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

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Sounds to me like you’re badly overbooked. If I were you, I’d be looking to shift one or two games to alternate weeks. For my regular Thursday night group, one other DM and I alternate weeks. One week, I run, then I play, then I run, etc. Aside from balancing the load, we do it because one player has a Shadowrun game on alternate weeks too, so he schedules to be in one of the two alternate campaigns and the schedules mesh.
Social contract or no, you sound like you’re spreading yourself thin.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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.
1) Sorry to hear about your dad. It happens to all of us, but is always hard.
2) Social media probably cause more problems than they solve. I wouldn't seek D&D wisdom there.
3) The system you describe is out there, waiting to be discovered! Have faith!
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
Firstly, before anything else: My condolences about your dad. I recently went through that same experience. I'm...not sure I've gotten back to a new normal yet.

Secondly, the unfortunate truth is that 5e was designed with the expectation that they would be shuttering D&D. It was made to be loosey-goosey open-ended with the DM expected to figure everything out because there wouldn't be any central authority for very long.

Unfortunately, this means that the guidance is wishy-washy nothing, and the tools range from mediocre to outright trash. Some of it comes from the rather profligate use of the playtesting time D&D Next had (seriously, they didn't even settle on what Fighters should be until like three packets before they stopped public playtesting. They never even tried to playtest the Warlock or Sorcerer a second time after they unceremoniously dropped the first attempt!)

With luck, "One D&D" will actually give us halfway-decent tools and advice, so it isn't almost exclusively boiling down to "you're the DM, you figure it out." But I'm rather pessimistic. They can't contradict much of anything in the original books because they're bending over backwards to emphasize that it isn't 5.5e, we pinky-swear, it's JUST the "2024" version of the books.

5E is designed to play that way and I think it works a lot better because of it.
Only if you have the time, energy, and headspace to do so. You are, quite literally, telling the OP: "Well, just get better at improvising everything the system decides not to cover." That's their whole request. They don't WANT to be constantly improvising every little thing. They want a system that just works out of the box. Sure, it might not always do precisely what they want...but when that happens, they can then overrule it.

It's the difference between a ruleset that doesn't bother to put any effort into many things people would like for it to do, because everyone will always improvise anyway, and a ruleset that does try to give its absolute best effort on most things people will want to do, which the folks who need to improvise around can do so. Like they have always been able to do.

OP isn't the only one. Running 5e isn't as exhausting as 3e was, I'll grant you that, but in my personal experience, with other 5e DMs I know personally, yeah, it wears on you. In large part, people don't play the game, and they don't play the world. They play you, the DM.

It'd be nice if the game bothered to carry more than a small fraction of that weight.
 

I have said may times that 5e really could use more examples and existing rule structures for handling various adventure related things. I am fine with the GM being the arbiter and giving them a lot of leeway, but it would help the GM a lot if things were more defined. I don't find running 5e particularly hard, but I am also aware that I am basically importing all sort of structures and practices based on my decades of experience. And despite this, I feel that I basically need to design rules on the fly, and whilst I can do it, I don't think I should have to do it, at least for rather basic stuff. For example various action stunts; jumping over enemies, sliding under them, tossing an enemy into another enemy, etc. There is basically no guidance on how to handle most of this and I really think there should.
 

wedgeski

Adventurer
You have my utmost respect for such a heartfelt post.

You're right in that your 5E experience (as I've understood it from reading your posts here) differs drastically from mine. I find the system fun, fast, and flexible in the style of the D&D I remember from my youth, but I've also found you have to embrace the chaos to some extent.
 

el-remmen

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

What if I told you it never was? At least it has never been for me, and yet somehow despite feeling very differently from you about it, I also feel like "My experiences seem out of sync with the majority of the community" (as you say).

I am not sure what that means except that as I enter my 6th decade on Earth I have found managing expectations (whether it is about D&D or just about anything in life) is the key to contentment.

P.S. My condolences on your father. May his memory be a blessing.

P.P.S. Get some other people to run games!
 

TheSword

Legend
Only if you have the time, energy, and headspace to do so. You are, quite literally, telling the OP: "Well, just get better at improvising everything the system decides not to cover." That's their whole request. They don't WANT to be constantly improvising every little thing. They want a system that just works out of the box. Sure, it might not always do precisely what they want...but when that happens, they can then overrule it.
Bold emphasis mine. Little things shouldn’t lead to stress when they are improvised. Either handwaved it as not requiring a roll or assume it’s DC12 if it’s not important.

There’s a plethora of common wisdom on this that applies to DMing, life, business etc. Summed up as ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ or ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’ etc etc. Better to aim for improvement than trying to run the perfect game. I guarantee you nobody really cares about the little things as much as you do,

D&D does work out of the box. But not if you see published adventures as computer programs - only able to do exactly what it says in the section text. He have to be fast and loose enough to just run with it. If you want to be obsessive over detail don’t be surprised when your picture doesn’t look great from a distance. Focus on the big picture and get to the detail when you have time to get to it - in a way that isn’t going to wipe you out.
 

TheSword

Legend
P.P.S. Get some other people to run games!
This. More than anything else. @Retreater you need to let go of the reigns for just one of your games and let someone else have a crack at it. Even though they probably won’t be as good as you are at it. Time as a player is valuable… no essential to being a good DM and it’s great at recharging your DM batteries even with short bursts.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Bold emphasis mine. Little things shouldn’t lead to stress when they are improvised. Either handwaved it as not requiring a roll or assume it’s DC12 if it’s not important.
In my experience, these things happen about once every half hour while running the game. It has genuinely set off the anxiety of people I know, who have repeatedly turned to me for advice and assistance. I am practically a backseat DM for at least two campaigns I don't even play.

Better to aim for improvement than trying to run the perfect game.
That's literally all I've ever been trying to do. I keep getting slapped down, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. That's why I poured a year of my life into trying to find something else. Anything else.

I guarantee you nobody really cares about the little things as much as you do,
No need to make it personal.

D&D does work out of the box. But not if you see published adventures as computer programs - only able to do exactly what it says in the section text. He have to be fast and loose enough to just run with it. If you want to be obsessive over detail don’t be surprised when your picture doesn’t look great from a distance. Focus on the big picture and get to the detail when you have time to get to it - in a way that isn’t going to wipe you out.
And if you're having to constantly patch those holes, several times every session? If you're repeatedly finding that CR betrays you? If you hate the thought of rewriting a combat every other session because it was stupidly overpowered or ridiculously easy in ways that detracted from the experience rather than adding to it?

These are real issues real people I know have turned to me for help with. And you know what I've had to do, half of the time? Either invent new rules for them, or, and I'm not joking here, give them 4e rules to use instead.

5e really doesn't work nearly as well as you claim. And there are quite a few people, like the OP, who are getting tired of having to carry that much weight themselves. It is emphatically not just the one-off, occasional issue. It is resting being designed for a way actual players don't use it. It is spells being too powerful. It is skills being weirdly useless despite the grand pronouncements the books make. It is Natural Language™ ensuring that every tenth rule has six different, mutually incompatible interpretations.

Do you think I like thinking D&D works this way? Do you think I like it when people finally end up seeing the same issues I saw while 5e was still called "D&D Next", like the problems with spell slots, or the "Ghoul Surprise," or the massive overuse of Ad/Dis? I hate this! I have always "aim[ed] for improvement rather than trying to [contribute to] the perfect game." And every single time I voice my criticism, or note a potential issue, you know what I get?

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." "Nobody really cares about the little things as much as you do." "You're alarmist." "Oh, sure, people keep buying something they actually hate." Etc., etc., etc.

I did "aim for improvement." And I was consistently mocked and ignored and dismissed. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and I hate it.
 

TheSword

Legend
In my experience, these things happen about once every half hour while running the game. It has genuinely set off the anxiety of people I know, who have repeatedly turned to me for advice and assistance. I am practically a backseat DM for at least two campaigns I don't even play.
Yeah. They’re part of being a DM. That’s why they come up all the time. I can’t stress enough… they aren’t important. The outcome doesn’t fundamentally matter in almost every case.
That's literally all I've ever been trying to do. I keep getting slapped down, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. That's why I poured a year of my life into trying to find something else. Anything else.
Slapped down by who? Your players. Tell them it’s the best you can do and get over it.
No need to make it personal.
It’s not personal. I’m saying players never care as much about tiny details as DMs. That’s not unique to you, that’s all players. Small details are nice and they do add up but individual things should fundamentally make that much difference. They certainly shouldn’t make you feel bad!
And if you're having to constantly patch those holes, several times every session? If you're repeatedly finding that CR betrays you? If you hate the thought of rewriting a combat every other session because it was stupidly overpowered or ridiculously easy in ways that detracted from the experience rather than adding to it?
These are real issues real people I know have turned to me for help with. And you know what I've had to do, half of the time? Either invent new rules for them, or, and I'm not joking here, give them 4e rules to use instead.

5e really doesn't work nearly as well as you claim. And there are quite a few people, like the OP, who are getting tired of having to carry that much weight themselves. It is emphatically not just the one-off, occasional issue. It is resting being designed for a way actual players don't use it. It is spells being too powerful. It is skills being weirdly useless despite the grand pronouncements the books make. It is Natural Language™ ensuring that every tenth rule has six different, mutually incompatible interpretations.

Do you think I like thinking D&D works this way? Do you think I like it when people finally end up seeing the same issues I saw while 5e was still called "D&D Next", like the problems with spell slots, or the "Ghoul Surprise," or the massive overuse of Ad/Dis? I hate this! I have always "aim[ed] for improvement rather than trying to [contribute to] the perfect game." And every single time I voice my criticism, or note a potential issue, you know what I get?

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." "Nobody really cares about the little things as much as you do." "You're alarmist." "Oh, sure, people keep buying something they actually hate." Etc., etc., etc.

I did "aim for improvement." And I was consistently mocked and ignored and dismissed. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and I hate it.
I’m sorry but you have unreasonable expectations. You’ve set a bar that’s higher than anyone else is able to match and then you are demanding that this company meets it.

It is not possible to have a complex system of interlocking rules and processes without there being conflicts. That is a fundamental rule of life. Part of the DMs job is smoothing these things out. That’s the job. If you’re not interested in making the changes to make a published adventure fit your style then either don’t use published adventures or change your style.

None of the things I’ve put in bold that you say are driving you up the wall are actually worth getting worked up about. If a spell is too powerful who cares - so the PCs win - or just ban it. Who cares if insight doesn’t get used very often or CR is difficult to match.

When I said aim for improvement I was referring to your (or rather @Retreater ’s) practice at making adjudications mid game - not demanding other people write a book to match your exact tastes when that may likely not to be to mine.

Ultimately if millions of people are enjoying something and you are standing screaming into the wind, Maybe, just maybe it isn’t a problem with the object, but rather the subject.
 

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