A Few Things I Don’t Like About 5th Edition

All right, I’ve given 5e some love, but it’s hardly perfect, particularly considering my preference for lighter rules sets.  So here are a few things I don’t like about 5e:

The biggest issue for me, I think, is that the monster stat blocks still haven’t really shrunk all that much.  I know it’s too much to expect them to go back to the days when a stat block could be represented by a single line (AC 5, HD 2, HP 7, MV 12, Morale 7, etc, etc.).  However, despite dropping two forms of Armor Class, and not incorporating anything like CMB/CMD, 5e stat blocks still clock in close to the size of Pathfinder stat blocks.  And Wizards hasn’t even added monster fluff information yet, so you can bet the actual Monster Manual entries will probably average about 1 page per monster, which is just about where 4e and Pathfinder are at now.

This may seem like a petty complaint, but devoting so much print space to a monster that will, in all likelihood, be dead in a few minutes seems to me to be a waste of time and money.  Extended stat blocks make improvised game play all the harder with crunchier rules sets.  I can’t count the number of times our Pathfinder game has ground to a halt while the GM consulted the Bestiary to read up on a monster he just rolled up, or built out a quick encounter budget for a random monster.  Of course, I realize that extended stat blocks are a way for game companies to pad their profit margins on rule books, making us pay for background material we probably don’t really need, especially when a couple of sentences would suffice for most monsters.  I just would have preferred if the monster blocks could have been trimmed down a bit more.

Related to this is the trend towards Hit Point inflation for both monsters and PCs, which in turn drives overall stat inflation in D&D.  While stat inflation adds unnecessary overhead to a game, I suppose it is the inevitable consequence of D&D’s slow drift away from a game of exploration to a game focused primarily on combat.  In an exploration based game, you want combat to be swift (and lethal, so as to make players think twice about diving head long into battle) so you can get back to dungeon exploration and treasure hunting, whereas in a combat-centric game you want long drawn out fights.  To its credit, basic 5e attempts to shift the focus back somewhat to exploration rather than just combat, though not as far as I might have liked.  Still, the stat inflation is there, leading to longer fights, suggesting that later rule books will probably provide an abundance of options shifting the focus back to crunchy, detailed tactical combat.

Now, you could just reduce the overall Hit Points of monsters and PCs to reduce that drag on the game.  But then you also have to contend with the third item I don’t like about 5e, again related to stat inflation, which is damage inflation.  On the surface, it doesn’t look too bad.  Just an extra point here or there, at 1st level at least.  But then you look at something like the Wizard’s cantrip Firebolt (which can be cast over-and-over again, without limit), which inflicts 1d10 damage and can be cast at will.  It requires an attack roll, to be sure, but that’s still quite a bit of damage, and at 5th level it goes up to 2d10 damage, then 3d10 at 11th and 4d10 at 17th level.  Which shows that you can’t just adjust Hit Point levels, but have to rebalance damage as well, which is a lot of friggin’ work.

And a fourth thing I’m not too excited about, the addition of backgrounds.  In my view, backgrounds add another step to what should be just a simple character generation process.  The handful of backgrounds provided for basic 5e is manageable, but you just know that entire forests will be sacrificed printing new options, and countless hours wasted as players pour over the splat books, looking for the perfect min/max combination to create the ultimate killing machine.  And while backgrounds can be omitted, with much less fuss than adjusting HP and damage levels, it still seems a not insignificant number of a character’s starting proficiencies and equipment derive from them, so some compensation may be in order.

Which leads to a final revelation for me:  by the time I’m done adjusting 5e to be the kind of old school rules-light game I’d like to run, all I’ve done is spent a lot of time re-writing OD&D, or Swords & Wizardry, or PFBB, with just a few house rules like Advantage/Disadvantage thrown in.  Much easier to simply stick with a system I already know and like, and just incorporate the worthwhile bits from 5e.  So, upon reflection, I probably wouldn’t run 5e after all, though I’d definitely be willing to play it (the basic flavor, at least), and most likely prefer it vastly over Pathfinder Core.

Cheers.

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12 Responses to “A Few Things I Don’t Like About 5th Edition”

  1. CJ Says:

    “Now, you could just reduce the overall Hit Points of monsters and PCs to reduce that drag on the game. But then you also have to contend with the third item I don’t like about 5e, again related to stat inflation, which is damage inflation. On the surface, it doesn’t look too bad. Just an extra point here or there, at 1st level at least. But then you look at something like the Wizard’s cantrip Firebolt (which can be cast over-and-over again, without limit), which inflicts 1d10 damage and can be cast at will. It requires an attack roll, to be sure, but that’s still quite a bit of damage, and at 5th level it goes up to 2d10 damage, then 3d10 at 11th and 4d10 at 17th level. Which shows that you can’t just adjust Hit Point levels, but have to rebalance damage as well, which is a lot of friggin’ work.”

    I disagree with this. As a 1st level mage casting this spell would do well to take down say an orc with it, but a 5th level mage should be able to kill an orc with the spell and at 17th level a mage who would decide to use this spell could put a good hurting on say a dragon. I think it is accurate. A more powerful/experienced mage should be able to do more damage with a beginner spell. It also allows them to continue using spells instead of never casting that cantrip or 1st level spell once they get more powerful spells. Of course I prefer my games deadly and both pc and npc to think long and hard before they enter combat regardless of what level they are.

    • edowar Says:

      I don’t have a problem with experienced mages doing more damage with beginner spells. D&D has been doing that since the start of the hobby.

      What I was trying to get at, is this: if you want to reduce some of the overhead of stat inflation brought on by 5e (and 3e/PF/4e as well), you can’t just lower the HP of monsters and PCs. You’d also need to adjust damage output to match, and that requires a lot more work.

      It’s probably no exaggeration to say that Wizard’s used computers to calculate a precise balance between Hit Points and Damage Output, something that probably cannot be safely messed with just by “eye balling” it. So, it’s just a lot easier to stick with a system I know and love, and steal the ideas I like from 5e.

      • CJ Says:

        I like the idea of lowering the hit points of a PC. That is my biggest problem with D&D. As a PC gains levels they shouldn’t be able to take more damage, but become better at avoiding being hit. A mage at level 1 or 20 should still be able to be taken down by an orge’s club or a dragon’s breath. The difference in my opinion is that the 20th level mage should have more ways to avoid being hit whether it be from magic items or spells. In Similiar fashion a fighter is going to be able to take more damage as he improves his melee skills he should just become better at evading said damage or have magical equipment that offers damage resistance or protection. I think a better approach is hit points start at constitution plus a dice determined by class & that is it. No extra hit dice when you can a level.

      • edowar Says:

        I see where you’re going with that, and I think it could be an interesting way to play the game. Just keep in mind that no matter how good your defenses, eventually a monster will get lucky (and the GM rolls a lot more attack rolls than the PCs do). If you don’t have a decent cushion of HP, a character, even a high level one, could be killed instantly (or nearly so).

  2. JSpace Says:

    What can I say, I’m having similar thoughts on this. I mean, I just don’t see how this new version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons is supposed to bring back vets raised on Holmes, Moldvay and Mentzer or even beginners for that matter. It’s already more complex than 2nd edition AD&D and it’s not finished yet!

    As a player, I just don’t want to learn the nuances of “char op” or whatever. It’s uncomfortably close to deckbuilding in Magic: The Gathering, which is… self-explanatory. As a DM, I’m sick of forcing a rules set seemingly meant to emulate skirmish video games to recreate the desperate, futile and often hilarious treasure hunting antics of a group of miscreants and vagabonds.

    • edowar Says:

      I’m rather a fan of the “murder hobo” approach to D&D. PCs start as desperate vagabonds and become heroes as a result of success and revisionist history. 😉

  3. David Jenks Says:

    I appreciate JSpace’s first paragraph, and I agree that “vets” won’t be compelled to come back to the game based on the current rules (seeing as how I’m very likely part of that demographic, and have no plans to buy the book[s]).

    Personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws all seem to be artificial elements used to “shoe horn” role-playing into the characters, instead of allowing players to simply come up with back grounds and role-playing devices using their imagination.

    IMAGINATION and CREATIVITY, WotC. Let’s get back to that!!!

    As an aside: I’ve been playing Barbarians of Lemuria lately, which is very rules-light (not Risus-level rules-light, but close) and it’s a blast using your mind and imagination to flesh out aspects of the characters. (Shameless plug: there’s a Kickstarter for a revised version of Barbarians of Lemuria out right now. Awesome game, cheap pledge amounts…help out the game if you like it!)

    And I’m going to confess–as soon as I saw the term “second wind” on the pre-gen character sheets, I threw up in my mouth a little.

    😦

    • edowar Says:

      The personality traits in 5e were a turn-off for me, too, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. I wouldn’t use them, but they could be a good tool for someone new to the hobby.

      I’ve never played BoL, but I do have the rules and have read them. I was quite impressed how well that game captures the feel of a Sword & Sorcery setting, with a light set of rules. I’ll have to check out the Kickstarter for it.

      • CJ Says:

        Personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws to me add to the edition by helping new players begin to get into the role playing aspect of the game. My wife is a perfect example of a person this would help. She wants to role play but some people just aren’t that good at coming up with these type of things. This will help her flesh out her character. And after a few games or characters hopefully she could just describe how she envisions her character’s history & personality and then the DM could work out the mechanics bit on it based upon her description.

  4. JSpace Says:

    I stopped at my local game shop today and noticed that the new D&D Starter Set was in. $20 is awfully cheap so I threw it in with my other purchases. I’ve been reading it while watching baseball and it’s kind of decent. The 30-page rule book is fairly light and is open to filling in the gaps ala Holmes Basic (Meepo’s Holmes Companion anyone?). Since there is no class info in the book, you could just run it like Searchers of the Unknown (fighters only, second wind is tolerable sans clerics). You just have to pretend the Basic pdf is a figment of your imagination. There is some hope yet.

    Oh, and BoL is rad. Hopefully the new version will have more of John Grumph’s illustrations. It’s the polar opposite of D&D’s sterile and uninspiring art. I mean seriously, have the folks at WotC read anything like Alcatena and Berreiro’s Moving Fortress or Subterra? Gary Chalk, Russ Nicholson and Erol Otis are still alive if I recall? Ian Miller. Come on.

  5. Eric Wirsing Says:

    Ultimately, I’m not a fan of anything D&D post-Y2K. 3rd and 4th were too crunchy, as was Pathfinder. Any character sheet which is harder to fill out than my tax forms deserves to be burned. And the 3-5 hour combats? No thanks.

    I like the Backgrounds. It’s something else to help humanize the character and make him less of a cardboard cutout. See http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2014/08/20-backgrounds-for-od.html for easy ways to use these in a more old-school game.

    I think the designers may have meant well, but they just didn’t know where to stop.

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