Back from a bit of contract work just in time for the release of the 5th Edition of the Players Handbook for Dungeon & Dragons. So far it’s what I expected, and that means I’m not yet impressed. The Challenge Rating system is only slightly better than it was in 3rd Edition, and the monsters are all over the place as far as actual threat. I plan on presenting my findings on this another time because first I want to address common misconception.
There’s a popular sentiment that challenge ratings somehow handcuff the DM’s hands to some prescribed fairness or set difficulty. Frankly, that is absurd. Challenge rating and encounter guidelines are never presented as rules. We call them guidelines, but that’s also problematic. Encounter building systems are not just guidelines! In reality they’re tools of measurement.
The people who cry out against challenge ratings seem to believe that they’re somehow restrictive, akin to listed speed limits. But who is enforcing these numbers beyond a consenting DM? Stop thinking of challenge rating as speed limit because it’s more like a car speedometer. The speedometer doesn’t actually limit how fast or slow you drive. It only tells you how fast you’re going. Like the encounter guidelines it’s a tool that gives you the information you need to make better piloting decisions.
Of course, just like a malfunctioning speedometer, when I have an unreliable challenge rating system I have to default to my gut feelings. And that’s why a good Challenge Rating system is important. Most of the time I can feel how fast I’m driving, but sometimes I look down and realize going close to 30 when I mean to be going a lot slower or faster.
So go ahead and drive your game however you want. Just remember that you’re not less of a driver just because you pay attention to your dashboard.
Note: The people named in this article have a history of harassing their critics. As such I have chosen to keep my sources and any traceable information they have given me anonymous to protect them.
Three weeks ago the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out. D&D is the iconic tabletop role playing game, so a new edition is a big deal. It’s one of the few times that the small, insular pen and paper community gets noticed by the rest of the world. Many game websites have talked about it, notably Polygon’s piece on gender inclusive language. Yet at the same time as D&D tries to appeal to those outside the gender binary, it has been driving them away by employing two of the most toxic personalities in tabletop gaming.
This is pretty damning. A quick Google search shows that people have known about RPGPundit’s role in 5e since the early stages of the D&D Next playtests. I’m sad to see Hicks miss-stepping into this debacle, and feel sorry for the designers who were accidentally dragged into it.