Thursday, February 1, 2024

Why I Play Open 5E

The above is a great book. It's too bad we won't likely see any more of them or PDFs. I would have loved to see Slave Lords and the GDQ series done like this. Alas, we got what we got, and I am happy for those, but nostalgia leads you down a road of disappointment and the eventual death of the imagination. Companies push nostalgia over original ideas since they can "own" your mind.

Far too many people surrender their free will to corporate obedience these days. These people will enable profit motives to destroy the world, and they won't question why - just get angry with the people pointing it out. Social media is the corporate mind control device mad scientists dreamed about in the 1950s.

So, why 5E? My brother wanted to play 5E as an alternative to Pathfinder 1e, but we only really started after life happened, and I shelved the game for a few years. This was 2014; 4E still had more to offer than the new system.

I used Hero Lab a year ago and tried messing around with the various sources and plug-ins, and the characters seemed fun to build. So, I started researching a few books and experimenting with the system. It seemed fun to try, but I was still wary about how hard the team Wizards dropped the ball on 4E, the game we loved. Still, with enough 3rd party content, the game was more of mine than theirs, and I could express characters and builds here well.

I was more interested in 3rd party content, and the options had significantly expanded. My interest in "D&D" was negligible, only using 5E to express character builds.

I bought a few monster books and accidentally bought the Level Up 5E one. Then I thought, oops, I bought a variant book for a strange reimplementation of 5E. My bad. Shelve it. Then, I liked what I saw and started exploring it more. This was a better system than base 5E. I loved how it placed characters in the world and linked different social abilities to game-world backgrounds.

Level Up Advanced 5E is a fantastic game. This feels like the AD&D of 5E, with depth in places you did not know it needed depth.

Then the OGL scandal happened, and I boxed up all my 5E games in disgust and put them in storage. 5E was dead. Time to move on. I gave Pathfinder 2 a chance, but the game did not work out for me since I play solo. That is boxed up, too, now, and heading to sell boxes.

Then the Open 5E movement started, and I backed Tales of the Valiant while pulling out my old A5E books to give those creators another chance. Tossing out 5E is unfair to 3rd party creators, but tossing out Wizards 5E is fine. Hasbro-Wizards needs a top-down change before I look at them again. But then again, this is Wall Street - nothing changes there and only worsens. My only hope for D&D is it gets sold to a smaller company that puts love and care into the products. That is likely a long time off.

But that is negativity, and I am permanently out of that market regarding the games I play.

The team that designed 5E, no longer at Wizards, designed one of the best level-based "character builder" games outside point-buy games like GURPS and Champions. Granted, the character-building in GURPS is vastly superior to 5E since if you have a specific power, build, or ability you want - you save up the points and buy it. I am still all over Dungeon Fantasy for realistic fantasy gaming; that is a great game.

But there is a market for those games, and they are like video games, where the build progression happens a certain way, and you have choices. Not everyone is creative or imaginative enough to play a point-buy game where anything is possible, and you need a high level of knowledge of rules to translate an idea into a power or specific build. It also takes a lot of play knowledge to understand mechanics and how they relate to builds.

This game is a keeper. If you start in 5E, GURPS (especially Dungeon Fantasy) is the logical progression to the ultimate level of character builds. No game designer is telling you what you can pick. You are not spending money on new options; one book is all you need. Want a specific power or disadvantage that only triggers in a specific combat, social, or exploration situation?

Design it yourself, and stop paying people to do a fraction of what you can imagine.

You are the game designer.

I know; sometimes, I just want to play a game. The GURPS argument is like telling people, "Want to play a game? Get GameMaker and program your own!" Sometimes, I want to experience other people's creativity and design ideas - so I play those games. One of the problems is those teams need a certain level of design experience and "design cred" to pull off a game I enjoy. Cypher System is one of these games; Monte Cook is a legend. Nothing deconstructs d20 like this game, and this is 20 years ahead of its time.

Some OSR games are too simple for my tastes. I tried them all, except for Dungeon Crawl Classics, most of which I played 40 years ago. DCC is the keeper in this group. ACKS 2 is doing its own thing, which sets it apart. I still love Castles & Crusades, but the others, even OSE, can go. You better do something radically different than B/X in 2024 to set yourself apart from the clones.

Iron Falcon and Basic Fantasy are my zero-cost and print-at-cost clones for everything else. It isn't a product but a community.

So, I play 5E to explore the designs of great design teams. I don't buy any "I play 5E so everyone can find a game" nonsense. I don't watch movies because everyone else is; I watch them because I enjoy them. I am interested in them. They appeal to me on a deeper level. This isn't junk food; it is appreciating artistry.

The Wizards team that designed 5E is gone, and nothing I read in any of the post-core-book expansions was anything I would want in my games - most of it is splat-book power gaming, which is popular because it allows broken builds. It is only fun how a cheat code for a video game is; it gets boring after a while. Not cheating is why I loved the game in the first place.

The Kobold Press team has done many fantastic class expansions, and they are a team that plays regularly and tests their stuff to ensure it is fun and not broken. This is a team I can get on board with and play their stuff. The Level Up Advanced 5E designers are like that, too; they have great ideas and a tightly-tuned game where the CR system means something.

The math in these games feels impressive. This is like the difference between a gaming laptop that creaks and pops when you pressure it like it will break and one with no flex and feels solid. The Open 5E games are made by players who are sick of the mess they must constantly deal with in their 5E games. That cheap laptop feeling every time a player shows up at the table with Tasha's and wants to build that multiclass exploit build again. And they smile like it is their idea, and all came up with it.

I read the same forums, buddy.

And no, this isn't denying a part of the game for you. This is about keeping everyone at the table feeling like they are contributing meaningfully instead of watching you kill encounters and not need anyone else. The rest of the players will get bored and leave the game, and I will, too.

Part of how good a dungeon master is relies on the "ban list" of official content they keep in their heads.

That is just wrong.

Ten years in, I am ready for a reset. I could return to the 2014 books and start again, but many classes are broken. I want another team to try improving the game and making it fun. Level Up A5E proves the point; this is the most "Pathfinder 1e" version of 5E, combining many of the best ideas in 3.5E and 4E into a 5E shell and delivering a fantastic game.

Tales of the Valiant looks the same, another excellent edition by a team with design skills and attention to detail. They care how the game plays. This is the "B/X meets 5E" version of the game, which I will use most of my 3rd party books.

Am I playing the 2014 version for the next ten years or moving on to something current?

I would rather play new things from new teams. 2014 is over, and bringing in 10 years of broken books on top of 2024 is a non-starter. That same guy with the cheater Tasha's build will be back. The ban lists will need to be updated with a massive incompatibility list.


It is easier to start over at this point.

Please give me a new game, and let me start fresh.

Wizards had a remarkable 10-year run, and they did their thing. Then, they screwed it up. People want to live in the past and ignore what they did; that is their right. But not me. Words and actions have consequences.

But like every previous generation and "big thing," it is time for them to step aside and let others show us what they can do. We are in a time like 2009 and the release of Pathfinder 1e.

People are ready for someone new.

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