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D&D General Less is More: Why You Can't Get What You Want in D&D

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Shame that my favorite part of 2e, the lore, was left on WotC's cutting room floor for 5e.

Ditto. It's the main reason my 2E spending has largely become the largest portion of my RPG budget. I firmly believe that having rich flavor and lore for all aspects of an RPG is important even for people who don't use it directly because it gives the DM another source for inspiration a step closer to the mechanics than the usual books, movies, etc.


Or 10 years is a long long time for drift.

But more likely and actually proven, the 2024 5e audience was VERY different from the 2024 5e audience.

I mean... 2014 has feats and multiclassing as optional but 2024 has feats mandatory and multiclassing is rarely banned. And 5e is adding a lot to the core. And nods to real world cultures are ripped out.

This literally means 2014 5e is cut down too much for its eventual consumer basement.

Less was not Enough



But more likely and actually proven, the 2024 5e audience was VERY different from the 2024 5e audience.

I mean... 2014 has feats and multiclassing as optional but 2024 has feats mandatory and multiclassing is rarely banned. And 5e is adding a lot to the core. And nods to real world cultures are ripped out.

This literally means 2014 5e is cut down too much for its eventual consumer basement.

Less was not Enough

I think you are dramatically underselling how long a decade is in terms of a games design and use on the front lines.

In some regards I agree, Feats shouldn't have been optional in my view, but to say 2024 design shift after a decade means that 2014 was flawed?



I think you are dramatically underselling how long a decade is in terms of a games design and use on the front lines.

In some regards I agree, Feats shouldn't have been optional in my view, but to say 2024 design shift after a decade means that 2014 was flawed?

I never said 2014 is flawed.

I said because it was designed for a different audience than the one who actually plays it, 5e cut material that its audience wants and includes stuff they don't want.

Less wasn't More because it was slightly the wrong Less.

Criticism of 5e's trimming doesn't mean someone thinks "5e is a big pile of garbage no one likes".


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
I have been on an extended hiatus from Enworld, and as most of you are probably saying right now, NOT LONG ENOUGH!

But I am dropping in to provide a post that seems germane given the tenor of a few conversations that I see regarding D&D design decisions in general, and also some of the discussed changes that are coming (or not coming) to the updated/revised/not-really-changed whatever D&D is being released soon that we still don't have a great name for.

D&D24? (All of this is assuming we are getting it this year ... right?)
5e Electric Boogaloo?
5e II: The Quickening?
5e directed by Gus Van Sant?

Eh, it's all good! Anyway, back to the main subject of the post (to the extent I ever have a main subject) which is design decisions. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to do a deeper dive into it. I think of this issue in a number of ways, but the best, high-level way to think about is the old Monty Python skit from Meaning of Life. It's Mr. (Monsieur) Creosote. If you haven't seen it before, I'd recommend viewing it; it's quick google away. If you're at work, be aware that is ... well, not for the faint of heart.

Here's the premise along with a link to the video. I'm going to put in spoilers, but putting a Monty Python skit in spoilers on Enworld seems like worrying about telling people that Luke blows up the Death Star. Oh, you didn't know that? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?

You were productive and didn't just watch movies and engage in endless debates about how everything since Star Trek: TOS has just been a waste of time? Okay then. Fair enough. Ahem. Anyway....

The basic premise is very simple; person is eating. At a certain point, they are overfull. They are offered one more thing to eat. The famous "wafer-thin mint." They know they shouldn't have it. And yet, with much coaxing, they do. They eat the wafer-thin mint. And then they explode.

Now, let's get into the real thesis of this piece. Enworld (hallowed be its name) is a great forum for discussing culture, especially nerd culture (generally), RPGs (specifically), D&D (even more specifically), and 5e (at the most granular level). There are numerous, wonderful conversations on enworld about what people want to see in 5e and 5e24. What new classes, new subclasses, new campaign settings, new rules, new crunchbooks, new lore, new art directions, whatever. This is a board for enthusiasts, and, well, we enthuse. Enthusiastically.

But (and as the great knight Sir Mix-A-Lot reminds us, there is always a big but).... this is also the internet. And that means that you can't post any comment (for example, "The sun is hot") without someone, or multiple someones, disagreeing with you ("Yeah, but is it hot in an absolute sense- I mean, think about some quasars, dude..." or "How do you know the sun is really hot? Have you been there? #FLATEARTH #SUNISJUSTANLEDINTHEROOF" or "Since we are all just running through our lives in a holographic simulation controlled by advanced computers, then there is no real heat, ROKO'S BASILISK FTW! I LOVE MY AI OVERLORDS!").

And that means that on any thread about the direction of 5e24, or D&D in general, there will be people who disagree. A LOT. You want to add a class? They don't want it added. You want official support for magic item prices? Take your gold pieces and shove 'em where the gold don't glitter. You want a Greyhawk setting? OK Boomer. You want a new DMG filled with more crunch than all the boxes of Captain Crunch ever made? YOU KANT HANDLE THE CRUNCH! You want more cool and complicated weapons? Well, it's all been downhill since we got variable damage, so let's not make it worse! .....you get the idea. Heck, you don't just get it, these conversations are the bread and butter of enworld.

As the number of posts in any given thread about adding something officially to D&D increases, there will inevitably be a post saying that ... essentially, if you don't like something in D&D, you don't have to use it, therefore any thing you don't like, you need to be silent about since it can be added without affecting you.

Which is both a trivially true statement, but also misses the gravamen of the objection. It doesn't take a tireless "rules-lite" advocate to point out that when it comes to good design, what you leave out can be more important that what you put in.

Sidebar and Disclaimer: My focus is not about homebrew, and is certainly not about those threads where people are congregating to discuss how to effectively make something or what they'd like to see in an official version (+ threads). Nor am I advocating threadcra**ing. This is solely related to conversations about adding things, officially, to D&D, and whether additions are truly "costless" and do not affect other people given the prominence of this argument. I also acknowledge that there is the collateral argument that people who are against adding things will use, which is, "If it isn't in the official version, just use 3PP or homebrew it," which has its own problems and isn't the subject of this post. Finally, I do not claim to be always right, and I am using this thread solely as a conversation starter on this topic.

A. Design Basics, and Why Less Can Be More.

Let's start with a general idea. Good design sometimes means less design. Many of you are probably familiar with some of the following quotes:

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."
Steve Jobs

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage- to move in the opposite direction."
E.F. Schumacher

"Twenty-three shots, that must be a record!"
Me, probably. Little hazy on this one.

Now, not everyone has the same aesthetic. Some people prefer sleek Scandinavian modernism, others prefer overstuffed homey bric-a-brac that looks like it came from Grandma's attic. But the idea of limits being important isn't just relevant to design in general, we see it in language as well; for example, what is an adjective but a word that limits a noun? If you write that there is a "house," it can be any color. But if you write that there is a "red house," it can only be red, not any other color. Specificity (limitations) is the soul of narrative, after all.

I don't want to go too deep into design aesthetics and/or the proper use of adjectives, but the general concept should be apparent. It is a truism that more often that not, good design is taking away, and either working within limits or limiting the work. Additions for the sake of additions are the bane of thoughtful design. Before moving to the topic of 5e and RPGs, this should be apparent when you think about any physical object; if you have a car, for example, you need to make choices about what to add, and where. Good design requires intelligent choices; to go full circle back to adjectives, there is a good reason that neither "cluttered," not "complicated," are considered compliments.

B. RPGs and Design

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Snarf, stop smoking/drinking/snorting that ibogaine. We all know that RPGs aren't cars. You can only put so many cupholders in a car. You can only make those tailfins so high. But there is no limit at all to the number of classes, or campaign settings, or books, or cupholders in a TTRPG. You aren't the boss of me, and you can't stop the infinite proliferation of awesome until I get the Warlord, Psion, Swordmage, and Actuary printed in the PHB3."

This is certainly true. I will stipulate, here and now, that RPGs are not cars despite my frequent analogies. However, RPGs are designed. Sometimes well, sometimes poorly. This means that they will be the product of decisions due to the design; there will be conscious design choices related to levels of complexity; uniformity of art (or not); how various systems interact within the RPG; how modular the RPG is overall and how modular various subsystems are; use of different dice or other methods for systems for resolution, authority of players vis-a-vis the DM; ease of modification and/or homebrew (and whether the system promotes same); and so on. I would argue that the more modern trend in RPGs in to reduce the overall amount of rule complexity and to use more unified resolution systems; in that sense, 5e is certainly more modern than its early TSR-era predecessors. But unlike some RPGs (PF and many others excluded), 5e is also somewhat modular, in the sense that it is fairly easy to modify, homebrew, and add to, and it also supports a vast 3PP market.

So, if 5e is easy to add to, and there is design space to add to it, why not just add everything possible to 5e? Honestly, who cares if there are 500 more splat books, and 30 more classes, and rules for prestige classes, and the PHB3 option - "Play as a Gelatinous Cube"?

Well, that gets into the next few issues.

C. 5e Design

I would posit that 5e is designed to be simple and easy to pick up for beginners, and to be easy-to-play (in terms of time commitments) for experienced players.* That is the core strength of 5e. That the game is not so much in the rules (a la 3e, or even older editions) but in the unfolding game. It does not offer an abundance of complexity in the rules, and the interest in the game is supposed to be maintained through play and adventure, not through new crunch. I think that this is very much a conscious choice, and that the slow rollout of new crunch (usually closely paired with an AP or setting) reflects this design choice. There is little desire to have new crunch book qua crunch book, such as a PHB2 or PHB3, or to force DMs and players to understand a slew of new rules.

Another aspect of this is that as you continue to add new features to TTRPGs (like 5e), you are continuing to come up with new rules and new "meta-rules" (aka, rules that break other rules). All the new rules that you add have to interact with all the rules already in place. Not to mention, all the optional rules. Call this the "3e problem" (heh). As you continue to add (grow, bloat) the game, these interactions increase in ways until eventually, well, you spend most of your time arguing about the rules and how they interact with each other (and/or munchkining).

There are a number of design ways around this. One is to sandbox certain features so that there is a limit on what can be done (bounded accuracy is kind of a way of doing that in terms of numbers, and the "Action Economy" is a way of doing that in terms of, um, actions), another is to prevent too much design bloat (restrict new classes and instead design within a more restricted space- the subclasses), another is to rigorously test, another is to just not have a lot of rules (more narrative game play), another would be to institute DM-side controls (such as Core+1) and so on. But this is always a concern that has repeated itself in D&D in past editions.

*When I write this, I fully acknowledge that 5e is not, in the universe of all TTRPGs, the "easiest" game to learn and play. But in terms of "D&D-type" games that are not OSR games based on B/X, it is remarkably simple.

D. Examples of the Past and 5e's Design to Date

We can see the design issue and the problems with bloat by examining the trajectory of past editions. For example, these statements have been made about prior editions:

2e: Too many campaign settings were produced and supported at the same time, fracturing the player base. In addition, the proliferation of options and class kits further muddied the waters.

3e: Too much crunch, too many classes, prestige classes, etc. "broke" the game and made it hard to run.

4e: Consumer confusion about the core rules occurred due to rapid proliferation of core books.

Regardless of the absolute truth of those statements, I think that people hear them often enough that, to some extent, they become received wisdom. Certainly it would appear that 5e's designers, to date, have chosen to approach 5e by attempting to ensure that the amount of first party product is kept reasonable, and that "pure crunch" additions are rare and usually crunch is attached to a specific campaign or AP. Campaign setting releases have been sporadic and tend to be targeted as opposed to multiple releases of campaign lore and material; while they arguably have released a "lot" of settings, most of the setting releases are one-shots that do not really get revisited in other material (e.g., Dragonlance, Eberron, Ravenloft, Ravnica, Spelljammer, Strixhaven, Theros, Wildemount) or are APs with a setting inherent (Greyhawk/Saltmarsh, Avernus/Baldur's Gate).

They have released exactly one (1) new class in more than a decade. The artificer, tied into Eberron. They continue to solely use the subclass as the design focus for experimentation.

They have not released any new "core" books; there remain the Core 3 just as they have been since release. The new "splat books" (VgTM, MToF, XGTE, TCoE, FToD, MP:MoM, BP:GoG) have differentiated names, are clearly optional, and contain modest (at best) variations on what we already have. Moreover, five of them are largely, or primarily, monster books, with only two actual supplemental crunch books being released since 5e came out- Tasha's and Xanathar's.

The evidence supports the idea that 5e has been designed to restrict design bloat.

E. Opportunity Cost & Market

I will finish the general analysis section by noting the biggest issue with official additions to the game; opportunity cost and market. No addition is costless; adding Eberron as a setting meant, for example, that another setting wasn't put in instead (GREYHAWK!). Companies have limited resources, time, and employees to design and playtest products; as such, there is no such thing as a "costless," official, supported product. Finally, there will always be concerns about what the market wants; famously, 5e looks to have things that no one has a strong, negative reaction to. I don't know if that is a good idea or bad idea, but it is a philosophy. Put another way, just because you (and other people) want an addition, doesn't mean that the market wants it, or that it is the best use of limited resources.

In addition, there is the opportunity cost of players. Yes, pages in a book are relatively cheap to produce. But more options is not a good thing for all consumers. Choice paralysis is a real thing; and it's brought on by, inter alia, the similarity of options, the complexity of options, and the uncertainty regarding preferences. Put another way, while there might be a segment of the community that always is asking for MOAR MOAR MOAR (or, at least, "MOAR of this thing that I need because I am the Lorax and the I speak for the community"), the larger part of the community can get overwhelmed and negatively impacted by too many options. The overwhelming trend of TTRPG design since the 80s and 90s has been simplification for a reason; there exist numerous products (including the excellent Level Up by this website's owners, or PF2) for those who want more rule or tactical complexity.


This is where I try to explain why I dislike statements of the type I referenced above so much, and why I started with M. Creosote. I am a firm believer that everyone should get what they want (although in some cases, I do that because they don't know what they're about to get .... heh). And enworld should always be a good place for people to discuss the additions that they want to have in 5e.

That said, when there is a thread where people are discussing whether or not to add something officially, it does a disservice to other people to say that adding something never, ever, affects other people and can only be good. People have all sorts of reasons to want things in (or not in) the game on an official basis, and demanding that something be in solely because it increases your fun without acknowledging that it will have an impact on other aspects of the design is the same as demanding that M. Creosote keep eating food. Sure, maybe it's just an appetizer, or maybe it's a wafer-thin mint, but perhaps M. Creosote doesn't need to add anything.

Final disclaimer to a very long piece: I think that there is probably a taxonomy of bars to be cleared in 5e for arguing for official inclusion; for example, a new AP or magic item is trivial, a new race/species higher, a new subclass higher, a new setting higher still, a new class much much higher, and a massive expansion of core mechanics (a PHB2, for example) would be pretty much at the top. But YMMV as to the exact ordering there.

And I also wanted to say that this isn't specific to any single request, it's just that I've seen this exact point made across numerous threads, in everything from magic item shops, to new classes, to re-working the sorcerer or monk or druid, and so on. I love seeing people make great points, on the merits, for the things that they love (so long as the things that the love aren't Bards, because if you love Bards, then you have never really loved).

Anyway, that's it. Gonna hightail it out again for a while. As they say in Barbados, "When all you have is rum, every problem looks like a nail that you can ignore by drinking more rum."


Do we need to run a GoFundMe to pay for you to have a professional editor?



Almost as if they had time to learn what worked and how to improve on the existing rules along with general shifts in what people want. Also, the amount of change is debatable. It's not like it's going to be a whole new game.

I think we are looking at a lot of things, but 10 years...I mean this forum is not typical. 10 years in a hobby, especially in a game, is an eternity.

This isn't soccer or basketball and even then ones involvement in sport after a decade will shift, and our bodies will dictate some of that.

I just find the suggestion that 24th changes reflect design flaws, gaps, shortcomings, to be an incorrect assumption when looking at 5e.

Obviously 5e was not designed for the players of today. It was designed for the community of 2014.

The players that everyone thinks matter, were in elementary when 5e was designed and released, learning to read.


I've been assured that it's all compatible. How different could it really be?
It is compatible.

They ADDED a lot of new stuff.
The 2024 version is basically "2014 version plus more stuff"
It's like putting a jacket over your shirt. You are still wearing the shirt.

That's why Less wasn't More.

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