Thursday 9 March 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #68: Fifth Edition's Missing Pillar

 Four hexes northeast, one southeast of Alakran.


This stretch of abandoned trade road is the perfect place to discuss 5th edition D&D's failings in the economic side of the game.

I'm not the only one to notice that the treasure-seeking element in the latest edition seems to be an afterthought. There is too much treasure granted and not enough to do with the money. You can't buy magic items; I'm generally OK with that, but think there should still be a mid-tier of rare expendable items as in 3rd edition. A lot of other things that might absorb money, like curing and informational spells, have become overly easy inclusions in player spell lists.

Economics in earlier editions of the game, especially Basic and AD&D, formed a fourth pillar of play (along with combat, social encounters, and exploration) which provided important boosts to advancement. But more than that, any D&D which includes a "domain game" adds an open-ended win condition in this famously unwinnable game: the successful adventurer will end a career by pledging to remain in the realm they have carved out, and ruling it more-or-less peaceably.

Like many other elements left out of the core game, there are a few unsatisfying bolt-on rules for downtime activities and domain spending in the 5e DMG, which do not seem to have been much developed or tested. 5e, as we've seen in the other parts of this series, is more infected with 4e's assumptions and specifics than people realize. It may be a step back away from the tactical combat campaign game, but its focus still rests firmly within that model.

In preparation for the Alakran campaign, I bought a short rules supplement that promised to allow players to spend excess treasure in building up a community, which I thought would be a nice change from the usual saving-up-for-a-castle goal and very much in keeping with the Bronze Age setting. That supplement, though, had its flaws; it was pretty, but lacking in usable detail. The official D&D supplements that extend the economic game are also not great; they're heavily spiced with modern-style business analogues, down to corporate restructuring and away-day retreats. I've seen other supplements that are worth a try (like this and this) but none of them seemed relevant to the "village game" I was going after.

Entry #1 in this series already has a boiled-down version of the kind of village economic game I ended up improvising at each level. In future empty-hex installments, though, I might present fuller writeups of how the economic game went down at each level.

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