I’m good, thanks – D&D 5E and the increasing difficulty of finding your niche

Soundtrack for this: Berserk – Forces


So, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, eh? That seems to be something people are talking about. I heard some pretty good things about this new edition, especially from people who were disappointed with the previous one. Personally, my journey through the dungeons and fights with the dragons have lasted throughout 2nd and 3rd Edition before I switched trains and made myself comfortable with Pathfinder (more on that later). I have no experience whatsoever with 4th Edition…

…and I don’t plan on having any with 5E either.

See, here’s the thing: I don’t hate 5th Edition, not at all. In fact, I do agree with the reviews I’ve seen so far and hope 5E will be all the rage and the new Golden Age for the franchise. Still, I will not buy the books and will probably not play in any 5E-groups. The reason for that is simple: I don’t have a need for it.

Modern artwork with old school lettering… strange combination.

From what I can tell, D&D 5E sets out to do a couple of things: dial down the streamlined combat focus from 4th Ed and get back to the actual roleplaying aspect of roleplaying games. The flavor I get from the new books actually reminds me a little bit of good ol’ AD&D times, though I couldn’t really explain why. Still, the system seems both beginner friendly and fun to play around with for more experienced adventurers. In short, 5E has all the right ideas, and good for them!

Now here comes the big BUT… (hehe, big butt… *cough*)

I’m playing and mastering Pathfinder pretty regularly, and it’s arguably the most popular system with my gaming group (at least the most well known). Pathfinder is my personal go-to system when it comes to just stupid fantasy fun (and I’m using “stupid” with the most generous of connotations here), as adventures can get incredibly crazy, and character creation even more so. I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a deep system by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just good, classic, sometimes over-the-top fantasy action.

Just look at this
Just look at this amazing cover art for the Gold Edition core book.

Lately, my gaming group is starting to slowly get a taste for more in-depth, story driven adventures, though, something that I could do with Pathfinder, but that’s just not what that system really excels at. Instead, for the more intimate, authentic adventures and campaign, I discovered the Burning Wheel system (via the Mouse Guard RPG, which I will definitely talk about at some point). Coming from D20, Burning Wheel might seem clunky at first, backwards even… but it really rewards commitment. Characters aren’t just special abilities and outlandish equipment, skill use is engaging and not just crunching numbers. Still, it needs some getting used to, which is why it’s more of a niche system for me – one that I hold in very high regards, but that I wouldn’t just recommend to any old fantasy gamer.

Now there’s a word that we’ve already seen in the title: niche. This word encompasses exactly why I care for D&D 5E about as much as for the new World of Warcraft expansion. 5E might do a lot of great things, it might be the revival that series needs, but… I just don’t have any use for it. It tries to build a bridge between engaging epic action and intriguing character play, and that’s completely fine. But (!metaphor warning!) both banks of the river this bridge tries to cross are already well populated. On the border of Epic Action Country, we already have the shining kingdom of Pathfinder (terrible name for a kingdom), while across the river, in Intriguing Character Land, the Burning Wheel Empire (much better!) still reigns supreme.

“But”, I hear imaginary people complaining, “why don’t you just switch out one of the two for 5E, huh? Why? WHY?”

Well, Mr. Figment-of-my-imagination, the answer is: I just don’t need to. I’m very comfortable with both of those mentioned systems. In comparison, I was more than happy to switch from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder, because in its later years, 3.5 just felt like one of those Bloaters from The Last of Us, hundreds of redundant Prestige Classes and Feats and Races and Spells clinging to a dying system like cancerous growths. Pathfinder was a fresh change. A change that’s still fresh enough to not warrant the purchase of a new system.

Dungeons & Dragons 5E does a lot of things right. The problem for me is that the niches it is trying to fill now are simply already taken by other systems. 5E doesn’t fill any gaps in my collection. For what it tries to do, I already have other, more familiar systems. Newcomers should definitely check it out, but I’m taking the conservative route here and say: Nope, not for me, thanks.


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