EDIT: I just found out that some monsters are going to have an Immunity to the prone condition, in the Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed rules. I didn’t see it in the hydra’s stat block, but I assume it would apply to it and many similar monsters in the Monster Manual. Worry averted.
Our group finished the mini-campaign to test the Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed waters last week. In short, we liked the rules, I found it easy to DM, and most importantly we had fun. The players all felt like their characters could do amazing things, and that they were actual heroes. In the rules centric sense, when the players wanted to do something more the standard RPG actions, the 5th ed rules facilitated this. D&D 5th ed was “Go for it!” compared to d20’s “Not without a feat tree, you don’t.” Two players both played fighters, and they were different enough that they didn’t feel like they were stepping on each other’s toes. The diversity of the classes should help give the game a long life. We had to look at the Player’s Hand Book more than a few times, but it was also an unfamiliar system, so that’s understandable. Once we figured out what we were doing in any area, we had it down. There were about as many rules checks in this D&D 5th ed game as we usually went through in the Pathfinder game, an interesting contrast considering one was a game we were still learning and the other was one we’ve played for roughly a decade and a half (3.X and its derivatives). One caveat to this is that no one played a magic user, but from what I’ve heard about D&D 5th ed, the rules are generally this easy all around.
Even though I like 5th ed, there were a couple of things that I thought could be problematic and just not to my taste. First is the simplicity of the rules. Simplicity isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but here, it leaves open a potentially ugly door. The rules are soft and malleable in many ways. Yes, The Writer’s System is flexible, but once it’s flexed the way the GM wants it, it’s clear. I think the D&D rules are going to get more abuse than an NFL wife over the life of the game. They also felt like they lent themselves to fostering conflict, especially when the wording is less than clear. I know that one of the cardinal rules of roleplaying is that the GM, DM, Storyteller, or what have you has the final word. But that doesn’t stop some people from arguing and badgering the night away does it? How many times have we either gave in to the annoying persistence of a player just to get them to shut up and start the game or seen it happen? It’s ultimately up to the people playing the game to adjudicate these sorts of things, and as I said before an ass-hat type of player will always be an ass-hat no matter the rules. It just seems like the 5th ed rules are going to be the drought stricken California forest to that particular match.
The biggest problem I had with this new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons was part of the feel. There were some aspects that just felt silly to me. One was a Halfling using a full sized rapier, which is perfectly in line with the rules. There’s no way a human could wield a 6 foot length of steel roughly ten percent of their body weight one handed, let alone with any sort of finesse. That is a fairly small complaint though. I can imagine the Halfling with a rapier scaled to their size since it doesn’t really matter if it’s a foot and a half of steel or three feet that pierces your heart. You’re still just as dead. What really caused me to raise an eyebrow was the final boss fight against a hydra. The monk tripped it, more than a couple of times, even after I gave the huge (huge in the D&D rules) quadruped advantage, and if it wasn’t for that advantage, the monk could have kicked it away fifteen feet at a couple of points. NOTE: due to another PC’s actions, the Hydra was disadvantaged at one point, and the hydra was tripped every round. It was tripped before that as well. Granted, we could have very well missed something, but none of us found anything in the PHB or online to say that a human monk couldn’t repeatedly trip something like a hydra.
Dungeons & Dragons always had a serious feel to the rules. It made me think of things along the lines of Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian, and Game of Thrones. Now with Halflings running around with giant swords (relatively speaking) and humans flipping something the size of an elephant flat on its back, it is feeling more like a lighthearted JRPG or an episode of Hercules/Xena. Maybe that is just the new demographic they’re going for, but it feels a little silly to me. And from a creative standpoint, I always found it easier to add silliness to something serious than add seriousness to something over the top. I’m not to the point where I would say Tripped the Hydra has replaced Jumped the Shark, but it just felt silly and made what would have been a horrific monster rampaging through the town nearly a Benny Hill skit.
One final note is something a friend of mine said during this introductory game. He thinks, and I one hundred percent concur, that there is going to be an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed sometime in the next few years. The simplicity of 5th ed is nice, and a wonderful break after the rules intensive 3.X, but I wouldn’t have minded a little more mechanical depth and for some things.
Have fun with the dice,