In the past year, I’ve begun running a lot of fifth edition D&D. I’ve spent several hundred dollars buying books, PDFs, and a subscription to D&D Beyond (which is where I bought said PDFs). I’ve also bought myself a tablet for DMing, backed a number of kickstarters for easy terrain or pre-made graphical maps, figured out how to use Roll20, and started designing my own digital maps. Out of everything I’ve done this year, I think only my job has gotten more time and attention than Dungeons and Dragons has from me. I also think I’ve spent more money on D&D and D&D paraphernalia than I’ve spent on anything that isn’t a bill or food. I’ve probably spent more on D&D than takeout or eating out, at least. Those books are expensive and I just had to buy myself all the spell cards even though I never get to play D&D and just use D&D Beyond to look up the spells I haven’t already memorized when I’m DMing, either in the general search or through the helpful spell description windows that open when you click on or hover over a spell.
Thanks to the bounded accuracy of fifth edition, it’s even easier than ever for me to memorize my players’ stats so I can make sure they’re fighting an appropriate encounter at all times. Or so I can fudge the monsters’ stats when I realize my overpowered players are trivializing what was supposed to be a tough encounter because I’ve made some custom rules for this game that allow them to step outside the bounded accuracy pretty quickly because this game is the sequel to my 3.5 game that ended because the players all made every possible worst decision in a row and got themselves all killed by what was clearly a cult. It’s a Legacy campaign in the #DarkestTimeline of the world they failed to save in the first game, so they needed extra power to fight all the devils and demons that rule the world now. I just can’t pick monsters by challenge rating anymore since my players are a pretty hefty chunk above what their collective challenge rating should be for level five characters.
Anyway, the only reason I can even run that campaign is because of how frequently Wizards of the Coast and the Dungeons and Dragons team puts out new content. Just as I needed some fresh monsters, they announced and released Descent into Avernus. Right as I was looking for some fun ways to make the natural world more dangerous, they released Eberron: Rising from the Last War and now I’ve got all kinds of living spell rules to play with. Right when I needed information about ships and a few water-based adventures, Ghosts of Saltmarsh hit shelves and I was able to directly insert an adventure from that book into the custom world I am running. As I prepared to build a full world with a pre-written story that the characters could change through the ripple-effect for my new Monday night game, I was able to find lots of excellent 3rd party content that made me think about things I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Critical Role’s Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting book gave me an excellent framework for what would I should spend more time on and what I could skim over (which I wound up not using because I’m incapable of doing anything without putting WAY too much effort into it).
Even if I have spent a little bit too much of my money supporting my hobby, I’m still glad I’ve had it to focus on this year. I’m at least least one hour of enjoyment for every dollar I’ve spent, and that’s better than most video games I buy these days. For a long time, all I did was distract myself with new rules, abbreviate lore, and learning to create in a new system that is both frustratingly sparse and beautifully full. It took a lot of work and a lot of practice for me to be comfortable improvising in 5E, but I can see why so many people love it. It may feel empty and like there’s so much missing from the game, but that’s only when you fail to notice that what you’re given is a framework for you to build on. There’s just enough to create the bones of a world and act as a reference for everything you create from then on. There’s no item to increase a character’s dexterity, but there’s one for strength so it is easy to simply create a copy that works on dexterity instead of strength. There are tools and a basic proficiency for each player to track, but it’s up to the DM to decide what tools are needed for a given situation and what attribute is applied to this particular check.
For a DM who likes to improvise, this sort of open-ended game design means I can just run with my games. It also means it takes a lot of practice, a lot of trial and error, to figure out how to keep things balanced, as I am discovering much to chagrin. Thankfully it is just as easy to tip the scales for the monsters as it to tip the scales for the players. What isn’t easy is coming up with viable magic item prices. I figured out a formula for pricing things, generally, but there’s so little to go off of other than rarity. At the pace that they’re putting out more 5E information, I expect that it will only get easier with time.
Seriously, though. Try out D&D Beyond. And take some time to check out D&D 5E if you haven’t already. It’s a good game, better than I ever gave it credit when I was still updating this blog. Happy rolling!