Of all the stereotypically geeky things in existence, there are few that are as widely recognized as a pastime of geeks than Dungeons and Dragons. Since its launch, it has been responsible for countless weekend nights spent around a table, rolling dice of all shapes and sizes and praying for a natural 20. Now the fifth edition of D&D is on it way, and Wizards of the Coast is helping bring it to new players with the basic rules online.
For longtime Dungeons and Dragons players, much of these rules will be a rehash of what they already know, but for new players, it’s an easy to follow introduction. Longtime players will also be able to spot quite a few differences between this and the previous editions of the game, such as the Fighters gaining a variety of fighting style options (similar to the Ranger’s choice of two weapon or ranged specialization), new racial traits and sub-races, and new additions to building one’s character, such as inspirations, personality traits, and flaws.
Note that these flaws are not like the Flaws one can take during character creation in previous editions, which are taken to allow additional feats, but are rather used for fleshing out characters.
The basic rules provided from the website only offer a limited selection of the various classes and races available in most Dungeons and Dragons games, which is to be considered, as it’s a free edition used to introduce people to the game.
For the races, it offers Dwarves (including the Hill and mountain sub-races, though only mentioning Duergar), Elves (High Elves and Wood Elves, with a note about Drow), Haflings (with the Lightfoot and Stout sub-races), and of course, humans, who aren’t given any sub-races, but still a wide variety of ethnic groups from the Forgotten Realms.
Although there are a wide variety of classes in D&D, from the typical Fighter, Wizard, and Bard to the more unique or specialized classes like Jesters, Dragonfire Adepts, and Samurai, the basic rules only offer four core classes. Players can choose from the Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard classes, and the basic rules offer everything they gain and learn from level 1-20. All of them have received some sort of change, creating new ways to play.
Wizards, for instance, now get d6 hit die instead of d4 (making them slightly less squishy), and gain features such as Spell Mastery, which allows them to cast certain 1st and 2nd level spells without using a spell slot, and Signature Spells, which treat two 3rd level spells as always prepared without using a spell slot. They also gain ability score improvements at various level intervals and a higher rate than some other classes. Rogues, meanwhile, keep their signature Sneak Attack, but also gain additional actions, a Reliable Talent, and a secret code called the Thieves’ Cant.
Character creation itself is changed with the addition of some new details. In addition to the typical height, weight, sex (which, should be noted, now includes a mention of how characters do not need to be bound to binary genders), and alignment, there are now Personal Characteristics that players can choose or roll for. This includes Inspiration, which is similar to Action Points but are rewarded for acting in-character, as well as a character’s defining event, ideals, bonds, and flaws.
Combat appears to be mostly the same, although there are some changes for interacting with objects while moving, dashing, grappling, advantages/disadvantages, and so on. Stabilizing after reaching zero HP, for instance, now requires the player to roll three successes before they roll three failures, or be stabilized by another player.
One other noteworthy change is in regards to proficiency. Characters now get a proficiency bonus on all actions they are proficient in, or using any weapons they are proficient with, which increases every four levels. This includes proficiencies they gain through their race, class, and characteristics, so rather than being penalized for attempting something a character is not proficient in, players instead fail to receive their proficiency bonus, which can create a large gap in ability over time.
Naturally, these are just first impressions from a look over the basic rules. The world of Dungeons and Dragons is vast, and the character options are nearly unlimited when there are more than four races and classes available (and even then, when you include multi-classing and varying styles, there’s no shortage of options), so this works well as an introduction to get players started before they really begin trying out all the options available. But if you’ve never played D&D before, or you want to give 5e a look, this is a good place to start.