8/1/15

D&D 5e: My Ambivalence

Having played D&D 5e both as a player and dungeon master, I have developed an ambivalent opinion of the game. On the one hand, of the 5 major editions of D&D/AD&D, I believe 5e is the best designed and presented official version of D&D. While it is not a simple game, much of the game has been streamlined and the complexity that remains is both well-designed and, for players, digestible in small bites. This being said, I found it not fun.

I did not enjoy dungeon mastering D&D 5e. There were a number of factors involved:
  • I personally did not enjoy the extra time it took with the rules out of game to plan encounters, etc. That's just me. I would rather have spent my time on more creative aspects of the DMing. I am sure that with time, this aspect of the DM experience would have changed for the better.
  • Dungeon combat became both more complicated and less interesting with 5e. I quickly noticed that there was a blandness to encounters as every PC was able to take some sort of action almost every turn. Often, it didn't seem to matter what specific type of attack was used by the PCs. Each option seemed to have about the same chance of success/failure and did about the same amount of damage, whether melee, missile or spell attack. Lots of options every round for players but the effects of those options felt very generic from the DM perspective.
As a player, I simply did not enjoy playing it. As Mike Mearls and Rodney Thompson note in a presentation to International Game Developers Association, player feedback during playtesting indicated that players wanted fewer options and less complexity during combat but they wanted more complexity in the game outside of combat encounters (see the video below at about the 50 minute mark). The result is that D&D 5e offers streamlined combat (compared to 3e and 4e), but it offers the players plenty of character build options with every class at every level. I am not much into out-of-game character building, so this does not appeal to me. However, I can see where D&D 5e matches the sweet spot for lots of gamers.

13 comments:

  1. "Each option seemed to have about the same chance of success/failure and did about the same amount of damage, whether melee, missile or spell attack."

    Ugh, gross. That kind of thing is a deal breaker for me. Oh well, at least I know not to waste my time (not I was going to anyway, but thanks for the confirmation).

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  3. I have impressions very similar to yours. There are a few other things that also contribute to making 5e a bit "meh" for me, all a question of taste of course, as I know many other people like the following things:

    It's too magic-heavy for my taste; for example spell-casting classes outnumber non-spell-casting classes, and even classes like the fighter and the rogue have some spell-casting sub-classes which makes the spell-casters outnumber non-spell-casters even more. Not really my cup of tea.

    Still too reliant on rules (over rulings) for my taste. I suppose this is because I played B/X (with a few choice bits of AD&D 1e tossed in) for years, then went on a very long RPG hiatus, skipping over everything from 2e through 4e, only to get back into RPGs with OSR retroclones. I'm a lazy player and would rather rely on GM rulings (probably because I've been fortunate to have never had a bad GM, ever, and also because I'm so used to relying on them) than have to remember rules. Same applies to me as a GM, where I'm much more at home making rulings than I am with memorizing rules. That probably sounds a bit silly, and 5e isn't too rules heavy compared to other things, but there it is.

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    1. Exactly. You took the words right out of my mouth.

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    2. Exactly. You took the words right out of my mouth.

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    3. Exactly. You took the words right out of my mouth.

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    4. Yes. Fighters, if opting to do a straight-up fighter, feel particularly handicapped by their lack of magic. There isn't much added it terms of martial prowess that compares with other fighter options or related classes (ranger and paladin).

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  4. Since you played both of my campaigns I am interested in your opinion on Swords & Wizardry with my Majestic Wilderlands house rules versus D&D 5e.

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    1. I preferred the Swords & Wizardry (and also the GURPS campaign). Playing in the Majestic Wilderlands gives players a lot to keep track of, just in terms of the setting and how you run it. Your S&W rules support the setting and reinforce its unique features. I haven't found that to be true with D&D 5e, but part of it is that I don't really enjoy 5e.

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  5. The short and long rest mechanics suck rotten monkey balls also. I tried to make my peace with it, but I can't. It's a reset mechanic. Oh you have 30 damage, take a knee and rub some dirt on it and in a little bit you'll be good as new. Bah!

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  6. I tried to make a step towards avoiding the "take a knee" problem here: http://gamingballistic.blogspot.com/2014/09/exploring-hp-variations-in-d.html

    I still like the general concept. Resting would help with the "karma" pool but not the "body" pool.

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  7. Just to reiterate: I think Wizards of the Coast did an amazing job in creating D&D 5e. Well-designed and well-written. I just personally do not enjoy playing it--it just doesn't suit my personal preferences in gaming.

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  8. " Each option seemed to have about the same chance of success/failure and did about the same amount of damage, whether melee, missile or spell attack. "

    Indeed. With every charakter being able to add nearly the same amount of damage to every combat round, combat is becoming a pure matter of luck. It's all about rolling dice and nothing about handling ressources, making great plans or using the right magic item in the right moment.
    Damage reductions of monsters are ignored nearly 90% of combats by cantrip spells of warlocks, wizards and clerics. This sucks the most. While the melee fighters treat only half damage with their attacks, the level 0 spells are burning through monster defenses without a problem.

    "The short and long rest mechanics suck rotten monkey balls also. "

    Agreed, too. I use some optional rules from the DMG to lessen this a bit but now my players are feeling kind of duped.

    We are running through a pimped up Pools of Radiance right now and I will continue up until a TPK comes around or we are finishing it up. But I can't wait to get on to Hackmaster 5th or back to Castles & Crusades.

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