Last night we started off our 5E Isle of Dread game. I had three players, Jeremy as Mr. Jones the Drow Fighter (criminal background), Michael as Quaiblar the Elf Rogue (scholar background) and Prester John the Human Cleric (soldier background).
We realized after the game that we didn't get a few rules right, and some of the play test options we used may not be balanced against some of the stuff in the Basic Rules pdf, but it was pretty fun. 5E has new school mechanics but an old school feel to the way it plays, like several of the retro-clone games out in the OSR. While it's mechanically more streamlined, it also feels very similar to 3E in the way it plays. I think I'd agree with the online consensus that it meshes 2E adventure/design philosophy with 3E mechanics philosophy.
In the adventure, our three heroes (well, the drow is actually evil, which is a refreshing change and the reason I allowed a drow to be played - never want to see another Drizzt clone at my table again!) found a journal and map by R.B. telling of the Isle of Dread, the friendly inhabitants in the southern peninsula, the Great Wall, the dangers beyond, and rumors of a "city of the gods" and a "great black pearl of the gods" to be found there. The map had the coastal areas and the friendly peninsula mapped out. This was enough to get them preparing an expedition.
They each hired an NPC warrior to accompany them, bought supplies and wampum for trade (yes, the politically correct police can come and arrest us, insensitive stereotypes were abused in this game), and set sail. A week later, they arrived at the Isle of Dread. They successfully navigated past the reefs and made landfall at Tanaroa village next to the wall.
The villagers were friendly, and the chief Mira of the Hawk and zombie mistress could both speak Common, so they were able to trade a bit, get some information, and prepare to head out past the Wall. Just as they were about to head out, there was a commotion in the village. Some of the natives were informed by arrow-message from a boat that Chief Mira's brother and his men were taken prisoner by pirates, and would be sold into slavery unless they were paid 500gp.
Well, our intrepid heroes took up the challenge and decided to borrow some outrigger canoes to start sailing west around the coast, looking for the pirate camp while their ship sailed around the peninsula to meet them. The first day they made landfall on a rocky coast and spent the night in the ship, with the elf and drow taking turns at watch up on land. Quaiblar discovered a raw gemstone in the cliff and took it.
The next day they continued around the coast, moving out of the jungle area into some volcanic wastes. That night, while on watch, Mr. Jones heard the distant sound of simian growls and hoots, and while distracted a giant spider attacked. This spider shot beams of energy at him before he was able to take it down with his whips. Quaiblar joined him, and they found another spider in the lair, which hit Jones with a web attack, but Quaiblar was able to take it down with his bow and then a sneak attack. No treasure, however.
The day after the ship caught up with them, and they all set sail at a faster pace. That night they made landfall on a small volcanic island where a starving baboon attacked, but was easily dispatched. While serving it up for dinner, Jones commented that it tasted like human (he's also been constantly surveying the natives, trying to decide which ones will make good slaves if he can convince some to return to the mainland). Well, the sailors didn't take kindly to talk of eating manflesh, and were going to murder the Drow, but Prester and Quaiblar stepped in to prevent it.
Another day's sail brought them around several more small islands and another reef.
The next day, early, they sailed past an uncharted bit of coast and found the pirate camp. At first they thought it might be only natives, but the three warriors Mira sent with them to rescue her brother made it obvious through sign language. Hoping that no pirates were up early and on watch, they continued to sail past. After a brief discussion about whether to sail around that island or continue on to the next and camp until dark (drow being disadvantaged in daylight), or to try and just pelt the camp with arrows, they decided to beach on the next small island and return at dusk to battle the pirates.
And that's where we called it for the night.
The Isle of Dread update adds in some ideas for linking the various adventure locations on the island, which is useful.
As I expected, the plentiful self-healing of this edition (hit dice spent during short rests, total healing during long rests) meant that the PCs were always at full health.
The cleric didn't get much combat action this game because the encounters were random and at night while the elves were on watch, so he never had to cast a spell or swing his mace.
Character generation was more involved than Classic or AD&D, but also a bit more evocative, as mixing backgrounds, motivations, and personality bits can give characters a little more flair before they enter play.
Monster ACs are low, and both the Fighter and Rogue are optimized for combat. The battles were quick and easy...so far.