The other day someone in the comments section accused me of hating 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. 🤔
At first I was taken back… after all I started a roleplaying blog that talks exclusively (so far at least!) about 5e D&D, not to mention the fact that I dedicate a considerable amount of my free to time to playing and DMing, as well as creating new products for the DMs Guild.
On the other hand, I could see their point. Every other post I write on this blog is an attempt to fix something I don’t like much about the game.
At any rate, the comment got me thinking… maybe it’s time I wrote a post celebrating, what I consider to be, the best aspects of 5e: a selection of the mechanics, as well as some of the maxims, that have combined to make this my favourite edition of the game, and – from a wider perspective – have helped propel the brand to new heights of success.
So without further ado, here are 15 reasons why 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons kicks ass….
1. The Advantage of Advantage
Who doesn’t love the advantage mechanic? It’s so simple and ‘elegant’ (to use a 5e design buzzword), removing the need for a bunch of modifiers and recalibration of DCs.
Instead of getting some +2 bonus to hit a prone target, and then remembering that they shouldn’t get their Dexterity modifier applied to their AC any more, and setting up a 10 minute calculation about what the final number you need to hit is, with the advantage mechanic you can simply keep all your usual modifiers but roll twice and take the highest.
At first I was concerned that nuances of probability would be lost, but I quickly realised… it just works. Plus you get to roll two dice instead of one!
Praise be to J.C.!
2. Bigging Up Backgrounds
I’ve seen some people state that they don’t like the backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook…. for me they might just be the best thing in there! Or at least the best thing that I wasn’t expecting. Every background is a protein shake injection to my creative muscles when it comes to fashioning character concepts. Just reading the Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond and Flaw tables of a single background type is usually enough to set my brain into overdrive churning out engaging personalities ready to be fleshed out with a few stats and a brief back story of their childhood misery.
More than anything else in the edition though, backgrounds are symptomatic of 5e’s focus on storytelling, something which has elevated my experiences at the table from two dimensional quest completion, focusing on a strategic use of resources, into a more well-rounded game with plenty of social interaction, character development and rich, personal storylines that take place beyond the ‘you must save the world’ mission.
I might talk some more about this in the future!
3. In Commendation of Concentration
Concentration is a great device for limiting the power of certain spells and ensuring spellcasters can’t lockdown battles with a never-ending barrage of control spells like entangle, hold person, slow etc. As an added bonus it encourages smarter monsters and NPCs to target spellcasters, stopping them from hanging around at the back with impunity, the cheeky buggers.
It also adds some ‘fun’ implications of using certain spells like fly. Are you willing to risk being 200 feet in the air when you lose concentration on that one!?
4. In Tune With Attunement
Everyone loves magic items, but some DMs and players have a natural inclination towards spamming their adventures with game-changing weapons and artefacts that threaten to overshadow the powers of the players themselves. Setting a sensible limit on the number of powerful items one player can use at a time (three in case you’re wondering), is common sense as far as I’m concerned.
5. The Extra Traction of a Bonus Action
Who doesn’t want a second opportunity to get sh*t done?
Here’s a little more on maximising those precious moments…
6. The Satisfaction of a Quick Reaction
I can go, and it’s not even my turn? Hand me that d20….
7. The Simplicity of Skill Proficiencies
When I first read the Player’s Handbook I was a bit underwhelmed by the paucity of choice in the skills proficiencies department, but I now see it as a great boon of the game. There are very few times when the game requires a test of skill or knowledge that isn’t covered by the 18 skills in the game, and if you do like to mix things up a bit try my new favourite technique… the cross over check, where you pair a skill with a different ability to usual. Such as a Strength (Acrobatics) check, to keep your balance in a gale force wind, or a Dexterity (Athletics) check to scramble at speed through a obstacle-strewn marketplace.
The fact that anyone, proficient or otherwise, can clatter a d20 over the table for virtually any check, no matter how niche, can rile sticklers for realism who (understandably) hate seeing the barbarian’s knowledge of Arcana outdo the wizard’s… in which case check my post right here for some solutions.
8. The Flexibility of Feats
While the plethora of archetypes and options offer players plenty of choice (choice that is ever expanding thanks to the proliferation of supplements and unearthed arcana that Wizards of the Coasts continue to pump out, not to mention the combined efforts of the D&D play’n’publishing community on the Dungeon Master’s Guild), feats do a wonderful job of filling in the gaps, allowing players to personalise their PCs and make them more powerful with clever combinations of complimentary features. The fact that you can get a feat off the bat, by selecting the human variant option as your chosen race is all the better.
9. The Consistency of Conditions
I think it was a really smart idea by the designers to group together a bunch of common conditions and state clearly the mechanical implications of each at the back of the Player’s Handbook. Pretty soon players and DMs know what to expect from certain effects, and spells needn’t go into detail about the specific implications of being entangled by the grim tendrils of evards black tentacles or what it means to be blinded by a sunbeam.
10. Exhaustive Possibilities
Hit points probably remain the most absurd feature of Dungeons & Dragons… the idea that you are (almost) 10 times harder to kill at 10th level than 1st, with the same weapon, has never made sense and never will, even if the D&D designers and playing community have come up with some creative thought processes to explain away the absurdity (increased luck, skill, divine favour etc.!). Nor does it make sense that you can perform 100% at 1 hit point, just as if at full hit points, or that you can recover from everything except death by taking a 60 minute siesta (for my variant healing rules head here).
Whatever you think about hit points though, they aren’t going anywhere soon, and for a heroic fantasy game at least they work.
Nonetheless exhaustion comes in and offers something new to D&D. A way of damaging characters that is separate to the hit points system, and which brings on a succession of penalties that eventually lead to death – no matter how many HP you have!
In fact, it hardly comes into play, in RAW (Rules As Written)! Off the top of my head I can only thing of extreme cold and heat, sleep deprivation and perhaps drowning as ‘official’ ways to gain levels of exhaustion in 5th edition… although I think there might be a couple of spells and monster features that may impose it too.
But that’s fine… I see exhaustion more as a mechanic for DMs to play with, and I think one of the best homebrew rules we’ve instigated (albeit inconsistently) in my group is that being reduced to 0 hit points lumbers you with a level of exhaustion (or even two). One of our DMs also rewrote the lingering injuries table in the DMG adding levels of exhaustion to several of the other effects, and giving serious injuries a bigger impact.
In conclusion, if you like a little bit more realism in your game, then the exhaustion mechanic gives you something very handy to play around with. (Note: if you do end up dishing out multiple levels of exhaustion fairly readily, then I would advise having a short rest reduce one level and a long rest reduce two… otherwise your players will get sick of being underpowered the whole time).
11. Mager Differences
The last time I played D&D regularly, prior to picking it up again in 2016, was in the 90s, when I played 2nd edition. In those days arcane spellcasters were limited to the mage and the illusionist. Picking up the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and discovering three well-defined class concepts in the form of the sorcerer, warlock and wizard was a great improvement for the game. Between them you can play a D&D version of pretty much any magic user you’ve read or watched about in fantasy literature, film and television, whether you prefer the scholarly wizard of old, a chosen one imbued with incredible powers, or a creepy dude who’s done a dodgy deal in exchange for some supernatural skills.
12. Room for Manoeuvres
I love a martial character, but sometimes combat can turn into a rather dull slogfest, devoid of meaningful choices. The battlemaster’s manoeuvres go a long way to solving this problem, by offering plenty of extra scope to what a fighter can do in battle, including introducing possibilities that standard rules have always found it hard to account for… like disarming your enemy.
My only gripe is that only a battlemaster can access them, except via the Martial Adept feat, which is a little underwhelming (maybe two d4 superiority dice, instead of one d6 would fix it?).
Given that spellcasters are so powerful (not to mention versatile) in 5e, I’m tempted to give every non-caster in the party the Martial Adept feat as a freebie (including any battlemasters) in my next campaign.
Anyway if you like maneuvers too, then check out this post where I examine and rank all of the maneuvers in the Player’s Handbook, plus homebrew several fun new martial skills for your game.
13. A Multiclass Act
My memories of multiclassing was that it always introduced a host of broken options, and that annoying powergamers would constantly abuse the system to create spammy, nonsensical characters in order to ‘win D&D’.
From the odd Facebook or Reddit thread that I stumble upon, I understand that’s still possible, but in my experience so far it’s not really obvious and easy to do… many classes’ best features are held back to 2nd level, and this simple design trick means that you’re often better off just heading further up the ladder you’re already on, than being tempted to switch paths for the sake of picking up the powers of another class.
The only somewhat spammy use of multiclassing I’ve seen on my table was when a druid dipped into barbarian to get the rage ability. Suddenly D&D’s already ridiculously tanky tank, just got a lot tankier….
14. Digging Diversity
Ok, I’m just about done with the mechanics I like in 5e, but I think it’s time to pay respect to a more general change of tone within the game. Back in the 90s it seemed like there was only one demographic that played D&D… I don’t think I need to tell you who they were!
I seem to remember Strength penalties for playing a female character (to be fair, I believe they were offset with a bonus to Wisdom or Constitution, but in any case it was an awkward division), the heroes pretty much all had fair skin, and gay people didn’t exist. Nowadays, however, the world of D&D almost seems more politically correct than the real world, with plenty of powerful female NPCs, artwork that reflects different ethnicities and skin tones, openly gay characters and even some transgender NPCs appearing in official tomes.
We know there are prejudices in the real world, but they don’t serve the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s great to see a concerted effort by the brand owners to be more inclusive. Maybe they haven’t got it right every time, but the proof is in plain view… you can find D&D live play streams of groups of every demographic, from all black or ethnic minority casts to all queer ones. Meanwhile, if I wasn’t too old for crushes, then I’d definitely have a crush on every member of this all female D&D group (an inconceivable demographic not so long ago!). Their voice acting is easily on a par with the famous cast of Critical Role, and the DM is fantastic, so put them on your watch list!
Apart from anything else, the ever-expanding appeal of the game, and the deconstruction of some of the negative stereotypes around it, means I feel less and less that I have to apologise in public for being so addicted to this incredibly geeky, hour-sapping pastime.
15. Community Content(ment)
For various reasons – namely the playability of the new edition, the advancement of technology, a resurgent interest in fantasy genre spearheaded by Game of Thrones, the rise of geek culture – 5th edition D&D is also the beneficiary of an ever-expanding universe of additional, community-made content that is growing up beside it.
From live streams that serve as either as entertainment or inspiration (see my post on learning from Matt Mercer), and ‘how to’ videos by the likes of Matt Colville and Dungeon Dudes to the black hole of adventures and lore that is the DM’s Guild, you could spend every hour of every day for the rest of your life immersed in D&D content and you wouldn’t run out of things to watch or read.
It can actually be a little intimidating to think about much you haven’t read, but on the other hand the demand for Dungeons & Dragons content is driving a host of new opportunities for lovers of the game, and the ultimate dream of being paid to either play or write about D&D has never been more attainable.
It’s Your Turn….
What aspects of 5e D&D do you like most? Be they specific mechanics, design philosophies, supplements, I’m intrigued to hear your opinion… (this way 👇 to the comments!).
I’ve just joined on the back of Stranger Things and the pandemic.
What I love? Is the accessibility of the game. I played my first game with zero pre-read. Then DMed for the first time with less than 3 hours of pre-read.
DM Describes scene
PC Describes what they’d like to do
DM tells PC mechanics required if any.
Rinse repeat. I am literally making it up as I go.
That’s wonderful to hear!
Back when I started the rules book felt way too obtuse to get started by yourself, as a DM at least. Although the lack of live streams etc. and the general abstract nature of the game didn’t help. Nor did being only 10 or 11 years old. Luckily i found a group to join at school and played with them for 2 years before starting my own group and becoming the DM (still prefer playing though!).
The stripped down mechanics for combat and skills checks is certainly a major boon of the game.
Are you playing a published campaign, or a your own homebrew one?
I started as a DM in the Essentials Pack on Icespire Peak and The Master’s Vault in Roll 20.
The Master’s vault is over and the Essentials Pack has pivoted into homebrew.
I’ve also started a completely homebrew game last week after I realised that the fact I’ve read all of Raymond E Feist’s books means I probably have enough Fantasy Lore in my noggin’ to make it all up as I go.
Now I realise that D&D was pretty much made for me. I fucking love it and find it really easy. (I have a career in Learning and Development so am very patient with teaching people and my super power is I can learn things very quickly)
Hi. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write all of the above and sharing it. As someone who’s been out of D&D for nearly 20 years, finding content like yours has been very beneficial as I try to re-enter the game. I’ve become familiar with the Dungeon Dudes, Colville, and Mercer. They too have provided content that has been extremely helpful to me.
So thank you for your time, effort, and knowledge!
Thanks Scott! You’ve certainly put me in good company there! I am confident that you’ll enjoy your return to the game – everything has improved in my experience, from the rules, to the game’s focus/approach, and importantly the level of DMs and players has improved greatly, thanks to the ease of knowledge sharing etc. in the digital age.
I agree with Scott. Having left the game in the early 90s, playing catch-up is both exciting and overwhelming.
For the record, there *were* female-type people like myself playing in the ’80s and ’90s, though I’m still reeling from the game store manager who basically told me to get out because I was female… Now I am in the minor demographic of Forever DM Mothers. We don’t seem to be represented in the streamosphere yet, unfortunately.
My favourite aspect of 5e is the “we’ve given you the basics, now go forth and homebrew” philosophy.