I am trying to get a group together, and we cannot agree on an edition of D&D. An argument being made by the pro-5e side is that 5th edition D&D goes faster than in revised 3rd edition, all other things being equal. I know that 3.5 can get crazy in the high levels, but since the game will be low level (starting at 3rd, running until maybe 6th) I don't expect God wizard mega-turns, 20-roll full attacks, and 'zilla buff routines.

What mechanical differences from D&D 3.5e result in 5e having faster combat at level 6 and below, if any? If there are only small differences at those levels, at what level range does the difference become noticeable?

Please disregard things like players' level of experience with each game, using grids, etc, since those have nothing to do with the system. Also I don't expect anyone to roll up with d2 crusader, Jacob's Ladder, or any other theoretical optimization builds, so don't worry about balance.


2 Answers 2


5th Edition

Let's look at the main things that "take time" during a turn.

  1. Math!
  2. Deciding which thing to do.
  3. Doing the thing you decided to do.
  4. Looking up the rules for the thing you're doing (spells, maybe?).

Now, let's compare each point.


In 3.X, The numbers being thrown around are higher. You can get attack bonus nearly to twenty by 6th level, especially because magical gear is considered a part of your leveling scale and circumstance bonuses. 5e uses a bounded accuracy; the maximum bonus you can realistically get by 6th level is 7 or 8. And almost all of the circumstantial bonuses that would apply in 3.X are simply advantage/disadvantage in 5e. Big numbers and circumstance bonuses are harder to add together than static smaller numbers (added to one die, or adv/disadv).


3.X has several types of actions and turn components and ways to convert each one into different things: Standard Action, Move Action, Free Action, Immediate Action (each of which has a large number of equivalencies). 5e has movement (which has mostly no conversion) and an Action; a bonus action is sometimes possible under certain circumstances.


(of decision)

I feel that on paper, 3.x ties with 5e in this category. But in my experience, 3.x has a lot of "oh, but I get this extra bonus!" or "hey, did you add the plus one from the bard song?!" or whatever, slightly drawing out each turn.


Again, I feel like on paper, these are the same. Personally, I didn't like the layout of the 3.x books and it always took me forever to find anything. But your mileage may vary. I will say that with 5e having fewer options like exotic weapons, racial bonuses, extraneous feats, etc, there are fewer reasons to go to the book, which could be inferred that the overall time checking the book goes down, compared to 3.X

With all that said, it seems that 5th edition is the clear winner in terms of "In which edition can a player complete a combat turn faster?".

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 17:27

There's probably a lot of parts that contribute, but I'll give you a few that I've noticed help a lot:

Fewer circumstancial bonuses

You don't need to remember a ton of minor bonuses, like getting +2 for flanking and +1 against Goblinoids and +1 from your Feat and -2 from being shaken. Every roll is a basic, set amount and you either roll with Advantage, Disadvantage, or neither. And both Advantage and Disadvantage just means rolling twice and picking the higher/lower roll respectively.

This massively cuts down not only the amount of bookkeeping and remembering you need to do, but also decision making. You won't have to try and squeeze out every last stacking +1, you can just look for a single way to have Advantage, grab it, and swing away.

Less stacking of spells

With each caster being limited to a single instance of Concentration, and most longer duration buffs requiring it, the number of spells active at the same time is a lot lower. This means less things you need to keep in your mind, and again less decision making and pre-battle buffing. You can focus on maintaining the one spell that really matters.

Tied into this is the new spell preparation system, where you separate which spells you could cast from which ones you do cast. This means that if you decide to prepare Magic Missile, you can during the day use anywhere between 0 and all your spell slots to cast Magic Missile. That means combat decisions get cut from "Do I spend my only Magic Missile for today on this?" to just "Do I spend a level 1 Spell Slot right now?" which is an easier decision. It also means you can more easily decide a useful buff right now instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity because you only have one. That makes it much quicker to see what the best move is at a given time.

You tend to do a few things really well

Most characters have a few options that they are really good at, with no mechanically complex but ultimately minor bonusses. A great comparison for example is the new Rage mechanic for Barbarians.

You no longer need to recalculate your Strength, Constitution, AC, (circumstancial) saves, abilities, attack rolls, damage rolls, and hit points in order to decide what going into a Rage does.

You just add +2 to damage, get advantage on all your Strength and Constitution saving throws and you take half damage from weapon attacks. Easy to apply, thematically perfect, mechanically powerful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 17:27

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