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Call of the Netherdeep - D&D 5E At It’s Best- Review
Rolling to lie for example…just because there is a persuasion skill that doesn’t mean a player should roll on that every time. Last week my crew lied their way out of a situation with an ogre…they came up with a pretty good one but I felt like they weren’t taking into consideration that he was intending to eat the dwarves they rescued out of his larder for dinner. But they successfully explained why, to a low INT creature already dis-satisfied with his station as a kind of doorman for the temple of elemental evil outpost,why they weren’t wearing the proper garments and didn’t know the secret gesture. They cleverly turned the ogre’s demands around and his mention of the “new master”. One of my players said “do I need a persuasion check?” And I said no because I adjudicated that what they came up with was successful. And I’m saving that hungry part as a hook for later interactions…
Again, it’s a mistake a lot of people make, I think…that the rules and skill lists are ironclad and not squishy and subject to the DM’s judgment. That’s really key to me, that I am a -judge- of what happens, more of a moderator or as I’ve drawn the comparison before, a DJ.
It’s interesting to me that DCC for example actually calls the DM a judge, I think that has a very different meaning than “dungeon master” or “game master”. Or even “keeper” or whatever.
And part of that judgment is discerning when the rules need to clamp down and when they can be a little more fluid. And it also includes judging how a sorry line progresses based on player actions (and tastes), determining what rules apply and to what degree in service of -fun- and player engagement.
I feel like 5e is extremely rules light, despite the tremendous range of character options and sub-rules that come with various choices. The core system is as simple as it gets, really, barring Mork Borg or Knave levels of minimalism. It’s fairly cohesive and I never feel like there is extraneous, annoying bullshit that I can’t just adjudicate out of the way if I don’t like it in a given scenario.
As for fights…that is all on the DM if they drag, I think. I try to run fights as cinematic and quick as I can unless I feel like the players are really bearing down on the crunch, and then I’ll let it get more tactical and let them enjoy that aspect of it. I am firm believer in the critical fail as a way to introduce unexpected complications. And if a fight is running long or I feel like my players aren’t engaged enough I’ll fudge some monster HP numbers if they have an advantage and it’s just attrition with an outcome more or less decided.. Don’t tell them I said that.
But there again, it comes down to my belief that a lot of the “problems” with 5E and other RPGs come down to how you are running it and how you view your role as a judge/game master. Granted, if you are throwing out 75% of the rulebook, why are you playing that game and not something else? If you aren’t engaging in the tone and tenor of the rules, then there are likely better fits. 5e isn’t like 4e, where the focus was very much on combat. It’s a more unified, cohesive system that allows for really as much crunch as players want. It’s up to you to determine that and not put an RP and exploration favoring party into a 4 hour tactical battle so they all go online and grouse about how much they hate 5e combat.
But now with that said…Pathfinder 2e combat is actually PAINFUL. The game my friend was running last year was just a drag every time we fought. A 2 hour session to kill 8 bandits. Yeesh.
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So why are you running Dungeons and Dragons, Barnes? I agree that a good game master should fudge rolls and ignore rules as necessary to keep the fun up and craft a satisfying narrative, but if you personally are doing that on the regular, as it sounds like you are, why not run a different system?
Michael Barnes wrote: But there again, it comes down to my belief that a lot of the “problems” with 5E and other RPGs come down to how you are running it and how you view your role as a judge/game master. Granted, if you are throwing out 75% of the rulebook, why are you playing that game and not something else? If you aren’t engaging in the tone and tenor of the rules, then there are likely better fits. 5e isn’t like 4e, where the focus was very much on combat. It’s a more unified, cohesive system that allows for really as much crunch as players want. It’s up to you to determine that and not put an RP and exploration favoring party into a 4 hour tactical battle so they all go online and grouse about how much they hate 5e combat.
To zoom out, I think modern RPGs have run into a feedback loop problem with video games. CRPGs use to just be Diablo and Icewind Dale. It was a big deal that Deus Ex had a skill tree. Now it’s weird if a AAA game doesn’t have those options, and we call it an RPG. It’s not. It’s just avatar customization. But then this is what people come to tabletop RPGs expecting: different ways to kill things and regular power bumps, which is what Dungeons provides. It’s fine if people want power fantasy and murder hobo once a week, but if I want that, I have board games that do it better.
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It’s also that I like playing D&D. Not a game inspired by it or designed as a reaction to it. Real D&D.
When I switched of my groups to OSE, it completely killed their interest. It was all players who had no previous experience with it, I did a full level 1-5 5E campaign with them and then pulled out the “oh boy we are going to play FIRST EDITION, it’s actually better blah blah blah” and…a month later they were done.Same with my kids. They will play Knave for a one shot but they will only play 5E. They don’t give a shit about What Gary Gygax Intended or some indie griping about everything wrong with 5E.
The group I play in (versus GM) likes to play 5e probably because it is popular. The actual playstyles of the various players has no real need to play 5e, with one player being pure OSR murderhobo (5e was his first RPG), a player who prefers social conflicts, a story gamer, and myself. I'd much rather play another system because I want to fall asleep as soon as the rules of 5e start to come into play.
After a long rest, I am finally getting ready to run another campaign. Although I know my likely players would probably enjoy the 3.5 rule set again, or maybe GURPS, I think that I would rather run a less rule-intensive game like the BRP system used by Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Runequest, etc. D&D 5e is a possibility, but not enticing enough to entice me into re-statting all the adventures I want to run.
That really adds heat to the game, gives the player a vested interest in the safety of their character. Without that they can just rush their pawn into danger without concern, and when that happens the other parts of the game system (any RPG game system) fall apart.
I had backed the Advanced Fantasy box set for OSE with its recent Kickstarter, but when I gave it some thought I realized that I really enjoyed 5e so much more. There's a lot of process that's wrapped up in OSE that just doesn't appeal to me at all. I HATE managing hirelings, and while it's nice to have some kind of dungeon-crawling procedure, the one that exists in most OSR games is kind of irritating for me to run. True you can run a lighter OSR game like Knave, but truth be told some of the trappings of traditional D&D are actually fun. I like having classes, for example. All that to say I went ahead and cancelled my OSE pledge because I absolutely KNEW it was an aspirational purchase. I already have the original tome, and I really don't have much use for anything else.
There's a lot of perceived wisdom in the OSR that I think is downright faulty. Not everything has to be a big open sandbox. The most fun I've ever had with a published adventure was the nine-month run we did through Tomb of Annihilation. I've heard lots of WotC published adventures characterized as "railroady," and I suppose parts of ToA qualify. But I dunno, it really worked for our group. I was also learning to DM on the fly, since I wasn't very experienced, but it was great! The players really enjoyed it across the board.
Another aggravating OSR assumption is that players have to essentially earn the right to have fun. When old-schoolers complain about faster leveling, and characters feeling too powerful, etc. it can tread dangerously close to Boomers complaining about Millennials getting participation trophies. To be clear: there are absolutely good reasons to prefer a more difficult power curve and slower leveling. I get it! But people who like a game to be less "challenging" have an equal argument. We are all doing this for fun, so no one has to "earn" their fun at all.
I know for me, 5e was my first introduction to D&D, and so it is for me the baseline. I like OSE a lot, just like I enjoy Fate and Call of Cthulhu and Monster of the Week. The sort of loosey-goosey approach that 5e takes is very flexible. Not that you can do every sort of roleplaying experience with it. (I question how well that Jane Austen expansion will work, though I hope it's great!) But if you want to do the basic high fantasy sort of stuff, i.e. D&D, it works pretty great for most versions of that. D&D is after all its own brand of fantasy fiction.
I hear a lot of people choosing 5e because that's what everyone else wants to play. I think that explanation sounds kind of lame to some people, because it feels like everyone is doing something because everyone else wants to do it. It makes 5e sound like a game that everyone is playing based on compromise. I know that's true for a lot of people, but for me at least there is absolutely something powerful in playing a game that has such wide cultural penetration. It feels like you are part of a very big tradition and heritage, and in a cultural setting where common ground feels vanishingly rare, I appreciate having something universal to fall back on.
We're waiting on our shipment to show up here in Kenya, but when it does I'm going to start playing a game with my kids, just a little two-player campaign that will take like an hour a week. I need live roleplaying in my life, and there's no live roleplaying I like doing more than 5e.