D&D 5E Running a campaign for experienced players using the 5th ed. Basic Rules

Dr Magister

I've been pondering this for a while, and I've decided I want to try really stripping everything back, and running a campaign for my players (all experienced 5th ed. players) using only the free Basic Rules.

They're the complete 5th ed. rules, but with restricted character options, designed as a free taster/intro for new players, but (intentionally or not; I'm guessing the former) one thing they actually do really well is emulate the feel of old Red Box Basic. You're restricted to the four classic races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling) and the four classic... uh.... classes (Fighter, Cleric, Rogue and Wizard), with only one subclass each, and that the most archetypal for each class (so Champion for the Fighter, Life domain for the Cleric etc). To me it harks back to the days when the Rogue was actually the Thief (the subclass they get in 5e Basic).

It also (I assume unintentionally) reduces the niggle I (and others) have with the proportion of races with Dark Vision. In 5e Basic only half the playable races can see in the dark. Similarly, it automatically makes the whole game feel slightly more low-magic. In the full rules, something like three quarters of classes can cast spells of some kind, and that only increases if you include sub-classes like Eldritch Knight. In 5e basic, only half the classes can cast spells, and for those who can't there's no option to do so.

One caveat: I am intending to allow my players to choose from any of the Backgrounds in the PHB, not just the six given in the Basic rules. My idea is to try and divorce character concepts from class mechanics somewhat. Assuming my players don't just want to play archetypal fighters, clerics etc, the theory is that any character concept can be made using the four core classes and the backgrounds. Want to be a holy warrior fighting for the church? Really, you can just play a cleric, give them a sword instead of a mace and call them Sir Insertname, instead of Brother Insertname. However, a STR-based, high CHA Fighter with the Acolyte background would fit the concept just as well without needing a separate mechanical class for Paladin (This fits into my whole thing about how versatile the Fighter class is, with the right build, background and combat style). Likewise a high CHA wizard with the Entertainer background makes a perfectly good Bard, from an in-game perspective, and works perfectly well within the fiction.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I want my players' characters to be defined first and foremost by their background, not their class. They're not a 'Fighter' they're a hunter from the forest. They're not a 'Rogue', they're a travelling minstrel. I want my players to think about their character concept first, and then decide how they can use a limited set of options creatively to achieve it, not about which one of 12 classes they want to play. In a way I'm hoping this will let them be more creative, not less, with the characters they want to make.

I'm looking at running an old school module for it (currently leaning towards Against the Cult of the Reptile God), to add to the faux-OSRness (fauxSR?). I've discussed the above with a couple of them, and they seem keen to give it a try, so now I just need to try and arrange a session zero
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If your players are optimization minded I expect to see the following:
  • Wizards and clerics only. Without feats rogues and especially fighters are very limited
  • No humans. The variant human is the only worthwhile human.


If your players are optimization minded I expect to see the following:
  • Wizards and clerics only. Without feats rogues and especially fighters are very limited
  • No humans. The variant human is the only worthwhile human.
This seems like a low level campaign - rogues and fighters will be fine without feats. I think it's a really fun idea! Unless they are already familiar with it (they probably are), Phandelver has a real old school vibe, as do Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Tale from the Yawning Portal. Or you could go really old school and run them through Keep on the Borderlands; there's even a version updated for 5e on DM's Guild for 3 bucks.


Space Jam Confirmed
The first 5E campaign I DMed was Lost Mine of Phandelver followed up by several Adventurers League season 5 adventures using only the 5E Basic Rules, and it was very enjoyable.

I will say that the player running the champion fighter did get pretty bored with his character mechanically (though not in terms of roleplaying) around level 4 or 5 and I did end up letting him multi-class. This was his first time ever playing D&D, too, so it’s not like an experienced player wanted more options - a total novice player did.

The champion really does feel VERY limited mechanically compared to other classes, even using only the Basic 5E rules. If I had one suggestion for your plan, it would be to allow the battle master subclass instead of champion for the fighter.
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In my experience the words 'players' and 'limited set of options' don't tend to go together very well! Unless you've already discussed this with your players and they are keen, of course!

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
It works really well.

People tend to forget that in these rules, only fighters have access to martial weapons, which is a huge boon for magic items. You could even remove the heavy armor proficiency from life clerics, tightening the fighter's niche.

I'd go even farther and remove ASI and make Darkvision be Infravision instead. You can see heat signature of living creatures. Or you can have Darkvision from elves be only under the stars and the Dwarves' only underground.


(slight necro) I'm doing this! A Roll20 game (page at https://app.roll20.net/campaigns/details/16571999/dandd-5e-basic ), I thought I'd have trouble recruiting but it filled up right away, with brand new players, and a couple who'd played earlier editions. I love the simplicity & elegance of the Basic Rules, it feels a lot better balanced against the WoTC MM monsters. Whereas I noticed that Kobold Press monsters seem balanced against "full game with Feats" PCs, so I've been toning them down when in use. We've played two single session adventures so far - rescuing a baby from the Goblin King (total Labyrinth ripoff) and looting the Crypt of Lovias Kain, featuring a lot of decreipt crypt skeletons and a Specter, very scary vs level 1 PCs.

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