March 27, 2023

Sick Week

Having been sick for half a week now, I’ll probably still be sick by the time this gets published, thus making this Monday the worst I have had in a long time. I had a whole column typed out about all the many things I hate about The New Super Mario Bros 2, only to realise everyone actually agreed that the game was bad, so I can’t just sound like another sheep in the herd, can I?

These past two weeks, I have spent my weekend playing what is essentially the beta for Dungeons & Dragons’ 5th Edition, as both a player and a Dungeon Master. In retrospect, 16 hours (no joke) of the latest edition of D&D, is enough to make anyone sick.

On paper, everything looks great: the character creation has never been so open and in depth, the DM has the right amount of control, combat is less number-oriented and geared more towards your actions, and Role Playing has become more prominent than tactics- a huge step up from 4th Edition.

As much as I love being able to make a character that combines stealth combat with necromancy, the customisation is a little “susceptible’. The fighter class starts out with massive bonuses that make them stronger than anyone else from level one onward, plus you can go a step further and give them a ‘thief’ background so that they can now pick locks and move stealthily, and then give them the ‘archer’ specialisation so they can kill from a great distance. Well, now what? Stab anything that gets close, shoot anything at a distance, or just sneak around the whole dungeon if you feel so inclined. This begins to really break the class: fighters are supposed to be up-front, sword and shield style combatants. But you get so many different ‘slots’ to customise on your character sheet, you can just combine anything you want and break the game.

A huge issue most players had with 4E was how tactics-heavy the game was. Expansions to the game usually were all combat focused and modules reflected this as well. However the combat was at least interesting. In our game, everything boiled down to standing in front of your opponent and swinging with the same attack over and over until it dies, unless you have some magic spells to liven things up, but you’ll only have 3 or 4 at level one, so don’t get too creative. A lack of attack-variety gets really old really fast, and the actions that can really change the outcome of a battle are those you make before it starts, rather than during it.

Now maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because this is only a playtest. I mean, they are kind enough to send me surveys to take, and every now and then they add a new class or two (still trumped by the fighter). But whatever happened to the golden age of D&D? There are so many great things that have been forgotten over the years that I was hoping to see a return of. For instance, take a look at the experience point system in the older games: Clerics leveled up more quickly than anyone else because of how important they are in the party (you need them to keep the baddies off your back, as well as heal your party in case of an emergency), Spell Casters leveled up the slowest of all because of how powerful their spells become at higher levels, and fighters were somewhere in the middle, making sure they increased at a steady pace to protect the other party members.

But ever since 3rd Edition, everyone has leveled up at the same rate, so for a while, Spell Casters were overpowered because of how quickly they learned their deadly spells, and now fighters have jumped on the bandwagon too! Truly, the bottom line is that this game isn’t much fun for anyone. The Dungeon Master is going to have a hard time even keeping things challenging, when a dozen enemies become the new bottom-standard, and players are just going to spend half the game standing in one place and using one attack over and over again. At the game’s current level of complexity, there is a lot to be improved.

But on the bright side, it’s free, and it is still getting updated, so I can’t quite hold Wizards of the Coast responsible at this point. I could give it praise for what ti did right, like the advantage system, and ability contests that improve upon saving throws, but that wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, so presently, the most praise you’ll here me give it is that it’s ‘not as god-awful as the last edition’, but something tells me no one at Wizards is going to take kindly to my words of encouragement.

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