&D Basic Rules are not a new rule set. You could not give a printout of the PDF and a set of dice to a group of youngsters and say, "Go play." If anything, they are simply a re-retread of the Player's Handbook (any edition).

A cutdown version to be 110 pages, it is the shortest PHB of any edition. And this is done at the cost of the variety found in earlier editions: only four classes, only four races, only two spell lists. B/X gave us the same quantity of options PLUS a complete game in just over 120 pages...and B/X included artwork instead of padding.

Like this half a page on height and weight. "You can decide your character's height and weight," is followed immediately by a random height and weight table plus a detailed example of how to use it to calculate height and weight. Really? I mean, really? There are two paragraphs...near a quarter page!...devoted to the gender of your character under the large heading, SEX. The bottom line: you get to choose your gender and sexual orientation. I'm half surprised they didn't add a random table here as well!

But padding issues aside (and really, that's more just snickering than rage), the main issue is simply the most basic one: the Basic Rules aren't a complete game. It's being touted as a complete game, and WotC wants you to give them the big pat on the back for releasing it as a free PDF when really, they're just trying to sucker you into buying more shit in order to play.

Oh, does that sound harsh? Here's what lead designer Mike Mearls wrote:
Basic D&D is a PDF that covers the core of the game. It's the equivalent of the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia, though it doesn't have quite the same scope (for example, it won't go into detail on setting).
No, Mike, it is NOT the equivalent of the Rules Cyclopedia. The RC was a complete game system, including monsters and treasures and adventure design and awarding XP and campaigns and dominions and mass combat and immortals and a whole bunch of stuff. Only a very small part was the Mystarra game setting.

He also writes:
But the best part? Basic D&D is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.
Basic D&D makes it easier than ever for new players and DMs to jump into tabletop RPG play.
Man, that guy's a douche.

[I don't know why Mearls continues to rub me the wrong way. Ever since he lambasted Keep on the Borderlands...pretty much missing the point of the adventure...I seem to have it out for that dude. I don't even know the poor guy! Probably he's a very nice person...]

Okay, it's 3am now and I've spent more time on this than I probably should have. My whole family's been sick all week (well, except for me) which is why the posting has been scant to say the least. But I have been working on something. More later.
: )


  1. It's version 0.1. The idea is that it will be updated and expanded when the core books come out, so when the Monster Manual is out, it will be updated with monsters and when the Dungeon Master's Guide is out, the basic pdf will suddenly have information on running the game.

    The only other product that's out right now is the boxed set and that has no character creation rules, so that's where the pdf is filling in the gaps for now.

    So yes, it is incomplete but that's the plan. It is a bit odd that people are reviewing it as if it's a full release but I suppose they're just excited about it.

  2. You should drive over to RPGPundits house and had a brawl over it. That should settle things! ^_^

    You raise good points. I dot think I take the marketing puffery so personal like you do though. I sort of expect Hasbro to lie to me. Free content is free content and I'll take what I can get.

  3. It sure isn't a game yet you are 100% on that point. The lead in nature of the product is no offense the first basic set was meant to be a lead in project to AD&D (and you had to pay for it).

  4. I completely agree that the Rule Cyclopedia comparison is bad. Regardless of what he said there, they certainly don't intend the pdf on its own to be enough to play.

    It's meant to be enough rules to let someone into a D&D game without having to buy a PHB. But want to play a druid? Go buy the PHB. Want to DM? Go buy the DMG and Monster Manual.

    It's a nice thing to have for the casual players, instead of telling everyone they need to buy a $35 book.

    1. [@ Luke:

      Nice to hear from you, man. Hope you're doing well!]

  5. I think you missed the part in Legends & Lore dated 5/27 where Mearls explains the release schedule of Basic: "At the launch of the D&D Starter Set, Basic D&D will include the material needed to create characters and advance to 20th level. In August, with the release of the Player’s Handbook, Basic D&D will expand to include the essential monsters, magic items, and DM rules needed to run the game, along with the rules for wilderness, dungeon, and urban adventuring."

    So no, right now, the Basic rules *aren't* a complete game. They won't be 'complete' until after the release of the DMG, and even then, they may add bits and pieces to it afterwards.

    1. @ Robert:

      No, I didn't miss that. It simply doesn't jibe with the rest of the article. When it says "With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, you can play D&D for years," that's just a blatant mistruth. You need other books to play the game,unless you want to make up everything else from whole cloth...but if I'm going to do that, then I don't need the "Basic Rules" either!

      Mearls should just say what the thing is, not blow a bunch of smoke about "Basic D&D makes it easier than ever for NEW players and DMs to jump into tabletop RPG play." That's just not accurate. The Basic Rules is a players guide, certainly not a complete game for learning, playing, and running this (or any) edition of Dungeons & Dragons. For veteran players? Sure you can cannibalize it for use with the existing rules on your shelf. For "new" players? No, you're going to have to wait for the "core rules expansions" in order to do anything with the thing.

      Either Mearls is being disingenuous or else he's just not very cognizant of what he's doing (or writing in press releases). In other words, he's either stupid or he's a big fat liar.

    2. It's not a mistruth. He's talking about something that is not finished yet. Basic D&D 5E as it exists now is incomplete.

      Only after the core books have been released and the free PDF updated will we be able to judge whether it actually has the scope of the Rules Cyclopedia. Until then, it is a work in progress.

    3. Points to Brendan's post above. They're serious that this is 0.1.
      You can have nerd rage that it is misleading to not make it more explicit in more places that this is a work in progress, an iterative release that is not yet complete. But I think you're wasting your time and will likely have to eat your words.

    4. @ Jon (Redbeard):

      It wouldn't be the first time I had to eat my own words. The declarative, "Why would I ever want to learn Spanish? It's not like I ever plan on traveling south of the border!" comes to mind.
      ; )

      Seriously, though...sure, man, it might well be a waste of time. I acknowledge that. I do think it's a bit more than misleading, but perhaps I'm in the minority.

  6. When it is complete, then we can judge how it compares to the RC. I don't know, JB. You're one of those bloggers I've always valued from way back, but this post just strikes me as nerdrage. (And I'm not saying that like I've never been afflicted therewith.)

    1. @ Theo:

      Hmmm...if it sounds like "nerd rage," I suppose it is. But one of my longstanding stances on this blog is that I'd like to grow the hobby with NEW players, not just cater to the old. The line from WotC would appear to support that, but what they profess to produce doesn't. I'm sure plenty of folks who've played (and enjoyed) 2E, 3E, and 4E can take these Basic Rules and "do something with them." Fine and dandy. But I can't give this as a gift to a teenage kid (as I have with Labyrinth Lord, for example) and expect them to be able to play.

      Whether or not the combat has been streamlined, whether or not the skills have been toned down, whether or not the classes do more with less (and more effectively), whether or not there are rules to encourage role-playing (as Inspiration would seem to do)...none of that is really what I'm concerned, interested, or challenging here. What I *do* care about is the thing is what Mearls professes to care about...introducing tabletop RPGs to new players. This product is a poor effort at that.

    2. @JB

      It's not a product. You're missing that the pdf is an accessory to the Starter Set. The $12 D&D Starter Set (with rules, a lvl 1-5 adventure and a set of dice) is what you'd give to a teenage kid. The pdf enables you to continue playing past the Starter Set adventure without requiring the core books. The starter set rules have some of the things you think are missing from the pdf.

      They're doing this with the Tyranny of Dragons adventures also. From that same article: "As we introduce new storylines like Tyranny of Dragons, we’ll also make available free PDFs that provide all the rules and stats missing from Basic D&D needed to run the adventures tied into the story. The adventures released as part of Tyranny of Dragons are playable without requiring any of the core rulebooks or the Starter Set. With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, you can play D&D for years."

      I believe he means "You can play these modules + free pdfs without having to buy the core books. Playing through these modules will take years."

      Your usual unjustified rage would be better pointed at the Starter Set. I'd like to see you get your hands on that and review it.

    3. @ Fumers:

      Regardless of whether my usual rage (can't we say "passion?") is justified or not, I'm really not raging on this one. This is more like "irritation."
      ; )

      Actually, it's not even's more like a "public service announcement." As in: hey, folks, what they're advertising ain't what you're getting...just so you know.

      The fact that I single out Mearls for my whipping boy...well, maybe it's easier to use a proper name than to rail against a faceless entity like Hasbro. But he's stuck his foot in his mouth enough times (in past writings) that I think I can forgive myself for my badmouthing.

    4. I'm all with you on your main concern: Will the Basic PDF together with the Starter Set (by itself, as Basic continues to evolve) bring in new players is an excellent concern. But for Basic 0.1, I think the goals clearly were 1. Show where this edition is going to an extent that the pool of experienced players will buy-in and 2. Lay the basis for a final product that can stand alone (by their total goals for this edition, Basic can't do that well until the Core books are out and people have been playing the new edition for a while so that Basic is coherent, consistent, and improvable), and 3. Go with the Starter Set in such a way as to broaden what is available to new players. So to what extent can we judge it as fulfilling its immediate goals (versus its long-term goals) is a judgment that can be pursued now, but I take it that your real concern isn't the immediate goal of the Basic but of the Starter Set. It certainly has confirmed my interest enough to take the next step of buying the SS and giving it a play-through. I'd love to see new players given the SS and see what they can make of it, do they have fun with it, and does it create a desire that is effectively met by Basic?

  7. I think that WotC could have been clearer in their language as to how the Basic free PDF will interact with the Starter Set and the rule books that will be coming out. Things are bit muddled as they now stand.