Man, I love RPGs, and 5th edition D&D is exactly what I want from an RPG, but didn’t know how to say it. Its got imbalance, it has player and DM Authority, it has nostalgic wonderous items, and it has tables and tables of stuff. If I don’t want to make a decision on something, there exists a table, I am sure, that can make the decision for me, and If I’ve made a decision on something, it seems that there is nothing stopping me from being the 100% authority on the subject, either. I absolutely love 5th edition.
I’ve written about my steadily growing love affair with 5th edition before, but I know it now: This one is perfect for me. This is the edition that I thought we were going to get when D&D 3.0 was announced, and though its taken almost 15 years to show up and a huge disaster in between, I am happy its here.
D&D 5 has brought back a number of the staples that I enjoyed about the 2e that I didn’t even know I had missed. And imbalanced balancing one that, though I understood what it meant, I thought it needed to be sacrificed at the alter of perfect balance. See, when I started playing RPGs, I was drawn to the myriad of choices that existed in the world I was going to play in, and I could be any one of them. Death Priest, Bladesinger, Beastmaster. There were a hundred supplements with a hundred more options lurking around every corner. And each one, I would look at and take in on its merits as it represented the concept it was putting forward. Was the Bladesinger swift, deadly and vicious? Was the Sage smart and old, with unknowable depths of information? Was the Urban Ranger really Batman? The disparity between useful additions and worthless ones were a combination of being unfaithful to the concept and being unable to contribute to the parties goals. In 2e, though, this didn’t always mean combat, though there were plenty of rules for making sure that every, to a degree, could fight. There were obviously stronger options if you were a combat-character, but there was such a concept as a non-combat character. This idea of a character being exactly what they were supposed to be, instead of what the game wanted you to be, was something that I’d not grasped onto. When I lost the majority of those options in 3.0/3.5, I was not disappointed. A character could do whatever they wanted outside of combat, within the DM’s discretion, what they did in combat, when their life was on the line, was what really needed arbitration.
Now, coming back, I feel that I better appreciate the inherent imbalance in the classes. A great wizard is an immensely powerful and world shaping force, and should reflect that. A fighter, someone who places value and importance on his abilities to chop down his foes will probably be at a disadvantage when facing a person capable of tearing the very fabric of the world apart and bending it to his will. With all the balance and changes in the D&D game throughout 3rd and 4th edition, one character overshadowing the others has never ceased. The problem inherent in an RPG is that the system is there to represent as believable a world in which there are dragons, giants and elves. A world that fantastic and out of sync with ours is destined to have imbalance. For me, If I want a fair and balanced Fantasy game, I can go online and play a videogame. If I want to immerse myself in a fantasy world with my friends and create a story that will last in our memories for a very long time, I am going to pick up an RPG.
There is plenty of truth to the oft-mentioned statement that life isn’t fair. Its true. Neither should an RPG. That, my good friend, is for the DM to decide. The world is created and built upon the DM’s thoughts an ideas, but it should also be tempered by the concepts that the characters have for themselves as well. in 3.5/4 this was bound by the rulebook. There were rules for almost every conceivable thing you could do, and many of them were lengthy and detailed to ensure authenticity. This has been dropped in 5e. Many times all that is given is a vague but descriptive notation of what could happen, setting up the DM to be able to make ad-hoc rulings based on what the surroundings are. While this was always the case, it is easier to comprehend and adapt to when there are no specific rules governing what should happen, and it works both ways.
When a character attempts to run over and plow someone over, they simply say so. Instead of it being labeled (a Bull Rush) and driven by a set of rules based on target and initiator stats, modifiers and bonuses, it is instead a simple thought process by the DM based on the description of what the player wants to do. I have found that, unlike another game by the same company, the concept of restrictions breeding creativity does not hold weight in a fast-paced RPG. Instead, restrictions breed complacency and limit new concepts to within the bounds of the already established rule sets. In the heat of the moment, it is much harder to take a step back and think on the spot than it is to fall into the comfortable embrace of the written rules.
That same comfortable embrace of the rules is what brought us the era of identical magic items. Amulets of Strength with raising bonuses. Swords with abilities and powers that progressed in a formula. Items that have specific uses spelled out specifically in their texts, giving no flavor or style to the item. Each of the items is a specific cost and slated for a specific level and works only in a specific manner. 5e, however, culled tons and tons of magic items, trimming them down to some of the most recognizable throwbacks to 2nd. Gone are the stat boosters and all their iterations. Gone are the custom weapons and their strange mathematical formula to determine how awesome your weapon is. Instead, they have a pretty vague breakdown of the approximate level that the items are appropriate for and a general value of rarity. Common and Uncommon items are appropriate for all levels with Rare items for levels 5+, Very rare for levels 12+ and Legendary items for levels higher than 17. It also specifically calls out that the DM can do whatever he damn well pleases, and if you want to give that Staff of Power to a level 1 character, feel free.
While I enjoyed my time with 3.5, and 4e was a good rebound RPG, I am really in love with the feel and style and the nostalgia of playing the same game I used to play in my high school years, just with a little bit more experience, polish and shine. With only the three Core books, I am ready and willing to play for years on end, writing stories and creating games that my friends and I can enjoy and tell again and again.
I don’t think I’ve had this much fun DMing and RPG in years.