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

If you don't want PCs to play weird races, just do what Gygax did and make humans the most mechanically powerful race. How about Humans don't have stat limits?
 

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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.
And I'm, saying that this is simply untrue. Subclasses are inherently forked, limited characters. And the classes that are getting buffed are the ranger and sorcerer (which are spells known rather than spells prepared and therefore are forked limited characters) and the fighter (which is a very limited character).

The problem is that the additive characters are the wizard, the cleric, and the druid. And they are right there in the PHB. This gives WotC the choice of (a) not printing any more spells ever or (b) giving them more options.
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.
But to do that would be a complete rewrite of what the wizard class actually is. WotC chose not to do that in 2014. WotC's design philosophy can't move away from that because for 5e that has never been the design philosophy.

We do however have an arcane caster that works on even tighter limits; you pick a few spells known and you only get to change them on a long rest. That class is called the sorcerer.
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.
What they are doing is giving lots of toys to the sorcerer, warlock, ranger, and artificer - the limited casters. (And some cool toys to the bard but the bard started slightly overtuned).

What they are not doing is fundamentally re-writing the wizard and cleric to change them away from the "can mix up their spells" classes they were in 2014
I’m asking if expansive characters or limited characters lead to better more interesting play.
This is a false dichotomy. The ultimate limited character would be an inanimate carbon rod. The ultimate expansive character would be playing Calvinball. I do not think that either extreme leads to particularly good play; if given the choice you at least get to play Calvinball so if you are forcing this as a dichotomy then pure expansive beats pure limited.

But it's not a dichotomy. It's a sliding scale and the question is where on it you want to be. Clearly not at either extreme - and no D&D character is or can be at either extreme unless they are the worst DMPC I ever heard of or in the absolute worst railroady game I ever heard of. The question is one of where on the scale are you comfortable - and that's a matter of taste.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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,
So, what I did to solve the tension you present here, is to build an entire game. 😂

I don’t necessarily recommend it, though it’s been well worth the work for me.

The game and how it’s mechanics solved this issue for me and my group:
Specifically, I created a game that runs on skills, and has idiosyncratic restrictions for choosing skills, but they are fairly loose restrictions. There are 3 categories of skills (Physical, Interaction, Magical), each with about a dozen skills. Each skill has 3 specialties, like Aeromancy has: Aerokinetics, Echomancy, and Aerolocation.

You get 6 skill ranks from your Origin, 6 from Archetype, and 6 chosen without restriction. So, each character has about half as many skill ranks as there are skills in the system. You get 1 specialty rank per skill rank, and you can only have 2 ranks in a skill or specialty at level 1. (Levels exist mostly to gate such restrictions, tho you do gain a very small amount of automatic advancement from levels as well)

So, 2/3 of your skills come from limited lists, you can only specialize so much at chargen, and you cannot have all the skills.

And skills basically are the game. There are traits, but they largely create exceptions, modify skill use, or give you new resources like a team of experts you can rely on or a guy who fights beside (or in place of) you, or stuff like the ability to speak to animals.

Spells and techniques are active abilities that cost the games only real resource, and are basically packaged “advanced uses of skills”, and so can also be improvised. In fact, explicitly, if you see someone do a thing, and you have training in a relevant skill, you can try to figure out how to do it, and potentially eventually gain a new spell or technique. Same with improvised actions.

So, essentially, you can only be good at so many things, you can only specialize so much, and you only have total freedom in choosing those things for about 1/3 of your skills.

TLDR: You can only be good at so many things, you can only specialize so much, and you only have total freedom in choosing those things for about 1/3 of your skills.

The part I think could really apply to D&D or a clone of it is this:

In my game, Quest For Chevar, the skills are “physics engines” with simple parameters and general descriptions, including what sort of things are a basic use of the skill, and what sorts of thing are advanced uses, and what requires true mastery (stuff you cannot do without attaining ranks that you can’t reach at chargen or even before a decent amount of advancement.

So, you don’t have a list of conjuration spells, you have the Conjuration skill, with a few paragraphs of text setting the parameters of said skill, and a set of resource that is recovered somewhat slowly, and you can learn or invent spells using that skill, or blending it with Evocation, or with Heavy Fighting, or with Computers.

So this limited but fairly broad selection of competencies, with a fairly free but still scope-limited and knowledge/power level gated system for using the skills, and a graduated action resolution using a success ladder with the ability to spend resources to Push checks up the ladder, and a “players always roll” framework, makes for a game that’s very friendly to improvisation, and gives freedom to choose your particular constraints, if that makes sense.
 

Hussar

Legend
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?
Once upon a time, many, many moons and editions ago, we allowed our clerics to cast any spell at any time. Just flat out let it happen. If you had an open spell slot of the right level, go for it.

Funny thing. In play, 99% of the time, it made zero difference. The same spells were getting cast almost all the time. But, that 1% made up for all of that. I actually saw a cleric cast a Snakes to Sticks (reverse of Sticks to Snakes - an AD&D spell that did exactly what it sounds like it did) and turn a chest full of snakes into a bunch of sticks. Fantastic use of a spell that I have never seen done before or since.

So, yeah, put me strongly in the camp that allowing freedom is a better way to go. By and large, the players aren't going to do stuff too far out of line than what they would have done anyway. But, that once in a while new idea that comes from removing limitations? Golden.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Once upon a time, many, many moons and editions ago, we allowed our clerics to cast any spell at any time. Just flat out let it happen. If you had an open spell slot of the right level, go for it.
I've always had this for Clerics, and for my current campaign I expanded it to all casters*, largely because as a player over the years I've come to loathe pre-memorization and thus don't want to inflict it on my players. The tricky bit is balancing the number of slots available per day such that the casters are neither overpowered nor over-conservative with their slots. A work in progress. :)

* - other than Bards, who are a special subsystem unto themselves but who also don't use pre-mem.
Funny thing. In play, 99% of the time, it made zero difference. The same spells were getting cast almost all the time. But, that 1% made up for all of that. I actually saw a cleric cast a Snakes to Sticks (reverse of Sticks to Snakes - an AD&D spell that did exactly what it sounds like it did) and turn a chest full of snakes into a bunch of sticks. Fantastic use of a spell that I have never seen done before or since.
This. Some spells that would never see the light of day in a pre-mem. system get cast now, to sometimes very unexpected-by-me effects and uses.
So, yeah, put me strongly in the camp that allowing freedom is a better way to go. By and large, the players aren't going to do stuff too far out of line than what they would have done anyway. But, that once in a while new idea that comes from removing limitations? Golden.
We like our freedoms in different places, I think. I don't mind limitations in char-gen but I want freedom in play.
 

Hussar

Legend
I guess where I get off the train is when people are arguing against opening up elements of the game - such as floating ASI's - which do not in any way preclude playing exactly the same thing you played before (generic you, not you personally) but also allows other people to play new things. I just don't get it.
 

Magister Ludorum

Adventurer
I don't restrict anything in any game and all but two of the players build characters based on story, background and the world they're playing in. One of the others just likes weird concepts and the other builds the same basic two characters over and over again.

As a player, I won't play in a game where the GM restricts anything. That said, if I like the idea behind the setting, I'll build a character who fits that setting. I'll restrict myself, but I am completely uninterested in any game where the GM provides those restrictions for me. If I don't like the setting, I don't play. I have plenty of other hobbies I can engage in.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
I guess where I get off the train is when people are arguing against opening up elements of the game - such as floating ASI's - which do not in any way preclude playing exactly the same thing you played before (generic you, not you personally) but also allows other people to play new things. I just don't get it.
Honestly i kind of see this from the other direction, yes, let people build whatever they want but the floating ASI doesn’t actually allow you to build anything you couldn’t previously, it just lets you have better numbers while typically going against the narrative of the world.

I’d be more inclined to let a nature themed orcish feylock replace their warlock spell list with the druid list than let them swap their +2 str to cha for optimisation because at least the first is a central part of the character concept and makes sense why a nature entity might give druid-ish spells rather than the typical warlock’s capacities

I’d rather have a limited number of meaningful options that make sense and are justifiable than the options to do everything simply to let you do everything.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
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.
When my eldest was young she saw me creating a D&D character and wanted to make one as well. This was back in D&D 3.5 days. So I asked her what she wanted her character to do. She replied with a multitude of things pulled from stories and fairytales.

None of them fit a class. Classes inherently aren't "let players do what they want", they are focusing players into specific niches. More than that, in D&D they are making sure it's a team game that you need others to be able to do the full gamut of abilities.

So we went through this list, and two of the most important ones were "change into a cat" and "heal people". Ah HA, a druid. So we tossed all the rest of what she wanted and focused on druid. Then we got to ability scores. I explained what each was, and she said that she wanted a low wisdom because her character has little common sense and was super impulsive, and a high dexterity "like Peter Parker". That always stuck with me - not like Spider-man, like Peter. But we can't build this character and have it be all that viable. Wisdom is the prime ability score for druids, so much was based on it. And the Dex we could do, but would just get ignored while shape changed.

What I learned from this is that there are a very large number of fetters and limitations inherent in the foundation of the system that I didn't see anymore because I had been playing for years and had internalized it.

There's some nod to letting players do what they want in terms of the details in this 2024 playtest document. But the major constraints are still in place. It's like if there was only one brand of car with one sporty coup, one minivan, and an SUV. Sure you can pick what color you want it, and if you get the enhanced sound system, but really those are minor choices and you are locked into the coup, the minivan or the SUV - they control the big choices and how they fit together.
 
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Smackpixi

Adventurer
Yeah, I think they’re trying to make your daughter happy as their design goal While also keeping rules and mechanics as a thing in the game. You can’t actually Provide a technical system for a million different ideas, the DM is going to have to adapt the wide ranging possibilities offered to the needs of a specific player. help for doing that would be a pretty incredible thing to include in the new DMG.
 

MGibster

Legend
If you want the option to do whatever you want, D&D probably isn't the game for you. That's not a dig against D&D as I don't expect any game to be all things to all people. Not even GURPS. If you're going to play D&D, you've got to accept some limitations such as class. Backgrounds certainly allow for more flexibility, but your class will largely determine what your attributes are and what exactly you're good at.
 

Honestly i kind of see this from the other direction, yes, let people build whatever they want but the floating ASI doesn’t actually allow you to build anything you couldn’t previously, it just lets you have better numbers while typically going against the narrative of the world.

I’d be more inclined to let a nature themed orcish feylock replace their warlock spell list with the druid list than let them swap their +2 str to cha for optimisation because at least the first is a central part of the character concept and makes sense why a nature entity might give druid-ish spells rather than the typical warlock’s capacities

I’d rather have a limited number of meaningful options that make sense and are justifiable than the options to do everything simply to let you do everything.
So instead of getting cool Warlock Orcs we get boring Warlock Half-Elves because we always get Warlock Half-Elves, why would you ever play anything else, you get access to both Prodigy and Elven Accuracy AND +2 Cha AND a bunch of other benefits.

This is why I find this "optimization" argument so specious. You are not going to make the optimizers play non-optimal races. That already happens. Floating ASIs mean you're going to get more unusual, and in fact LESS optimal, combinations. People are still almost always going to choose human, elf, or (5.0) half-elf regardless because they are stupidly powerful for anything you might want to play. Now, however, you might actually see orcish Warlocks or dragonborn Wizards as more than just incredibly rare one-offs, combinations that do nothing particularly special for the class, because the player isn't going to feel punished for choosing something that isn't human, half-elf, or elf.
 
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CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
So instead of getting cool Warlock Orcs we get boring Warlock Half-Elves because we always get Warlock Half-Elves, why would you ever play anything else, you get access to both Prodigy and Elven Accuracy AND +2 Cha AND a bunch of other benefits.

This is why I find this "optimization" argument so specious. You are not going to make the optimizers play non-optimal races. That already happens. Floating ASIs mean you're going to get more unusual, and in fact LESS optimal, combinations. People are still almost always going to choose human, elf, or (5.0) half-elf regardless because they are stupidly powerful for anything you might want to play. Now, however, you might actually see orcish Warlocks or dragonborn Wizards as more than just incredibly rare one-offs, combinations that do nothing particularly special for the class, because the player isn't going to feel punished for choosing something that isn't human, half-elf, or elf.
If people don’t want to play the orcish +str,+con warlock that’s on them but floating asi doesn’t change the optimiser asking the question of ‘what’s the most powerful race for this build? It just bumps the main point of inquiry from what’s their ASI to what’s their race features.
 

If people don’t want to play the orcish +str,+con warlock that’s on them but floating asi doesn’t change the optimiser asking the question of ‘what’s the most powerful race for this build? It just bumps the main point of inquiry from what’s their ASI to what’s their race features.
Yes. That's my point. The 5.0 Half-elf is already one of the most powerful races in the game. With access to one of the most powerful feats in the game, Elven Accuracy, which is specifically good for Warlock characters. Floating ASIs doesn't change that.

Orcs will never be particularly beneficial to someone wanting to play a Warlock, even with floating ASIs. None of its features are particularly strong except for a character that wants to engage in melee and take lots of damage. Warlocks do not want to do that. Even a Hexblade Bladelock is at significant risk in melee combat, wanting to pick and choose their battles rather than (very literally) rushing in headlong. The 5.1e Orc is simply not good for Warlocks, and the 5.0 Half-Orc is hardly better (the crit benefit might be limitedly useful, but that's marginal at best.)

Your argument hinges on the idea that these unusual combinations will drown out the more "traditional" choices. They won't. Human, elf, and (5.0) half-elf will remain by far the most common choices, guaranteed. With 5.1e apparently reducing Human down to just one option, rather than Standard and Variant Human, it's essentially guaranteed that that one Human option will be the unequivocal plurality option, easily eclipsing any single other option (and likely even the next two largest options!)

So. You're not actually going to change the behavior of the optimizer. That's literally never going to change. They were already going to choose something that's way better anyway. The only people whose behavior this CAN affect....are the ones who would choose things for their flavor, if they didn't feel punished for choosing something proverbially "off-label." Floating ASIs let those people choose whatever actually excites them, for its thematic or narrative potential, rather than because they feel they must do right by the team and play something strong.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
Yes. That's my point. The 5.0 Half-elf is already one of the most powerful races in the game. With access to one of the most powerful feats in the game, Elven Accuracy, which is specifically good for Warlock characters. Floating ASIs doesn't change that.

Orcs will never be particularly beneficial to someone wanting to play a Warlock, even with floating ASIs. None of its features are particularly strong except for a character that wants to engage in melee and take lots of damage. Warlocks do not want to do that. Even a Hexblade Bladelock is at significant risk in melee combat, wanting to pick and choose their battles rather than (very literally) rushing in headlong. The 5.1e Orc is simply not good for Warlocks, and the 5.0 Half-Orc is hardly better (the crit benefit might be limitedly useful, but that's marginal at best.)

Your argument hinges on the idea that these unusual combinations will drown out the more "traditional" choices. They won't. Human, elf, and (5.0) half-elf will remain by far the most common choices, guaranteed. With 5.1e apparently reducing Human down to just one option, rather than Standard and Variant Human, it's essentially guaranteed that that one Human option will be the unequivocal plurality option, easily eclipsing any single other option (and likely even the next two largest options!)

So. You're not actually going to change the behavior of the optimizer. That's literally never going to change. They were already going to choose something that's way better anyway. The only people whose behavior this CAN affect....are the ones who would choose things for their flavor, if they didn't feel punished for choosing something proverbially "off-label." Floating ASIs let those people choose whatever actually excites them, for its thematic or narrative potential, rather than because they feel they must do right by the team and play something strong.
My argument wasn’t that the unusual combinations would drown out the typical ones, just that if optimisers are going to optimise anyway I’d rather have the asi reflect the narrative of the species than being all over the place, that dwarves are hardy and have better con, and that elves are quick and have good dex
 

My argument wasn’t that the unusual combinations would drown out the typical ones, just that if optimisers are going to optimise anyway I’d rather have the asi reflect the narrative of the species than being all over the place, that dwarves are hardy and have better con, and that elves are quick and have good dex
Okay...but your reason for opposing it was specifically because you didn't want people playing Orc Warlocks in order to optimize.

The problem is, people won't play Orcs to optimize in the first place.

Ever noticed in the 5e race statistics that dwarves are really rare? Yeah, that's not because they don't have good stats. They do. Mountain dwarves get two different +2s. That's the best you can get. And yet, despite being more powerful than many other options, they're substantially less popular than dragonborn...who are sufficiently weak that WotC replaced them in Fizban's.

Optimizers will optimize by finding ways to make human, half-elf, elf, or (more rarely) tiefling work with whatever thing you're already intending to do. And it just turns out that those options are both incredibly popular and meaningfully more powerful than pretty much anything else in the game...and two of them (human and half-elf) already have flexible racial ability scores anyway. (Half-elves can choose where their two +1s go, standard humans get +1 to all stats regardless, and variant humans get their choice of two distinct +1 bonuses.)

You specifically said, above, "it just lets you have better numbers while typically going against the narrative of the world." No, it doesn't. You could always get those numbers regardless of the narrative of the world. Because half-elf is THAT good. Instead, floating racial ability bonuses lets you have competent numbers for whatever you find interesting.

Besides: subverting expectations can be an incredibly useful thing. And, as I said, there's no significant reason to want to play an orc warlock or a dragonborn wizard or a halfling barbarian even with floating bonuses. The only people who will do that are the ones who think a cool story will come from it. Everyone else will stick with either the "default" options (human, half-elf, elf, aka the "pretty but mostly normal" races) or the "powerful" options (...which are mostly variant human, half-elf, and elf.)
 

ECMO3

Hero
I like wide PC concepts. I like the published rules (incl Tashas) because they are pretty wide.

As far as the ONE D&D UA, I am ok with most of the character creation stuff, although I think all my builds will be a custom background to get the stats I want - "Oh I am not taking the "sailor" background, my Character is a "bosun" he served on a sailing vessel and has a +2 intelligence and +1 to Charisma since he knew the rigging of the ship and ran the deck crew....oh and he has the magic initiate feat"

The only thing I really don't like as far as character creation is the new Dragonborn, which they nerfed back to PHB level.

The character creation thing is the only part I like though, the new grapple rules are a disaster and eliminating most crits takes a lot of fun out of the game.
 
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CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
Okay...but your reason for opposing it was specifically because you didn't want people playing Orc Warlocks in order to optimize.

The problem is, people won't play Orcs to optimize in the first place.
No my point was not orc warlocks specifically, it was mindlessly moving the bonuses from any vaguely ‘misaligned’ class-race combo into the class’s ‘standard optimal build’ rather than actually seeing unusual combinations as themselves, looking at their own strengths and talents rather than as something to be made to fit the mould
 

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