Please don't take the following post as a full review. Just want to put that caveat out there. I'm just giving my opinions here, and trying to clear up my confusion here and there.
I'm only going to be talking in this post about the Starter Set contents. I haven't yet read through the Basic Rules PDF that is free online, mainly because I wanted to have an unadulterated read-through of the box contents. I've read through most of the starter rulebook at this point, and wanted to start writing out what I'm experiencing, thinking, etc.
Here's just some impressions and thoughts:
To me, this "basic" game is a bit more "advanced" than what I'm used to, when it comes to a basic version of the game. But right there, that's a rub, isn't it? As a long-time gamer, try as I might I can't really escape my D&D history (personal and otherwise) or the context/influence of said history.
So, when I'm thinking Basic D&D, my old gamer brain shoots back in time to Moldvay and Mentzer, you know? I'm sure some of you experienced that as well. BUT, there was nothing that WotC said to indicate that this box would be as basic as Basic, if you know what I mean.
And, am I even off base, because is the Starter Set supposed to be a basic version of the game, and used in tandem with the online free Basic PDF? I'm trying to get clarity on this, and perhaps it's not WotC's fault for my lack of clarity. That very well could be true. This whole thing could be clear as day to some folks, but with my limited time and brain capacity these days, I could be missing the message here, and the interrelation of the products.
So, the question is: is the Starter Set supposed to be a beginning point for entry into use of the Basic Rules PDF AS WELL AS the upcoming PHB, DMG, and MM?
I mean, the game has proficiencies included, but not feats. Proficiencies in Basic D&D? Perish the thought, at least when it comes to the old sets from the 80's. But this Set is not supposed to be THAT basic, I suppose. It ain't your daddy's Basic D&D, and I guess that's alright.
So, overall the game seems to be stripped down version of 3.5, with some new innovations to the rules, such as getting rid of reflex/will/fortitude saves (the saves are now attached to the attributes, similar to how Castles & Crusades does it). Also, there's the advantage/disadvantage thing that everyone's been talking about, and it seems rather neat, although the thought of more dice rolling is usually not appealing to me on a visceral level. I prefer less dice rolling when possible.
I have nearly zero familiarity with D&D 4E, so I'm not sure what may be in the Starter Set that came from 4E. I know that 4E had at-will, encounter, and daily powers, and I'm honestly looking forward to seeing if those things are offered as optional rules for, say, spellcasters in the PHB. Any way to lighten up the "limitations" of Vancian magic is good in my book. I notice that the cantrips in the Starter Set are at-will casting, so there's that.
The fact that they mention that adventurer's ability scores can reach 20 was disturbing to my old-school sensibilities, but I'm not sure how that works when they're using the 4d6-drop-the-lowest method. Maybe they mean through the use of magical items...oh wait, I think I remembered that in the advancement rules in the Starter Set, your character increases in a class primary ability score at a certain level...okay so I guess the max attribute level is now 20? Sounds kinda icky.
Also a bit icky to me is the bonus inflation for the attributes. Example: an 18 gives you +4 now. Ouch. That's something of a gut-reaction turn-off as well.
The set encourages players to see replay value in the included module...and I suppose that's what one would have to do while waiting for monsters in the Basic PDF and/or the eventual Monster Manual?
I know that JB is currently discussing the actual "completeness" of the Basic PDF at the moment, and getting flak for it, unfortunately. I know that JB can come off as being confrontational about RPGs, but I think he's just passionate. He can sometimes be inflammatory, but I don't think that comes from a desire to simply start arguments. He just wants to get people energized and fired up about the subject.
Some people have stepped forward to remind JB that the current version of the Basic PDF is not the final version, which will be out in August I believe, to coincide with the PHB release. I guess they're trying to keep some of the PHB stuff under wraps until the release of the book, because honestly the Basic PDF just seems to be pages ripped out of the PHB.
I can understand a company not wanting to give away the cow for free, you know. So they want to be cautious with what's given away for free. Again, is the free stuff for use with the Starter Set, but if you want to have a fuller experience, you leave behind the Starter Set and Basic PDF and move on to the PHB/DMG/MM? Maybe the RPGPundit can clear things up for me!
Anyway, this has been an interesting experience. I'm not sure that this version of D&D is for me, because of the "complexity" of it, despite the thing being called basic...but then again the Starter Set doesn't say it's Basic, as far as I know.
BUT THIS DESIRE FOR "SIMPLE," BASIC RULES COMES FROM MY OWN PREJUDICE AT THE MOMENT, and not from any fault in the 5E Starter Set itself. Because personally, due to my own specific life circumstances, I'm looking for simpler rules these days, even simpler than old 80's Basic and even my beloved Castles & Crusades. To that end, there's a certain little game coming out soon that might scratch my simplicity itch...more on that in another post!
In the meantime, please give me your thoughts, impressions, etc. on 5E so far!