Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #81: Fifth Edition's Have-It-No-Way

 Five hexes southwest of Alakran.


I don't mind D&D just because it is the dominant RPG system. I do mind when it presents itself as the pinnacle of adjustability, the Swiss Army knife of games. 

In the core books there are a ton of optional rules, some of which probably exist because people in playtest had the same objections that I did throughout this series of critical posts. You can use them to try to turn D&D into a different game -- one with high lethality; one with an honor code like Pendragon or L5R; one with sanity loss like Call of Cthulhu; or one with storygame elements via plot points. Some are redundant; Hero Points just being Inspiration on steroids. Some recapture classic elements of the game, more faithfully (grid-based combat, feats, mixing potions, encumbrance) or less faithfully (the rules for morale and NPC loyalty, which deviate unecessarily from previus methods and don't really make sense). Some just implement methods of tinkering that have been around almost from the start of the hobby (spell points, story xp awards, guns, specific injuries). And some, I didn't even realize were variants, it feels so unnatural to play the new way ("hard" magic item identification, as if ritual casting Identify is hard; non-recharging wands; and why does automatic success need to be an option? Do you need Sleight of Hand DC 8 to tie your shoestrings?).

There's something aggressive about this bewildering array of options being baked into the game, as if to say "we are not just the market leader, we are the only thing you will ever need." Anything you want, we got it right here in the USA. The rules even reach back to absorb past D&D editions, so that you can have a D&D that more closely resembles 1st, 3rd, or 4th. 

We see here the suggestion, or lie, that if you just choose the right selection of optional rules you will have the perfect game system for your players and campaign. But not all of the rules seem well thought out or playtested -- how can they balance two score or so of these variants? By having it all ways, you eventually have it no ways, seeking to crowd out the competition in much the same way an everything store seeks to crowd out small dedicated businesses.


  1. Yeah I really got into the playtest of 5e because of the marketing around things like "modularity" and "all the settings are supported" only to find out the final product was rather lackluster and not nearly as . . . erm, progressive as Mike mearls and other claimed it would be. It doesn't really support the optionality that it claims. It's modular in that you can easily make new classes/races or monsters. But actually changing the game play, not so much....