Monday, September 18, 2023

Dealing with 5E Apathy

I am dealing with this "5E apathy" and looking at the garbage of old and trying to make the rules compelling to me again. One of the deep-rooted core problems of 5E is the "preset build paths," which force you to multiclass to have freedom. Otherwise, if you stick with a single class, all the "you have no freedom" arguments 5E players use against OSR games apply to 5E.

Dungeon Fantasy powered by GURPS looks like a better 5E at this point. I know, it sucks; this is heresy; all the math; it is not d20; I need a computer program to design characters, and the complex, simulation-nature of the rules all come up. But to tell you the truth, if I want a great 'character builder game,' nothing touches GURPS. I could sink thousands of dollars into 5E for a few dozen build options - one or two I will use - or buy an eighty-dollar box set once and have everything I will ever need.

If I want more, I can mod-in options from GURPS and have anything I want, even superpowers. Even with the extra cost of the base GURPS books, you are still under the typical 5E investment needed to play. If a game is about 'character builds,' don't waste my time, fish my wallet with books that cost sixty dollars, and give me one or two broken new options.

I started paring down my 5E books to a core set of "the best of the best" with Advanced 5E as the core and putting aside my Kobold Press books for Tales of the Valiant release next year. I am doing homebrew for an Advanced 5E setting since many older settings don't feel right with the game. Advanced 5E is my 5E, and my core old 5E books are in storage.

Advanced 5E is the "Windows clean reinstall" version of 5E. I have had enough of the broken, bloated, messed up Wizards version that never worked right, and I felt like people played with X, not Y, Z, not W, and all the other messes the official books made over the years.

Part of dealing with 5E apathy is changing the game and freshening it up. There is a good game in 5E; we have just had so much junk thrown at the system the last 10 years that it is hard to find.

The problem is that GURPS sits on the next shelf, telling me, "You're serious, right? If you want a bard-enchanter-thief hybrid character, I am a skill-based and point-buy system; I've got you covered. You don't need to wait three levels, either. Do you want advantages and disadvantages for roleplay, too? Got chapters for those. Custom powers? Got those. You are not dealing with bad game designer syndrome, too, since you are the game designer, buddy."

The 'bad game designer syndrome' kills 5E for me. This is why we have One D&D, because the 5E design is broken, and likely, what they will ship in One D&D will be broken too. I design a cleric in 5E and am unhappy with the subclass choices. Or did the game force me to wait three levels to pick a subclass? What if I feel the choices and powers aren't that great? I am stuck with what a 'bad game designer' gives me. Sorry. Everyone has to deal with it, so everyone plays the same game.

See also basic-game 5E rangers. You end up with classes where 'everything sucks about them.' And you can't predict which class gets the shaft by 'bad designer syndrome' since a lot depends on multiclass synergies.

To fix it? Buy the 2024 books, please!

With no guarantee, things won't end up broken there, either.

Trust our game designers this time! This coming from a company short on trust this year.

The A5E designers did well with what they had and made an excellent clean-room game. The problem goes deeper, though, down to the root of the post-AD&D 2e design. The core design of D&D 3+ relies too much on skilled designers, and with the tighter numbers of 5E, every mistake or broken synergy worsens things. You need to step back and take a deeper look at the design to know what is happening here.

For the last 20 years, D&D has been built on the Wizards model, where designers create rat-in-a-maze 'build paths' from level one to twenty and force players down them. Multiclassing is the only way to 'break the Matrix' in D&D and create synergies, which is what 5E ended up as. Pathfinder 2e showed what a tight, balanced game design could be - but it took considerable revamp and effort to get there. PF2e is still not a great game for me since solo-ability is complicated, and the game plays better with a group.

5E apathy is rooted in that 20-year-old design and over-reliance on the current crop of game designers and their skill at pulling together a game. For 5E, they did a good job and pulled in the best minds from various fields, styles, gaming backgrounds, and experiences. I doubt 'Lightning in a Bottle' can be replicated in 2024; I don't see it. The consultation and design are entirely inside of Wizards this time.

But are people tired of the core design?

This is where I feel my 5E apathy lies. I feel tired of the structure and framework of 5E, and this extends back 20 years to the Wizards model and design theory. I can do a better job at designing a compelling class and experience. The game I move towards will be a toolbox that supports that feeling.

And as I walk away, GURPS adds, "And I do it in fewer pages, too."

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