D&D 5E and build-a-game hurdle

January 17, 2012

One of the explicit goals of 5E is to try to create a core set of rules that are modular and allow each player to scale to their preferred type of complexity:

Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won’t believe it right now—we’re designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options. Again, imagine a game where one player has a simple character sheet that has just a few things noted on it, and the player next to him has all sorts of skills, feats, and special abilities. And yet they can still play the game together and everything remains relatively balanced. Your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need. Or vice versa. It’s all up to you to decide.

Although no one has really employed this on this scale of modularity before, you need only look at 1E Fighters vs. 1E Thieves or Wizards to see that different characters can have different complexity of rules and operate just fine.

What I’m guessing is going to be more of a pain is stuff like having to design spells, feats, monsters, etc. to be balanced regardless of which subsystem is in effect or not. (the feats people picked in 3E changed drastically depending on if they were using a grid or not…)

But the big problem? The big problem is going to be whether they can get deeper than this:

This new approach comes out of a single idea. At its heart, D&D isn’t about rules. It’s about participating in an exciting fantasy adventure. The rules are just the means to enable that to happen. They’re not an end unto themselves. The reason most of us play is for the story that arises out of our games…. These stories bring us together. As D&D players, we shouldn’t allow rule preferences to separate us. In the end, we have a lot more in common than we have differences…

Being able to pick the level of complexity is an nice thing, but it’s moot if we cannot agree on what the rules are supposed to achieve in the first place.

Just because a bunch of people “want to play D&D” doesn’t automatically make them have anything in common, because D&D (or really, roleplaying) could be many things.

The problem that lay ahead is that even if players can pick their own subset rules, the group has to coordinate together for functional play.

Otherwise we return to the days of 20 minutes of fun in 4 hours, where, depending on what’s any given player is in for, they get their short bit of the thing they like and are bored while the rest of the session drags on.

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