D&D 5E How crunchy is D&D 5E

How crunchy is D&D 5E?

  • 1 -- improv storytelling with no mechanics

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 2

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 3 -- rules light/narrative style games

    Votes: 3 1.9%
  • 4

    Votes: 17 10.6%
  • 5 -- rules medium

    Votes: 69 43.1%
  • 6

    Votes: 55 34.4%
  • 7 -- rules heavy/crunchy games

    Votes: 15 9.4%
  • 8

    Votes: 1 0.6%
  • 9 -- rules ultra-heavy

    Votes: 0 0.0%


Well, that was fun
Staff member
That's true. But when you sit down with a player to have them choose a spell, they still face 5, 5000 or 5000000 options that they, theorically, have to go through to make a well-informed decision. It doesn't add rules, but definitely adds weight. It's a matter of perspective, but for me, if you had a very simple game with only a few rules but with 2000 different spells to choose from, I would not consider it a lite game. The complexity of your rules and the amount of information you have to parse through are both factors of crunchiness/heaviness for me.
Sure. But that's not a complex game, it's just one with a big selection. As I said, I don't consider that rules heavy.

We disagree on the definition.

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I don't think so. If you take one spell from a list of 5 or a list of 5000 or a lot of 5,000,000, you still only have to know how one spell works.
On the other hand if you take five spells what are important aren't just the rules of the spell but the possible interactions between spells. And if you get to pick your spells you get to work on those interactions.


Mod Squad
Staff member
IMO content and complexity aren't the same thing. There are three books, but a lot of that is just content -- spells, magic items, monsters.

In my work, I've found a couple of word definitions that help.

A thing is complicated if it has many moving parts. Complicated things are hard to understand, because you must absorb a lot of information before you can meaningfully work with them.

A thing is complex if it is hard to describe the action of the thing, or the thing is not predictable in its behavior. Complex things are hard to understand, because it is difficult to see the relationship between the input and the output.

Both of these can present an intellectual challenge to your players.

If the mechanics are simple, you can hand a player a pre-generated character, and they can quickly learn how to play that character - what they are handed isn't complicated. However, if you hand the player three books of content they aren't familiar with, and say, "Make a character", that player will be lost in the weeds.

Similarly, if you hand the player a character who, in order to be effective, requires them to know much of the rest of the content of the game, they are also apt to be unable to make good choices.
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Argyle King

Something that I find odd about 5E's options is that the game provides little opportunity to choose them.

For example, newer books continue to introduce new feats. However, my character still only ever gets maybe 5 opportunities to choose something from the growing list -and it's usually the case that most of those opportunities go toward ability score increases.

While it may sound counter-intuitive, I've also had times when an area of a game being "light" or abstract was more confusing to a new player than having more crunch might be:

"Why can't I aim at the eye of the giant floating eyeball monster?"
"Wait... so are HP injury? How did that guy survive?"

A lot of those things become easier to understand once someone learns and buys-into various D&D-isms and standard practices of how D&D works, but the initial mental hurdle of reconciling how they imagine something playing out versus how the game handles it can add to the learning curve.


The High Aldwin
I gave it a 4. Definitely rules light compared to previous versions of D&D, since the biggest rule is "the DM can make it up to whatever fits the table."

I consider a system crunchy, when the group playing it often has to look up the rules instead of having them memorized.

Apart from spells and certain class abilities, that doesn't happen often during play.


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
With rulings over rules, I can see that it varies from table to table. I put it at medium because of that - I can certainly see certain tables being sticklers for rules which might make it a bit higher but other tables are going to take more of a laid back approach.
I agree. I think if you started D&D with 5e, you will find it lighter than if you started D&D with an earlier edition.


As long as i get to be the frog
In my work, I've found a couple of word definitions that help.

A thing is complicated if it has many moving parts. Complicated things are hard to understand, because you must absorb a lot of information before you can meaningfully work with them.

A thing is complex if it is hard to describe the action of the thing, or the thing is not predictable in its behavior. Complex things are hard to understand, because it is difficult to see the relationship between the input and the output.
I rather like that distinction

Assuming this is limited to TTRPGs, then in my mind rules "heaviness" relates primarily to how quickly can I learn the game as a player, how quickly I can master the game as a player, how much I benefit from that mastery, and how much I need the rules to run the game as a GM. It's entirely related to how much work I need to put into learning the game, and how much I need the rulebook during play.

I can think of a few overall factors:

Quantity of systems or mechanics or "phases". If every aspect of play has a different prescribed rules procedure that dictates the order or sequence of play, I'd call that more rules heavy. 5e is somewhat medium here, albeit unevenly. It has distinct character build/creation, exploration (i.e., skills), combat, rest, and roleplaying phases of play. The social and roleplaying aspect, however, essentially has no rules so I hesitate to call it a system or mechanic. This also includes how important the game thinks those systems are. A system that makes it clear that following the rules is essential is heavier. A system that has a lot of different, narrow scoped mechanics with distinctions is also heavier. The distinction between attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks is additional rules weight that isn't necessarily beneficial. 3e included additional damage systems, monster progression systems, magic item creation systems, etc.

Related to the above is the sheer completeness of the rules. This is related not to how many systems there are, but specifically it's how often the game gives you mechanics that you're supposed to use. Most RPGs at some point kind of shrug and say, "I dunno, it works like the real world so just have the referee make it up." If the game says, "No, no, here's how you do this thing." that's more rules weight even if it's the same system reused over and over. The more the books intrude and dictate play, the heavier the weight of rules.

On the flip side of completeness is intuitiveness or reuse & portability of learned mechanics. This is more of a way to get a discount on the heaviness of multiple systems. For example 5e reuses the same mechanics for skills, attacks, initiative, and saving throws. Roll d20, add attribute and proficiency bonus, compare to a target number. Compare that to AD&D where all those systems were basically unrelated even when they use the d20. 5e, on the other hand, is fairly intuitive. Indeed, without this fact the game it would be vastly more rules heavy than any 20th century D&D.

Complexity of mechanics in actual play. Complexity is not the same as weight, but they're not totally orthogonal to each other, either. AD&D is the poster child of a game with optional, very complex mechanics -- with the infamous ADDICT PDF probably best exemplifying how complex it can get (excepting that basically has very little to do with how it's usually played). Still, a chart that you must reference during play is a lot of rules weight because it can't really be replicated. You just need the chart. Meanwhile a bonus to a die roll is much less weighty. However, complexity can also just include the number potentially viable of choices you have to pick from and the amount of information you need to keep in your head if all of those things are defined by the rules. Game complexity is a deep topic on it's own, though. 5e D&D is hard to judge here because some classes like Champion Fighter have virtually no choices, while others like Druid can require you to pick the correct action from a list of seemingly equivalent mechanical choices, plus know enemy attributes, and plus know spell details. And still others like fairly complex creation rules (primarily thanks to attribute assignment, race, class, subclass, multiclass, spells, and ASI/feats, etc.). You could just pick a Champion Fighter with sword and shield and not have to think ever again, but you're kind of punished for ignoring the character creation phase of play in 5e. You're really not in AD&D. A la carte multiclassing probably adds more complexity and rules heaviness for the amount of page space it takes up than anything else in the game. In general, however, I think the game rewards and focuses much more on characters with a lot of choice, so I'd put this on the medium-heavy end for 5e. The game generally rewards "solving problems from the character sheet," too.

Quantity of content. A simple game with vast quantities of content that are useful or important to know adds it's own a barrier to mastery, and therefore adds weight. 4e, for example, was a relatively uniform system, and quite simple if you only had to learn 10 different powers. However, the game added more and more content. More feats, powers, items, etc. spiraling into just a huge amount of information to learn and retain. You don't need that additional content, but, boy, did you ever benefit from it! It's not necessary to play the game, but it certainly is to master it. This means that the release of Tasha's in particular makes 5e more rules heavy just by existing. (It also makes it more complex due to more decisions to make.)

Overall I'd put 5e D&D at:

Character creation & build: 7-8
Combat: 5-7
Exploration: 4-5
Social: 2-3

Overall I'd say 6-7.

1e AD&D looks worse than 5e D&D, but that's only because it's so arcane and unintuitive. In reality you have very few choices out of the rule books that really matter. Mastery of AD&D isn't particularly difficult, either: Be a fighter type or a magic-user and multiclass, multiclass, multiclass. AD&D is actually much lighter as far as rules, it's just that the rules that exist are obtuse. It's just much, much worse at design and presentation, and the overwhelming majority of systems in AD&D just never get used. The weight is largely empty.

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