D&D 5E PC Limitations vs. Do Whatever You Want

Smackpixi

Adventurer
So, it seems that WoTC design philosophy is very much going in the direction of letting players do whatever they want in creation of their characters. Imagine a character, we’re writing the rules so you can implement that dream w/o obstacles. And while I’m not opposed to this I wonder if allowing maximum freedom in character creation ultimately kneecaps creativity in play.

Like, at some extreme ends, if on the one hand you are a spellcaster with your pick of any spell you want at any time vs you are a arcane conjurer with only access to arcane spells in the conjuration school? I feel like in play, the all spells guy will have whatever is optimal at any time and has the opportunity to maybe be creative in choice, but will mostly just keep dropping whatever is the most fitting Big Hammer. On the other hand, the strict conjurer being so limited, will get creative in the use and implementation of their spells, test the boundaries of them.

As DM I like limitations and boundaries, partly for control, but also for the I believe shared fun of creative problems and creative solutions. From a player perspective, I can see these limitations as irritating obstacles to acting as I want in the fiction.

how do you handle this dynamic in your worlds? Do you just go with whatever published rules say or do you widen or narrow PC options?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I carefully choose PC options and other rules based on the setting and theme of the campaign. If it support the vision, it stays. If it doesn't, it goes. I don't think there's any reason to believe that everything should be on the table for every game. It can be, but doesn't need to be.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
While it’s nice to sometimes just be able to just go ‘I’m going to build this character exactly as i see them in my head’ sometimes I think that you can’t fully appreciate that if you haven’t had to build a character within limitations, and there’s a satisfaction in creating something within the restrictions you’re presented with, but having more options to build a character doesn’t actually mean what you make with them is more creative,

The +3 in your main stat at 1st is overrated anyway.
 
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payn

Legend
I like expansive options, but I also like working within a box. That is what a class system is. I also will ban a few things from time to time for a particular campaign as GM. I am very open to discussing this with players. I know the folks that try to get the banned options simply because they are banned. I don't usually invite them back.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So, it seems that WoTC design philosophy is very much going in the direction of letting players do whatever they want in creation of their characters. Imagine a character, we’re writing the rules so you can implement that dream w/o obstacles. And while I’m not opposed to this I wonder if allowing maximum freedom in character creation ultimately kneecaps creativity in play.

Like, at some extreme ends, if on the one hand you are a spellcaster with your pick of any spell you want at any time vs you are a arcane conjurer with only access to arcane spells in the conjuration school? I feel like in play, the all spells guy will have whatever is optimal at any time and has the opportunity to maybe be creative in choice, but will mostly just keep dropping whatever is the most fitting Big Hammer. On the other hand, the strict conjurer being so limited, will get creative in the use and implementation of their spells, test the boundaries of them.

As DM I like limitations and boundaries, partly for control, but also for the I believe shared fun of creative problems and creative solutions. From a player perspective, I can see these limitations as irritating obstacles to acting as I want in the fiction.

how do you handle this dynamic in your worlds? Do you just go with whatever published rules say or do you widen or narrow PC options?
If I knew for a fact players would pick things for story and RP reasons instead of power gaming reasons, I'd let them pick whatever they want. I'd go a step further and let them homebrew any spells, feats, classes, subclasses, etc that they wanted. Hell, that's my preference. I prefer rules light games that provide basically free-form...everything...with only the thinnest possible bit of rules between the players and the fiction. To me, that's where the creativity is. While I agree that having limited options in the moment can force creativity, McGuyvering your available resources if you will, it more often leads to stumped players with no clue how to use what's available, so they resort to the sword. You haven't seen creativity until you have run a game with free-form magic. Whatever limits there are would be based on the roll to cast. Roll high enough, and you can create just about any effect. Get the players onboard with the constraint of nothing obviously game breaking and you'd be amazed what creative solutions they come up with.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
It sounds good. One very annoying thing in D&D is you CAN"T make the character you imagine. An imagined character would not only be epic level, but would have hundreds of more abilities then any D&D character. And such abilities would go way beyond the rules.

So, I all ready know Wizards can't do that. After all they never have. They might think up of some good starts, but will always have the space problem. They might think of a good ability once in a while, but will mostly be stuck with the "oh, once per short rest you can add a +2 to something for something". Wow...one plus once in a while will sure make you "feel" like that character type.

And most players only make combat characters, so even if there are a few interesting abilities, most players will only pick the combat ones. Worse the players will only pick from a very short approved green list.
 

D1Tremere

Adventurer
I think there is a very paternalistic mindset that has been internalized so much that it is often hard to see past. The new rules, for example, do not remove boundaries and limitations so mush as encourage changing their source. Instead of a rules set imposing massive restrictions on player creativity, and a DM choosing to enforce this or not, now the rules encourage letting the player decide what limitations to give themselves. This moves things from the "I think limitations enhance fun so I impose them on others" mindset, to the "What limitations will my players find the most fun to impose on themselves" mindset.
 

D1Tremere

Adventurer
It sounds good. One very annoying thing in D&D is you CAN"T make the character you imagine. An imagined character would not only be epic level, but would have hundreds of more abilities then any D&D character. And such abilities would go way beyond the rules.

So, I all ready know Wizards can't do that. After all they never have. They might think up of some good starts, but will always have the space problem. They might think of a good ability once in a while, but will mostly be stuck with the "oh, once per short rest you can add a +2 to something for something". Wow...one plus once in a while will sure make you "feel" like that character type.

And most players only make combat characters, so even if there are a few interesting abilities, most players will only pick the combat ones. Worse the players will only pick from a very short approved green list.
I don't think this is the case, and the data that has been collected so far (such as it is) doesn't support this view.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
I don't think this is the case, and the data that has been collected so far (such as it is) doesn't support this view.
Really? What data are you talking about?

It's clear few Wizard character options fit the idea. I want to be a lore bard, one that knows a little bit of everything and collects bits of knowledge and information. And I flip through the book and find the bard Collage of Lore! That is just what I was thinking....until I read the text. A "lore" bard can...um...sap the confidence of others? That has NOTHING to do with lore! Couple more levels and..um...bonus spells? Ok. And then a bonus to ability checks....um..ok. So where is the LORE part? Nothing about this collage has anything to do with lore.

Arcane Trickster? Well they forgot to add tricks to this one. And the list goes on. And it's true for all Wizard editions.

So do not most players pick pure combat abilities? It sure is true for a lot of players. Many would never waste a pick for anything except something combat related.

So, what about what data?
 


D1Tremere

Adventurer
Really? What data are you talking about?

It's clear few Wizard character options fit the idea. I want to be a lore bard, one that knows a little bit of everything and collects bits of knowledge and information. And I flip through the book and find the bard Collage of Lore! That is just what I was thinking....until I read the text. A "lore" bard can...um...sap the confidence of others? That has NOTHING to do with lore! Couple more levels and..um...bonus spells? Ok. And then a bonus to ability checks....um..ok. So where is the LORE part? Nothing about this collage has anything to do with lore.

Arcane Trickster? Well they forgot to add tricks to this one. And the list goes on. And it's true for all Wizard editions.

So do not most players pick pure combat abilities? It sure is true for a lot of players. Many would never waste a pick for anything except something combat related.

So, what about what data?
The Data WotC and D&D Beyond post each year showing most used classes/races/spells/Etc.

As for the Lore Bard comments, your ignoring all of their lore based abilities (skill bonuses, secrets, etc.) and just focusing on one of their combat abilities. I also did not say that players wouldn't pick combat abilities, I disagreed with your view that they would only focus on combat and optimal builds for it.

The arguments you are making are very clearly bad faith arguments.
 

With the caveat that I don't actually run 5e, but still have strong feelings on the subject...

I've always been a "say yes or roll the dice" DM. I live on the Rule of Cool (or the Rule of Interesting, which is more about making my mental wheels turn than about making me jazzed per se.) I want my players to genuinely feel they always have the opportunity to try things they haven't done before or to grow in unexpected ways.

I find most DMs who sing the praises of "limitations force creativity" either don't realize, or don't care, that players are often their own limitation. All I have to do is dangle something my players care about in front of them and their behavior will instantly change. They care about the world, about its inhabitants, about the people they've grown fond of, about the enemies they revel in hating, etc.

Yes, sometimes, limitations can be good. There are already plenty of limitations in the game, and even more arise just from expecting things to make sense and flow consistently from the established fiction. There's very little need or reason to add more limitations there. One must strike a balance between the foolish extremes of "absolutely anything goes!" and "you are only allowed to use this one tool in an extremely specific way and literally not allowed to do anything else ever." I find too many people think that more limitations is always better, when this is generally not the case.
 
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Having a ton of options isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the DM should always have the authority to place limitations. 5E did a good job with this in the races section, explicitly pointing out that the DM might limit what races are available in their game. I would hope they continue to add this note to 1D&D (or whatever it's finally called) while offering up this flexibility to the players.

As for players choosing to limit themselves... I've been DMing for about 30 years and I've yet to see this happen. There can be a table agreement about something, but individual players are going to choose what they want from all available options.
 

Having a ton of options isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the DM should always have the authority to place limitations. 5E did a good job with this in the races section, explicitly pointing out that the DM might limit what races are available in their game. I would hope they continue to add this note to 1D&D (or whatever it's finally called) while offering up this flexibility to the players.
Personally, I felt this section was one of the worst parts of 5e, because it acts like some races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling) cannot be limited by the DM, because they are implicitly universal to all fantasy universes,* while intentionally isolating and denigrating the so-called "true exotic" races**. Instead of presenting it as something where each world can and will vary and nothing is promised, where races (and classes etc.) are part of the worldbuilding toolkit, it enforces "traditional" tropes as the correct way for D&D to be experienced.

I voiced most of these criticisms at the time 5e launched. I sincerely hope that things change with the 2024 printing.

*Even though I can name two fantasy universes objectively more popular than any D&D setting that don't have at least one of them, and a third that is arguably more popular.
**Even though all three of the aforementioned fantasy universes have something equivalent to several of these races, and things even further afield, that are perfectly commonplace in-setting.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
The Data WotC and D&D Beyond post each year showing most used classes/races/spells/Etc.

As for the Lore Bard comments, your ignoring all of their lore based abilities (skill bonuses, secrets, etc.) and just focusing on one of their combat abilities. I also did not say that players wouldn't pick combat abilities, I disagreed with your view that they would only focus on combat and optimal builds for it.

The arguments you are making are very clearly bad faith arguments.
I've never seen this data, is there a link to it somewhere?

I guess I missed all the lore based abilities when I read my book. I guess you count skills as lore? Odd. And what secrets?

If there is data that says players like anything other then pure mindless combat, I'd love to see it.
 

So, it seems that WoTC design philosophy is very much going in the direction of letting players do whatever they want in creation of their characters. Imagine a character, we’re writing the rules so you can implement that dream w/o obstacles. And while I’m not opposed to this I wonder if allowing maximum freedom in character creation ultimately kneecaps creativity in play.
[Citation Needed]

WotC design philosophy is going in the direction of giving players more and more choice in what characters are supported as long as they are of the appropriate level.

Tasha's and 2020 definitely opened the fighter up massively. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that all pre-Tasha's classes except the pseudo-multiclass Eldritch Knight had to be mundane guys with weapons and armour who Just Hit Things and were little more use out of combat than a commoner. But only slightly exaggerating. Tasha's and Wildemount definitely expanded the fighter out of "just hit it" territory by adding the Echo Knight, the Rune Knight, the Psi Warrior, and letting the Battlemaster use their maneuvers for appropriate skills. So yes there is a massive range of liminally magic characters (especially as fighters and rogues) that are now possible - but that's not Maximum Freedom. Just more freedom within appropriate level derived limits.
Like, at some extreme ends, if on the one hand you are a spellcaster with your pick of any spell you want at any time vs you are a arcane conjurer with only access to arcane spells in the conjuration school?
Ironically this is a type of freedom that seems to be less and less at the forefront as 5e has gone on. At launch in 5e there was an entire class (and a historical one at that) dedicated to choosing almost any spell from a ridiculous list so they always have an optimal choice - the wizard. There was one class option that did something similar; the warlock's Book of Ancient Secrets invocation for Pact of the Tome. There was of course also the Lore Bard

Since the launch of 5e there has been precisely one subclass that has expanded on this - the Order of Scribes. It doesn't seem to be something that WotC has expanded on (unless you count the Cleric, Paladin, and Druid lists expanding).

What has happened is that the two classes with a cripplingly low number of spells known, the Sorcerer and Ranger now get to know more spells than a wizard or paladin respectively can prepare at one time. But this is fixing what was basically crippled rather than opening the floodgates.
I feel like in play, the all spells guy will have whatever is optimal at any time and has the opportunity to maybe be creative in choice, but will mostly just keep dropping whatever is the most fitting Big Hammer. On the other hand, the strict conjurer being so limited, will get creative in the use and implementation of their spells, test the boundaries of them.
And the "All spells" guy doesn't exist in 5e. What's actually needed for creativity is some sort of balance; the "strict conjurer" if they then need to dump spells into offensive and protection magic end up in a situation where the only tool you have is a hammer.

To put it into actual context every single ranger I've seen in play has by sixth level known (a) Hunter's Mark for their combat damage, (b) Goodberry or Cure Wounds for party healing, and (c) Pass Without Trace for stealth. All are great choices but they all kinda do one thing well and aren't good for creativity. At sixth level a ranger knows a grand total of four spells - and with these three locked in that's basically one spell to be creative with because keeping people alive and doing damage take priority. And with one spell when the only tool you have is a hammer...

Or rather it wasn't. As of Tasha's Cauldron of Everything a (non-Hunter, non-Beastmaster) will also have Speak with Beasts, Beast Sense, and two spells from their subclass. This is hardly "all the spells" - but is enough for creativity.

Or in short I reject the premise of this. The only place I see any sort of "maximum freedom" is in races.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
WotC design philosophy is going in the direction of giving players more and more choice in what characters are supported as long as they are of the appropriate level.
Level doesn’t have anything to do with it, I’m not suggesting they’re moving towards giving warlocks hurl through hell at start, I’m saying they’re doing additive character building instead of forked limited characters. There’s a character creation plan where wizard or cleric have 100% exclusive spells, pick one, locking you out of the other spells, then pick subclass again forever locking you out of even more, you’re a specialized conjuration wizard. What they’re doing instead is all additive, wizard v. Cleric not that limiting to start with and then you add backgrounds and subclasses that add stuff and claw back stuff you gave up at first choice.

I’m asking if expansive characters or limited characters lead to better more interesting play.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
So, it seems that WoTC design philosophy is very much going in the direction of letting players do whatever they want in creation of their characters. Imagine a character, we’re writing the rules so you can implement that dream w/o obstacles.
I agree. This has been the trend for a while now, especially with the character creation options they published in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Most of the 'new hotness' in OneD&D that people are talking about regarding character creation (starting with a feat, adjustable ASIs) was already presented there.

Like, at some extreme ends, if on the one hand you are a spellcaster with your pick of any spell you want at any time vs you are a arcane conjurer with only access to arcane spells in the conjuration school? I feel like in play, the all spells guy will have whatever is optimal at any time and has the opportunity to maybe be creative in choice, but will mostly just keep dropping whatever is the most fitting Big Hammer. On the other hand, the strict conjurer being so limited, will get creative in the use and implementation of their spells, test the boundaries of them.
This is all under the control of the player, though. Certain types of players will always optimize the rules to whatever Big Hammer advantage they can find. No matter how loose or strict they write the rules, an optimizer is gonna optimize the bejeezus out of them. Crawling around Reddit looking for 'character builds' and 'killer combos' is a huge part of some players' enjoyment.

Saying 'no' to certain character builds and options isn't going to make an optimizer stop trying to optimize, any more than it's going to stop a creative from trying to create unique and versatile builds. The best we can hope for is a system that makes both possible.

That said: When I'm on the player-side of the table, I prefer creative, story-rich builds over optimized ones. So I really appreciate the trend toward "letting players do whatever they want" when it comes to character creation. But my turn in the DM chair is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm really not looking forward to the headache of rules-lawyering and power-hacks I'm going to have to endure...

Level doesn’t have anything to do with it, I’m not suggesting they’re moving towards giving warlocks hurl through hell at start, I’m saying they’re doing additive character building instead of forked limited characters.
...
I’m asking if expansive characters or limited characters lead to better more interesting play.
For me and the characters I like to play? Yes, I think it does. I've only rolled up a couple of characters using the rules in Tasha's, but I've really enjoyed playing them. Dwarf is an obvious race to choose for trying out the Runecasting subclass, for exampe...and it's nice to be able to roll up a dwarf wizard and not feel like I made the wrong choice. I just slide that +2 Con over to Int, and I'm off to the races.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
An analogy would be with poetry writing.

Free verse - you can do whatever you want. It's easy to write bad poetry this way, of course, but it's also relatively easy to write good poetry this way.

Structured and-or rhyming - you can't do whatever you want, you have to stick to the structure and-or rhyme scheme. It's also just easy to write bad poetry this way, of course, but IMO it's considerably more difficult to write good poetry this way: the inherent limitations present more of a challenge.

Question is, are people willing to accept the challenge presented by a structure and-or rhyme and if not, why not? Or on the flip side, do they eschew free verse because it's too easy?

Same is true of making characters. It's pretty easy to make a character if anything goes, but more challenging - and IMO more fun - if there's limitations.

I guess I'm kind of the opposite of the trend here: I don't mind limitations in char-gen but I want play to be anything-goes; where many seem to want anything-goes in char-gen but will happily accept limitations in play e.g. no evil characters, no PvP, no in-character romances, etc.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
If you're a DM who feels in your heart of hearts that you need to limit things in this upcoming game you're running for whatever reason... setting... concepts... power levels... applicability...

...then do it. Just do it. And F-- the books if you think they are trying to tell you not to, and F-- any of the players who have it in their heads that they should be able to play whatever inane character idea they want whenever they want. Because they don't. It's your game you're running. You run it how you want and F-- everyone who doesn't want to go along with it.

Or if you CAN'T do that for any reason... then get over yourself and just run a game that everyone else wants to play and save your special idea for later when you can finally find a table to go along with it.

But for the love of god, just don't whine that it's all WotC's fault you can't run the game you want. ;)
 

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