Why do I play tabletop games? I’ve played tabletop games on and off throughout most of my life, although this has primarily been through CCGs (Yugioh, Pokemon, and recently Magic). I had even played a few games of D&D near the end of my college career, having decided to finally give the game a go. And a little over a year ago I took the dive and started getting into the hobby of tabletop games as a whole.
Since then I have seen the value in all the cardboard, plastic, and metal components that make up the myriad of games we play around the table. Though the games can be fun, exciting, thought provoking, and memorable, the key factor that makes these sessions timeless are the interactions we have with others. In a time where everything is going digital and even Blu Ray Discs are becoming obsolete the time we spend with others face to face is more valuable than ever.
When I was thinking of what game to cover first for this article series I was truly at a loss. I’ll admit even now I’m not sure if covering D&D 5e was the right choice. Primarily it was because I was in the middle of planning an upcoming session and so the game was fresh in my mind, but as I think about it more and more there aren’t too many games that tap into the social interactions of players at a table than roleplaying games such as Dungeons and Dragons.
In the middle of Summer last year, Wizards of the Coast finally released the long anticipated Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Known as D&D Next during its playtesting days. With so many players tiring of crunchy RPG systems filled with an overabundance of numbers, math and rules Wizards set out to find a happy compromise. Indeed many of the RPGs that have come out in the past couple of years have been more story driven, placing more emphasis on the Role Playing than the Game. These games were intended to generate fantastic stories, and it’s nice to see a everything trending towards great storytelling and not just great combat.
I’ll admit, when I was young I tried getting into D&D but to no avail. I went to a local game store, looked at one of the books, and was immediately confused and overwhelmed. I didn’t see countless worlds and possibilities, I saw charts and numbers. It wasn’t the game I wanted to play and sadly, I put it back on the shelf, never to play an Tabletop RPG again until many years later.
This new edition of D&D happily merges both an emphasis on roleplaying and some crunchy bits that veteran players have loved. One of the key mechanics in the game that streamlines game mechanics but allows for greater storytelling is the Advantage System. In D&D certain scenarios may give you advantage or disadvantage, having the high ground on an enemy, sneaking up on a goblin while he sleeps, climbing a tree in the middle of a rain storm, or trying to jump a gap after you have just been injured. In some roleplaying games, each of the above scenarios may actually have game mechanics that directly relate to the action being attempted. Though this can add a sense of freedom for players, knowing that with the immense amount of rules they could actually literally do anything, it can also slow things down immensely with players getting into long rules debates or spending extra minutes simply trying to look up how things work. With D&D 5E if you wanted to jump a gap I could say, roll an athletics check. If the ground is slippery or if you are wearing boots that make you feel lightweight I could tell you to roll the same check at advantage or disadvantage. What you would then do is roll two D20s as opposed to just one. With advantage you take the higher number and with disadvantage you take the lowest. This really speeds up the gameplay and can make for some very tense and rewarding moments (like a player succeeding at a difficult task even at a disadvantage).
But what if you just want to be epic? What if the gap is simply too big and there are no other factors in play? This is where the Inspiration mechanic ties into things. Many RPGs have these “resources” that players can use to tap into their power to do great things. In a Star Wars RPG this could be like a Jedi using the force to give himself a boost. In D&D you have inspiration. You don’t have a number of it, you either have it or you don’t. If you have it you can spend it to turn a regular roll into a roll with advantage or a disadvantage roll into just a normal one. You receive Inspiration via the DM should you roleplay to your character’s traits. This actually ties back into character creation during which you are asked to define your character’s key trait, life goals, flaw, and ideals. (I am a halfling who has an alchohol problem though I believe that the world would be better without drugs.) The more you roleplay to your character (which could result in good or bad decisions) the more opportunities you get to have inspiration and the more rewarding the whole experience, especially the story, is.
Before I wrap things up I want to touch base on the skills you use to perform these tasks. When I first played D&D it was 3.5e, an edition with many rules and things I could tap into to make my character exactly how I wanted. Part of that was selecting skills my character was good at. For example, say the skills available are Climbing, Riding, Swimming, Persuasion, and Stealth. In 3.5e depending on your intelligence stat you could only pick a few out of the five to be good at and the rest you may as well not attempt. In D&D 5e everyone is assumed to have all the skills listed. Though you won’t be as good at some skills depending on your stats (strength makes you good at athletics and charisma makes you good at persuasion) every character has a proficiency, which adds a global boost to many rolls (including skill checks) depending on your level. This helps even things out quite a bit and can turn a rather weak skill of yours into something at least average should you find yourself the only one available.
Admittedly I have only played this game from a DM perspective, though I have created a few characters just to get a feel for it. The character creation is very easy to understand, can be done relatively quickly, and has enough crunchy bits to please any gamer but still be simple enough to teach to newcomers.
If you are into Tabletop RPGs and are tired of sifting through mountains of rules then I would give D&D 5E a serious look. If you feel that way but you still like to have some crunch then again, I would recommend D&D 5E. On the opposite side of things, if you are a fan of story driven RPGs but feel like they don’t provide enough rules for the players, check out D&D 5E. There are plenty of other RPGs out there and some cater to different crowds. I think though the D&D 5E is a great middle ground and though it isn’t simple enough to call it a gateway game it can certainly help you decide as a player what types of RPGs you can enjoy.
Have you played D&D before? If so what is your favorite edition? Or if not what other roleplaying games do you prefer? Trying to tackle D&D in a short article has been a challenge so please, any comments or criticisms are very welcome! Look out for my next article for Filling Up the Corners where I discuss one of my favorite board games, Tokaido!
-The Secondhand Took