D&D 5th Edition Is Deeply Flawed, But Storygames Are Worse

Really quick: if you want something similar to Dungeons & Dragons, but which focuses on fun, usability, and quality—yet isn't grossly overpriced—as opposed to social justice progressive politics, propaganda, and irrational, obsessive hatred over mere disagreements and arbitrary thought crime violations, check out Dungeons & Delvers.

This guy gets it.

Alternate title: a mentally and socially deficient Kotaku journalist (so-called) with the body of an adult, condemns Dungeons & Dragons because he is too stupid, lazy, and impatient to learn how to play it properly, so tries to convince you to play even worse games, but only because it's becoming more “okay” to hate D&D.

Don't get me wrong: 5th Edition is bad, but not for the reasons Renata exaggerates when he doesn't wholly fabricate.

D&D 5e is trying to be everything to everyone, and that is a very difficult thing to be.

It's functionally impossible, but this wasn't always the case. See, back when Dungeons & Dragons could be considered an even half-way decent game, it knew what it was and focused on that: a dungeon-crawler, which became (and remains) such a popular genre that it's influenced countless other games, books, anime, and other media for decades to come.

When you know what you're doing it works. It's fun (enough). People know this. It wasn't until woke, narcissistic posers like Renata wormed their way into hobbies that they only pretend to enjoy, and tried to change it, to shift the focus. Now, instead of going on adventures, exploring dungeons, seeing what the DM came up with for you to deal with and discover, it's all about obsessing over your character.

Or, more accurately, a delusional, idealized version of yourself in a more idealized fantasy world.

A place where you have more control, where you're more attractive. Smarter. Stronger. No real responsibilities (still). Where you can finally succeed, or pretend to, all without the hassle of working to actually improve yourself. I'm guessing this is why these guys obsess over tieflings and other obviously non-human races: they resent themselves so much, that even in a fantasy game they need to distance themselves physically as much as possible.

Of course, you could just make your own game. But, then, that also requires work, creativity, talent, traits that are universally absent from these bitter, lazy losers. So, they copy what already exists. They copy the copies, watering down already diluted and defective designs. While they aren't fun to play, it is entertaining to witness the catastrophic failures woke-folk manage to produce, when they produce anything at all.

One might feel at least somewhat bad for them, if only they weren't all so obnoxiously loathsome.

It isn’t hard to claim that 5e is trying to be approachable.

While I'm curious who claimed it wasn't—one of those dastardly strawpersons, I'm sure—that was a mistake. If anything it should have made itself less approachable. Make people actually work to be part of the hobby, which would have kept out lazy losers like Renata.

If you look at previous editions of D&D (I’m looking at you 2e and 3.5e) you will see a lot of shit.

By shit, Renata means, “Material that appeared in older editions, which makes it somehow bad even though it is effectively identical to what appears in new editions”. Well, not so much 2nd Edition: you want to cut the crap? Trim the fat? Go with that: there are fewer modifiers and actions, and you don't have to deal with all the keywords.

I can only assume that Renata doesn't know this because he's never played older editions, which wouldn't be surprising given the rest of the pretenders jumping on what they consider to be merely a fad, something they can use, for now, to garner attention and praise. When they've milked it for whatever pittances of attention and cash they can? They'll abandon it in a labored, diseased heartbeat.

This is because they don't really care about role-playing games, they just didn't think they could hack it by pretending to care about movies, cartoons, music, comics, video games, etc, and went with what they considered to be the simplest, easiest option.

Complex rolls...

For a Kotaku "journalist", I'm sure rolling a d20 and adding a modifier is very difficult.

...pages of feats and traits...

Ah, so someone that knew someone that might have skimmed 3rd Edition played a game of telephone tag, in an effort to fail to explain what it was like. 3rd Edition had several pages of feats, and if you deliberately chose to buy completely optional books could get access to more, most of which were terrible and situational, and none of which you had to use.

So, wholly unnecessary, and a completely arbitrary criticism given that you don't describe 5th Edition in a similar way (and previous editions didn't have "pages of traits").

...detailed alignment charts...

Here's yet another reason you know Renata never played 2nd or 3rd Edition: they don't have an alignment chart. But, if they did, it would just look like this:

Very detailed, I know, and also the exact same alignments as 5th Edition. 4th was the only one that stripped them down a bit to Lawful, Good, Unaligned, Evil, and Chaotic (perhaps a callback to even older editions, which only featured Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic).

...and some pretty strict combat rules.

What games don't have "strict" combat rules? What does this even mean?

It's effectively the same as 5th Edition, except combat rounds in 2nd Edition lasted a minute, and there was less crap to mentally burden you (like attacks of opportunity and bonus actions). Again, 2nd Edition was a lot easier to work with. Sure, 3rd Edition scrapped THAC0 and got rid of descending Armor Class, but it also added more things to track and deal with (such as new action types and modifiers).

But, then, I learned all this stuff as a child. It wasn't difficult. I did have to actually read though, instead of watching YouTube videos. So maybe that's Renata's issue (one of them, anyway). Maybe someone can show him a playlist that talks you through how to play 2nd Edition? But, would it matter, though? After all, 2nd Edition isn't as popular as 5th, and to him and those like him, that's the real name of the game.

Partially why we also call them NPCs.

Of course you can bend these things for your own needs (that’s what makes TTRPGs so cool!), but as written there’s a lot of material and a lot of numbers. 5e seriously cuts down on that. Everything becomes simpler, and the sprawling number of classes, races, and monsters is reduced to a reasonable size.

How astoundingly, moronically disingenuous. 5th Edition not only didn't cut down on anything, it started you off with just as many races as you got in 4th Edition, which was more than what you got in 3rd and 2nd Edition. It also had more classes (thirteen compared to eight).

Or, perhaps you're praising 5th Edition's so-called designers and publishers for not somehow, mercifully compressing an entire edition's worth of books into the core set? Is that what this is? Thank God there aren't what, fifty classes in the Player's Handbook? Implying that 4th Edition had more than eight at the start, and 3rd more than...what, eleven? Twelve?

Are you so stupid that you honestly expected them to do otherwise? And if so, what did you based this retard-logic on? The fact that they have never, ever done this sort of thing, and each new edition starts off with the main three books, each with around a dozen classes and fewer races?

The 2014 release of 5e was designed to be simpler, and the fact that a bunch of material was cut added to its approachability.

As already mentioned, every edition of Dungeons & Dragons starts simple. What? Do you think 3rd Edition started out with all of the material from 2nd? That 4th started out with all the material from 3rd?

The only way you could possibly arrive at that conclusion, is if you both never played them, and were so stupid that you thought WotC was fine burning who knows how much cash as they paid designers and writers for what would have taken years to convert and dump all of that material on the new edition's launch date, all at once, as if that could possibly be economically viable.

A lot of elements have been added back via homebrew and later modules, but that core approachability hasn’t gone away. Couple this with immense brand recognition, and 5e is great at getting people to play it.

Every edition of Dungeons & Dragons is roughly equally approachable, if you ignore the optional excess. Do you think 2nd Edition is inherently more complex than 5th, presuming you just stick to the main three books?

Maybe so. Less pointless, George Lucas-esque filler art to distract you with. Fewer people online talking about it just because it's “popular”. People focusing on just playing the game, as opposed to using it as a flimsy vehicle to fund their Patreons, whilst whining about invented racism and other social justice issues that they only pretend to care about.

I'm also guessing there are no YouTube channels where a deluge of narcissistic has-beens and never-wases pretend to play it for attention and money.

...But that doesn’t make it great to play.

That doesn't make it bad to play, either. It's only bad for people like you, that lack a child's attention span and capability to read some books, draw some maps, and do some very basic math. What, did you only recently graduate from a school in Oregon?

As written, 5e has a pretty binary pass-fail system for most things.

And as we all know, binary is (arbitrarily) bad.

Which is to say that if the DC (the roll you need to succeed at something) on an action is a 15, there’s no written difference between rolling an 11 and a 14.

Why would there be? The number was 15. You didn't roll a 15. You failed to achieve whatever it was you were trying to do.

The 5e DM’s Guide does include a short section about introducing Success at a Cost (also known as partial successes) into your game, but doesn’t provide DMs a framework for doing so.

Renata is just lying. It provides almost the exact same framework as, say, Dungeon World does: if you miss by 1 or 2 points, you can succeed anyway, but the DM gets to make up some bullshit that hinders you. It even gives you four examples, as well as some guidance. The only difference is that it doesn't explicitly let you pick a less beneficial outcome that carries a less severe or absent penalty.

It's not much, but then Dungeon World wasted entire pages barely explaining things, to the point where a fan-made guide to the game had to be written, and even that still failed to fully explain things.

It even provides another concept (degrees of failure), where it suggests failing by 1-4 points means one thing, while 5 or more means something worse (along with an example). While technically better than fail forward, it's still stupider than the obviously superior concept of "degrees of success".

Here, a failure is a failure (obviously), while beating the DC by, say, 1-5 points means one thing, 6-10 means another, and 11+ means something better. Apply it to combat: 1-5 means you deal slightly reduced damage (a glancing blow), 6-10 means normal, and 11+ means bonus damage. 

Apply it to skills, Bluffing someone within the 1-5 margin means they realize it pretty quickly (say, 1d4 rounds or minutes), 6-10 means it takes them an hour or so, and 11+ means they won't realize it for days, if at all.

Makes more sense than failing, but then declaring you succeed anyway by suffering some drawback or penalty (whether or not your character has any control of such an outcome), by which I mean it makes sense, period.

Here’s an example of how this can become a problem.

Translation: Renata too stupid, lazy, impatient, and entitled to learn to play this game properly, and that makes the game a problem. It would be one thing if the rules were inherently obtuse, clunky, disorganized (like Warhammer 40k 9th Edition), but they really aren't.

During one early session of a 5e campaign, my DM introduced a living set of armor to an encounter. Animated Armor has an AC (number you need to roll to hit the damn thing) of 18. For low-level characters, rolling a 19 or higher on an attack roll is no small task.

I like how he capitalizes animated armor, as if it's an actual name or pronoun. But, here Renata unintentionally signals his stupidity, his lack of skill and understanding by stating that it's "no small task" for low-level characters. Specifically, no small task for characters to brute force their way through.

An attack roll is made up of your ability modifier, and your proficiency bonus (which at low levels is gonna be +2). If we’re assuming your character isn’t min-maxed, chances are your best attack modifier at Level 2 is gonna be a +3. So, you’re rolling d20+5 to try and get above a 19. You have about a one in four chance of doing this.

Yep, low odds. Poor baby. Can't just brute force everything in the game so casually. So...what else can you do?

The Animated Armor is, similarly, not great at attacking. Which meant that, for several rounds, we had player characters and animated armors just standing still, whacking each other with Wiffle ball bats doing absolutely no damage.

We all know that, were it able to routinely hit you, you'd be crying about that, too.

But this begs the question, obvious to everyone that actually plays games like Dungeons & Dragons: why were you trying to club it to death? It's not good at attacking, and is hard to hurt. So...why bother? Why not run past it? Sneak past? Lure it elsewhere? Push it into a room and close the door. Push it over a cliff? Tie it up?

I remember in a 3rd Edition campaign, there were one or two golems blocking the entrance to a dungeon. Instead of fighting them, the wizard use a staff with summon monster on it to summon a really powerful air elemental, which just picked the golems up one at a time and carried them away.

So many solutions. So many alternatives. But this is how entitled people act: you think that you should be able to beat up any and every monster you come across, in whatever manner you choose, circumstances be damned.

Close rolls felt absolutely terrible. Getting a 17 meant doing nothing, and all but wasting the round.

Aww, such a poor, entitled baby. That's what having no real responsibilities or concerns gets you. You don't “deserve” to miss. Victory should be assured. Destiny guaranteed, at a desired pass, of course. Your ten-page backstory carefully integrated into the campaign, so that the DM can deliver your story in precisely the way you envisioned (because you're also too lazy and incompetent to write a novel).

How dare your imaginary character fail at doing something, anything, for any reason. How dare victory take longer than expected! That wasn't in the script! Bad game. Awful game. Those are several seconds of your life you'll never get back, which I'm sure you could have found a much better use for, right?

This went on for a while until the last armor finally fell, un-animated, after an excruciating 10 or so rounds. It was not a fun fight. It lacked both expressivity and tactical depth, which 5e often does.

Wow, ten whole rounds? That must have taken, what...fifteen minutes to get through? Too bad you couldn't just, I don't know, do something else? Bypass them entirely? Can't even be happy that your imbecilic strategy worked. Eventually.

And I do not think the answer is blaming the DM for introducing Animated Armors too early, or the players for not coming up with creative solutions to the problem.

I'd say you're mostly to blame. The DM put an obstacle in your way, and you were the dumbass that thought, whelp, very hard to hurt, one-in-four odds, so...I guess I'll stand here and stubbornly, stupidly wail on it until it finally dies, because I deserve to beat it in this way. Really you're just upset it took “too long”.

But, I have to wonder if this isn't you venting frustration, as I'm sure in real life, were you to briefly possess the courage—or, more likely, be overtaken with irrational, impotent rage—you would lose every single physical battle you ever participated in. Even if your side had superior numbers, and even if you utilized cheap, underhanded tactics.

(Something to note, is that Dungeons & Delvers has a "gang up" rule, where ever attack against the same target, during the same turn, gains a cumulative +1 to hit. So, you can use this to sequence attacks, giving various characters better chances of success.)

The game’s design, centering combat above all else in terms of ability selection and build priorities, encourages this style of play. 

No it doesn't. It has rules for combat, as—unlike emotions, personalities, and instincts—aspects such as strength, speed, and skill can be easily expressed numerically.

The only reason you would fight your way through every encounter, is if you're too stupid to even consider an alternative. In my games, players try all manner of inventive methods to overcome encounters. If anything, they try too hard to avoid fights, and it's a shame that sometimes due to bad rolls or other factors it doesn't work out.

But then, without failure there's no success, just like without the sour there's no sweet.

It’s a holdover from the series’ wargaming roots. 

No, it's not. All the good role-playing games have rules pertaining to combat (as do all the terrible storygames). It's incredibly easy to model, and likely to come up, especially if you have utterly incompetent players incapable of even considering alternative courses of action.

Players who were new to the game did not have the familiarity with the medium to creatively problem-solve their way out of scrapes, which is the key problem with D&D.

I learned to do this as a child. As did many, many others. What you are admitting about yourself, and projecting on everyone else is that you lack the patience and mental acuity of a child.

What makes this even more hilarious, is that with the removal of needing +x weapons to inflict any harm at all to a monster, spell resistance, permanent level draining, and more, it is trivially easy to overcome most challenges in modernized (reject modernitiy) Dungeons & Dragons via straightforward combat.

In other words, you are still failing at the easiest official version of D&D. You're too stupid to apply any degree of critical thinking, so are going to tell people to play something even easier, because a game children have little to no issues with is too difficult.

It encourages imagination and creativity on paper, but its standard ruleset doesn’t give players the tools to develop those skills.

Yes it does, you're just too stupid, stubborn, and entitled to understand and utilize them. Don't want to fight animated armor? Run away. It's Speed is 25 feet: only dwarves wouldn't be able to outpace it. So, hold it back and let the dwarves run for a few rounds, get some distance.

It's blind beyond 60 feet, so if anyone runs for at least two rounds (possibly one if the Dash action lets you go further), you're safe.

You can also hide, as it's Passive Perception is 6. SIX. Even bog-standard plate armor wearing, Stealth-disadvantaged fighters can beat that. Not that you'd have plate armor at lower levels. Or maybe you would. I don't play 5th Edition.

Can't run OR hide? Tie it up. Use rope or chain. Run behind a door and close it. Seal it with spikes. Did you bother bringing a hammer and spikes? Marbles to trip it? Probably not, because it's not a weapon you can directly fight with, and you pretentious posers are too stupid and entitled to look beyond the combat section of your character sheets.

Partial successes, which see players get what they want but with an additional consequence, have become a mainstay of the independent space.

More like, it's become a cliché of pretentious hacks, of losers like yourself that rely on nonsense gimmicks to pretend that you're anything but.

5e does include a small note about partial successes in the back of the book, but it doesn’t try to teach DMs how to use it.

I'm guessing Renata means "success at a cost", in which case he is lying, because it does.

To use another system as an example, if you roll a 7-9 in first edition Powered by the Apocalypse games, you get a partial success. A partial success on a given move provides a list of additional factors that come with the success.

Renata is drastically overplaying the robustness of this mechanic.

Roll a partial success on attacking? You deal damage to the enemy, and the enemy deals damage back to you.

See what I mean?

To clarify, when you attack in Dungeon World you roll 2d6 plus a modifier, usually within the -1 to +2 range. If you get a 6 or less, you miss and the GM hits you with whatever they feel like doing. Can be an attack. Can be several attacks. Can be a lost weapon. Can be an attack and a lost weapon. Can be an attack, lost weapon, lost gear, whatever they feel makes sense at the time, and there's very little advice.

If you get a 7-9, then you deal damage, and the enemy makes some sort of "move" against you. Monsters have vague lists of moves, but I was never sure if you were "supposed" to stick to them. On a 10+ means you can deal damage and nothing bad happens, or you can deal +1d6 damage and let them do something bad to you.

Really, Renata is overplaying the 7-9 result, which is essentially: you attack, and they attack you. That's it. Basically how it goes in D&D.

If you roll a 7-9 on Defy Danger, the GM can pick from a list of other things that happen, which always drive the story forward.

This is objectively untrue. The 7-9 result of Defy Danger is literally:

On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

There is no list. The GM essentially has to invent possible outcomes on the spot. Sometimes these are obvious, but much of the time they grind the game to a halt while he tries to come up with compelling choices, and more often that not these do not "drive the story forward".

Once they become more familiar with the system, they can develop their own consequences. Failing forward is a fundamental principle in these games, and is written as such into the rules. D&D encourages these practices in writing, but rarely through its actual design.

Failing forward is retarded, and you can read why here.

5e can do virtually anything, it is a relatively easy system to modify, the question is whether or not it should. More specialized games exist, and they’re great!

It can and does work. I'm working on a weird west game using d20 mechanics as a framework. There's nothing wrong with doing so. What's funny is that you claim “more specialized games exist”, which just use other mechanical frameworks that in no way whatsoever lend themselves to being superior for some other genre.

Instead, they rely on gimmicks. Or just different mechanics, and that's the point: they aren't d20-based. That's the only qualification. You are jealous of d20's longevity and success. You wish you were some sort of authority figure, that you jumped on the bandwagon from the start so that you could try and be a gatekeeper, but you were too late, so found something else, something worse, to pimp and overhype.

They give you actual storytelling frameworks, and then teach you how to use them.

No, they don't. They give you different mechanics. That's it. You can turn Dungeons & Dragons into a lame-ass storygame by injecting fake drama and attaching clumsy “fail forward” mechanics as an afterthought, which frankly seems standard fare for games in which they are ostensibly intended for.

Once you have those tools, they apply to every system. 5e wants to be the game that teaches you these things; the preface to the Player’s Handbook says as much:

Which is another mistake: why try to be a storygame when actual roleplaying games are superior? Why resign yourself to false, underserved victories, and contrived drama and twists, when you can earn and experience both genuinely?

The first characters and adventures you create will probably be a collection of clichés. That’s true of everyone, from the greatest Dungeon Masters in history on down. Accept this reality and move on to the second character or adventure, which will be better, and then the third, which will be better still. Repeat that over the course of time, and soon you’ll be able to create anything, from a character’s backstory to an epic world of fantasy adventure.

What's disappointing (but unsurprising) is that this paragraph frames the idea of a cliché as a bad thing. It's “bad” or “boring” to play a human fighter, or an elven ranger, or a halfing rogue. These are “normal”. You can't be normal, you need to combine a race and a class that doesn't “fit”, like, say, halfling and barbarian.

Just, you know, ignore all the current and prior halfling barbarians that everyone else has already made. Ignore them, and pretend that you are creative and original, as if playing a half-orc paladin, dwarven bard, or tiefling in general wasn't already played out decades ago. Personality? What's that? You've got blue skin and horns: isn't that just so unusual and interesting?

Mind you, this is but one of the drawbacks of blindly focusing on your character, of failing to develop a personality, as opposed to playing the game. Real players would have no problem rolling up a human fighter, because not all humans thinks and act in an identical manner.

Once you have that skill, it’s yours forever. Countless writers, artists, and other creators can trace their beginnings to a few pages of D&D notes, a handful of dice, and a kitchen table.

And 99.9% of them are complete and utter self-indulgent trash. Trite vanity projects whose sole purpose is to stroke the author's pitiable ego, and reinforce the sad delusion that they are a game designer.

And it does help many players develop those skills, which is why some people love the game. But that’s the rule of large numbers. For a lot of people it doesn’t.

So what? That's not even it's purpose.

I’ve watched group after group of people who want to play TTRPGs bounce off of D&D because its rules as written do not encourage them to do the exciting, creative storytelling they actually want to do!

It's not a “storygame”, but then Renata provides absolutely no context, no examples, so who knows what the real issues were.

Instead it just hands them several dozen ways to kill a goblin, most of which end up feeling the same anyway.

As opposed to, say, Dungeon World, which also hands you a dozen ways to kill a goblin, but here it's somehow different because you roll different dice and the words are different.

So now that I’ve denounced 5e, I’m going to shout-out a bunch of games which do a great job of doing the things they want to do really well!

Translation: Renata condemns Dungeons & Dragons because he doesn't know how to play it so—being the mental and emotional equal of an impatient, entitled child—wants you to play another game that is easier to win at, that's less popular so he can portray himself as a pretentious, pompous authority figure.

That's it.

Now, Renata recommends some alternatives, which is funny because they all use the same mechanical framework, but for different genres, meaning that he's—surprising no one—a biased hypocrite. I've actually played Blades in the Dark a bit, and while the overall plot and direction of the game was fun (credit to the GM), the mechanics were terrible.

I'll go into more detail some other time, but suffice to say the entire thing felt more like a board game, where so much is abstracted and vague so as to become virtually meaningless, and you are artificially, arbitrarily limited on your gear, as well as what you can do during “down time” (as in, it's not based on overall actual time, you're just limited to one or two "actions" for no real reason).

If Lancer is based on that, I'm guessing it's also trash. Like Renata's objectively terrible, uninformed, disingenuous opinions.

Again, 5th Edition is bad, but Renata's alternatives are worse: if you want an actually superior Dungeons & Dragons-esque game, check out Dungeons & Delvers. Similar core mechanics, but a number of changes were made so more of it makes sense, including hit points and magic. It's also got attractive women in the art (as well as decent art in general):

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