After 1640 days, 5th Edition started to look rather appealing

When the Basic Rules pdf for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition was released, I was not impressed by it. I had had high hopes for it when the playtests started, but it didn’t turn out as the game I was hoping it to be and I lost most interest in it. What I had been looking for at that time was an improved version of the ancient Basic/Expert rules, or at the very least a polished version of AD&D. Which is not what this game is. I was not impressed.

“We said: meh.”
“M-E-H. Meh.”

But now I find myself in a rather different position. As my apprenticeship, and accordingly my current living arangements, are coming to an end in a months, the stars will be right to get my new campaign off the ground. I created the setting deliberately avoiding making it a D&D world, inhabited by D&D races and D&D monsters, with the D&D classes making up the ranks of influential figures, and societies being build around the presence of D&D spells. I wanted it to be something that has its own identity first and gets rules applied to it later. I envisoned something very much like Dark Sun, which technically is AD&D, but with some tweaks to races and classes and serious reflavoring turned out into something distinctively different from Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Dragonlance.

For the last week I have been playing a lot of Baldur’s Gate, the game that first introduced me to not just Dungeons & Dragons, but also RPGs, and made me see that fantasy is more than just The Lord of the Rings. And it got me interested in running D&D again. I had briefly flirted with Dungeon World, but that game is neither D&D, nor Apocalypse World; something less than the sum of its parts. I got excited again for actual D&D, with classes and levels. Which for me meant B/X. The game much simpler than 3rd Edition and much less messy than AD&D. But when talking with people with a general interest in playing a campaign in the forseeable future, I got to consider the possibility that there might be an overwhelming popular demand to play 5th Edition again. And I wanted to check if this is a game that I could be persuaded with sufficient force to run, or something that I would fight against with my dying breath.

This time I sat down with the actual Player’s Handbook. Not just the Basic Rules or the SRD with their limited coverage of all the class specializations. And as it turned out, it really has quite a bit to offer for a Green Sun campaign. While talking about systems, the conversation came to the big problems that made me regard 3rd Edition and Pathfinder as completely unplayable by now: Ever growing gaps between modifiers as levels go up, way too many small situational modifiers to remember during combat, skill points and feats slowing down character creation and especially creating NPCs and monsters, and spell slot preparation. And all of these have been adressed, quite successfully, in 5th Edition. The proficiency bonus and fixed saving throws keep modifiers from escalating, the advantage mechanic takes care of most situational modifiers, and skill points are gone and feats are much rarer and optional. Spell slots are still called spell slots, but they are actually a kind of spell points now. Regarding the mechanics, this is a game I can definitely run without any pain.

When it comes to character races and classes, I am still feeling somewhat ambiguous. Humans getting +1 to all ability scores still feels very wrong. Rogues getting 1d8 hit points per level still feels too much. Superiority Dice and Ki Points let characters do nonmagical things only a limited amount of times per day. And other things like that. But with some I can live, and when adapting the system to the setting, I am going to have to limit the options of classes and specializations anyway.

The first thing that really draw me to the system is the bard. Because I soon realized that the bard makes for an awesome shaman. If you say that the character does not use inspiring music but chants to the spirits for blessings and protection, you got yourself a solid shaman. The class has access to all the basic healing spells and the enchantments and illusions can be treated as spirits messing with the targets’ minds and perception. There are a few cleric and druid spells that would round out the spell list very nicely, but even with just the default bard spells, you can have a campaign setting that has only bards but no clrics, druids, and paladins.

That already had me intrigued, but what really got me excited was the warlock.

The warlock is just the thing that I need to represent the sorcerers of the Green Sun setting. The Fiery Spirits of the Realm Below from which the Sorcerer Lords of Ven Marhend gain their powers are perfectly matched by The Fiend. The Sorcerer Queen of Halva is an Archfey. And the Old One is just what the Dark Spirits of the Realm Beyond are meant to be. The warlock is a class that to my Baldur’s Gate defined sensibilities has always been inappropriate and out of place. But this is different now. I don’t want to run 90’s Forgotten Realms. I want to run Green Sun. And shaman bards and warlocks fit it perfectly.

Here is my current idea how the campaign in D&D 5th Edition could look like:

  • E10 style world: Without unlimited feats, actual E10 makes no sense, but both PCs and NPCs are capped at 10th level. Spells of 6th level or higher do not exist, though they might still appear as monster abilities.
  • Classes: Barbarian (Totem Warrior), Bard (Lore), Fighter (Champion), Ranger (Hunter), Rogue (Thief), Warlock (Archfey, Fiend, Old One), Wizard (Enchanter, Transmuter).
  • Spells: Only 1st to 5th level. No teleportation, matter creation, force barriers, extradimensional spaces, or light. No evocations and necromancies for wizards.
  • Armor: Leather scale (studded leather), lamellar (scale), heavy lamellar (chainmail), shields.
  • Weapons: No light hammer, crossbows, flail, greatsword, lance, morningstar, rapier, trident, warhammer, warpick. They are all not matching the tech level of the setting.
  • No Two-Weapon Fighting and no full healing on a long rest. Because I have the right to be pedantic about some things.

7 thoughts on “After 1640 days, 5th Edition started to look rather appealing”

  1. @Yora,
    All your “variant”/”houserule” ideas for 5e look mighty fine.

    Of some interest to you Goodman Games has published “Into the Borderlands” which is an updating (and linking adventure) for the old “In Search of the Unknown” and “Keep on the Borderlands” adventures, and they also have a 5e version of “The Isle of Dread”, both include re-printings of the original B/X adventures.

    1. Isle of Dread I might actually use in this campaign. My plan is to use Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, along half the stuff from The Savage Frontier. Maybe salvage Rahasia and Quagmire!, not sure about those yet.
      And of course Escape from Meenlock Prison, because that thing is awesome.

    1. In the end it always comes down to what you have the players face, and how much pressure you put on them. Difficulty is not in the design of the rules, but in the way you run the game. You just have to forget about balance and appropriate challenges.
      That being said, Conan and Elric are always a power level very worth playing.

    2. It can be and it usually is, but in going through the options in the DMG, and (to a lesser extent) the PUB it is very much a “meet in the middle” edition.

      You may tweak it to be 3/4’s like 3e or 4e (and thus LAME!) or you can tweak it to be 3/4’s like AD&D or B/X (and thus AWESOME!).

      Your table, your rules.

      I personally wouldn’t run it full “bells and whistles” (too much like other WotC “D&D” that way), but inside 5e it is easy to make it D&D again.

      In some ways it’s even easier than was AD&D, which had too much chaff as well.

      Slow down the healing, slow down the levelling up, cut out the Feats options, cut out most spell casting classes, and you’re pretty good to go.

      That’s the beauty of it, almost all the work is subtraction, not addition.

  2. 5e is easy to hack

    For a more gritty feel I recommend adding exhaustion level each time a character falls to 0 hp, to mitigate the “pop tart” effect. No hit points for long rest is also a good idea. Maybe even no healing magic at all…

    Anyway, have fun.

    And happy new year!


    1. I am seriously considering reducing Constitution by -1 every time a character falls to 0 hp, reflecting a grave battle injury, given how rarely I’ve ever seen any characters drop in my games.
      Or perhaps a -1 Constitution penalty that can be healed with lesser restoration after the first failed save, a permanent -1 Constitution penalty after the second failed save, and death after the third failed save. That also sounds neat.

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