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D&D (2024) Postmortem: 10 Ideas in 5e that didn't quite work...

Remathilis

Legend
With 5th edition winding down and 1D&D ascending, I'd like to look at some ideas presented during the game's lifespan that didn't quite work out as desired. Some will be removed, some will be changed, and some may yet live to see 5.5. In no paricular order

1.) Backgrounds

Yeah, the kinda exist in the packet as predefined options, but the current background is dead. It started life in D&D next as a kind of mixture of 4e Themes along with 3e-style feat trees before morphing into a collection of non-weapon proficiencies and role-playing aids. It helped define your character as more than just as fighter or a sorcerer, but as a soldier, an outlander, or a sailor. And lots of supplements (Official and 3pp) added more of them to fit every possible origin. However, they maintained a few flaws in their design: most players viewed them as inflexible options for skills and proficiencies despite "customizing your background" being an option. Most of the Features were heavily DM and campaign dependent (and often amounted to little more than "free room and board" or "NPC will cut you some slack". Easily forgotten by both DM and player. They also had a cascading effect as we'll see below. While I genuinely liked the ideas of backgrounds, I don't think they did what WotC wanted in terms of role-playing.

2.) Bonds/Ideas/Flaws/Traits

Alongside Backgrounds were lists of personality traits, written in first person sentences to foster deeper role-playing options by having PCs define their personality, beliefs, and shortcomings. Like the backgrounds they were attached to, they were supposed to offer suggestions, but more than a few PCs took them as the only options for playing your acolytes or urchins. Others picked them at character creation, wrote them down and promptly forgot them, or didn't bother to write them down at all. While BIFTS may exist in some fashion in 5.5, they aren't attached to background and I suspect won't appear as some rollable table of suggestions, though I feel they will probably remain for NPCs in modules.

3.) Trinkets.

Ah trinkets. Little curiosities you rolled for at chargen, wrote-down in your equipment and were ignored afterwards. Sometimes interesting, rarely useful, often forgotten.

4.) Multi-classing

5e brought back 3e style multiclassing, with some adjustments to fix the problems inherent to such a system. Spell slots (but not spells known) were dependent on all caster classes, proficiency bonus and cantrips were a function of character level, not class level, and starting proficiencies were staggered to avoid dipping for free saves and weapons/armors. Despite all this, the system was still primarily used to dip one class into another to pull some low-level features from one class and add it to another. In particular, the Charisma classes (Warlock, Sorcerer, and Paladin) synergized almost too well with each other. Eventually, subclasses and feats became more popular ways to poach from one class and into another, and I wager that multiclassing with get another revision (if it remains at all) to curb abuses and discourage 1-2 level dips.

5.) Inspiration.

Designed as a reward for good role-play (remember those BIFTS?) Inspiration didn't quite work as they wanted. It was hard or inconsistent to get, easily forgotten, and didn't connect to the rest of the system. I see why WotC has opted to make it more widely and consistently useful.

6.) Modular Rules

Ah what sweet summer children we were! The notion that 5e would be rules-modular was partially true: It's a remarkably easy system to house rule. But the dream of Alternative skill systems, advanced combat options, new spell systems, mass combat, alternative ability scores, and other ideas hinted at in the DMG but never expanded on or fleshed out quickly faded. An alternative "Greyhawk" initiative based on weapon/spell speed was UA'd but that was the only attempt at any sort of alternative rule modules we saw from WotC.

7.) Psionics.

Another bit of vaporware: true psionic rules seemed like a necessity and WotC honestly tried to make the Mystic a thing, but it never gelled and eventually collapsed into the vaguely psychic subclass options we have today.

8.) Short Rests

The short rests were designed to resemble the encounter recharge mechanic in 4e: a way to recharge certain abilities more often than a long rest as well as to heal between encounters. But the long duration needed to use one made it hard to do in most situations (if you were safe enough to take a lunch break, you probably weren't in the kind of place you needed to recharge those abilities in) and the fact certain classes and races (warlock, monk, fighter, dragonborn) needed them far more than others lead to a lot of tension in using them. They still exist in some fashion, but I wager the change from short-rest recharge to prof/day will make their usefulness dimmish further.

9.) Hit Dice

Speaking of, they were great for short rests to heal hp without magic, but as short rests were skipped either due to the inability to safely rest for an hour or skipped instead for a long-rest, HD rarely had a chance to shine. It seems a few more options to use them to heal 4e style (spending them in combat or via a spell) might bring them more use beyond low level.

10. Pact Magic

I'm going to get some flack for this. Pact Magic is the Warlock method of casting spells; a few spell slots recharged over a short rest and always cast at max efficiency seemed like an interesting alterative to spellcasting on paper, but warlock magic was very finicky. It was a very hard concept for new players to wrap their heads around always casting at max level (no, you use your 5th level spell slot to cast your 1st level spell as if it was 5th level), was wholly dependent on frequent short rests, and was an absolute nightmare with multiclassing. Further, the spell list went up to 9th level, but levels 6-9 were part of a different class feature (mystic arcanum) and didn't use spell slots at all to cast. The system looked cool, but maybe (if WotC is open to more radical adjustment to the class system) it would be better to have warlocks be a regular spell slot caster akin to sorcerer or bard rather than their own weird spell system that doesn't play nice with the rest of the game.

That's my list. Got one to add? Disagree? Let me have it!
 
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Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
You got a like from me for generating an interesting discussion!

I will add more detail tomorrow. I agree in some areas but not backgrounds or pact magic! I will say more when I have more time. But backgrounds helped to get me in the right frame of mind and remember those bits.

We always did backgrounds back to 1e—but these little pithy bits helped focus me!

Conversely, in generally made my own using the suggestions as..suggestions!

The proble her is the player. They take an advantageous skill set but lose the baggage: It’s on us as individuals and groups to keep it!

That said never once have we used inspiration for playing your character. It’s a reward in itself even for this heavy combat swashbuckling group of mine!
 



Shiroiken

Legend
I disagree about traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, as I've always found them useful as a player and DM. My biggest issue was trying to tie them to backgrounds, instead of being their own section (like alignment). The provide a simple framework for the player and DM to tie the character into the world and guide roleplay.

Your issues with short rests aren't universal. I've heard lots of complaints about them, but I've not experienced many issues. The frequency of short rests in our group depends on the party composition (more short rest classes means more short rests) and level (since you get more use out of multiple rests at higher level).
 


TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Mostly right on the list.

Modular rules, and that this was already supposed to be 1D&D, was very hyped in Next and then faded very fast. And it was sad. Part of the Next One seems to be locking down and narrowing things even more.

As for Warlock, so close to such a good class. They really should not blow it up. We will see.
 


Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
This is an interesting list. I agree with you on 2, 3, 5, 6 -- none of them produced better play at the table.

1. Backgrounds. I think Backgrounds were great, and better even than the designers realized in terms of supporting new and interesting builds. I won't speak for "most players", but consistently at the tables I was at, backgrounds were key to character formation. And I loved that customization of backgrounds was presented as an possibility (not even an "optional rule") out the gate. I used custom origins a lot, and appreciated that it urged us to have a hook for creative play intersecting with mechanics.

4. Multi-classing works fine. Dips can be a problem in white-room design discussions, but I have not seen them as a problem when characters are actually levelling up.

7. They had a few options for Psionics: (a) don't have them; (b) have a new core class; (c) psionic subclasses for existing classes; (d) pisonics just as feats. Everyone has a preference, and despite starting with (a), they eventually went with (c) and (d). Some people will have wanted other things (they tried (b) in a UA and were attacked, despite it being clever and original), and in the end they'be made a reasonable choice that some people like, and I think it allows some fine builds.

8./9. We've seen that they are moving away from short rests to proficiency times per long rest. I think the "need to win" made players of some classes based on long rests antsy -- short rests helped some classes more than others. Players look to their own sheet first. You're right that these didn't work as intended at most tables.

10. I don't think Pact Magic is as complex as you make out, but it's a new system, and it blended with the invocations. levelled spells were less important than invocations and cantrips, unlike other casting classes. Just that meant they worked as intended, I feel.
 

delericho

Legend
Most of the Features were heavily DM and campaign dependent (and often amounted to little more than "free room and board" or "NPC will cut you some slack". Easily forgotten by both DM and player. They also had a cascading effect as we'll see below. While I genuinely liked the ideas of backgrounds, I don't think they did what WotC wanted in terms of role-playing.

I actually thought this was a good thing about Backgrounds. Who you were before you started really should be one of the least interesting parts of the character. Plus, making the benefits from the background trivial also meant it was something of a "free hit" - no need to pick your background to optimize synergy with your preferred class.

3.) Trinkets.

Ah trinkets. Little curiosities you rolled for at chargen, wrote-down in your equipment and were ignored afterwards. Sometimes interesting, rarely useful, often forgotten.

Likewise, these were working as intended, I think - they provided some marginal interest at character creation, but otherwise could be completely ignored.

One I would like to add:

Lair Actions: These were fine, and a good idea, but they were also too rare, and too restricted to high-CR foes. Which meant, given that the vast majority of play is in levels 1-10, they very rarely ever came into play.

Fortunately the fix for these is pretty simple: give more monsters lair actions earlier.
 

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