Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition: A Good Game… A REALLY Good Game

Original Basic Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

The Christmas present that changed my life… So much so, that I kept it for all these years!

So what do I think of the new 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (so far)? To be honest, I haven’t been this happy with a version of D&D since the beginning of my RPG experiences.

Street Cred: My First RPG

The very first RPG that I ever laid my hands on was the original “Red Box” D&D Starter Set… while my age was still in the single digits. And it completely changed the course of my life.

On one hand, D&D helped get me into art (I tried to draw like Larry Elmore for endless hours) and reading in a very big way. On the other hand, it meant that I was no longer stuck just reading or watching movies about heroic fantasy adventures (like the original animated Hobbit movie that I loved as a child). I could tell my own stories with my friends. In the days before the internet, this was a world-altering experience.

I loved the game, and my parents were so happy that it helped get me reading & actually doing math outside of school that they ignored the anti-D&D scare-propaganda of the time, and also got the rest of the boxed sets in the Basic Dungeons & Dragons line. The newest D&D boxed set arrived under the tree each Christmas over the next few years: the Basic, Expert, Companion and Master’s sets with rules for DMs and players (I never got the Immortals set).

I had no maps except what I drew on graph paper. I had no minis, and no way to easily get them even if I wanted them (there were no game stores in my town). All we had were our imaginations, paper, pencils & some goofy looking dice. And we would spend uncountable numbers of hours gaming at one or another’s house on winter weekends

5th edition D&D starter set

The new D&D Starter Set

The new 5th Edition of D&D feels & plays like that. 

Gone are the bloated books full of rules, where almost every conceivable action a DM or player could take had some sort of special set of conditions or modifiers or rules associated with it, telling you what you can/cannot do.

That original basic D&D Starter Set pictured above came with 2 books which contained your first adventures and all of the info necessary for new Dungeon Masters to create a mini-campaign of their own, which would take players through Level 3. You also got a full set of dice & a character sheet.

And that’s pretty much what you get with the new D&D Starter Set (which is on sale for less than $12 right now on Amazon). Except the new Set comes with a mini-campaign that will let you take your players all the way through Level 5. And while it doesn’t come with the rules to create new characters of your own, that info is available in the Basic D&D rules PDF, which is a FREE download.

My First Impressions of the new Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

For this quick list of first impressions, I will be referring to the new D&D Starter Set (pictured) and some things that caught my eye from the free Basic Dungeons & Dragons PDF linked to above (version 0.1).

Starter Set Races

In the new D&D Starter Set & Basic D&D rules, you can choose from

  • Humans
  • Elves
  • Halflings
  • Dwarves

In the original 1980s Red Box Starter Set, you had those same choices.

Starter Set Classes

In the original D&D, you could choose to play

  • Fighter
  • Cleric
  • Magic-User
  • Thief

In the new D&D Starter Set, you get the same choices (though the last 2 are these days called “Wizard” and “Rogue”).

MapsMaps/Minis are Optional Now

In both the original D&D Red Box and the new 5th Edition D&D Starter Set, you can play without the maps & minis or tokens that 3rd/4th Edition D&D and Pathfinder assume you’ll be using in order to work out opportunity attacks, push/pull effects, and other situations. All speeds and distances are measured in feet now too, not number of squares on a grid. All you really need are pencils, dice, a character sheet and your imagination. (While it is possible to play games with the Pathfinder Beginner Box without using the included maps & miniatures, the information in the Beginner Box rulebooks assumes that you’ll be using them.)

Streamlined Play – But Not “Dumbed Down”

No longer do you need to keep track of one or more extra +/- modifiers to your rolls based on various conditions/effects, like in those earlier games. Now, you either have a proficiency bonus or you do not. And you have advantage in the given situation, or disadvantage, or neither.

Advantage means you get to roll 2 d20 on your roll and you choose the higher result. It is usually up to the Dungeon Master to determine if you have advantage in a given situation — like maybe you managed to successfully sneak up and ambush some goblins. The DM says “You’ve totally surprised them. You get advantage on your roll!” Done.

And if you were fighting those goblins from an unfavorable position (like if they were directly above you and shooting at you with their crossbows from the top of a ravine, leaving you surprised & with nowhere to hide), then you would make your rolls with disadvantage. Disadvantage means that you roll 2 d20 and you must choose the lower result. Done.

There are several other examples too, but they all fall under the “If it slows down the game, do we really need to keep it?” school of thought.

Roleplaying in Your Dungeons & Dragons Game Now has Real Benefits

Not only is roleplaying encouraged throughout the game, there is a mechanic now to reward players for doing awesome things with their characters.

Inspiration is a new kind of reward, and it is up to the DM to determine when a player should receive it. (Again, less reliance on tons of rules for every conceivable action, like we got in 3rd/4th Edition D&D.) If a player does something awesome by playing to a character’s personality…then you can award them Inspiration, which they can “cash in” later for a benefit of some sort. And that benefit is also largely up to the DM. In my case, I let a player choose when they wanted to make a roll with Advantage — which they saved for a really important saving throw that happened later on…

Starter Set BattleFaster & Deadlier Combat

With all of the options available to players & the status effects, buffs/pushes/pulls, etc. from everyone’s various powers, combat can take forever in 3rd/4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In 4th Edition, a 4th Level encounter with a handful of creatures could take an hour, depending on how complex/difficult the DM made it & how familiar the players are with all of the powers they have available to choose from. But even in Pathfinder, combat can run for quite a while too (though not nearly as long as it can take in 4th Edition D&D).

In the new D&D, you can resolve a similar encounter in just a few minutes if you wanted. That’s not to imply that combat isn’t exciting in 5th Edition. It’s just much more fast-paced… and deadlier (for both the monsters and the players).

You won’t get stuck in a long battle that just drags on and on as you slog through each others buckets of hit points… Especially with Advantage & Disadvantage making it more likely that monsters or players will roll critical hits/fails.

And yes, it is now possible for a 1st level wizard to be knocked out (maybe not killed outright, but taken to the point of unconsciousness) with one lucky arrow. In the original Red Box D&D days, an arrow would probably KILL a 1st Level magic-user…so it’s not quite as bad as it used to be. The cleric in your 5th Edition party can still get you back on your feet with a quick heal. 🙂

Different Way to Handle Spellcasting

Gone are the At Will/Encounter/Daily spells of 4th Edition. We’re back to being able to cast just X spells per day for wizards and clerics. However, there are many “cantrips” for wizards & clerics to choose from too. And these are like the At Will powers of 4th Edition. There have been cantrips in earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons too, but in 5th Edition, cantrips don’t suck. In some cases, they’re actually very good. Like  Ray of Frost, which shoots a beam of blue-white light, doing 1d8 cold damage and reducing the target creature’s speed by 10 feet. Damage + slow = dangerous.

But that’s not all, spells also level up with you. So that 0-level Ray of Frost cantrip that you can spam all day long gets even more deadly as your character levels. You get to add another d8 at 5th level, and another at 11th and another at 17th.

And while Magic Missile is not a cantrip (you can only cast so many 1st Level spells per day), it is a good example of how they’ve improved those types of spells too. It now allows you to hit multiple targets from the start…very good, indeed. Look that one up in the free Basic D&D PDF to see what I mean.

Unlike 4th Edition D&D, spells now require saving throws by the player or monster who it is being casted upon. The difficulty of the save is already calculated for you in the monsters’ stats. For player characters, it’s pretty easy: 8+your spell casting ability modifier+your proficiency bonus (if you have one) for the given spell. That’s a bit of math in the beginning, but you also don’t have a ton of spells like you used to in 4th Edition either, so it’s too much to ask. And you only need to figure it out once anyway.

D&D Start Set AdventurersQuality of the Included Adventure

As I’d mentioned earlier, the new D&D Starter Set comes with 2 booklets. One contains the basic rules you’ll need to play the game up to Level 5 (32 pages), and the other booklet (64 pages) is mostly comprised of a high-quality adventuring campaign that will take a party of 4 to 5 players all the way to 5th Level.

We’re talking many hours of play here. I won’t include any spoilers in this post, so I’ll just leave you with the knowledge that the adventure “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” has a good balance of combat, role-play and exploration. You’ll have opportunities to interact with townsfolk and other NPCs, and to face interesting adversaries, etc. And it just wouldn’t be a Starter Set D&D adventure if you didn’t have to deal with some goblins too!

If you’re a Dungeon Master and you’re looking for some ideas on how to run the adventure, I’ll create another post for you later. 🙂

The art throughout the books is superb (the art I’ve been including in this post is from the Starter Set). From representations of the races/classes to the overall layout, the booklets themselves are top notch, with glossy paper that feels like it’ll hold up fairly well to repeated use.

Price & Value

The one drawback is that the D&D Start Set’s books are magazine-style stapled booklets vs the very durable & beautiful card stock pawns and perfect bound Game Master’s Guide and Hero’s Handbook manuals in the Pathfinder Beginner Box. However, I know the D&D Starter Set’s magazine style books were chosen in order to keep the price of the Starter Set as low as it is. Even on Amazon, the D&D Starter Set is less than half the price of the Pathfinder Beginner Box.


Overall Opinion of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

It is entirely an $11.99 on Amazon, or $19.99 at your Friendly Local Game Store well spent! I cannot recommend the new D&D Starter Set enough. I think it’s an accessible & easy-to-understand ruleset that will help new players & DMs get a great start in the hobby.

This Edition was created as a result of the largest public playtest in RPG gaming history. Over 175,000 gamers contributed to it. And I think result speaks for itself.

The direction that 5th Edition has gone is exactly what I think was needed as well. MUCH faster, yet more exciting combat. Lots of options for building the kinds of characters you want to play, but not so many options as to be overwhelming for new players. High on roleplaying opportunities. Low on rules lawyering.

If you’re what’s known as a min/max player, the new Edition of D&D doesn’t look like it’ll be the best Edition of the game for you. 🙂 However, if you’re into exciting combats that won’t take an entire game session to complete, or if you’re into great storytelling that doesn’t get bogged down by too many rules, then I think you’re going to be happy with the new 5th Edition of D&D.


Beginner Box Adventures by Beginner Box Adventures