Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A few complaints about DMing 5E D&D

In general, I've found that as a player I really enjoy 5E. The system is fairly slim, the options aren't overwhelming (at least if you stick to the PHB only), and it feels like D&D again (sorry 4E fans, you know I wasn't a fan myself, and although it's not a terrible game, it just isn't what I want out of D&D). As a player, I really like it.

But a few months back, I started DMing a face-to-face game again, using 5E. My son wanted to play in a game, and our normal Saturday night G+ games are too late for him to finish. So I started up a West Marches game using 5E. And while it's not a bad system, I keep constantly saying to myself, "Why didn't I just try to run this with my Classic D&D houserules, or Labyrinth Lord?"

Basically it comes down to a few points. I may elaborate on each later in their own blog posts (I need some impetus to get back into blogging semi-regularly). For now, it's just a list with a bit of commentary for each based on my WM game.

  • Lack of Morale rules. I've been estimating what I think a creature's Morale score should be, and rolling 2d6 like in Classic D&D. Yes, I could just wing it and have creatures flee or surrender when I feel like it, but I like the uncertainty of the dice.
  • Not much variety in treasure. There's no risk/reward analysis when it comes to deciding to face a monster or not, it's simply a threat assessment. 
  • Spell lists are too combat focused. This is actually something I chafe at as a player as well. It's hard to plan interesting encounters where magical utility spells might make the difference between an easy encounter and a too tough one (something I like to do) when there are so few utility spells, and spell durations are for the most part just not that long. As a player, it's hard to come up with that creative solution with a well-used spell when most just do damage.
  • Too much player rolling, not enough DM rolling. Maybe some DMs like that. They can focus on the details of the adventure, the NPCs and monsters, the "plot" and whatnot. Let the players make all the rolls. As a DM, though, sometimes I want to build suspense by making the roll myself (and having the option to ignore a result I don't like). This applies to things like getting lost or foraging in the wilderness. 
None of these things are terrible in and of themselves. I can work with them, and we're all having fun with 5E. And it's working out fairly well, actually. But I have worked in some old school mechanics into how I run the game because I feel it's just better that way. 

And I'm still wondering if I can convince the group to switch to my "D&D Mine" rules. And if I should try to convince them, or just let this campaign play out in 5E and when it's petered out try something else. If I want to get my son on board, though, I'm going to have to come up with a Dragonborn equivalent for my D&D Mine rules. He doesn't want to play anything but a dragon-man.


  1. Morale rules are buried as an optional rule on pg. 273 of the 5E DMG. They are kind of light, and are essentially a Wisdom check ("Am I boned? Yes. Run!"), though you can add in a few other elements as you wish to account for cultural/species/intelligence differences.

    Of course, the fact that they are optional says it all about 5E, like 3E, being all about the combat (as with the spells, as with the magic treasure, as with the lack of XP for treasure, etc.)

    My complaints about running 5E are pretty similar, with the added issue of the CR system breaking down with large groups of high-level characters. But that is part and parcel of the whole idea that the default system solution to any encounter is to just blow stuff up...

  2. I only have the DMG in PDF actually, so I'm not surprised I missed what's there. I should probably pick it up in hard copy one of these days but I've found I don't really need it at the table.

  3. Luckily, for the most part these aren't "serious" issues. And they are easily fixed.

    There's no reason that using an old-school Morale roll would be bad, or use the Optional Wisdom roll that is apparently on g. 273 of the DMG (I never saw it either)

    Don't like the treasure options? Make up your own treasures. Find interesting treasures from LL or Old School.

    Spells, Well, that might be an issue. Let me think on that.

    Morale rules would let you as DM roll more. So would new fun random treasure generators. Hell, if you wanted to roll perception checks and stealth checks you could as long as you have player buy-in.

    My small issues with 5E are that players are too powerful too early. (I'm a fan of the struggling 1st level character who barely or doesn't make it out alive) And the fact that a single monster, no matter how tough will easily be dispatched by a group large group of high level characters. I shouldn't have to have minions for all the big bads.

    For the most part though, 5E is pretty easy to adjust in comparison to previous editions.

  4. Re: Spells.

    Proposed solution: Number list combat, utility, etc. spells at each level for the lists your Players' PCs use, and then have them roll on the list. If PCs are starting out the GM has complete control as to what their master taught them. As PCs adventure, have them find enemy MUs' spellbooks and only place more unusual spell choices in the books. Don't have a magic item or spell based economic choice where easy access makes your game undesirable. Have Magic Sages only have less often chosen spells available, and then hint that other spells may be available at certain, dangerous adventure locales, explaining why the spells haven't reached local circulation. Likewise, have MUs jealously guard their spells, trapping their books, to further reinforce the idea that the spells available are so because they are easier to get, and that magical research is necessary to gain access to spells the players know are in the game, but aren't in your setting.

  5. Hmm. To me, it would seem the easiest solution is to create a dragonborn class for LL and switch over wholesale. Fixes the problems of treasures, morale, spells, etc. I wouldn't be surprised to find one's already been written up somewhere on the internet.

    I mean, what else do you like about 5E that's worth keeping?

  6. Timeshadows - I've already got the game underway, so that might be more work for me right now than its worth. 5E just has lots of magical ways to kill stuff.

    JB - you're right, but I need to consider how many players I might lose. One told me he would also prefer an old school game. One would likely go along with no grumbles. The others? Not so sure. Got a game today, so I will throw it out there.

  7. When I run 5e, I actually don't run 5e. I run an LL game with players who happen to have 5e characters. They know that I expect them to know the rules surrounding their characters and on my side of the table things are rules-lite. Everybody seems to have fun and hardly anybody notices that I am not really running 5e.

    1. When I run 5th Edition, I actually run 4th Edition. Likewise, I just let players run their characters as 5th edition, but the monsters and the world operates in the world of the highest unreal fantasy.

  8. FrDave, I'm curious how you handle monster hit points and saving throws, since the two systems are so far apart in these areas. 3rd+ level 5E PCs could one-hit many giants and dragons with LL levels of HP. And for the saves, do the PC's special abilities/spells DCs just not matter because you roll monster saves on the LL charts?

    Today's session went really well, actually. When I mentioned switching to old school rules, one player didn't care one way or the other (she's fairly new to D&D) and the other seemed not so happy but willing to give it a try. I'll ask the other guys next session if they all show up.

    1. With most monsters, I just wing things. If a player has built a character that would somehow feel robbed by the LL saves etc., I'd pay attention to those things but most of the time I just go with what I know. As for hit points, since 5e characters tend to be powerful, I make my life simple by giving monsters max hit points and nobody seems to notice. One other thing to keep in mind: I tend to run a lot of home-brew monsters with special abilities like lizard men zombies who have mummy-rot. So while they may have fewer hit points than a 5e monster might, they make up for it by scaring the crap out my players with their special abilities.

    2. That makes sense. I may give it a try that way. I also tend to throw in lots of palette switch monsters (different name/description, familiar stats) or add a twist to monsters like you do. Keeps players on their toes.