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Critique of 5e

a guest Mar 24th, 2019 127 Never
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  1. I really don't like 5th Edition D&D.
  2.  
  3. Which is odd, in a way, because it was the first edition I really played with friends and ran a long-running campaign in.
  4.  
  5. To declare my bias up front, I've become fully converted to the 'retro' gaming that's in the spirit of classic D&D. I love Lamentations of the Flame Princess as a gateway to all kinds of cool pre-3e adventures since it's compatible with D&D Basic adventures, AD&D 1e (and thus pretty much AD&D 2e), with Planescape and Greyhawk and Dark Sun. I think I'm about to embark on an amazing campaign.
  6.  
  7. So why not do that with 5e?
  8.  
  9. There's so much going on that has little to no impact. It's so, so bland.
  10.  
  11. As Syndrome put it in the Incredibles, when everyone's super no one is.
  12.  
  13. There are two combat classes, you either have:
  14.  
  15. Multiple attacks that deal dice + modifier + 1d6 or 2 damage
  16.  
  17. Spells that deal 2d6 per spell level based on a saving throw (or a spell that takes something out of combat for X rounds)
  18.  
  19. And yet, we need 9(?) different classes, each with 3-4 subclasses to achieve that. They don't play really any differently within their categories (caster vs fighter). I could go on, but I have more ground to cover. Just ask yourself, how different do they really feel?
  20.  
  21. Then, for all that, we end up with the wackiest, immersion-breaking party composition sometimes.
  22.  
  23. As someone put it so well, the setting is a pre-medieval civilisation, but we have catgirl, turtleboy, lavaman and a robot shooting beams out of their eyes.
  24.  
  25. And yet, they still feel about the same as playing a farmer who just picked up his sword.
  26.  
  27. "I can teleport at will!"
  28.  
  29. Or, I can run over there, I mean. Either works. I can't teleport very far. And I can only do it once between naps.
  30.  
  31. But also, that farmer's son that just picked up a sword?
  32.  
  33. Well by level 8, he will be one of the strongest men in the world. Because of D&D 5e's ability score increases.
  34.  
  35. Oh you want to be a fighter? You should start with 16 Strength. Or 17 - can't go higher than that, even if you're a race literally known as a Goliath.
  36.  
  37. But either way, after a few months of adventuring, you'll be as strong as it's possible for a bipedal sentient creature to be.
  38.  
  39. That ability score dependence sends a strong message too.
  40.  
  41. A fighter with 11 Strength, because that's his physique, can train all the way to 15th level and still be only as good as a ripped Jester with 16 Strength who just picked up a sword.
  42.  
  43. What message does that send? Subconsciously, to your players? What does it say about your story?
  44.  
  45. No matter how hard you try or how hard you work, you better also have the maximum in this particular stat or you'll be miles behind everyone else.
  46.  
  47. In classic D&D, your ability to hit is based almost entirely off your level - the strongest guy in the world is only +2 above the guy with some manual labour behind him (18 Strength vs 13 Strength in LotFP). It's your experience and the incredible treasures you've found along the way that determine how good you are.
  48.  
  49. Not the fact you were born to grow into 16 Strength by the time you started your adventure.
  50.  
  51. And rolling for stats is more interesting, you're learning about your character. They're a person. Genetics and heredity are random and improbable. I don't want to build a guy like I'm ordering an android.
  52.  
  53. I want to roll for stats and see - hey, this guy's really charismatic, but he's also kind of strong.
  54.  
  55. Again, there's some leeway where you can re-roll if your modifiers add up to less than zero. And you can swap around two ability scores (just once), so if you have super high Int but low Strength and you wanted to be a Fighter, you can.
  56.  
  57. But it's the extra parts. Like this guy that just has a +1 to Strength but also ends up with a +1 to Wisdom and a +1 to Charisma.
  58.  
  59. Why? Who is he?
  60.  
  61. And when I think of the works of fiction that make me want to play D&D, the characters I think of don't map onto 5e characters at all.
  62.  
  63. Was Aragorn one of the strongest men on Earth by the middle of the Lord of the Rings?
  64.  
  65. Is Jon Snow?
  66.  
  67. Is Harry Potter one of the smartest wizards to have ever lived?
  68.  
  69. No. I don't like playing these characters that are androids and before someone says, "you could just knowingly make your character bad, no one says you have to choose the optimal stats in 5e."
  70.  
  71. No, you can't. Because the game assumes that everyone will make close to optimal choices - but not too optimal.
  72.  
  73. Lest we unbalance the encounters.
  74.  
  75. And in 5e when you compare players' to-hit bonuses with monsters (for their level), they're designed to be worse at hitting, less likely to connect and do less damage than a player character. But soak up far more HP.
  76.  
  77. Just to make you feel like you defeated a big bad enemy, but actually the odds were stacked in your favour the whole time.
  78.  
  79. At the end of a 5e adventure, you haven't overcome any challenge, you were never in danger, you were just on a theme park ride. It was designed to make you feel like something interesting was happening, but really, it was set up for you to win.
  80.  
  81. Old school D&D is the Wild West.
  82.  
  83. D&D 5e is Westworld.
  84.  
  85. Everything on every side has been nerfed.
  86.  
  87. Look at some of the classic spells - Charm Person could flat out charm a person for weeks, indefinitely if recast repeatedly. And the text describes them as longing to serve your whims
  88. Now? In 5e? Not really. It's just a temporary status effect that kind of makes it easier to get what you want out of them, but not for very long anyway.
  89.  
  90. Sure, in old-school D&D you only started with one spell slot - but that one spell slot delivers a spell like something from classic fantasy or fairytale magic. Charm Person is like whatever Wormtongue/Saruman worked on King Theoden - it's a real spell.
  91.  
  92. To put it another way, if wizards really made mind influencing spells, would they make it so that the target 'wouldn't attack them, unless you attack them, but also has disadvantage to work if the target is already attacking you'?
  93.  
  94. That doesn't sound like a spell at all. In 5e, the Charm Person spell is only about as good as being a charming person.
  95.  
  96. And that theme carries on through.
  97.  
  98. Rogues can sneak attack! Wow!
  99.  
  100. But... also.... they pretty much do the same damage as a Fighter just hitting people normally each turn.
  101.  
  102. Fireball!!!! Cool!!!
  103.  
  104. Yeah, but it still pretty much does the same damage as a Fighter hitting people normally each turn.
  105.  
  106. I honestly think the blandness of 5th Edition is why so many DMs online create so many house rules and ban or nerf so much of the official material.
  107.  
  108. It's designed with the expectation that all characters should only do X damage each round, appropriate for their level. DMs are expected to pick enemies that will be defeated by that damage output, but not too soon.
  109.  
  110. If the party dies, the DM did something wrong or the players were causing mischief. There is no challenge.
  111.  
  112. And so much of the action, the interesting things of the adventure aren't allowed to come from the people at the table talking and sharing ideas, instead they have to come from your sheet.
  113.  
  114. I'm not talking about combat.
  115.  
  116. You describe a way that you run your hands over the desk to check for a hidden compartment. And you knock to hear if it sounds hollow.
  117.  
  118. Cool flavour, but roll for Perception. Too bad, you failed. You're an Orc Barbarian, sorry. You don't have good Perception, but the Bard does. He finds it.
  119.  
  120. What did he describe the bard doing? Nothing, he just tossed a d20 on the table and went back to his phone.
  121.  
  122. Where was the hidden compartment in the end? I don't know, and I'm the DM, all I know is you didn't find it, he did, because the dice said so.
  123.  
  124. Or may be it's an idea to dress up as noble lords and ladies, then hop the wall around the manor's garden to walk into the masquerade as if you're one of the guests - it's a great idea, so I set the 'DC' especially low, roll anyway. I have to make you roll for disguise. But you roll a 1. Oh well, I guess that doesn't happen.
  125.  
  126. But in classic D&D, only the rogue (thief) has any skills. Why?
  127.  
  128. Because skills like Perception or Investigation were down to roleplay, not dice rolls. How do you search the room for the missing girl's diary? Don't just roll a die to do it. Oh, you do the trick where you scribble a pencil over the page to see the imprints of what was written on it? Great, here's what it says.
  129.  
  130. Now you're playing the game. In 5th Edition, your character was playing the game.
  131.  
  132. People complain about their players being too interested in crazy character builds, about them cancelling or going on their phones during games, about them doing immersion-breaking things for their amusement.
  133.  
  134. Isn't it possible it's because we weren't really letting them play the game? That we were leaving out or punishing their good ideas and invested roleplay?
  135.  
  136. Why would I pay attention to what's going on when it only matters that my character is paying attention? Nothing I suggest will really matter, because after all no matter how fun or good (or bad) my idea is, it all comes down to how well the guy on my sheet can roll.
  137.  
  138. People feel there's something wrong at the core of D&D 5th Edition. But they also love D&D. I do.
  139.  
  140. People want to nerf this, homebrew that, house rule this, ban that, run a 'low magic' campaign - but are they really saying that they don't like all the extra filler added in 5th Edition, 4th Edition and 3rd Edition?
  141.  
  142. Don't they want to play the game those kids in Stranger Things had around their gaming table? Or the guys in Community? Or in the great stories that Matt Collville tells about him and his friends playing D&D?
  143. They're not playing 5e - they're playing classic D&D.
  144.  
  145. That said, at the end of the day, whatever I'm playing with friends, laughing, joking, rolling dice, I'm happy.
  146.  
  147. With a good DM and a great set of friends, any system is fun.
  148.  
  149. I'm just saying that I think... it's easier for classic D&D to be fun and it aligns with what people want more than they realise.
  150.  
  151. I'm not at all a player from the 80's or 90's, 5e was my first D&D. But I think that classic experience has so much to offer, I'll recommend it to anyone.
  152.  
  153. (from another comment)
  154.  
  155.  let's look at other CR 3 examples.
  156.  
  157. The Giant Scorpion, with +4 to hit.
  158.  
  159. The Martial Arts Adept, with +5 to hit but 11 hit dice (11d8+11, 68 HP). When a player character gets to 11 hit dice (level 11), they should have +9 to hit. And definitely not do 1d8+3 damage.
  160.  
  161. In older editions, enemies flat out attack as a fighter with as many hit dice - an 11 HD monster attacks like a level 11 Fighter.
  162.  
  163. These 5e monsters are designed to soak some damage but never really risk killing anyone.
  164.  
  165. You never in any real danger. It's like a theme park ride.
  166.  
  167. But you know what?
  168.  
  169. People like theme park rides.
  170.  
  171. Some people don't want to go on an adventure holiday, they don't want to risk dying - they want to be certain that they'll live when they get out of that ride.
  172.  
  173. And there are systems that are built for that like FATE, where you roll dice for narrative and flavour, but you're the main character and the worst case scenario is a setback (as I understand it).
  174.  
  175. But people aren't seeing the kids from Stranger Things play FATE, they're seeing them play D&D - hence Wizards of the Coast positioning.
  176.  
  177. It got me into the hobby, it got my group into the hobby, so I'll always be indebted to WotC for that.
  178.  
  179. But like a first girlfriend, I'm over it.
  180.  
  181. My only strong suggestion to you and to anyone reading my comment but not commenting - sure, I like Classic D&D I've realised. I encourage you to seek out other RPGs, to try them and to see if maybe they actually have more of what you like than D&D 5e.
  182.  
  183. You might be surprised.
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