Thursday, December 04, 2014

On 5e: Complexity & Character-Focus

I have the first two books. I've seen the DMG but I don't have my own copy yet. I've played a fair amount (all online) and am beginning work on my own game.

So far my reaction is broadly positive. My main comment so far is that it strikes me as "old school character-centered D&D," which was definitely an open spot in the D&D pantheon.

There are at least two axes that have separated the editions that I think of as "new school" (3e, 4e) from the editions I think of as "old school" (everything else, more or less) but until now they were always paired. On the one hand, old school D&D tends to be focused on the world more than the character. Your character develops over time and maybe accretes some kind of individual identity, but they don't start out that way, and their fate is a lot more random than it is in the later games. In those, you have a lot more control over your character "build," and your dude is a lot more durable, so it makes more sense to put some effort into them up front.

This goes hand in hand with the another major difference I see between the editions, which is that the older versions are generally a lot simpler than their descendants. It's faster to build a character and easier to run an adventure. This fits with the focus on world rather than character-- if your character can die easily, then you want to be able to roll up a new one quickly, and if less of the fun of the game comes from your character being unique and special then it's less important for character creation to be complex-- but one doesn't necessarily follow the other.

5e is a very character-focused game. I have a lot of options when I sit down to make my character, and my character is pretty tough and capable. They dish out a surprising amount of damage, if you're used to older editions. But it's the first "character-centric" game where character creation didn't drive me completely up the wall with fiddly nonsense.

That's mostly because 5e strips out the complexity that's unnecessary to that goal of "making my character interesting." Individual skill points are out, and skills themselves are largely side-effects of other decisions. Feats are strictly optional-- they're relatively small modifications to your character, so the complexity cost was always a lot higher than the customization value. Instead, the character complexity comes more in big "packages" that do a lot of work for you at once: You make a couple of big decisions (which kind of fighter am I? what's my background?) that quickly narrows the focus of the small decisions you need to make down to a manageable size.

Which is, I think, a very good thing, and so far I'm glad they went in that direction. I don't always want to play that kind of D&D, but I am sometimes in the mood for it, and now I have an option that doesn't require a spreadsheet or five to build my character with.

4 comments:

  1. This is, in a nutshell, what I love most about this edition. Perfectly articulated. Well said.

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  2. NAtalie gets at it with the bone slicer--as usual.

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  3. I feel like the feats as written are big chunks of meaningful customization that serve to distinguish fighter A from fighter B and so forth. In short, well said.

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