D&D 5E Active Perception Check: 5e and Me

Retreater

Legend
First, I’m starting off this thread with what might seem like a blog post. ENWorld might not be the best place for it. If it’s inappropriate for me to write this here, then I hope it will drift like a Feather Fall to the bottom of the threads. Maybe someone will “necro” it in a decade for a good laugh. But ENWorld has been my home for discussing TTRPGs for 17 years, and it’s still my favorite place to come talk about this hobby with like-minded friends and strangers.

Second, I’m not putting a “(+)” on this thread: some of you might have strong opinions about this, and I welcome the discourse. However, I’m not trying to start an argument. Mostly this is my effort to make peace in my own mind with my thoughts about something that is kinda weighing heavily on me.

Across various online sites and in-person venues, I share my experiences with 5th edition D&D to the bewilderment of others. My experiences seem out of sync with the majority of the community. It’s like a mischievous fae removed the innards of my 2014 Player’s Handbook and replaced it with GURPS or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I feel like my games don’t line up with a typical 5e experience and I have a large disconnect communicating about it.

I do have a long experience in TTRPGs. I started with AD&D 2e in 1989 and ran that for years until going through the trajectory of 3.0, 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and finally to 5e. And there are other games as well (GURPS, TMNT, WFRP, Savage Worlds, OSR, Traveller, PbtA, Year Zero, Cthulhu, Pathfinder 2, and more).

Before starting with 5e, my most immediate system experiences were Pathfinder 1 and 4e D&D. I think I was unable to shake off those expectations: magic item economies, tactical combat on a grid, robust encounter design guidelines, pre-published modules that covered up to high level play, etc. Judging 5e by these expectations was unfair. (After all, did Call of Cthulhu provide Encounter Levels? Is there a magic item economy in Monster of the Week? Didn’t I do okay in 2nd Edition AD&D without gridded combat and robustly defined rules for disarming and tripping?)

My expectation with 5e was that it would continue the legacy of modern d20 design from WotC - that it would be a follow-up to 3rd and 4th editions. (In my defense, I think the marketing kind of led me to believe this.) In actuality, maybe my expectations would have been more tempered if I thought of it as a successor to 2nd edition. No chart about how to award magic items, no scientific approach to encounter balance, no real purpose for anything but the most basic maneuvering in combat (compared to 3.x and 4e), etc.

I noticed a historic growth in the hobby, like many of you. I live in a small, conservative town, and in the past, I was lucky to be able to find four other players to play every other week. That changed, I think due to 5e and to other pop culture factors (Critical Role, Big Bang Theory, Community, Stranger Things, Baldur’s Gate 3, etc.) This week alone, I am running three games for fifteen different players. Frankly, it’s exhausting. The only extended break I’ve had from running multiple weekly games in the past three years was two weeks last month, when I took time off for my dad’s passing and funeral.

I do enjoy playing/running games, just as I enjoy reading a variety of gaming books and spending time on forums such as ENWorld. The assistance I seek to help me run these games are pre-published adventures and robust rules-sets so I don’t have to memorize potentially three different sets of table rules, engage in rules debates with fifteen different players, and worry about how to tweak the perfect balance of encounter difficulty and treasure to make thrilling adventures that aren’t too easy or deadly.

I know this is rambling and it seems that I should try to pull this together into something coherent. I guess my thesis is I would be fine to create original, artisanally crafted gaming experiences if I had one group every one or two weeks. I don’t feel like I have that luxury with the demands on me to run so many games for so many players. I need a system with strong support and rules that can withstand a lot of activity without a) boring the players; b) leaving me to experiment through trial and error with magic item awards and encounter balancing; and c) opening up the potential for arguments as I scroll through X (formerly Twitter) for posts made by Jeremy Crawford what the rules actually are.

I wish D&D was that game. It sure used to be.
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
First, I’m starting off this thread with what might seem like a blog post. ENWorld might not be the best place for it. If it’s inappropriate for me to write this here, then I hope it will drift like a Feather Fall to the bottom of the threads. Maybe someone will “necro” it in a decade for a good laugh. But ENWorld has been my home for discussing TTRPGs for 17 years, and it’s still my favorite place to come talk about this hobby with like-minded friends and strangers.

Second, I’m not putting a “(+)” on this thread: some of you might have strong opinions about this, and I welcome the discourse. However, I’m not trying to start an argument. Mostly this is my effort to make peace in my own mind with my thoughts about something that is kinda weighing heavily on me.

Across various online sites and in-person venues, I share my experiences with 5th edition D&D to the bewilderment of others. My experiences seem out of sync with the majority of the community. It’s like a mischievous fae removed the innards of my 2014 Player’s Handbook and replaced it with GURPS or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I feel like my games don’t line up with a typical 5e experience and I have a large disconnect communicating about it.

I do have a long experience in TTRPGs. I started with AD&D 2e in 1989 and ran that for years until going through the trajectory of 3.0, 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and finally to 5e. And there are other games as well (GURPS, TMNT, WFRP, Savage Worlds, OSR, Traveller, PbtA, Year Zero, Cthulhu, Pathfinder 2, and more).

Before starting with 5e, my most immediate system experiences were Pathfinder 1 and 4e D&D. I think I was unable to shake off those expectations: magic item economies, tactical combat on a grid, robust encounter design guidelines, pre-published modules that covered up to high level play, etc. Judging 5e by these expectations was unfair. (After all, did Call of Cthulhu provide Encounter Levels? Is there a magic item economy in Monster of the Week? Didn’t I do okay in 2nd Edition AD&D without gridded combat and robustly defined rules for disarming and tripping?)

My expectation with 5e was that it would continue the legacy of modern d20 design from WotC - that it would be a follow-up to 3rd and 4th editions. (In my defense, I think the marketing kind of led me to believe this.) In actuality, maybe my expectations would have been more tempered if I thought of it as a successor to 2nd edition. No chart about how to award magic items, no scientific approach to encounter balance, no real purpose for anything but the most basic maneuvering in combat (compared to 3.x and 4e), etc.

I noticed a historic growth in the hobby, like many of you. I live in a small, conservative town, and in the past, I was lucky to be able to find four other players to play every other week. That changed, I think due to 5e and to other pop culture factors (Critical Role, Big Bang Theory, Community, Stranger Things, Baldur’s Gate 3, etc.) This week alone, I am running three games for fifteen different players. Frankly, it’s exhausting. The only extended break I’ve had from running multiple weekly games in the past three years was two weeks last month, when I took time off for my dad’s passing and funeral.

I do enjoy playing/running games, just as I enjoy reading a variety of gaming books and spending time on forums such as ENWorld. The assistance I seek to help me run these games are pre-published adventures and robust rules-sets so I don’t have to memorize potentially three different sets of table rules, engage in rules debates with fifteen different players, and worry about how to tweak the perfect balance of encounter difficulty and treasure to make thrilling adventures that aren’t too easy or deadly.

I know this is rambling and it seems that I should try to pull this together into something coherent. I guess my thesis is I would be fine to create original, artisanally crafted gaming experiences if I had one group every one or two weeks. I don’t feel like I have that luxury with the demands on me to run so many games for so many players. I need a system with strong support and rules that can withstand a lot of activity without a) boring the players; b) leaving me to experiment through trial and error with magic item awards and encounter balancing; and c) opening up the potential for arguments as I scroll through X (formerly Twitter) for posts made by Jeremy Crawford what the rules actually are.

I wish D&D was that game. It sure used to be.
I'm curious why you don't cancel two of your games and focus on just one of them?
 

Retreater

Legend
I'm curious why you don't cancel two of your games and focus on just one of them?
The social contract.
One of them is a neighborhood game for the area youth and their families. It's also the only regular in-person group I have at the moment.
Another is a group of my wife's friends who she loves sharing the hobby with.
A third includes my best friend (who lives out of state) and we're really enjoying that campaign.

I do enjoy most of the games I'm running, even if I'm just the "ignorant muscle" running them. But it is exhausting. Like, I collapse afterwards, literally drained.
 


HaroldTheHobbit

Adventurer
If I was short of time, came from rules-for-everything systems, wanted good premade adventures and had three permanent groups, I would try to convert the players to Pathfinder 2e. In my limited experience it is - after an initial learning hump - probably the least time and prep consuming system to GM, especially on a VTT.

If you’re stuck with 5e I can only recommend to ditch at least one group, for both your enjoyment and health.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The social contract.
One of them is a neighborhood game for the area youth and their families. It's also the only regular in-person group I have at the moment.
Another is a group of my wife's friends who she loves sharing the hobby with.
A third includes my best friend (who lives out of state) and we're really enjoying that campaign.

I do enjoy most of the games I'm running, even if I'm just the "ignorant muscle" running them. But it is exhausting. Like, I collapse afterwards, literally drained.
One of the youths can run the first game, your wife can run the second game, and you can focus on the campaign you actually enjoy. Do some Co-DMing at first, and then leave yourself available for advice and session planning.

I don't think anyone in any of your groups wants you to be feeling like you are only running them due to the social contract.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I hear and commiserate what you are saying.

5e does have a more robust magic item distribution, it's just hidden by the tables. It gets broken down in Xanathar's on page 135, but that is all distilled from the magic item charts. If you hard line followed the DMG treasure charts and never just made it up or put in what seemed appropriate, it was correct. That's why Xanathar's chart si so useful - it distills the results of the many rolls on those charts down to expectations, and having numbers their can shoot for matches a wider swath of DMs.

The +X grind of 3.x and 4e, that was implicitly then explicitly part of character advancement math, isn't in 5e. You can get away with not a single +X item the entire game and the character is not falling behind expected math. (It is assuming that, for example, weapon users eventually have magic weapons without pluses to get through Resistance.) A humble +1 sword is a boon above expectations even at 20th level.

Designer math is around 6-7 encounters per long rest, with 2 short rests splitting it into thirds. With as many days above 7 encounters as below 7 encounters. It's the wrong expectation, no one regularly does that not even the published adventures. But without it several things break down. The attrition expectations of the CR system (be it HP, spell slots, uses per day for features, consumable/charged items, or whatever). The balance between the at-will classes like the rogue and the long-rest-recovery classes like casters and hybrids like the paladin and barbarian. Plus then the short-rest-recovery classes.

Next campaign I'm planning on a variation* of the Gritty Recovery rules (short rest = 8 hours, long rest = 7 days) to try to make how I run the game (few encounters per day) and what the designers expect to match up better. That might be a boon for you having more solid rules.

But the CR system has the same limitations that 3ed, 3.5 and 4e has - it doesn't measure party synergy, build optimization, degree of tactical play, or particular strengths/weaknesses of the party vs. types of foes. (Oh look, flyers vs. a party with only 1 ranged character.) 5e has a lousy CR system, but it's not any weaker than any of them since WotC became the steward of the game.

Combat has been streamlined with less options - but for what you said you want for having so many groups that seems like a positive, even if it wasn't your expectation.

As an aside about marketing expectations, my memories was that WotC was trying to reunite the player base, and have the feel of classic D&D. The marketing expectations I had were that they would be backing away from much of the 4e changes, and that "classic" D&D, which is more than just 3.x, would be the order of the day.

They definitely let you down in terms of published modules for high level play. Between not doing modules, only hardcover campaigns/adventure paths, and then focusing on the levels that they expected the most consumer interest, I mean that they expected most play to happen, we have plenty starting at 1st and going up to low double digits. 10, 11, maybe breaking into the teens but likely not. It seems that there is a small, dedicated set of tables that want high level play, and it hasn't been deemed large enough to get more than just a light dusting of product, like Mad Mage.



(*variation on Gritty Recovery: spells of 8 hours or more last until next time you recover spells instead, stolen from BG3 but it keeps spells like Mage Armor from becoming a trap. magic items recharge on new and full moon to keep them in line. wonderful and safe accommodations like Elrond's can cut down time needed for long rest.)
 


jgsugden

Legend
A couple responses here:

1.) 5E is a departure from 4E, but it is a clear successor to 3.5. That is just a side comment...

2.) If you're burned out or not feeling it as a DM - do not run the game. You can do it here or there and muddle through, but when you need a break, take it. Either cancel the session, ask someone else to run a one shot, play board games, or run a simple one shot in a rules light system Dread or Paranoia. If you push yourself when you're burned out the game will suffer, the players will be less interested, and you may make mistakes out of frustration that impact the game or game group long term.

3.) For the younger group: Train them to DM. Hand one of them a simple module and teach them how to run the game - and then how to modify a module to make it their own - and then how to create homebrew. Running for kids is great - but you're holding them back if you stay in the DM chair too long. I DMed at 8. My son is starting to DM at age 8. Neither situation would win awards ... but both situations are the first steps on very long and rewarding roads.

When I DM for a younger group I always encourage them to be creative and add to the world. For example, when I ran LMoP for some kids and they met the NPCs in Phandalin I gave the players a description of the NPCs and then asked them what they thought the NPCs might sound like ... and then I picked one of them to read what the NPC said (some reading from a print out of rumors ... some reading my revised language for what the NPC would reveal, etc...) Then I asked them to improvise a little as the NPC and ran with what they said.

I also encourage them to learn the rules themselves. Rather than telling them a rule they got wrong, I tell them to look up the rule and direct them to it. These steps get the kids set up to run their own games without help - and it is such a great gift.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I think other versions, particularly 1E and 3E were much more difficult for me in combaty, becuase while the rules were complete there were a lot more to know. In 3E it is knowing all the different options. In 1E it was knowing all the order and interplay with weapons and armor type and reach and speed factor etc. 5E is much easier and cleaner IMO.

However 5E also relies on DM judgement a lot more: Example from play - Goblin Ranger: "I grab the end of the rope (tied off and used to climb up a cliff previously) walk through the Ogre's space and then from the other side pull it tight and trip him." There are no rules for that, you can't actually even repurpose Shove prone rules because the Ogre is two sizes bigger and can't be shoved by the Goblin. I had the Goblin do a contested Acrobatics Check and she won and proned the Ogre. It was not an attack action though and she did not get her 2nd extra attack.

In 5E you have to just make a decision on that kind of stuff and do it fast. You also need to just make a decision on any rules you can't remember, do what feels right and figure it out after the game.

5E is designed to play that way and I think it works a lot better because of it.
 

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