This is the third part of a three-part review of the Fifth Edition Dungeon Master’s guide. See the first installment here and the second here.
This part covers the stuff that was in the front of previous editions of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG). It discusses the stuff that drives DMs crazy: handling table talk, rolling dice, metagaming, missing players, multiple characters controlled by a few players , and introducing new players. It also addresses how the DM decides to use the dice (ignoring it, or rolling with everything). A discussion of a variety of rolls follow (ability checks, attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and how advantage/disadvantage affects them).
The next section covers inspiration and how it should be awarded. One variant is reminiscent of Shadowrun’s karma, where players reward each other inspiration. Exploration is covered in this section (independent of the wilderness section, which seems a bit jarring).
There’s also social interaction rules, ranging from dice rolls to role-playing NPCs. This section also includes the challenges or running combats, like tracking initiative and hit points. Remember how I mentioned there weren’t a whole lot of rules about dealing with different terrain? The Improvising Damage section (p. 249) provides examples and severity by level, ranging from a setback to dangerous to deadly. For some reason the damage is always in increment of d10.
Finally, we come to miniatures. There are rules for adjudicating areas of effect (dividing an effect by a certain number, rounding up, to determine how many creatures are affected when not using miniatures). There’s also mob rules. Most importantly for miniature players, there are rules for both squares and hexes including the amount of space a creature takes and how flanking, cover, and line of sight work. There’s also chase rules, which have long been lacking in D&D, complete with random complication tables for urban or wilderness chases.
Then things get weird. We get a hodge-podge of rules: siege equipment, diseases, poisons, and madness (more about sanity later). The chapter concludes with a discussion of experience points, leveling, and absent characters.
Chapter 9 is the chapter we’ve all been waiting for: The Dungeon Master’s Workshop. Dungeons & Dragons has been curiously reticent about explaining how to make a spell, or a monster, or a class — gamers have had to reengineer everything, which was admittedly part of the fun. But it’s about time D&D just explains how it works, and given the long open playtest of Fifth Edition it’s a lingering question.
First, the variants: proficiency dice, hero points, honor and sanity scores, fear and horror, resting and healing variants, firearms and explosives, alien technology, plot points (in which the players can actually change the plot), and several of the combat variants that disappeared from Third and Fourth edition (disarm, mark, overrun, shove aside, tumble). Morale for monsters is back as is massive damage. An aside about honor and sanity: these are not point pools like they were in Second (honor) and Third (sanity) editions, they’re actual ability scores. This makes them much easier to slot into the game because DMs already know how to make checks and saving throws with ability scores.
Okay, so we got our old D&D back the way we like it. So what’s under the hood? We finally, FINALLY get a table that shows a monster’s statistics by challenge rating (CR, prof. bonus, AC, HP, attack bonus, damage/round, and save DC). We get rules on creating a monster stat block. We get rules on special abilities and how they affect the monster’s challenge rating. And we get rules on creating new NPCs. It’s about time guys.
With monsters given the detailed treatment, the DMG moves on to spells and magic items. There’s rules on creating new classes and backgrounds as well. Again, simple tables suffice — the point is that the DM knows what the designers are thinking and can emulate it as needed so that his inventions aren’t so jarring to be out of sync with store-bought adventures.
Because Fifth Edition loves old school gaming, Appendix A is a complete random dungeon generator. Appendix B includes a list of monsters organized by environment and challenge rating. Appendix C is a bunch of maps: a windmill, a three-bedroom house, four dungeons, two cities, and a boat. Appendix D concludes with a list of reading inspiration. It’s noteworthy that unlike Gygax’s “Appendix N,” this list is more about gaming in general: Ewalt, Gygax, King, Koster, Laws, and Peterson are all here.
Overall, this is an impressive achievement. While the layout isn’t always perfect and those accustomed to Third and Fourth edition might be lost at times, the Fifth Edition does its level best to cover the way DMs today actually play — not by dictating rules, but by building frameworks for all of us to create our own. The philosophy is best summed up by the comedic blurb in the front of the book:
Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not officially endorse the following tactic, which are guaranteed to maximize your enjoyment as a Dungeon Master. First, always keep a straight face and say OK no matter how ludicrous or doomed the players’ plan of action is. Second, no matter what happens, pretend that you intended all along for everything to unfold the way it did. Third, if you’re not sure what to do next, feign illness, end the session early, and plot your next move. When all else fails, roll a bunch of dice behind your screen, study them for a moment with a look of deep concern mixed with regret, let loose a heavy sigh, and announce that Tiamat swoops from the sky and attacks.
You can preorder the Dungeon Master’s Guide at Amazon.
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