D&D 5E Doesn’t Check All the Boxes

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that 40 million people have played D&D since 1974. Additionally, 9 million people have watched streaming D&D games. In 2018, WOTC sold more units of the game than ever before. It would seem that D&D is stronger than ever and 5e is leading the charge.

I have played more 5e D&D than any other edition, thanks to DMing. I ran two campaigns, one lasting a year and a half and one running eight months or so. I am now finally a player as someone else have stepped up to run the game. After these numerous hours of play, I have noticed there are some aspects of 5e (and to D&D overall) that I am not thrilled about:

  • Character creation in the 5e Player’s Handbook is not clear. I recall when I first tried making a 5e character years ago, I ended up having to look for an online tool to do it. For an edition that is supposed to be streamlining the game and make it newcomer friendly, I was baffled by how confusing it was to follow the steps in the book. You choose race and class first, both of which provide modifiers to your attributes and skills, but some of those concepts aren’t discussed until Chapter 7. There just seemed to be way more unnecessary page-flipping than in previous editions. Perhaps I am retconning my own memory, but it seems like 3.5 had a much easier to understand character generation, even though the edition was “crunchier.” Of course, this may be a moot point these days as I assume many people do use online tools now. I used D&D Beyond to built my most recent character, for example.
  • I miss the Skill Point System. I miss agonizing over how to split up my skill points each level up. I could create three rogues and each one was completely different. One could be all about stealth and silent killing, one could be all about disarming traps and picking locks, and yet the third could be all about finding secret doors and being deadly with a bow. In 5e, it feels like a rogue is a rogue is a rogue. Sure, you choose some skills to have a proficiency in, but there’s just not that many skills now. I realize there isn’t any good way to fix this as the bounded accuracy of 5e pretty much makes that impossible, but I really miss that level of customization.
  • The Skill list was condensed too much. Pathfinder did a good job of consolidating some of the skills of 3.5 to make them manageable. For instance, Move Silently and Hide were combined and put under the umbrella of Stealth. It was a simple change and made sense. 5e, on the other hand, has gone too far in the condensing of skills. For example, Athletics includes jumping, climbing, and swimming. This is far too broad, in my opinion. My cat-burglar may be really good at climbing walls, but why should he be automatically just as good at swimming? It would seem with the bounded accuracy, the 5e should have expanded rather than contracted the skill list. That would have made the presence or absence of the proficiency bonus for a skill much more impactful.
  • The Vancian magic system is still weird. There are many things about the Vancian magic system that seem (and probably are) contrived to simply try to limit the power of magic users. Pushing many of the oddities aside, the one that presents itself in D&D that always bothered me was the fact that spell level and character level are different. For instance, a 7th level wizard’s highest spell slot is 4th level. It’s just not very intuitive. With the revamping of D&D 5e to be more streamlined and new player friendly, it seemed like the perfect time to make a change to the magic system. I’d like to see a 1st level wizard casting 1st level spells, a 2nd level wizard gaining access to 2nd level spells, and so on. Making the character level and spell level match up just makes sense to me. I get that the system is sort of a “legacy” mechanic in D&D, but I feel like this change wouldn’t have completely overturned the apple cart. Prepping and memorizing spells and all the other rigmarole could have remained the same, just sync up the levels.

There’s other little things I could nitpick, put one of the great things about D&D and RPG’s in general is that the rules are just guidelines anyway. Don’t like a rule? Ignore it. Miss an old rule from a previous edition? Add it back in (flanking, anyone?). But some of these issues I have cannot easily be removed or added to 5e without causing a drastic ripple effect in other rules. I’ll just have to wait another 15 years until D&D 6 comes out and the Edition Wars are reignited. Until then, I’ll enjoy the social experience that D&D provides, which will always outshine the rules anyway.

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