I want to start this by saying that I have loved D&D 5th Edition. I have loved every minute that I have spent poring over every book, every rule, every spell, every ability and skill. Every adventure module and every piece of lore on the Forgotten Realms. I have spent countless hours sat here studying these tomes of endless adventure like Gandalf studied all the books in the libraries of Minas Tirith to find out the truth about Bilbo’s ring. I have spent hours that have amounted to days considering the choices and outcomes the players would make. How these choices would effect the story and narrative. How one decision here or one decision there would send me on a spiral where I’d have to build an entire encounter in my mind, an encounter which would swiftly grow and become a world of it’s own. A world that existed nowhere but inside my imagination and of those I have been fortunate enough to share a table with.
I have loved playing Dungeons & Dragons but something has changed. These books which once sparked a fire in my minds cave of creativity now barely spark at all. The words on the pages becoming deafeningly silent, the artwork empty and weightless. My mind which was once full of vivid imagery and sounds, the breath of life in the worlds in which these books created, the feelings and the emotions. All gone.
I feel no excitement for 5th Edition anymore. The honeymoon period is over and the humdrum of daily routine has set in, we barely speak and go to bed at separate times. It’s not you, it’s me. That’s what they say, right? I have loved 5th Edition but I don’t think I love it anymore.
The qualities it holds which I once saw as beautiful and admired now irk me. The rules, fluid and concise as they are offer an ease of play that can be taught in just a few minutes. I once lauded these as a triumph, something to behold in a hobby I always thought had too many barriers to get into but over the span of 3+ years these rules became lacking and sparse. I craved for steak in a game that was feeding me vegetable puree. The advantage and disadvantage system which I believed to be a real selling point of the game due to it’s elegant simplicity became too much of a pendulum swing. No matter how set back a character was the disadvantage roll always offered the same penalty. From a stubbed toe to a broken leg, the outcome was the same; roll two dice and take the lowest.
Character creation which I often believed was only constrained by your own imagination somehow became limited when I was on the other side of the screen. No matter what I chose or what path I went down there was little to differentiate my character between any other of the same class. The background options which seemed like a novel way to reward roleplay swiftly fell by the wayside during play, with the only real reason to pick any of them being the skills on offer that will best compliment your class and race choices. I suspect many people would have forgotten their background choices and their traits and bonds a few levels into play for if they weren’t written down on their sheet.
Then there was the company behind the game. Always looking for ways to innovate and evolve but every step seemingly being another way to take more money from your paycheck. Building an entire online service that involves you buying everything twice or trying to tie their other franchises into D&D in order for you to shell out cash elsewhere. The game has sky rocketed in popularity and it felt as though there was a boardroom of suited men trying to capitalise on their found revenue stream. Corporate roleplaying.
It’s not you, it’s me. If I do anything, I do it as best as I can. I give it 100% and if that means getting two hours sleep because I’m juggling looking after a baby with building an entire village from card for the next game session then so be it. If you’re not going to do something right, don’t do it at all. The props, which there would always be more than one of would be followed by the hours I’d spend curating sounds and music. These may have gone by utterly unnoticed by everyone else but for me, they were there and they needed to be done. I needed to set that scene, even subconsciously. The props and the music would lead way to my notes, my books looking like that of a final year university student. Maps and icons and charts linking one loose end to it’s inevitable conclusion 18 pages on. Don’t forget the forums. The blogs. The articles and the podcasts. Don’t ignore the Facebook groups, the Twitter accounts and YouTube. Follow other Dungeon Masters, read their stories, read their advice and learn from their mistakes. Dive into this world feet first and take the plunge, don’t worry about coming up for air because if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.
The adventures. Read them cover to cover. More than once. Know that when a domino falls in chapter 1 it will topple the domino in chapter 14 but also learn the names of every other domino on the way. Write your own content. Remove the content you don’t like. Change the names and the faces. Do this until your notes are now longer than the actual adventure you’re running. In fact, you can probably put that book back on the shelf and never open it again.
I submersed myself in D&D and gave it everything I had. I am aware that this post sounds ridiculous. Like some mad person rambling about a drug addiction, and in some ways perhaps that’s the best way to describe my relationship with D&D. I spent so long immersed in a world so deep that I began to dislike everything I loved about it to begin with. I’ve always sought out escapism, from creative endeavors to books and films. Superheroes to wrestlers and wizards. D&D was a way for me to get my fix on all of those things in one swoop. I embraced it and it accepted my with open arms, offering me limitless outlets for my desire to create and explore. I have learned you can have too much of a good thing.
The final adventure I ran for 5th Edition was The Curse of Strahd. Ironic really that an adventure centered around a blood sucking vampire would be the adventure that eventually drained me of my love for D&D. Bleak and oppressive from the outset, the adventure was an unrelenting foray into a world where hope didn’t exist and ruin and sadness laid in wait around every corner. The adventure, which is often praised as D&D’s finest for this edition ate me up and spat me out. There was no excitement here, no desire to create or be enthralled. The game felt numb and lifeless. Pins and needles of the imagination. I felt weary of the game beyond limits I even realised, the adventure served as the final nail in the coffin for my time playing and running 5th Edition.
I’ve tried to muster the enthusiasm and excitement for both running another adventure and playing in one but I find myself doing nothing more than faking it. I have loved 5th Edition but I don’t think I love it anymore.