After having played and run D&D 5th Edition for a couple of months I think it’s time to have a look on what worked and what didn’t work quite as well.
Overall D&D 5th Edition is a very good game, much better than several predecessors, but it still has a couple of things that bother me. But before focusing on the things that didn’t work let’s praise what WotC did right.
D&D 5th Edition feels like D&D. There’s a strong focus on roleplaying which is supported by the new backgrounds introduced in this edition. Ruleswise the advantage/disadvantage mechanic is a stroke of genius and basically removes numbercrunching to an absolute minimum. I also love that classes are much more flexible than before without the need for too many additional rules. After being burned out on D&D 3.0/3.5 and having serious issues with 4th Edition, D&D 5th Edition felt like a welcome breeze of fresh air.
Alas there are still a couple of things that bother me. Armor class is still among the first things I’d throw out if I had to redesign D&D. It just doesn’t make any sense that heavy armor makes it less likely being hit. Armor should reduce the damage taken instead. Another thing I don’t like is that attribute values are still a thing. They are actually never used. It’s probably a tradition thing but mechanically it makes no sense.
But the biggest problem is that there are other more exciting games out there. D&D was the hot new thing in 1974 but nowadays it has become the baseline for what we expect from fantasy RPGs. It has become a trope, a genre in itself. And as long as you want to keep it recognizable as D&D you have to keep some elements alive like the aforementioned attribute values, AC, hit points, the classes, etc. Without these elements it’s just not D&D anymore.
One of the systems I fell in love with is Monte Cook’s Cypher System (which has been used in Numenera and The Strange). It still retains a couple of D&D-isms, but overall it takes fantasy roleplaying into a different direction. In my opinion it is a very elegantly designed system, easy to pick up and play and extremely easy to run. When I run D&D it still feels a bit more like work.
This summer Monte Cook Games will release a Cypher System Rulebook which includes a section on how to run standard fantasy settings using the Cypher System. I have to admit I am very tempted to convert my D&D game to this new system or start a new one from scratch in one of the genres supported by it.
D&D 5th Edition is still my favorite edition of D&D, but there are games out there which are – at least in my opinion – more fun to play and run.
Last year I started playing D&D 5th Edition with one of my regular groups. Actually we just created characters and did a short introductory adventure set into a campaign setting of my own creation. Things went pretty well, everyone had a lot of fun and it was very easy to run D&D 5th Edition.
But my homebrew setting caused some issues. Initially I wanted to create an open sandbox for the characters to explore, but in the end things turned out differently. The frontier town turned into a metropolis and all the ideas I came up with were of the “save the world” variety. And the worst problem of all: it didn’t feel like D&D. I can’t really put my finger on it, but the setting just felt wrong.
My players didn’t mind changing the setting, since we just started, and I thought starting with “Lost Mine of Phandelver” would be a fun idea. Heck, I could even run them through the whole Tyranny of Dragons campaign. So I did some research and found a lot of less than flattering reviews. Especially Hoard of the Dragon Queen seems to be pretty bad. Continue reading Musings of a D&D 5th Edition DM
On Saturday I ran the first session of my new D&D 5th Edition campaign. It’s set into my own homebrew campaign, which focuses on the continent Valheim, which is being colonized by the people hailing from the Shattered Lands to the south.
Inspired by the Elder Scrolls computer game series, things started off with the whole party in chains and on their way to Valheim and an unknown fate. When the ship arrived at the port in the city called Threshold (my hommage to the D&D of old) they were escorted by the city guard to meet their Captain, a Khazad (dwarf) by the name of Torek Ironfist. He was examining an Imperial order while explaining them that they now were members of the Threshold City Guard and under his command.
From there the newly “drafted” recruits, a Dragonborn fighter (who wants to become eldritch knight later), a Human Cleric and former officer of the Imperial Army, and a Tiefling Sorceror and Folk Hero, started their first night shift. After having a cup of Khazad darkbrew (aka coffee) and a couple of tasty donuts they investigated the weird sounds citizens have reported hearing in the cemetery. They met the pale and somewht weird groundskeeper and heard the howling screams coming from all directions. Hearing these sounds instilled fear in them, so they sought a way to plug their ears. Using candlewax this was easily done, and they were able to investigate further.
Since the adventurers weren’t that easily scared off, the unknown powers at work here sent three skeletons after them. A short and quite dramatic fight ensued and eventually they noticed that the groundskeeper’s hut was abandoned. From the clues they gathered it was obvious that the groundskeeper had been dabbling with necromancy and has now fled his shack through an underground tunnel which led into the canalisation.
After reporting back to Torek the session was concluded. As I’ve noticed in other play sessions before, D&D 5th Edition is much easier to play and run than many editions before and especially the new background options make the characters much more interesting. My players seemed to enjoy themselves as well and were already making plans what they wanted to achive in our next session. My homework is now to creating a map of Threshold and the surrounding area, so that we can all visualize things more easily. A GM’s work is never done!