D&D Fifth Edition

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons in one form or another since the late 90s. Granted, this doesn’t give me the lengthy pedigree of a truly veteran grognard (look it up) but I’ve seen a few editions come and go. More importantly. I was playing regularly at a time when one edition (3.5) went out the door and the new one (4th) came in. And I played that new edition for the majority of its life cycle.

Many words have been written about why 4th edition isn’t good. It was deeply polarizing in the player base. It was too video game-esque, too much like World of WarCraft. On and on, the forum arguments go. I’ve come to realize that none of it matters.

The truth is that learning how to play 3.5 and earlier editions of D&D was a nightmare. I remember pouring over the books I had for hours, trying to reverse engineer how all the math worked out to understand how characters worked. Even after I created my own characters, it was a constant struggle to remember “okay, so I add this and this to that, and this condition applies so I get that, so I do . . . how much damage again?” It wasn’t until I’d played for a while, with an experienced group, that I finally saw how it all worked out.

To be honest, 4th edition isn’t that much easier to figure out, but at least they have a nifty program that does all the math for you and just tells you “roll this and add this number.”

But even that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that the structure  of the tabletop RPG can’t do what everyone is trying to make it do. There will never be “one system to rule them all.” And even if there was, you know what? It has an incredibly finite lifespan.

Here’s how it works. The core books that you need to run the game are released. So you buy those. The first supplement books come out and add neat stuff like new classes, new archetypes, or whatever. Some more books come out, and those are cool too. But there’s a tipping point. There’s a peak level of purchase-interest in any game system and once you’ve passed it, new books become less appealing. Maybe it’s because you’re starting to resent the amount of money it’s costing or maybe you just have everything that you need.

My personal theory is that eventually, the books just start getting too weird. 4th edition had this problem in spades. You needed the first player’s handbook to play the game and it contained the basic classes. Okay, great. Players Handbook 2 contained a lot of well-liked stuff that was left out from the first one; classes like the barbarian, bad, druid, and sorcerer. Even the new classes still made sense and fit into the traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy archetypes. Okay, cool.

But by the time the Player’s Handbook 3 rolled around, you’ve got a book filled with classes like the ardent and the battlemind. There is no one who can tell you what those are supposed to look like without refering to the book. There’s no fantasy archetype that’s being fulfilled here, which is what classes are supposed to do.

What happens from here? Honestly, I have three different sets of RPG on the bookshelf behind me that are some variation of the “Player’s Handbook, Gamemaster’s Guide, and Monster Manuel” trio. (D&D 3.5, D&D 4, and Pathfinder, if you’re curious). How many more times am I going to buy a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manuel? It’s starting to feel a little old.

Let’s just say I don’t envy this particular business model too much.

Maybe when the books are finally released, I’ll be blown away and rush out and buy them. I remember when the 4th edition books were so new and shiny and I couldn’t wait to play them. That was a good feeling. I’d like to recapture it again . . . but at this point, I’m starting to think it’s all same dance, different song. Or maybe it’s the same sing, different dance. Whatever. You get my meaning.

7 thoughts on “D&D Fifth Edition

  1. The major difference here is that you’re going to be paying $50 for the PHB, but apparently that’ll be all you need to play the game, and you don’t even need the PHB in order to roll up a character. The squirrely thing for me is how they can say “this book is all you need” and then justify spending another $100 on the DMG and the MM, not to mention whatever other supplements go out there.

    And all of the THAT is still putting the cart before the horse, because I still can’t justify setting aside a long evening to go somewhere and play D&D, if I even had a willing crew to roll with. (Hell, I can barely justify having a couple hours one night a week where I can attempt to find a crew to raid with in WoW.)

    So despite playtesting 5e during its beta phase and being excited about the changes, I don’t see the game in my future unless I can line up a lot of other variables first.

    1. Well, since I have a weekly gaming group that I’m already the dungeon master/game master for, it’s not a question of players for me. I have those. I even have a waiting list for people who’d like to join.

      Seriously, for all that MMO players might like to argue whether tanks or healers are more rare/valuable/difficult to find, it’s a little different in tabletop. You want to be the most valued role in a tabletop game? Be the DM.

      The problem with saying “this book is all you need” is that character growth and creativity are the main draws of the game, for everyone. Players want to create cool new builds and use rare feats or spells to customize their characters. Game masters want to throw different monsters and such at their players. More books create more options, which eventually become required if you play long enough or the game gets stale. That’s true regardless of system. So, while I believe them when they say you can start playing with just the Player’s Handbook, if that’s all you ever use, you’re quickly going to run out of content.

      Although for some groups who have the time and enthusiasm for homebrew content, that’s just fine. It depends on what your table needs.

  2. My solution to this problem has traditionally been to somehow limit the supplements to those that I deem most appropriate for the game in question. For example, I ran a primal-focused 4e campaign and said “Everything must come from PHB1, PHB2, or Primal Power” with a small exception that the Ranger can use “Martial Power” since Ranger clearly fits with the theme but isn’t technically Primal. It prevents power creep, it keeps the game monetarily accessible, and (most importantly) it keeps the weird stuff that doesn’t fit with the story from creeping in.

    That said, with all the rules content from Pathfinder available online in some form, I’m experimenting right now with giving my players free reign to use anything and everything they can get their hands on. I’m much too early in the campaign to pass judgement on this method, but it seems to be working out so far.

  3. “…classes like the barbarian, bad, druid, and sorcerer”.
    Bards just can’t get respect. 😉

      1. I figured as much. 🙂 I just thought the comment deserved to be made. (Poor bards.)

        Apologies if my sense of humor was misplaced.

        1. Oh, no worries, I knew that you were joking! As was I in my original comment; my apologies if I seemed acerbic. I wrote that comment on my smartphone, which I’ve noticed has the tendency to make me sound annoyed when I’m not.

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