Roleplaying

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.”

Update: Some time after this review was published, Wizards of The Coast put out a new version of the Ranger to address concerns that the class was underpowered. The beast master in particular got a huge boost.

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 Conjure 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 Conjure 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.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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Comments

  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.

          • Taylor

            Best part about the early editions were that the ranger could only be human or half-elf, so there was that hint there that you could amp up the ranger by making it a half elf, and I’d bet my movie popcorn that a party of a formian, wemic, tri-kreen, and gnoll rangers would be both cooler and more playable than an all human party of a wizard, cleric, paladin and druid. They also gave you a solo hint about the assassin with half orcs being able to be them, so feel free to make two of those characters assassins

        • Sammo

          “Thing is, while 5E is somewhat slimmed down compared to 3.5, it’s still a super rules heavy system.”

          No, its not really…and the DMG practically says if you don’t want to use this rule don’t use it for almost everything.

          Having just come off a 8 or 9 year binge of Pathfiner I welcome 5E with open arms.

        • JB

          Something I would like to mention, are the rules for fall damage. First of all, according to the rules, even when you fall from the upper ionosphere, the most damage you can take is 120. This, for high level characters would be terrifying, but it should be fatal, always.
          From the book:
          A fall from a great height is one of the most common hazards facing an adventurer.

          At the end of a fall, a creature takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet it fell, to a maximum of 20d6. The creature lands prone, unless it avoids taking damage from the fall.
          pg. 183
          Also, does a beetle still take 1d6 damage for every 10 ft? This question was brought up in a campaign I played in, in which a purple worm attacked the party, biting a characters arm off. I got first in initiative, and polymorphed it into an earthworm. while carrying it to a location far away from the party, our GM made me roll to see if i could hold on to it at random intervals. One such roll was made while traversing a thing with a thirteen foot drop. Now I managed to succeed, but what if it had fallen? Would the fall have killed such a tiny creature?

          • Taylor

            First off: most d&d characters are practically at Greek god levels, and if you compare the average character to say the Deities and Demigods representation of practically any hero save for Hercules they wipe the floor with them, and the gods were area throwing heroes off of Mount Olympus or even the moon in other mythologies with no more damage than kids give their toys when dropping them on thier bed, that’s the world you’re playing in.

            Secondly 120mph is about as fast as a personal falling from a plane could fall due to the wind resistance of a human body, and experienced sky divers can turn this into about a 40mph fall, and give them a tree or chance to turn into a roll and it’s just like how a skier transfers virtual movement into horizontal movement.

            Thirdly: most people who fall and die do so before hitting the ground from fear of hitting the ground.

            Fourthly a personal can actually glide over long distances, now this may or may not be a good thing as your speed isn’t really changing, but you’re not falling straight down, but if you fall 2mi down and travel say 4mi outwards you’d likely find a lake or a river or haystack or whatever.

            Also, I’m pretty sure with all the equipment they have (ropes, a dozen sacks for treasure, a belt with another dozen purses on it, a cloak, a 10′ pole, a set of spare clothes, etc) each player could make parachutes for the entire party before they hit the ground.

            I’m not suggesting that you jump out of a plane without a parachute, for even if you were an army ranger you’d probably break your legs and a rib or two and have a concussion.

          • Sam

            You’re not surviving a 120 MPH impact with the ground, moron.

          • Bunny

            Sam – be that as it may, there is absolutely no call for name-calling. That is immature and rude. You are not adding anything to the thread; you are shallowly seeking to provoke and that’s not okay. If you have something constructive to contribute please add it. But this is just unnecessary.

    • 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.

      • Taylor

        Yes, I think that the wording of magical items is clearly just to deal with the dms effectively having ppl go up to the same town they level up in and go “OK I’ll get magic plate mail, Zeus’ magic shield, a vorable sword, a trained Griffin as a steed, and my wizard friend will get all the other unique items in d&d.

        And it’s so not true that you can’t spend any money on anything else. Both the Players’ guide and dmg practically make it mandatory that at 9th level both those characters would have to buy a castles with a full staff and royalty and maintain at least one 12mi hex of land per lvl

    • 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.

    • mmmm..nah

      mmmm….i agree with this guy. some of this stuff is totally true.

  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.

    • Xzz

      It’s a blog that reviews game. Only babies who play 5E cry in the comments that a reviewer who said the game is poor should just try a different game,

      They will. Trust me. There are dozens of superior games to the dumbed down game that 5E. Not in the least AD&D first and second edition.

      • Lolwut

        ….you replied to a comment more than 2 years old to call someone a baby.

        Yeah…

        • Sean

          …yeah he did, and you replied in butthurt. Make of that what you will…

  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 cast.as 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.

          • Anonymoose

            The issue is that the entire Multiclassing section is kinda poorly worded in general, which is a problem because multiclassing rules are supposed to override the relevant single-class rules.

            Basically, the issue is that when you’re multiclassing, your _character’s_ level (and by extension, spell slots) doesn’t actually match up with their _classes’_ level (and spell slots) anymore. Class features, including spellcasting, are based on your character’s level; a cleric 19/wizard 1, for example, is treated as a cleric 19 for cleric spells, and a wizard 1 for wizard spells, with no overlap; though they have the spell slots of a Lv.20 character, they can’t actually prepare spells as a Lv.20 wizard, because their _wizard_ level is only 1.

  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.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            Yeah, I guess the point is that Pathfinder is the only good version of AD&D 3E.

  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?

        • Chris

          You are picking on one minor point in his reply and missing the boat. First, both 5E SRD and the free Basic Rules were available in 2015. Second, who cares if the DMG was not available in 2015? An open online discussion forum exists sonyou can add new information and continue the discussion. The original poster’s comment may have made a comment that was partially valid at the time, but circumstances change. Innacurate comments should not be left uncorrected simply because they may have been accurate at the time they were made.

    • VenomousBite

      I always assumed attacks of opportunity was an enemy attacking while your back was turned, hence the ‘opportunity’, as in “hey that guy is running way, I’ll hit him while he’s not looking.

    • Arlen Smith

      “D&D 5E leaves you the option to ‘Create your own Rules on the fly'”

      Tried that any got mutinied by a powergamer who can’t tolerate not having the broken characters so he can outshine everyone and be untouchable. He threw a fit when I wouldn’t let him have a big dex to start with and that was it for the campaign.

      Powergamers and control freaks revolt, and quickly, as soon as you deviate from the sacred book full of half-done rules. They like those rules because they know how to exploit them. But they’ll pretend that your houserules are going to break the game.

      • Michael Campbell

        For Arlen Smith:

        Some people say power-gamer when they mean war-gamer.
        Could I perhaps recommend that you keep your power-gamer satisfied with war-games often enough for them to be willing to offset their natural instinct for “victory at any cost” in favour of the more collegial “lets all have an adventure” game that RPGs actually are.

        I’ld recommend a game that has had it’s kinks ironed out (they happened in the 80s and eventually got fixed).
        http://www.starfleetgames.com/
        Say what you like about the two Steven personally: professionally they put a damn lot of work into making their products; balanced.
        If you don’t know the game, then get busy learning with the Cadet Training Manual which is a free download.
        http://www.starfleetgames.com/starfleetbattles.shtml

        Once your “power gamer” knows that he’ll get the chance for a straight out “win against the other guy” game next weekend, he’ll be more amenable to a role-playing centered game.
        Dr Phil will call it knowing your child’s currency. But you and I will call it being a friend who’s willing to value the other guy’s hobby/forte’/expectations/preferences.

  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.

            http://www.lulu.com/ca/en/shop/matthew-finch/quick-primer-for-old-school-gaming/ebook/product-3159558.html

        • 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.”

          • Me

            I think people need to stop quoting out of context. I know I’m a little late but I looked at the older player handbook I have available and it states:

            “The beast obeys your com m ands as best as it can. It takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn’t take an action unless you command it to. On your turn, you can verbally command the beast where to move (no action required by you). You can use your action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action. Once you have the Extra Attack feature, you can make one weapon attack yourself when you command the beast to take the Attack action.” – Pg 93, 5e Player’s Handbook, 2nd paragraph under Ranger’s Companion which is under Beast Master. The FULL paragraph.

            Which means in the end at a higher level you gain the ability to use the beast’s attack as a bonus action. Honestly, it makes sense to me because you shouldn’t have everything mastered immediately anyway. Not logical nor realistic. Just my opinion though. Carry on

      • 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.

    • SomebodyInsignificant

      Unearthed Arcana came up with a revised version of ranger, including Beastmaster 2.0 that’s now extremely good, much better than the original.

      • Arlen Smith

        You’d think a company with the resources of Hasbro handling a franchise as big as D&D would be able to get the basics right the first time.

        Some dude on enworld just rewrote the entire flaws list because it was so flawed. That’s funny, at least.

  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.

      • JackbeThimble

        The action economy and the way most disabling spells work in 5e make it extremely difficult to win a one-on-one fight with them. All the spells you mentioned require the wizards action, Suggestion wouldn’t allow you to win a fight (Avoid a fight sure, but if you attack the fighter after suggesting then “don’t attack me” becomes a suicidal command and the spell breaks), Hold person might work, but the fighter gets to re-roll their save at the end of each round and you can’t cast any more concentration spells while it’s up. It also ONLY works for 1-on-1. Invisibility breaks if you do anything offensive so it’s only good for escape. Mirror image is only likely to last one round against a competent fighter, and it takes your action to cast so in a one-on-one fight you essentially just waste a spell slot to get a one-round stalemate. Heat Metal is the best option of the ones you mentioned, though since it requires concentration and doesn’t prevent the enemy from hitting you it’s unlikely to last long either.

  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.”

      • Kalavin

        Well said. That may be the sassiest non sassy argument I have ever heard on the internet. I approve wholeheartedly.

      • Charles

        And the designer wrote a rule saying you as a DM can ignore the rules if you don’t like them so his claim is invalid.

        • Kalavin

          But the number of complaints that Oren has with the system would leave a skeleton of a rules set by the time he has finished. The, “You can ignore the rules if you don’t like them” is meant to deal with a few choice scenarios, not to make you rewrite the manual.

          I love 5e, but if I didn’t, why would I rewrite it? The number of rules that would have to be tossed out would kinda defeat the purpose of having any of them.

        • Arlen Smith

          Tell that rule to players and face mutiny. I have.

          Players will beat you over the head with the book if they are control freak and powergaming types.

  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: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?469125-GUIDE-Dealing-Death-Handbook-of-the-True-Assassin
    Smite Knight: https://orclabs.com/2014/12/16/max-damage-smite-knight/
    Tiamat stat block: https://i.warosu.org/data/tg/img/0364/27/1417107159487.png
    Tarrasque stat block: http://i.imgur.com/58OOziT.jpg

    • Arlen Smith

      “Rollplaying yes is against the spirit of D&D”

      No, it’s not. It’s at the core of a lot of D&D players’ mindsets. In fact, practically all of the ones who fancy themselves as serious players put optimization (roll-playing) over flavor any day. This is because they see the game not as a role-playing game but as a combat simulator.

      I am the odd duck who thinks the GM should encourage people to play the flavor they like and compensate with house rules. I’m the odd duck who tried to expand the breadth and depth of the social part. I tried this and most of them balked.

  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.

    • Arlen Smith

      A series of ad hominems does not a rebuttal make.

      • Dave

        If this were a Phil-101 class or a court of law, you might have a point. But as it is, half the people who read your comment have no idea what you’re talking about, and the other half either agree because they agree with the author or they don’t give a shit. Good job.

      • Sam

        Dude used “myopic” in the correct context. That alone makes him right,

  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.

        • Arlen Smith

          Kids gloves turn what was a challenge into larping.

          D&D is not the best system for that.

  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

    subscribe

  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.

    • Pata Hikari

      The game *is* the math.

      Min-maxing is not a bad thing. The goal of the game is to be able to clear challenges. The fact that many options given to the player are objectively worse at clearing the challenges offered is a massive flaw in design.

      • Kalavin

        Is that not itself a challenge??? hmm??? lol

      • Nope

        No. Simply no. This statement is the antithesis of an RPG. I’m not saying how you can play the game, however, you completely don’t understand what it was intended for.

    • Arlen Smith

      ” It doesn’t matter what edition or what rule set we are playing, as the DM, I balance the game”

      If you have a specific type of player as the dominant voice in your group. Otherwise, prepare for revolt… especially if your rules don’t give them their ability to overpower the others at the table they consider inferior to them (or, at least, give them the ability to be too powerful for the encounters).

  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”.

      • Arlen Smith

        “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”

        Some things ARE poorly made, clearly done with a minimum of effort. The result is something below the minimum acceptable standard. And yes, some things in 5e fit this frame. Rewriting the flaws list so it wasn’t a train wreck took a guy a few hours, including (he says) extensive notes that he didn’t bother to post because apparently it didn’t seem necessary. That’s just one example. If an unpaid nobody can do a lot better in a short time then why should we be impressed with the stuff we’re paying for?

        What’s not easy, it seems, is to get a lot of companies to put enough work into their products. That’s why video game players are beta testers now when they buy a shipping product.

        • Bob

          Holy old posts batman, but yea I can agree to your points. My bigger problems with 5e aren’t so much it’s flaws as its celebrity status designers like Mike Mearl’s, and how he responds with an arrogant and condescending attitude towards people who have questions about multiple points of ambiguous wording in various 5e books, or just people in general he disagrees with (the more recent accusation that most people who preferred more complex dnd rules not wanting women to play comes to mind, as does the laughable ending note of that tweet “you’re fired from dnd”.

          Now that joker’s been brought on by paizo to help with pathfinder 2e, so… not holding high expectations for that.

          Tldr, 5e has more than a few bad points and annoying mechanic shoehorned in for the sake of “balance” which is still a joke for the most part. I find it a good game for introducing people with zero tabletop rpg experience to role playing, but prefer 3.5 / pathfinder or a multitude of other pnp games when possible.

        • John

          You’re like the people that say game designers or animators were lazy because someone at home was able to do better by themselves…on ONE aspect of the creation. A game has to meet deadlines and they’re often working on a million things at once. Not only that, there’s a hierarchy, things have to be reviewed, granted feedback, revised, reviewed etc. over and over and even getting permission to go ahead on something can take a while. One modder however can just say “I’m doing this thing” and do it without needing confirmation or permission. They also can focus mainly on that one thing and try and improve something in isolation but it’s easy to point out the flaw in something after it’s been created and work out how to improve it after the fact, than it is to do so during production. Modder’s and homebrewers are essentially taking work done by someone else where 99.999999% of the effort is already completed and then they change, add on to it etc. using that framework.

          Doing so from scratch is altogether different. You might be able to look at one thing in D&D and say, yeah I could do better than that. And maybe in hindsight on that one area you can but if you were to write your own game from scratch and have to work out all of the systems and how they interplay with each other, you’d most likely create an absolute unplayable mess or wouldn’t even get past day 1.

          You’re entitled and don’t understand the sheer breadth of work that does into games of any kind. It’s not laziness. It’s strict deadlines, company infighting and disagreements, back and forth design revisions, figuring out the best direction to take, corporate producers forcing new content onto the developers with only a few months til launch because “This is the new hot thing, we have to have it in our game” despite the time constraints and lack of resources.

          Practically no game developer’s, animators or game designers are lazy. You’re the only one sitting around complaining, making out they can do better without actually doing so yourself. It’s easy when someone’s painted a full picture or made a full game or cooked a full dinner to say, this thing isn’t quite right, after the fact, and make out like you “could have cooked it better” because the mushrooms were slightly overdone, while you sit on your ass never actually cooking anything. But if you tried to do it from scratch you’d probably ruin the whole dish.

          • michael

            They are lazy because they have lazy thinking. Rather than write 300 spells for wizards- 100 spells is plenty- and a ton of filler monsters rather have fewer that are high quality and make design easy for any others DM want and make the system better with more thematically explained elements. Don’t just take stuff from previous editions to fill up the pages- trim it down
            and increase its quality. They think people love grinding because D&D Next is designed that way rather the fewer and more interesting enemies that most people prefer.

            You must think Hollywood is so hard working make the same movie types from varied initial scripts. They do tons of “work” in committee to dumb down and dull the work they start with. They do a lot of work to ensure experts never have any real input as consultants on movies.

  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.

    Physics
    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.

    Encounters
    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.

      • Arlen Smith

        Magic items can get out of control, especially if you have hoarders, powergamers, and control freaks (sometimes all wrapped up in one) at the table. I’ve seen it. It’s painful. The party was more like a walking department store assembly of animated mannequins covered in rare magic items than a group of people. That was a high level Pathfinder game, although I haven’t played high in a lot of other systems.

        Part of the problem is trying to make what happens each session seem important. That can mean doling out powerful loot each time, because people have so little time in their lives to devote to gaming. The idea is to try to cram as much value into a session as possible. But, when powerful things become mundane, by being expected (entitlement) then you lose value.

        That said, it can be boring to go through a lot of complex effort and end up with a useless dagger and a few gold for all of your trouble.

  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.

      • Gonzo

        ” but N+1 is simply too hard for your poor brain?” is just plain foolishnes and gratuitous aggresion. It isn’t that prior editions had “N+1” modifiers, it is that they had a whole lot of modifiers, multiplied by the number of characters, multiplied by the NPCs and the area. “Your poor legs can’t manage walking to a job at 5 km?” Yes. My legs can, but it is bothersome and time consuming, so I prefer a bicycle, a car or a bus instead. It’s the same with the modifiers, changing all the time, every round.
        I’ve played most editions of D&D, and this most of the time render gametime to a halt, and to be boring, as the other players start to check their cellphones, or going to play entire LOL sessions while waiting for their next turn. I’m not joking.

  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.

    • Arlen Smith

      Spells were neutered quite a bit when compared with something like 1e.

      Concentration. Multiple saving throws. Short durations. Etc.

      Compare Charm Person from 1e with Charm Person of 5e. Compare Phantasmal Force for a gnome illusionist vs. the same spell in 5e.

  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.

    • Arlen Smith

      Sure, blame the players for knowing the mechanics and expecting all that study to pay off.

      Basically, this mode of thought is “Players can’t read the books.”

      I am very positive about houserules but I think it’s too much to say players can’t be well-versed in the rules. That’s not rules lawyering. That is knowing the system you’re trying to use.

  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.

    Ciao,
    Mattia.

    • 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.

    rabidbatgames.com

    • Arlen Smith

      The counterpoint to the dreaded rules lawyer is the neopotist GM, the one who plays favorites at the table.

      Been there. Seen it. Not pretty.

      If you try to get fair treatment, by being able to have a similar power level and table impact, you get smacked with “argumentative” and “rules lawyer”. Meanwhile, friends and family are getting away with tricks and I am trying to simply do what’s written.

      • Arlen Smith

        There is also the lazy and ignorant GM. Been there. Seen it, too. Also not pretty.

        It’s fine if the lazy and ignorant GM is lazy and ignorant equally in all things to all people. Otherwise, it quickly turns into the nepotist GM problem. This is most typically seen in the way the lazy and dim-witted GM nerfs casters because he/she just can’t be bothered. Meanwhile, her/his martial friends have plenty of fun doing their assorted tricks. Or, the casters must resort to simple blasting.

        There is also the lazy and ignorant GM. Been there. Seen it, too. Also not pretty.

        There is a line between a player who knows the rules and tries to use them to be effective and a player who is using the rules just to be combative toward the GM. There is also a line between a GM who is playing favorites and one who is uniform about the rules. The problem typically is, as I said, casters getting the shaft… especially when it comes to things like illusion. I played with a GM who just didn’t get illusion magic at all. One had no idea what was going to happen when one would try to use an illusion spell with that GM. Typically, it was the nerf bat.

  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.

    • Arlen Smith

      “I think too often we think in terms of game mechanics rather than role play.”

      That’s correct. This is because 90% of the serious tabletop gamers (probably more than 90%) think things like optimization are more important than something like a charisma score.

      They see the game as two things:

      1) combat simulator (tactics game)
      2) method of showing off to their peers (like MtG)

      Now, I’ve seen MtG players who like flavor but the super-serious ones were the ones who were super-serious about feeling dominant over others, feeling superior.

  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*

        • blake

          Mystic, Warlock, Wizard, Bard, Sorcerer

      • Arlen Smith

        There are no terrible characters. There are only terrible systems.

        If the system enables a player to create a “useless” character then it’s the system that’s at fault. The player is not to blame for choosing the flavors that suits them.

        • Paul James

          Can’t agree there. There obviously are terrible characters. The high int and cha, low everything else fighter given as an example here is a perfect example. What highly intelligent person looks in the mirror at their weak, feeble body and thinks “I’ll become a fighter”? I mean, unless they’re insane and/or suicidal? It isn’t up to the system to make sure this sort of ridiculous concept can survive, or even be useful.

          However, there’s no reason why the system should forbid a player from building this kind of misfit. I have a friend who apparently enjoys that sort of thing. He calls them ‘interesting’ characters. Don’t really get it, myself, but if he wants to build a half-orc barbarian/sorcerer, then… you know… whatever.

  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.

    • Kalavin

      Lol This guy is the reason I read to the bottom of this thread. Yeseylon, thank you for being a reasonable person

    • Arlen Smith

      Not so. RPG means role-playing game. You’re playing a role. That role could have practically no gear at all.

      Look at the One Ring RPG. It has practically no magical loot. Wizards are extremely rare. Etc.

  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?

    • blake

      Re: randomness in 5E. your issue isn’t with 5e its with any d20 system. Also compered to 3.5/pathfiner 5e is much better at reducing randomness through advantage/disadvantage and various buffs such as bless or guidance that help without breaking bounded accuracy

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I tweaked the above comment because while most of the content is fine, the opening line was clearly mocking the previous commentor, which is not allowed.

  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.

  47. Brian

    I might have a different view than most players out there and that is probably why I disagree with this article at all. D&D for me has always been a ROLE-playing game, ie, character interaction, building a setting and relationships with NPC’s. I like my world to be immersive and believable and the actions that my party and character take/make have an impact. And that isn’t restricted to go to point A, kill monster B, return to point C. I have done combat heavy dungeon crawls with no point but to kill and those get repetitive and boring. I have a friend that DM’s and that is his forte and I gladly sit his sessions out and wait for something with depth.

    The author here sounds like they need to stick to Diablo. There is no broken class if you’re having fun playing it and any competent DM can interpret rules on the fly (because it’s impossible for every single situation that could arise to be spelled out) and have a group consensus on rules/house rules. If all you care about is the numbers game then it’s possible that D&D isn’t for you.

    Regardless, we are all entitled to our own opinions and I for one have thoroughly enjoyed 5th edition. As a player and DM, my friends and I have had some harrowing experiences, laughed a lot, been saddened at the selfless sacrifices of NPC’s and all the other stuff that should happen in epic stories.

    • Arlen Smith

      “D&D for me has always been a ROLE-playing game, ie, character interaction, building a setting and relationships with NPC’s.”

      Well, you’ve been using a system that has been primarily designed as a tactics crunch game (combat simulator).

      Don’t believe me? Read the 1e books sometime. Look at all the pretty tables from Classic, too.

      D&D is a tactics game with a RP veneer.

  48. RHJunior

    1) Look, screw balance. You’re playing in a world where magic is real; magic users are going to have the upper hand and nonmagicals are going to have to work to compensate– either with magic, technology or magitech boosting their abilities. All the pushes for “balance” do is strain credulity and spoil the game for everyone. It’s as stupid as a wargamer whining that his stone age army’s archers aren’t as effective as the other player’s 21st century artillery. Or like “City of Heroes” where supermen with super strength and invulnerability spent dozens of levels getting beaten down by purse snatchers armed with baseball bats. That wasn’t balance, it was bad game design.

    2)Your problem isn’t gear grind, it’s the messed-up economics of the system. Game designers setting arbitrary prices for items, paying attention to neither setting, nor history, nor economic realities always produces a lopsided mess– ironically again in the pursuit of “balance.” But then again, you can wake me when someone actually invents a paper and pencil economic system that works properly. I’ll be napping till the year 3000. This is the reason online games have markets and auction houses: to let player interaction influence market prices at least indirectly. That’s a bit much to ask of a pencil and paper game.

    3)Character creation problems? That’s why you have retraining options.

    4)Physics issues is why you have a DM. Otherwise you’d have to insert an entire physics textbook into the rules…

    5)The fact that seemingly identical (on paper) encounters can go radically different is a feature, not a bug. See “Tucker’s Kobolds” for the advantages of a system that makes high level PCs struggle against low-level encounters, or vice versa.

    • Arlen Smith

      “Look, screw balance. You’re playing in a world where magic is real; magic users are going to have the upper hand and nonmagicals are going to have to work to compensate– either with magic, technology or magitech boosting their abilities. All the pushes for ‘balance’ do is strain credulity and spoil the game for everyone.”

      Don’t play 5e at all. Play 1e. You’ll find what you want. Even a 1st level spell can enslave someone for weeks, maybe months. Even a 1st level spell can create a group of well-armed deadly archers.

      Enjoy. No silly concentration, short durations, and multiple saving throws.

  49. Dino

    Yes, all is true.
    If you only care about beeing the best and havinge the best character.

    DnD is about making the character you want, not the best one.

    Stop beeing such a min-maxing elitist.

    • Arlen Smith

      to D&D: “Stop being a tactics game.”

      D&D: “Lol, wut?”

      I realize that some play very fast and loose with the franchise but it has been a combat simulation (crunchy tactics) from the start.

      • Jonathan

        DnD has always been crunchy, but I would strong disagree with you that it is a combat simulator. DnD seems to take the idea that social encounters need fewer rules than combat encounters.

        Personally, I hate games that add too many rules to the social side of the game. I need rules to adjucate combat, I need rules to adjucate non-combat skills when failure versus success means something.

        Give me a fun magic system.

        Of the systems I have played, I like DnD for epic fantasy.

        4e was balanced, and it was the worst system to play. I much prefer 5e, though I have only been a DM for it. 3/3.5 was horribly broken in the end if you let players go beyond the core books.

  50. Phorrest

    Hey guys, I see no one has popped in to tell you you’re using conjure animals incorrectly, you just choose one of the options listed, the DM then chooses the creatures.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      First, thanks for reminding me that it’s “Conjure” Animals, not Summon. Had that wrong since I posted, isn’t that embarrassing?

      I don’t agree with your reading of the spell though. It doesn’t specifically say who chooses what kind of beast it is, but the caster gets to choose how many beasts appear and what their CR, that strongly implies to me that the caster also chooses what type of animal it is.

      • Cal

        DMs can decide to interpret it any way they want but RAI was established in 2015’s Sage Advice column.

        http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/sageadvice_july2015

        For TL;DR people, it clearly indicates that intended rule was for DM to choose.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        No lie, I do love that this article was published nine days after I wrote my review. Someone at Blizzard is a fan, I think.

        While it’s good to know their intent, I stand by my interpretation of the rules as they were written, and even this article suggests that the player should have input on what creatures appear.

        Also a DM who tries to subvert their players plan by denying them the kind of animal they want is going to foster a very hostile environment at the table.

        • Fluffysheap

          Another point regarding the summoned owls is that, per the Sage Advice, they are under the control of the DM, not the player. They are friendly to you and will fight on your side, but you don’t get to give them explicit commands, especially not commands that are out of the scope of their natural behavior. So they will attack an enemy, but they won’t pick him up and drop him into a pit, because they are just not that clever.

          • Fluffysheap

            … Turns out I completely imagined this and it’s not true at all.

            Maybe it’s wishful thinking, since it seems like a fix that would solve a lot of problems with summoning.

        • Kalavin

          Oren, you create a hostile environment. To be fair, though, that is what the internet is for. I am personally a fan of summoning a horde of Boars and trampling bosses to death.

          • Arlen Smith

            Hypocrisy much?

            If you’re going to concern troll then don’t do it with an insult.

  51. Razorwind

    Firstly Oren, I’ve been reading so many of your articles, having discovered this blog only today, and it’s been amazing! I’ve already begun seeking out a group for Burning Wheel and reading the rules to Anima Prime. But in large part because I respect so many of your thoughts and insights, I feel drawn to express my contrary opinion on this subject.

    My main gripe is I really don’t think it’s that difficult to fail character creation. Quite the opposite in fact: compared to 4th edition and other games which give you more options, you are lead by the hand in 5th edition. One of my biggest problems with 5e is that there are very few options for building your character (I know any mechanical combination I come up with will already have been done before, probably by many others before me). But for new players who don’t know all the rules or how to optimize, 5e will lead them to a viable pick with almost (*cough* the ranger) any choice they make. Things like not knowing which saves are best don’t really hurt a new character designer since save Proficiencies are determined by class, not by player choice.

    Overall, I think 5e accomplished a lot of its goals with regards to being friendly to new players and less rules intensive. With less number crunching, there is more room for actual roleplaying, which is definitely a good thing. Though, with all that being said, I personally still prefer 4e even with its many flaws

    Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to move out of the d20 system soon to bigger and better things!

  52. Martith Du'Rel

    I think it boils down to HOW you play the tabletop RPGs. And understanding where the author stands in this area validates or negates the points they are trying to make. I play and DM from a roleplay perspective. I do not pay much attention to min/maxing and actually give life to my characters/worlds.

    In fact my favorite character was essentially a Bard who cast spells as a wild mage because she did not complete her training. She rarely actually joined in the fighting as her dream was to record new stories of heroic deeds. (First time was when giant toads threatened to end her story in an uninspiring way.)

    I choose to cripple the class by not knowing how to casting magic. She did not learn until she stumbled upon a spellbook in an old wizards library and mistaking the incantation for a poem. (And having a habit of speaking aloud when she reads.) The result left our party’s wizard quite annoyed at having to hide all the spell scrolls. And my bard with a ghostly wizard mentor.

    But, as I said she pretty much cast the spells as a wild mage with an interesting imagination. Wild Mages in AD&D were random and spontaneous. I actually saw the Wild Mage in 5.e as ‘too forgiving’ and many of the aspects being in the wizard’s favor.

    But that is where the difference between min/max and roleplay lies. Roleplayers embrace the flaws and use them to their advantage. Min/Max tend to try to avoid those flaws in the first place.

    • jojohomebrew

      No min/max uses a flawed system in order to maximize what they are capable of in a particular direction intentionally gaming the system to get the best out of it they can. Games are nearly impossible to balance so there will be people out there that will figure out the way in which to play a game in such a way that it is better at a particular thing than everything else and from that moment on that is the only way they can play. Min/maxers exploit a flawed system to order to be the best at a particular thing not avoid. Roleplayers on the other hand are literally just there to play a role not “use the flaws to their advantage.” it is in the definition of the words. More often than not rolreplayers are there to have fun, min maxers are there to be the best and if they cant everything is wrong, the game sucks and its broken and unbalanced even though it is the dm’s responsibility to ensure it is and not a frikkin book.

      • Arlen Smith

        See how much fun you have with a table of powergamers with your nice flavorful ineffective character.

        The rude ones (and there are many) will tell you that you’re not good at D&D. If you’re playing at a Con they may even tell you you’re dead weight and that you don’t deserve a share of the XP.

  53. jojohomebrew

    Well the author is clearly in need of some hooked on phonics or someone to read the rules for them. They also apparently need to learn to play games for fun rather than being the best at everything and min-maxing their imagination. This article was poor. I got half way through your article and gave up seeing as how i picked up the DMG and PHB two days ago and can already see that almost everything you are saying is either incorrect or impracticable and stupid. Very much wow.

  54. Zapp

    Sorry but most of this article is entirely incorrect.

    • Arlen Smith

      A statement made with no evidence is a statement that has no evidence to support it.

      (aka lazy and useless)

  55. Boobs

    Let me get one thing straight: I don’t care for 5th edition; it feels too much like a new age game with only a few old-school quirks. The art is fantastic, thought. Having said that, I have to widely disagree with the author’s opinions because he/she is clearly into power gaming and nit-picking the crap out of a system until he/she finds the best possible builds to make themselves superior to everyone else at the table.

    5e, while I don’t like it, is not overly encumbered by rules because most gamers don’t want to invest their lives into mastering a mountain of rules for every micron of the system. The advantage/disadvantage system is wonderful and I use a variation of it when I run older games, because it’s extremely easy to remember. I’m on higher ground, but I’m in a rainstorm while blindfolded? Disadvantage (1 – 2 = -1). My enemy was knocked down, I’m weakened, but am attacking him from behind? Advantage (2 – 1 = 1).

    As for equipment, you don’t need the rules to say how many magical doodads you need, that’s the fun of the game, using random treasure tables to see what you find. Nothing is guaranteed and if you make magical arms and armour available at every walmart the party travels to, it makes them mundane and uninteresting. (See the Incredibles movie: if everyone is super then nobody is) Besides that, there’s no rule against the DM throwing a few bones to players who are lacking. “Oh, the whole party has a magic weapon except for Terrance the rogue? He’s fond of wielding a short bow, so I’m going to send an assassin after the party with a +1 short bow and guess who gets to peel it off his corpse when they kill him?”

    • Arlen Smith

      “most gamers don’t want to invest their lives into mastering a mountain of rules for every micron of the system”

      Maybe in the groups you deal with. The ones I have dealt with are full of people who delight in being the most powerful at the table, not the ones they look down on. They particularly have this point of view when they’re at a convention.

      • No nothing

        You keep on complaining about the guys you play with are power players who do nothing more than min/max…

        This is the type of player that will destroy any system since they are all flawed…

        The problem I think it’s in the type of people you play with

        I mean there are people here who multiclass there classes… What dm would allow that without a very very very good explanation of the character. It’s absurd

        • Michael

          Min/maxing part of the system. A player gives some good justification for why they are a sorcerer/warlock and then creates a infinite power combo- sure a DM can disallow it but then they are writing the system so they are no longer doing D&D 5. Why have a system if you just have to do the work yourself?

          • No nothing

            If they disallow, the are doing their job as a DM. And min/maxing is not part of the game, nor is hoarding, or opening a magic item shop necessarily.

            It is only part of the game is the story you create makes it so. The only really important thing in DnD is the story, more so, by miles I might add, than the rules.

            Just to add something, as a DM and as player as well I suppose, since I played as a player with only two DMs, I had very few magic items….
            My players at level 9 had about two magic items and very few potions.

            As a player my paladin had a magic sword and a armor.

            As a wizard, I had one ring. And weirdly enough neither I as a player or or my players with me as a DM did anything for loot. We even had several adventures avenging one of the other player’s character.

            So yeah, you are wrong, it is not a min/maxing game unless you want it to be which is rather boring. You should be playing PC games

  56. Deadman

    I’ve never gotten why people think magic items are a must in any situation. I’ve ran campaigns to which characters got to higher levels (17+) and only had a handful of magic items between them. I’ve always enjoyed worlds where magic is crazy and rare. Worlds where there are super markets with with weapons listed by + bonus’s just piss me off. I do like the attunement rules in 5e, and how magic bonus items work in 4th and 5th. Though, a wizard with 22 Strength does get a little crazy, it’s fun!

    • Arlen Smith

      They aren’t a must but D&D tradition is to be heavy on combat, relatively gritty, and heavy on loot as the motivation.

  57. Sam

    I have and always will stick with 3.5. Ive been playing since the basic box sets and it is without a doubt the best system. 4 was only pout out as a money maker and scene changer. 5 was a band aid. I call for a whole sale return to 3.5 by the players and maybe WoTC will get the point.

    • American Charioteer

      I understand the 3.5 nostalgia. I especially miss skill points; they really made each character feel unique (and made INT a worthwhile investment). But 5e is much simpler to introduce to new players, and because the mechanics are simpler I’ve never encountered balance issues or seen mechanics get in the way of story.

  58. Kalavin

    While this article has pointed out a few flaws with 5e, these are about half as significant as the author implies. There are very easy ways to build characters of any class that rule the table. It is also very easy to correct a character that didn’t quite work out at level 1 because multi-classing is easier and ASI’s are far more common than in Pathfinder and 3.5. Although,I do agree that Beast Master Ranger was way at the bottom, the WotC developers listen pretty well to the fans, and have released new supplemental material to fix that flaw. Crawford, Mearls, and Perkins also do a great job of helping to interpret rules that are questionable.

    Having played every edition except Basic, I can say 5e has been a wonderful improvement on the balance between martial classes and Magic users. At some point between levels 1 and 20, each class has a time at the top. It just so happens that casters tend to take that chair uncontested around level 17. 5e has expertly combined 3.5 and 4e and can even bring an AD&D feel with the use of the variant rules where skills aren’t really a thing and magic items have charges. It is a wonderful system that should not be discounted because of some miss guided gripes with a few choice scenarios.

  59. Nithorian

    The fact that he thinks you need to pick the correct “feats” to be powerful in 5e shows he hasn’t read the rules closely, or didn’t understand them properly.

    Feats are an optional rule, the game is perfectly balanced without them, most of the campaigns by wizards actually play better if you don’t use feats.

    As for his cleric example, if you go by RAW then sure maybe you can make that argument, but if that were true a 1 level dip into Warlock would give any spellcaster their spell slots back on a short rest, which clearly isn’t the intent behind the design.

    I feel like he needs rules like 2nd and 3rd to tell him how to do every little thing in order to understand how to play and what to do, that isn’t the intent of 5th. 5th gives you the rough layout to play the game, and the nittygritty of in the moment rulings falls to the GM to do whatever the hell they feel is right. Maybe that involves going back to 3.5 to see how they did it, or maybe you just cast advantage / disadvantage depending on exactly what it is the player is doing.

    To me 5th encourages players to Roleplay over gaming the system, even the weakest of weak classes are still viable in combat if you play them smarter instead of just “I attack, roll to hit, roll to damage” some classes do play that way, but the ranger comes with a whole list of non-combat things they can do that help the party as a whole, maybe your games are more video gamey and are about maxing every little thing to make encounters easier to get more loot, fine 5th isn’t the version for you.

    An example of the invisibility rule you have so much issue with. If you think it should be harder to hit someone invisible, make it harder, that’s the point of 5th. Make the monster do a perception check to see if they can spot footprints or hear them breathing before they attack, if they fail, roll a % dice to see if they get lucky and pick the correct spot to swing their club.

    5th encourages the GM to interact with the players, that’s what the whole advantage / disadvantage system is for. When the rogue looks for traps, don’t just go “Roll perception or investigation”. Ask them how they are doing it, get them to describe the action of looking for traps. If its a really smart idea, throw them an advantage on their roll.

    5th has a focus on story telling not being a combat sim, if that’s not to your tastes its not the edition for you, but it does bring a lot of new to the table and dismissing it out of hand like that isn’t giving it justice.

    • Arlen Smith

      “5th encourages players to Roleplay over gaming the system”

      Then it’s not following the tradition of D&D.

      D&D started as a crunchy tactics game and remained that way for quite some time. Heavy on combat. Heavy on rules. Light on RP, especially RP depth.

  60. T-Bone

    So where to start with this:)

    1) I just recently got into 5E and love it.

    2) Balance: The 5E Balance is a lot better then previous editions. 3.5 is almost unplayable from levels 8-12 because the encounters either kill the party of the party destroys whatever monster in 1 round. The Martial Classes are way underpowered in that edition. 4th balances everything to the point that you feel like your playing card board cut outs of D and D classes. This edition gives option and ability to really make one build feel totally different then another.

    3) Min-Max: Sure you can Min-Max anything but i have never found that to be fun….ever. I prefer to have weaknesses and to work around them. Grounds the game in “Reality” for lack of a better term.

    4) Getting out the DM’s way: 5E does a great job of letting the DM run the game. 3.5 and other editions lead totally to RULES LAWYERS.. EWWWWWWWWW. This is awful. instead of having a 20 minute or hour long debate about a single rule this edition say hey the DM has control much more clearly then in past editions where every little thing down to the usual amount of time it took a gnome to pee in the snow takes.

    5) Pathfinder being the best D20 system: NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO>. not even close. pathfinder is a system made for power hungry fan boys to get fantasy “Chub….” well you know what i mean. over. It got rid of all individual and interesting things from the world. If you wanted to be a human in pathfinder with Darkvision and Elf ears sure because there are things for that. you want to be a water breathing Dwarf with Human skills Sure why not. None of the races or classes have anything that can not be done by any other. Pathfinder is 4E for fanboys. This is my opinion and i know this will cause a huge fight but i stand by it. you can agree or disagree your right to do so. im not calling anyone out specifically etc. i would request.. not like its going to happen but still.. keep responses general. No need to get personal.

    6) Magic Items and Gear: 5E gives DM power again. They can make them as available as they want. They want a huge magic game they can be everywhere and cheap or if its a stark rare thing to find an item that can happen as well. Its very open.

    7) The best system: well in response to just don’t play this game. There is some point in that. The idea of RPG and table Top gaming is to have fun with people. If your arguing about things for hours on end. unless your into that kind of thing. try something else. Me personally i like White Wolf way more then i do D and D but i like to play both. I don’t spend time with people who argue and fight the whole time. i will just leave and find another game one that i can have fun in. Each system offers things to each group that enjoys them,. Find the system and game that is fun for you and encourage others to do the same.

    • Kalavin

      T-bone, I don’t think the problems are with the fact that the DM can control these things (they always could). The problem is that 5e doesn’t give very clear rules on what that control looks like. Taken Olwen’s magic item comments for example. Magic items in 3.5 had a clear cut cost down to the nose hair that you had to dip in the blood of a rhinoceros and rub on the blade. 5e there are points where it says, you can’t buy magic items, but if you did, they would be anywhere between 50,000 and 300,0000 gp. This doesn’t help dms gauge when and how they should give their players a way to spend their gold at higher tiers of adventuring. It is an oversight that is in no way detrimental to the game, but is something that should be addressed.

    • Headbutting an elf to death

      It could be said 5th edition is good for casual or new players who aren’t willing or have time to learn some rules. There never should be an argument about rules, that is a DM losing control of their table, the DM’s word is final, rules clarification can be done outside of play time. Rules are there to increase choice and supplement creative differences in a character, 5th edition is a cookie cutter approach with limited choices, and one dimensional characters in flavor and game mechanics terms (especially martial classes). While you can make creative fluff for 5th character, and any system, without rules behind them the choices will not have an impact on the game itself, unless the DM makes them up on the fly constantly. As a DM of systems with more crunch I appreciate the guess work and balance of rules being made already for me without me having to make up rules. If players are making murder hobos, its not the systems fault, you need to discuss the abuse of rules with them.

    • Arlen Smith

      “Min-Max: Sure you can Min-Max anything but i have never found that to be fun….ever.”

      Then you’ve never been at a table with serious veteran players who will openly mock you for trying to play with your suboptimal flavorful character.

      Fair warning, especially at a convention.

  61. Kalavin

    Edit: Olwen is not the person that made this thread lol. Oren*

  62. John Smith

    I would absolutely hate to play D&D with the guy that posted this article.

    He seems to completely miss out on the fact that D&D is a roleplaying experience… not a powergaming MMO. Classes (like reality) do not need to be balanced. In fact they should NOT be balanced. Imbalance creates unique stories and offers more chances for the party to cover each others flaws. (Or in the case of evil parties exploit their weakness for personal gain.)

    This modern move to make everything and everyone “equal” also dilutes those things that make us unique and different. It’s easy for a knowledable DM to work around class imbalance if their players ever begin to feel useless. Simple mechanics like magical poisoned (in a rapidly decaying form that requires a strand of hair from the PC which was stolen from the Inn they slept at the night before) intelligence draining xbow bolts a foe used during “encounter x” will instantly make that silly caster be glad his beefy party members are there. Constructs with high magical resistances.
    Missions that involve sneaking past pillars armed with traps with permanent detect magic enchantments. Ect Ect Ect.

    Back to the roleplaying side of things for a moment. If your players are the hack and slash type I’d recommend staying away from 3.5/5th edition entirely in favor of 4th or pathfinder. Both 3.5 and 5th encourage a type of gameplay which is RP heavy. Many try to play it as a hack and slash, and there in is the problem. Why are a nature loving ranger and a wizard who loves to sling fireballs in the middle of a forest even in the same party? What is a ale guzzling half-orc merc barb/fighter doing in party with a Neutral Good Cleric, and a Lawful Good Paladin? One of a DM’s primary job is finding a scenario where their players would come together as a group by working with them, and even making suggestions when things likely would not work out well.

    Not all encounters need to be combat, and that is where many of the classes shine. Swimming through a flooded underground cave, or climbing a nearly sheer cliff to set a rope to guide the other through. Lifting a large boulder free of a trapped companions leg. Being able to track a wounded animal and carry it back to the dryad’s grove to earn their trust. Gathering information by infiltrating a smugglers ring… Ect, ect.. Those are where less combat capable classes come to shine. Those are the things the DM fails at by not including in they story.

    Remember. It is a story crafted by the DM and the players who play the role of the characters in that story that make D&D great. Not “Fantasy Battle SImulator 5.0.”

    • Arlen Smith

      “He seems to completely miss out on the fact that D&D is a roleplaying experience…”

      No. D&D is a tactics game at heart. It is a combat simulator with an RP veneer.

      The RP part is more veneer than the combat simulator at its heart… like it or not.

      I tried to add a lot of depth to the social/RP side of things with additions to 5e and players revolted. They said things like “Why have it written out instead of letting the players figure it out on their own?” Questions like that aren’t asked about the combat simulation mechanics. They’re just a way of saying “I’m not as serious about the rules when it comes to RP… meaning I’m not as serious about RP so don’t bug me with the details”

      • Michael

        D&D is awful combat simulator- not that it has to be realistic. Rather it has a lot of stuff that is just a bunch of mechanics stuck in their with no real thought except for this is how we balance it but without any justification. It is particular awful for responsive combat/defence/tactics which are nigh impossible.

  63. DM's Workshop

    I would be more inclined to take this article seriously if Mr. Ashkenazi could properly apply the stuff he reads (and quotes). His point about wizard/cleric multiclassed characters casting 9th-level cleric spells is 1,000,000,000% wrong.

    For an explanation of how multiclass spellcasting actually works, I encourage people to read my article here: http://dmsworkshop.com/2017/04/09/things-you-didnt-know-about-dd-multiclass-spellcasting/

    Aside from this, the other most glaring issues in the article are:
    1) The point that AC is somehow super important. This is only true at lower levels when monster’s attack bonuses are low enough that a high AC makes a difference. There is only so far you can reasonably push your AC without making it the focus of your entire build, and so beyond a certain point, you’re still getting hit 50% of the time. This means that the most important resources you can have are actually hit points or effects which negate damage such as Uncanny Dodge, the Defensive Duellist feat, or spells like Mirror Image.
    2) Invisibility just makes you somewhat harder to hit. Nope, invisibility makes you invisible. Enemies have to perceive where you are and even if they figure it out, they have disadvantage on attacking your square with a weapon attack. Not only that, they can’t use target-specific spells, which all require that you target a creature/object “that you can see”. They can throw a fireball around where they think you are, but you’re functionally immune to Disintegrate or similar spells unless the enemy has See Invisibility or truesight. Once again, Mr. Ashkenazi should have taken the time to familiarize himself with important mechanics before writing a scathing, ill-informed article.

    Other than these points, the article touches on some issues that have plagued tabletop games since their inception, such as verisimilitude. Unfortunately, as much as we want the game to simulate reality, we are not playing a sim; we’re playing a game. Sometimes in these situations, you have to accept that rules are intended to provide for ease of play. If it becomes something that players abuse, you are empowered as the DM to make a new rule for it.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Hey, Oren here. I tried to post this on your article, but it looks like my comment got lost in moderation. Anyway, thanks for linking to us!

      While I wouldn’t rate anything you said as 1,000,000,000% wrong (though I’m flattered you thought my article rated a billion on any metric), I do think you’re reading Rules as Intended rather than Rules as Written when it comes to the Cleric multiclass spellcasting.

      The trick comes in the way the Cleric learns spells. That is, they don’t. Per page 58, Clerics effectively know their entire spell list, and are only limited by the spell slots their have available. Druids work this way too. Rangers and Wizards, on the other hand, have a limited number of known spells that they can choose from.

      Per page 164, you determine which spells you know and prepare for each class individually. So when my Wizard 17/Cleric 1 is preparing spells as first level Cleric, he knows every Cleric spell on the list. He need only expend spells lots of the appropriate level to cast them.

      Since my character does not have Wizard Slots and Cleric Slots, only their total Spell Slots from their combined class levels, they can prepare any spell from the Cleric list as a first level Cleric.

      I’m certain this isn’t what the 5E designers intended, but it is what they wrote. I’m not suggesting anyone should run 5E this way, god knows I didn’t, I’m only looking at what the rules actually allow, and in this case they allow for an overpowered combination.

      A GM is always free to say no, but it would have been better for the rules not to allow such a combo in the first place. Experienced GMs know not to allow this, but a newbie GM who isn’t clued into our conversation might not know any better.

      I’m a little confused by the assertion that the AC issues only matter at low level, and so they aren’t a problem. For one thing, I’ve easily made higher level characters with high AC, and it was very powerful. 5th Ed specifically set out to make AC matter more by giving fewer attack bonuses (they call it Bounded Accuracy), and I think they succeeded.

      But even if we assume you’re right and that AC only matters at low level, lots of people play the game at low level. The majority of my games have started at level 1. So it’s still pretty important.

      As for invisibility, it takes a while to figure out, but if you follow the links of what being invisible actually does, you find that the mechanically it counts as anyone who attacks the invisible character being blinded. That means disadvantage on attack rolls. The rules are also very clear that any sound or tracks the invisible character makes can give away their location, so unless you have perfect silence and don’t leave tracks, being located is easy.

      I’m a little disappointed by your final point, that other issues I’ve raised have been problems in other games, therefore it’s pointless to talk about them or expect better from games. I think RPGs can be better than constantly repeating the mistakes of the past. For that matter, most of the problems I list have been addressed in games outside the D&D family.

      • Kalavin

        Oren, the problem with your reading is that there is an explicit example in the mutliclassing rules PHB 164. You determine spells you know and prepare individually, as if you were a single-classed member of that class. It also says that you combine your class levels for the sake of slots which might give you slots that you simply can’t use for anything but upcasting existing spells. Because you prepare as a first level cleric, you are not able to prepare a spell of 9th level as written because in the cleric spellcasting rules it tells you that you can only prepare spells for which you have slots. Meaning you, the first level cleric, can only prep 1st level spells.

        I will also mention that even if you could cast 9th level cleric spells with your build, that really wouldn’t change the game too drastically as a 17th level wizard can already shape the world with a wave of his hand. Both wish and simulacrum are far more game changing in my mind.

        Invisibility is, according to the dictionary, the “inability to be seen.” Of course you leave tracks and make noise. This has nothing to do with invisibility. It is up to the character to still remain quiet and sneak while invisible. And then even if they are found, the enemy still has disadvantage on all attacks. And to put a little icing on the cake, the invisible character has advantage on attack rolls.

        To your last comment, I think 5e has learned from the mistakes of 4e and 3.5 but not of rpg’s in general. 5e is the best Dungeons and Dragons game. It is not a perfect rpg by any means, but it is certainly better than its D&D ancestors mechanically. I do have huge respect for the atmosphere and sheer content of AD&D though. Can’t compete with the feeling of dusting off an old binder filled with loose images of your worst nightmares while you try to find out how to kill a beholder before it melts the party.

      • Arlen Smith

        “I do think you’re reading Rules as Intended rather than Rules as Written ”

        Rules as Written must be taken as Rules as Intended.

        Otherwise, you’re houseruling.

        This is why the editorial process is so critical. Yet, English majors and other Humanities folks get short shrift in respect, hiring, and wages. People like to pretend that their only role is to write stories and dialog… not do verbal logic checks.

      • El Suscriptor Justiciero

        > I’m certain this isn’t what the 5E designers intended, but it is what they wrote.

        The point is, NO IT ISN’T. They wrote that you prepare spells as if you were a single-classed character of that class and level.

        When your W19/C1 goes to prepare Cleric spells, you prepare them as if you were a single-classed 1st-level cleric. And, here’s the kicker,

        == a 1st-level cleric doesn’t have 9th-level spell slots. ==

        Since you have only one level of cleric, you can only prepare 1st-level cleric spells─regardless of which real spell slots you actually have to cast your spells of any class. You may cast a 9th-level guiding bolt, but you cannot cast a 2nd-level augury because you cannot prepare augury. Because it’s a 2nd-level spell and single-classed 1st-level clerics can’t prepare 2nd-level cleric spells. And the rules say this EXPLICITLY, even if they are poorly redacted. This is not just RAI, it is also RAW in all printed versions of the book and in the online SRD. The rules DO say that your W19/C1 cannot prepare high-level cleric spells.

        That’s what the words written in the pages mean.

  64. Dr T

    Dude, you know that %e is an edition of D&D and not the next release of WoW don’t you?

  65. Rikhard von Katzen

    I don’t really care about balance or making encounters fair, but it’s pointlessly complicated and I immediately deleted everything I had written and bought for 5e after playing 3 sessions. Garbage, I’d rather play about twenty free games I found on some blog.

    • Kalavin Alderac

      Sounds like you care a lot actually.

    • Arlen Smith

      “I don’t really care about balance or making encounters fair”

      Then you’re not playing a strategic game.

      D&D is a strategic game. You’re playing the wrong system.

      • El Suscriptor Justiciero

        This is correct, D&D is the lovechild of Chainmail, an old medieval-themed wargame, and fantasy. OD&D was a strategic game from the get-go, BD&D and AD&D were a strategic game, AD&D With Player’s Options was still a strategic game, AD&D Without The A was even more of a strategic game after WotC took over, and then AD&D Without The A 4th Edition was directly a wargame again, back to its Chainmail roots. It was in denial though (it believed that it still was a roleplaying game, not a wargame), but that doesn’t change the fact that 4E was a new edition of Chainmail rather than of AD&D.

  66. Stormhawk

    I don’t get the complaints about character classes being balanced. I’ve been playing D&D since the days of 2nd edition, and I have never once thought about whether or not a fighter is as powerful as a wizard. I don’t really care. If you want to be able to do damage at a distance, you pick a casting class. If you want to be able to get up close and personal and put the hurt on people, you pick a fighting class. And if your opponent has all kinds of range on you, and you do your best hurting close up, you think strategically to figure out a way to counteract your opponent’s advantages, OR YOU DIE. When I see people moaning and complaining about balance, I just don’t get it. Balance has never been an issue in ANY game I’ve played.

    Beyond that, a LOT of people seem to not understand a basic fact of D&D: ultimately, the rules and books don’t matter. It’s YOUR world, so YOU decide which rules apply and which don’t. Not everything in the books, in terms of creatures, items, spells, etc., necessarily HAS to exist in your world. YOU create your world; the books are just a guide. If you find a class or something unbalances your game or conflicts with your setting, THROW IT OUT. For example, fighters in my setting do NOT get healing surges (oh, wait, it’s called “Second Wind” now, right?). Sorry. If you’re a fighter (my favorite class), you’re NOT a magical character, and no amount of leveling up will make you magical. You get the hit points you have and, when you’ve exhausted them, YOU DIE. That means fighters have to be careful as well as tough, and they need to invest in first aid skills, healing potions, and maybe even keep a cleric around. You don’t get to suddenly regenerate a bunch of hit points just because. And any player who doesn’t like that can hit the bricks; there are plenty of others around.

    The rules are there as guidelines to help you create your own setting, not as inviolable laws. In my opinion, people who complain about balance haven’t yet learned that. When you take off the training wheels and start building your own settings, adventures, and campaigns, you’ll figure that out.

    • Stormhawk

      Oh, and as far as I’m concerned, 3rd edition, 3.5 edition, and Pathfinder/3.75 edition are the pinnacle of Dungeons and Dragons. I think we can all agree that, with very few exceptions, 4th edition SUCKED, and 5th edition, while better than 4th, still smells too much like 4th for my taste (for example, the aforementioned “Second Wind” power for fighters). Most of the games I run are 3.5 edition, and I also include/use elements of 3.75/Pathfinder. But even then, I build EVERYTHING myself, based on the rules, and I NEVER have balance issues or any of so many other complaints I hear about D&D.

    • Arlen Smith

      “I have never once thought about whether or not a fighter is as powerful as a wizard. I don’t really care.”

      Then you’re not playing a strategic game.

      D&D is a strategic game. You’re playing the wrong system.

  67. words

    Our hobby, like anything, benefits from legitimate criticism. I appreciate your efforts. I agree most closely with the concerns of gear progression and the difficulty curve for new players in character generation; I’ve had those issues myself as a player and a GM.

    Many of the issues that Dungeons and Dragons faces go largely unfixed edition to edition, being replace by a mechanic that is more convenient, but broken in a different way. This can be mitigated by an attentive, skilled and considerate GM.

    There is, however, a lot to mitigate. Newer GMs are less likely to catch the majority of issues; a single three hour session of online play with a novice GM in Discord will show you as much. There must also be consensus between the GM and players on the rules, and there are a LOT of rules to remember. It causes confusion and consternation when the rules are unclear to members of the group, and the problem increases exponentially with each member who misunderstands either the structure or intent of the many, many rules.

    Since (nearly) every discussion of How to Improve D&D degenerates into squabbling gamer tribalism, I think it better to ignore the posts above. And the subsequent posts. Pretty much the whole of the discussion. It’s become a real struggle to engage with our community in a way that doesn’t make us part of the problem. Thank you for trying.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Glad you enjoyed the article! It’s honestly no skin off my nose of people get defensive when I critique an RPG (you should see the comments on my Dungeon World review). That’s just the natural state of fans reacting to a thing they like being criticized.

    • Arlen Smith

      “There must also be consensus between the GM and players on the rules, and there are a LOT of rules to remember.”

      Yeah, good luck with that when it comes to house rules! People seem to really really like being deferent to whatever is in a book simply because they bought it or because someone working for a corporation wrote it.

      Of course, they’ll say “It was playtested!”

  68. Mochan

    Sorry, but 5E is drastically superior to 3.5 when it comes to balancing magic users and everyone else. This isn’t even a question.

    Martial classes can easily outdamage magic caster classes by the way; the most optimized martial builds can do 100 damage easily per enemy and can even go up to 200 or 300 in one round. Magic casters can’t reach that level of damage without summoning an army of minions — something not all DMs will allow.

    I’ll give you that some class specializations are definitely worse than others. But it’s hilarious that you have Druids as the #1 class with Wizards — I feel Druids are the weakest class in 5E. Wildshape is weak compared to every other martial classes even on a Moon Druid, and Druid spellcasting is pretty weak compared to Wizard, Sorc, Warlock and Bard options with the exception of Entangle, Spike Growth and the Summoning Spells — and the latter two are available to other classes as well and all of them are available to Bards (which by the way is the real power class in 5E)

    Gear grind isn’t as bad, especially since the core design of 5E lets you survive even with little or no magic items. I won’t deny that getting the right items will supercharge your character over those without, but a character with no items can still hold his own if he has the right build.

    Physics issues aren’t a big deal. Rule as needed. This isn’t science class, this is a fantasy game. Just so you know — the game does tell you how far and how high you can jump, and it also tells you what happens when you put an interdimensional space into an interdimensional space. So I am not sure what you are complaining about. Seems you need to up your game and learn 5E’s rules more.

    Encounter balancing is always a challenge but not as big a deal as you make it out. An experienced DM can have consistent balls-to-the-walls encounters on the fly with his players; don’t rely on XP and CR computations rely on your gut feel and skill as a DM to balance encounters on the fly. Being able to do this is what separates newb DMs from real DMs.

    • American Charioteer

      I definitely agree that bards are unmatched in their versatility and fill do just about any role well. 5e is more balanced than 3.5e (mostly because of concentration and overall simpler spellcasting rules). As for druids the Circle of the Moon is the most powerful class at level 2. But because their strengths are split between wildshape and spellcasting (with the exceptions of a few highly useful concentration spells like Call Lightning) their usefulness drops off and doesn’t recover until they can cast spells while wildshaped at level 18. Then at level 20 they have the best capstone ability of any class. But as most games occur at levels higher than 2 and lower than 18, I agree with your assessment that druids are typically a weak class.

      I actually prefer it when specialized classes are weaker. Druids (and monks and paladins) carry a lot of roleplaying “baggage,” and the game is usually more fun if players only choose highly specialized classes because they want to roleplay, while powergamers stay with less flavorful classes.

  69. Unimpressed

    This is why every edition of D&D after first has basically sucked. Too many rules, too much power gaming and the general inability of modern gamers to think creatively to maximize their characters rather than just load up on items. And any DM who needs things like challenge ratings to properly balance encounters is either lazy or stupid.

    • Arlen Smith

      1e is my personal favorite, although it has some definite issues.

      Affect Normal Fires, for example, is the same spell level as 1e Charm Person and Phantasmal Force.

      A competent creative GM who is willing to change things, and especially add upon it, can make 1e considerably better.

      In low level campaigns, too, wizards really need to be elves. Otherwise, the lack of decent combat worthiness can make things very boring for that player. “I throw darts! I do 1 point of damage and I miss! Yay!”

      The thing I like about Classic and 1e is that magic could be really powerful and not just at high levels. The compensating factors were that wizards were very squishy and, more than that, had few spell slots per day. I like the idea of being able to use some powerful magic at low levels, but not all the time. 1e gives a player that as an elf wizard. You get the longbow and your few daily spells, spells that can be a lot more fun than Affect Normal Fires.

      I also like to mix in some Classic to make magic even more powerful. For me, the main draw of fantasy combat is rare and powerful magic — not players chucking boring weak spells constantly like they’re martial weapon attacks. Casters shouldn’t dominate all situations (ever heard of an anti-magic field covering an entire building?) but they should be able to really shine at times. Magic is supposed to be special, not mundane.

      1e is my personal favorite, although it has some definite issues.

      Affect Normal Fires, for example, is the same spell level as 1e Charm Person and Phantasmal Force.

      A competent creative GM who is willing to change things, and especially add upon it, can make 1e considerably better.

      In low level campaigns, too, wizards really need to be elves. Otherwise, the lack of decent combat worthiness can make things very boring for that player. “I throw darts! I do 1 point of damage and I miss! Yay!”

      The thing I like about Classic and 1e is that magic could be really powerful and not just at high levels. The compensating factors were that wizards were very squishy and, more than that, had few spell slots per day. I like the idea of being able to use some powerful magic at low levels, but not all the time. 1e gives a player that as an elf wizard. You get the longbow and your few daily spells, spells that can be a lot more fun than Affect Normal Fires.

      I also like to judiciously mix in some Classic to make magic even more powerful. For me, the main draw of fantasy combat is rare and powerful magic — not players chucking boring weak spells constantly like they’re martial weapon attacks.

      Charm Person is very powerful but in many sessions it will have no use. Lots of dungeons have no people to charm. Higher levels of power that are very situational are more fun for magic in my view. Martial attacks are routine. They can happen every round and there are no slots.

  70. Wizard1626

    I am going to weigh in late on this, as I just came across this article while looking for something else. From what I recall, all editions said that the books were guide lines. That a GM should use or modify them as they say fit to make their game what they wanted it to be.

    As to meta-gaming (power player), any and all rule systems are subject to this. It just takes time for players to find ways to build a character that is the most powerful thing on the board. If that is the game they wish to play, so be it. As long as all are having fun, have at. I have seen all classes/races etc. used to max out a character beyond the normal curve.

    Being a GM is more about telling a story and having a good time then rules. They help and have a place, but when they get in the way, toss them out, modify them or just suspend it. I make so many decisions on the fly that sometimes things get a little wiggy. But the players never take notice, as I keep the game/story moving and make sure they are enjoying the action. In the end that is what this is suppose to be about. Fun, for them and you as the GM.

  71. Silvir

    So im in on my second year as a player on this.
    DnD 5e is my first DnD. And i love the idea around Dnd.

    But damn the game leaves me wondering WHY on so many things.
    Lack of weapons, AC and Armour, Lazy spells with pathetic flavour/fluff and boring as hell limitations (don’t even get me started on poison). No basic economy structure to start of.
    Classes that are like bunches of different classes/jobs put into one. Several classes crossing into each other to much.
    Combat and combat skills are to limited and weirdly applied. (shield bash is a feat/skill seriously what retard can’t wave around his shield?)
    Resistances/immunities – Damage/Magic damage. But not counter magic?
    No Anti magic?? wat? why? Seriously the spell casters are so OP they feel broken. Why isn’t there more anti magic tools in a world with so much damn magic??

    O__O i feel like DnD refuses to even accept the basic fantasy clichés and archetypes. Constantly trying to be it’s own instead. Honestly i find fantasy literature to make way better and balanced spell casters.

    • enduran

      My take on it is that (most editions of D&D) don’t realize why spellcasters in literature are balanced (when they are). “Hey, Gandalf was balanced with Aragon and Gimli, right? And Conan was always able to get the better of the sorcerers in stories, wasn’t he? And Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser did fine against spellcasters!” But /how/ those fighters and wizards combined to make a story in which they all shone, or in which the fighter was triumphant, doesn’t seem to have been explored. In short, there’s almost always some in-story reason the wizard is held back. D&D generally lacks anything like that. Sure, the DM /could/ say, “Wizard, if you cast more than a cantrip, the enemy will know where you are,” and maybe get a more Gandalfy wizard, but no rules I’ve seen have given good advice on how to make that work.

  72. André Bogaz

    Great article, even 3 years after you wrote it.

    Many of the issues you’ve raised were addressed somehow outside of the rulebook since you posted, and some of them even made it into Xanathar’s Guide (I remember reading there about what wakes someone up and the order that effects take place at least). That’s proof of how having articles like this one makes our hobby move forward and reinvent itself, even if some people get triggered by it — they really shouldn’t, there is no offense in anything that’s written here, it’s just someone’s analysis of a game.

    I do enjoy 5E a lot, though it’s not my favorite edition (I don’t think I have one actually, since I’ve learned to enjoy each one for what they are and learn from their shortcomings, though Moldvay’s Basic, 4E and Pathfinder are probably the ones I more frequently go back to).

    Thanks for the article, I loved it and will be reading more stuff from you (and from this website) in the future.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Thanks Andre, glad you enjoyed it. It’s certainly been interesting to watch how 5E has changed since I wrote this. My favorite bit so far was when they completely revamped the Beastmaster Ranger.

  73. American Charioteer

    The classes were designed with the expectation that a party would have as many as 6-8 combat encounters every day. If parties actually do that, then the spell-casters need to preserve spell slots and at lower levels they are practically useless.

    However, many parties only do a few combat encounters per day at most, in which case spell-casters are overpowered.

  74. Michael

    The things that mythcreants misses about D&D Next’s faults are that the base system doesn’t try to have every class and race being awesome with mechanics and basic equipment that fit with being awesome. A lot of mechanics have one line of text to support them so much for being a roleplaying game. Magic users are a lot more awesome than melee focused characters but the designers should have done the hard work to make everyone awesome- someone you are inspired to roleplay. They should have written a long story to explain at least every major part of the system. As examples: armor is dull, people have no idea why bards have magic ( I would have called it quasi-magic which can’t be stopped by anti-magic), armor proficiency is dull (make fighting types into badasses who can take the stress of wearing armor in combat instead geeks who know how to wear armor as 5E vaguely implies), AC is vague. 4E had some great ideas but it was too much. They have take 4E as inspiration to make 5E simple but awesome and I don’t mean simulationist really. For instance I wouldn’t bother with carrying stuff detailed mechanics just have some super-strong assistants to carry everything not needed immediately. Make falling more dramatic but less damaging. It should be a roleplaying system not a bunch of mechanics jumbled together with only balance thoughts in mind.

  75. RGT

    I enjoy this site – and appreciate reviews of RPGs.

    I cannot speak to any D&D games after AD&D, which I used to enjoy many years ago. The AD&D system was designed with the DM having the final say on rules and being able to change rules for that universe. However, the rules were a framework and left much to the DM. Obviously, it was important to consistent. However, having a loose framework allows for much more flexibility and fun. Frankly, I believe that all the new D&D Editions and systems are far too rules intensive and take the roleplay from the game. While I can recall constant searches for supplemental information (Dragon magazine, Arduin Grimoire, etc.), these supplements were optional and usually would not interfere with the framework. Current editions I have looked at seem to be more about feats and abilities and special powers, etc. which I believe would act much like a computer RPG – go there, do this, get the next rank and so forth. I’m not trashing that type of game, but I just enjoy a looser game where the entire experience is numbers driven. (I believe the charts/numbers/ranks should be used as little as possible – especially ingame. Obviously there are rolls of the dice, but the characters shouldn’t be discussing how they will get a certain feat/power in just a few more XP. One DM insisted that special acts be written on a note and slipped to him. He would also require quick action at times and would disallow actions if it was outside the character. He would also award extra exp for good roleplay – which were not really in any rulebook at the time.)

    For me, the true fun was always in the early part of RPGs, when real risk of loss existed and thought, ingenuity and luck played a part. I think the most memorable nights were those when characters used creativity to solve problems that were unexpected by the DM. Or the time that our entire party (several months along) was wiped out due to a couple of bad decisions by our group, several unlucky rolls and just plain bad luck. Starting a new character the next session, however, was also exciting.

    Just my thoughts from the late 1970s-80s.

  76. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s note: I have deleted a comment here for the used of “autistic” as a slur. It’s fine to disagree with the review as vehemently as you like, but ableist language is not acceptable.

    • Taylor

      I didn’t use autistic as a slur, Winston was autistic and they have very special attributes, in guessing that you had more of a problem with #1 my use of Nazi and #2 that I clearly proved Beyo a shadow of a doubt that your staff never should have published the article, and if you really cared so my about PC slurs you wouldn’t be on a gaming board you’d be protesting the American President for calling Mexican culture a “rape culture” for using a neonazi ad in his campaign kickoff, for his defending the KKK, for his advisor being skinheads, for his ethnic slurs against Muslims, for his use of ethnicity slurs and Africa Americans, for his spreading racism, xenophobia, joking about his sexually assaulting teenage girls, et cetera. PS lying is a sin and you Justin did

      • Michael Campbell

        I don’t like saying this but the US political system is so badly broken*, that protests won’t fix anything.
        At this stage, the only way to fix a broken parliamentary system is to run for office one’s self.

        I saw Meet The Press this morning and Andrea Mitchell was saying something pretty insightful…July 2001…so two wars didn’t move the country any closer to fixing the problem.

        *Basically what has happened is there have always been two kinds of politicians; those that like to win and those that like to govern.
        But one day back in the dark mists of time, a group that liked to win realised that they could win in perpetuity, by getting rid of the ones on their own side who liked to govern and replacing them with more who liked to win.
        And then the other side saw this happening and did likewise so that the other party wouldn’t have their winning remain in a perpetual state.
        So the final result is two sides where the word “compromise” is a slur.
        And the entire American political system is built upon and dependent on; compromise…it’s what Americans are good at…Shelby Foote said so himself (or thereabouts).

        It’s strange to need to say it but…
        The way to get 80% of what you want is to first ask yourself how to give the other guy 70% of what he wants.
        But instead the worldview becomes; “even getting just one thing is infinitely** more than getting nothing so let’s make sure the other guy gets nothing.”

        ** Just to be really technical***, the Inverse Tan of infinity divided by one will yield an angle that is infinitely close to 90 degrees. So theoretical one divided by zero (which yields 90 degrees) is in fact more than infinity.

        *** But you know…Technical-people concern themselves with things like “how compound interest affects governmental debt”. So a congress populated entirely with “the winning set” is unlikely to be interested in that little factoid.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: I have deleted another comment for again using autistic as a slur.

  77. Michael Campbell

    Oren:
    You know, the number one problem for management is the “constantly putting out spot fires” thing.
    Don’t let it tucker you out.

  78. Jack

    To Arlen Smith, who seems to reply to everyone with a comment along the lines of “The REAL gamers are power-gamers so anything else is wrong!”

    Maybe D&D 5e isn’t the best game for power-gamers. They can play other editions or other games- I know that 1e D&D started as a war game, tactics based combat simulator. And that’s totally fine! But I think 5e exists for those who are interested in D&D and maybe not interested in being power gamers or war gamers.

    I do think that 5e is flawed in one major way: Balance is a little wonky especially at high levels, and I think above all else martial classes have less options than spellcasters, which sucks. A 20th level wizard can do amazing things and is incredibly versatile! A 20th level fighter is really good at attacking with weapons. I think it’s fine that casters are more versatile than martial classes, but I think martial classes deserve more than attacks and bonus actions.

  79. enduran

    Well, this reaffirms my decision to stick with 4th Edition.

    Clearly, not everyone sees class-to-class balance the same way, or even as an inherently good thing, so 4th Edition’s approach to it definitely isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it’s a little odd to read about how 4th Edition classes “feel the same” when spellcasters outside of 4th Edition literally cast the exact same spells. In 4th Edition, only a PC wizard will use Magic Missile. Every other arcane class and monster caster uses something else. See also, Cure Light Wounds.

    Yes, 4th Edition has a lot of rules, but it also has the option (much vaunted here) for me to simply ignore or change things I don’t like. And I have in fact done that, though I haven’t had to do it to bring about the class balance and effectiveness I wanted since I started playing in the late 80s and would apparently be wanting again if I went to 5th Edition.

    To each their own, and if you enjoy 5th Edition, I hope you keep enjoying it. If you don’t, 4th Edition might fix a lot of the issues your having, while not preventing you from doing other things.

  80. MaesterOlorin

    People who complain about caster vs physical classes in 3.5 always seem to over look the encounter rate and nature. A wizard has a d4 hp for a reason. he has to do everything to avoid getting hit at all because he will quickly lose his handful of hp. Hitting a sorcerer with a lightning bolt cast bay the appropriate CR and he is good as dead. Cleric spells are intentionally weaker to grant be supporter. As much of an ego stroke as it might be to cast all your buffs on yourself, they wont be nearly as effective as putting them on the barbarian, who can take the hits and not lose the concentration of those 5 spells. 3.5 was designed to be played together. The SRD Feat bloat eventually weighed it down but over all if you were moderately smart (standard deviation above the avg IQ or more) and not selfish but played as a team, it was by far the most liberating and interesting version of the game to date. You can build your floating castle or rage and wrestle your dragon or just clear a graveyard of a few rogue zombies. 3.5 let you ask what do I want to do and then you just needed to figure out how many levels until your Temple of Pelor shots sunbeams at the trespassing nonbeliver.

    • Michael Campbell

      I think you’ll find it was 1D6 HP in version 3.5 so maybe you’re still playing 2nd ed.

      As to too powerful, as far as I can tell, people are using the wrong vocabulary.
      The Wizard isn’t too powerful but rather the Wizard player gets the bulk of the “in game” decision making.
      The Fighter player gets to make a choice during the level up process:- which new feat shall I choose.
      The Wizard player gets to make a choice during each melee round:- which spell shall I choose to cast.

      It’s not actually about power but rather “opportunity to participate”. But we say power because some kind of slack attitude to expressing what we really mean.

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