Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about 5th Edition. Specifically, things that 5th Edition did right.
Sometimes its hard to remember amidst the weekly Pathfinder Society games, Reign of Winter games, and Carrion Crown games that I play that RPGs other than Pathfinder exist. In truth, there’s a LOT of them, and today I’m going to talk about my Top 10 favorite things in Dungeons and Dragon’s 5th Edition. Because its always best to dip a single, baby pinkie toe into the pool before jumping in feet-first, right?
#10 – Magic is Spontaneous
I much prefer the spontaneous spellcasting system to prepared spellcasting, so the fact that every spellcaster in 5E is spontaneous is appealing to me. That said, having differences in the way magic is used is sort of iconic of the game, especially 3rd Edition, so loosing prepared spellcasting overall feels like a loss to me, even if spontaneous is my preferred way of playing with magic. That’s why I rated this one last; while I like it, I concede that this change isn’t particularly good for the game.
#9 – Subrace as a Game Mechanic
With the exception of humans, every race in 5E has “subrace” options, meaning special abilities that members of the race get based upon other factors in their cultural and ethnic identity. Think of it as a free alternate racial trait slot that every member of every race can pick from. This is a cool idea, but its far from my favorite; it doesn’t keep the various races from feeling generic rather than individualistic since the choices are widespread rather than individual. In my opinion, Paizo’s alternate racial traits is a better system, but I like to see that 5E at least acknowledged that differences between elves exists in their worlds.
#8 – Backgrounds
I’m fond of backgrounds as a game mechanic. In many ways, backgrounds are similar to traits in Pathfinder; you gain benefits and abilities based upon what your character did before becoming an adventure. Unlike traits, however, backgrounds are VERY encompassing for 5E characters; they determine a sizable number of class skills and extra weapon proficiencies, plus determine the equipment that you start with as a new character. (Rather than using starting gold.) Perhaps the only thing that isn’t to like about Backgrounds is that there are very few of them, and despite doing more they lack Pathfinder’s customization. I like traits because of how mix-and-match customizable they are. Overall, backgrounds are neat, but they don’t particularly radiate the strengths of the system, hence the #8 on this list.
#7 – Finesse is a Weapon Ability
5E gave a LOT of love to Weapon Finesse, specifically in that Weapon Finesse no longer exists. Instead, “Finesse” is a weapon ability like trip or disarm, and you can automatically use Dex to hit AND Dex to damage with any finesse weapon you want. Awesome, 5E!
That being said, the list of finesse weapons is SUPER small in 5E; it isn’t inherent to all light weapons, in part because “light” as a weapon category no longer exists. Furthermore, unarmed strikes can’t be finesse weapons unless you’re a monk, which is puzzling. All in all, it’s a marked improvement over Pathfinder (especially the lack of Dexterity-fear that Pathfinder typically has), but its implementation is still a bit odd. It could have been better, hence the #7 slot on this list.
#6 – Advantage and Disadvantage
So I know that my opinions here aren’t going to be particularly popular, especially among old-time gamers, but personally I like the Advantage / Disadvantage system. If you don’t know what this is, advantage and disadvantage are sort of like special conditions that characters gain from doing things. When you have advantage on a roll or check, you can roll your roll or check twice and use the better result. When you have disadvantage on a roll or check, you must roll your roll or check twice and use the worst result. This effectively provides simple game terminology that allows GMs to say, “Hey! Something good/bad is happening! You gain advantage/disadvantage,” and everyone knows what that means. There’s less math overall, which is a good thing because in general, Math slows down gameplay.
That being said, advantage and disadvantage wouldn’t work in Pathfinder as written. Pathfinder’s game design is built around numbers, so static modifiers will oftentimes render such rerolls obsolete. However, I think advantage and disadvantage could have a place in Pathfinder: as quick GM adjudications. If a situation turns up in the rules where a player wants to know if they have any meaningful benefit for doing something, saying “That thing you want to do will give you advantage/disadvantage,” is a very useful, quick way to “do the thing,” because its easy game terminology that everyone understands. It would be especially useful if we could use advantage and disadvantage to get rid of the circumstance penalties that “don’t really matter.” Specifically, I’m talking about environmental effects. Because seriously, who the heck remembers all of the penalties associated with varying degrees of wind? I certainly never do! This is sort of a hard sell, however, because then you’d be left with wondering what is worth “dumbing down” with advantage/disadvantage? For instance, I’d be all for dumbing down many of the environmental and terrain effects, but replacing distance penalties on Perception checks with advantage/disadvantage would NOT sit right in my book. This is sort of an interesting topic to look into and I’d love to hear what everyone thinks about it.
#5 – Boosting Cantrips and Orisons
I don’t know if you’ve seen 5E’s cantrips and orisons, but good golly they are actually USEFUL. Specifically, I’m talking about the offensive cantrips. Cantrips like ray of frost or acid orb are seldom useful past the early levels in Pathfinder, but 5E gives cantrips that scale to all spellcasting classes, creating spells that actually hold their weight somewhat at high levels. Sure, you’re never going to outdamage a fighter or a rogue with a cantrip as a wizard, but your attack gets better and you never feel like you should be relegated to a crossbow or something. Because I’m sorry, folks, but the biggest sin of 3E/Pathfinder is the idea that a spellcaster / magical character should be forced to relegate herself to some clunky martial weapon “for balance reasons.” Balance or no balance, it’s not FUN!
#4 – Nice Things for Fighters and Rogues
5E tried REALLY hard to make sure that fighters and rogues had nice things. In fact, they might have tried TOO hard, because I’m told that fighters and rogues are extremely powerful at high levels. So, why is this the case? Action economy. In 5E, fighters are the only class that can make iterative attacks (they can make two attacks compared to every other class’s one) and can take an extra action once per encounter. Rogues, on the other hand, can take a free action to hide, disengage, or dash once per turn. That said, you can’t argue with the results: between these bonus actions and fighter archetypes/rogue subclasses, fighters and rogues are in a good place in 5E.
#3 – Incorporating Diversity
There really isn’t much game mechanics behind this one, but I really like that the 5E Player Handbook takes the time to basically state that 5E is everyone’s game, and that all are welcome. After all, that’s basically what you do when you tell your player base that inclusiveness is the norm in your game and all game worlds that you create.
#2 – Removing the Death Tax
I’ve mentioned it before, but one thing that 5E does that I REALLY like is that they’ve drastically reduced the cost of raise dead. To be precise, raise dead costs 500 gold to cast, meaning that with average spellcasting services, you’re looking at about 1,250 gold. This doesn’t take care of negative levels and the like from returning from the dead (in Pathfinder, you’re looking at roughly another 1,000 gp per negative level that you want to remove), but removing permanent negative levels isn’t as important as simply not being dead, and 5E reduced the cost to “keep the band together,” by about one-fifth. As I’ve mentioned before, I like this because it gives the player agency to decide where “the end” is for the character rather than the GM. (Because the GM has complete control over your funds, and selling everything you had to bring a dead character back to life isn’t a great prospect for a character.)
I will always argue that this makes for a better game. ALWAYS.
#1 – Destroying Ageism
This one is very, very subtle. So subtle that I didn’t notice it on my first read-through of the rules. If you go to the races section of the Player’s Handbook, you might notice that each race’s life cycle is summed up nicely within the racial traits of each race. That’s right, how your character ages is a CORE trait of your race, which is an AWESOME idea; it completely destroyed all of the guesswork that GMs often have to do in games, even in Pathfinder. (Pathfinder STILL doesn’t have good, hard-and-fast rules for how its races mature into adulthood, and its been SIX YEARS since the game was launched.)
But then 5E goes and knocks this homerun into the stratosphere. At the beginning of the races section, where each of the features of the various entries are described, this is what 5E has to say about aging rules, including aging bonuses and penalties:
The age entry notes the age when a member of the race is considered an adult, as well as the race’s expected lifespan. This information can help you decide how old your character is at the start of the game. You can choose any age for your character, which could provide an explanation for some of your ability scores. For example, if you play a young or very old character, your age could explain a particularly low Strength or Constitution score, while advanced age could account for a high Intelligence or Wisdom.
In my opinion, this display of inclusiveness is the ONLY place where 5E manages to blow Pathfinder out of the water. This one, tiny little paragraph. And what’s REALLY funny about this paragraph is that this rule is a product of one simple rule: simplicity. It is mechanically easier and takes up less rules space to simply state that aging can influence ability, but doesn’t necessarily define it, then providing several paragraphs of text or other information. While I personally like little tweaks to ability scores in Pathfinder, this paragraph also solidifies one, very important concept to me: that in Dungeons and Dragons, anyone can be an adventurer. Anyone can be a hero. Anyone can be a fighter or a wizard or a sorcerer or a bard. It doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female, elven or human, cis or genderfluid, homosexual or hereosexual, young or old. Anyone can play this game, anyone can be a Player Character in this game. Nice job, Wizards. You deserve to be commended for this.
Overall, I like looking at other games systems to compare Pathfinder to because I think it helps us broaden our thinking in terms of the games we play. Looking and other games and, with our design hats on, trying to figure out why the designers made the calls they made helps us to uncover their design philosophies and try to decide for ourselves how we might improve or expand upon our own game. So why did you guys think? If you’ve looked at 5E, what chances or design choices did you like from 5E? Or what choices didn’t you like? Do you play 5E? Own the books? Browse the free document? Let me know in the comments section below, or on our forums or on our Facebook group 3.5 Private Sanctuary or Know Direction. Until next time, this is the Everyman Gamer, signing off!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.