log in or register to remove this ad


D&D 5E How is 5E like 2E?

In 3e and 4e you use abilities and then roll to see if you succeed.

In 2e and 5e you describe what your character does. The DM then tells you if you succeed or fail or if the outcome is in doubt.

That is the biggest similarity. The philosophy of game design is entirely different than 3e and 4e and is more similar to earlier editions.
On the contrary. In 2e and 3e you use spells to avoid having to roll. You only roll if you're a muggle or saving your magic.

In 4e and 5e you describe what your character does including their abilities, of which some are spells. You then roll to see if you succeed or fail if the outcome is in doubt.

log in or register to remove this ad


4E was bizarrely really easy to DM for a lot of reasons I'll spare us, but yes 3.XE was painful as hell. 5E is more like the 2E style of DMing, though, especially in combat. I would say the DM role is more to the forefront in 5E.
4e was indeed, the easiest one to DM. I believe it's part because of the awesome job they have done with both DMGs and part because the system was almost built to run itself automatically, leaving almost nothing for DM interpretation or "rulings".

It's also worth mentioning that encounter building used to be a pleasure on itself. The clear guidelines, monster roles, traps, hazards and XP budget system all combined to make encounter building some kind of fun mini game for the DM.


No flips for you!
Bluntly, 5e is like 2e because both feature "the GM decides" as the core mechanic. Both sub the rules to the GM's job as director of the game. Both feature largely Trad and NeoTrad play, with a sprinkling of Classic. Looking at mechanical similarities is a red herring -- lots of games have skill lists of roughly the same size. 5e and 2e are not very mechanically alike outside the core structure, but that core of "GM decides" is what gives the game their similarity, that and both are firmly rooted in D&D tropes and genre conventions.


I'd have said 5e had a lot of 2e styling and finish and an only slightly modified 4e engine under the hood. The two things you mention from 3.X that 4e didn't change were feats (and even 4e fans thought there were far far too many) and the level scaling. Even the magic item issue you mention had largely changed by late 4e when, by making the bonuses transparent, the 4e designers realised that you could just give those bonuses out and then not have to give the items.
Oh, 5e absolutely borrows from 4e, but in answer to the OP (why 5e resembles 2e AD&D), I left 4e out on purpose.

My experience of 4th is limited, but I think 5e is more than a slightly modified 4th ed D&D however. 5e's DNA markup has as much of older edition than of 4e, and more than just because 4e itself had a lot of baggage from previous editions. However, there is no denial that 4e was as much of a departure from 3e that 5e is, if not more.

5e is a re-balance of character options and DM role, and calls back to AD&D in more ways than just presentation (theatre of the mind and de-emphasizing of tactical map-and-minis is one I didn't list). It is a remarkable exercise in synthesis actually, and a good example of non-linear evolution, and even if it borrows substantially from 4e, 4e isn't it's sole progenitor.
Last edited:

4e was indeed, the easiest one to DM. I believe it's part because of the awesome job they have done with both DMGs and part because the system was almost built to run itself automatically, leaving almost nothing for DM interpretation or "rulings".

It's also worth mentioning that encounter building used to be a pleasure on itself. The clear guidelines, monster roles, traps, hazards and XP budget system all combined to make encounter building some kind of fun mini game for the DM.
God yes re encounter building, it was the first since I was a kid that I had fun designing encounters and didn't have to grit my teeth to do it. 5E is "okay" here but never fun for me there. At least it's not 3E where you had to actively fight the CR system lol. I feel like a 6E would really want to retain most of 5E player-side, but take a heavy look at the DM side of the equation. I think unfortunately that there is a perverse incentive for WotC to not make it too easy or fun to design stuff through because then DMs don't have as much motivation to buy adventures. I hope they see beyond that to the long term of D&D where being fun to DM in all ways would be hugely helpful.


Mind Mage
Skills, races, armed combat, hit points, subclasses, monster design, a significant share in the classes. And the magic belongs to no one. 5e's just a lighter and less tactical system.

The 5e skill system is an only lightly modified version of the 4e one that gives up the half level scaling. First there are seventeen skills, plus languages- although 5e did add tool proficiencies. By contrast the 2e PHB has what? Over fifty "Non Weapon Proficiencies" in the PHB alone and more in extra books, most with their own subsystems? Plus thief skills? Then there's that there are basically three tiers of training in 5e. "Untrained", "Trained", and "Expertise". Which is basically the 4e approach of untrained, trained, and a little beyond that (e.g. Skill Focus); 5e is an only slightly lighter version of the 4e skill system. Further cementing it as almost pure 4e is the way that abilities modify it - for example the way the rogue gets to use minor, I mean swift, I mean bonus actions.

The races come next - and are very 4e in nature, starting with the obvious inclusion of Tieflings and Dragonborn in core. Two stats with bonuses and no stats with penalties for almost all races is again very 4e. As is the simplicity and cleanness of the racial abilities; dwarves for example do not get saving throw bonuses based on every 3.5 points of their constitution, bonuses to detect sliding/shifting walls, bonuses vs certain races, or racial class and level restrictions.

The armed combat rolls are the same as in 4e - Stat bonus (consistent) plus proficiency and level modifier vs AC. There's no issue round THAC0/Descending AC, classes having different attack bonus scaling, weapons getting bonus damage vs large creatures, or different weapons getting an inherently different ROF (other than the loading property). This really is the basic 4e engine - just without flanking or forced movement.

Hit points are barely rolled for in 5e; you instead get half your hit dice rounding up. And the healing model is closely related, with people recovering hit point thanks to long term endurance on a short rest and a lot of combat healing happening as a bonus. The difference here, of course, is that you started effectively at level 3 in 4e.

Subclasses are pretty much a 4e implementation; the game is built with them in mind (and they are in the PHB) and layer seamlessly over the basic classes with simple and clean bonuses and no stat minimums or special hinderances. Further pushing them into the realms of 4e is that an evoker in 5e, as in 4e, isn't a specialist wizard who gets more spells to cast from the evocation school but a wizard who is actively better at casting evocation spells in ways that aren't simple dice modifiers. 5e being a lighter version of 4e of course the powers get rolled into either base classes or subclasses.

The classes, for that matter, are all using 4e fluff. Paladins, for example, aren't going to fall and only one subclass is the morally pure (Oath of Devotion) - and no Pokemounts or normal mounts. Sorcerers have their random power sources (they were new to 3.0 and through 3.X were just "descended from dragons, I guess"). Warlocks, clearly are 4e (and were Monks even in 2e?). Rogues are sneak attack based rather than one off backstabs - and more importantly (and very 4e) are just better at some skills rather than having specific thief skills.

Monster statblocks are closest to a cut down version of 4e than anything else. The monsters have full stat blocks - but they aren't designed using PC rules the way 3.X is. Instead they have powers like Nimble Escape that let them do things. It's more a 4e lite approach than anything else, taking away the monster roles and using Legendary Actions and resistances for solos. Unfortunately there are 4e hit point levels without 4e tactics making them far more bullet sponges.

Even the magic system, which is its own thing but probably closer to 2e than any other edition (although completely dropped Vancian casting and is very different for different classes), has strong 4e influences from cantrips to rituals to spell focuses to sustain spells becoming concentration spells.

Edit: Backgrounds are a 4e thing as well - they were added to 4e very shortly after launch. 5e slightly expands on them and gives them slightly more mechanical weight (full skill trainings plus a bonus). It's one of the very few places 5e has expanded on 4e - and the expansion is a good one.

Also I'm amused to see something very 4e-theme-like being added to 5e in the form of the Dark Gifts/Supernatural Gifts, etc. The theme layer was, of course, added to 4e with Dark sun.
Yeah, 5e is 4e mechanics. Except. 5e is less rigidly structured, so as to allow more mechanical variety, and more room for the DM and players to adjudicate outcomes narratively. Narrative allows players to tell a story to overcome a challenge, and allows the DM to decide if the story makes sense to award success.

3e strove to simulate reality, with a mechanics for anything. 3e started as an attempt to systematize 2e rules, but its simulation grew many unhelpful (and occasionally gamebreaking) rules convolutions of its own.

4e strove to streamline 3e mechanics, consolidating the rules as elegantly as possible. 4e made many breakthrus into understanding how a gaming engine ecology functions, and how to design balanced mechanics.

The early price of 4e balance was a highly rigid mechanical structure, such as an inflexible advancement table for every class, and a standardized grid-oriented set of mechanical formulas that can be "reflavored". Indeed, 4e even strove to eliminate narrative adjudication, by using the mechanics to resolve every outcome, while any narrative "flavor" was superfluous with little or no influence on the outcome. Early 4e was like reducing all aspects of D&D into computer code algorythms that could play out almost independently from a DM. The saving grace of 4e is the mechanical formulas are elegant - simple and versatile - and able to cover so many different character concepts well. The fluidity of 4e flavors made it possible to play so many characters in a satisfying way, that are impossible in other editions.

By the time of 4e Essentials, the designers were experienced enough with the 4e system and gaming engines generally. They began introducing mechanical variety that defied the rigidity of the 4e gaming structure but stayed true to its expectations of gaming balance.

5e is a seemless continuation of 4e mechanics. The main effort in 5e is to reprioritize narrative adjudication to resolve the outcome of challenges. In other words, "flavor" is no longer fluff, but is now RulesAsWritten. This narrative adjudication is what allows players to use storytelling to resolve an encounter, or even by means of skill checks, to see if the story can bypass or override mechanics. Likewise, the DM normally decides if a players story "makes sense" in a current narrative context so as to award success.

This return to narrative adjudication is the part that feels most like 1e (!). Less like 3e simulation and less like 4e coding.

All in all, 5e is 4e mechanics. 4e has had enough time now to learn when it can relax.
Last edited:


Mind Mage
Because 5e emphasizes narrative adjudication, the main challenge is to design "flavors" that are as elegant as possible.

The flavor that entangles and bakes into the core mechanical rules must be simple and as versatile as possible, so as to allow each player to make the flavor ones own to make many different kinds of character concepts, and so as to allow the DM to implement the flavor flexibly in homebrew settings and diverse official settings.
Last edited:

The Gifts sections of the Historic Reference Books for the Vikings and Celts is pretty much 2E's take on 5E's post Theros Supernatural Gifts.

Which I learned about after reading about them in an awesome review thread on here.

Greg K

Personally, in most instances, I think that 5e backgrounds are more equivalent to 2e kits than are 5e archetypes. 5e archetypes might furthermore build on the concept, but background (possibly, with starting equipment choice, a starting feat (if feats are used), and/or a variant class feature) often mimic kits very well since kits modified the starting character at first level, but added nothing afterward.
Last edited:

Level Up!

An Advertisement