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  • Jonah Elliot

What the heck are you playing?

So I bit the bullet. Gonna try being a player tonight. In fifth edition.


I've been a bit cynical about 5th edition. I've been on hiatus so long that D&D is something I remember from childhood, from adolescence. Messing with it was like messing with my childhood memories. And besides, I was too busy to play after a while.


So I heard they made a 3rd edition. I didn't look into it.


Then they made a 4th edition. I didn't look into it.


Now there's a 5th edition. I didn't intend to look into it.


But people were telling me 5th edition is where it at. That D&D is better than ever, that they got rid of the old rules, that it's a better system, get with the program, stop being a dinosaur. And all the new players are confused by second edition. I keep hearing the same questions.


"Why does Armor Class go down?"


"I was supposed to roll low?"


"Can I have a cantrip?" (And I'd respond: "Why do you even want one?")


So I finally gave in and read through the player's guide.


And I have to admit, a few things were fixed.


I saw why players were talking about cantrips. They were spells that could always be cast, some of which were pretty potent attack abilities that left magic missiles in the dust.


All the classes were given feats and stunts that made them look like heroes in the Avengers movies. Fighters making huge jumps, Warlocks communing with devils, Monks who could finally fit into a Jackie Chan movie. There was always a question in RPGs as to whether the players are superheroes in a fantasy setting, or ordinary people thrust into the spotlight by extraordinary circumstances. Clearly, 5th ed sides with the former.


But there was one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way, and that was the additional races that stuck into the book.


Humans, dwarves, elves, halflings -- we're familiar with that fare. But the additional races includes half-elves, gnomes. And... Dragonborn? What? Are we going to Skyrim to fight for Ulfrik Stormcloak? Oh no, they're a half man/half dragon race. Like Draconians in Krynn. Or Drakin in my own Codex series that I need to republish. Why the heck are they here in D&D? Do they get a breath weapon? Isn't that way over the top?


Half-Orcs making a return from 1st edition, that's kind of cool. Tieflings? What are they? Dranei from World of Warcraft? Something like that?


These make me shake my head and start to envision 5th edition to look something like the Cantina in Star Wars. I can't even get them straight in my head.


One of the things I always hated about GMing was that player... there's always that player in every group... who comes up to you and says: "Hey, there's this new race / class that I found in an underground issue of Dragon magazine." Or maybe I should take that back; these days its probably some website where a fan created a special class that can kill up to 100 enemies with a snap of his fingers, no saving throw, three times a day. But said player would always assure me. "Don't worry, it's not THAT powerful."


So I got sweet talked into letting it into my game, and look at that. Somehow they're the most powerful character in the game.


I don't know how I kept getting sucked into that. I was in my early 20s, what can I say.


Seeing a half dragon - half human race right there in the player's handbook brought me back to those memories.


Okay, I shouldn't get too excited. If it's in the core book it can't be that overpowered. Can it? Then again, everything seems overpowered. We had level 1 mages that could cast one spell the whole day and we LIKED it, dangit! Now they have to be able to fire tentacles from their hands that deliver 1d10 damage and entangle the opponent like some anime from --


All right, all right, maybe I'm going too far.


I think the other thing that gets me is a lack of knowledge of their society. It is just not intuitive. There's a bit of a cultural norm that we expect with the older races. Humans are like us. Dwarves like to make things, collect shiny metals, and live underground. Elves are a bunch of hippies living in the woods who somehow also make good things. And halflings stay home, happy to drink tea at the PTA meeting and probably have more commonsense than anyone. And I can get Half elves and Half Orcs not quite fitting in with either of their parents and getting that "where is there a place for me?" kind of angst.


Where does a Dragonborn fit in? Or a Tiefling? I look at the name, and its just a word. Like that annoying player who wants to play a Bugbear just to be different. Because I never heard of these outside of 5th edition D&D. Even "Dragonborn" were never called that. I can think of a few half dragon / half human races, but each author had their own spin on them, even me. I got nowhere to stick them in my imagination.


My wife and a friend of ours are slowly making our way through Gloomhaven. It's a nice game. I'd recommend it to anyone who has the friends willing to play through it. But it has an odd point too, which is a number of races that I suppose are original to the game. What's an Inox? What's an Orchid? What's a Vermling? What's a Human? Oh wait, I know that last one. That's about all I know.


Maybe there's some mileage out of making your own races. But I need something more than that to cling to. I think that's what I liked about Game of Thrones. It was just people. People of all different types. There were some mythical races, but they mostly stayed myth.... or north of the Wall.


Fifth edition today feels like you'd have a Human, a whitewalker, a child of the forest and a strange cross between Daenerys and one of her dragons sitting in a bar in King's Landing, sharing a drink.


At least, that's my first impression. Maybe it will change tonight.



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