ROLE-PLAYING: Dungeons and Dragons has returned to a simpler way of playing in its fifth edition.
ROLE-PLAYING: Dungeons and Dragons has returned to a simpler way of playing in its fifth edition.

D&D; 5th Edition is streamlined but not strangled

IF YOU'VE never played Dungeons and Dragons, go grab this starter set and a handful of friends.

You'll need a table and pens. Everything else is in the box.

For the utterly uninitiated, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a role-playing game (RPG) where you use imagination, dice and rules to create a fantasy tale of heroism, villainy and emotion.

For those coming back after a long break, the D&D fifth edition is a return to the free-flowing pen and paper adventures of the good old days but with the much-appreciated balance players have started demanding.

The starter set comes with everything you need to play through the Lost Mine Of Phandelver adventure.

The list is pretty short: abbreviated rulebook; combined adventure setting and Dungeon Master's guide; polyhedral dice (all hail the d20); and character sheets for five players.

That's it. Most of the box is taken up by a cardboard divider.

And yet you can take up to five years playing it.
And yet you can take up to five years playing it. Kieran Bicheno

This is a good thing. The set is designed for newcomers and it would have been disastrous to swarm them with the usual mountains of papers and source books that accumulate around a veteran playing table.

This review isn't going to go into spoilers for the actual campaign setting, except to say "cheers" to the writers over at Wizards of the Coast. It's simple, direct fare, with a tired stereotype or two.

There are changes to the rules that need to be mentioned.

D&D, like most tabletop RPGs, rely on dice rolls to determine the outcome of situations.

The dice rolls remain but now it's a simple advantage/disadvantage system. If the circumstances give you an advantage, roll two dice and take the better value. If the circumstances give you a disadvantage, roll two dice and take the worse value.

It's more intuitive, doesn't require huge tables buried in obscure (and often expensive books), and allows the Dungeon Master more say in the narrative.

Similarly, even as far back as third edition, characters' strengths and weaknesses have been expressed in countless numbers at varying layers of abstraction.

Take the number that determines a 3.5 edition character's fortitude. It's a combination of four separate numbers. Their armour class is a combination of seven.

While that's not entirely gone from fifth edition, they've cropped it down much closer to the basic six attributes: strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence and charisma.

Most surprising is that you don't need a grid or miniatures to play. Grids are great for spatial awareness among players, but it's nice to see a gaming company do the opposite of a money-grab and make it easier to play their game with less equipment.