JP On Gaming

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Early thoughts about 5e: Let's be realistic

5e is a touchy subject. Like its predecessor, 4e, it ignites passion and feelings of hatred or love. Most people have a strong opinion: they love it, they hate it, they don't want to know about it.

With the summer, our gaming landscape will definitely change as more and more people try it. I will try it for sure. I have stated that as much as I love Paizo, I don't want to limit my gaming "intake" to just one company's products. I want to read about and use technique and rule elements from very diverse sources. I believe that Pathfinder itself was started with those goals in mind, and it was for many years a product that was clearly superior to its competitors. (Now it's bloated but still a very product overall)

I have a few reservations about 5e. Okay a lot. But I thought I should divulge those before I get any deeper into these worries.

I have a feeling that WotC is trying to hunt the rabbit and its shadow with it. By having a system that is somewhat compatible with every edition of the game, I fear they will be trying to get everyone and really fail to capture the majority of the gaming community. I wonder if when you will join a 5e game you will have to provide a long checklist of "how you play the game", similar to the checklist that was provided in 3e's Unearthed Arcana (or was is Arcana Unearthed?) where the GM had to check all the optional rules they wanted to use. I like when I join a group that it will follow the basic rules of the game, not be some customized that it no longer means anything.

Uncle JP's Olden Days Story time

I remember an old AD&D DM (over 20 years ago) who added all the thief abilities to ALL characters, no matter what their class was. He did that, he said, to show that the PCs were "professional adventurers". There were no backstab or anything, but everyone received Open Locks, Hide In Shadows, Scale Walls, etc. While this made for characters with a much wider range of abilities, it cheapened - and prevented - anyone from playing a rogue.

There was another one who gave a ton of bonuses for those who played humans. Not surprising when everyone played elves, dwarves & halflings. Why would you ever play human in those days? They sucked!

I think that one of the great marketing tools they used was to cater and promote a sense of nostalgia. This means that the old Grognards did not blast and bad mouthed the product before it even came out. Thus avoiding the edition war that marked the start of 4e so much. With a feeling of nostalgia (which I frankly don't understand) sweeping through the gaming community these past few years. By kinda catering to this old guard that 4e so successfully pushed away, they destroyed the staying power of their game.

By trying to get the old guard back in, they ensure a stability within the community. If you think of your community. Think of those guys who have been running their games at local events since 1980. These guys are local fixtures, provide their points of view about everything, but most of all, run fun games. These guys tend to be slow to adopt new systems and they are quick to let everyone know how and why your latest product is bad. These are the guys you either want on your side OR want them to ignore you. They have, WotC has, I believe, succeed at that.

I cannot complete this analysis without passing on one of the most-often heard complaints about people who have left 4e. They feel burned by WotC. They feel like they spent thousand of dollars on an edition and now they have to throw them away.

Here I have to slap you silly, fellow gamers.

You did get some enjoyment of these books from a previous edition. Nothing prevents you from enjoying them some more with you want. Just because there is no new material doesn't mean you cannot play the game. Oh and they never forced you to buy them. They produced material you thought was of good enough quality to separate from your cash. So it NOT THEIR FAULT.

However, the way these edition-killing were done can lead one to expect that in three years, we will have the "5e Ultimate Edition" which changes "nothing" but the game really isn't the same without it. In fact, I am almost certain that it will happen. Your 5e core books will be valid (bar errata) for about 3 years and then 6e will be here.

Some people have mentioned the cost of the books as a reason for not getting into it. This is a load of BS. Really. While the cost of books has gone up. A lot. From the 40$ I paid for each 3.5 core books to the projected 60$ for each 5e books a decade later. Yes that is a price hike. However, this is somewhat on-par with other books in the industry. WotC has always produced beautiful books. We can argue about the quality of content, but their production quality is great. Great art, great layout, worth the money on that alone.

The question on every one of the third party publishers: what about the OGL? Information is vague about it. Most sources I have say there will be one. However, they also say things like "it won't be as permissive as the OGL" or "WotC will keep much tighter control of the products that come out" so...

A good friend of mine was happy to tell me "they will have an OGL, the character creation guides will be free online!" I hated to burst his bubble but that was NOT the OGL. I explained the OGL and what it allowed writers like myself to do. I'm not sure he understood or cared, for him they were giving away a big chunk of it for free. For him the OGL was just the free set of rules.

If they do like they did with the mess of the GSL, I expect their free marketing team (aka 3pp) will quickly desert them fairly quickly and keep supporting Paizo.

An Origins Surprise: Organized Play

At Origins, I got to listen to Chris Tulach, head of the organized play division at WotC for almost a full decade now!

On the topic of Organized Play, he said a number of things I really liked. First off, WotC would focus on supporting local stores first, with home play and con play second. I cannot let you know how brilliant I thought that was. Its one thing I think Paizo is failing at: supporting stores with incentive to have people play there. I have been a very vocal and firm supporter of playing in stores. Yes, it may not be as conducive for full-immersion role-playing.

So what does this mean

That for pretty much everything about 5e: we don't know. There are a lot of unknowns and a few known things. WotC speak a good game. But words are cheap.

5e is almost out and I'll know then.


  1. Once its out and the hype is over, if the game is fun and (please please please) not contentious in a bad way, that'll quiet down the rabble. Hopefully....a fair number of people on the internet (i.e. don't seem to be people who actually play games anymore, they just hang around making crazy spherical cow arguments.

    1. That's very much the approach I am trying to take: ignore the hype and take it for what it is. That said, I am cautiously optimistic, with emphasis on "Cautious".
      One thing that worries me a lot is the "you can play it with whatever flavor you want" comment. However, all of their products will be 5e-specific.
      Cautiously optimistic