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.