5th Edition: Dungeons and Dragons Hasn’t Learned From Its Mistakes

Third Edition D&D was widely hailed as a massive improvement over Second Edition. 3.5 refined the game further but still had a number of problems. Fourth Edition made radical changes to solve those problems and created entirely new ones. Now we’re in Fifth Edition, which takes the approach of… not really fixing anything at all. Instead of improving the system, 5E reverts to all the problems of 3.5 but with a fresh coat of paint. I can’t say why they did this,* I can only tell you the results.

The Classes Aren’t Balanced

Justice scale with wizard heavier than warrior Derivative of Wizard by clipartcottage under CC BY 3.0 and Elf Warrior by JR19759 under BY-SA 3.0, available for you to use under BY-SA 3.0

3.5 was notorious for its game balance issues. Wizards, clerics, and other spellcasters were the kings of town, and martial classes were the peasants beneath their feat. Fifth Edition has the same problem. Spellcasters are still by far the most powerful, and martial classes are still sad. The wizard and druid are locked in a battle for first place,* with the cleric sitting comfortably in third. In fact, because of some silliness in the way multiclassing works, it’s even possible for wizards to use magic in heavy armor and have access to the entire cleric spell list! That certainly sounds balanced.

Game Mechanics: Wizard Cleric Multiclass

Spellcasting levels from different classes are added together when determining spell slots per long rest (page 165), so a wizard who takes 1 level of cleric loses no spellcasting progress. The way cleric spells are worded, they can choose any spell from their list to use for the day. Their choice isn’t limited by what slots they can actually cast. A first level cleric can choose a ninth level spell if they like; they just won’t be able to cast it (page 58).

A wizard with one level of cleric gets the same ability and will gain new spell slots as they level up. So a level 17 wizard/1 cleric can cast ninth level spells from both classes. In heavy armor.

Edit: There’s been some confusion of how this works, so here it is with more detail.

Page 164 of the mutliclassing rules states: “You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single classed member of that class.”

It then gives an example of wizard/ranger, neither of which prepares spells like a cleric does.

Back on page 54 of the cleric class rules, after explaining how you choose a list of cleric spells to be able to cast, the book reads “the spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots.”

Note that it does not say “cleric spell slots.”

Then back on page 164: “You determine your available spell slots by adding together all your levels of bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, and wizard…”

So when you’re preparing your spells as a first level cleric, you can pick spells of any level for which you have slots, which in this case will be levels 1-9 because when you combine your class levels together, those are the slots available to you for casting.

The paladin is also pretty high in the ranking but only because it can cast spells. Even the least powerful spellcasting classes, warlock and sorcerer, are far above everyone else. Within the martial classes, there’s a clear ranking as well. Fighter and barbarian are the best of the worst, and ranger is at the absolute bottom.

5E’s attempt to balance spellcaster and martial classes is its rest system. In brief, most spellcasters recharge their abilities after an eight-hour long rest, while martial types recharge after a one-hour short rest. This assumes you are playing D&D as an endurance contest, exhausting your party’s resources over a large number of low level encounters.

However, a lot of people don’t play that way. For many groups, it’s more fun to have a smaller number of more difficult encounters. Fights aren’t fun when the players know there’s no chance of losing. Even if you play the game exactly as intended, clever spellcasters will keep their best abilities in reserve and then completely overshadow their martial companions when it matters. The difference in rest lengths is also tricky to manage. If the party can afford to rest for an hour, they can usually rest for eight hours.

Fourth Edition tried to solve the problem by standardizing all class abilities so they could be more easily balanced. This created a new problem of every class feeling the same, but at least it was an effort. Fifth Edition seems to have given up entirely.

The Class Specializations Aren’t Balanced

Scale with warrior and wizard heavier than ranger. Derivative of Bunny 04 and Wizard by clipartcottage under CC BY 3.0, and Elf Warrior by JR19759 under BY-SA 3.0, available for you to use under BY-SA 3.0

Each class in 5E has two or three specializations to give more variety. Rogues can be thieves, assassins, or arcane tricksters; fighters can be champions, battlemasters, or eldritch knights. This should be a good thing, as it allows for a wider range of characters without waiting for new supplemental books.

Unfortunately, like the classes themselves, few of these specializations are in any way balanced. Nearly every class has one option that is clearly the best. If you play a sorcerer, you get to choose between dragon blood and wild magic as the source of your power. Both sound really cool, but the dragon blood is unquestionably superior. It gets a powerful breath weapon and a sweet armor buff. The wild mage gets a random effect that happens only when the GM thinks it should, and then only when a 1 is rolled. Most of the effects aren’t even beneficial.

The lowest of the low is the beast master ranger. This pitiable class/specialization combo gets a weak animal companion, which it must give up its action in order to use. In many cases, the beast master is better off attacking on their own, so their main class feature goes completely unused. This is a major flashback to 3.5, when the ranger got an animal companion in the same way druids did, but at one half the level progression.

The lack of balance here is especially baffling. With twelve classes in the 5E player’s handbook, balancing them against each other would have been a challenging task. But there are only two or three specializations for each class.* Making them comparable to each other shouldn’t have been that difficult. I don’t know which scenario is more troubling: that the beast master wasn’t playtested at all, or that it was and they said “yeah, this looks fine.”

The Gear Grind Is Worse Than Ever

Gear Grind

D&D is infamous for being a game as much about magical accessorizing as it is about epic adventure. Gear is a huge part of a character’s advancement, and we can all remember long hours spent pouring over 3.5 magic item lists, looking for something that would give us a bit of an edge. Not getting the right equipment could render a character useless, and the endless quest for better loot would overshadow the adventure itself.

Fifth Edition is just as bad, but it’s in denial. The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) section on magic items gives no indication how much gear a character should have at each level. None. Magic items also have hugely variable costs. An Amulet of Health can cost anywhere from 501 to 5,000 gold pieces. Talk about market fluctuations!

These factors, taken together, mean that GMs have no idea how much gear they should be giving their PCs, and gear really matters. A well equipped martial class can actually hold their own with the spellcasters. But what is “well equipped,” exactly? At what point does it become “over equipped” or “under equipped?” Fifth Edition has no interest in telling you.

Correction: There is a guide to how much gear higher level PCs should start with, on page 38 of the DMG,* but it’s very general and doesn’t provide the hard numbers a GM would find most useful.

The DMG indicates that magic items should be rare and wondrous, not a simple commodity to be traded at market like common equipment. That’s nonsense. Martial classes need gear to hold their own. Without magical equipment, PCs have nothing to spend their gold on, and earning gold is the default motivation for adventuring.* Fifth Edition is as much a game about magical accessorizing as 3.5; it’s just not as honest.

Some magic items are blatantly overpowered as well. Daern’s Instant Fortress is essentially a supercharged, reusable fireball* that also summons a tower for you to hide in. It costs the same amount as a quiver of +2 arrows. Then there are the items like the Gauntlets of Ogre Power, which set one stat* to 19 rather than giving a bonus. They create a strange incentive to start with some stats super low, because a character with 8 strength will benefit far more from the Gauntlets than a character with 18 strength.

It’s Easy to Fail Character Creation

Creating a character in D&D has always been quite the ordeal. You need to pick the right race/class combination, the right feats, the right everything. Get too much wrong, and your character will be completely unplayable. Since many people get into roleplaying games through D&D, that would be a major priority for Fifth Edition, right? Nope!

As mentioned, picking the wrong class or specialization can ruin your character right from the start. I shudder whenever a new player tells me they want to play a beast master ranger, and that’s just the start of it. There are six saves, but only three of them matter. Anyone who invests in Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma saves will be sorely disappointed.

Many of the base stats themselves are now traps. For example, sorcerers have no reason to raise Intelligence. In 3.5, it at least gave you more skill points. Now, all Intelligence does is give you a small bonus on some skills. So if you want to play a smart sorcerer,* you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

By the same token, armor class (AC) is way more important than it used to be. Many spells and other effects target AC, so being easy to hit is a death sentence. If you decide to leave Dexterity at 10 because your class doesn’t traditionally need it, your character will soon be a pincushion. In 3.5, you could mitigate having a low AC, but not anymore.

Physics Issues Persist

Physics Issue Meissner effect by Mai-Linh Doan used under CC BY-SA 3.0

3.5 D&D tried to simulate an entire world. There were rules for exactly how many feet a person could jump based on their height and rules for what happened when you put a one dimensional folding device inside another. This led to some… interesting results. Fourth Edition was much more abstract, with most of its rules only pertaining to the exchange of damage in combat. Fifth Edition tries to walk a middle ground, not having rules for every little thing but also being more than a white room in which fights take place.

Unfortunately, it does not always succeed. The rules don’t cover a number of situations that are very likely to come up. One is the Sleep spell. It will typically knock out a low-level target with a single casting. To balance this, the spell states that any damage immediately wakes the target up. But what about snapping a pair of manacles on them while they sleep? Does that count as an attack, and if so, do they wake up before or after the manacles are on? The game gives no indication. For that matter, what about lifting a really big rock over the target and dropping it on them?

Invisibility is another problem. An invisible character should be, by definition, invisible. But by a strict reading of the rules, they are only a bit harder to hit. Enemies can still walk up to them and attack, and it’s not clear how they’re located. For extra silliness, the penalty to attack an opponent you can’t see is the same as attacking while prone.

Then there are owls. Giant owls, specifically, brought forth by the Summon Animal spell. The spell is powerful enough at face value, as the critters it summons are quite strong. But giant owls are the worst, thanks to the grapple rules. While grapple has been simplified, it still allows you to drag enemies across the map. Giant owls can drag enemies straight up and then drop them, doing a disproportionately high amount of damage in any battle with an open ceiling, to say nothing of those bottomless caverns GMs are so fond of.

Owls can lift quite a lot, it turns out. Up to 195lb, and any creature Huge sized or smaller.* Nothing in the rules makes it harder to move something straight up than to drag it across the ground. PCs can also ride the owls, which means Summon Animal can bestow flight on a party of up to eight characters for an hour. If they don’t like an encounter, they can skip over it.

Building Encounters Is Really Hard

...Something seems to have gone wrong here. …Something seems to have gone wrong here.

Dungeons and Dragons, no matter what the edition, is all about the encounter. Balancing difficulty so a fight is challenging but not impossible is a lot of work for the GM. In 3.5, the encounter builder was almost useless, because it was based on level only. A PC’s capability could vary wildly without ever leveling up.

Fifth Edition has the same problem. According to the book, an encounter worth 20,400 experience points (XP) should be “deadly” for a group of four level 13 PCs. That means death is likely for at least one character. In one game run by a friend of the blog, a group of four level 13 PCs defeated a 150,000XP encounter without a single fatality.*

How can that possibly work? It has to do with how optimized the characters are for their level, and these were some damn optimized characters. A more casual group might indeed have been threatened by a 20,400XP encounter. A group of beast master rangers would have been wiped out. Because character ability varies so wildly, following the encounter builder will get you nowhere.

The encounter builder also doesn’t compensate at all for magic items. The group in question had what I thought was a lot of powerful gear, but I have no idea how it would have rated in the designer’s eyes.

If the GM can’t effectively build encounters, they’ll have a hard time building an effective campaign, or even a single session. This problem isn’t insurmountable, but it is disappointing. That sums up Fifth Edition pretty well: disappointing. A few improvements have been made, but in general it has all the same problems 3.5 did. At least Fourth Edition was willing to try something new, for all its flaws. If you’re looking to play an improved version of 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, stick with Pathfinder. It’s better supported, and you probably already have the books.

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  1. Seriously?!

    Point 1, I disagree with. While not perfectly balanced, it does a MUCH better job than 3.5 did.

    Point 2 I can agree with.

    Point 3 is just flat-out wrong.

    By Point 4, I realized the writer is a meta-gaming min-maxer. So I really don’t care about their opinion any further.

    Point 5 is just reaching for something to nitpick.

    Point 6 confuses me, as building encounters is quite easy as outlined in the DMG.

    All in all, I feel the writer of this article should just find another game.

    • Chris Sham

      While Seriously has perhaps come into this a bit too aggressively, I think their point 4 (perhaps the most aggressively dismissive comment they made) actually comes closest to why I’d disagree with this article: 3rd/3.5 Ed had a lot of good rules, but that might have been a consequence of simply having so many rules for so many things. Some were bound to look good, taken in isolation.

      My group participated in the D&D Next playtest for 5th Ed, and the design notes during that process made it clear that the designers wanted to actively back off from having specific rules carved in stone for every little thing, and instead give GMs room to make shit up as it suits their story-telling needs. As a very unrulesy GM, I appreciate this. It’s hard enough to keep myself and my players nicely in character without half the players spending more time processing rules technicalities than anything else (the shift from massive piles of bonuses and penalties to just Advantage/Disadvantage demonstrates that nicely). As a player, I appreciate a reduced rules focus too; I’ve sacrificed a lot of fun initial character concepts on the altar of “…but this will let me do more damage!”

      I’m not sure it’s fair to accuse Oren of being a “meta-gaming min-maxer”, but I think this article does look at things from more of a roll-playing than roleplaying perspective. And that has its value, but it clearly isn’t the only perspective for looking at 5th Ed.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Thing is, while 5E is somewhat slimmed down compared to 3.5, it’s still a super rules heavy system. Those rules influence play whether we like it or not. If I make a sorcerer with low AC, I’m gonna get murdered, or the GM will have to obviously avoid attacking me, which also feels pretty lame.

        If a rules light, narrative heavy game is what you’re after, I’d recommend something like Primetime Adventures or Mouse Guard.

        • Christopher LaHaise

          The GM doesn’t have to do either. If you make a low AC sorcerer, you shouldn’t be wading to the front and making a target of yourself. There’s spells you can pick up to give you a +4 bonus to AC (which is a lot in 5e).

          The GM doesn’t have to avoid you or target you. The GM should be focused, instead, on what the creatures would logically do. If the sorcerer’s in the front, they’re a target. If they’re in the back, the enemy’s probably busy dealing with the PCs who are using sharp metal weapons to stab them and turn them into mincemeat.

          Really, the GM should go with what’s logical.

          • CharonsLittleHelper

            And if they foes have an intelligence of 5+, they should go for the squishy spell-caster in the back ASAP.

        • Jesse

          Everyone has a lot of defense available to them, other than just plain armor class. The Sorceror has; Dodge Action, Shield, Blur, Blink, among many other defensive spells. Take a feat to enhance your ability to go first so that you can do a “Dodge Action”, while quickening a potent defensive spell like Blur. Get surprised? You can still cast Shield since it alters time, then on your turn use a “Dodge Action” and quicken a powerful defensive spell like; “Blur” if you do not like your odds.

          Also a Ranger with the right range spells and feats can put out a lot of damage equal to a Sorceror.

    • Andrew

      Yeah totally agree.

      Personally as a DM I find it is the fighters (especially dex based duel wielding champions) who can put out nearly enough damage in a single round to kill anything with the same CR. Spell casters seem weak from a DPS pov. A disintegrate does less damage than the fighter/ thief character does in the first round. (1 sneak attack then attack 2 then bonus attack. Then action surge and 2 more attacks. All using the ranged power attack feat and the crossbow no loading penalty feat). AND the two characters I mentioned, at level 12 currently, can hit on a 3+. Except the fighter/ thief prefers the hit on an 8+ with extra 10 damage per hit.

      The cleric wording is clearly just a slip and if you let your players do that you are stupid.

      I like, as a DM, to not get bogged down in physics rules. It allows the fights to be more free flowing and if we want an additional rule, we normally just import it from 3.5.

      I find the flat levelling of items and monsters makes giving magic items quite easy (weapons and armour at the same + as the party but nothing special. Then one or two more interesting things that make sense to their character history… a reward for a well written one). Encounter maths is a bit off but once you get your head out of the 3.5 encounter rules and use 5e stuff it works well. They key point is that the more linear progression means that at level 12 a deadly encounter can be one CR 20 enemy and it is no longer CR = Party level. Of course basic encounter set up 101. Make it a little too hard when it comes to enemies as it is easier to fudge tactics and a couple of rolls down.

    • Dmunclej

      I would give counterpoint to this but it’s easier to simply say you’re wrong on so many levels.

    • wellthen

      I don’t think it should be possible to metagame. I think martial characters (fighting-men, rogues) should require magical items to keep par with casters. If the author is metagaming, how does that invalidate their opinions? The best circumstance is a typical bell curve with typical power of a character falling in the middle of that bell curve, and it being harder and harder to reach outside this power range on either side. So you have to really screw up badly to be a bad character, or squeeze every last ounce of powergame and minmax out of the game to reach just beyond the power of other characters.

      Subtypes, archetypes, and all those specialty things cause imbalance, as is noted. Why? Because the less rules there are in a game, the more “basic” and plain it is, the easier it is to balance the game out. If I sat you down and told you that you needed to take OD&D races and classes, monsters and spells, magic weapons and gear, and only these things, and to rebalance these until it was balanced, then it could really be done quickly.

      I know lots of people groan about how bad OD&D was, but there was a reason behind all the designs.

    • Chagaloth

      Now, after a few years since beta and we’re now into the fray of 5th Ed., This article is wrong. The author is focusing on so much information based on a 3rd and 4th Ed. mentality. It’s not about the numbers; in fact, D&D 5E almost encourages DMs to stop whining and use the system as a guideline rather than a final say. This is so much better for true ROLEplaying. And I love every minute of it.

  2. Vikshade

    Clearly the author doesn’t have much experience with older editions of the game. Comments like this one make that fact clear… “Creating a character in D&D has always been quite the ordeal. You need to pick the right race/class combination, the right feats, the right everything.”
    As well as the constant reference and comparison to d20 editions of the game. If you look back a bit further I think it is clear that the game once was fun and rules-light. Making a character used to take about three minutes and two lines of text. You used to be able make a house ruling and it wouldn’t break five other mechanics, without you knowing until it was too late.
    That said, I want to like this article, because I am not a fan of fifth edition. Mostly due to the new magic systems, rests and class abilities. I want to like this article, I really do. but the writer needs to avoid making bold hard statements about the game without knowing the earlier editions, which the new version is “trying” to pay homage to.

    • Joe

      I agree with your semi-agreement. I also dislike 5E, but agree that this author is too focused on limited comparisons. He also ignores broader contexts and details of other editions… like the digital tools, which made 4e encounter design SUPER EASY for DMs, or the way that certain narrative tools (like the CDs with several of the 2e Ravenloft boxed sets) slowed things down way too much. It felt like much of the article focused on specific ways that a min-maxer would find issue with 5e. While those are not wrong, that is hardly a complete view of what is wrong (and what is right) with 5e. 4e’s balance slowed combat down a LOT. 5e fixed that by playing fast & loose with a lot. Fast combats are often a good thing. But in a world where min-maxing and certain class choices can make things not fun for other players who don’t make those choices, fast combat isn’t enough to make the game universally fun.

      • Rheios

        Thing is that no game will be universally fun. And trying to do so always makes a game bland or chaotic and often involves burning some or all of its sacred cows. (Sometimes even in an orgiastic revelry which is kindof my thoughts on both D&D 4e and Fallout 4) Which of course still fails universal fun because it alienates everyone who really kindof liked those cows.

  3. The Gneech

    Wait… what?

    Wow. This article starts wrong and just keeps getting wronger, which suggests starting with a preconception of the system as being bad and succumbing to confirmation bias in a big way.

    I think the author basically needs to find some other system they actually like and play it, instead.

    -The Gneech

    • Housekeeper Willy

      Preach it Brother Gneech!

      I agree and I don’t even like 5e.

  4. Bill

    The “Wizard Cleric Multiclass” section is a clear misinterpretation of the rules. Clerics (and druids,) like every other spell casting class, are unable to prepare spells of a level higher than they can a cleric. A Wizard 17/Cleric 1, could only prepare 1st level cleric spells – though they could be cast using a 9th level spell slot.

    • Thayne

      Please point to the rule that supports your claim, Bill. I’m unable to find it.

      • keithcurtis

        It’s under the spellcasting rules for multiclassing. Bill is right.

        • Christian

          Looking at it, it’s one of those things where /technically/, the author is right, but it so obviously goes against Rules As Intended that no reasonable GM would ever allow it. The cleric’s spellcasting feature says “the spells [you prepare] must be of a level for which you have spell slots” (58). When multiclassing, “you determine your available spell slots by adding together [your levels in different caster classes]. Use this total to determine your spell slots by consulting the… table” (164).
          The book assumes that you understand what they intend, too, since in their example they use an example of a ranger 4/wizard 3, describing that you have 3rd-level spell slots… “However, you don’t know any 3rd-level spells, nor do you know any 2nd-level ranger spells” (164). This is despite the fact that the wizard’s spellcasting feature has a nearly identical sentence to the cleric’s (“the spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots,” 114), as does the ranger (“each of [the spells you learn] must be of a level for which you have spell slots,” 91-92).
          It’s the sort of theoretical game-breaking that people obsess over in forums and blogs, but in actual play rarely comes up, and if it does is easily fixed by the GM. Although I’m sure there exist players who would gleefully exploit this and GMs who would allow it, I know none personally, and at that point its no longer a fault of the system, it’s an intentional play style by a subset of gamer.

          • Theodoxus

            Why does everyone stop before the really important part in the Spell Slots section of multiclassing?

            “If you have more than one spellcasting class, this table might give you spell slots of a level that is higher than the spells you know or can prepare. You can use those slots, but only to cast your lower.level spells.”

            You can’t cast 9th level Cleric spells from 9th level spell slots as a 1st level Cleric, because you can only cast your lower level spells, which you pick as if you were only 1 class – as described in the ‘Spells Known and Prepared’ section.

            I get that it takes 2-3 readings of the entire section – but it’s not hard to grok once all the pieces are in place.

            The author is flat out wrong on his interpretation.

  5. Rand al'Thor

    New article idea: What Pathfinder Does Better Than D&D

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Oh man, I would have to play soooooo much more Pathfinder to do that justice.

      • Rand al'Thor

        Do it! d20 is one of the top ranking systems, obviously, and Pathfinder is the only good one.

        • Kuildeous

          I humbly disagree with that assessment. Mutants and Masterminds is a pretty good d20 system. I think it’s the best personally, but regardless of what people think is best, I think M&M disproves that Pathfinder is the only good d20.

          • Rand al'Thor

            Yeah, that was rather wrong. Fantasy Craft is actually alright too.

  6. Rand al'Thor

    I just got the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. It is awesome!

    • Dude

      The Pathfinder CRB is great, absolutely. But if you are a powergamer and rule-lawyer, you will start using more books, more options etc.. A “good” start (no, not good) is to use paizo’s online prd. There you can build a lasergun wielding, multiclassed psionic-barbarian Mermaid …
      Pathfinder is good if you strictly limit yourself to some books and some rules. Else it becomes a massive min-maxing effort of meta and powegaming with hours of micromanaging your action-economy.
      My personal opinion: don’t go much further than the advanced players guide.

  7. Ryan

    I agree completely with the author. I have now been running this edition for over a year now. It has been nothing but a hassle. Smart players once they know the system are greatly overpowered and it is difficult for a DM to get the balance just right when building encounters. I have found that this edition is horrible on most of the points above. I have been playing and DMing for over 35 years. My two cents worth which wont mean much to most: For those wishing to get into D&D, start with the retro clones. If you want something more polished or newer, then pick up Pathfinder…both options are much better than this. Me personally, I run the old school stuff. Keep on gaming folks. Love D&D, just did not personally find this edition all that good and our group definitely gave it a go.

    • Astralika

      I’ve seen literally this exact same problem with Pathfinder: If certain players know the system well enough, they will be way more powerful than other players.
      This mostly comes from the angle that the mechanics are more important than the story, however.

  8. Josh

    I agree with the Author. People always rage about how complex systems like Pathfinder or GURPS are… when they skip the obvious solution. Ignore the rules or create your own replacements.

    D&D 5E leaves you the option to “Create your own Rules on the fly” and fans of the system always laud this…..
    … but that rule has always been an option. With all systems.

    Simplifying the rules made them unrealistic as well.
    Example 1: In D&D 5E, Attacks of opportunity only occur when you leave a creatures reach totally. So, a monk could run around a squid in combat 20 times, but it’s only when they leave the squids reach that they get the attack of opportunity? Makes no thematic sense to me.

    Wizards will come out with 6th Edition in 2 years… and then the smart players will start to wake up and realize that they are being fleeced. Pathfinder is 100% available for free AND you can write your own modules and publish them. If D&D goes that route…. I think I might be tempted.

    • Travis

      FYI – A 5e SRD exists. You can play it for free. Also, there’s an official website called the DM’s Guild that allows you to write and publish your own material, and either sell it to others via the website, or simply give it away for free. All the things you mention about Pathfinder are available for 5e.

      As far as 5e, it’s easily the least rules intensive version of D&D I’ve played in my 25+ years with the game. It’s easier than 3/3.5. It’s easier than 2nd/2.5 (2.5 being the spell and combat option books). I never played 4e, so I can’t comment on that. My gaming group and I quit playing regularly during 3.5, and we all agree that 5e is our favorite system to date, and it brought us back to the game.

      • Aldo Montoya Reynaga

        Dude, do you realise that the comment was on december 2015, before the creation of the Dungeon Master Guild?

  9. Dar

    Beastmasters are much, much better than you give them credit for. I think the problem is in the presentation of the class more than their balance. Their abilities are hidden away in the Monster Manual instead of being visible in the class description. I don’t think you’ve considered what many of the beast companions can potentially bring to the table. Wolf companions will likely have the highest passive perception in the party (a big plus), plus with pack tactics and tripping they hit better than PC’s. Giant poisonous snakes are the best all around damage dealers with a high attack bonus and they deal a ton of damage, plus have blindsight and reach. There is also much potential for small beastmasters to ride their beasts.

    • Aldo Montoya Reynaga

      All the potencial of the Beastmaster (and trust me I’m a Ranger class lover) is wasted wtih the following, and i quote, line “You can use your action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge or Help action.” [PHB page 83]. Your companino has Attention Deficit, it doesn’t keep doing what it was doing, you have to remember it EVERY round to do something or it’ll do NOTHING.

      Wolf the high passive perception? Really 13? That’s the passive perception of the Wolf, thats not high. Ranger need Wisdom which rules Perception proficiency and God forsake the ranger who doesn’t have proficiency in Perception, come read the example of page 177, here don’t look for it “For example, if a 1st-level character (with a proficiency bonus of +2) has a Wisdom of 15 (a +2 modifier) and proficiency in Perception, he or she has a passive Wisdom(Perception) of 14” That’s much higher than your Wolf HIGH passive.

      The only thing that you are damn right is the Giant poisonous snake, i take my hat for you, sir, i didn’t see that option. You’re right the potential for Beastmaster is the Monster Manual but overall it’s flawed

      • Scott Hadaller

        The statement that an animal companion will do nothing if you don’t verbally command it every round is incorrect. If you want to give it new instructions you have to use your action but you could simply tell it to attack a single target until it was dead. You can’t however tell it to do a string of actions that combine any of the elements of Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge or Help. Also if you don’t command it that doesn’t mean it does nothing, it just doesn’t nessesarily do what you want and it’s control would shift over to the DM similar to an ally NPC. It would be similar in feel to the wild but commandable dire wolves or dragons from game of thrones.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          That’s not a bad house-rule Scott, but rules as written it’s pretty clear the Ranger’s Companion only takes actions when the Ranger spends an action to make it do so.

          From Page 93:

          “You can use your action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or action.”

          There’s nothing in that section about the Companion taking actions on its own, or continuing to perform the same task after you’ve given it the command.

          Maybe that’s what Wizards wanted it to do, but if so they failed to put it into the rules.

          • Scott Hadaller

            Sorry Oren but I couldn’t agree less with your interpretation. Creatures wether they are player characters, NPCs or monsters are not robotic game pieces on a game board unless specifically stated and in this case the rules as written make no mention of the companion doing nothing unless commanded. The companion is a creature with its own loyalties and motivations. The rules make a clear implication that the player controls it ONLY the it uses its action to command it to do so, anything less is creates a strange narrative and smacks of lazy GMing.

            I think your assumption that if there is no rule then it can’t happen is a bit of a holdover from thinking made popular during the 3.0/3.5 era. The core assumption in 5e is that anything can happen and that the rules presented are tools to help the GM adjudicate and clarify gameplay as well as create a base set of constraints to ground the expectations of reality in a fantasy world.

            So broadly d20 restricts game play unless the action is liberated by a rules specification and 5e liberates game play unless a rules specification restricts it.

            I suggest you read Matthew Finch’s “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming”. It provides insight for newer players to the way older RPGs – specifically D&D, were designed and meant to be played. 5e takes much inspiration from this tradition.

            Link below. The document is free.


        • that guy

          scott you’re misreading the rules. pg 93 – “It (the beast) takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn’t take an action unless you command it to.”

      • Dave

        The wolf adds its masters proficiency bonus to it’s perception. This means that it effectively has a 16 perception to begin with (+3 bonus) and has the same progression in the future, except it can’t increase wisdom.

        This means it is competitive with anyone except a Rogue or a Wisdom caster throughout the game.

        However the Wolf also has advantage on hearing or smell checks. This gives it a +5 to its passive score (that’s in there, page 59 of the basic rules) for those type of checks. Thus, it’s starting passive perception is 21. That’s higher than anyone who doesn’t have the observant feat, even the Rogue. It stays that way until level 9, when expertise becomes higher.

        You can do the same thing with other companions, some of which have advantage on sight checks.

        The snake still wins because it just flat out has blindsight, which means it can sense invisible creatures (the bane of the party), but the wolf does it’s job well.

        In general, companions come in one of three forms.

        A. Damage (Poisonous Snake, Flying Snake, Giant Wolf Spider)

        B. Skills (Panther, Wolf, Giant Wolf Spider)

        C. Misc. Combat benefit (Giant Crab, Giant Frog, Wolf).

        Category C. includes companions that can grapple enemies on a hit, or knock them prone. What Wolves do in combat is prone enemies so that a damage dealer (the Champion Fighter) can murder them with advantage. Panthers can do the same thing, and do decent damage, but it’s not terribly reliable.

        Crabs and Frogs can technically grapple a Dragon if they hit it, which means it can’t move until it either kills the companion or uses *an action* to escape, which means it isn’t attacking other people-they are effectively tanks. Tanks with between 12 and 80 HP, but it’s the thought that counts. Giant Frogs can also jump with some enemies in their mouth, and if you cast the Jump spell on them they can jump up to 30 feet.

        Flying Snakes, incidentally, can also fly. Because that’s obvious enough. They also do 3d4+Prof poison damage, and you might be able to convince the DM to let you add prof to the piercing damage as well. They also don’t provoke opportunity attacks. They are effectively an extra attack option for you.

  10. Tony

    I think the author needs to actually play a system instead of sitting around doing armchair theorycrafting before he makes a review of it. With the exception of Point #2 this is about as well-informed an argument as you can get.

  11. Erechel

    Although I don’t want to be aggresive and start a flame war (that is already started), I have to say that this article is clearly, unbiasedly wrong.
    1) Classes are as much balanced as is possible without actually flatten them and give them fluffy bits instead of an entire subsystem. No doubt, certain classes shine better than others in certain aspects (if you are a mountain dwarf warrior you are never going to fly without the aid of a mage), but overall they are all useful. The ranger isn’t solely a fighter, but shines on survivalist games. Also, the Backgrounds are a major standpoint besides Class and Race.
    Also, if you stand for the Magic User in combat, you are clearly wrong: the most effective in combat is (surprise!) the Warrior. In higher levels he gains a painful amount of attacks, besides with a greater number of ASI and/or Feats, making possible a non-magical fighter to stand alone against most wizards. Example: 6th-level Wizard has Lightning Bolt or Fireball as the most effective damagers in his hands; with an average damage output of 32, an armor between 13-15 (if dex is the second stat), ideally a 20 with Shield and Magic Armor spells, 32 hit points. A human fighter, in that time, has 1 feat and two ASI (ideally, 1 ASI and 2 Feats) has an average of 52 hit points (assuming Con as the second stat), AND Second Wind (bonus Action, asume 11 extra HP, minimum 7) AND Action Surge (a complete new Action worth 2 base attacks) AND multiattack. The fighter wipes out the wizard on the first turn if he isn’t lucky, even if the wizard is the first one. He even breaks its concentration automatically if he wants to use the feat Mage Killer. And he can, easily, because he got one more ASI than the mage at the same level.
    And if the fighter is an archer/ crossbowman, the pain is even greater. Sharpshooter with Action Surge and Multiattack is one of the greater DPR combos on the game. Of course, the wizard still can fly or fireball goblins, but still, in 1-1 fight, the fighter is better.
    Your Beastmaster also has multiattack, and can stop easily with arrows to the neck or two weapons attacks. And don’t you dare to forget the Wolf or Snake on his side. I’ll give you that survivalism isn’t a real focus on the game as Clerics and Paladins have Create Food and Water spell at level 5 (a niche thing which I, personally, outlawed in my games), but still Exploration is going to be important, and a ranger with a beast is going to be very useful on this.
    Your catch on magic users is very silly still, because most “buffs” have Concentration, and most “disabling” spells too, AND multiple save throws. Spell Duration isn’t very much a concern, as most spells endure for 1 minute tops.
    2) Sub classes have specific niches in which they shine. Beast Masters, for example, excells on a Survival-Exploration game. On combat they are still useful, although arguably not as much as a fighter. Every subclass has his own flavor (assassin is infiltration guy; Hunter is damagey guy, Champion is DPR guy, Battlemaster is tactics guy, etc), but all of them are still very competent on game.
    3) The Gear Grind is the most silly complain I’ve ever heard of 5th edition. Magic equipment isn’t an issue at all, because it’s not a commodity here. with Bounded Accuracy, a simple +1 on an object is A LOT. It’s worth of 4 levels of experience. And really isn’t that necessary, even for magical beasts: silvering weapons do the trick just fine. A Warrior with a silvered mundane sword can still battle a flaming demon without the need of a single spell, and it’s likely to win: a pit fiend CR 20 has 19 AC an 300 HP; a lvl 20 warrior only fails with an 8 or lower on the dice, and has an ungodly ammount of attacks: let’s assume 1 greatsword and 2 action surges: 16 attacks in two rounds, with a minimum of 112 points of damage, and all your dice is 1. Average, 192. In two rounds. Without advantage, or magic, or feats or even the rerolls of Great Weapon’s Fighting. A simple +1 greatsword increases dramatically the average to 208, single handledy, and make you fail against a demon on a 7, but isn’t required. You don’t need magic gear to be awesome or be “able to sustain” against “magical” foes. Magic is great, and special, and unique, and if you have a magic item, you keep it, and you value it, but it isn’t necesary to play. If you think it is, it’s because you came from a game with magical inflation calculated, but this isn’t the case.
    4) Character Creation thingy is simply not true. All classes are useful in some way or another, and the options are clear and sound: there is no need of min-maxing a lot. You have your prime requisite to your class, and the race and background don’t need to be “finely tuned”. There it is. You increase your PR to 20 as soon as possible, and that’s all: your chart is going to be enough to be competent. If you want to, you explore feats to increase your odds or give you an edge; most classes hold their own on almost every situation.
    Also, the ST that you are automatically discarding aren’t the most usual but they aren’t unusual either. Intelligence is your basic ST against psionics, so if your campaign is going to be illithid-themed, you HAVE to invest on this. Also, Investigation (traps, clues, etc) is an Intelligence skill. And Arcana, if you are going to be in a magic strong campaign; Nature, History, and Religion too are Int checks. Strenght, in my games, is a big deal: falling, swiming against the flow, holding big objects falling, and grappling are serious issues. Charisma is ESSENTIAL to any social interaction scene and several spells. Even if you don’t use a lot of Charisma ST (I tend to use them in SI), it isn’t a “dump stat” at all.
    5) Physics are not great, granted. But they aren’t awful also. Because BA, you can give world-fixed difficulties without arbitrary number inflation. a Nearly Impossible task is going to require a maxed expert Rogue to require a 13 on the dice; every one else has to go with a 19. Also, it’s simply not true that you can’t adjust the world based on situational modifiers, it’s only that in most situations isn’t needed: you have a simple enough chart to adjudicate difficulty, and give advantage/disadvantage to make more reliable good or bad rolls. But there is situational flat modificators: cover is an example, but armor and Blessings and Guidance spells too. There is no need of arbitrary number inflation in order to “make things difficult”.
    6) is perhaps the only thing on which I can agree a bit. The variation of capabilities of every group is going to vary wildly the effectiveness of some classes. For example: Paladins are going to be very useful against undead, and a wight or shadow is going to be nasty against Fighters or martials of any kind. Also, most traits are situational: the Assasin or spy is a horrible threat against spellcasters if it is hidden, but on plain sight is going to be a cakewalk for a fighter or paladin. A CR assumes the “basic party” of a warrior, a rogue, a cleric and a wizard, but the classes vary in shape and systems. This requires a little bit of mastery on the DM, but:
    a) several enemies are going to be deadlier than single enemies (unless it is a dragon or such), as their Action Economy is going to be better. Example: five Thugs (10 actions, with Pack Tactics) can give a 8th level Paladin a bad time, but a Vampire is going to be a lot easier (3 actions, considering Legendary Actions), even if the former is nominally a bigger threat.
    b) You have to consider tactics and location. Ghouls on sewers are going to be deadlier than in daylight.
    c) You have to consider special character abilities that give an edge on the creatures.
    All in all, you had it wrong. Even if you are running a combat-focused, dungeon-crawly game, you are wrong. Yes, D&D5 isn’t rules light, but it isn’t as bogged down as 3.X games: combats are faster and exciting, enemies hold their threating level longer, there is no abstract inflation and overuse of min-maxing, and is really simple to tell to new players.

    • Feenicks007

      It always annoys me when people compare classes and don’t do it fairly. You write about a great combination for the fighter, but only mention 1 spell option for a caster class. You look only at possible damage, which doesn’t cover what a caster can do at all. Yes if a fighter is in position and wins init, they can slay a wizard in one round with good rolls. However anyone who isn’t a moron running a caster and wins init can take out a single fighter easily. Suggestion, hold person, command can stop a fighter from drawing a weapon, getting close or attacking. Mirror image grants even more protection when needed. Invisibility allows for a respite if needed, heat metal allows 2d8 extra damage guaranteed with no attack rolls. That’s only looking at 1 on 1 fights, which is foolish, unless you RP for PVP only.

  12. Dodo

    I don´t get it, people always complain about high-magic settings but the moment they don´t get magical gear as easily then they complain, how do you want a setting to not be high-magic if you want NPCs and dungeons to hand them out like candy?

    • Yeseylon

      Separate small groups are doing the complaining in each case.

  13. Rob

    I think the author is missing the entire reason most people enjoy tabletop RPGs over computer RPGs. Every tabletop game that has been written since the beginning of writing has had the amazing ability to let people do what they want and think for themselves. I run pen and paper games because I like being able to reward creativity and still have ability to just tell simply tell players, “No.” Dungeons and Dragons has always been more of a guideline than a rigid structure. If you don’t like the rules, make them better.

    • Roleplaying Nerd

      The fact that you can change the rules you don’t like isn’t a valid counterargument Oren’s claims because when you criticise a role-playing game you are criticising the rules as the designer wrote them. Saying “if you don’t like the rules, just change them” is like saying “if you don’t like the ending of the book, just write a new one” or “if you think that the book doesn’t have enough female characters in it go on and get some whiteout and a pen and convert half of the men in the book to women.”

  14. Mitch

    It’s clear this person has not actually played D&D 5e. It’s not a video game, it’s ok if every class is not perfectly balanced. I know sorcerers are super powerful at higher end, I still don’t care. That is not the character I want to play in the story we are writing together.

  15. Drake

    I definitely agree that the game is unbalanced as all hell. While it is a role-playing game so it doesn’t matter as much as it does in others, it can totally take the tension and actual feeling out of a game. It makes the party invincible and feel that way, threats don’t have any weight, npcs that are supposedly powerful are now reduced to nothing, and anything that is actually dangerous is pretty much just because its a scripted event. Evidence of that is that you can get to the point in 5e where you can, with the right combination of classes, feats, gear etc be rolling easily over 600d6 in one combo. I understand roll-playing vs role-playing plenty, but that isn’t the point. The fact that a party member I had could one shot someone like orcus without batting an eye, makes the tension kind of be lost. I am going to link a forum post that proves my point, and this is low compared to what people can achieve. By doing a simple google search, you can find stuff like the smite knight build, which also is doing a ridiculous amount of damage. If you can one shot a god (tiamat has 615 hp), or a tarrasque (676 hp), at ~12th level, then I can safely say, its not balanced at all. This is not to mention that this particular character that I am referring to also had 30+ ac, and a +15 to his stealth checks. Rollplaying yes is against the spirit of D&D, but it shouldn’t even be possible.
    Forum Post:
    Smite Knight:
    Tiamat stat block:
    Tarrasque stat block:

  16. Taki Dallis

    The author of this post clearly grew up on MMO’s and is attempting to equate D&D to World of Warcraft.

    That was a bad decision to make with 4th Edition D&D (which I don’t even consider to be D&D. It’s a great game, but it isn’t D&D) and it was clearly a bad decision when the author decided to write this article. The article is clueless, myopic whining influenced by a clear member of the Special Snowflake generation and should not be taken as serious discourse on any edition of D&D.

  17. Joe

    This is a decent view of one way in which folks might not have fun with 5e, though it focuses way too much on too few things, and misses a broad range of other reasons this edition has failed… decreased staff at WotC leading to fewer editors, mixed messages from Hasbro leading to design choices that limit fun, save-or-die effects being re-added to appease older edition lovers, deadliness of strict interpretation of monster challenge rating at low levels, inconsistency of usefulness of different magic item “levels” (common, uncommon, legendary, etc), inconsistent wording on spells and effects, removal of many monster-specific moves from 3rd & 4th edition (making many feel like palette-swaps of one another), etc etc. And that’s not even touching the additional limiting factors put on organized play, exacerbated by all that I just listed. That does not, however, mean you cannot have fun with 5e, and many people appear to be doing just that. Is it the best D&D ever? No. I’d say 13th Age hits much closer to that mark. But it’s playable, even with its flaws.

    • wellthen

      And as far as inconsistency of fights go, save or die, etc, D&D was always designed around core possibilities of actually dying and failing in your quest, like roguelike games.

      Is it unfair or cruel to put deadly traps or turn to stone monsters against low level PCs? I don’t think so. If it exists, its there to be used.

      • Yeseylon

        I would call it unfair against beginner players or without some way to negate it, but that’s not a system issue, that’s a DM issue. DM needs to feel out the party and determine what they can handle.

  18. John Lent

    “The spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots.” – Cleric rules for spell prep on PHB58. “You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single-classed member of that class.” PHB 164. So no, the cleric wizard example is wrong.

    Paladin spells ARE TERRIBLE. Their strength comes from Divine Smite and their Aura.

    The rest mechanic is different for every class and class feature – short rests control Warlock spells for example – you can’t just say some classes get to save up their juice for “the big fight” while others are made for sustainability (and therefore the sustainable classes are bad).

    The balance attempt is not struck there – it comes with the teiring of class features – 5th level is a tipping point for most classes for example – you either get a big casting boost (fireball) or extra attack (which can result in 25dpr or more). At later levels, the most powerful spells (7th-9th) only ever get cast once per day, which maps with the most powerful features for melee classes – relentless rage, persistent rage and indomitable might for example.

    Internal balance of class choices – spot on – this was poorly done.

    Magic item balance is also a nightmare (some uncommons are clearly superior to rares etc.) but the “attunement” mechanic does create an effective limit that keeps the haves and have nots in balance. But the game does give you guidance in the DMG on what level of character should have A (one) magic item of a particular rarity. (PG 135).

    Your critique of character creation ignores the concept of “bounded accuracy.” The difference between the BEST possible starting stat modified (+3) and WORST possible starting stat modifier (-1) is not outcome determinative in the 5e environment. This is true because AC’s and Save DC’s do not scale at a high level they way they did in 3.x an 4. The full plate knight at level 20 and the full plate knight at level 1 both have 20 AC. The entire gap of that -1 to +3 range is closed with advantage or disadvantage.

    Certainly there is a lot of (intentional) vagueness, but you are simply not understanding the rules in some of your examples (invisibility DOES make you invisible – its very clear that only giving away your location by making a noise like breaking a vase tells someone where you are WHEN YOU BREAK THE VASE).

    I do think that Monster Challenge Rating was a major fumble. Almost all of the monsters who arent Dragons are far over-rated.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      The key text for the Cleric 1/Wizard 17 build is as follows:

      Page 164: “You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single classed member of that class.”

      It then gives an example of wizard/ranger, neither of which prepares spells like a cleric does.

      Then on page 54, after explaining how you choose a list of cleric spells to be able to cast, “the spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots.”

      Note that it does not say “cleric spell slots.”

      Then back on page 164: “You determine your available spell slots by adding together all your levels of bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, and wizard…”

      So when you’re preparing your spells as a first level cleric, you can pick spells of any level for which you have slots, which in this case will be levels 1-9 because when you combine your class levels together, those are the slots available to you for casting.

      I doubt that’s what they intended, and I’d never allow it in my game, but it is there in rules as written.

      • John

        You are conveniently ignoring the key text you quoted on multitasking. You prepare spells as a single class member means USING THE SINGLE CLASS SPELL SLOT TABLE.

        • Ari

          “If you have more than one spellcasting class, this table
          might give you spell slots of a level that is higher than
          the spells you know or can prepare. You can use those
          slots, but only to cast your lower-level spells. If a lowerlevel
          spell that you cast, like burning hands, has an
          enhanced effect when cast using a higher-level slot, you
          can use the enhanced effect, even though you don’t have
          any spells of that higher level” (P.164)

          This shows you can use your combined slots across all your multi-classes. For most it also limits what spells you can take by what your level makes available. However, since Clerics have access to all their spells from level one they can use those higher spell slots regardless of Cleric level.

          • John

            Maybe it’s just you are ignoring order of operations. You determine what spells you can prepare FIRST. You do that by looking at the single class rules (including the table). Then next you determine your slots per day using the multi class table.

          • Bruce Norbeck

            It doesn’t matter what slots you have: you can only PREP spells which you can cast.

            IOW, a 1st level Cleric can not cast 9th level spells. They can only cast 1st level spells. However, they can do so using a 9th level SLOT, & if they do so, they use the rules that are explained, with each spell, what happens when you cast them with a higher level SLOT.

            The author’s claim is flat wrong. Period. This has been confirmed by Sage Advice, et al.

    • wellthen

      Attunement isn’t even a problem that requires solving though.. a long rest is seriously all that is required to be able to use the item.

  19. John Lent


  20. Clarence Harrison

    I always laugh at these kinds of posts. I grew up playing D&D with the original set of little brown booklets. I’ve been running games for the same core group of players for more than 30 years and everyone keeps coming back. It doesn’t matter what edition or what rule set we are playing, as the DM, I balance the game. If the article’s premise would have been 5th edition may be hard for beginners to balance, I might agree.

    Though again, I picked up the AD&D books around age 11 or 12. I don’t remember struggling to play games. Some rules were ignored (check out the unarmed combat rules in the AD&D DMG) and we probably did others wrong, but it didn’t matter. I launched a campaign world that we still use today.

    All of this micromanging, metagaming, and min/maxing simply didn’t exist then – at least not at our table. There was no such thing as ‘failing’ character generation. There still isn’t. The flatter math in fifth edition means it’s not as important if your fighter ends up with a fifteen strength as opposed to an eighteen. Yes, he only has a +2 hit and damage instead of a +4. In the long run, it might mean I give him a magic weapon if he seems to be lagging behind others in the party, but I don’t think a +2 difference is a deal breaker anyway.

    Spellcasters rampaging? Let them and then add more orcs or trolls or whatever. Their spells go from ending encounters to making them manageable for the party. There are plenty of monsters resistant or downright immune to magic as well. Then they will be glad the fighters are there…

    The goal of D&D is not to win. My advice is quit worrying about the math and play the game.

  21. Len

    I have been playing and DMing D&D 5e from the launch and can honestly say that I have experienced none of the problems this article is talking about, and I do play with min-maxers. Some of the comments the author made demonstrate complete misunderstandings of the rules. I think the author may be running this game completely wrong at his table and blaming the system for being bad as a result.

  22. Josh

    You show a very deep lack of understanding of this system. Your multiclassing example is empirically wrong, and you showed no mention of attunement as a limiting factor in magic items.

  23. Cascade

    I agree with the authors points however 5e simply places the burden on the story teller.

    This version isn’t an MMO where you are expected strict encounters. The GM adjusts on the fly to tell the story.

    End of story

  24. ARMR

    “Martial classes need gear to hold their own.”
    Can’t take this guy seriously…
    He obviously doesn’t know the source material…
    5e doesn’t work that way.
    5e is by no means perfect, but it’s by no means a badly designed game.

    • bob

      It’s easy to be an armchair game designer. People will sit around criticizing other peoples work all day long (especially on the internet) and tell everyone how awful or poorly made something is, I even had a friend today tell me that from all the people he’s talked to that play it, all the classes at higher levels are homogeneous, so once you’ve played one there’s no reason to play anything else.

      I mean really? Even from a passing glance through the book it’s pretty easy to see that’s not the case (maybe he was thinking of 4E, in which it applied but to characters in the same combat role more so then everyone under the same blanket.).

      I wouldn’t say the author is “wrong” per say, but he does seem to have an extremely narrow lens through which he views dnd, along with dogmatic ideals in regards to overall game play by talking about “failing” at character creation and throwing around a lot of absolutist comments regarding things he doesn’t like as if 5e was breaking rules written on a stone tablet somewhere.

      The common misconception there needs to be balance on a one on one class basis though seems to be as persistent as the damn wage gap myth. D&D is a cooperative storytelling game, or if you prefer a cooperative adventuring game, key word there is cooperative, as in you’re working within a group of other players. One on one balance by the numbers isn’t really important in that scenario, except maybe to the minority of people looking to turn this into a dueling combat simulator, or who feel the need to compare their sheets to everyone else and go “hur hur I can beat ur ass hur hur”.

  25. Isaac

    Classes and subclasses aren’t balanced?
    Ok, they may not be perfectly balanced, but they are a far cry from the unbalanced mess that is 3.5 or even pathfinder. My paladin is completely dominating most combats even though we have a cleric, druid, and a sorcerer (we’re all 9th level). In the campaign where I DM (15th level), the champion fighter is one of the more useful players (even though this is his first time playing an RPG of any kind) and we have a cleric power-gamer, a sorcerer, and bard. Sure, in the really big fights the casters get to shine a bit, but in 90% of the battles the fighter, ranger, and monk are holding up the party. No one would say they’re the weak links.

    Also your example of the multiclassing wizard 19 / cleric 1 is wrong. Yes, they can use their 9th level spell slots to cast a cleric spell, but it would have to be a 1st level cleric spell cast at 9th level. That’s not nearly as useful as you implied.

    Gear Grind.
    I agree (somewhat). I’d like some expectations of how much loot players should have. However if has hoard tables and how many times you should use each table. If you follow that system, it’s not too bad (unless you roll very good or very bad).

    Easy to Fail?
    Maybe more so than in 4e, but I’m not even certain about that. It’s a definite improvement from 3.5 or PF in this regard. In 3.5, if you wanted to play a fighter, paladin (or heaven forbid a samurai) and you didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the game, you would be useless. Seriously, the wizard’s familiar might be more useful.

    Sleep. Does it do damage? If so, then it wakes them up. If not, no. You answered your own question if you payed attention. It has nothing to do with “an attack.” You’re confusing attacking with dealing damage.

    That seems hard to believe. I think the GM might have miscalculated the XP. Granted, the encounter table isn’t perfect, but it’s so much easier than 3.5. Also, levels actually mean something in 5th because power-gaming cannot be taken to 1% of the levels possible in 3.5

    You make a few good points, but honestly I think most of your arguments are complete rubbish.

    • wellthen

      The calculator is a guide, like a very loose tolerance slide rule. Its not perfect, nor is it correct in every circumstance. If you let loose some monster that is supposed to have its big bad attack be turning you to stone, and all the characters have magic gear that prevents it, suddenly that monster is a cake walk, even though the XP adds up.

      That’s just something that the DM has to take into account. Ironically this can be seen as a form of railroading, if you give the PCs some magic items and then sidestep their boosts entirely by never throwing a monster at them that does that, or doing the opposite by not giving PCs magic items to save against effects and only using those types of monsters.

      The reason 5e feels like a big mess is because it really is one, like having all the ingredients to cook 50 different meals on your counter.

  26. CheapBastard

    This guy just has no idea how 5e is played and I can’t take him seriously. With 2 bit statements like “encounters are hard” and “I don’t know how many magic items to give my party at every level” it’s obvious he either doesn’t know how to properly DM or just wants to hate on 5e for the sake of it.

  27. xdad

    another whiner and complainer. You make the game fun and YOU make the adventure work. if YOU dont like something hoembrew it… be a man.

    • 3Comrades

      So what is the point in playing any particular game? Are all RPGs the best because they can be homebrewed? That is like telling someone who doesn’t like Candy Land it is their fault for not making better rules.

      Fact is, many people have complained about all the editions. They have points and failings. It comes with the package. We will never agree, and I get something you like was not praised and was attacked by someone else. I often disagree with the author myself, but he’s being mature about it. You are just insulting people because they don’t share your opinions, so I’d suggest perhaps You grow up.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        I appreciate your reasonable response 3Comrades. The defense of “you can just house rule it” is so common I actually wrote a separate article about that. It’s like telling someone who’s unhappy with the lawnmower they bought to build their own lawnmower.

        • Topharoo

          Going through the six points:
          1. This is a misconception based on misreading the rules (as discussed above).
          2. If you believe some specializations are better than others, fine. How does this impact players? Even assuming that all players only want exactly what you do (and obviously that’s a silly assumption to grant), this is really a sub-complaint of 4.
          3. Again, simply not true. Also, guidelines are present (DMG p. 38), despite what is said. You may not like them, but that’s a different issue.
          4. Proof is in the pudding. Show me a “completely unplayable” character that anyone has actually made. The PHB gives guidelines for how to avoid any pitfalls for each character class; if a player ignores them, whose fault is that? The point on saves is irrelevant, since all classes have a strong and weak save.
          5. The examples are weak. I have no problems adjudicating the sleep spell and invisibility. Yes, you can summon Giant Owls with Conjure Animals, and they can grapple creatures (on an attack) and (possibly) fly away with them. I’m not quite sure whether it’s quite so easy to drop a grappled creature. In any case, it too is trivially answered by a very reasonable DM call (e.g. limits on flight when encumbered).
          (and: bonus for Josh, above: who cares whether the rules allow a monk to run circles around a squid? How does this affect a game in any mechanical way, other than the player wastes his or her turn?)
          6. This one is hard to answer, since links in the story are to irrelevant posts elsewhere on this blog, and no specifics are given. It seems fictional to me.

          So, six points made.
          Two of them (1, 3) based on not reading the rules.
          Three of them unsubstantiated prejudice (2, 4, 6).
          And one (5) that makes a potentially valid point about summoned owls.

          Let’s just say I feel my game is safe.

  28. Christopher LaHaise

    A lot for me to respond to. But I think I will.
    1) Balance. I don’t think the classes have to be balanced. They have to be interesting, and each needs to give something unique to the table, but I don’t think they need to be balanced, mechanically. Attempting to do so is a fool’s game, because the more that comes out, the more the pendulum is going to swing. Balancing the game is the game master’s job – setting up encounters where everybody has something to bring to the table.
    2) The beast master ranger’s hosed. Even WotC acknowledges this, and they’re looking to do something about this. In this case, it isn’t about balance, it’s about the fact that the character’s archetype ability (pet) is next to useless. I’ve still had players make them, because the concept matches what they want to make, but any serious attack on the pet shuts down the ranger’s class ability, and that makes a poor ability.
    3) The gear grind, as you put it, is mild. I’ve run the game with little or no magic items, and it plays fine. It simply means the characters have to think more strategically, and use the environment to back them up if possible. The right combination of classes can deal with a number of threats as well, and the PCs are expected to retreat, rest, regroup, then press forward. If you don’t want to run it that way – go ahead – but then don’t complain if you think the balance of power is tipped when you’re not using it as expected.
    4) I’ve seen some people ‘build for power’, but some people prefer to ‘build for roleplay’. You don’t always want the optimal build, and the game master should keep this in mind when designing encounters. The GM runs the game based on the information presented by the players. The characters they make tell the GM what kind of game the players want. If all the players focus on social skills, you don’t run them through a deathtrap dungeon – that’s stupid. You build a campaign around social encounters, politics, and intrigue.
    5) The Advantage/Disadvantage system is simple, yes. But that’s GOOD. The players and GM shouldn’t be keeping track of a handful of modifiers for every action – a simple Ad/Disad goes a long way.
    6) Encounters can be tricky, I’ll admit – I’ve had my PCs take down rather large threats, but I think a part of it is not keeping track of the environment and using the encounter to its best effect. If you just have the creature standing there dishing out damage, you’re doing it wrong. When setting up the encounter, the environment should also usually be set up for the creature’s advantage.

    5e isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best edition of D&D I’ve ever seen, and it does what it intended to do very, very well. It’s quick, simple, and my players have fun – and really that’s what matters.

    • wellthen

      So you can manage N amount of modifiers, but N+1 is simply too hard for your poor brain?

      disadvantage/advantage system is too simplistic because it hard-locks some things, like a gnome warrior choosing longbow. Not happening unless you want to gimmick by trying to get advantage all the time to cancel out disadvantage, since you compare these at 1:1 ratios to see if you have one, the other, or neither.

      With disadvantage of the lesser of 1d20 + 1d20, you’re assured of longbow or halberd simply being unplayable for gnomes. It’d be more realistic just top hvave some minor penalty, and after all the archers who used longbows in real life were practically midgets as well, after all, you don’t have your burly, muscular, tall guys in the rear formation where they can’t put their strength to good use with armor and a swinging weapon. Grenadiers followed suit of being the larger, stronger person at the vanguard of assaults.

      The idea of longbows being heavy weapons is an idiosyncrasy that doesn’t make sense. Even gnomes would need to raise fighters to protect their assets in their lands. They can’t all be wizards. Halberds are just wooden handles with a metal head, easily reduced like a sawed off shotgun to make it compatible for a shorter individual. Perhaps the only thing that small size should’ve done is reduced reach weapons that are based on a physical shaft, but not whip or chain reach weapons, and maybe prevent the application of proficiency with a longbow (so there you go, no more adding prof modifier and then just taking it away, less math so pleases you right), etc.

      The fight over editions is also the fight over ideologies regarding fun. Proficiency being +2 is the same as lack of proficiency being -2 and prof being 0. But its more cocaine-like pleasure to think of your character as being +2 stronger than just at 0 and not penalized for not knowing how to use a weapon well.

  29. MIBagentS

    Spellcasters have always had a power advantage over the other classes. The thing that used to keep it in check were the divergent XP requirements. Homogenizing the classes for “balance” in fact unbalanced it worse.

  30. -C

    The way multi-classing and spellcasting is addressed is flat out wrong, either intentionally or through lack of knowledge.

    I speak from experience, having had a 19th level party defeat Tiamat.

  31. Paul

    I think many of your complaints can be ascribed to too much rules lawyering and not an assertive enough GM which is a problem in any game world or when familiarizing yourself with a new ruleset. If the book says players should get 150K XP for a not dangerous enough encounter, then the XP reward is simply set too high and should be adjusted down to better reflect the experience. The GM needs to speak with a bit of authority on these kinds of situations saying, “Guys, the book says you should go up 3 levels but I really don’t think the encounter justifies that.” Alternatively, letting players rule lawyer their way into letting a person who invested the minimum in cleric to perform top level cleric abilities is just letting the game break rather than the GM using a more common sense interpretation. This seems like a clear case of a GM lacking confidence in his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Table Rules.

    Take advice from the wisdom of Robert Frost who said that poetry which doesn’t rhyme is like playing tennis without a net. It’s the limitations on player action that make the play interesting, not seeing how much they can bend those rules to become gods at level 5. A GM who permits so much rule bending has some experience themselves they need to acquire.

  32. Mattia

    Hello there,

    my friend, I still play AD&D despite of the massive improvement you see. When I wanted to play something complicate, I used to play Rolemaster. Now 3rd edition, 3.5 edition changed the flavour of the game. People playing D&D wanted something simple and straighforward, not tables, millions of powers, etc. If you are of the generation of WoW, probably you cannot understand.

    D&D 5th edition, despite I do not play, made the right choice, to look back at the origins, trying to keep what good was done in the recent past. They streamlined the mechanics and created a leaner game.

    If you are searching for blance in rpg, you need to change kind of games. You can look for balance in boardgames (Descent, Heroquest…), there is the right place. In rpg the opportunity are granted by your group and, most of all, by the DM. Good DM know how to keep everybody entertained, not just the guy with the most powerful character at the table.

    Again, the comparison you do might even be true (I do not know, I do not even think to start doing this kind of evaluations), but the issue is at the root.


    • Yeseylon

      Just a thought: 3.5 is pre-WoW, 4th edition is a better comparison for it.

  33. John

    That is the most dull-witted reading of how spellcasting works for multiclassed characters possible. It clearly states, as the very first sentence of Spells Known and Prepared: “You determine what spells you know and can prepare for each class individually, as if you were a single-classed member of that class”. It then gives examples in case you try to go out of your way to misunderstand.

    Here’s a good rule to follow: If you’re incredulous about something, that’s actually an indication that you should check to see if you’re wrong. That’s what incredulous means. “Unable to believe”. To assume truth in the incredible is tautologically insane.

  34. Lobelia

    This is the most hilariously biased, uninformed article on D&D I’ve seen online so far, barring Christian fundamentalists.

    Was it you who wrote the “Dungeon World is dumb and useless” article on this site? Sure seems like it, given the smug tone and the general lack of knowledge about the subject matter.

    • Roleplaying Nerd

      Yes. Oren Also wrote ‘Dungeon World is a Game to Skip’

  35. Rabid Bat Games

    Well this makes sense.
    I bought a bunch of 4th edition books and LOVED the way it works.
    If they had kept the magic more along the lines of 5th edition with the 4th edition mechanics it would be damned near a perfect game system. Obviously nothing is perfect.

  36. Rabid Bat Games

    To add….I fixed my problem with all other game systems. I just broke down and started making my own.
    One big problem we ALWAYS have in a session is that rules lawyer sort who isnt there for role playing but more for dictating War & Peace to the rest of us while we’re trying to defeat a dungeon/monster/whatever.
    I figured if we had our own generic system, we could use it for ANY background material (something such as GURPS….I hate GURPS, though).
    So far we’ve run a fantastic Zombie campaign. A few Sci-Fi and an ongoing Fantasy campaign that wreaks of stolen Skyrim material (although fun as hell).
    This voids the rules lawyer because there arent rules to cover every little thing. We just use common sense and the GM has final say (doesnt the GM ALWAYS have final say regardless of the rulebook anyway?)

    My system doesnt just have hit points. I tried to take more than one aspect of damage into account….so it has Damage (flesh being torn, etc), Stun and Bleed…the latter two being fairly obvious.
    So an Axe may do so much damage to the flesh, but also being so heavy may stun the target and even cause him to bleed.
    Yes, its all done with numbers, but the end effect is more detailed without adding too much extra accounting.

    The system only covers very basic stuff like Role Playing and combat and a few other things to help the GM figure out things like missed shots and where they go.
    I wanted to be opened ended. Let the GM run the game, make quick decisions about things that come up in the game and keep the rules lawyers at bay so everyone could have fun instead of 30 minutes looking for some obscure damned rule that we all forgot what page it was on.

  37. Cptnfiskedritt

    I agree with much of what is said here. Although I am a no stranger to implementing rules where they don’t exist, and 5e is rife with options for that, I believe in the “if there is no rule for it then it doesn’t exist”-mindset. This is because it should be obvious to the players and GM what to do given a certain situation. It doesn’t need to be rules heavy and have rules for everything, but what it has rules for should clearly state how they work. 5e fails a lot in this regard (the 5e errata is not at all large enough).

    5e balancing is an issue in so much as an informed player being able to create a much more potent character than a non-informed player, and still make it a lore-existant character. I have a paladin/warlock/bard who is just about the most OP character. The concept fits the lore, and mechanically he can dish out 100s of damage in a fight, while also being an allround puzzle solver, healer, and buffer/debuffer. Repelling Eldritch blast, Smite on melee with Polearm feat, and bardic inspiration.

    Overall I like 5e, but I find so many problems with it that I need to house rule a ton to make it playable.

  38. marshall law

    Look overall magic is always a problem when it comes to balance. I think too often we think in terms of game mechanics rather than role play. A spell caster wields great power and are far rarer than a skilled swordsman. The only hope most mortals would have against them in reality is magic, cunning, or faith( and on rare occasion science). Even Conan had Crom whom he beseeched when matched against sorcery. So when fighting a wizard as a martial character you do not engage them unless you can get close and the closer the better. A spell caster grappled, with the hands of an enraged barbarian around his throat is likely a goner magic or no. Like wise a barbarian caught in the open or unawares by a well planned spell or series of spells from a spell caster often finds himself at a severe disadvantage.

    Trying to create a game where all the classes are equal is why the game requires so much gear grinding. It ends up in an arms race on who can have the best gear rather than on being brave, creative and a good team. My fighter cannot move mountains but with a simple piece of steal he can cut down fifty orcs. My spell caster can blow up mountains but a knife in the dark as he sleeps still kills him. Stop trying to be a badass and try and play a character.

  39. Stormbow

    I challenge Oren Ashkenazi to create for me, any legitimate (meaning point buy or other standard character creation procedures) 5E D&D character that he claims is so “unplayable”, and I will HAPPILY prove that he is COMPLETELY and INEXORABLY wrong.

    • Yeseylon

      Poor d20 rolls and a beginner who doesn’t know what they’re doing will actually do this. I saw it in action, guy created a half-Orc Fighter with high Int and Cha.

      However, this is the case in ANY system- noobs can and will create terrible characters. Can’t blame 5e for players being bad.

      • Yeseylon

        high INT and CHA with low everything else*

  40. starclaws

    This guy is a joke. Go fully read page 164 of the PHB … It is misleading if you only pull out a single sentence out of context.

    “For example, if you are the aforementioned ranger 4/
    wizard 3, you count as a 5th-level character when
    determining your spell slots: you have four 1st level
    slots, three 2nd level slots, and two 3rd level slots.
    However, you don’t know any 3rd level spells, nor do you
    know any 2nd-level ranger spells. You can use the spell
    slots of those levels to cast the spells you do know-and
    potentially enhance their effects.”

    Meaning sure you have high level spell slots. But you don’t have the actual high level spells unless that class is leveled up. Grats on casting magic missile and cure wounds with level 7 slots. Too bad your party cant greater restoration or revivify.

    Also stated above that paragraph…
    “If you have more than one spell casting class, this table
    might give you spell slots of a level that is higher than
    the spells you know or can prepare. You can use those
    slots, but only to cast your lower level spells.”

    This article is misleading and should be taken down before people get the wrong idea.

    • Yeseylon

      It’s been up since 2015. Sadly, it’s not going anywhere.

  41. Orov

    I can agree, dnd5 isn’t that game what is advertised. Balance is not good, randomization is very high.

  42. Yeseylon

    You’re basically just describing how an RPG works. “ERMG, you have to pick out good gear and be smart when building your character!” Well duh, that’s how an RPG works. Go play Candy Crush if you want a game that tells you how to win.

    As for spellcaster balance, yeah, they are more powerful than a melee class in terms of damage, but they’re also more vulnerable, and multiclassing leaves them weaker as casters than they would be. One target that resists magic or gets the drop on a mage can wreck it, that’s why you need the front line guys.

  43. Aritma

    There are some points in article I can agree but most significant problem I found in DnD5e is absurdly high amount of random elements. D20 makes wide range of randomness and when you add some critical hits, some numbers could be insane compared to level of characters.
    I am not high experienced GM and compared to other editions, I find hard to make interesting and still challenging encounters with 5e. Sometime I expect that enemy is strong and somehow my party wins in 2 turns and compared, in my party, low level monster one shot our tank with one good role.
    Randomness is the problem, and not enough rule mechanics to balance it. I understand that some GM enjoy when their own game surprise them but I don’t like it.

    PS: You blame author so much because he did not understood one of rules as it was intended. But… is there problem with Oren… or problem with hard to read and non-consistent rules?

  44. Gothmog

    So many salty tears in this article.

    Personally I like 5e. It’s a nice change from HarnMaster, which I played for 25+ years. I never gave D&D a seconded look until 5e came out.

  45. Bruce Norbeck

    I’m sure it’s already been corrected, but the Wizard/Cleric multi-class claim is simply wrong. The author entirely misinterpreted the rules on multi-classing & spell slot preparation. It’s not even arguable; the author is wrong.

    Considering that first point is entirely wrong, I’m not really sure how much credibility to attach to the rest of the article, but skimming over it didn’t impress me very much. The author seems to approach RPGs from a min-maxing power-gamey perspective which I simply don’t share. I will simply say I *think* he’s wrong about balance, both inter-&-intra class, & I will say that I think it’s impossible to “fail at character creation” if you’re not worried about power-gaminess.

  46. Peregrin

    While I agree that randomization is higher in 5e, the balance between the classes is actually a lot better than 3.5. Casters may have some extra benefits, but there are not broken as in 3.5 where a cleric would be a better melee than a fighter, or a wizard utility spells will replace a complete party.

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