Oct 15, 2018
Reviewing a game like Dungeons & Dragons is a daunting task. It’s a game with decades of history, it invented a new kind of entertainment, and is literally the reason we are here making this podcast for you. Each of us has personal history with D&D as well, so we all have very strong opinions on the rules and flavor. Nevertheless, we have tried to be as objective as possible in our assessment.
Mechanically speaking, D&D can be summed up as “easy to learn, difficult to master.” The basic mechanic of the game is to roll a 20-sided die, then add any modifiers from your stats and training, and compare the result with the difficulty level. However, the rules have a width and depth that can be daunting for first-time players. There are mechanics for almost anything, and circumstances can complicate a seemingly simple action. For example, combat ground to a halt in our final battle because the DM had to check whether or not the Mad Bard was susceptible to Megan’s Sleep spell.
Character creation is complex, but satisfying. At first it can be quite challenging, especially because the rules for races, classes, backgrounds, and spells are spread throughout The Player’s Handbook, which requires a great deal of flipping back and forth. For many of us, creating D&D characters has become an enjoyable hobby, which speaks to how easy it is to master the art of character creation after that initial confusion.
The biggest complaint we had about D&D was balance, specifically of the classes. There is a sharp divide between spellcasting and non-spellcasting characters. The former tends to start weak, but get almost impossibly powerful by higher levels, while the latter begin strong but don’t get many exciting new class features after level 10 or so. And simply put, some classes are better than others; sorcerers and Rangers are notoriously underpowered in vanilla D&D. Supplementary materials released since then have addressed this balance to some extent, but not everybody uses or has access to those materials.
Flavorfully, D&D has a surprising amount of width. While it is possible to play it as a generic high-fantasy adventure, you can play campaigns that embody every genre from urban fantasy to eldritch horror. It’s not uncommon for a single party to leap from genre to genre in one campaign. There are also several, extremely detailed campaign settings available, but it’s easy to run a game of D&D without one as well.
Dungeons & Dragons has two things that no other game has: it has an iconic feel, and a massive community. It’s difficult to explain why D&D gives us such a strong sense of satisfaction. Perhaps it’s because it is so intrinsic to the history of TTRPGs, but playing it feels a lot like coming home and watching your favorite movie all over again. And while the D&D community is occasionally dysfunctional, it is also one of the most bizarre, surprising places you’ll ever see. If you have never played Dungeons & Dragons, chances are you can find somebody out there who would love to teach you. It is no exaggeration to say that it has created lifelong friendships.
Overall, we highly recommend Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition. It is accessible enough for casual and new players, but mechanically deep enough for gaming veterans. We don’t recommend it be the only game you ever play—in fact, we hope you branch out—but you owe it to yourself to give it a try at least once.