The characteristic point-buy system of 5e doesn’t really have to be a pure point buy system. The game provides a standard array of scores: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. This scratches the old-school itch in me that likes the challenge of “this is what you have to work with” that I get when I roll 3d6 in order. While it does provide quite a few bonuses in the balance, unless you specifically dump a +2 bonus on that ‘8’ you are going to have to deal with a penalty on one characteristic. I like this a whole lot better than any of the methods suggested in the 1e DMG to help inflate stats. It also has the advantage of being quick and easy.
The 5e skill system also doesn’t really present as a true skill system. This is in large part due to the relatively small number of skills and the broad manner in which they can be described. In other words, rather than telling players what they can’t do (ala traps that can only be disarmed by a Rogue in 3e), they allow players a means of describing unusual ways to tackle problems.
For example: if my character is having a hard time deciding whether or not the local noble is trying to pull the wool over his eyes but doesn’t have access to the skill Insight, I could argue that his expertise in History might give me a clue as to whether or not the details of the noble’s story jives with what my character knows about the history of the area. This encourages creativity and thinking outside the box rather than limiting roleplaying to roll-playing.
I love the fact that each character has starting equipment packages depending upon their class and background. This gets everybody off the ground running with an appropriate and well-rounded set of equipment that still leaves room for player choice.
The one part of 5e character creation that I think is truly great, though, is the Background system. With the use of 4 or 5 random tables rolls (gotta love those random tables!), players get to piece together an origin story and character motivation that makes their character unique right out of the gates without having to put a lot of effort into the creative process or having to rely upon mechanical bells and whistles. The fact that this background system is easily adaptable to virtually any DIY game-world is brilliant.
By the book, it was the background system of 5e that allowed me to give a bunch of young teenagers and their strange out-of-the-box ideas the characters they wanted to play without any real effort on my part. Thus far, this is my favorite part of the 5e rule set and is something I will happily graft onto all future campaigns I run from now on.
As an example of the wonderful variety this background system can produce, here is what the party of six characters look like in my current campaign:
- A dwarven fighter who used to be a librarian and is now trusted by his clan with an ancient text that should never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
- A half-elf fighter who used to be a medic in an army. Sick and tired of seeing his friends die, he cynically doesn’t want to make any more friends, but will never abandon them when he finally does.
- A human cleric who wants nothing more than to help any in need despite the fact that she distrusts people and expects the worst of them.
- A human wizard who is working on a scientific journal dedicated to the ecology, biology and sociology of dragons.
- A human rogue whose specialty is forgery and multiple identities because she is a noble on the run whose family has all been assassinated.
- An elven rogue who belongs to the Tinkers Guild. When she wasn’t allowed the funds to do research on automatons, she stole them from the Guild’s coffers. She is now off in the world trying to prove that her research can become a reality.
This stuff was produced by a couple of wild ideas and a bunch of random rolls. I have often lionized random tables and the wondrous things they can yield and this is yet another example of that goodness.