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Call of the Netherdeep - D&D 5E At It’s Best- Review

MB Updated March 24, 2022
 
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Call of the Netherdeep - D&D 5E At It’s Best- Review
There Will Be Games

The best first party 5e adventure to date.

It doesn’t matter that I’m not into Critical Role or the way they play Dungeons & Dragons. Regardless of my opinion on Matthew Mercer’s DMing or the cast of voice actors rallied around his table, it’s one of the reasons that the game is bigger today than it has ever been in its entire history. I know folks that have never played D&D but are big fans of the shows. I know folks that got into 5e- indeed, the best official version of the rules that have ever been printed- strictly because of the show. It ain’t like it used to be, where you’d come to D&D through flipping through the books in B. Dalton, watching the cartoon, or when the socially awkward kid in the neighborhood manages to get a basement group going. More than that, the kind of fantasy that D&D represents now has changed. The old pulp fiction saints of “Appendix N”- Howard, Vance, and so forth – have next to no resonance with most of today’s players. Their referents are Final Fantasy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Peter Jackson moreso than Tolkien. Regardless, the gatekeeping bros of the Old School Renaissance -chiefly aging white male gamers and younger iconoclasts nostalgically pining for a kind of Platonic ideal of what playing D&D in 1981 was like even though they weren’t alive in the 80s or 90s in some cases- rail against 5e and accessible vectors for entry like Critical Role.

As a DM and player that spends time in both the OSR and 5e spheres, the new Wizards of the Coast publication of Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep strikes me as a kind of inflection point where a 2022 conception of Dungeons & Dragons reaches its full flowering. It’s a level 3-12 adventure module based on Mercer’s Exandria setting. It features plenty of material that I’m sure “Critters” will delight in, while those of us outside of that bubble are resigned to appreciate strictly as a vivid and honestly quite exciting combination of modern fantasy sensibilities and remixed vintage D&D concepts. When I got the review copy I kind of shrugged at it. I didn’t even review The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount because  they didn’t send one and I didn’t feel like buying it. So I figured that this book wouldn’t really be something I’d be interested in.

Smash cut to me sitting in my Jeep reading it during my daughter’s ballet class. Slow zoom as I look up from the book. Line: “This is actually really fucking good”.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Call of the Netherdeep has blown me away. I’ve not run it – the book is barely out in the world – but it will be the next thing I run after Goodman Games’ brilliant 5e conversion of Temple of Elemental Evil. This is a stunning adventure book that seems to avoid a lot of the things I didn’t care for in some of the other WOTC-published 5e books. It’s lithe, more tightly written, and gives the DM and players plenty of room to play with the pieces. It’s a world-sweeping storyline yet it avoids the sloggy, sprawling feeling of Tomb of Annihilation or Storm King’s Thunder. It doesn’t feel so beholden to the older game, it’s offering something new. This is an adventure that starts with a pie eating contest and ends up in one of the best end boss battles I’ve ever read in a D&D book, an emotional and highly charged struggle where Charisma (and compassion) might just be your ultimate weapon.

If that’s the way you want it. There are multiple outcomes and threads that develop over the course of the game, and for those who argue that these kinds of books are “railroady”…well, this book usually gives you three or four different tracks to choose from at different points throughout. I’m really impressed at how the writing accommodates for variables, meaning that the DM in most cases is going to have a baseline for how to proceed in almost any circumstance.

There are so many elements I love in this adventure, but the crown jewel is how it introduces a rival adventuring party. This group of fully realized NPCs with their own agendas and ideals grows along with the party and their destinies often meet. This can go in any direction. When the party meets the rivals, it’s all about competing at festival games but eventually the stakes continue to rise throughout the storyline. There is change in the characters. And the party chooses how to react to these adventurers. Maybe they kill one or more of them outright early on, setting up a more dangerous and antagonistic relationship. Maybe they become friends and staunch allies. Or that alliance could evolve as one of convenience and mutual need.

This is also my first experience with Exandria and already I think it should replace the tired-ass Forgotten Realms as the de facto 5e setting. This is so much more alive and compelling than the Sword Coast. It also does some great work toward erasing some of the uglier aspects of D&D as a concept, including some of the racist and colonialist overtones that have haunted the game since its earliest days. There’s still work to be done but it needs to be done in Exandria and not in legacy settings firmly couched in and borne from dated politics. About two hours after I finished reading Call of the Netherdeep I had the Wildemount setting book in my hands and I’ve been impressed with it as well.

As a taster for what Wildemount offers, Call of the Netherdeep’s wide-ranging environments are rich and compelling, from a fishing village to an underground grotto, from an ancient fortress to an Egyptian-influenced metropolis. But the piece de resistance is undoubtedly the massive underwater (!) Netherdeep. It’s a dungeon alright, but it’s a wholly unique and utterly fascinating one. I don’t want to spoil any of it, but just to give a taste, one chamber is the main antagonist’s (if he can be called that) childhood playroom. The challenges and concepts in the last act really show how far D&D has come from going into a hole in the ground and robbing goblins of their GP.

I haven’t stated much about the actual story but I think it’s outstanding. It’s deeper, richer, and more introspective than you might expect. Essentially, it’s about a mythic hero from Exandria’s past who becomes trapped in a sort of psychic prison. The players are called (hence the title) into an adventure to find and rescue him from sorrow, self-doubt, and despair. Throughout the narrative, the players will actually encounter physical manifestations of his emotions as a kind of almost radioactive element called Ruidium, another element I really like. There’s also competing factions, plenty of traps and puzzles, and lots of great encounters including some great new monsters.

But you know what, all of that is kind of the “expected”. What makes Call of the Netherdeep so great is how unexpectedly innovative and forward-thinking it is, how it is bold enough to push 5e into spaces that previously would have been more the domain of indie creators. It feels much more maverick than recent titles like Rime of the Ice Maiden and it has more focus and indeed a sense of vision than other 5e books of late.All this said, I can not completely recommend this book for everyone. The dogmatic OSR bros are going to get their hackles up about that pie eating contest and those that think D&D is all about keeping accurate time records and counting torches are going to likely rail against it. It does require, I think, a solid commitment on the part of the DM to really bring the most impactful beats of the story to the fore while also balancing that with the squishier elements where the players are effectively dictating the narrative path. I also get a sense that this whole thing is going to live or die at the table based on how invested your party is in RP encounters. Those preferring a tactical game without relationships getting in the way of the murder hoboing would best look elsewhere.

Call of the Netherdeep is the best in-house 5e supplement published to date other than the compilations of classic modules that they’ve done, but it’s very much an apples and oranges comparison there. Held against previous WOTC adventures written for 5e, it simply smokes them.  Even Curse of Strahd feels dated and maybe even a little corny compared to this book that suggests a more evolutionary, progressive path forward for the game. I can’t wait to run it; it doesn’t matter that I don’t like Critical Role.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
Dungeons & Dragons: Call of the Netherdeep
A bold, vibrant adventure that should serve as a inflection point as the game continues to evolve and expand.
MB
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #331833 24 Mar 2022 23:04
This is a very surprising review.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331836 25 Mar 2022 00:30
Tell me about it. I actually wasn’t going to even pay much attention to it. It sat in the floorboard of my Jeep unopened for days.

I don’t like Critical Role at all. I don’t like the way they play, the characters, any of it. The cartoon is fucking HORRIBLE. I’ve actually used Critical Role as a joke in DCC a few times…the town tries to hire a party to go into the old fort but the part is all extremely clean, stylish celebrity adventurers and way too expensive so they go with the grubby level 0 ne’er-do-wells (the PCs) instead.

And there’s the whole involvement with the Wendy’s thing, among other grievances.

But here’s the deal. That stupid show had brought more people to D&D than…almost anything else. But more importantly, the folks that are getting into it from that, this is their D&D. Not Uncle Charlie’s D&D that’s all based on 100 year old racist/sexist fantasy, but a D&D they reflects their interests, worldview, and influenced. This book made me realize how holding on to all of this Gygaxian bullshit, all of this infantile OSR insistence on atavism and a bullshit notion that somehow only old D&D is “pure”, is more hurtful than these voice actors playing the game their way and pushing the game out there for a new generation of players.

I’ve been really burned out lately on OSR attitudes and although there are very valid, very significant arguments against WOTC. It’s just ridiculous that these gatekeeping elitists want to keep the game from reaching out and becoming more than it was in 1981.

But yeah, I was really surprised at how much I loved this book. There are so many cool ideas and it’s pushing for more than the usual D&D adventure, draling with actual themes and offering a great combination of story beats,
Locations, and opportunities for it to go off the rails.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #331838 25 Mar 2022 05:54
I think I take your point. I think it's fair to think of the OSR movement as a fundamentally reactionary movement. I don't think there's anything wrong with it being that way, in fact I would say overall I prefer the vibes of that sort of thing aesthetically and playwise on the whole, but it's certainly something to consider when you think about what its appeal really is. Anything that has arisen purely out of a sense of distaste and reaction to new interpretations or entrants into something has the chance to be coming from kind of a bad place, regardless of its other merits.

It's tricky. A good analog to this is in video games. By and large my own tastes hew pretty heavily towards traditional "hardcore" gamer sorts of entertainment, but it's pretty difficult not to see how some of the appeal of something like Dark Souls for a lot of people is in its reactionary elements to the expansion of gaming to a bigger audience and taking in more casual forms. e.g. the Git Gud discourse. That doesn't mean there isn't merit to those games or my taste is wrong, but it's easy to see how it can become a pretty small c conservative ideology to push hard on how old school gaming values are the best as a way to dismiss the fact that everyone now plays video games, only they take a completely different form with different values.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #331840 25 Mar 2022 08:11
I’m about 20 years behind in my reading — is Critical Role associated with this particular product, and what does OSR stand for please?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331845 25 Mar 2022 10:43
LOL Sag you used to be with it but then they changed what it is.

This book is the setting for CR, which is a podcast and streaming show DMed by Matt Mercer, a big time voice actor (Leon Kennedy in RE4 is one of his bigger roles). It’s a group of voice actors and it’s a professional production. It’s huge.

As a setting it really isn’t that much different conceptually than Forgotten Realms or others but I think it is a better fit for the kind of D&D that is most popular today. It works better for highly personalized, almost superheroic characters with epic level storylines. Whereas Dungeon Crawl Classics for example is more suited to a bunch of broke scrubs looking to rob a dungeon.

OSR is Old School Renaissance. It’s a movement that seeks to take D&D back to chiefly its B/X days. There are multiple clones of B/X out there, most notably Old School Essentials (based almost entirely on Moldvay). These systems are just like what you played in the 80s and you can in fact run classic modules with these systems but there is also TONS of more recent content that aims to have that old school feel.

I love a lot of OSR material- there is some truly great work out there. Deep Carbon Observatory and Hot Springs Island in particular. Dungeon Crawl Classics is decidedly OSR flavored but it’s more D&D 3.5 than B/X.

The problem is that OSR has a lot of common problems that plague any kind of nostalgic, “good old days” drives. One is that there are quite a lot of bigots that don’t like to see diverse parties with more than just cishet white skinned characters. Another is that there is an IMO uncomfortable drive toward a sense of “purity”, that the only real D&D is OSR D&D and that leads to dogmatists gaslighting 5e players into thinking that what they are playing is actually terrible and not fun. There is a git gud mentality like Gary Sax mentioned, and a degree of gatekeeping. It’s also very much a “scene” with scene drama, scene hierarchies, and scene posing.

But there are lots of diverse, interesting, and innovative creators out there I. This sphere as well. The best work has a punky, artful quality. But then again, there are mountains and mountains of junk PDFs you can buy on DTRPG that are billed as OSR.

5e and content like this book get a lot of grief from the OSR because to be frank, there is a lot of immature, edgelordy “I don’t like it because it’s popular” sentiment out there, railing against the fact that D&D is for all intents and purposes a mainstream game here in 2022. It’s the whole I liked Band X before they were popular and now that my little sister likes them they suck thing.

To be clear there are valid reasons in the OSR community to tail against 5e. Abusive people, failing to address said abuse, failing to divest them game of negative stereotypes, the fact that it is a corporate IP.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #331846 25 Mar 2022 11:16

Michael Barnes wrote: Matt Mercer, a big time voice actor (Leon Kennedy in RE4 is one of his bigger roles)


And of course, Jotaro Kujo from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331847 25 Mar 2022 11:30
Ha! I actually didn’t realize that!
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #331848 25 Mar 2022 12:05
Would you recommend this for someone that loathes 5e and Forgotten Realms?

I see the nice the shiny WotC books and always wonder if there is stuff I can pillage. I also find fault with a lot of OSR's conservative, almost reactionary approach in some areas but like the sandbox focus. My most successful campaigns have been sandboxes (pointcrawls or hexcrawls) and 5e seems to be the antithesis of that style.

Most OSR games are too crunchy for the way I prefer to run things (essentially a stripped down version of Knave, which I didn't know existed when I settled on my preferred format), but their intentional modularity and general lack of balance means I can take the parts I like and ignore the rest.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #331849 25 Mar 2022 12:26
I've run a lot of different rpgs over the years. Sometimes a really crunchy and detailed set of rules (GURPS or D&D 3.5), and sometimes a barely-there set of rules (Amber diceless or Call of Cthulhu 1st). I skipped D&D 4th because it was a failed attempt to make a tabletop rpg for people who would rather play a console game. I skipped D&D 5th because I would rather run a superhero rpg or a fantasy rpg, not a superhero rpg dressed up in fantasy rpg clothes. It sounds like Call of the Netherdeep is a well-written 5th edition adventure, and I might buy it just for purposes of converting to some other system or even just to plunder some good ideas. No system or edition is necessarily better than another, but whatever you play should be enjoyable for both the DM and the players. Some players like a crunchy system that rewards their attention to detail, and some players prefer that the rules get out of the way of the story and role-playing.

Saw a post in my Facebook feed today: "Tiny Tina's Wonderland is such an awesome game. It's like 5e DnD but with guns."
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #331850 25 Mar 2022 12:39
I'm glad you mentioned music, Michael. This also calls to mind a lot of the insider/outsider arguments about music that largely just rotated on the "merits" of not being popular with other people. I know I spent a lot of time being heavily influenced by that attitude toward music in my youth. In retrospect, it's pretty distasteful.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #331851 25 Mar 2022 12:45
Before I get around to buying Netherdeep, I still need to check out The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. I'm intrigued by the idea of a D&D campaign that doesn't require combat.
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #331852 25 Mar 2022 12:49
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight sounds interesting, but if I don't want combat why would I use 5e? I feel like 5E is a KitchenAid mixer attached to the handle of a shovel. It technically can do combat and non-combat, but why wouldn't I just pick a system that I prefer for either end of the spectrum if the session/campaign skews one way.

The mixture is just unwieldy to me. I feel that 5e characters (by extension much of the gameplay) are both too complicated and too restrictive.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #331853 25 Mar 2022 12:51
Okay, thank you for the explanation. It was exceptionally helpful. I knew what Critical Role was, I just didn't know why it was relevant. I had to look up B/X, but I found that pretty quickly.

. . . and for the record, that B/X shit is part of the NEW STUFF that sucks! THERE WAS NOTHING BROKEN WITH D&D PRIOR TO THAT!!!!! Let's get our boundary lines where they belong, thank you very much.

It’s also very much a “scene” with scene drama, scene hierarchies, and scene posing.

See, there are some things that the Internet just makes worse. Grab a set of rules, and play. Ignore the stuff that doesn't work for you, stop taking emotional stands over bullshit, because it just doesn't matter how someone else plays. Back in my day (cue crotchety accent) you couldn't find players, but when you did you just played the game, both rules-wise and attitude-wise, the way you all agreed on. We had a bucket of house rules on the story-telling part of the game that I still stand by to this day. I'd wager some of our homegrown storylines from the late 80s would go toe to toe with stuff coming out today.

For the record, I have a lot of 1st edition and 2nd edition, one 3rd edition book (that scared me off of it because it seemed so concerned with educating people on how to create an interesting character and role-play which I already knew how to do) and some 5th edition stuff on my shelf. One of my sons got into 5th edition big time and I haven't spent the time to read it in detail. But my observation from Storm King's Thunder is this -- fundamentally all of the material changes through the years fit into the "adjustments" category. The foundational concept is still there, it's just been modernized to be more appealing and frankly more saleable. More power to them. The rule changes are pretty minor. It's the same game with a much nicer fit and finish to it.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331854 25 Mar 2022 13:30
Funny you say that Sag because there is a whole subset of OSR folks that strictly about OD&D. As in, the original rules. Swords and Wizardry is specifically an OD&D clone.

ould you recommend this for someone that loathes 5e and Forgotten Realms?

I see the nice the shiny WotC books and always wonder if there is stuff I can pillage. I also find fault with a lot of OSR's conservative, almost reactionary approach in some areas but like the sandbox focus. My most successful campaigns have been sandboxes (pointcrawls or hexcrawls) and 5e seems to be the antithesis of that style.

Knave is BRILLIANT and it is one of the highlights of OSR. It’s so stripped down but…it’s still kind of all there. I’ve run quite a few one shots with it. Anything written for B/X works great with it. Stonehell Dungeon plus Knave is a goooood time.

I do really like B/X but I find I almost never play it now, and in fact it turned a couple of people I play with completely away from my groups. To be honest, I think DCC is much more fun and Mork Borg is more extra…while being minimalist like Knave. Those three systems are my OSR weapons of choice.

Witchlight is OK, I wasn’t super into it but it has some cool stuff in it. Like all of these books, pick and choose what you like. I am actively adding Wildemount stuff into my Temple of Elemental Evil game, which is ostensibly Greyhawk with a bunch of Forgotten Realms stuff built into it because it’s 5E. I’ve got some elements pulled from Kobold Press’ excellent Midgard setting as well, and I use their monster books frequently to keep from pulling the same old MM baddies out again and again.

Yeah, I don’t understand why folks don’t get that these books are not bibles. Hack this shit apart, take what you like and throw away the rest. I’ve pulled encounters and locations straight out of WOTC books and used them elsewhere. I never use spell components because I think it’s super lame. I demand that mat 1 is always a critical fail with outrageous consequences. And you know what you can run a completely OSR game with 5E. For pete’s sake they have put out two compilations of converted classic modules so you can run Tomb of Horrors and Saltmarsh if you want. And then there’s the Goodman stuff- you want to run B2, you can choose the original module and do it in B/X or whatever or you can play the 5E conversion. They are in the same book.

Too much import is placed on the edition/rules as written.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331855 25 Mar 2022 13:37
>>>Would you recommend this for someone that loathes 5e and Forgotten Realms?

It kind of depends on what you loath about it?

I’m finding this setting more interesting and dynamic and it also feels “next gen” for lack of a better term in how it by default presents a more diverse setting. It also feels modern in that it’s not drawing on decades of archaic D&D lore, it feels more in tune with modern fantasy references. For examples, JRPGs are a big influence rather than Conan.

But it also still has some core D&D elements- Vecna and Lloth are there for example- but it feels kind of remixed.
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #331856 25 Mar 2022 13:51

Michael Barnes wrote: >>>Would you recommend this for someone that loathes 5e and Forgotten Realms?

It kind of depends on what you loath about it?

I’m finding this setting more interesting and dynamic and it also feels “next gen” for lack of a better term in how it by default presents a more diverse setting. It also feels modern in that it’s not drawing on decades of archaic D&D lore, it feels more in tune with modern fantasy references. For examples, JRPGs are a big influence rather than Conan.

But it also still has some core D&D elements- Vecna and Lloth are there for example- but it feels kind of remixed.


For 5e, I dislike the backloaded character creation and restrictive class structure. I prefer a very loose class structure (I usually run with no classes) that isn't baked into the setting.

For FR, it's too kitchen-sink with no coherence at the macro level and not weird/fantastical enough. I tend to bounce off of the generic European-centered that was popular in the 80s and 90s. The weird blending of a bunch of fantasy civilizations at wildly different development levels sitting side by side and huge amounts of magic with no impact on society just doesn't work for me. DCC, Mork Borg and my stripped down rules are the three variations I like for fantasy and they all can handle weird and unbalanced well. Forbidden Realms is basically fantasy Rifts but even less coherent.
DarthJoJo's Avatar
DarthJoJo replied the topic: #331857 25 Mar 2022 14:38

Michael Barnes wrote: Too much import is placed on the edition/rules as written.

Yes and no. Sure, a session of Dungeons and Dragons isn’t going to fall apart because you accidentally let a gagged sorcerer cast a spell with a verbal component, but if you don’t care about that, why are you playing a game with those rules?

Home brews and house rules made a lot more sense before the Internet, when you had three choices of systems, but now you can find the rules right for you. Want relationships and no combat? Monsterhearts. Like Star Wars? Here are rules by West End, Wizards, and Fantasy Flight. Horror? Dread. Metal Bands? Umlaut. Colonialism? Dog Eat Dog. Fantasy Mormons? Dogs in the Vineyard. Literally anything? Microscope.

You can calculate encumbrance, or you can tell a story with friends with the gauziest veneer of rules.The options are there. Probably on DriveThruRPG.
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #331859 25 Mar 2022 16:05

Shellhead wrote: Oh wow: www.kickstarter.com/projects/midnight-to....projectdomino47.com


Why 5e? I know its because it's popular, but from a playability standpoint, why that system? I cannot imagine that there isn't a better system for what appears to be a social encounter-heavy mystery. Even dueling would be better handled by a system that allows for more structured rules around 1-on-1 combat (like BRP/Mythras or AGE).

Is there a rules expansion in one of the WotC books that makes cinematic back and forth duels viable? Having the DM just wing it doesn't count because I can do that with whatever system I want.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #331860 25 Mar 2022 16:25
I love the "system matters" discussions and totally agree.

I'm not up to date with all of the various current offerings, but there has to be something with descriptive stats a la In a Wicked Age that would work so much better.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #331861 25 Mar 2022 16:50

barrowdown wrote: Why 5e? I know its because it's popular, but from a playability standpoint, why that system?


How many backers would they lose if it was designed for a less popular rpg system? How many would they gain?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331863 25 Mar 2022 17:06
With 5E it has a potential reach of an estimated 50 million players. With another system you are looking at a fraction of that. Like, 500 for an indie zine, maybe 5000 for a larger published system.
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #331864 25 Mar 2022 17:10

Shellhead wrote:

barrowdown wrote: Why 5e? I know its because it's popular, but from a playability standpoint, why that system?


How many backers would they lose if it was designed for a less popular rpg system? How many would they gain?


Good question. I have no idea and no real idea on how to figure that out, but maybe not that much if they are good at what they do?

ENworld Top KS List

Looking at ENWorld's list of top TTRPG KS's, there are 15 (I'm counting Mothership because it did make $1M, but the list is older) that have made over $1M, with ten being 5e. The other five feature two popular licenses (The One Ring and Avatar), two more are reboots/reprints of systems (technically three, but I already counted TOR as a license) leaving only Coyote & Crow as a new non-5e property.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #331868 25 Mar 2022 18:47
I really want Coyote and Crow. It looks great.

Mothership blew up because it was the only SF horror game in town and it really filled a niche. It’s a good game, I’ve run some great sessions of it. But I gotta say, the Alien RPG kind of shunted it odd to the side.

And it is actually a great argument pro “system matters”. Even though it is Free League’s core system, it works really well with the psychological elements and it plays REALLY well as a one shot “cinematic” game because it handles PVP and has PCs with secret objectives/agendas.

I really don’t get with 5E how people can’t figure out how to make it more OSR…I mean, there are tons of great VERY OSR modules for it. Kobold Press’s Scarlet Citadel is practically an old school Gygaxian mega dungeon module. There are books like Glimmering Stones of The Ioun King and Colossus Wake that have some more indie and gonzo sorts of things going on. The excellent Dungeon Age series (PDF only on DTRPG) is all about the super minimal presentation and skill based play. There is even an OSR variant of 5E, Five Torches Deep, that specifically makes it play more like B/X.

I’ve not single time with 5E felt “this system can’t do this” or “this system doesn’t do this well” aside from the Vancian magic, which I’ve never liked. The reasons I haven’t is because I really took to heart that line that used to be in all RPG books “this is YOUR game”. 5E is -extraordinarily- flexible. With ther Jane Austen thing you could easily add some backgrounds or classes, “Debonair Suitor” for example, add abilities appropriate to the setting,, maybe even some new skills. All using the basic DC/D20 mechanism, which is practically universally applicable in The right rules context.

But on the flip side, it totally wouldn’t work in DCC because that system is designed for big, stupid heroic moments, unpredictable outcomes, and catastrophic failures
DarthJoJo's Avatar
DarthJoJo replied the topic: #331869 25 Mar 2022 20:13

Michael Barnes wrote: I’ve not single time with 5E felt “this system can’t do this” or “this system doesn’t do this well” aside from the Vancian magic, which I’ve never liked. The reasons I haven’t is because I really took to heart that line that used to be in all RPG books “this is YOUR game”. 5E is -extraordinarily- flexible. With ther Jane Austen thing you could easily add some backgrounds or classes, “Debonair Suitor” for example, add abilities appropriate to the setting,, maybe even some new skills. All using the basic DC/D20 mechanism, which is practically universally applicable in The right rules context.

Herein lies the rub. Yes, roll a d20, add modifiers, check against difficulty is very easy adapt to any setting. You could run it in a Jane Austen setting to check whether you’ve properly perceived a suitor’s intentions or to snipe a queen alien with your laser rifle.

I just find it a profoundly uninteresting mechanic after playing things like Fiasco, especially regarding social elements. Why do I need to role to lie? Why can’t I just tell a plausible story?

I think a d20 system does better fit combat, but it still grinds everything to a halt as you’re constantly calculating damage and health. The handful of of role play podcasts I’ve listened to have always been at their least interesting when fights drag. And they always drag.

The difference, to me, between the super rules lite and the comparatively gritty of 5e is the difference between storytelling and improvising. There are all sorts of stories online of a player rolling a crit to kill the villain in their first encounter. It can be memorable, but it isn’t as satisfying as collaboratively building to something in Microscope. The trade off is storytelling requires more maturity. The players have to give and take and have to let someone else be the lead sometimes. Heavier rules give a structure to keep people from doing whatever they want whenever.