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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - 5th Edition So Far

Now that I have gotten caught up with Out of the Abyss, I'd like to take some time to talk about the current way the D&D team is handling things. Back in November, Chris Perkins gave us a lot of insight during a seminar at Game Hole 2015. Merric Blackman did a great job summing it up here.

I'm using art by Jeff Carlisle, who was really awesome but never quite got his due for some reason. He seemed to stop doing D&D art right when he got really good.

Here's some topics from this seminar that stuck out to me:

A Lot of Old D&D Books Were Bought and Never Used

I think that is certainly true. So much stuff - a lot of it really good - was made that people never got to. This phenomenon goes way back to my time in 2nd Edition. You may notice that right now in 2016 I am running Dead Gods, an adventure which came out in the mid-90's. I have been waiting 20 years to run it! It sat on the shelf so long because there was just so much other material I wanted to run. I still want to run Age of Worms, which came out around 10 years ago.

Also, in every edition there were so many sourcebooks full of things that I am still sifting through. There's just only so much stuff you can fit into a session. For example, say you get a book on seafaring. You have to wait until your heroes are near an ocean to use it! And if you're running Out of the Abyss now, and maybe a Ravenloft campaign next, then that book you bought will be sitting idle on a shelf for a very long time.

A good portion of this blog is really just me sifting through all the old volumes and pulling out cool material.

I think one of the unique things about role playing games in general is that a huge portion of the people who play the game also have the desire and ability to create material for the game. DrivethruRPG is full of 3rd party stuff for 5e, far more than anyone could actually use.

Shared Experiences

The current model is to put out one big adventure every 6 months. They want everyone to have a "shared experience", kind of like how many of us from the 80's have fond memories of the Tomb of Horrors or the Isle of Dread. Back in the old days, you can ask someone you just met at a convention, "So what did your group do in the opening hallway in the Tomb of Horrors?" and you'd usually get an answer.

I think that the ultimate goal for the creators of D&D is for when people look back on Out of the Abyss, they think of December 2015 and the friends they had at that time, the music they listened to, all that kind of thing. Sort of like the Marvel comic book crossovers. The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries brings me right back to the late 80's/early 90's.

The Adventures Are Too Long

There's been a problem with this approach, though. The adventures are too long. This is touched on in Chris' seminar.

In fact, these adventures aren't just a little too long, they are way too long. Out of the Abyss takes a group from level 1 to level 15. I don't think there's too many gaming groups who will be even close to done with it in 6 months of play.

I wrote quite a bit about the other groups in my game store back when I was running Adventurers League games. If you remember, there was one table that played Hoard of the Dragon Queen every week for six months. After all that time, they had only made it to chapter 4! That group would need about two years of weekly play just to complete Tyranny of Dragons.

Judging from the search results in my blog, by far the thing people are googling the most is stuff from Tyranny of Dragons. That's the first storyline. People are still playing the first adventure.

I think groups play slower than Wizards of the Coast expects them to. I also think people for the most part, at least those outside of the Adventurers League, do not play D&D on a weekly basis. I think they get together when they can, but when they can is more of a monthly schedule than a weekly one.

So right now we are in this weird situation where Wizards of the Coast are putting out adventures that are so big that groups won't be able to play (or have the need to buy) the next book for a very long time.

I have been trying to figure out the best solution to this. How long should an adventure be that groups can complete in six months?

What Length is Best?

These old adventures we have fond memories of were about 14-22 pages long. I was stunned when I read through White Plume Mountain a while back. It's just a handful of pages. Yet it is a large dungeon that took 4 sessions to get through. And it was awesome.

So if you're making a 5th edition adventure that takes 6 months of real life time to finish, I guess you could make it where characters start at level 1 and they finish at about level 8. People can definitely do that in 6 months, I think. The hardcover book might be a little shorter, but that's OK.

But it seems like wizards wants these adventures to be epic. The final battle in each path has been with a major entity: Tiamat, Imix (or another prince of elemental evil), and Demogorgon (or other demon lords).

If these adventures only go to level 8, then that means we don't get those fights. Also you'll run into the problem where players are going to want to keep leveling. It happened over and over again in the 4e encounters program. After every season ended, the next adventure started at level one and players got annoyed. They wanted to keep going with their old character. 

I personally like the idea of Wizards putting out one adventure for levels 1-8, and then another one for levels 8-15. So then groups could level their characters all the way up over the course of one year. But I wonder if putting out a book for high level characters will be harmful, as new players need to start at level one and thus won't buy that book.

Future Adventures

I was tantalized by this quote:

"One upcoming adventure will be very short, but is very, very replayable: it can be played 200 times and you would never play the same adventure twice. The adventure can be played two or three times in 6 months, and it really changes up the model for adventure design."

The thing that pops into my mind when I read this is Baba Yaga's Hut. All of the rooms are connected in a weird way, but there's room to shift them around and there's a lot of interdimensional stuff going on.

Or maybe this adventure is some kind of random chart scenario? Where you roll to see what room or area comes next?

I'd really like an adventure set in Sigil, and one in the city of Greyhawk. All of this Forgotten Realms stuff just isn't my thing.

Are the 5e Adventures Classics?

I think it is too early to say whether the 5e adventures will be fondly remembered. From what I can tell, more people are playing them than, say, the people who played the 4e path. 4e's Keep on the Shadowfell is not fondly recalled, I don't think.

Personally I think that the 5e adventures are good but are missing a certain inspired element. I can't think of too many really crazy moments in any of the adventures that players truly got excited about.

I did like the beginning of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, with the town under siege. The problem there was that the whole thing was too difficult to run as written. To me, the very beginning of an adventure is where there should be a classic memorable scene or encounter of some kind. That's partly because not everyone is going to play through to the end.

Play Every Week
Writing this post really crystallized things for me. I can't encourage everyone enough to make an effort to play every week. You don't have to play for 6 hours. Just do 2. If you're organized, you can get a lot done. 

A weekly schedule keeps everything fresh in people's heads. It gives the campaign a ton of momentum. And it's something to look forward to, really.

That's one of the great things about D&D. It's a pretty healthy hobby to have. You're not doing drugs, you're not getting wasted (well, probably not). You are socializing with friends.

I just watched this documentary on loneliness. A lot of people out there are having a hard time feeling connected. D&D is the perfect way to connect in a safe and healthy way. It is an excuse to get together and to sit and laugh and create with other people.


Nicholas Bergquist said...

Great article! Yes, keeping a weekly game up can be tough but its a good way to maintain and build friendships, not to mention get lots of D&D in. I've been running 1-2 games a week for years now and it's pretty much my top social outlet these days.

knobgobbler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coffeemate said...

I agree, great article. I agree with everything you said. Our group only meets once every other week… at best, so it’s all but impossible to play the WotC-published mega-adventures. I think they are just a bit too self-serving, functioning best for their in-store play program, but not for many others outside of it.

I don’t know, I could be wrong, but I would play more WotC-published material if they were the size of adventures of old (70s-80s). Would rather have three or four 24- or 36-page modules in a year than two 128-page hardbacks. White Plume Mountain is the perfect size. I’ve run it many times. A great three-session adventure.

Jason Raabis said...

The new mega module format is fine for those that want to run a complete AP like what Paizo has refined. On that note, I'd much prefer Paizo's style of breaking the AP down into more logical "chapters" which might address some of the current complaints with WotC's offerings being difficult to navigate through.

Overall, I'm not interested in the idea of everyone in the world all playing through one of these books at the same time. To me, that's lame and uncreative.

Sean said...

Nicholas Bergquist: I think once you get into a rhythm and playing weekly becomes a part of a routine, it turns into something very comforting and enjoyable. I think people like to be part of a close-knit group of friends, and D&D is perfect for that.

Coffeemate: Yeah I like these new adventures but they're just waaayyyy too long. Even for the Adventurers league.

Jason Raabis: I totally agree that Paizo does it right. That's what makes these books so mind-boggling to me. Paizo perfected the formula! Why is wizards of the coast struggling with format?

Coffeemate said...

I think WotC is struggling with the format a bit because they have several requirements of what the product needs to be able to accomplish:

It needs to be able to support an in-store program, so the length of the publication is longer to support the length of the program (6 months)…

It needs to have a higher MSRP to warrant the print run (AND turn a profit); pushing a book into the retail chain with a higher MSRP is much easier to do than a smaller, cheaper format; this also allows them to dominate shelf space, which every publisher needs to be conscious of…

…and, call me crazy, but I think WotC NEEDS to differentiate themselves by what Paizo is currently doing. WotC has actually done the entire module thing (which I would argue really only worked well up until 1983), and is now onto providing campaign-length experiences. To get into the mud with Pazio and compete with shorter-length products from not having done that (well) for so long would likely be a losing proposition for WotC.

There’s other considerations, but those two leap to mind more so than other factors. I am looking forward to seeing how Curse of Strand is designed. Having a more “modular” module, where the extra content doesn’t equate to a longer adventure, but a DIFFERENT adventure on subsequent play-throughs sounds like a format I would be interested in.

Personally, I want to move through a campaign with my players in 6 months. Since we game every other week, that means I need it to wrap up in 10-12 game sessions (which are about 2-3 hours in length). I need to figure out a formula on how to develop the adventure(s) based on those parameters. Would probably make my DM-ing life much easer. If you have any thoughts in that area, please… by all means, reply! :)