Wednesday, January 7, 2015

5th edition D&D- My condensed review

OK, I've had some time to look at WotC's latest iteration of D&D now, and I have to say that my reaction is mixed. Not just on the aesthetics either.

The Player's Handbook- I think I have made my opinion on the art in the Player's Handbook pretty clear, not a fan. However, the rest of the book, and I am willing to let the art slide if I like the content, still left me with an over all negative opinion. I mean, I realize this is the Player's Handbook, but 170 pages on character generation? Really? OK, that covers advancement too, but in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook it's a mere 38 pages, which is far in excess of B/X's 14 pages in the Basic book. I found myself skimming in a lot of places and had to force myself to slow down, go back and reread sections. That was tedious. Sure, I could just pick a "standard" Dwarven Fighter instead of reading through all the class/race choices (which would save me roughly 110 pages of reading), but then there's a bunch of fiddly stuff (that I will likely forget about as a player, not to mention trying to remember all of it as a DM) before I even get to buying my starting equipment. Now, my caveat here is that I have not played yet, so maybe it will all go easier than I think. My personal bias is also irked by the fact that the tallest Humans are now only 6'4", according to the random table. I am 6'6" and I am not the tallest Human I have ever met. Overall grade D.

The Monster Manual- Not a huge fan of the art there either, but it is an improvement over the Player's Handbook. There is a design aesthetic at work here that seems too homogeneously stylized, but this isn't really new to this edition; just, disappointingly, continued. The stat blocks, ranging from roughly 1/4 to 1/2 page are too much, in my opinion. B/X D&D gave us about 6 monsters to the page, here we might get 2. It's pretty hard to screw up a Monster Manual too bad though, so overall grade C.

The Dungeon Master's Guide- Probably the saving grace of the core books of this edition, the art still didn't appeal to me, but damn, it's a meaty tome. Chock full of real advice that is practically system neutral, I'd have to say it's the best effort on a DMG since 1st edition AD&D- and I loved that one. The overall greatness is diminished by a couple of the things that I find to be anathema to DMing- Tailoring your encounters to your party, and it's ugly cousin; tailoring treasure yields to the party. They are small parts of the book, but they remind me too much of 3e and the reason I quit D&D. They mar an otherwise awesome book, but they are core to the build of the system, as they were in 3e (and, presumably, 4e). Anyway, it's a pretty darned solid book for any GM, but it's weak art and a few later editionisms that were kept drag it's grade down, a solid B.

Other random thoughts-
Backgrounds: I actually thought I would like them, I like the concept, but they left me cold when I read through them. Power Level: Easily as amped up as 3e.

Races: Their proliferation irritates me, but at least it's the DM's explicit say as to whether or not any given race is allowed.

Art: yep, I know, I keep harping on the art. I think they would have done better with LESS art direction. Give an artist a general description of what you are looking for, and let them do it, maybe you take it maybe you don't, but I think that this edition could really have benefited from having different art styles represented. I think too that this edition has taken itself too seriously and has produced a lot of self conscious mediocre art as a result. My wife is an artist, so I have grown, over the years, to appreciate how much of an impact the art has on the product. Early editions mixed it up
with a bunch of different artists, with wildly different styles and levels of talent. Sutherland, Roslof, Dee, Willingham, Otus, Darlene and Trampier (just off the top of my head, and I apologize to the artists I missed and their fans) put their stamp on Gary and Dave's game. Just looking at the illustrations in the Holmes Basic, B/X and AD&D books made me begin to imagine, and still does today. This edition just doesn't. I think it was the love for the game, and the use of their own imaginations that made the early D&D artists so good, they pored their souls into the work. Art is subjective, but I think that these-

are more evocative than this-

So I guess that gives 5th edition D&D a solid C average. My opinion of it may change with play, and again with DMing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Updates

Just did some pretty major updates on the World of Garnia campaign site on Obsidian Portal. Some of it was stuff I added from this blog, some stuff I had been working on elsewhere (mostly sub-campaign stuff, like Tenchuko and Norseworld) and transferred there, but I also did some editing of older entries and added some wholly new content. I also changed the look of the site, kind of a make-over.