There was a discussion on Twitter last night about which bits of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons should be changed if Wizards of the Coast were going to make a new edition. Some of the suggestions seemed to miss the reasons why 5e has managed to be so popular. So here’s some things D&D got right, which it should absolutely keep when moving on from 5e.
About a dozen distinct classes. These allow players to choose a character to play which excites them before they have learned the rules. Many players will be turned away if the first thing they have to do is learn how to build the character they want to play from either Fighter, Rogue or Mage template, or even worse, from a huge list of abilities and skills.
Advantage and Disadvantage. These are fun to use and way simpler than the alterative. Honestly though, I think the people who would like to remove this are very much in the minority.
Spell Slots. A lot of people seem to feel that this abstraction of magic is too artificial and lacks wonder, they may be right but no one has yet come up with an alternative which is easy for beginners and not open to abuse.
A simple fighter class. I get that giving the fighter classes more options and things to do outside of combat is tempting but it’s important to have some simpler class choices for players who want a more straightforward play experience. By all means, add in another martial class with a bunch of intricate combat and social options, but don’t replace the current fighter or Barbarian with it.
Initiative. Combat as a conversation works well if playing with a group of respectful adults who have played together for years including a GM who can easily keep a whole battlefield in their head while also tracking how much screen time each player has had. That’s a very big ‘if’ though. A strict turn procedure helps keep games fair, helps new and young GMs keep combat moving and provide structure to play which many players find comforting. Basically, it makes D&D far more accessible.
Armour Class. So many people think the way armour works in D&D makes no sense, that armour should reduce the effect of hits, not make them less likely. But everything is an abstraction in RPGs and every rule has to work as a part of the game. I can count on one hand the number of fantasy games I’ve seen which made damage reducing armour work without turning combat into a slog and/or making heavy armour the only sensible choice. Neither of which makes for a fun game. So 5e should keep its AC, it has an important effect, but not a game defining one and if anyone has a problem with it just explain that it isn’t really a “to hit roll”, it’s a “to damage roll”.
So how about a few things which could do with an update?
The most common complaints you hear about 5e are that characters after about level 6 are indestructible and that combats take too long. So perhaps lowering the HP accruement of PCs and the HP totals of opponents would help. Having failed Death Saves hang around after being stabilised could help too. Maybe the martial class aren’t reined in so much to help balance them with the casters?
It’s definitely time to change the way character races are dealt with, starting with the fact they are called races. I like the way Species are done in Whitehack, but there are plenty of options. 13th Age handles it well too.
Darkvision needs fixed.
More promotion of solutions other than combat would be welcome. There are already bits in the 5e books which are pretty explicit that combat and death isn’t necessarily the best option, even the PHB States that dropping on opponent to 0HP doesn’t necessarily mean death. Only about a tired of the spells in the PHB are combat focused and the combat chapter is only ten pages long. But still, the assumption is that there will be fighting, let’s mix it up a bit.
How about a new setting designed from the ground up for a modern audience?