Is 5e Too Easy?

So there was a great discussion today on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons page on Facebook about what people liked and disliked about 5e. It was, by and large a reasoned discussion designed to be supported by logic and evidence. Admittedly it was on an AD&D group, but several people who commented actually are playing 5e currently--so we have a fairly decent cross section of respondents.

I found the discussion interesting for a number of reasons, but before I get into all of those, I wanted to share the comments which I've broken out by like and dislike and rough topic areas. Please note these comments are roughly summarized by me, and may repeat several times. All this means is that the same idea was expressed by more than one poster. So, here they are:

5e Like/Dislike Comments

Reasons People Give for Liking 5e

It's a lot like the old editions

It's Smooth and Playable like 1e & 2e. It has the feel of 2e. 5e has about the same flavor as 1e & 2e. It feels like it has come full circle back to 1e. There are less rules (like 1e). It has the adventurous feel of earlier editions without the “tyranny of the rules”. 5e seems like a return to 1st. I could run the old modules with almost no conversion. It has a sort of old school feel that got me hooked in the first place. I really like that the 3 core rule-books were delivered to publication in the same way as AD&D. It is, at its core, still D&D.

The Magic is Improved

I like the spell slots mechanic The magic is "sort of" Vancian and that feels familiar enough, but low level casters can cast more spells. Spells can be cast at different slots instead of a different spell type. Spell concentration is more exacting and keeps spells from being stacked or getting too powerful. Offensive cantrips solve the one shot wonder problem. Casters can use magic every turn. Spell slots are a useful mechanic.

Advantage/Disadvantage

5e's advantage disadvantage makes the game better. Advantage and disadvantage makes it easy to quickly ratchet up difficulty or easiness of a challenge. Advantage/disadvantage is an elegant mechanic. Advantage and Disadvantage is a great mechanic. Disadvantage/ Advantage is so much easier than bonuses. Advantage/disadvantage is a cool mechanic.

Character Creation

Built in flexibility—I can create any sort of character RAW without house ruling. Class customization without point counting and long term planning is so much of a relief. Archetypes add class diversity (I think he meant backgrounds?). Backgrounds make for much easier character creation than a multiplicity of classes. No arbitrary race and class restrictions. All of the classes are useful in all situations (roleplay, exploration and combat), though some are better than others. Cleric domains are cool. 5e is still new school D&D with lots of recent races and classes included without the mechanical complications of 3.5/4e.

Support/PR

WotC is doing a great job at PR (YouTube, Critical Roll, streamers), it makes the brand really well known and “more cool”. 5e has made D&D cool. Tons of great support. It’s what’s popular and is easy to find players for. There is lots of demand for 5e games right now. 5e is still in print. It is what is in print now. 5e is easy to homebrew (I placed this here because I am assuming the DMsGuild support has helped this). There is lots of support, especially with Adventurer League. It is so easy to get a group together. 5e is readily available and easy entry for newcomers.

Roleplay/Story

5e focuses on character driven play. In 5e story and characterization evolve out of character driven play instead of exploration driven play. 5e allows me to focus on the story more than the rules. 5e has focused on roleplay more than 3.5. The feedback loop between Inspiration and a character's bonds/ideals/flaws/traits is fantastic. WotC shift in focus to story oriented play encourages roleplay.

Simplicity/Flexibility

This new edition is easy to convert from just about any edition. It is the Rosetta stone with easy conversion to any edition. I love that you can twist it to fit your needs and nothing breaks. 5e has simpler combat than 3.5/PF. 5e has streamlined rules and requires minimal referencing in the books. 5e has lots of room for customization. I really like the proficiency mechanic that applies across multiple things. 5e is easy to teach to new players. 5e has very smooth gameplay that encourages people to try out of the box actions. Fast playing! Easiest edition to adjust on the fly for DMs. It has a wider more flexible sweet spot for encounter balance. In 5e it is very easy to poach from other editions without conversion headaches. 5e has fast playing quick combat.

Bounded Accuracy

I love bounded accuracy. I like it that monsters stay threats for longer. Saving throws scale (or don’t) in ways that leave even high level characters with real vulnerability.

Miscellaneous 

It's forgiving. It gives you lots of chances to save your character. This allows people to take risks that might hesitate to take in an AD&D game and gives it a potentially more 'swashbuckling' feel than a slow tactical advance. I like 5e DMG toolbox approach. I like XP awarding. 5e has cool looking maps. It looks like an opportunity (not sure what this means?). It's a fine edition. Well written with great mechanics. It’s good, just easier/different. It’s better than nothing

Reasons People Give for Disliking 5e

Overpowered

Power levels are off the chart. 5e has easier starting to hit probabilities. There's still quite a bit of power creep. The base starting power level is way too high.

Bounded Accuracy

Monsters stay dangerous regardless of PC level, they should become easier to kill has players advance. Bounded accuracy is not a great idea. Bounded accuracy makes the game play inherently different from other editions. The "action economy" makes encounters much less intuitive.

Healing

Easier healing is not a great addition. It is too hard for a PC to actually die. It is too hard to die or face real danger. Core healing rules are way too generous. 5e gives you too many of chances to save your character.

Magic

5e puts more magic in caster’s hands. 5e seems super magic saturated. Spellcasters run around wielding magic like it was just air. Seems inimical to Vancian casting since casters run out of slots, but never out of magic? You can fill up your magic tank and then run low, but never run empty?

Monsters

Nerfing of many 5e monsters has made the game a disappointment. They've lowered dangerous abilities of some monsters. Monster immunities have been reduced to resistances only. Monsters that used to be really dangerous are now much weaker,

5e is too easy

Older games used to have randomness to encounters and less of concern about balancing. 5e is too controlled and balanced. Older games made PCs cautious about traveling to dangerous places, in 5e everywhere seems relatively safe. 5e allows people to take risks that might hesitate to take in an AD&D game and gives it a potentially more 'swashbuckling' feel than a slow tactical advance. 5e doesn’t require players to be in tune with the tactics and strategies of efficient dungeon crawling, but just show up and have a slug fest with whatever is in front of them. It feels like a video game rather than an epic adventure. It’s too forgiving. I miss the AD&D “hard mode”. Older games used to be fun because they were dangerous, 5e is not dangerous. Adventure league stuff is light and fluffy.

Races

No minuses to races is a big dislike. I don’t like monster races as core races. Demi-humans are humans in a different costume.

Adventures

Sub par adventure designers, Tired of having every classic module rewritten, how about some new stuff? Story lines could be more original  and better quality.

Miscellaneous

In 5e, story and characterization evolves out of character driven play instead of exploration driven play. The rules are a bit fuzzy, I never really know how well my PC can do certain things. There's too much uncertainty in the game. It’s not Hackmaster :-). It’s from WoTC.

Summary

While these comments are fascinating for what they are, it is it is obvious that many are subjective and sometimes rhetorical on both sides of the equation. For instance evidently the game feels a lot like the old editions to some while it clearly does not to others. It certainly can't be both, but it can feel that way. A more helpful analysis may point out that 5e obviously does feel like older editions compared to other recent editions (3.5 and 4th), while not as old school as 0e or early AD&D. We don't have the data to say whether or not 5e feels more like older school editions to those who do not like the game. Though there was comment I found hard to categorize wherein one DM said his players felt like it was too much like 3.5 and 4th for them to want to play anymore. For this DM, his players were simply too jaded by any WotC project to give 5e a fair shake.

However, what I wanted to focus on has more to do with the trouble I had in breaking out the dislikes of 5e into categories. As you can see above, I chose the categories Overpowered, Bounded Accuracy, Monsters, Magic, Healing and 5e is Too Easy. At first, I'll admit, I lumped them all into the overpowered section, but that seemed not granular enough so I tried to separate them out into more defined sections. However, the common denominator in all these categories is that they can all be explained as many feeling as if 5e has made it too easy on players. Evidently the feeling behind many of the dislike comments are that WotC has taken away the challenge of the game so much so that people dislike this edition. 

Let's examine each category and I'll explain my thinking. The Overpowered section is fairly self explanatory, but one comment in particular bears special mention. The idea that to hit probabilities have started to high comes down to a proficiency bonus of +2 being awarded at level 1. Effectively this gives all characters a +2 to hit with proficient weapons at first level. At first blush this seems high, and it is. It really stands true across all levels to about 3 for most PCs, and higher for some. What I mean by this is that in AD&D if we take magic user as the baseline ...

AD&D To Hit Matrix
12345
Fighter1010886
Cleric10101088
Thief111111119
Magic User1111111111
AD&D To Hit Bonus
12345
Fighter+1+1+2+2+5
Cleric+1+1+1+3+3
Thief+0+0+0+0+2
Magic User+0+0+0+0+0
5e Proficiency Bonus
12345
Fighter+2+2+2+2+3
Cleric+2+2+2+2+3
Thief+2+2+2+2+3
Magic User+2+2+2+2+3
In other words using the MU as the base to hit armor class 10, and call that a +0 you can see that in AD&D the to hit bonuses are actually very modest at lower levels. What you also notice is that some characters become better at hitting more quickly than others. Contrasting this with the 5e table you see a flattened table that, while it gives everyone more hitting power, there are no differences across classes in base attack bonuses. This is of course what our dislikers were getting at, and if we carried this out we would see that their concern is diminished somewhat as, in AD&D fighters seem to outstrip even 5e's to hit bonuses rather quickly. However, this is a difficult comparison because we are comparing apples and oranges here. 5e used bounded accuracy, meaning it doesn't want everyone to get lots better at hitting at quickly as AD&D did. The entire class philosophy is structured differently in 5e. This concept, in truth, is a post unto itself, but briefly here recall that levels in D&D usually meant the equivalence to normal men. So a 6th level fighter was equivalent to 6 normal men. This was a combination of factors, only part of which was the ability to hit opponents. But in 5e we have scaled that curve to allow the game to be played differently. Not I did not say badly or wrongly, simply differently. 

I am going to come back to Bounded Accuracy, but for now let it suffice to simply say most of the complaints about Bounded Accuracy have to do with the fact that it makes the game "easier" in some ways and that has been generally dissatisfying to some. This conception isn't exactly "true, but I'll return to this at the end. For now, let's move on to healing. 

There was much made of the 5 minute workday during the D&D Next playtest, which basically went like this: characters enter a dungeon, fight their first fight of around five rounds and then have to leave, go back to town or camp and rest and heal in order to come back when refreshed. I was always curious about this, as it was never a problem in AD&D. At least we didn't see it as one. It became a serious problem with 4e because of limited power usage by all classes that needed a long rest to recharge. Yes, in 1e we often had to leave to rest up and recuperate, but we also had to manage resources, and utilize clerics. Yes, MUs and clerics only had a limited number of spells but we didn't cut and run just because the MU has used up her magic missile. In short, we see the complaints about healing being based in 5e being to soft on healing and too generous to players. 

Magic too, is very simply stated as many do not like how much magic is running around in 5e. At-will cantrips, overpowered magic, increased spell slots, they all point towards too much power for beginning casters. These new rules also do something else: they make 5e a much more magic rich game than earlier editions. This in itself is not overpowered, but a difference in flavor of the genre, but that too can be discussed elsewhere.

I was initially confused by the Monsters in 5e. While the goal of boundned accuracy was to make it possible for lower CR monsters to remain a challenge to higher level layers, and for players to be able to challenge a lower number of higher CR monsters, they turned right around and nerfed a lot of the monsters and their special abilities so as to threaten players less. It seemed like a contradiction to me. Very few monsters have deadly poison anymore, nor do they permanently drain levels or abilities. The point here seems to have one purpose to me: to make combat easier on the players, evidently many agree.

And lastly, we come to the real category of the night, 5e is Too Easy. All of these comments hit to the heart of the problem and really encompass all of the above complaints as well. 5e is not adventurous enough, not dangerous enough, not enough of real challenge for the players or their characters. They begin to feel invincible after a while and also begin to default to a rush in and kill it sort of tactic 8 or 9 times out of 10. I've said it before too, 4e was actually more deadly for my players than 5e is. This, in my mind points directly to the concept of bounded accuracy and what some readers have called the action economy of 5e. I've explained it before, but allow me here to simply and strongly reiterate, 5e plays like a different beast than any other version of D&D to date. 

I know many find it's basic simplicity, flexibility and speed of play reminds them of their early days in gaming when we didn't pay attention to a lot of the rules. But the fact is for those of us from a certain era, and style of play 5e is a very different animal indeed and unable to satisfy our desired style of play. It makes different assumptions about the game and about it's players and dungeon masters. I would go into it here, but I am saving it for another post. This post has grown already overly long. However, I can't emphasize strongly enough that though many dislikes are rooted in 5e being too easy or not adventurous enough, that I feel it is rooted in the fact that 5e is, moreso than those in the past, a very different game than some early D&D gamers are used to. More on this to come.

Comments

Scott Anderson said…
First of all, thank you so much for gathering these opinions together. I am so happy to have a good cross section of opinions from a lot of people I might not normally speak with.

I would love to fisk them but there's just too many of them. I agree with some and disagree with some. I find myself agreeing with the negative comments more. Maybe I'm an edition snob! But then again I played 3.5 as long as any other edition and it's my least favorite.

The high volume of comments (and the work you put into posting them here) is so valuable. Thanks again.

Now I will put on my Grognard hat and address the comments in your several categories.

Attack Bonuses/Bounded Accuracy:

My favorite edition is the one I wrote for myself :) It is most like Holmes D&D I think but it is not a clone. In early editions, it is actually fairly hard for a low level character to hit an opponent with a good armor class, and it stays that way for some time. If there was any change I would make to my own edition today, it would be to grant a better attack matrix to low level characters.

Magic:

The one thing I would NOT say if I were to write 6th Edition is "gee, magic users sure could use a boost!" Part of the tactical game of being a low level wizard is saving your spell(s) for dire necessity and utilizing equipment and guile the rest of the time.

Healing:

Too much healing! It's not a video game. It's ok to cut and run. Not everything has to be a fight. And if your paper man dies, then that's a suitable ending to his story and it's a chance to tell a new tale.

CR/Monster Difficulty:

CR is a canard. It doesn't work! Additionally, monsters can be tweaked so easily with AC, hit point, attack bonus, and saving throw adjustments that saying a monster is too easy/too hard is almost always a DM mistake. If it's too hard, then change the variables (during the fight if you feel like it).

The very idea of a monster that you are now fighting being too hard or too easy is silly to me. If you choose to fight it, and it's too hard, that's not the DM's fault. Don't choose to fight anything you can't beat. Sooner or later you will die. The DM might "save" you or you might end up rolling up a new guy. Better option: never pick a fair fight. Always pick the fight where the other guy has no chance. When coming up against an unknown opponent, parley or run and come back when you have some intel.

Also: I am totally not a robot





Chris Jones said…
Thanks Scott! I worry that I ramble. I mean I know I ramble, but I guess I worry I ramble so much it obscures my point. I give the credit for starting the conversation to Benoist Poire of Hobby Shop Dungeon. I think the conversation continued after I stopped collecting responses, but I feel like I got a good overview.

I too tend to agree with those expressing dislikes. And I think the "likes" have a different view of AD&D and old school D&D than I do, which is the subject of my next post.

And I totally agree with your estimations on the represented categories. Interesting that you note as well, it can be very hard for low level characters to land blows. I think there are other ways to address this than bounded accuracy though. I have never created my own game, though the piles of rough drafts to that effect attest to my previous efforts. But in my AD&D play I found most foes for lower level characters have between 4 and 8 armor class, so were at least somewhat vulnerable. It was always the tribe leaders or big baddies that had AC below 4 and were deservedly harder to hit. The real problem for me was always hit points. Until level 3 characters who take a blow can be easily wiped out in one or two hits. I think I would rather tweaked HP than actual to hit probabilities.

Which of course leads me to healing. I've played with this mechanic numerous times. I've never liked starting at max HP, but that is one easy fix. I've also tweaked healing to separate physical damage vs abstract damage (a la DMG p 82) where only physical HP heal slowly, and abstract HP heal more quickly. But I've not found a way to do this that is satisfactorily quick to do.

And smiles for you being a robot. I had to add the Captcha because I was getting random comments from botsites.

--Chris

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