Combating System Bloat in D&D 5e

Many may have already been exposed to this excellent Q&A between The Israeli RPG website and WotC Lead Designer Mike Mearls but I wanted to weigh in on some of the more interesting revealed nuggets.  Namely the fact that WotC appears to have realized the error of its ways regarding system bloat.  In layman’s terms this is an issue of presenting way too many new system rules over a relatively short amount of time resulting in a quickly bloated system.  This may also cause a number of watered down supplements to be released either before being fine tuned, or where they weren’t even a good idea in the first place, in an effort to match a frenetic “once a month” release schedule.  It seems the main focus of this Q&A quickly turned into one promising a slower, more thoughtful, release schedule with specific goals in mind.  I can’t truly relay how much I love this idea.

One of this initial questions asked about WotC’s thought process behind releasing more Archtypes etc.

MEARLS: We really want to take it easy with adding new mechanics to the game. Each new option increases the chance that something broken or confusing will enter the game. Our plan is to add things only if the game really needs them, like an option that makes sense for a setting or that fits a role within a specific campaign. The playtest showed us that most players and DMs don’t want hundreds of pages of new content each month, but instead a much more deliberate, careful release schedule.

There it is in direct language, exactly what I had assumed would be happening with the releases but it is nice to see it “on paper”.  The last question also nods to a slower release schedule and the promise of further story-lines with the quality of their launch two-parter “Tyranny of Dragons”.

MEARLS: We’re looking at two storylines a year. Right now, we have plans laid down for stories up through 2018.

All the way through 2018 eh, I’m down for that!  Maybe I’ll have my core group start playing these releases.

Another topic that caught a lot of traffic was the Monster Manual.  I really liked some of the questions asked here, especially the one that calls into question the reason for most creatures in the book to be listed with CR’s of 8 or less.  Mearls’ answer spoke to another item I’m digging about 5e, the fact that lower CR creatures can still provide a challenge to higher level players.

MEARLS: CR trends much lower in this edition that past ones. Part of bounded accuracy is the idea that lower level monsters remain a threat to powerful characters by appearing in greater numbers. That means that providing more monsters at lower CRs makes the book overall more useful for DMs.

A great Q&A all told, you should really check it out in full, but back to the main topic now.  System Bloat was a huge issue in 3.X and to a lesser extent 4e.  Now, I’m not saying the monthly production of source books didn’t weigh on 4e, but at least with that edition there was a well balanced rule system to keep things, for all intents and purposes, “even” despite excess additions to the system.  In 3.X what you ended up having were outright overpowered additions (like the friggan Monkey Grip feat) or entire source books that felt almost utterly useless (ahem…Complete Mage).  Honestly I wonder if Pathfinder has run into any of this issue, but I’ve never paid much attention to their stuff as 10+ years of the 3.X rule system has, for the time being, been enough.

The design team at WotC continues to impress with this edition.  Enough so that my reviews and commentary are starting to sound rather like a broken record.  I hope they stick to this measured release model and continue to hand us quality, story driven, supplements.  If they intend this to be the “last edition of D&D”, or at least a long lived edition, they’ll certainly need to!


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