I’ve been a Pathfinder 1st Edition player and GM since the game released. I love the rich complexity of the game and the stories it allows you to tell and share with friends.
For all that, though, the idea of a 5e game has been growing in the back of my mind of late. Perhaps it’s the seductive (apparent) simplicity of the system and speed of play or perhaps it’s the rise of Pathfinder 2nd Edition that is prompting me to take the plunge coupled with my desire to play a game actively supported by its publisher. Whatever the reason, I can’t shake the feeling it’s time to try 5e again.
So—to the point of this article—if you play or run 5e, I’m after your advice.
Given I’m an old fart gamer/grognard of a certain vintage what should I know about 5e (beyond the rules) before starting to play? How do its assumptions and play style differ from Pathfinder or earlier editions of D&D? What am I going to find different (or perhaps problematic)?
If you’ve got any insights, or links to handy resources, please leave a comment below.
41 thoughts on “I’m Starting a 5e Game: What Should I Know?”
The trickiest thing I found was not getting my editions muddled up. I came up with this crib sheet to help: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IRdOL93ySakAkpkMDdmydHjTiaLVcUK8SvSVJBTpE84
One other recommendation – pick up the new Essentials Kit. It’s very good!
I agree. I got my copy over the weekend and I’m very impressed with it so far. (Although I haven’t actually read the adventure yet)
Thank you for this, Richard!
Disclaimer: this is written from the perspective of someone who far prefers 3.5/PF to 5e.
5e requires you to make up a lot of rulings on the spot because there just aren’t rules for a lot of things. It’s a lot like much older D&D in that way. I’m talking about everything from the extremely basic–like what numeric, mechanical effects skills have–up to the specific descriptions of what class abilities do. The rules just don’t exist. The books entreat the DM, explicitly and on multiple occasions, to use their best discretion or to do what is best for the group.
There are far fewer options for character customization, even compared to just the Pathfinder CRB. Feats are merely an optional rule, there aren’t that many of them, and they are not at all balanced. Classes have fewer features overall, as well. There are multiple dead levels for most classes. Multiclassing is again simplified and restricted. There are now prerequisites for multiclassing and you don’t actually get all the features of the class you multiclass into, only a small subset. There are no prestige classes. What you get in the PHB is all there is. Subclasses are how you differentiate your character in 5e, and there’s a very small number of them.
Magic items are much rarer, and the rules assume the players don’t have any. At any level. There aren’t any rules for players to create them, either, unless you count a vague paragraph in a non-core book of optional variant rules (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything). There’s no explicit costs for magic items (they’re assigned rarities that have price ranges; this range is often several thousand gp), and the DMG makes it clear that they’re supposed to be nearly impossible to obtain. Compared to Pathfinder, this makes 5e very low-magic, at least in terms of magic items.
Skills play less of a role. A lot of things call for raw ability checks rather than skill checks. There are far fewer skills, no rules on what they actually do (there are vague descriptions, but nothing like “it’s a DC 15 to achieve this numeric result, a DC 20 to achieve that numeric result”), and no guidance on how to adjudicate what they do. Saving throws are now ability checks rather than something dictated by class and level.
Combat is very different. Many attacks of opportunity were removed. It’s now perfectly safe to cast in melee or fire a ranged weapon in melee. You can now move within an enemy’s threatened area without provoking. Just about the only action that does provoke is leaving a threatened area entirely. The action economy has far fewer options. You get a standard, a move, a reaction, and maybe a bonus action. Flanking is now an optional rule that doesn’t give a +2. The list of weapons and other items is greatly reduced. There’s no such thing as a base attack bonus; it’s an ability check that gets your proficiency bonus if you’re proficient with the weapon you’re using.
Dying works very differently. Instead of making fortitude saving throws, you make what is called a death saving throw. Instead of having until negative 10 or negative constitution score, you get three chances. If you make three saves before failing three saves, you’re stable. If you fail three, you’re dead. Resting has been buffed considerably. One eight hour rest and you’re fully healed of just about everything. Even ability drain, even artificial aging. It all just falls off of your character if you get a good night’s rest. It’s very much like a computer game. Just about the only thing resting doesn’t heal is being dead.
Contrariwise, lots of effects have been nerfed pretty hard. Spells have been cut in power compared to earlier editions. Speaking of spells and power, you can prepare spells at a higher slot not to increase the DC but rather to add additional dice (either damage or healing).
There are no PDFs for 5e. The content is not all OGL. If you want an electronic copy of the rules, you’ll need to buy it through dndbeyond or a virtual tabletop. The SRD is an incomplete subset of what’s in the core rulebooks (and it’s not just “no beholder”, it’s core class features, spells, monsters, and the like).
If it sounds like 5e is a very different kind of game for a very different kind of player, that’s because it is.
Some of this isn’t true – there are no dead levels short of some multi-class shenanigans with duplicate abilities, notably 5th level Extra Attack. There are magic item creation guidelines in the DMG as well as Xanathar’s.
Your experience will depend on the tier of play.
At levels 1-6, 3.5/PF1 is definitely more crunchy / meaty. Both the players and the DM have more options to refine and customise their (N)PCs and the game itself.
However, at higher levels, the sheer bloat of rules / options / bookkeeping begins to weigh heavy indeed. 5th edition performs more consistently at all levels.
I’m currently running 2 campaigns; one in 5th ed. and the other 3.5/PF1
In 5th, our sessions run very smoothly and the pacing is tight. I can easily juggle between split parties. There’s little or no time lost looking up (or discussing) rules. Preparation for a session takes a 1-3 hours at most.
In the 3.5 campaign, the pace is much slower. Combat resolution chews up a lot of time and rules queries often break up the pacing. Session prep takes anywhere from 2 to 8 hours (most of that is prepping stat blocks)
As a DM, I much prefer 5th edition. It retains the spirit of the game while dumping all the ballast that weighed it down. I have much better control over the pacing and one hour of prep time nets me at least four hours of solid play. Advantage / disadvantage is an excellent mechanic for making rulings on the spot. The system’s inherent bounded accuracy also provides much more interesting gameplay choices.
The biggest thing is the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. It replaces a lot of the mechanical bonuses or penalties to dice rolls. A/D can be your best friend. Another thing that, for me, took a lot of getting used to was the idea that you can cast spells in melee without penalty. There are no concentration checks. Finally, it took me a while to get used to the fact that you can move, attack, then move again. For that matter, you can move up to your full movement and then use all of your attacks. Those are the things that tripped me up the most until I got used to it.
I’m very much on the fence about advantage/disadvantage, but I’m keen to see how it shakes out in actual play. While I like adding various bonuses and penalties, I can see how this mechanic would speed up play.
There are Concentration checks – but only if you take damage while you have a Concentration spell up – DC (10 or half the damage taken, which ever is higher) Constitution Save or lose the concentration spell.
And making a ranged spell attack if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t Incapacitated means the attack is made at Disadvantage (like all ranged attacks made while in melee).
There are a number of things you can do to ease the transition.
Regarding XP and levels:
1. run a pure xp game where each encouter [regardless of how it was solved] generates an xp value.
2. Run a checkpoint system [like current AL does] but modify it as their system seriously over compensates players and they become too powerful to quickly.
3. run a milestone system. [my favourite]. Have a set goal/encounter or chapter boss they defeat in order to level up.
Regarding most mechanics:
1. cheat option first – get experienced 5e players who are friends to help guide the process. You already DM, [that skill is still present], its the mechanics that will slow you down.
2. Run a rules lite campaign, applying pathfinder principles to 5e playstyle.
Final suggestion have fun 🙂
If you enjoyed running a 2nd edition campaign, I think you’ll find similar things to like about 5th edition in contrast to your Pathfinder experience.
– No magic item shops assumed in the default game, so you don’t have to think about whether each character has the proper trio of cloaks of resistance, rings of protection and amulets of natural armor to stay ahead of the math curve assumed in published adventures. Magic items are the icing on the cake in this edition, rather than a core ingredient- use them to your taste.
– If you love character customization, there aren’t as many options; that being said, each core class has at least 2-3 subclass options at 3rd level and the supplements each have a few as well. Feats are optional if you want a more heroic sort of game. It’s less for a DM to keep track of (which I like), but I could understand players that love character tinkering being turned off by it.
– Monsters are a bit less scalable in that you’re not really adding class levels to monsters. Personally, I prefer to reskin a different monster if something isn’t quite right or make small modifications to get the right feeling. It’s a little more fudgy if you want a specific sort of veteran monster. NPCs tend to have a static statblock from the Monster Manual rather than a whole PC like character sheet, but it’s easy enough to alter them.
– Providing your characters with something to spend their money on besides gear is important- there aren’t magic item shops by default and after you get your ideal best armor/mount/spellbook supplies, etc. there isn’t a lot to spend your money on. If they have a keep or manor like Valentin’s Folly to fix up and turn into a home base that both provides incentive for adventuring and a concrete thing to put their wealth into.
Monsters being less scaleable is definitely something I need to take a closer look at. I love how Pathfinder enables GMs to add class levels to creatures. I’ve seen in the DMG this option also exists, but it doesn’t seem to have really translated into any official adventures as far as I can see.
In 5e when I wanted to make a tougher Kraken, I just made it tougher – more tentacles, more lightning, more hit points, better AC. If I wanted I could then calculate its resulting CR increase per the DMG.
Basically the 5e GM is suppposed to do what he wants, then do a quick reality-check. As opposed to levelling monsters like NPCs, which is much slower.
Characters before level 4 are VERY SQUISHY.
WotC’s comments about trying not to overwhelm a 4 person party are pretty sensible; modern players don’t like to risk their characters because dying is creepy.
If they like to play with that risk, the Dying requires three fails before three successes to become actually dead, so even worst rolls will give their friends a few rounds to save them. Unless there’s a crit. Crits are easy on unconscious people and a crit eats deathsaves.
Action economy – how many moves you can make – is a way bigger deal than WotC thinks it is.
Yes. There is a big jump at level 5, where PCs more than double in power from level 4. The system recognises this as as the Tier I/Tier II break.
It looks like a lot of the core stuff is already handled but I’ll emphasize a few items
1. The entire system hinges on Advantage and Disadvantage. Remember they don’t stack, but they do cancel each other out. Meaning if you have 1 or more sources providing advantage and likewise with disadvantage, it’s just a straight roll, regardless of how many sources are on either side. If 3 sources give advantage, it’s still just normal advantage. Don’t stack. On that note, USE IT A LOT. The game is balanced around this mechanic, so you can easily use it in place of spending 5 minutes digging up a rule in the book. It’s also a very flexible way of rewarding good RP or good ideas. Someone comes up with an awesome idea on how they want to climb that cliff? Don’t just do straight Athletics, give them advantage so they feel like their creativity means something. Is that NPC particularly grumpy today, throw out a disadvantage to the persuasion check (but state why where applicable or your players will get frustrated).
2. The game is balanced around the possibility that there are simply no magic items present in your campaign. For me, this is an odd choice from a design perspective as it’s core to RPGs, but I digress. A +3 magic weapons is *ridiculously* powerful, and a +1 can really give an edge to a low level character. Be mindful as you hand out items. Default to consumables for starting items and sneak in permanent items slowly so you don’t put your players “above the curve” too soon. (Or screw it and just throw harder monsters at them a lot sooner).
3. Take everything you read about “Inspiration” and just throw it out the window. It’s an annoying mechanic. I’m a 5e fan boy–I love it. But Inspiration was an … uninspired… addition to the system. Hero Points in PF2e are slightly better, usable, but still meh. Why ignore it, you ask? Because a) there are a million and 1 sources of obtaining advantage as it is. The players will likely forget they even have inspiration. And b) As you start to dole it out players will begin doing things just to get it. “Does that awesome stunt roll off the balcony get me inspiration?” It can be frustrating and it’s really hard to make sure your less extroverted players get rewarded with inspiration as often. Trust me, just ignore the rule. (Crawford does too… lol)
And as a final little bit, the rules are quite vague. Don’t worry about it, just make up a chill ruling on the fly and make a note to look up specifics on it later. However if you struggle to find specifics in places of the book that it makes sense, 99% it doesn’t have a ruling at all. This is by design.
This summer, this grognard (and his grognard friends) was inspired by your articles What Old School Means To Me and How To Make An Old School Character.
My group first heavily researched 5E to see if we wanted to try it because, as in most groups, we have a wide range of player skill. I am for games that are as fun to all as I can manage. And few players want to play Rain Man while their friend is playing Superman, which happens all the time due to differing levels of system mastery in PF1. So we hoped 5E would be a much simpler system on the belief that the more complex the rules system, the more it favours the intelligent/skilled players. (If one doubts this, think of your chance of winning the simplest game, a coin flip which is 50/50. Now change it to a d4 and it becomes 25/75. Then women get a 2 points during even minutes and 1 point during odd minutes. Add in another 500ish rules and some players will quit trying to master the system and others just won’t be able to. The complex tax code is based on this principle if you’re ever wondering what truly separates the haves and the want to haves…)
So, back to 5E. This is what we discovered.
It is simpler than PF1 (also 3E), but more complex than 1E/2E. 5E attempts to keep the Old School charm of 1E/2E and mostly manages that through less defined rules requiring more DM rulings, less character options, lower magic dependency (basically, none), reintroducing the ‘named’ spells because they own the rights (big win!), and generally less dependency on stats and more dependency on player skill in describing what actions you wish to take. The design concept of Bounded Accuracy was huge in my liking 5E and is something I ended up porting to PF1. And others have touched on this, but Advantage/Disadvantage is also great. Both Bounded Accuracy and Advantage/Disadvantage were attempts to reduce the math load and keep the calculated numbers more reasonable (see: simpler system is more fair to all). As you’ve all probably noticed over the years, humans are generally getting worse at simple math, the kind required to calculate all those bonuses and buffs. We’re too reliant on calculators and computers now. These two concepts in 5E greatly reduce the math load on players (and DMs).
There is no formula for monster advancement. Monsters were given fairly arbitrary stats for their CR. Even 1E/2E you could count on a 2HD monster being about equal to two 1HD monsters and each extra HD basically raised the ‘CR’ in the early editions. For those DMs who like to have more than just generic orcs in their tribe (say archers, champions, bodyguards, and a chief) there isn’t any defined way to add a hit die or otherwise give the monster a tweak. The power level of spells was also a negative in our opinion. Cantrips are pretty powerful and for higher level spells the power increases seem arbitrary again, like monsters.
That said, one day I would like to try 5E, though we ended up starting a new PF1 CRB only campaign based on the principles of your two old school articles and it might be the best campaign we’ve had in two decades.
Thank you for those articles, Creighton!
My pleasure, Derek! I also–unsurprisingly–enjoy Core only games. I think they are far simpler than Core + 1,000 books and as a result play is quicker and players differentiate their characters more based on role-playing rather than mechanics.
Thank you for the 5e thoughts!
5e doesn’t have monster advancement (hit dice are almost entirely vestigial), but it does have rules in the DMG for monster stats by Challenge Rating, so you know what a CR 3 monster should look like.
5e is a lot more loosey goosey than Pathfinder. More control is put into the DMs hands to adjudicate the intricate stuff, there should be less rules arguing. The sage advice articles are a good source of developer insight on the more noticeable interactions that may give a group pause.
Action economy is different and important to understand. Extra attacks are a class feature (which do not stack), only fighters get 3-4 for their action. You get movement, action, bonus if granted by a feature, and one interaction like pickup/open/etc per turn. You don’t have a move action, action and move are not interchangeable. There is an action to move again. You don’t strictly speaking have a bonus action on your turn, but if a feature or item grants you one, you can take it.
I’m not gonna lie, encounter building is awkward at best. Kobold fight club will do the math for you but a lot of monsters punch above or below their weight class and CRs do not consider magic items in general. PCs will eventually outrun cr calculations and you’re going to have to feel out and guess a little bit. It’s not too bad, just different.
Reposting from facebook:
The rules are going to be more vague and less precise than you’re used to, with far fewer corner-case and intricacies spelled out. By design, the power to adjudicate is meant to be with the DM.
3.5/Pathfinder movement, forget it. In 5e you can break up your movement however you like on a turn. Attack, move 10 feet, attack someone else, move 20 feet… whatever you like. There are no 5 foot steps. There’s an action to disengage and avoid AoOs. There are also less things that trigger AoOs.
Feats. Players will not be getting 10-15. Most classes get 5 ability score improvements on the way to lvl 20. Stats cap at 20, however, and ASIs may be traded for feats. 5e feats are more individually potent, however, often granting the benefits of a small feat chain in 3e.
Gone are all of the little +1s and 2s from everywhere. Dis/Advantage mechanic handles most all of those situations.
Forget BAB and skill distribution by level, stuff like that is handled by proficiency bonus.
Understand and embrace the bounded accuracy of 5e. Bonuses to hit are rare and always carefully rationed. This keeps the math simpler and also keeps lower level creatures more relevant. An AC of 20 is plenty acceptable late game. Don’t hand out plate mail and +x weapons in the first couple levels or players will plateau early and be out of room for improvement.
Magic item economy is gone. Hand them out as much or little as you like. Just balance your encounters (or don’t!) around PC ability. The rules for distribution are meh, use your judgement. Buying and selling is mostly avoided in the rules, Xanathars guide to everything has some rules but they’re still kinda meh. Magic is meant to be precious in 5e.
Cantrips:. These have become the baseline attack mode for spell casters, at any level. They scale 3 times, dealing more damage at each tier of play. Leveled spells are always going to be better when you have the slots, but cantrips can get you by.
Multiclassing is pretty easy this time around, it fits on one page. Main thing to watch is the way ASIs are handled, cantrips scale, and requirements to MC. XP penalty for MC is non-existent.
Spell slots. Basically everyone in 5e is like a 3.5/pf sorcerer. Some of them still prep a shorter list of spells per day, but you do not prepare specific spells to specific slots, merely populate the list available for the day.
Can always upcast a spell at higher slot level. Some add bonus effects if you do. Otherwise, spells do not change with level up. No 10ft per level or 1d6 per level anymore. Lvl 3 fireball does 8d6 at 150 feet. It stays that way, unless you cast at lvl 4, then it’s 9d6, etc.
Alright, long-winded enough as it is.
Need to point something out here because it’s a common point that folks who like 5e tend to make, and it’s also plain wrong.
5e doesn’t ensure “[m]ore control is put into the DMs hands”. You’ve always been able to change every rule in every tabletop game. That’s one of the first things every DMG / DMG-homologue says (have folks just never read that section?). You can change any rule you don’t like. They invite you to at the very beginning of the book. 5e isn’t special here. It’s not unique or progressive or different in giving the DM the option to customize. Where it *is* different is that it *requires* DMs to invent rules because there just aren’t rules for so many things.
This is a subtle difference, but it’s a common misconception, and I thought I’d clarify it here.
Great point. You are right: it’s a subtle, but important difference!
I think this is completely wrong. When I’ve tried changing 3e or PF, the game tends to break – it’s extremely brittle. Whereas 5e is very flexible and easy to alter without unforeseen harmful side effects. This is certainly at least partly due to 5e’s simpler more robust design. It’s like a WW2 German tank (3e) vs a Soviet tank (5e).
Perfect summary. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
1. The classes all are very strong don’t give out Magic Items or Gold like candy, as you could in older editions it will make challenging the players difficult with stock Monsters.
2. Your BBG best have some Minions and an escape route ready. 5e Class are much stronger than older editions, characters will not have to rely on magical items to do major damage.
3. Speaking of Monsters CR rating is unreliable. I would start with a caves of Chaos type of game familiarizing yourself with as many Monsters as you can having fun with tweaking the Monster stats to suit your style of play, keep the notes you’ll need them as you Design your actual Campaign.
4. 5e is rules light so as an experienced DM lean on story, rules of cool above all else don’t confuse the rules with a lot of pluses and minuses it slows the flow of play.
5. 5e is built to handle long periods of adventuring away from towns and long resting days, it’s much more fast passed.
6. Without the slow pace of number crunching, Condition, Feat & Skill bloat everyone can focus on roleplaying and Character development.
I love 5e and I hope you will too.
First off I need to say that I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1978 and most of my experience comes from playing 1st and 2nd Edition. Within the last 8 months I have opted to get in to 5th Edition, so I could DM campaigns for my kids and a group of Disabled Veterans who wanted to learn how to play. My wife and I also host The THAC0 Factor on YouTube
As far as the 5th Edition rules go, they are rather limited. When I teach new players and DM’s about 5E I refer them to Players Handbook Chapters 1-5, 7, 9 and 10 , Dungeon Masters Guide Chapters 3,4,7, and 8 and the Unearthed Arcana Updates from the Wizards of the Cost Website. I also recommend having the Starter Set and Essentials Kit (they are very useful and helpful with new players, I made a PDF using the necessary information (a lot of it is redundant) from them to use as handouts with my players Welcome Folder. I believe in keeping everything organized for easy access and everyone’s folders has everything in the same places.)
For game play, I suggest for players to be as engaging as possible. This will promote an immersive feel and give you ownership of your character and his/her actions. I also suggest to build your character based on how you would think, feel, and act with the stats you roll.
For Dungeon Masters, Its different. To start off I recommend by making a questioner for your intended players. Include likes dislikes and what setting they like. These three simple topics will really help you with your adventure. Next I suggest to rolling several NPC’s of each class, than running them through whatever instance you plan on hosting. I feel that this helps need DM’s to look at things from the players point of view. The main purpose is to see if you need to trim things down or spice thing’s up, to fit the players style of play. The last thing I suggest is to prepare for players to go off the path you create for them. Every DM I have ever played with doesn’t do this. So I came up with this simple process 28 years ago. It looks like this- Action = Consequence = New Action = Redirection = Your Intended Path. Basically speaking, No matter how many times you plan something and cut a clear path to your objective, the players always derail themselves, and they need intervention of some sort to get back on track.
I also recommend using https://kobold.club/fight/#/encounter-builder for random and standard encounters. It has saved me hours of looking everything up. A good DM needs things that can be used for time management purposes.
Having played 2e and 3.xe, I have to say I really like 5e. The core mechanics are streamlined (advantage/disadvantage is a beautiful thing), most of the classes and subclasses do interesting things and give players meaningful options and choices in combat. I’ve played and GMed and here are some things I noted
1: As a player and GM, understanding the action economy is pretty fundamental. Know exactly what your character can do on their action, bonus action (if you have one) and reaction (if you get to use one).
This web page is a god-send: https://crobi.github.io/dnd5e-quickref/preview/quickref.html
It has a lot of the stuff you’re going to want to reference in a hurry in an encounter, and it’s responsive and so works perfectly on your phone.
2: While most of the system is pretty easy to grok, the bit I found most knotty was the spellcasting rules for the various classes – spells known, spells learned, spells prepared vs spells slots etc. It might be down to the layout of the PHB, but you really have to go digging for these.
3: The basic rules and PHB present a nice range of subclasses, but you’ll probably want to dip into the extra ones that come with the later source books (and perhaps some homebrews) to get good variety in PCs and statted NPCs.
4: As noted above – PCs are squishy especially at 1st level, but become substantially less so from 3rd or 4th on. In fact, at higher levels, it can become difficult to kill PCs (though not impossible). The CR/encounter balancing system works well enough at low levels, but good players will ace even some “Deadly”rated encounters by the time they get to 5th. So some creative GMing is needed to keep things spicy.
I use this encounter calculator btw: https://dhmstark.co.uk/rpgs/encounter-calculator-5th/
5: Once you and your players figure out your action economy, combat flows quickly. At higher levels, the longest wait time is rolling and totting up dice totals (fighters with action surges being a particular culprit), but that’s not a terrible complaint.
6: I found milestone XP far superior to the by-the-numbers method. By-the-numbers levelled up PCs too quickly for my taste. The XP scale is designed to get you into the mid-level sweet-spot quickly and keep you there, but even so, the PCs would level every two sessions if I used b-t-n. Milestone also allows you to weave the new powers most PCs will gain at each level into the narrative if you want to, since you have more control over when it happens in the narrative.
7: It’s worth mentioning that ACs do not generally become astronomical in the rules as written (only Tiamat and Tarrasques have AC 25 or greater!), but that it’s relatively easy for PCs to have ACs in the upper end of the range (plate+shield = AC 20). At a certain point, as with previous additions, hit points become your armour (which is meh for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion).
8: I’d recommend playing with feats. They are limited (and that’s not a bad thing), and not all are entirely balanced (and that’s not a good thing, so caveat arbiter), but in general, they add a little variety to your characters (as do backgrounds). It also offers players the vexing choice of whether to increase ability scores or get that cool feat they’ve had their eye on.
Since you like the slow advancement track from PF1, be prepared for a default assumption of really fast character advancement. The 5e designers expect you to get to 2nd level after one sesssion, 3rd level after two more, and then take about three sessions to gain each additional level. There are no easy alternate XP tables either. You can probably houserule a slower progression, but it might take some work.
Also, less math and less “stacking” of positive conditions. Most conditional things give either advantage or disadvantage, and those are binaries with no multiple levels. A lot of spells and abilities add dice (usually d4s or d8s) to the d20 roll instead of flat bonuses. This can make play quicker because people don’t have to add a bunch of +1 or +2 bonuses. On the other hand, it can limit the opportunities for tactics if you and your players like such things.
Yep, character advancement is fast, particularly to 3rd. I’d recommended binning XP and switching to milestone levelling if you like slower advancement.
I am a relic from the 80’s still playing Rolemaster. A lot of the people who designed Rolemaster like Monet Cook, went to D&D to design 3.5 which, as I understand, is similar to RM and PF1.
To cut a long story short, a few decades later my kids wanted to play and there was no way I was going to inflict RM on them. We wanted something pretty rules-light so I checked both PF1 and 5e out.
I also use Roll20 and 5e is supported very well there – especially with scripts that make combat a breeze.
I find 5e a fun and quick alternative to RM/PF1 – at least for the younglings. No grindingly slow combats and enough flexibility to just arbitrate on rules and have fun.
For my 40-something mates, I will move to PF2 as they appreciate the details and options that PF seems to allow.
Kevin is right about the fast level advancement. It IS fast, With my kids this is great – it allows for quick wins and they can see themselves progressing.
I’ve run 3e to 19th level, 4e to 29th level, PF 1e to 14th level, & 5e to 20th.
Compared to PF, I find 5e much better balanced between classes, and monster vs PC. No more BMX Bandit vs Angel Summoner. It tends to play faster. It is more reliant on GM adjudication, and is not suited to rules lawyering players. The power curve is shallower; low level can threaten high level.
Some skill uses are detailed, but far from all. I tend to import ideas from 3e & 4e when it comes to skill use. I was already setting DCs the way 5e does in my 4e game, though.
I tend to use Pathfinder & 3e adventures in my 5e games, IME they mostly work much better in 5e. I don’t actually tone down the magic items in loot that much, the Attunement limit already limits what PCs can do with items.
Much has been covered in other comments. I have been playing 5E for about 5 years. I will add the caveat that I tend to prefer streamlined mechanics and unless a set of rules is very bad, I tend to use what the local group is familiar with simply for the commonality: a common tongue has its advantages.
I find 5E in mechanic and spirit somewhat similar to Classic Traveller. A unified mechanic for all resolutions that is fairly simple to explain and grasp. This is huge for new players. The skills are few but straightforward and adaptable. There are fairly straightforward ways to manage things attempted outside of skills.
As others have commented, 5E may feel “loose” or “vague” as there are fewer specific rules for things. My perspective on that is twofold. First, since there aren’t specific rules for every detailed thing, and possibly a special mechanic for that situation, I am not always looking for the specific ruling, nor are there the debates or challenges that I’ve found in other games and versions and systems. I don’t waste time digging through the books to find things to do it right. I am able to focus on the story, the encounter, the presentation, and et cetera. Second, this is probably a good thing, because where one of my strongest criticisms of 5E lies is in the organization: outside of the Players’ Handbook and Monster Manual, rules are very scattered and difficult to find. Probably my chief critique of the majority of RPGs I have ever encountered is poor or non-existent indexes.
As an example, I recently set a campaign in a world that is very like 1520 AD, Age of Discovery. I allowed gunpowder weapons and there was much action on the high seas. All well and good. Managing a ship is little discussed, and it’s mostly on one page in the DMG. I could find muskets and pistols and such, certainly. Even what happens with exploding kegs of gunpowder. A canon? Those were in yet a third location under siege weapons.
I pull that out to illustrate several things.
In the majority of play I actually did not run into that trouble. With experience similar to yours (RPGs since 1978, I jumped from 2E to 5E, much experience of other wargames from miniatures to the hex grid things) there are only three things I have hung up on in 5E:
1) “Stealth”, “Hiding”, and the effects of that on combat are confusing requiring reference to three different places in the PHB and some effort on the ref’s part to figure out how to implement them sensibly. What constitutes “Surprise” and how that is checked is tangled in there (and happens less frequently).
2) Being mounted seems to confuse many players and for some reason many avoid using mounts. I found the rules on that actually rather elegant and easy to find. A savvy player of 5E will make good use of such where appropriate and, related, will give attention to movement and freedom of movement; a savvy DM will complicate this.
3) The often overlooked core principle of 5E stems from the statement in the PHB “All combat is abstract.” If one is accustomed to more detailed rules with greater verisimilitude or “historic” accuracy, 5E will, at first, disappoint. Spears can do more than that. Bows aren’t quite like that. Etc. Much came clear for me both in managing play generally, and in combat and things related when I stopped arguing with the rules about particulars and started allowing things to be abstract. A rapier, for instance, might not be appropriate for a particular “period”, and might not behave quite like a rapier as I understand the weapon in reality. Accepting that “rapier” is simply a label for a “d8 damage, light, fast weapon that does not commonly allow duel wielding” all goes more smoothly. What the character or creature has in its fist may *look* like something else, but focus on the *effect*.
Grasping those things, doing a bit of study and digging on those points and I had the necessary concepts which are really quite simple. I *can* do what I want as ref/DM. I find I have more creative freedom because I’m spending less time finding and understanding rules that will let me present my creative vision, and more time focused on conveying what I vision to the players. This is a good thing. The only time I have felt severely hampered in that in 5 years of play and 4 of actively running 5E was when I did that seafaring campaign in the “16th Century”. (Muzzle loading firearms do not fire that fast, but I let that go. Ships aren’t that slow. There are weapons that affect melee that aren’t covered at all, but easily accommodated, meaning “swivel guns”. And as excited as the players were to have canon at their disposal, they quickly discovered that being on the receiving end of even a few canon is several fireballs going off at once. Since you might be curious.)
A couple more pitfalls or critiques and I’ll leave off a too long post.
The Warlock class has issues I thing. My main critique is that there are some constraints inherent which limit meaningful choices for the player. That said, it is a great mechanic for handling strange things that work outside Vancian Magic. Again the principle of “abstraction” comes into play. Warlocks start to make some sense when one considers, as with melee weapons, that the effect is the important part. Certain mysterious powers are *managed* by calling them “spells”, but a Warlock changing appearance is not the same as a Wizard casting Disguise Self: the effect is exactly the same, the text specifically cites the spell under Warlock as a spell option and an Invocation, but what’s around it works better if you think of it as “a description of a granted power” not a spell.
Figuring out appropriate encounters and how challenging an encounter is took me some time. The “Challenge Rating” system in 5E is a confusing bit of mathematics. The core concept — the CR rating of a creature indicates what would be an average challenge for 4 characters of that level — seems quite simple. It works great for single creatures. Shift from a single goblin to a pack? Add an ogre to the pack of goblins? The required/suggested math in the DMG is beyond arcane. Go to the koboldfightclub website. It has a good encounter calculator. Enter the characters and their levels (it can handle 2 characters of 3rd level, one of 7th and three of 4th, etdc.) and then start picking creatures. It will figure what is easy to deadly as an encounter for that party.
That said, it took me several sessions to calibrate encounters. The culture around 5E is that “encounters should be balanced”. I don’t wholly agree, but I like to know the likely effect on my scale from “cake walk” to “Run! You have no hope!” I think 5E is oriented on adolescents who play a lot of WoW and similar. Blasting through packs of monsters seems to be the baseline. For those with the expectations of a grognard (and the experience and abilities) I quickly discovered a couple of things. First, that a cohesive party which communicates and works together, doesn’t feel challenged until the CR is “Deadly” according to the DMG. “Average” is barely an incidental run in. By the math most of the sessions I prepared had 2-3 Hard to Deadly encounters and 1 or 2 “Double Deadly” for a party of 6 characters played by a like number of experienced, cooperative people with a basic grasp of tactics. Double Deadly is about right to make such a group sweat a bit. (And impressed the kids at the game shop.)
My last advice is to not get caught in the “Skill Rut”. There are about two dozen skills. Most DMs I run into only use one: Perception. Several campaigns I’ve played in with unimaginative DMs focus on combat (OK ….) and the bulk of the game was “wander, Perception rolls, Initiative rolls, Combat rolls, repeat”. I got bored fast. Perception got used for *everything*. I’ll confess in those games I “skewed” my character’s stats to advantage Perception simply because there was no point in having an “interesting character” who could do things. Taking the time to read the PHB section on skills and skill resolutions and making good use of a variety of skills is important. And a variety of resolutions.
Perception can alert that “something is up”. But the Ranger who might notice that, might not have the wit and knowledge to understand what is seen. History, Arcana, Religion, Nature might answer “what is seen”. Investigation might allow reasoning out what is unknown. And it doesn’t have to be all die rolls: the rules provide for “Passive Checks”, and many overlook that this mechanic can be applied to any skill, and bypasses rolling dice. If the “Passive” ability is higher than the DC or an opposing roll, the character succeeds. This eliminates a lot of unnecessary rolling. It also, and most importantly, gives a simple means to enhance role play and the drama of that, and involve players who get overlooked. I have come to use this for a great many things and now keep track of the characters’ passives for Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma, reflecting who in the group is intuitive, knowledgeable and reasoned, and socially aware and literate.
So the group is in town. The Ranger who notices stuff (Passive Perception) goes “That building looks odd.” Now that the Wizard, lost in thought, has the odd building pointed out, I can say “Now that it’s been pointed out to you, Wizard, you are aware that the architecture is very different, looking for all the world like something from two millenia gone, a structure from when this region was under the control of the Vast Evil Empire.” Then, to the Bard who notices people (Passive Charisma) and does well in social situations. “Bard? You notice an old woman sitting on the broad steps leading to the much tarnished bronze door of the strange structure.” “Oh,” the Bard can now say, “Well, on the chance that maybe the woman will know some things, I’ll wander over and greet her politely and let’s see if I can learn something.” I can manage all that with few rolls, and it encourages me to pitch descriptions of things that a particular character would notice to that player.
Ways to do those things are all over 5E, just how to make good use of them isn’t obvious.
Sorry to go on so long.
Thank you for this Timothy–I much appreciate the time and effort.
Certainly, skill use is one area I think I might struggle a bit. I love the simplistic DCs for ability checks (5, 10, 15 etc.) but I’m unsure how to handle some questions such as, “Can I identify the monster?” In P1 that’s handled via a set skill, but there seems to be no similar mechanic in 5e. Some skills obviously like Nature will help for wolves and the like, but how would the characters identify–say–a bugbear? Because my players are very used to this kind of investigative play I haven’t yet come up with a solution to my conundrum. If anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!
Why wouldn’t Nature work for “natural” monsters like bugbears? They’re part of the natural world after all. You can use Survival for tracks and other spoor. You can use Medicine if they’ve found, er, bits and pieces, and, if they have time to puzzle something out, maybe use Investigation? For weirder critters, use Arcana or perhaps even History if they’re things that appeared in times past.
For the more fantastical creatures, you can use History. The characters may never have met or seen a bugbear but they might be able to identify them from local legends etc.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the 5E skills are not necessarily tied to a particular ability. So, for example, DEX is normally used for Stealthing around but if you are trying to mingle in with a crowd then you could use CHA instead.
Advantage and disadvantage, basically roll twice and either take The better or worse roll depending on which one you have. The numbers in 5e are smaller: ability scores generally max at 20 so +5 adj, proficiency bonus based on levels tops out at +6, magic items top out out +3. Everyone receives the same proficiency bonus per level, fighters receive more attacks than anyone else but are no naturally better at hitting things. Some feats are overpowered: alertness, can never be surprised while conscious and +4 to initiative. Anyone can pick locks just take proficiency with thieves tools. Which may be an option during character creation or done during downtime by spending 200 gp. Characters heal all damage with a long rest (8 hrs) and can heal some during a short rest (1 hr). Cantrips do more damage based on total character level. Spells get more powerful based on slot level ( higher slot than the spell level) used to cast said spell, otherwise they just a predetermined affect. Lastly, crafting is basically missing from this system, making it suck.
There are some optional crafting rules in the DMG (p128) and Xanathar’s (p128). They’re not super elaborate, but they’re there.