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D&D 5E What does 5E do well?

Campbell

Legend
I'm not sure how people run games with more than 4 people. In any game I have ever run combat scenes have not really been the difficult part to manage. It's giving each individual player character the attention they deserve and provide opportunities for them to achieve their personal goals.

4 is pretty much my limit and that's the player count I ran 4e with. Our fights were pretty complex though. NPC allies and face heel turns were pretty common. I often created custom mechanics and usually had overlapping skill challenges. We were usually pretty fresh when fights broke out though. Generally things might break into violence once every 2-3 sessions (which were about 5 hours in length). Most of our play involved rituals, skill challenges, and more freeform narrative.

Even the thought of running a combat scene in something like Freebooters or Blades in the Dark that basically has no combat system for 6 players gives me chills. Much less running scenes where they go off on their own, pursue personal agenda, or even plan their next moves.
 

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I'm not sure how people run games with more than 4 people. In any game I have ever run combat scenes have not really been the difficult part to manage. It's giving each individual player character the attention they deserve and provide opportunities for them to achieve their personal goals.

4 is pretty much my limit and that's the player count I ran 4e with. Our fights were pretty complex though. NPC allies and face heel turns were pretty common. I often created custom mechanics and usually had overlapping skill challenges. We were usually pretty fresh when fights broke out though. Generally things might break into violence once every 2-3 sessions (which were about 5 hours in length). Most of our play involved rituals, skill challenges, and more freeform narrative.

Even the thought of running a combat scene in something like Freebooters or Blades in the Dark that basically has no combat system for 6 players gives me chills. Much less running scenes where they go off on their own, pursue personal agenda, or even plan their next moves.
Too funny. My games the past few years:
Chult - 9 players
Homemade Campaign - 8 players
Different Homemade Campaign - 5-7 players

Like I said, give me four and I am livin' the dream! ;)
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
It's definitely secondary, but a bad enough or incompatible enough system can cause a good group who have worked well for years to throw up their hands in disgust, and a really good system can make them better than they thought they could be. My main group has been together for 30+ years, and we've played a ridiculous number of systems. Some we've loved, some we've hated, some we've thought were merely okay. To be honest even when I was done with 4E due to the time taken, my group still wanted to play it. We played a hacked-together Cortex Prime thing I'd literally written up over the week tonight and it worked great! (I was doing a Mass Effect hack of my own devising, borrowing from Fate Accelerated and some other ME hacks, both Fate-based and Cortex Plus - not Prime - based).
True. I think of the game-artifacts as tools. A good saw is beneficial, but it is the craftsperson who builds the table.

I think there are quite a number of places it falls down (particularly that some character classes get way more engaging development than others), stopping it getting an A, but it is good at this, better than most editions and certainly most games. One game I'd personally say is clearly better at the same thing is Earthdawn, but D&D definitely is doing job.

I actually think this is pretty important too because one thing a lot of more successful RPGs share is pretty good long-term character development, and one thing a lot of extremely well-designed but less-successful RPGs lack is that. Makes me hopeful for the long-term for RPGs like Spire and Heart, which have some really nice character development.
I DM'd Earthdawn for a few years, using the Companion (meaning we had 15 circles) and set in Barsaive. There are many elements of the Earthdawn design that I valued: thread magic, blood magic, karma, the passions. I loved the setting (the artwork is some of my favourite in RPG, as an aside). Windlings were a mixed blessing. Tskrang! I'd put Earthdawn as a solid competitor, albeit with 5e "clearly better" than Earthdawn (if one has to be).

I would not DM Earthdawn again or seek to play in a campaign. On the other hand, I would recommend it to others.
 


DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
I'm not sure how people run games with more than 4 people. In any game I have ever run combat scenes have not really been the difficult part to manage. It's giving each individual player character the attention they deserve and provide opportunities for them to achieve their personal goals.

I've always marveled at this, if it makes you feel better. Four players is my bare minimum, and I am much more comfortable with six or seven-- and it's not because I feel like I can manage more players better than you do, but having six or seven players is orders of magnitude easier for me than keeping a game up in the air with three or four. More than eight would probably require organizational helpers-- and I still have nightmares about the Night of the Living Elves-- like old-school Lake Geneva style, but fewer than five players and I really have to depend on a lot of player skill and creativity to keep the game running.

I've got a good core gaming group now that can bring the heat... but there are only four of them and I can feel the added strain it puts on my mental energies.

For as overwhelmingly negative as I've been about 5e, I reckon it's about time I participate in a thread like this. I don't really feel the need to be fair to 5e, but taking the time and effort to find some things to praise in it... at least helps me maintain a sense of perspective, and helps me recognize things I can learn from the design.
  • Feats: Feats in Fifth Edition feel weighty and they're damned satisfying to take. There are no feat chains and each and every feat choice is a whole new option for your playstyle.
  • Bounded Accuracy: For as much as I complain about this as the source of most of the things I don't like about Fifth... the fundamental concept that everyone who rolls a d20 has a reasonable chance of passing or failing is brilliant.
  • Hit Dice: Smaller than healing surges and randomized, which I think would be improvements to the original mechanic.
 


I DM'd Earthdawn for a few years, using the Companion (meaning we had 15 circles) and set in Barsaive. There are many elements of the Earthdawn design that I valued: thread magic, blood magic, karma, the passions. I loved the setting (the artwork is some of my favourite in RPG, as an aside). Windlings were a mixed blessing. Tskrang! I'd put Earthdawn as a solid competitor, albeit with 5e "clearly better" than Earthdawn (if one has to be).

I would not DM Earthdawn again or seek to play in a campaign. On the other hand, I would recommend it to others.
Yeah I don't think I'd put ED ahead of 5E overall because it's less accessible, and even compared to 5E's mechanical issues, the ED mechanics (on the editions I've seen) don't work as well - not does it feel as engaging in combat. I would put it ahead in long-term advancement specifically - I think ED made it more interesting, more natural, more emotional, and also extended it into magic items and so on (thread magic as you mention). I think what's particularly interesting about Earthdawn is that it was, essentially, the first attempt to rationalize D&D whilst leaning in to the tropes of D&D, not merely changing D&D for the sake of the peccadillos of a specific group or author, which most previous D&D-inspired games hack been.

As such it's almost the first "3E", and 5E in a lot of ways is really a "3E from alternate dimension" (it does learn from 3.XE and 4E but it's most likely an extension of 2E). People noticed this even back in the day I note - my first exposure to ED was a friend from the US showing to me and saying "it's like they fixed AD&D!" (maybe an overstatement but it's interesting that he said that - we were all about 15-16).

Re: Windlings I think they're prescient or at least before their time. They are absolutely the sort of race D&D needs to make default, going forwards, to support its new audience. But certainly being really small and able to fly did mean they could make stuff happen in adventures that was tricky. Good thing was they were a part of the world and people were used to them, so anti-Windling window-screens, locked roof entrances angry ladies with brooms swatting at them, and people being suspicious if they were flying around near windows were all viable in a way they might not be in a D&D setting where such a race was suddenly introduced.
 
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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I think this is probably the biggest factor though the others definitely do matter.
Definitely agree. I've run 4E with 6 players and with 3 players, and it's a noticeable difference. 4E combat sang with 3 players, and it chugged with 6.

It's interesting how group size is one of the routinely undiscussed variables when comparing game systems. There are plenty of games I love to play with 3-4 participants, but would never think to play if there was 7-8. I've found games with that many players almost require a certain amount of GM force and railroading, simply because it's impossible to get that many overlapping PCs to coordinate any activity otherwise. 5E is much better for large groups than 3E or 4E are, although a simpler OSR type game would be my preference for those groups.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I've always marveled at this, if it makes you feel better. Four players is my bare minimum, and I am much more comfortable with six or seven-- and it's not because I feel like I can manage more players better than you do, but having six or seven players is orders of magnitude easier for me than keeping a game up in the air with three or four. More than eight would probably require organizational helpers-- and I still have nightmares about the Night of the Living Elves-- like old-school Lake Geneva style, but fewer than five players and I really have to depend on a lot of player skill and creativity to keep the game running.
That's interesting, can you expand on this? Is it because more players will have more interplay with each other, and thus require less content during the session? Likewise, you'd need to do more one-on-one personal engagement with each PC, whereas with 6-7 you can focus on the story arc?

I'm with @Campbell in that I find about 3-4 PCs to be a sweet spot, so I'm curious as to your reasoning, because I also run games for 7 players pretty frequently and find that to be more exhausting.
 

To me what 5e does excellently is in that it takes a low amount of effort to get pretty good results, especially on the player side. Can I create more vividly mechanically visualised characters in either 3.X or 4e than I can 5e? Yes. But I'm pretty adept with all three (or five if you count 3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder 1e separately) systems and find it easy to create vivid characters. On the other hand the 5e class, subclass, and background choice is strong, thematic, and evocative - and easy both in terms of actual mechanical choices and especially in terms of system mastery required to make them. (Just not needing to pick feats is on its own a huge time and effort save, especially for newbies) In the past I've described 5e as producing 80% of the results for 30% of the effort.

For DMs it's similar. 5e is a pretty basic system to run - I dislike it because it gives me little back. But it's easy, especially conceptually. Setting DCs is easy. Picking monsters is easy. The monsters are evocative with 4e style abilities. If you ever don't know what to do you can have a rest while fighting. "Rulings not rules" never tells you you're doing it wrong and gives you little to remember. The rules are clean with very few modifiers. DMing is not easy - here I'd say it's 80% of the results for 60% of the effort.

And when you're putting less effort into the rules and mechanics you've more left to put elsewhere.
5E is easier to DM. Eliminating little modifiers and making the core lean, using rulings not rules simplifies the DMs job.
Here I couldn't disagree more. To me it wasn't perfect but 4e was the DMs edition - and one in which about half the players I played with were also DMs rather than having to actively hunt to find one.
4E is a more involved tactical experience than 5E...but Fire Emblem is even more tactical on the Nintwndo Switch.
Honestly, not in my experience. Fire Emblem's tactics revolved at least in part round keeping synergistic death balls together and in part round mission objectives. 4e's tactics revolve around the use of the current specific environment and round the tension between grouping up for focus fire and spreading out to avoid AoEs.
What is 4e like round-by-round? I find 5e combats get boring after about 3 rounds (max) unless something changes in the environment.
The majority of 4e characters have a mix of single target and AoE attacks, of which some require five minute rests to recover so exact positioning matters a lot more, and the majority have some forced movement abilities so any terrain you can push the enemy in/on/off (like that pit trap that would normally just be something to walk round) making almost all non boring environments more interactive.

This means that bad 4e is like 5e combats that last one round longer and where even the fighters sometimes suffer analysis paralysis. Good 4e on the other hand has even static environments continually feeling dynamic as your relationship to them changes and teamwork to push people where you want them (either in pits, back through their own summoning portals, off the edge of docks, or into the area the wizard's about to drop an AoE).
It has been my experience that the tables that work, work because the group at that table have the ability to make it work. No matter the system. System is secondary in RPG.
Agreed-ish. System is secondary but not irrelevant.
5e is great if you like the mythic-medieval mosaic that it presents, sophisticated D&D mechanics, and expansive character development arcs. I've played campaigns of 70+ contiguous sessions with characters levelling 1-15 and the system has opened up more to characters all the way through. Few other games are even close, in blending streamlined rules with long mechanical character-development arcs.
5e allows rather than encourages character arcs. I've had more and tighter unplanned arcs in six session Apocalypse World campaigns than I have in thirty of D&D. But an Apocalypse World campaing burns out after about ten sessions.
 


DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
That's interesting, can you expand on this? Is it because more players will have more interplay with each other, and thus require less content during the session? Likewise, you'd need to do more one-on-one personal engagement with each PC, whereas with 6-7 you can focus on the story arc?

It's partially that, but only partially, and almost its opposite. I'm struggling to explain it in a couple of brief sentences, so bear with me...

My platonic ideal of D&D is an aggressively character-driven sandbox. I don't plan a campaign beyond the "elevator pitch" I offer my players and sometimes the first adventure. What I do is set the tone, come up with a handful of elaborate plot hooks, and then everything that happens in my "campaign" is the ongoing consequences of the players' choices in regard to those initial plot hooks. People they injure or insult nurse grudges and plot revenge, the delicate checks and balances they disrupt realign themselves, power vacuums get filled and power players react to new competition. So having more players isn't a matter of everyone "focusing on the story"... it's a matter of more players providing the "one on one personal engagement" for each other.

It actually ties into my "no backstories" houserule/philosophy: it seems like it contradicts "character-driven" roleplaying, but the idea is that if all of a character's "background substance" fits on an index card, well, all of the other players can memorize six or eight index cards' worth of background substance and engage with it, compared to three or four times three or four pages of background substance that they'll never read.

So with more players:
  • Collaborative setting design, which I love for settings like Spelljammer or my own Shroompunk, works so much better with more players.
  • More inspiration for plot hooks, and more wholecloth plotlines, that I don't have to come up with myself. Any one PC's "personal storyline" can suddenly become the "main plot" at any time, and nobody complains I'm playing favorites because it was everyone's choice.
  • More PC-to-PC interaction and player engagement with eachother's BS means that their "personal storylines" become interconnected organically, multiplying my "one on one engagement" by two or more characters and making it seem like part of the campaign.
  • Larger combats in any edition of D&D take more time to resolve, but multiple player interactions during combat keep them from feeling as grindy-- especially because larger parties can both punch well above their weight class, and survive defeats that would wipe a smaller party.
  • The obvious common threads between these points are "getting players to do my prep work for me" and "keeping players occupied with each other while I plan my next move". Less obvious, but more critical, it relies on the players keeping each other engaged and actively putting each other in the spotlight.
Basically, my entire playstyle is based on the idea that six players can do the DM's job better than one DM can, but no matter how much I congratulate my players for how clever they were... I still end up getting all the credit.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Honestly, not in my experience. Fire Emblem's tactics revolved at least in part round keeping synergistic death balls together and in part round mission objectives. 4e's tactics revolve around the use of the current specific environment and round the tension between grouping up for focus fire and spreading out to avoid AoEs.
I would call the Foee Emblem model a superior tactical experience. But it is a wargame, not an RPG.
 

Fights in 5E should be over by the end of round 3, usually 2.
I keep hearing this, but jeez, it really doesn't reflect my experiences. Maybe my groups just haven't been optimal, but I routinely get very close to (or beyond) the duration end of my 1 minute abilites/spells in combat in my current campaign. It is SKT, so lots of giants and huge numbers of hitpoints to chew through, so maybe that makes a difference. But I can't imagine finishing any of the past half-dozen or so combats we've run within 2-3 rounds. The damage output just isn't there compared to the hp total of the enemies.
 

I would call the Foee Emblem model a superior tactical experience. But it is a wargame, not an RPG.
On the contrary. Fire Emblem Three Houses, i.e. the Fire Emblem on Switch, is explicitly a tactical [computer] RPG where you play as the character of Byleth and your in character choices determine how the story progresses. If Mass Effect and the Witcher 3 are RPGs then so is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. And if you're defining RPGs to exclude cRPGs entirely then you're heavily outvoted.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I keep hearing this, but jeez, it really doesn't reflect my experiences. Maybe my groups just haven't been optimal, but I routinely get very close to (or beyond) the duration end of my 1 minute abilites/spells in combat in my current campaign. It is SKT, so lots of giants and huge numbers of hitpoints to chew through, so maybe that makes a difference. But I can't imagine finishing any of the past half-dozen or so combats we've run within 2-3 rounds. The damage output just isn't there compared to the hp total of the enemies.
That suggests that the encounter guidelines are not being followed, or that you guys got into fights that were best avoided by your characters.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
On the contrary. Fire Emblem Three Houses, i.e. the Fire Emblem on Switch, is explicitly a tactical [computer] RPG where you play as the character of Byleth and your in character choices determine how the story progresses. If Mass Effect and the Witcher 3 are RPGs then so is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. And if you're defining RPGs to exclude cRPGs entirely then you're heavily outvoted.
No, by the standards of CRPGs, Three Houses is not an RPG. The gameplay loop involves a series of combat scenarios where the player controls a squad of troops, itsa wargame. There are story and characelements, but it is more Chainmail or Warhammer than D&D.
 

No, by the standards of CRPGs, Three Houses is not an RPG. The gameplay loop involves a series of combat scenarios where the player controls a squad of troops, itsa wargame. There are story and characelements, but it is more Chainmail or Warhammer than D&D.
No, by your definition Mass Effect is not an RPG. The gameplay loop involves a series of combat scenarios where the player controls a squad of troops. This makes it a wargame? Or an FPS?

For that matter by your definition I don't think that any of the Final Fantasy games are RPGs either. The gameplay loop involves a series of combats where the player controls a small squad of troops.

By the normal definitions Fire Emblem, Mass Effect, and Final Fantasy are all considered RPGs.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
No, by the standards of CRPGs, Three Houses is not an RPG. The gameplay loop involves a series of combat scenarios where the player controls a squad of troops, itsa wargame. There are story and characelements, but it is more Chainmail or Warhammer than D&D.
Honestly, at least half the gameplay loop is finding your favorite character's lost items and having tea parties so they can become your waifu at the end of the game. :)

I would disagree with the notion that having a grid and turn-based combat system suddenly makes a RPG into a not-RPG. You're really only controlling 10-11 characters at a time, not armies. (Although I suppose the gambit system pushes against that a bit.)
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Honestly, at least half the gameplay loop is finding your favorite character's lost items and having tea parties so they can become your waifu at the end of the game. :)

I would disagree with the notion that having a grid and turn-based combat system suddenly makes a RPG into a not-RPG. You're really only controlling 10-11 characters at a time, not armies. (Although I suppose the gambit system pushes against that a bit.)
No, it's the lack of an exploration gameplay loop (I'm not counting the entirely optional school interludes, much ad I love them, they are entirely skiable to the core game). Tactical grid combat obviously doesn't mean a game isn't an RPG, but when the grid combats are the game, with everything else being an elaboration of building the army for the preset wargame scenarios...that's a wargame. This is way more clear with earlier entries in the series, that usually lacked many of the roleplaying side game elements in Three Houses.

It's sort of the inverse of the Legend of Zelda: there are obvious RPG influences on Zekda, and the core gsmeplay loops are Delving. exploration and Dungeon delving. But there are no or very limited character development mechan, and little in the way of tactics.
 

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