The Latest D&D Studio Update on the 2024 Core Rule Books Should Have Excited Me, but It Just Made Me Apprehensive

The latest D&D Studio update on the 2024 core rule books should have excited me, but it just made me apprehensive.

Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons started as a game with a strong foundation, strong enough that when I imagined the changes that would best improve the game, I just wished for replacements for the annoying spells, overpowered feats, and toothless monsters—the game’s features atop the foundation.

So far, the playtest and design team’s reports excited me, because the preview showed that the team understood the pain points in the 2014 game and sought ways to relieve them. But now I’m concerned.

Until now, only one change struck me as a bad idea: The design team chose to strengthen 1st-level characters in the worst way. Instead of making new characters more durable by giving them a few extra hit points, the designers opted to make new characters more complicated by adding an extra feat.

Gen Con D&D welcome signTo welcome new players, 1st-level characters need to become a bit more durable—just another 5 hp or so. This boost would spare them from starting as fragile as soap bubbles. D&D should not prove deadliest at 1st level. Sure, some of us love the challenge of 1st level, but to a new player who invested time creating a character often with a personality and backstory, a quick death just feels like a major loss. Such failures push players away from the game. We all know the problem. To avoid such disappointments, the D&D team seems to love the now worn trope of starting characters safely at a fair or carnival. I typically contrive a way for characters to gain the benefit of an aid spell as reward for a good deed.

At conventions and game stores, I’ve introduced hundreds of players to D&D and a key lesson stands out: Simpler characters work better. The 2014 design team made a winning choice when they kept new characters streamlined, but the 2024 redesign adds complexity by giving new characters another feat to choose and to play. For new players, the addition risks making the game feel overwhelming. Maybe that’s fine. New players confronted with a pre-generated character always find it overwhelming, but at the end of the session, they typically feel comfortable with the basics.

Surely, lead designer Jeremy Crawford can point to Unearthed Arcana surveys that show the sort of super-invested D&D players who spent an hour completing the playtest surveys love the extra feat, but that just proves players who mastered the game enjoy characters sweetened with more power. Candy isn’t always good for us or the game.

D&D fans already knew about the extra feat and I accept that not every aspect of D&D will suit me. However, another reveal from the studio update leads me to worry. Jeremy Crawford says, “We’re making sure that every major piece of class design does appear in Unearthed Arcana at least once, but there are going to be some brand new spells that people won’t see until the book is out. There are a bunch of monsters people won’t see until the books are out. There are magic items people won’t see until the books are out.”

Apparently the team feels that class features deserve the scrutiny of the D&D public, but spells don’t. Apparently the team failed to learn from the public playtest leading to the 2014 core books.

In D&D, if you play a spellcaster, your spell list forms the bulk of your abilities. So every wizard tends to prepare the same powerful spells on the list. Spells deserve the same scrutiny as class features. In 2016, when I looked at the most annoying spells in the D&D game, I learned that none of the problem spells appeared in the public playtest documents. Back then, the design team figured their in-house playtesting would suffice for these spells. That proved wrong. Thanks to the power of certain annoying spells, the spells weighed on just about every session with a character able to cast one.

Now the team seems to be falling victim to the same overconfidence. Perhaps the team would say they’ve learned from 10 years of experience and can better evaluate new game elements. Surely that’s true, but still they recently released twilight domain clerics and silvery barbs, so I see a some hubris behind touting all the new surprises in the new books.

I don’t want all new surprises. I want a game polished to perfection because it benefits from 10 years of play.

Related: The One D&D Playtest: Big and Small Surprises and Why I Like the Controversial Critical Hit Rule


10 thoughts on “The Latest D&D Studio Update on the 2024 Core Rule Books Should Have Excited Me, but It Just Made Me Apprehensive

  1. Crandall

    The new edition is completely unnecessary. It’s an expected, 10-year, money grab, seeking to boost revenue for Hasbro.

  2. TW

    It’s time to get out of 5e, David. I’m not sure it can offer the kind of game you want.

    Conducting surveys is a terrible way to go about gathering information, first of all, speaking as a pro researcher. But there’s a lot more to the story. The clarity and elegance of the game is a lost cause–it is the way it is because it’s being designed and marketed as a product, not a game. There is simply no way that WOTC doesn’t know this. I see it. Hundreds of forum posters see it. The approach is to a) appeal completely to players by loading on powers and builds and b) churn out more content for them to buy. In practice, this means rules, since FOMO makes rules-buying (or “supplements”) much harder to resist, “optional” or not. (Anything that’s possible in a roleplaying game is no longer optional, something we’ve seen since the 1980s.) And the more rules, the more complicated things get.

    There’s basically no way around this; a first-year Game Studies student could lay out the design problems this will cause. But it doesn’t matter. There are two types of D&D superfans: DM types who are concerned with building intricate, thrilling, bigger-than-life campaigns, and players who optimize incredibly complex character builds by leaning on Reddit, Stack Overflow, Quora, and other hive minds. (And as software history shows, you can’t beat a hive mind for finding exploits and bugs.) Type A, the DMs, are being phased out. It’s obvious that they’re a tiny minority compared to type B, the players. A’s are also bad customers, in part because they understand that a mountain of rules means a mountain of rules cruft.

    The OSR, on the other hand, is enjoying a tiny but AWESOME renaissance, mainly through systems like Old School Essentials that turn roleplaying tropes into masterpieces of modern game design. Increasingly, it’s the only place worthy of my creative time.

  3. Beaumont Sebos

    I’ve been warning about the added complexity at low levels ever since they started this process. One of the best things about 5E was how easy it was to get people started. Hopefully they will consider this and at least have a streamlined option to make it easy for people new to D&D.

  4. Geoffrey Greer

    These are the kinds of headaches that had me leave the game when 2e became 3e. I was a teenager/young 20s at the time, and with precious little income to spare towards replacing every single book and supplement and boxed set I had already purchased. I don’t play CCGs for the same reason: I refuse to continually shell out money for an ever-changing product, especially when those changes frequently do not suit my own tastes.

    When I got back into the game a few years back with 5e, I resolved not to both trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” I have my core rulebooks, and maybe one or two supplements that seemed interesting, but that is it. These are the rules of the game. Everything else are “variants” that we don’t play in my group–at least not when I’m the DM. And any rule changes that we implement come from our own experience and our own house rulings.

    Unfortunately it seems like D&D suffers from the same problem as every other franchise product: they have to endlessly create new content just for the sake of itself and so they can continue selling the same product over and over again to the same customer base. This always diminishes a product’s integrity in the long run.

  5. Eric Bohm

    Can’t argue against any of that. They keep adding more decisions to the character building process. Great for power gamers, terrible for new and casual players.

    Frankly I think they have yet to really solve the biggest day to day problem with the game, boring monsters. There are still too many monsters that lack interesting iconic abilities. Or something different and interesting to do in rounds two and three. If I want something other than yet another slugfest, the good answers are mostly in third party content. Sadly, that isn’t an option for the Adventure League games I run in public spaces.

    1. alexanderatoz77

      Can I interest you in taking a look at my blog I am working on precisely this, finding ways to use various features to enable an exciting, epic fight with every single monster in the Monster Manual. (I am still in the early stages, having started at the beginning, and holding in the middle of demons, approximetly fifty monsters in. Still, you might find something useful.)

      I would like to mention to anyone else seeing the comment that I’m only writing this here because I have no other way to contact Mr. Eric Bohm. I would not plug my blog on someone else’s blog (this one especially) otherwise.

  6. alexanderatoz77

    I’ve been thinking about what you wrote, and if just one of the feats gives the five HP you mentioned, it might work out. One of D&D’s problems come when you’re DM’ng for a mix of new and experienced players. The experienced ones do not want to play level one, and the new ones are really not up to playing level three, let alone higher. (This will be made worse once subclasses no longer exist until lever three, a change I applaud.)
    This could theoretically give the new players an easy advantage, and give the experienced ones at least something new. (At least for the first 6-12 months of the new rules, before these changes become old. After that, we’ll be stuck offering the new players homebrew feats instead of the official ones.)

  7. Tardigrade

    I tried to watch the video so I could give it a fair shake. But I could not listen to those dipwads for more than three minutes. They suck.

    And the middle aged guy with a faux hawk?

  8. Bram Bakker

    Hi David! Good article, I really agree with your sentiment here. I would say that they do seem to have taken note of problem spells. Banishment, Counterspell, Aid and in the latest document all the summoning spells have gotten at least a new version. I prefer the versions to the current ones.

    High level though… I have always believed that they did not have enough time or trust in the product to test and develop high level combat well. Your know like no other how problematic high level combat is to do as a DM.

    But they are improving this, right? There is a small trend of high CR monsters becoming stronger, but it varies by product and still doesn’t keep up with the PC’s. I was incredibly annoyed when Monsters of the Multiverse saw no significant empowerment of those high tier monsters. Bigby’s is the first book where I think they are making an effort. Even then! My level 16 pc’s take on CR23 monsters as if it is no biggie. Using Forge of Foes math has vastly improved my encounters.

    And here we are again. The developers tell us they are as good as done with the character options, and we haven’t seen the dodgy high level spells get altered. We HAVE seen the top end of each class’ features. Surprise, surprise; 90% of all features were buffed.

    But I am hopeful! Most things that bothered me seem to be getting fixed, even when new annoyances appear. Two steps forward, one step back is fine by me. I crave a change. Let’s hope we’re not burnt out by then!


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