Beyond Default D&D: Worldbuilding Made Better

The release of 5th Edition has both enabled and benefited from a revival in Dungeons & Dragons across the world. On the whole, I think, 5th Edition is a good system, possibly the best D&D system released yet. Certainly it has the smoothest gameplay and is the most accessible and easiest to use. (Disclaimer: I have never played 4th Edition and do not know it well, nor Pathfinder, so those may be competitors for all I know.) Besides the mechanics, my main concern is really with worldbuilding. While roleplaying itself is fun, for me the juice, the real vigour is in the worldbuilding that provides the context for the roleplaying, and this goes especially for D&D given its high fantasy setting. Few things are more reliant on doing well-established tropes well as high fantasy is: after all, being tropey is precisely the point of that genre, and D&D has always recognized this (as does Shadowrun, for that matter).

Given that fact, there are certainly things to be satisfied about from that point of view in 5th Edition. Although it is not new for this edition, getting rid of the bizarre ‘race’ based restrictions on class is a clear step forward in general: no longer can gnomes, for some unaccountable reason, only cast arcane spells as illusionists, as was the case in 2nd Ed. They have also decided to abandon negative racial modifiers, leaving in place the racial bonus system but removing the malus, which strikes perhaps the best balance between the demands of the trope (why else bother with the idea of separate ‘racial types’?) and the understandable desire to not associate the term with negative attributes. One can wonder whether using the term race in this context at all is still appropriate and helpful. ‘Subspecies’ might sound too clinical or biological, but something like ‘physical nature’ or simply ‘character type’ would do just fine, especially given how vague terms like ‘class’ and ‘archetype’ already are anyway. But that is not what I want to talk about here. I have a few enduring frustrations with the worldbuilding assumptions of what I call default D&D, and I want to rant about those here instead. Continue reading “Beyond Default D&D: Worldbuilding Made Better”