As I’ve been poring through the various threads where we are all discussing out wants and dreams for the new edition, I’ve noticed something that I haven’t experienced with my particular gaming group that seems to pop up a lot in the discussion about what should or shouldn’t be in 5E. There seems to be an attitude that any level of meaningful challenge is inherently undesirable. It seems like there is more and more of a tendency to remove risks and a real sense of accomplishment in pursuit of inevitable victory.
My question is why? The game has to have rules, which by definition tell us what we can and can’t do, but when concepts older editions are brought up all that seems to being focused on is what you “weren’t allowed to do”. The past few editions have been all about granting the players more and more freedom and eliminating the restrictions. Alignment is virtually non-existent and it certainly has no impact on the game worth mentioning any longer, because that’s not fair to players to force them play within a specific moral code. The much reviled save or die spells are gone replaced by “save until you make it” effects because sitting out because you are dead or petrified sucks. Hit points pretty much capped at 10th level, with an incremental growth afterward and that certainly isn’t going to be embraced again because dying isn’t fun so we should have a lot of HP. Every class has been balanced into oblivion because no one should have to feel not as good as someone else. So much has been softened, lessened or just removed in order to insure that no one has to ever sit out or feel less than optimal.
Now I realize that not all the old rules were ideal—or even logical (Elves as a class or only being allowed to advance to a specific level despite a several hundred year lifespan for example), but when did we become so resistant to things actually being difficult? Isn’t part of the attraction of fantasy stories overcoming the odds? Facing down horrifying creatures that clearly outmatch you and coming out the other side? How are we feeling a sense of accomplishment when it seems like so many of the elements placed in our path to make that accomplishment meaningful within the game have been excised. I’m not advocating a return to OD&D, but I think there are things to be learned from the past editions and some of those things were that adventuring was hard, it took a while to become a nigh-demi-god-like being and you may very well die.
I guess what I’m trying to figure out is when did things being challenging stop being fun for people. The risk of death helped give meaning to the actions we were taking. Yeah it sucked if something looked at you and told you to “die” and you blew a saving throw and died, but when you didn’t it was a rush. Being able to conquer those things that could legitimately pose a threat to you was part of the fun of the game. It helped provide a feeling of uncertainty instead of the feeling of inevitability that seems to have replaced it—the monster has buckets of HP but ultimately in the end the PCs will triumph because things have been stacked in their favor because losing isn’t fun. Well yeah of course it’s not, but if there is no chance of failure why bother? I am of course going to be told that if I loved those aspects of the old games I should probably play those editions. But the thing is there have been some many advances in game design that are equally good as well, I am truly hoping that 5 edition—or whatever it ends up being called—embraces all the good things that have come from all the various editions of D&D and that includes the hard parts as well and I don’t see this being a widely embraced philosophy. Am I wrong or am I simply not seeing it?