User:Red Leg Leo/Guy's 5e Criticisms

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I feel the need to say upfront that 5e is, to me, the best edition of Dungeons & Dragons made to date. It's easily my favorite combat-focused tabletop RPG. That said, I have some critcicms. There are things I believe should be different.

Almost every problem I have with 5e stems from two things:

  • After the mess that was 4e, 5e is extremely hesitant to break from nostalgic tradition. It adamantly continues to use that which is archaic and unintuitive in fear of again diminishing its market share.
  • Everything is mechanically built around Medium PCs. Races are built for PCs, with their use as NPCs a mere afterthought. Class levels were built and balanced well before CRs. Many aspects of the game only apply to PCs, such as different rests or magic item attunement. Etc. Universal rules that apply to all creatures of all sizes regardless of PC, NPC, or monster—this is one thing 3e did fairly well, and I don't understand why 5e must be so much worse at it.

Challenge Ratings[edit]

D&D is a combat-focused RPG, which is fine. The most central mechanic in balanced combat encounters is Challenge Ratings, which is also fine. What is not fine: CR is an unintuitive mess. Even if you know the DMG and Bestiary by heart, you still need to address several tables and perhaps an online tool just to throw together a balanced encounter according to the game's CR.

Even then, that CR value is at best a good guess at what the party's capabilities will probably be. There is perhaps no intuitive way to guess the fighter is immune to fire damage, or that the entire party lacks good AoE options.

This side of the game might only be seen by the DM, but it's literally the center of all combat balance. If it's the center, why is it so decentralized, and why is it so unintuitive? The only reason I can justify is that it encourages you to buy more WotC-published content instead of making your own.

Other systems have much better ways to throw up a quick encounter without having to use several four-column tables nestled deep in hundred-pages hardbooks. Look at Numenera. Numenera is another tabletop RPG which features a good amount of combat, though it is simpler than 5e D&D. All you need is a single number—a "level"—and from that you can determine a decent set of statistics for a combat encounter within a few seconds; hit points, damage output, AC, etc. You can still make more nuanced adjustments for different kinds of creatures, but at least all of this flows naturally from the most vital center of the game: the Challenge Rating.

If the game was built from the ground up to be centered on Challenge Rating, like it should be, then it would similarly be easy to add multiple creatures into one encounter without needing to break out a calculator. "Two 2nd-level goblins? That sounds like a 4th-level encounter!" Many games have been designed this way over the past thirty years, and by its fifth iteration, D&D should be as well.

Combat Turns[edit]

"Roll initiative! ...Now, everyone, slowly take your turn in sequence while 4/5ths of the party waits for 8 minutes doing almost nothing."

There is no reason 5e needs to break every round of 5-on-5 combat into 10 consecutive turns. I have been running the Side Initiative variant rule (DMG, page 270) in my games for over a year now, and I can't believe this isn't standard. It's a huge improvement to the game if you actually play it at a table, and it's how the entire game flows outside of combat anyway.

Whenever I go back to playing in a campaign which doesn't use this rule, it feels like I'm slamming on the brakes. It turns something fun and engaging into something so boring that no one is surprised when half the table is dicking around on their smartphones instead of being engaged.

The worst 5e DM I had ever experienced not only dragged out each character's turn, but explicitly forbid anyone from even talking out of character during combat unless it was their turn. And it was a combat-heavy adventure. I shudder to think there could be people who actually play entire campaigns like this.

Spellcasting[edit]

I can understand the nostalgia of spell slots and 9th-level spells and all that, but, why must it be so ingrained and mandatory? Many new or newish player I've encountered hesitate to play a spellcaster just because this system is so convoluted. Experienced players who have played mid-level wizards and clerics won't even touch warlocks. It's ridiculous.

Almost every other modern tabletop game that isn't trying to embellish nostalgia has a more intuitive system for casting spells, using psychic powers, or whatever other supernatural ability you want to throw in there.

At least the DMG includes a balanced variant rule for "spell points," but even then: it doesn't work with all classes (warlock), and it's a ridiculously awkward conversion even if you already know how spell slots work. It's sad when a typical video game from the late 80s has a system that would work better with pen-and-paper than the "greatest role-playing game" in 2018.

There are numerous ways to improve the system, but most involve ditching a 30-year old nostalgia-filled bubble to build a drastically better foundation.

Races[edit]

Any experienced player who wants to make an effective, powerful, or munchkin character below 4th level will choose "variant human." Almost every single time. It's to the point where if someone doesn't choose that race, I know they are either inexperienced or actually like role-playing more than winning. It's so ridiculous that in my homebrew games I always give a free feat to anyone who doesn't choose that horrifically boring race.

Subraces

I feel like the developers realized this after the fact, but it's obvious that every race should be built with equally balanced subraces in mind. It would make halfbreeds so much more intuitive. Half-elves and half-orcs would actually make sense as being half-human and half-whatever, instead of the ridiculous core races they still are solely for the sake of nostalgia.

Creatures versus Characters[edit]

I understand D&D treats PCs as special snowflakes and that ultimately makes the game more enjoyable. That said, I don't understand why PCs follow such drastically different rules than all other creatures.

A globalized and standardized system of creatures that applied well to all sizes and all types? 3e did that. I have no idea why 4e abandoned it, and why 5e refused to bring it back.

Kobolds and centaurs are playable races, but they follow ridiculous rules that cause them to barely resemble their creature counterparts. The playable race restrictions make so many options unplayable, even though outside of them there's no reason a party can't contain high-level bullywug, a mid-level drow, and a low-level literal dragon.

Bringing back ECLs would make it so you could play a centaur, a kobold, or a literal dragon that was balanced for your level without having to add or remove features and ability scores to a ridiculous degree.

Gods forbid you want to play a Tiny or Large character. Break your back with homebrewed variant rules, and even then the Large PC will lose a duel with an equivalent Large monster every day of the week.

P.S. Every rule from weapons to jumping was designed for Medium characters, with anything of a different size being an afterthought if it is even mentioned.

Ability Scores[edit]

For PCs, these are laughable unbalanced, but the game still treats them as equal.

In 5e you only care about Dex, sort of Con, and maybe one other score depending on your class. Anything else is marginal or flavorful.

Wisdom and Charisma are at least useful for ability checks, and the occasional important Wisdom saving throw at high levels. Chances are an adventure will call for at least a few Perception, Insight, and Persuasion checks. Even then, these skills only matter if you're the kind of character or player that will make use of them. Rarely if ever will they be as life-and-death as AC, initiative, and hit points.

Strength is a dump stat for any optimized character other than barbarians, paladins, and the few fighters who take Great Weapon Fighting.

Intelligence is absolutely useless outside of one class and a pair of underpowered subclasses. Intelligence checks are rarely used unless you have a special DM. Intelligence save practically don't exist. It doesn't affect your number of skill or tool proficiencies, even though it should.

Even 3e did a better job of balancing ability scores. Charisma made more sense for an adventurer to dump than Intelligence or Strength, and back then it was the only ability score that could be worth completely dumping. Even wizards wanted at least minimal Strength so they could carry more than the clothes on their back, or avoid being grappled indefinitely.

Misc. Minor Things[edit]

  • I imagine "Backgrounds" were an attempt to add flavor to PCs, but more often than not they're both a limitation on creativity and an unnecessary step in the already tedious process of building a PC.
  • Downtime is a mess, to the point that the Adventurer's League PDF dedicates 2 of its 12 pages trying to account for it.
  • Crafting is worthless. To be fair, the only system I've seen which has defined and decent rules is a variant rule tucked miles deep in the mountain of content that is Pathfinder.
  • Poison is ridiculously underpowered. A magical potion of healing costs 50 gp. The only kind of poison in the PHB costs 100 gp, but deals 1d4 damage of a very commonly resisted damage type. It's obvious this was an afterthought.
  • Being blind is as disadvantageous as being prone.
  • Advantage and disadvantage is a good mechanic. Bounded accuracy is a good concept. But a wizard who is blind, deaf, and poisoned but trying to hit an octopus with a dagger while underwater should have less of a chance to hit it than a ranger throwing a javelin to hit a stationary elephant that is 35 feet away in an open snowfield.
  • The only thing more ridiculous than spell material components, is that a component pouch somehow contains all of them.
  • Many creatures in the MM that are immune to nonmagical weapons can't even hurt themselves.
  • Because Religion is an Intelligence skill, wizards will almost always know more about a cleric's deity than that cleric does. Being a cleric should grant you inherent proficiency in Religion; being a wizard should grant you inherent proficiency in Arcana; etc.
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