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D&D 5E Why Don't We Simplify 5e?


Guide of Modos
Back in the D&D Next days, my impression of the new edition was that the game would be streamlined and/or have its bumps ironed out. WotC would produce something more accessible to the masses, and maybe even ride the popularity of some lighter-weight games at the time (looking at you, Savage Worlds). Crunch would be Pathfinder's thing, and more power to Paizo.

But here we are with regular rules discussions from WotC, and regular rules discussions here (now in the helpful format of How To articles). A "basic rules" document. An advanced 5e on the way from ENpublishing, and a full-on battle royale thread about the plethora of DMG options. Several threads are about adding more rules to make an aspect run better or more realistically.

And here I thought 5e was about the rulings that the DM would make, not the rules. Players make their characters from the book, and the DM does the rest, right? Why don't we see more discussions here about simplifying D&D?

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Can't speak for anyone else, but for me, 5e is quite simplified already - to a level I like and am comfortable with. I ran 3e through high level play and it was exhausting. 5e has been significantly easier. Sure there are rules discussions/ambiguities but they are smaller AND 5e is much more up front with the just make a call and go with it approach (not that I was hesitant with that in earlier editions, but it's explicit in 5e).

Yep. After 40ish years of gaming, I didn’t realize how complicated (or maybe in-depth is better) 5th edition was; not until I thought about introducing my son and his friend to playing. Both have ADHD to different levels, and trying to figure out how to introduce the game and to what level was eye opening. There are a lot of helpful blogs, hacks, and articles on the web on how to introduce the game (to kids, to beginners, etc.), and they are by and large awesome. But it still remains that D&D 5th is not a light and easy game.

Heck, even the old group of players I have played with since 1st ed don't have all the rules fully under their belts.

I am thinking of stepping out of my comfort zone and diving into some more narrative games.


Mod Squad
Staff member
Why don't we see more discussions here about simplifying D&D?

Because there's not a lot of desire among our posters for something simpler?

A path to a pretty simple game is already present. PHB only, don't use feats. Just have the GM wing it on the DCs of skill checks. And... you're basically done.

You could perhaps have a slightly longer discussion about reducing map-dependency to better support theater of the mind play - maybe make up a Zone scheme for ranges and maps, and the like.


Autistic DM (he/him)
Why don't we see more discussions here about simplifying D&D?
'Cause most of the suggestions that are given that would simplify D&D have been debated to death and are holdovers from previous editions (alignment, racial ASIs, expanding class identity, etc), and 5e is already simplified to the point that new players can get it easily enough (and if for some reason they can't, they can always play a Sidekick from Tasha's or a Survivor from Van Richten's).

If you want to play the most simple, mechanically boring character ever, be a non-Variant Human Champion Fighter in a game without Multiclassing or Feats. You'll have one important mechanical choice when creating the character (your Fighting Style), and no others for the rest of the time you play the character. If you want to play the most mechanically-complex character possible at the same table (again, ignoring Feats and Multiclassing), be a Moon Druid (any race would work, but Simic Hybrids are a bit more complicated than most races).

IMHO, D&D doesn't really need further simplification. If anything, it needs to do a better job at supporting both mechanically simple and mechanically complex styles of play better (like allowing players to make important mechanical decisions while playing any of the Martial classes).

There are very few parts of D&D 5e that I've looked at and said "that needs to be more simple". They are there, but they are few and far between (I'm looking at you; Four Elements Monk), and most of them boil down to strange Rules as Written (Melee Weapon Attack vs. Attack with a Melee Weapon, Natural Weapon vs. Unarmed Strike vs. Simple Weapon, and the whole "you can cast spells that require S and M components with both hands full if you're holding a spellcasting focus, but not spells that just require S components" issue).


Magic Wordsmith
For my part, I think D&D 5e is at the sweet spot for simplicity and complexity. I also play in the odd OSE, Mork Borg, and Dungeon World game, as well as some other rules light systems. My takeaway from those experiences is that they are good for short run games, but I find anything longer than one or two sessions to be boring for the lack of options. At the other extreme, I really liked D&D 4e and would play it still but for the discontinuation of the old digital tools, but again, only sometimes in short runs when I really wanted to scratch that tactical game itch (plus I love skill challenges).

Talking about how to interpret rules or publishing additional options in my view doesn't actually make the game more complex unless those things are adopted at the table. And for any DM, I would advise being judicious in what you add or take away from the base game to make sure it's actually serving the vision you have for the adventure or campaign. You don't need to include every single option from every book that's out there. Have a clear idea of what your game is supposed to be and choose the options that push that idea at all times.


I personally would welcome a much simplified D&D. Personally, I find even Savage Worlds to be relatively crunchy. But then people seem to enjoy their feats and class powers a lot, and a version of D&D that simplifies it to a level of modern OSR games might not have the broad appeal that 5e has.

To elaborate on my previous post, the core engine is pretty simple. But to get to the engine you have to go through character generation which is what made me go Blah! when thinking about walking a new player through it.

Select a Race: get various abilities, skills, and stuff
Select a sub-race, get more stuff
Select a Class: get various stuff some with unique sub-systems
Select a Background: get stuff
Select a Sub-Class at some level: get more stuff

Put that all together, then remember to explain Inspiration, Hit Die healing, and leveling up, it adds up.

Even if you go Basic and have only 4 races with sub-race chosen and 4 classes with only one sub-class, that is a lot of info for a new player to absorb.


There's a vital distinction between complexity that adds depth and complexity that does not. D&D is, by design, a crunchy game, and the "combat minigame" is a big piece of it--it may not be important at your table, but at a lot of tables, it is the centerpiece of D&D. And that minigame requires a fair bit of mechanical depth to keep it fresh.

I do think there are elements that add complexity without adding depth, and removing them would make 5E a better game. Unfortunately, they are almost all sacred cows. Ability scores are the poster child for this: I can and do rant at length about how poorly designed they are, and how they add a heap of complexity and confusion for minimal mechanical value. (And I'm not just talking about the distinction between "raw number" and "bonus," that's just icing on the cake.) No sane game designer, starting from scratch in 2021, would design a mechanic that worked like ability scores in 5E.

But the six ability scores are at the very heart of D&D. If you tried to get rid of them, or even move them off a scale that was designed for rolling 3d6 in order back in the '70s, you would face the mother of all backlashes. They're never going away.


Jewel of the North
Using the Basic Rules would be a nice start.

Then go over each Basic class to remove most of resource keeping for classes or make them Prof Bonus per long rest.
Ex: Second Wind is now use an Action to spend 1 HD.
Ex: Extra attack grant a extra damage die equal to the weapon damage die the fighter can use on a single creature or spread different creature within range if the original attack also hit the other targets.
Ex: Indomitable (lvl 9) now grant 1d6 bonus to saves.
Ex: Action Surge can be used PB/Long rest. Same with Channel Divinity.
Ex: Remove Arcane Recovery. Give a little more low-level slots instead.
Ex: Sneak attack can be used with all one handed weapons in which the rogue is proficient.

Then go over the rules in general:
- Build-in the archetypes: Champion/Thief/Life/Speciality wizard.
  • Short Rest aint a thing. Everything is based on an adventuring day.
  • Expertise gives Advantage on a skill check. If the roll has already advantage, you can roll another d20 (like Elven Accuracy).
  • Tools are replaced by profession/craft/background. If you make an ability check related to your background/craft/profession's domain, you can add your PB.
  • Monsters have their minimal possible HP, unless they are Elite/Boss.
  • Ranged weapons have a short/long range based on the character STR, only exception being crossbows with a fixed range. Dex isnt added to ranged weapon damage, only melee and thrown weapons get to add an ability modifier.
  • Movement and range use zones: close, near, far, distant.
  • Remove bonus action, everything use either an Action, Free Action or Reaction. You cant use more than one free action per round. Dual wielding do not requires a bonus action, obvs.
  • Initiative uses slow/fast turns; Players go first. You cant move during fast turns; you can only do one thing.
  • Remove active concentration: you can only have 1 non-instant duration spell active at a time. You have a Concentration score of 10+Con+PB, if you take total damage higher than your Concentration in one turn, you lose your spell.
  • Rituals are only usable has rituals.

That'd be my ideas for now.
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I'm of the mindset that D&D 5e is already simple if you want it to be. And complex enough to keep veteran players engaged with new tricks.

Here's my approach to (try to) keep it simple, especially with new players:

Walk them through picking a race, class, and background - typically just using the PHB. I don't worry about explaining the details too much and really just rely on the artwork and names to spur their imagination. Once they pick something, I'll give 2 or 3 points about their chosen race/class/background and see if that is along the lines of what they are excited about playing. Once all three are picked, I have them describe their character in their own words (i.e. "Tell me a little about your Tiefling Fighter who used to work as a Librarian").

I then guide them through the ability scores - very basically - and use a point buy calculator to demonstrate how to allocate scores to the six abilities (I'm partial to D&D 5e Point Buy Calculator these days). We populate skills by picking the first few from the PHB class options and equipment by defaulting to PHB option (a) for each class.

Then we start to play and I tell them to largely ignore(!) - yep, ignore - their character sheet and just think about how they described their character earlier in their own words. This, I've found after much experience, seems to work best to keep them from potentially getting completely overwhelmed by all the boxes and numbers.

I explain the play loop:
1. The DM describes the environment.
2. The players describe what they want to do.
3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

I start with #1 and just have them describe what they want their character to do. If I've done my job as DM with sufficiently describing the scene, the most basic action choices become fairly obvious to them. As rolls come up in #3, I guide them through the dice and how to find the pertinent section on their sheet and how to add modifiers accordingly to their rolls.

TL;DR: So yeah, while character creation can potentially be a steep-ish climb, I've found it can be further simplified by limiting skill and equipment choices. Once that is accomplished, IME, if one sticks to the play loop the game becomes naturally simplified and largely approachable.


Limit Break Dancing
Yeah, I think 5E is already fairly simple. Or maybe a better way to say it is that it's as complicated as you want it to be.

If you want a seriously simple, stripped-down game that is reminiscent of the old BECM days of yore, just use the Player's Handbook only and do not use optional rules (especially the Playing on a Grid, Feats, and Multiclassing options.)

If you want a really complicated game that is reminiscent of 3.x and 4E, allow all of the supplemental books (especially Xanathar's, Tasha's, Volo's, and the Eberron campaign setting), and use the optional rules for Playing on a Grid, Feats, Multiclassing, Flanking, Encumbrance, Morale, Scroll Mishaps, Mixing Potions, Proficiency Dice, Crafting Magic Items, Selling Magic Items, and Healing Surges.

The thing that I appreciate the most about 5E is that it gives the DM a ton of dials and switches to customize the game as desired, and gives the DM the tools they need to interpret and change rules as needed.
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Having experience playing/running other RPGs, including D&D adjacent games, and running players who are new to TTRPGs, I don't think that 5e is as simple as people make it out to be. There are definitely tabletop games that I have consistently found it easier to run for TTRPG newbies and for newbies to play, and similarly there are also games that I have consistently found it easier for newbie GMs to run. This is not to knock on 5E or its popularity, but other D&D adjacent games (e.g., SotDL, ICRPG, WWN, etc.) have shown that 5E could definitely be simplified.

I am amazed when I see regular discussion that 5th edition D&D is too complicated. I'm not saying anyone is wrong - it just blows my mind that the simplest version of D&D since 2E, at least, is still viewed as "complex". It's a good example of just how much of a difference different experiences and frames can make.

A lot of this can be aided by a good, enthusiastic DM, regardless of the game. If you don't know one you may have to become one - just jump in and do it and accept that you won't always get it right. Basic rules only, PHB only are both solid suggestions.

Also 5th is popular but maybe it's not the answer for your group. Something like Labyrinth Lord is still very much D&D and involves a lot less character choice and fiddly bits in play and there is no lack of adventure material for it. There are a lot of other rules-light games out there that might hit the sweet spot you are looking for.

Even if you go Basic and have only 4 races with sub-race chosen and 4 classes with only one sub-class, that is a lot of info for a new player to absorb.
I would always hand a new player a pregenerated character, rather than expect them to grapple with character creation - the most complex part of the game - before even playing.

I don't expect or require new players to know any rules before play.


A path to a pretty simple game is already present. PHB only, don't use feats. Just have the GM wing it on the DCs of skill checks. And... you're basically done.
That's what I'm doing with my 11yo and his friends and it seems to work really well with them not really knowing the rules. I think we'll try to get a bit more tactical with combat as we enter our second year.


3 core books only. No feats. No multi-classing. 4 basic classes only (fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric). No sub-class with spells for non-casters. Done.

Why only non-casters? Frankly, casters, with full spell progression, need the subclasses the least!

If you're going to go "simple" either no subclasses period or limit it to the more basic ones (champion fighter, open hand monk etc.)

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