Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Basic Rules for Dungeons and Dragons

Product– Basic Rules for Dungeons and Dragons (5e)

Producer– Wizards of the Coast

Price– FREE at http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/basicrules



Basics– DnD is BACK!  This rule packet is the free, public rules for DnD next/5th edition.  The rules have a complete level track for wizard, cleric, rogue, and fighter.  It’s broken down into three major areas: character creation, game rules, and magic for the two spell casting classes (wizard and cleric).  Since it’s FREE (!), go download this RIGHT NOW!


Mechanics or Crunch– Quick summary on mechanics: This game is basically 1st, 3rd, and 4th editions rolled into one.  Let’s give these rules a rundown, section by section, to explain what that means.


Base concepts: If you need to roll, you still roll a d20 and add a number.  This is classic, 1st edition DnD goodness.  However, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has MASSIVELY flattened the power/number curve for this edition.   The highest you get for a bonus is +11 (+5 from a stat and +6 from something called proficiency-more later).  At 20th level in, say, DnD 3.5 or Pathfinder you are rocking at least a +30 for any skill or attack.  My wife is playing in the Encounters game and was quite shocked that she only had a +7 at level 7 wondering if her character is underpowered.  Its takes a bit getting used to but your character is now about 50/50 ability and training.  I do wish your character’s training would matter more, but that’s a small personal preference.


Where the numbers come from: As level one, a character chooses a background (what you did before you were an adventurer), a race, what your stats are, and a class.  You have your standard strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma abilities that DnD/Pathfinder players know and love.  Character background and race give you skills (typically four) that you are “proficient” in.  To any skill you are proficient with, you add your proficiency bonus.  This bonus starts at +2 and gradually moves up to +6.  You can see the fingerprints of fourth edition here, but not in a bad way.  Find a sword you don’t know how to use?  Don’t add proficiency to your strength and roll to attack!  Find an upgraded sword you can use?  Add proficiency and attack away!  Trying to remember some religious information your background as a guild thief didn’t prepare you for?  Roll a check without your proficiency bonus.  It’s honestly quick, easy, and keeps the game moving.  Skills and attack rolls have about the same math, and that really helps as a GM and a player to keep things going smoothly.  I like this a lot.


Classes: You have the core four: Wizard, Cleric, Fighter, and Rogue.  This is a document designed to do a few principal things.  First, get players interested to play (Done!).  Two, explain the basics of play.  If you read above, you’re pretty clear so far.  Three, show off the base classes to give players an idea of where the design went.  For that you have your base four.  These classes do give a really good idea of what’s coming next.  Now, keep in mind, you don’t get everything!  You don’t get feats or a lot of options.  It’s broad, rather than in-depth, coverage of the game’s classes.


Magic: The magic in this game is a mix of 3rd and 4th edition’s magic systems.  Spell casters have at-will spells that do something and so many per day castings of others.  Casters get to prepare about 1+ level spells per day, regardless of level, and can cast spells at each level they know so many times per day.  In addition, each character typically gets a few 0 level spells that they can cast a bunch of times.  This means a low level intro character doesn’t get overwhelmed with options, but a high level character with lots of experience has lots of options.  Spell effects are also no longer dependent on character level, but the level at which the spell is cast. As an  example, a character casting cure wounds, a first level spell healing 1d8 HP, could cast that spell in a fourth level spot to heal 4d8 HP.  Also, all spell casting characters kind of function like 3rd edition clerics:  they prepare spells, but can cast any spell they’ve prepared at any spot.  Prep a fourth level spell but want to cast a super heal?  Just use the fourth level spell slot for your cure wounds and move on with your day.  You don’t get to cast the fourth level spell you prepared, however.


Hit Points and healing:  This is always a sticky point between RPG players.  HP is still the number that represents how beaten your character is.  You don’t take any penalties as you become more beaten (“More than none?  Ready to run!”).  I would like some rules to reflect a character being more beaten down, but I honestly think that will come with the Dungeon Master Guide as an extra rule.  Healing is typically done by divine characters as in any edition of DnD; however, 5th edition does add a bit here.  Each level you earn gets you a hit die.  So, a seventh level fighter has 7d10 hit dice.  When you rest for an hour (a short rest), you can spend hit dice daily to heal without a cleric.  You can spend as many or a few as you want adding your constitution modifier to each die rolled.  This represents a nice middle ground between the healing surge of fourth edition and the clerics-only healing of 1st/3rd edition.


Free Form Mechanics: This game takes a pretty strong stand in favor of giving the GM more power compared to fourth edition.  The game encourages the “theater of the mind” game style with the GM telling the players what’s in the room and letting the players decide how to deal with that situation.  Map free games tend to move the game much faster than 3.5/Pathfinder and extremely faster than fourth edition!  I like this as the players are much more engaged, because the turns move much faster.


Summary: The new DnD isn’t so much new as it is revamped.  It’s still the d20 game we know and love, but now its updated using what worked across forty years, four editions, and numerous play tests.  Also, these are not the complete mechanics of the game as the total player rules won’t be out for another month.  In general I like what I see, but some things bother me slightly (why does proficiency start at +2?).  But, I’m happy to see Dungeons and Dragons back.  When I play this game, I do feel like I’m playing my favorite game again, just much quicker and sleeker.  4.75/5


Fluff or Story- Again this is a whole system so I’ll review this across several subsections.


Setting: The game is assumed to be in the Forgotten Realms.  That’s where the Sundering has taken place and where the living game will also take place.  There are parts that discuss converting the game, but the document primarily assumes you will play in the Forgotten Realms.  I like the realms, so I don’t have a problem with this.


Races: Each race gets a sizable portion on how they view one another, and how to be a member of that race.  Each race also provides options for customizing your character (for example, you can be a Hill dwarf or a Mountain dwarf, with each giving a different bonus and feature). It’s well done and gets you into character quickly.


Backgrounds: This is new.  Your character is mechanically half background and half class for its mechanics.  I’ve already talked about your skills, but your background also has parts that discuss how you are bonded to the rest of the group, character flaws, and other little role-playing bits that will draw you into a session quickly.  I REALLY like this.  A major criticism of fourth edition was there was not enough role-playing.  This game front loads the role-playing into character generation!  Very awesome!  And as an extra benefit, the system introduces something called inspiration.  If you act in character, you gain inspiration.  You can spend inspirateion to roll two d20 and take the better, possible extra actions, reroll, or whatever your GM will let you do.  Think of inspiration as fate points from Fate.  Inspiration represents a clear link between role-playing an mechanics, and I love it!


Classes: It’s the classes we know and love.  You don’t get all the options, but you do get enough to have a lot of fun, both mechanically and story wise.


Summary: This “feels” like DnD to me.  I don’t feel like I’m playing a completely different game, a complaint often heard about fourth edition.  You’re playing DnD in the Forgotten Realms if you play by this document. 5/5


Execution- This is well done.  The book has the 3rd edition feel that I loved with something going on in the background of each page as opposed to fourth editions sterile, white backgrounds.  The book does need pictures to break up the monotonous look of all the words.  However, this gets more of a pass than most products because it’s a free document meant to introduce the system, not the final, purchasable product. 4.75/5


Summary- DnD is back!  I like what I see.  This document is meant to be a short introduction to the system, and I can tell you based on this; I plan to buy the system.  I can also tell you that you won’t get the full system with this.  Honestly, you can’t even play until WotC releases the free bestiary which will come out later this year.  Also, I can tell you that this does make more than a few plugs for the full player’s handbook.  But, if you want to go play Dungeons and Dragons again, then use the guide and find a local DnD encounters game to join in and have some fun.  97%

7 thoughts on “Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Basic Rules for Dungeons and Dragons

  1. The +2 proficiency bonus at 1st level instead of a +1 helps differentiating a trained character from an untrained one, without bloating the numbers.
    Note that the Rogue gets to add twice her proficiency bonus to several skills, keeping her the group’s skill monkey but still not making every challenge trivial for her and the party.

    1. During the playtest the original level 1 bonus was +1. I liked that as I felt better then normal, but still had growing to do. The +2 came from people who didn’t like feeling like a weakling. I’m ok with the way it turned out, but its not perfect.

      I think a lot of DnD fans are the same way. 5e is a great system, but its not the perfect system for everybody as everybody doesn’t get their own system.

  2. I just finished reading the basic rules this morning and agree with your review. The two parts that grabbed my attention were the healing after short rests and the prepared spells/spell slots system tweak for magic (still basically Vancian but changed enough to satisfy my desire for a spell point system).

    Looking forward to playing this with some group before too many books come out for it and it gets like Pathfinder (where you either need to have a library of books next to you as you play or a computer and internet access).

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