Late to the party: D&D 5e

February 1, 2012 at 9:00 am
filed under Roleplaying

Boy, have I been out of the loop.

I guess Monte Cook has been back at Wizards for ~4 months? And he’s been writing a column? This makes sense, given that there’s now an announcement about this 5e playtest.

Looking back on 4e, I still think it was a really solid edition, but I’ve come around to agree with some of the criticism with regard to losing some of the old school flavor. It’s inevitable that a thick layer of mechanics, no matter how crisply designed, are going to focus people’s attentions on that.

One part of 3e and Pathfinder I strongly want to remain addressed or fixed in some fashion is character power level. 4e rather strongly pushes a philosophy where PCs get a sort of metaphorical +2, and if nothing else, I found that to be a revelation. If there’s anything I would preserve from 4e, this would be at the top of the list. (Second would probably be: fighters and their ilk should not be inherently less interesting to play than casters as they have been with previous editions.)

This is in contrast to 3e and even Pathfinder, wherein you get some kind of bonus or interesting ability but there’s a trade-off baked into the ability. The game is balanced for characters without that sort of advantage, so any advantage a PC receives has to be offset with some penalty or substantial drawback.

I recall this being true in particular of the sorcerer’s at-will attacks. You get an ability to make some kind of attack. Fantastic! So I don’t need a crossbow? Well, not quite. A crossbow requires a move action to reload but it does 1d8, which is too much. It would also be too powerful for a caster to do more damage than some spells, so it’s 1d4 or 1d6 + 1 for every N levels of sorcerer. Oh, and at-will is too powerful, so you’ve got a fixed number of uses per day. There’s a neat mechanic attached to some of them which makes it worthwhile but in our analogy of 4e handing out +2, this is more like +0.5.

As you go on and on, you see that there’s a limit to how awesome even Pathfinder can make you. They can bolt on additional abilities all they want, but they must be 3.5-esque in terms of versatility and power level and they must be in lockstep with what’s gone before.

Note that, at least from a balance perspective, I’m entirely sympathetic. The system has got to work. And people who like 3.x are presumably fine with this. I mean, I’m saying all that stuff up there like it’s a bad thing! There’s nothing wrong with people enjoying that flavor of mechanics. Hell, it’s far and away more interesting than many of the 3e classes, especially for fighters and whatnot. Nevertheless, this is something that has bugged me ever since 2e and Pathfinder is more of the same when it comes down to it.

Anyway, I don’t want to spend all my time knocking Paizo’s product. More power to them if they can make something of the contracting tabletop RPG industry. It seems like both they and WotC have their work cut out for them, though. I fear I’ve turned this blog into some kind of platform of doom and gloom but I can’t lie: I suspect our hobby will only become more and more niche.

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