Dungeons & Dragons: a sad attempt at reliving the past

The latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released to a vague fanfare earlier this week, and honestly it’s a baffling piece of work. This is not the point where I explain that I cut my teeth on D&D at an early age, in fact I was fairly late to the whole “roleplaying” thing, which is quite odd for a dyed-in-the-wool nerd like myself. What this means is that the majority of my nostalgic memories are not related to tabletop games, which means I have no desire to recreate the feeling of being 12 years old and sitting around a table playing make believe.

That rules me out for being the target audience for this edition, which seems to be entirely about trying to capture that feeling. I took part in the early playtest, which was a short while after I’d become disillusioned with the previous edition, due to its over-reliance on additional features. I didn’t want to play a game where I had literally thousands of options to wade through, and the idea of a new edition that slimmed it all down was appealing.

In said playtest, I took on the role of the wizard, because I have a thing for playing “support roles”. I am more likely to be an Obi-Wan dispensing wisdom than someone on the front lines, so to speak. But what I found was that as the wizard, everything revolved around me. The abilities of my character made a mockery of every encounter, but that was a secondary concern, because the encounters themselves were ridiculous. We fought against a swarm of rats that had the Dungeon Master rolling three dozen dice every round. It was excruciatingly boring, and the most fun we had was poking fun at the bad rules.

That was 2013, and in the year that passed we’ve seen essentially no progress in those rules. Everything seems to have just been thrown together. No thought has been put into the numbers involved, with everything being put on the prospective Dungeon Masters to fix on the go if they find a problem with it.

Consider the various video games that are put out every year, and imagine if one of these long-running franchises decided to just not bother with any sort of rigorous playtesting. A new Mario game where the goombas sometimes took four or five bops to squash, and the end boss could only be defeated if you’d smashed the right block at the first level, except there was no indication which block was the right one.

Nobody would stand for it, but because it’s a tabletop system, it’s somehow not as big of a deal. Because the idea is that it feels like D&D, that it feels like those nostalgic memories of when you were 12. Because I don’t have these memories, all I see is a big heapin’ mess that isn’t fun to play.

I have tried to like Dungeons & Dragons, I really have. I’ve played it, I’ve run it, I’ve indulged in more different editions than I probably should have. What might have been new and revolutionary in 1974 is sadly no longer up to date. There have been a lot of interesting developments in the world of tabletop games, and this new edition of D&D makes no real attempt to incorporate any of them.

Dungeons & Dragons is a lumbering dinosaur, and not even one of the cool dinosaurs. It’s one of the portly ones from the Triassic that nobody likes, and even though all the rad tyrannosaurs are ultimately descended from it, it’s just not worth playing. Which is sort of sad, since it’s still the defining name of the hobby.

In addition, there are credited “consultants” in this latest edition who are thoroughly unpleasant people, and seeing their names would have been enough to put me off even if the rules hadn’t been a quagmire of unplayable junk. I’m not going to put a penny towards any company that supports such regressive and hateful figures.

Do not play D&D 5th edition, and do not buy D&D 5th edition. Explore the world of opportunities available to you when it comes to tabletop games, because there are hundreds out there, and some of them are absolutely amazing.