Generating first level characters is pretty simple. You need to find your way around the book a little, and I wish there were some summaries to help with that, but it’s not too onerous. Because the first two levels are tutorial levels, you don’t get a whole bunch of decisions (though the Cleric has to pick domain straight away) and it’s time to play almost immediately.
One bad hangover from the old days is that equipment can still be a drag to getting started. The packages really help, but you need to flick back and forth to get the detail (why aren’t the packs given weights?). I’d love to see the packs on cards, and may well do that for future games.
In play, the stat modifiers make a lot of sense. There’s an awful lot you can do with six abilities, and I’m left wondering why saves have to exist at all (especially seeing as there’s three of them that aren’t getting any love: str, int, Cha). I like asking for checks, and the players coming back with proficiencies, though the language still causes the occasional stumble. I guess I have to accept that I should ask for Perception checks sometimes, and not Wis. Thing is, I like to mix up my abilities, and the character sheet as presented wants things strictly silo’ed. Shame.
Speaking of which, the character sheet is fine, but notepaper is just as quick, and with new guys, doesn’t leave them wondering where to put things. Time to design my own sheets I guess.
Magic is absolutely central to the 5e experience. They call it out as such early in the PHB and they’re right. This ruffles my feathers slightly as I always did prefer a martial low magic vibe. Only the Barbarian has no magic options. Even the Fighter can go with Eldritch Knight and get a spell list. I’m coming round to it though. If I look at the spells list as more of a ‘fantasy talents’ list it actually sits better with me (and ties into the edition warrior chant of ‘everyone gets spells’. In this ed, they really do).
As a DM it falls on me to learn the back half of the PHB. I need to understand the spells, so I can rule on them, and because my baddies will need to use them too. In 4e I could afford to be ignorant of player side stuff as I had my own rules, and they had theirs. Not in 5e. The PHB is as much my domain and it’s back to the DM having to know their stuff. Now I know that, I’m ok with it. The spell casting classes each have subtly different ways of preparing their shizzle, and players look to DMs to hold their hands. Fair enough really.
Combats are speedy, but not trivially so. I spent nearly an hour DMing a scrap between 3 characters, an NPC, and a bugbear with a wolf. That’s not far off a 4e battle. No maps or minis though, and it had an ebb and flow to it that I liked. Brutal too. Two pcs went down and it verged on a TPK. Immediately after that battle the party levelled, and those extra hp would have made all the difference in the previous fight. So far, so swingy.
At this stage I’m actually very happy with the game. Advantage and Inspiration are the innovations, but everything else is cozy, comfy and reassuring. The books I’m waiting for are the Monster Manual and the DMG. They’re my books, and my part of the game. That’s where I can step out of the published scenarios (fine, functional, basic) and riff off the traits, ideals, bonds and flaws that the lovely background chapters are throwing up.
The halflings still look terrifying though.