Sunday, July 13, 2014

Are DMs or Are We Mice?

There's a lot being said around the interwebs about 5E. Some of it good, some not. Some sensible, some not. Some reasoned, and some reactionary nonsense. I want to touch on something I'm seeing a lot, but I want it known here and now: this isn't endemic merely to 5E as it relates to any older edition. This is equally relevant to any two editions, or entirely different games, for that matter. 5E is just the most current topic of this sort.

After that preamble, my point is quite simple. Old school DMs are imaginative and independent thinkers. We blaze our own way through our own worlds, even if "our own world" is our own version of a published world. We take it all and make it our own. So, why, then, do detractors want to cite certain aspects of 5E as "robbing" us of our self-determination? They report the following:

  • The Standard Array takes the dice out of the players' hands from the outset of character generation
  • There is a lot of grumbling that the default hit points per level is just a little too attractive to pass up
  • The equipment by class and background limits player choice further
  • The Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws tables with each Background totally restrict player creativity

 This brings me to the point of this post. All of those points would be among the easiest houseruled things to work with. Most of them simply aren't even true. Observe:

  • 4d6, drop the low roll and arrange to suit is given as the first method of generating ability scores, standard array and point-buy are given as options to that
  • We all know that the average roll on a given die is 1/2 that die, plus .5, so the average of a d10 is 5.5, for example. The default hit points for each class simply use this, rounded up. This causes some concern, since it means there is no risk with taking the default value. I say "So what?" If you want your character to be average, knock yourself out. But, seriously, we're old school DMs here. Can't we just reduce that default hp value by 1 on the fly, and move the hell on?
  • The equipment packages are offered simply to speed things up when no one wants to take a lot of time hand-selecting equipment that is likely in the packages anyway. Generating starting funds and purchasing equipment piece-by-piece is fully supported in the equipment chapter. And if it wasn't, So What? Prices are given and we all know how to roll for starting gold
  • The Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws tables are there for either players that don't have a firm idea in mind, or NPCs. Now, the RAW don't exactly spell that out, but c'mon, they do say we're not bound to use these options (pg 35, second paragraph). If you're an old school DM and feel absolutely shackled to those tables, maybe you should step outside the box. One of the oft-overlooked aspects of roleplaying old-style was discovering your character through play. It was a process with a certain degree of randomness to it. I like these tables for that reason

The last thing I want to pontificate about is the quick leveling up to 3rd level. It is an established design paradigm that characters are essentially "apprentices" during the first three levels, finding their way in their chosen profession. Some old-schoolers complain about losing the white-knuckle excitement of those low level adventures. Posh! For me, with 37 years at the dice, those levels are tedious as hell. In fact, in every campaign I've played in for almost 20 years, if we started at 1st, we were given either a hp "kicker" of up to 20 hps, a supply of healing potions, or both. And this doesn't even consider the poor wizard, who has but 2 options once a fight breaks out 1) Cast, 2) Pray to not be attacked.

If it sounds like I'm edition warring, please accept my sincerest apologies. I stated in a post a long time ago, I don't mind criticism, as long as it is reasonable. I don't like it when something is picked apart and/or held to the strictest possible interpretation just to make it look bad compared to a liberal and generous interpretation of someone's favorite something.

I like 5E, not just because it looks like a good system. I like it, too, for what it means to the game that has been a steady and constant friend to me, telling stories together lo these many years.


  1. You don't sound like you're edition warring at all, sir.

    I think you're points are quite reasonable.

    As some other blogger (I can't remember which) pointed out, many of the mid to higher levels are harder to get to than they were in 4/3e. It looks like the intention is to shoot you past levels 1-3 and then have you linger at the "middle range" of levels. I don't do it that way, but I don't see a problem with it.