Preface & IntroductionThe preface, by Mike Mearls, tips its hat at, but doesn't name D&D's creators. They're name checkd in the Credits section, so it's all good I guess.
Anyway, the rest talks about what D&D is, isn't, or can be, with the emphasis firmly on fun with friends.
The key, in my opinion, is this paragraph . . .
"To play D&D, and play it well, you don't need to read all the rules, memorize every detail of the game, or master the fine art of rolling funny looking dice. None of those things have any bearing on what's best about the game."
That, to me at least, says this is not an edition for CharOP min-maxers, rules lawyers, or munchkins. Perhaps more cheekily it says this is not Pathfinder. Either way, that's good in my book. I like the idea of an edition focused on fun with friends, worldbuilding, and storytelling rather than maths, rules, balance and probabilities.
What is a Roleplaying Game?
The introduction describes the D&D roleplaying game as being about "storytelling in world of Sword & Sorcery." It tells us the game shares elements of childhood games of make-believe and specifically . . .
"It's about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to that scene."
It then has an example of a DM setting such a scene (Castle Ravenloft) and two players (Phillip and Amy) reacting. That's the roleplaying bit.
It then informs us that . . . "D&D gives structure to the stories, a way of determining consequences of the adventurers action."
There then follows a continuation of the example where Philip has his character examine the gargoyles, rolls a seven on an Int Check (ha!). That would be the game bit.
Of course what is a roleplaying game, or what is roleplaying is never actually mentioned, but the intro quickly deals with these questions, and vey well too, especially for outright beginners. It also does it better than many deliberate answers to these questions than I've seen in other rules, or online discussions.
It then describes how in D&D players make characters that form a party, one player is a Dungeon Master, briefly what a DM does. Campaigns are mentioned, and that old chestnut there's no winners (or losers) as long as it's fun everyone wins. They also states outright that if your character dies, it can be brought back to life, unless you'd rather roll up a new one. A kind of "Don't Panic!" or "Keep Calm and Resurrect!" statement for those who might be worried about losing their character.
We then move on to WORLDS OF ADVENTURE where the multiverse is brought up as are many registered TM D&D settings, but happily it also mentions all the hundreds of thousands of worlds created by D&D players and that "amid all the richness of the multiverse you might create a world of your own." Damn Right!
I'm already like how 5e is setting out its stall to be GM, and Home brewing friendly. Personally, in the past I've nominally set my D&D games in D&D settings, especially the Wilderlands, and The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, but really, I mean really, really I've always just run D&D in D&D world. A setting of WTF! Whatever! If it was in the MM, or FF, or White Dwarf or 2000AD, or LotR, or Hawk the Slayer, or Star Wars it was our D&D. I'm aware that 5e is based on the Forgotten Realms, but it'll just be D&D world when I run it.
Theres a brief section on USING THIS BOOK, which to my great suprise didn't contain the instructions: open and read.
Next is HOW TO PLAY and all joking aside this next bit is great as the instructions are simply . . .
- The DM describes the environment.
- The Players describe what they want to do.
- The DM narrates the results of the Adventurers' actions.
Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy! I don't want to be all Onetrueway and Badwrongfun anyone, but yeah this is what D&D should be at its (cold dark draconic) heart.
Next it talks about the dice and the D20 is super important because it gets its own section. Yeah, dice I guess it's gotta do that. Next is a quick description of ADVANTAGE AND DISADVANTAGE so again they're putting that mechanic front and centres (which is cool as I think it's one of the best additions to D&D in this iteration). There are a couple of paragraphs on SPECIFIC BEATS GENERAL which looks like simplified language for 4e's exception based design. Meh, Then it talks about rounding down (you always do it even for fraction over a half). Which is exactly the sort of thing I'm likely to forget once dice start rolling in earnest, so good the called it out here, rather than buried it amongst other mechanical do-dads.
Finally it talks about ADVENTURES and THE WONDERS OF MAGIC both of which, despite their titles, are pretty bog standard talk, about pretty bog standard D&D stuff.
Much more interesting stuffed between these two, as the more tasty filling of their white bread D&Disms, is the section THE THREE PILLARS OF ADVENTURE which lays out Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat as the main ways that adventuring is structured. I'm glad they put it that order, and again, I'm glad they're highlighting the other options, beyond combat as the main thing D&D is about.
It's a very good introduction to the game, especially for those new to it. For us more jaded gamers it will depend on your preferences. I imagine the 4e, and Pathfinder crowd won't find as much to be happy about as us OSR/DIY D&D types, because the emphasis, as I read it, seems to be on a more old school play style than more recent WotC iterations. Although I'm guessing it's more AD&D than OD&D, or B/X in its oldschoolness. I guess we'll find out.
Next up is Part 2 which covers Part 1 (natch) Creating a Character.