5E Basic Lego bricks, new release grousing, and the topic of "generic" mixed in a blender.


I want to start my post by dumping some data from the Wikipedia article "List of Dungeons & Dragons Rulebooks" found here.

snip 1.jpg
snip 2.jpg
snip 3.jpg
snip 4.jpg

With a handy reference to the data i'm going to be discussing out the the way...

There has been much to-do this week in reference to in discussion of the Critical Role campaign book announcement. This thread really isn't to discuss that item in specific, or than if Wikipedia were updated it would appear as a 5th line in the Campaign Guides section. Most of the discussion seems to be in regards to generational complaining about interests in that versus another campaign setting. Other discussion are lamenting the taking of a "release slot" for that versus some other product and whether or not it really took up any of WotC's bandwidth. I'm not really here to rehash any of that.

What I would like to talk about is that I feel that 5e is, to put it in Lego terms, no longer putting out sets with generic pieces I can use to build whatever I want and instead putting out focused sets with pieces I can't use in my creation. I'm an old man, and way back in the day Legos were just literally generic blocks that only took on a function based on how you used them in a build. The "fanciest" and least useful of the blocks was just the wedge, because you couldn't build on top of it. They still make these generic Lego blocks today, but they are very small drop in the bucket that is the current line-up of super focused themed sets with hyper detailed specific bits. If I want to build a Lego Hulk then having the Lego Hulk minifigure head is pretty important, but other than the Hulk (or a Hulklike hulk) its of limited generic value.

Swinging the thought back to 5e, so far there have been 6 generic books that I can use 90%+ of the pieces in my homebrew (or Forgotten Realms, or Eberron, or whatever) campaign. These books have been written from the point of view of being universally applicable to all tables games. In addition to those 6 generic books there are 4 campaign books that have come out. Those books have some "generic" content that can be applied to any game, but the degree to which that content can be ported over in an easy manner depends on one campaign to another. If someone is playing a low gritty fantasy Conan style game they probably aren't going to be using warforged and magical trains from Eberron or Planewalkers from Ravinca. Similarly the 12 "adventure path" books have things that can be taken and plugged into any game, including subsystems of rules or monsters or magic items.

In the case of the campaign and adventure path books, however, the generic content is a much smaller percentage of the overall purchase of the book. In the case of a 200 page adventure path, I might use 25 pages of content. Over the course of time, as book stack up and things get reprinted in one book an another, it pretty much becomes impossible to have that material at your fingertips to use in your home game. When sitting down to create an adventure i'm not going to flip through 20 books I don't regularly reference to look at the 8 monsters in each book to see if one is there I would like to use. Its just not possible.

So I find myself, in the 5e era, buying less product for my game than I ever have in the past. I have no interest in paying for a hardcover book for a campaign setting i'm not going to run. I similarly have no interested in paying for a similar book with an adventure path i'm never going to run. It's not worth the time to try to mine them for the few juicy bits and its a poor value of content i'm going to use.

I'm hoping that 2020 has a "generic" or "core" or "square block" book in the hopper for those of us in the same position as me. It's great that DnD is doing so well, but it's also a shame if that high tide doesn't raise ALL the boats.


TL/DR: I wish there was a better balance of "generically useful" books in the release schedule.