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Where 5th Edition Misses the Mark

by Jae
5e improvements

We love Dungeons and Dragons. We created this whole blog about it. But for everything we love, the game certainly has some things that are missing. We don’t expect the game to cover every topic imaginable. We understand that you’d have to have hundreds of pages to build out systems for everything everyone wanted to do. But there are also some things we’d love to see improved or added in years to come.

Here’s what we think is missing and some homebrew solutions that cover the gaps.

1. Crafting in DnD

Not everyone is wild about crafting, but some people really want to forge their own weapons, brew their own potions, and scribe their own scrolls. We’ve talked about the shortcomings of the crafting system before, but the core problem is an inflexible and over simplistic approach to item creation and time to craft.

Each item you could make is tied to a rarity. This rarity determines its cost and how long it takes to make. A rare sword takes as long to make as a rare spell scroll. This is a weird way to handle things but it does keep it simple. The DMG lays out the rules for this on pages 128 and 129, but they conclude the whole process in 7 short paragraphs.

While this system works and can be adapted, its rigidity and time cost make many of the crafting possibilities that players might want to see in the game out of reach. And we also can’t forget that rarity for player designed items (described in chapter 9 of the DMG) is also a bit vague and limiting.

What’s the best solution for this? What do you do when you want to add more depth to your item creation? 

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything actually improves this system a little bit. While it still contains the more rigid rarity system and does not give much in depth material or item type additions, the system is a bit more flexible, fun, and open to individuals. These changes are specifically for magical items, but it’s a good start. Outside of that, your options for better crafting are limited.

Unfortunately, the other solution for this is often campaign specific homebrew. We’ve found a lot of great supplements on the Dungeon Masters Guild, but all of them need a bit of tweaking to fit in any given campaign. They’re still worth taking a look at, but don’t expect anyone to get a highly in depth system perfect right out of the box.

2. Non-Combat Encounter Supplements

We all know that Dungeons and Dragons is a combat focused role playing game. The vast majority of its text is about combat and abilities that will be used in combat. This was a deliberate choice and is integral to the lens through which you need to view the game.

Even so, there is a lot of non-combat to the game that mechanically boils down to just role play. For many, ourselves included, we feel that wizards could create a lot of material and structure for non-combat encounters.

It’s important to note that we understand how difficult this is. Outside of combat, success isn’t really measured in numbers and that makes it difficult to create mechanics around it. Most game mechanics work by converting things to numbers that can be interacted with to some degree. Outside of combat this falls apart in a lot of cases, and we suspect that’s why DnD doesn’t have extensive sections on non-combat encounters.

A challenge with these non-combat encounters also arises from the group’s ability to solve problems. Let’s look at traps and puzzles as an example. Different groups will have different abilities available to them that may allow them to solve a challenge in a novel way. With any given party you could have hundreds of solutions all with varying outcomes. This can be even harder when dealing with social encounters that are open to interpretation and acting out a scene.

The obvious solution to this “missing feature” is the included skill challenges rules that DnD had in 4th edition. DnD 5e streamlined these, and while it made the game much lighter, they never circled back to give official implementation or use guidelines that would be functional for newer DMs or individuals who want a more codified system.

While we’re not sure that DnD could ever really solve this problem fully, there is room for a lot more example encounters, specialized frameworks for specific encounter types, and even more applied ideas about balancing mechanics and role playing in the core system for the game.

DnD actually did a great job with adding chase mechanics to the game by expanding the combat system with simple rules for a chase scene. Having more little rule sets like the chase mechanics in the game would be a benefit to players, but could perhaps be overwhelming from a design standpoint.

Right now, the best solution for getting more non-combat encounters is to engage your own design skills and create bespoke mechanics. If you don’t have the time or you’re not the game design type, you can rip non-combat encounters out of modules and repurpose them for your sessions. Tomb of Annihilation has a great set of non-combat encounters that are easily adapted to other areas, and if you’ve never run them with your players they’re as good as new to them.

3. Villainous or Monster Race Rulesets

Almost every DnD game out there is run from the hero’s perspective. This is great, but there is little room for players to play monstrous races, villainous quest lines, or experience head to head combat. Player to player combat is comically brutal and often short lived. Villainous parties are often stretching for content and hard to play. Monstrous races were more playable in previous editions, but 5th edition reduced them for accessibility.

This is a mixed bag and a broad topic, but a lot of people want to try a more diverse ruleset for characters that are not from the typical hero background. Many of the rules as written make the assumption that players are the heroes in the story and they are playing in a narrow humanoid set of races.

This isn’t something we would expect to be covered in the base game. It’s really something that could be covered in a supplement, but there is room for this to exist in the game and a lot of players ask about it.

As a DM, I would personally love to run a campaign with one group of villains and one group of heroes that work against each other session to session. It would be a lot of fun, but as it stands, the villainous group would be underdeveloped and need a lot of special rules to allow them to be more villainous while maintaining some semblance of balance in the game.

Outside of the villain bend, players also might just like to be monsters. This isn’t really about alignment, but more about what it means to have a class and level up as a non-humanoid creature. Can a monster have a monster class? Would they be that different?

For now these questions are up to us as DMs to decide, but maybe future supplements will help us find a better foothold for these types of rules.

4. Building, Settling Down, and Between Combat Mechanics

Dungeons and Dragons does have some mechanics that cover the topics of building and between adventure rules. However, these are tiny in comparison to what players tend to ask for. The DMG (on page 127-128) has a few paragraphs about downtime activities and building a stronghold, but that’s it. The Player’s Handbook has a few more paragraphs in Chapter 8 “Adventuring”, but again this is tiny.

What players typically ask for are rules around building a base of operations, opening a shop, establishing permanent residence somewhere, or making their own wizard tower.

While I would love for WotC to put out official rules for these items, we are very lucky to have Matt Colville’s Strongholds and Followers. This 3rd party book covers everything you could want to know about putting down roots as an adventuring party.

It starts with things like building almost any permanent residence you want, but it also delves into hiring followers, workers, and armies. Later it gets into customizing spells and creating your own magical research. The book has something for everyone and as a 3rd party supplement it really knocks the content out of the park.

5. Potions

For a game about magic and monsters DnD has very few potions. This is not completely unexpected, but it is also super weird that they don’t have better rules for making your own. Poisons are extremely limited despite having the Rogue and Ranger classes that could benefit from more consumable items to augment their arsenal of abilities. 

We have attempted to offer some advice on fixing potion crafting before if you’re looking a quick fix. As a general rule of thumb, you can typically make potions out of any spell that exists in the book, it just takes a little creative thinking and may require a bit of flexibility on how they’re brewed.

6. Large Scale Warfare

Ever want to bring your party into an active warzone? There’s not much to help you within the official rules. There was some hope when Wizards published a UA on mass combat, but it has not been followed up on since. It would be a lovely addition to the game, especially for all the Lord of the Rings fans out there that want to experience the chaos of a fantasy siege.

For now the UA release is still the best option out there, but borrowing from other war games that do this kind of thing better might also be a reasonable solution if that is what you are looking for.

7. Non-Damage & Support Combat Options

Combat in 5e is mostly about damage output and healing. Balancing these two things makes 5e combat simple. This was the stated goal when 5e was built. The direction came as a stark opposition to the 4e changes and became more of a highly refined and distilled form of 3.5e. One of the issues that popped up when sanding down all these features was a lack of support type options for 5e.

The ability to support in 5e exists, but it is very restricted. Concentration rules alone minimize the role that support casters can have on the game overall, and there are not that many spells that are not meant to deal damage and still be used in combat in a very real support sense. Non-damage combat cantrips are also non-existent, so if you’re using supporting spells as a caster you’re working towards becoming useless very quickly in any prolonged fight.

The reason a lot of these things don’t exist currently is because they would be complicated. Restrictions are good for game design because they narrow the scope of what you can work with. But at the same time, restricting some things leads to a lack of depth. We’re fans of DnD and like its simple and friendly system, but we also want to have more depth when it comes to things like support and non-damage combat options.

But Wait, There’s More

Dungeons and Dragons is a great game not because it did everything right, but because the WoTC team is constantly working on changes and improvements. While the things we highlighted are common gripes we see all across the internet, we also see things get fixed, updated, or supplemented as the game evolves.

Books like Xanthar’s Guide to Everything, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and Volo’s Guide to Monsters all work to address issues and flexibility that people have brought up. Some of those books even tackle the items we’ve talked about here to some extent. We love that that game is always evolving and more content is coming out all the time.

Beyond the fact that we see improvements that can be made, we also want to acknowledge that there are thousands of DMs out there who see these not as deficiencies but opportunities to bring their own creativity to the table. Homebrew is really popular and sharing your rules and creations has never been easier. There are compatible 3rd party books thanks to the 5th edition SRD and the open gaming license, and there are ever more 5e specific items available with shops like the Dungeon Masters Guild.

Even though there are some areas we want to see more of in Dungeons and Dragons, it’s our love for the game and the system that drives us to want more in the first place.

Let’s go forward and create more DnD together.

As always, Happy DMing!

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