Jul 12

Michael Reviews D&D Basic

D&DBasiccoverD&D Basic – A Review, by Michael

After numerous delays I was able to finally finish my read-through of the       Version 0.1 of Basic D&D PDF. I wanted to read it in detail and really soak in the details and compare to earlier versions I experienced through the Play Test process as well as previous Editions of D&D.

I tried to read it as if I was new to D&D and RPG’s in general. Not sure I was able to set aside my many years of experience-but I tried.


What I loved/Liked about Basic D&D


  • This ‘FEELS’ like D&D to me – and that’s a good thing. I’ve experienced just about version of D&D, starting with the Mentzer Red box. I spent the majority of my gaming life playing 3.0 and 3.5. I am an unashamed D&D Fanboy. They say you never get over your first love. Maybe that’s true for me and RPG’s because even now that I have started to branch out and experience numerous other RPG’s, some of which do things differently and/or better than D&D I still love D&D and want to play/DM it over other games. And this is a version of D&D that I can’t wait to experience first hand. I’m not sure this is the One Edition to bring everyone together, but it has the  potential to become (quickly I might add) my favorite version of my favorite game: D&D


  • I was inspired while reading through it. Not that there is a ton of fluff in the PDF (in my mind, in places there was too much, but we’ll get to that) but very often the descriptions used or how a mechanic worked gave me ideas. I started taking notes in the margins for this article and then started taking notes for game ideas, or PC/NPC ideas. Other than the FATE core book I can’t recall having the same experience reading a RPG book or PDF in a while.


  • Advantage/Disadvantage. The core rule of any D20 system is that you roll a d20, add any applicable modifiers and compare that total to a target, whether that is a DC (Difficulty Class) or AC (Armor Class) of a monster or NPC. If you tie or exceed that number you hit/succeed. If there is a core rule of Basic D&D, in my mind, it’s the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. When you have some sort of advantage in a given situation (superior positing for combat, Master Work Tools in a Smithy ) then you get to roll 2 d20’s and take the better result. If you have disadvantage in a situation (a broken weapon, makeshift lock pick) then you roll 2 d20’s and take the less favorable result. It’s a truly innovative, and I’d say elegant, mechanic. It adds so much, removes so much and does it simply. I can not count the number of times in games I’ve played or ran when someone will say two rounds later, ‘Oh wait, I forgot to add my +2 bonus on my last attack.” DM: “well, what did you roll?” Player: “uhh, not sure.” With Adv/DisAdv you just have them roll again (assuming you don’t say SOL and move on) and go with these results. I’m a huge fan of this. Even if they took 3.5 and rereleased it with just Adv/Disadv included I’d be a fan. It’s that great of a mechanic. To be fair though, I’m not sure WOTC gets credit for its creation. I reviewed a system called Whitehack a while back that came out before the playtest (I think) and it includes as similar system where you roll multiple D20’s and take better/worse in some situations. I don’t know if that mechanic is in any other games, but regardless I’m happy it’s now in D&D
  • The Classes are each awesome in their own way. I could break down each one and write paragraphs bout them (I did that in an earlier draft) but at the heart, they each do what they do well.

Clerics cast Spells and can do Melee but not as well as Fighters. They get a Domain that will define                           them for their career. That Domain is filled with class abilities and features that in the example provided: LIFE Domain, create an idea of what that Cleric is and does. I kept thinking, “yep, this is what a Cleric in D&D should be.” (the only exception is I don’t get why LIFE Domain gives you a bonus proficiency in Heavy Armor, that seemed like an add-on that doesn’t fit the theme).

Fighters fight. You get different fighting styles (Archery, Defense, Dueling, Great Weapon Fighting, Protection or Two-Weapon Fighting) that set your Fighter apart from other fighters or NPC guards and the like. You get Second wind, which is the only non-spell self-heal I saw in the game. You can get extra actions and extra attacks early on and the most Ability score improvements (or optionally Feats when the PHB comes out) – awesome. But they truly shine with their Martial Archetypes. Just like Cleric’s get Domains each class has one of these career paths (Subclasses, if you will. Rogues have Roguish Archetypes, Wizards have Arcane Traditions) that give you a set of class features that trigger at certain levels. My only issue in reading the Fighter is how the heck are they going to bring in Barbarians that are not broken, based on how bad-ass the Fighter is?

Rogues are in my mind, the weakest Class. I’m not sure they are up to the same level as the other Classes. They get Expertise that allows them to double their Proficiency bonus on two skills (can add more later), which helps them be the Skill Monkey class we all know and love. Later they get Reliable Talent, which makes them all but auto-success on some skills. My biggest issue is that some of their later Class features that come later seem weak. Level 15 they get Slippery Mind, which gives proficiency bonus against Wisdom saving throws. That seems like a very narrow ability (that’s game specific, but if you’re not fighting spell casters or mind flayers how much use of that do you get, compared to the other classes abilities around the same level??

Wizards. Okay, honesty time. I love Wizards. They are my favorite class to play. Always have been and likely always will be. I CANNOT WAIT to play a Wizard in this system. I feel like the Wizard comes close enough to the Vancian tradition that it pays homage to the past, but has added flexibility. You can cast most, if not all, spells at higher level for added effect and Arcane Recovery which lets you get some spells back during a short rest. Then add Rituals on top so you can cast some utility spells without using a slot, come on! I’m not the Mechanics guy here. That’s Caleb’s job so I can’t say for sure that the Wizard isn’t too powerful, I’m just saying that not since I was 12 and reading D&D for the first time have I been this excited about rolling up a Wizard.


  • I think the addition of Ideals, Bonds & Flaws (or as I call them, aspects) in the game is fantastic. I love FATE core, next to D&D it’s my favorite RPG and I’ve only played it a handful of times. The use of Aspects is go easy for even novice gamers to attach too, so the inclusion of something similar here is great.

I want to see source book after sourcebook filled with these. More charts to roll or pick from. Each time I looked over one of the random charts I got an idea of a character. THAT type of instant solidification in my mind of who my character is, will help new players latch on to the idea of Role-playing compared to Roll-playing. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I think most of us as game players were quicker to grasp 18 Str gives me +4 to attack and damage. Than what an 18 strength means to me as a character; am I a bully, do I work out a lot (vain) or just Andre-the-Giant big? Those things, when combined can elevate a group/session/Campaign and I’m so happy to see them included.

Same goes for Backgrounds in general. If we are going to get a lot of sourcebooks, I want them to be Backgrounds, Ideals, Flaws, Bonds, not new races/classes/monsters


  • Inspiration. Again, I’m sensing some FATE in my D&D and could not be happier. In FATE if the Gm compels you or another Player, you get a Fate Point which you can use later as a bonus. In Basic D&D if you Role play your Ideals, Flaws or Bonds (very similar to FATE aspects) you can get what’s called INSPIRATION that that is just a bonus you can carry around with you till you need it. I really like that Players can give other players inspiration because as the DM I am often so focused on my own stuff that I might miss a great character moment or not catch a player doing something that’s not truly in his best interest.
  • Maybe a small thing, but I’m really happy that Ranged Weapons get to use Dexterity Modifier for damage. I recall many Ranger characters in my day that scrounged up GP for that +2 Strength bow so that I could keep up with the other members of the party damage output. But that also meant my Dexterous Fighter/Ranger/Rogue also had to have high Strength and when you roll 3d6 down the line, you don’t always get that. So, I’m very happy to have those balanced out
  • The ability to break up your move/attack actions seems like something that should have been added in years ago. It was probably house-ruled in many groups, but mine never figured it out. It allows for a more narrative view of combat (I’m a Theater of the Mind combat guy) where you can move part of your movement, attack and then move the rest of your movement.

I am curious about being able to “Hold” part of your action: I keep thinking of a scene in a movie where our heroes have just taken out some guards in a room, they hear someone about to come into that room so one of the heroes runs over and hides behind the door, as the new guard comes into the room to check on the noise, they take him out too. In the current system, you can’t have that scene because moving to the door was your action and you can’t HOLD your attack and wait. It would then be someone else’s turn. I think I’ll house-rule you can do this, but on a a case by case basis, as this could create a broken combo somewhere down the line (looking at you Rogue)


  • Spell casting in general has some great changes/additions. I like how some spells trigger off of current HP (like Sleep, for example) so you can have scenes where the PC’s have to wear down a big bad enough so that a spell like that can take them out. I also like how Concentration works to keep Spell casters from stacking spell effects (Basically, if a spell requires Concentration you can’t cast another spell that requires Concentration or you end the first spell). But if you had a party of Wizards . . .
  • Lastly, I want to talk about the character sheet. It’s solid. Much better than the one they had selected as a ‘winner’ from the design contest during the playtest (sorry if you made it, it was just to ‘busy’ for my tastes). I’m sure by the time this posts there will be dozens if not hundreds of homemade character sheets floating around, many form-fillable. Not to mention with the hopefully-soon release of Codename: Morningstar we’ll be able to print out sheets we make using that program, but for now; I like this one. It is simple, clean and lets me have easy access to the info I’m going to need most.


Okay, enough of the Roses, let’s talk a bit about the fertilizer. Here are some things I don’t think are so sweet smelling and/or don’t understand.


  • The PDF starts out with some real play examples. This is pretty standard these days, and I’m happy to see this, but what I don’t get is why they don’t continue this throughout. I understood it more in the Starter Set, which had a cost, associated with it, but this is a Free PDF. The only cost of a longer page count would be on the user-end for printing costs and the time to do it – not insignificant, but there are numerous times were actual play examples would have been very handy

o   Personality Traits for example, when they discuss it on page 35, a couple quick examples or an actual example of how it could come out in game would have been very nice.

o   Same for Ideals, Bonds and Flaws. I understand that there is a section dedicated to this later, but when we first touch on them an example of each and/or an actual play example of each coming up in play would be super-helpful at this stage of learning the game.

o   Page 58 when we see the DC ladder we get the number value and the equivalent (5 = easy, 30 = near impossible, some descriptive examples would be great, or again an actual play example maybe in the DM’s head: Hmm, I didn’t expect the Player to do XXX but that seems like a good idea and could make a dramatic moment. I want this to work but not be easy. So a DC of 15 sound good. DM:Okay, so to do that you need to beat a DC 15 with a Charisma Check.” Player: “would my Deceptive skill work here?” DM: “yes, add in your Proficiency.” Yes, this is a bit redundant, but as someone who played D&D for years wrong because I didn’t understand the rules, I like a little redundancy in rules aimed at new players.

o   Chapter 8: Adventuring – another great place where some actual play examples would have been useful.

o   Social interaction section on page 66 – Another missed opportunity for some actual play examples

o   And combat – great time for some in-game examples

o   I’ve already professed my love for FATE, that book is a pitch-perfect example of how to integrate actual play examples throughout the rule book to add depth and clarity to the mechanics.


  • Along those same lines, there are numerous times where the text refers to the Character Sheet as it walks through character creation. Each time it does so, if there was a graphic showing that area of the character sheet magnified with that information written in, it would help solidify the process and make sure players know where and how to record this information. – Missed opportunity, in my mind.
  • The Term DC is touched on early but is not really explained until much later (page 58, and it’s not really EXPLAINED much there either).
  • I have a big gripe with the Wonders of Magic text box on page 5. It essentially spells out how Magic permeates the worlds of D&D and how you would encounter it on most adventures and how many Villains use magic. Hey, hands off my world there buddy! If I want to run a Campaign where there is no Magic, I can. If I want Magic Swords to grow on trees I can. I personally like the balance the core game assumes with Magic Items being rare, but this text box has no business being in the starter rules. You may have just told a budding DM that the type of game he/she wants to run isn’t right. Just delete this box and add one similar (but edited) in the DMG.
  • On Page 7 when they are talking about Proficiency checks there is a line about occasions when you may apply this twice or it may be halved. An example of the rules that would do this here would be great.
  • I disagree with the text box: Finding a Hidden Object on page 61. It details that if there is a hidden object in a bureau under some folded clothes, that unless you as a Player declare that you are searching there you have NO CHANCE of finding it. This is an odd example of rewarding Player skill vs. Character skill. I can’t actually throw Fireballs, but my Wizard can. So just because I don’t think like a Rogue, doesn’t mean my PC shouldn’t think to look in obvious hiding spots. If the DC to find that item is 20 and I roll 25, the DM should say: “You spend some time searching the room and eventually as you are going through the bureau drawers you find . . . “
  • Not a fan of the rule on noticing threats under travel on page 65. Essentially as written there is no mechanical benefit in multiple people looking out for danger as it works on Passive Perception so the highest perception is going to see it or not, the other PC’s passive perception (if lower) is useless. I would prefer a ‘help’ action where each additional PC that is looking out adds +2 to the passive perception of the watcher. If the normal passive perception is 14 but someone is helping (+2) and the DC is 16 then the ‘Helper’ is the one that see’s the thing (this works similar to how Star Wars: Edge of the Empire allow the dice to help tell the story – for me, at least, this sounds like a better way)
  • On Page 68 we get some text about Recuperating between adventures and how you can use that time to recover from debilitating injuries, disease or poison. But there is no mention of those three things in the Basic PDF. If it’s not applicable until the PHB or DMG comes out, put it in those books only.
  • I’ve never been a fan of double damage dice on crits (though it’s not as bad as a Crit Confirm rule – IMO) because Crits should be awesome. Rolling two 1’s on your D12’s for a Crit is NOT AWESOME. I house rule that you do max damage and then roll the additional damage so a Crit is at least normal Max damage +1.
  • I don’t think losing ½ movement to stand up or to mount a creature makes sense as it penalizes creatures that move faster. My super-fast Elf under a Haste Spell can move 120 feet a round but it takes 60 feet of movement to stand up first? I think a static 10 or 15 feet works better.
  • Under the High-Elf description it goes into great detail with numerous examples from the many sourcebooks and novels on the different types of Elves. I think they went overboard here, it’s just confusing, especially for someone that isn’t already familiar with them. I get tying your media into the game and those already familiar with them will probably enjoy that, but reading these as a new to D&D person, It was overload.
  • And my biggest issue; I WANT TO PLAY NOW! Someone run a game for me.



A note about Sex.

  • On page 33 there are two paragraphs that discuss choosing a sex for your character. It also covers that this is not necessarily a binary choice, and that your PC could be male, female, hermaphroditic, androgynous or transgender. Your PC could be gay, straight or bi-sexual. These two paragraphs have generated a lot of commentary and some spirited and at times heated debate. I couldn’t in good conscious ignore this. So here’s my 2 cents on this issue.

o   I’m very happy this was included because I feel like it was needed.

o   I’m very unhappy that this was needed.

o   As a gaming community we should be welcoming to all gamers, regardless of background, race, sex, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. One time I had a guy in my group play a blue-haired sentient ape that worshiped the God of Storms and could shoot lightning out of his eyeballs. How could I possibly be cool with that and then be upset if a guy wants to play a PC who’s gay?

o   If someone themselves is a non-binary sexual orientation then having two paragraphs that explicitly state that it’s cool, come on in and have fun with us is a good thing. If you and your group choose to exclude these types of your players or PC’s from your table, that’s your group’s business, but the game itself is neutral; meaning all are welcome.



I’ll leave with you a few bullet point thoughts of some things that I just noted as unusual or odd or some such:


  • I realize that I usually pick my Class before my Race when creating a PC so for me those steps are backwards. I wonder if anyone else does that?
  • Healer’s Kit: I like the current rules that it is no longer ‘required’ to get HP back during rests
  • You can make healing potions with a Herbalist Kit?
  • Long Rest: I had a great (evil) idea of having a horde of Goblins send 6 to 12 Goblins at a party every couple hours to make sure they never got a chance to rest/ recover
  • If you are Proficient with a perform skill that equals Wealthy income with no DC, just happens?
  • For speed of play I get rolling damage once for area affects/spells, but I’d prefer to roll separately and then explain the story of why one goblin got vaporized by the fireball and one barely got singed
  • So you don’t track negative HP? It’s all or nothing. Max negative dead. 1 less than max negative and you are still effectively at 0?
  • DC 10 to stabilized a fallen ally, why so low? Used to be 12
  • I’m happy they cut out the Magic Focus or Holy Symbol adding 2 to DC for spells. It’s rare you wont have it, so a -2 for the times you don’t have it make more sense, but they just got rid of it completely
  • Is inflict wounds a broken spell? 3d10 at 1st level?
  • Over channel IS broken – was already told errata on the way to deal with cantrip
  • There is no damage modifier for fighting underwater?












Skip to comment form

    • ThatOneGM on July 12, 2014 at 9:51 am
    • Reply

    I’m not even all the way through the rules yet, but I’m glad I went ahead and read Caleb’s review and yours. Here are my thoughts on what your review and one that I had when I was reading.

    – I LOVE the idea of advantage and disadvantage. I never played any of the playtests, but in old Dungeon Talk episodes I was intrigued when you explained the mechanic and how it worked.
    – I’m not sure about Bonds and Flaws yet. An RPG called Part-Time Gods did a really good job with that kind of mechanics (it’s more intrinsic to gameplay in PTG), and I usually hold up other systems to PTG when they include similar concepts.
    – Again, I haven’t read the whole thing, but I can’t see myself disagreeing with you about play examples. When I first got D&D 3.0, I was engrossed in the play examples. Before I played my first game, I must have read all of the examples in the PHB and/or DMG two or three times at least. I would especially have loved some examples about the doubling and halving of the Proficiency bonus on page 7. I’m a thoroughly seasoned player and GM and I am still not sure I understand how it’s supposed to work.
    – I was also very concerned about the fact that the PDF was forcing magic onto every D&D world ever. But I was also irked at the bit about the multiverse. I get that they’re trying to make all the players feel like they’re part of something bigger, but it seemed heavy-handed to me. I know that as the GM I can decide that my campaign world is not part of the same multiverse as Eberron, Forgotten Realms, et al, but it aggravates me that WotC’s official position is that if I’m playing D&D, I’m a part of their mulitverse. It just seems a little grabby to me (“Those are my LEGOs that that ship is really mine.” “But I built it from a windmill set. Yes, they’re your pieces, but you would never have thought to use them this way.” “This is my house and these are my LEGOs, therefore every idea you build with them must be mine.”
    – I couldn’t tell you whether I pick my class or race first in most cases, I would bet it’s probably 50/50, but I almost invariably determine my ability scores first, so the fact that abilities are after both of those is wildly off-putting for me.

    Thanks for putting up the review. I may come back and read it again once I’ve finished reading the D&D Basic rules myself.

    1. Looking forward to reading your review.
      Adv/Disadvantage works great and plays fast (two BIG pluses in my book)
      I hold FATE CORE as the go-to example of how tow write an RPG book using consistent examples. I’ve now decided Atomic Robo is better, you’ll hear me gush about that book in a few days when TT 53 comes out.

      The sneak peaks at the players handbook look great, but do give me the sense that the PHB really is ‘advanced’ D&D. It’s not just more of basic it’s new and different stuff. Some i’ll like, some probably not so much. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy though!


  1. You can wait behind a door to stab somebody coming through: it’s the Ready action, on page 72. The difference between Ready and a more general-purpose Hold Action is that you have to declare what it is you’re waiting for…if it happens you get to take your declared action as a reaction (interrupting the other guy), but if it doesn’t occur you’re stuck waiting until your next turn. I actually really like that, because I often see almost everybody in the party Holding their actions and then it gets messy when they start taking their turns out of init order or they all want to go at once.

    1. Joshua,
      I guess, what i’m asking, to clarify, is can you take half of your turn (the move) and still hold the rest (attack) so that you move to the door and then hold your action so that you can attack as soon as the new guard comes in without giving them a chance to act/react. I know that in older editions you could not do this (at least, I think that I know that). Does that make more sense?

      Thanks for reading and for commenting!


      1. ah, I see what you mean. Short answer: yes.

        Longer answer: movement is much more fluid in 5e, so you’re allowed not only act then move and move then act, but even move, attack, move some more, attack, move some more (assuming you have multiple attacks). Ready is an action, so it seems perfectly legit to move, then Ready: wait and attack if somebody comes through the door… and even move, Ready: wait and attack if somebody comes through the door attack, then move back behind this pillar… at least as long as you have some movement left. The only thing that I don’t think you can do is multiple conditions: wait and if somebody comes through the door attack, but if nobody does, then move…you need to pick a specific thing you’re waiting on and you’ll lose the Readied action if the trigger doesn’t happen before your next turn.

    • Bryant on July 13, 2014 at 10:17 am
    • Reply

    Advantage is a generalization of a 4e mechanic (used by the Avenger class), as it turns out.

    Thanks for the review!

    1. Bryant,
      I do recall the Avenger having mechanic like that, now that you mention it. Still not sure that pre-dates other uses in RPG’s, but I think The Avenger Class does pre-date that Whitehack game I reviewed.
      So score 1 for WOTC.

      Thanks for the read and the comment.


    • TorgHacker on July 13, 2014 at 10:30 am
    • Reply

    I wrote a lot of the examples of play in the Episode Guide of the Firefly RPG Corebook, and I wanted to correct you on this statement:

    “The only cost of a longer page count would be on the user-end for printing costs and the time to do it – not insignificant, but there are numerous times were actual play examples would have been very handy”

    This isn’t true.

    First you need a writer to write those examples, and unlike a lot of other writing for RPGs those take an increased amount of time. Not only do you have to come up with a good example, you have to make sure that everything is absolutely correct with regards to how the rules apply.

    Then you need a developer to double check that the rules were applied correctly.

    Then you need an editor to polish the writing itself.

    Then you need a layout person to deal with that text.

    All of these cost money and it’s not cheap.

    This doesn’t mean that they’re not useful, I’m just saying that your premise that this doesn’t cost any money to the company is flawed.

    1. TorgHacker,
      First: Jealous. I really want to play Firefly RPG.
      Second:“The only cost of a longer page count would be on the user-end for printing costs and the time to do it – not insignificant, but there are numerous times were actual play examples would have been very handy”
      So I did acknowledge it would take time (and I guess I mentally included time = money) to put them in there.
      I hope, given your experience, you’d agree though, that they would have been valuable in numerous places. I also hope they will have used more of them in the PHB so they could have been used twice, which wouldn’t reduce the extra time/cost of having them written but increase their value.

      I appreciate you reading the review and taking time to comment – overall what did you think of the PDF/Basic D&D?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.