Before I begin my rant let me say that like Shadowrun I have lots of fun playing Dungeons and Dragons, but unlike Shadowrun I think DnD is actually a pretty good game. I have fun GMing it, and I have fun playing it. It’s just their source materials are poorly edited and one of the books should be about half the size it really is. Now let’s get to ranting.
PHB, Player’s Habitual Backtracking
First 7 pages are fine, typical RPG book introduction stuff.
Chargen is actually pretty quick and decent, except classes should be before races, shouldn’t they be species technically? I prefer the burning wheel name of stock. The long lists of class features/feats is gated behind leveling so Chargen doesn’t feel like a slog and avoids analysis paralysis. For new players (new to RPGs even) this is a good thing Generally no trap builds either from what the community says. Except for Beastmaster Rangers, universally regarded as dumpster-tier.
Alignment is still as stupid as ever. No need to elaborate on this, there’s plenty of critique out there and I agree with almost all of them. Save for looking at this from the perspective of a new player, if it’s written down in the book it must be important right..right?..RIGGHTTT? No.
Backgrounds are pretty useful, but this is one area where they should probably added a few more options. Also I like the random tables of bonds and flaws to help people add small details to their character, contrasted with the large paragraphs of stuff they showed as examples. My only gripe here is that the backgrounds are located at the back of the book for some reason when they are a part of character creation.
Inspiration is one of the main mechanics of the game, and it isn’t laid out until you get to the Backgrounds section about 120 pages in. For touting it as one of the new features of your game you sure buried it in there, and not much time is dedicated to it. I like the idea of Inspiration as a sort of reward for players adhering to the fiction of the world and their character. However it doesn’t seem they put too much effort beyond “The DM gives this out when he thinks you RP’d good and that’s it.” The players are limited to just one currency so there isn’t even a real metagame drive to try to acquire more of it in the same way a lot of (almost all) narrative-style games have a sort of meta-currency to help drive play. The failure to develop this mechanic doesn’t affect the game in any negative way but it does serve to highlight the fact that DnD is primarily about two things, hitting things with your sword and talking to people to get rewarded for hitting things with your sword. It’s about combat and everything on the character sheet points you to that.
The spell list is goddamn awful. They repeat the same mistake in the monster manual in that they order things in the most useless way possible, alphabetically. This is a players handbook, not a dictionary. Gives separate summary spell lists for each class which is fine, but then does not specify on what pages those spells can be found, and if you are a new player you’ve probably little idea what these spells can actually do so you must look at them first.. Then it goes to go on to list all the spells in detail ALPHABETICALLY, what the fuck. They should have had them listed by level of the spell (you know, as would be useful, especially to new characters who can only cast level 1 spells.) Additionally they should mark next to those spells which classes can cast them, like this. Bolded is my addition
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
You hurl a bubble o f acid. Choose one creature within
range, or choose two creatures within range that are
within 5 feet o f each other. A target must succeed on a
Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 acid damage.
This spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach
5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
You can argue that they did it this way to converse on ink, but I think they could have shaved text elsewhere (like in the oh-so-useful Multiverse section.) to make their book more usable. Other than all this the PHB is basically fine, it’s fine.
Dungeon Master Self-Help
Again I will be looking at this from the perspective of a new or newish GM looking to run his first game of Dungeons and Dragons, or his first campaign. The source of the problem partially is that the PHB came out way before the DMG did, most of which contains all of the core rules for being able to run the game, so the DMG must be filled with some fucking amazing sage advice with how to make this game run great right? Well let’s see.
It starts off in the worst way possible by presenting to the reader what they should be doing first, making up details of the entire world, no the entire MULTIVERSE as a starting point. Now I wouldn’t claim to be an expert GM but I do have enough experience to know that this is the absolute wrong way to have a novice GM, let alone the potential of a novice GM playing RPGs for the first time to start.
As far as the actual content of the Worldbuilding Chapter..it’s okay I guess. The ideas it gives you are just that, ideas. You can literally do anything and so much of this chapter is either a) overwhelming and useless to novice players right out of the gate or b) A waste of time to experienced GM’s cause they already know what they are doing or are going to do as far as worldbuilding. It has no original or creative ideas and more painfully contains no systems or mechanics to help generate or reinforce the concepts of the worldbuilding. It’s just a bunch of hot air that is unneeded because people are already familiar enough with fantasy tropes as it is. To illustrate my point here’s an overview of all the topics in the first chapter of the DMG.
The Big Picture
The Gods of Your World
Mapping Your Campaign
Languages and Dialects
Factions and Organizations
Magic in your World
Creating a Campaign
Tiers of Play
Flavors of Fantasy
Flavors of Fantasy I found particularly amusing because it suggests you can use DnD to simulate other sub-genres of fantasy, such as mystery, intrigue, wuxia, dark fantasy, mythic and etc. Of course it gives no details here as to actually -do- those things. No rules are suggested nor are there mechanics to reinforce those themes the DMG says it supports. Then after deciding on this the reader or implementer of the advice of the DMG gets to the next chapter.Surely now we’re going to get some meat and potatoes advice on how to make this game sing. Chapter 2: Creating the Multiverse. I’m sure someone new will find all this information very useful.
The problem with all this is that this information is placed at the front of the DMG, which suggests to the reader that they potentially should be creating all this content first before even starting to play which is absolutely wrong. A new GM should not waste their precious time coming up with bullshit the players of a new campaign will have zero chance of interfacing with. In my Shadowrun post I alluded to <this post> detailing why giving your players your dissertation on your setting is probably the most god awful way to begin a campaign. GM’s should focus on developing things the players can directly engage with right away for their first session. If that does overlap with the grand details or ideas you had for your setting, great! But more likely you’ll spend hours deliberating over minutia your players will not give a flying fuck about, at least not right away.
Creating Adventures is the next section and I find it’s actually somewhat decent advice. It runs through some familiar styles of adventuring but more importantly it gives you random tables as seeds to generate the overall structure of an adventure. I need not expound my love for random tables again, it’s just another case of them being useful to remove some of the creative load off of the GM.
Next up is the actual rules of the game, with suggested difficulty checks and examples on how to use stats/skills in certain situations. Surprisingly it contains some useful information to the potential DM, but I’m not giving it points for doing something it’s supposed to do. Following that is the Dungeon Master’s Workshop, a section devoted to potential rule variants. In my mind these variants don’t really seem to offer much in terms of variety, the honor and insanity systems seem like something any amateur designer could come up with. I haven’t tested out the steps to Creating a Monster yet but from what I hear they actually work well even if they are explained poorly.
Book of Beasts
Not a whole lot to say about the Monster Manual but remember my bitching about how the organization/layout of the Spell lists makes it so actually using it involves a lot of flipping back and forth and cross-referencing? Same problem here. Monsters aren’t organized by CR (Challenge Rating.), nor are they organized by environments they are commonly found it. Instead they are in alphabetical order and sometimes but not always by type. What the fucking fuck. If you go to look up Gelatinous Cube, you’d look under the G’s right? Nope that’s in O for Oozes. But there’s no section for Undead, you have to look in V for vampire and Z for zombies and B for banshees. Wight Tarrasque Fomorian. Thank goodness for resources like Kobold Fight Club
Additionally, metal of the day is Panopticon’s new album Autumn Eternal.