The Failings Of D&D

I may get a bit “ranty” about Dungeons & Dragons, it’s the system I learned to role-play with, it’s the backbone of some of my greatest creations, and yeah I’m prepared to admit that it’s the game that changed my life. I have dabbled in other systems, run a few of them, modded some for my own purposes, and even had a stab at creating some* but I am under no illusions that it is the perfect system.

I know so many people who are simply no longer interested in D&D itself. Either they’ve embraced Pathfinder and never looked back, or perhaps Savage Worlds, Exalted, Big Eyes Small Mouth, some people actually enjoy GURPS. And it’s certainly not because D&D is a bad system, but it has some serious gaps in the kind of stories and styles of gameplay it can support.

The more I DM, the more I write, and the more worlds I create, the more I’m finding I need to step out of the shadow of the game that brought me up in the hobby. Here’s why…

Dependence on Magic

This is probably my biggest issue at the moment, and it’s something I’ve heard criticised in 5th edition a great deal. There have always been far more classes with access to magic than without, but now there are no classes that cannot get spells through some method or another.

The fighter and rogue were the classics, the direct sword-swinger and the underhanded backstabber, now each comes equipped with a build option that grants access to wizard spells. The barbarian and monk are the next options down, although a few monk builds offer either magical effects or actual spells, and the spiritualistic effects of the Ki are quite magical in their own right. Barbarian’s have a mysticism of their own, and certain builds take that mysticism to near magical levels, piling on fire and lightning called from the supernatural force of the rage.

4th edition was often accused of turning martial characters into “sword wizards” as the power dispersal was broadly the same across the board. In the grand old days of 3.5, most classes were spell-centric, be it arcane, divine, or naturally wrought magic, and I still lump barbarians and monks in with the magically incline… but I’m rambling.

I’m finding I want to see more characters capable of engaging in a meaningful story without leaning on spell casting and magic! Fighters and rogues are astoundingly diverse these days, with subclasses, backgrounds, the variety of races and the option of throwing some feats into the mix, but ultimately you fall within a bracket no matter how you create your character. The Blade Dancer I posted here a while back struck that note but I have a few other ideas, but moving on…

The Class System

It’s not my main bugbear, but since Skyrim came out so many years ago and the more I read of other RP systems, the more beguiling I find the notion of class-free character building. The limited number of skills and dependence on class features strip away some of the versatility that other systems enjoy, especially when you consider that classes restrict the choices you can make in terms of skill, and demand that the player consider optimising their choice of race, even if they choose not to take the ideal choices.

It regularly strips away the importance of a character’s background and race, which are often pivotal parts of who a character is, and the classes can often limit how you explore a that person, instead embracing their personality and nature. Where an RP system focuses on building a list of skills it often forces you to get creative with the use of those skills, or perhaps encourages you to approach a situation considering the application of skills, rather than the particular specialities of your class, like what spells you can cast in the situation for example.

I’ve toyed with creating a D&D oriented system that – rather than picking a set class – builds a character by picking and mixing from a wide variety of features or skill trees. For example, a character wanting to build a standard fighter might start by collecting a handful that focus on the use of armour and weaponry, a paladin might take some of those mixed with healing powers, but a character may instead gather a collection of features that focus on knowledge gathering, poisons and medicine, creating an alchemist or plague doctor style character.

Emphasis On Combat

There’s no escaping this one, a dramatic story in a role-playing game will involve some conflict which might end up in a fight, and given the haphazard approach of most players it might prove inevitable – somehow as soon as dice are involved we lose all sense of social skills, even those of us who had them to begin with.

The problem here being that character progression develops a character’s damage output through many various means. There are books filled with things that are designed to kill you and detailed descriptions of the methods by which they do so, and advice for DMs on how to utilise them. It’s not a common thing for a character to devote the construction of their character towards the other major components of a good story. Rangers are moderately oriented toward exploring the wilderness, rogues and bards have some talents in matters of skill and diplomacy, in the mean time the fighter, barbarian, and monk stand by the side and wait their turn to be useful.

Oh, and not to mention the spell casters. Magic of course, has a vast array of functions from speech to exploration, information gathering and object creation, and so to create a versatile character, you once again have to use spells!

Nice how this little grumble came full circle.

All of this to say that I will be bringing back the Dungeon Situational series at some point in the next few weeks and I’d like to get it kicked off with the first five levels of a new character class, one that is light on magic or fills some niche role in a group, and as I have been doing so far I’d like to give you the options:

The Metallurgist has studied mastery of the forge and explores their alchemical properties. They will focus on item creation, specialist and enchanted weaponry, and are more knowledgeable than the average blacksmith, some are more learned than wizards.

A Reaver falls somewhere in the middle of a rogue, a ranger, and a fighter, specialising in mobility in combat, skirmishing guerrilla tactics, and are adepts at getting the lay of a landscape and scouting ahead of a group.

And the Inquisitor operates within the authority of an agency, religions more often than not, but occasionally governments and royal courts find need of someone loyal to specialise in information extraction and extradition.

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