After having played and run D&D 5th Edition for a couple of months I think it’s time to have a look on what worked and what didn’t work quite as well.
Overall D&D 5th Edition is a very good game, much better than several predecessors, but it still has a couple of things that bother me. But before focusing on the things that didn’t work let’s praise what WotC did right.
D&D 5th Edition feels like D&D. There’s a strong focus on roleplaying which is supported by the new backgrounds introduced in this edition. Ruleswise the advantage/disadvantage mechanic is a stroke of genius and basically removes numbercrunching to an absolute minimum. I also love that classes are much more flexible than before without the need for too many additional rules. After being burned out on D&D 3.0/3.5 and having serious issues with 4th Edition, D&D 5th Edition felt like a welcome breeze of fresh air.
Alas there are still a couple of things that bother me. Armor class is still among the first things I’d throw out if I had to redesign D&D. It just doesn’t make any sense that heavy armor makes it less likely being hit. Armor should reduce the damage taken instead. Another thing I don’t like is that attribute values are still a thing. They are actually never used. It’s probably a tradition thing but mechanically it makes no sense.
But the biggest problem is that there are other more exciting games out there. D&D was the hot new thing in 1974 but nowadays it has become the baseline for what we expect from fantasy RPGs. It has become a trope, a genre in itself. And as long as you want to keep it recognizable as D&D you have to keep some elements alive like the aforementioned attribute values, AC, hit points, the classes, etc. Without these elements it’s just not D&D anymore.
One of the systems I fell in love with is Monte Cook’s Cypher System (which has been used in Numenera and The Strange). It still retains a couple of D&D-isms, but overall it takes fantasy roleplaying into a different direction. In my opinion it is a very elegantly designed system, easy to pick up and play and extremely easy to run. When I run D&D it still feels a bit more like work.
This summer Monte Cook Games will release a Cypher System Rulebook which includes a section on how to run standard fantasy settings using the Cypher System. I have to admit I am very tempted to convert my D&D game to this new system or start a new one from scratch in one of the genres supported by it.
D&D 5th Edition is still my favorite edition of D&D, but there are games out there which are – at least in my opinion – more fun to play and run.
Recently I looked back at my gaming career and I realized that my campaigns usually end up being a mess. More often then not, there’s no real ending to the campaign and the last few sessions are just not as great as the first ones. Something happens after a couple of sessions which makes me – the GM – lose interest in my own campaign.
One reason is probably that I love to collect roleplaying games. On average I get a new game every month and while I am still running game A I already read game B, while I am leafing through game C I just got. I should focus on a fantasy campaign, but instead my mind is already somewhere else. I always have the urge to try something new which is not really compatible with the idea of running a campaign.
Another problem is probably that most of my groups don’t meet that regularly. If we’re lucky we can play once per month, but even that is not always the case. I guess it’s easier to stay invested in a game if you meet regularly. Alas this is not something I can easily fix.
When I start a new campaign I am usually very excited and I guess part of that excitement may be a problem. I hype myself so much, that the real game can only be a disappointment. Sometimes I realize that the rules I was going to use just don’t fit the theme I had in mind, or I escalated things too quickly, so that after a few sessions the player characters could easily take on gods without breaking a sweat. Ok, the first half of the campaign was extremely epic, but then I don’t know on how to keep things interesting.
Sometimes I fear I am too hard on myself. In most cases my players are perfectly fine with the game, but I am just not happy. I guess this may one of the symptoms of my depression, but that doesn’t mean I have to simply give up. I want everyone on the table have fun and this should include the GM as well. I always wanted to run an epic campaign, but – at least in my opinion – things ended with either me abandoning the campaign at some point or because the game ended in scheduling hell.
I hope that some of you have had this issue before and can give me a few tips on how to change things around. Please share your thoughts below!
Although I already own quite a few roleplaying games (I stopped counting a while ago), I am usually excited about at least one or two upcoming games. At the moment there are three games which should be released this summer which keep me excited.
The first on the list is a game I’ve been writing about several times. It’s Monte Cook’s Cypher System Rulebook. The Cypher System was created for Numenera and was also put to great use in the more recent The Strange. What I like about the system is that it’s extremely easy to run, it breaks with a couple of roleplaying traditions and while being pretty easy it has enough depth to even convince players who prefer some crunch at the gaming table.
The upcoming Cypher System will hopefully provide us with enough material to use the system in almost every genre. From what I’ve read so far, the book will have almost 500 pages with no fluff. Since the rules themselves are pretty short, I expect countless descriptors and foci, a a whole lot of cyphers for our games. I already have a couple of ideas what I want to run with it, including a Cyberpunk game. Hopefully there will be support for cyberwear in the core book.
By the way, if you preorder the hardcover book at Monte Cook Games, you get the PDF for free. The PDF version can also be preordered from DriveThruRPG.
Next in line is Fantasy AGE by Green Ronin. Fantasy AGE is basically the Dragon Age RPG without the setting and a new magic system. It’s the RPG for everyone who loves the rules behind the Dragon Age RPG but want to use it for other settings. While I have owned the rules for ages I just recently had the chance to play it. The AGE system is easy to learn, fast, and the stunt system is the cherry on top.
What excites me even more is the setting Green Ronin will release for Fantasy AGE later this year: Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Titansgrave is a Science Fantasy setting created by Wil Wheaton and Green Ronin. It’s also the game Wil is running for his new RPG show. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend you do so.
Last but not least is the Savage Worlds version of RIFTS. I still don’t think that Savage Worlds is the best fit for RIFTS, but I am cautiously optimistic. I like the RIFTS setting a lot. It’s my favorite kitchen-sink setting but alas it’s combined with a mess of a rules system. The Palladium System is playable but only barely so. From what I’ve heard not even Kevin Siembieda uses the rules-as-written, which says a lot. Savage Worlds is definitely not perfect but it fits the over-the-top style of RIFTS even though I doubt it can handle the scales. I still can’t imagine how a Rogue Scientist and a Glitter Boy pilot can coexist in the same party using SW rules. Let’s hope the guys working on it have figured a way out to make it possible.
These are the three games I am currently pretty excited about. What games are you looking forward to? Please share your thoughts below!