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Monday, February 3, 2020

Carwyn & The Revelthanes Of The Feywild - ][


The garden of delights had turned into a hellish landscape.
While it was the bodies and blood of nymphs and hags making for the macabre visuals, the tormented souls were the ones of the living, or so it seemed.

Red Mane, as they called him when his long hair was undone, sat on the deformed stump of a tree that someone or something had fell with multiple savage strikes. His head cupped in his hands, the shaman seemed to be crying, but it was impossible to decipher which emotion made the tears well: sadness, melancholy, or some more profound disturbance of the soul.

Blyrdian wailed like a true tortured soul, walking aimlessly, alternating the tormented screams to hysteric laughter.

Delsevas was busy digging some resemblance of tomb (or hiding) to dispose of the bodies and limbs, chanting some sort of mantra in Ancient Elven. It could have passed for a mourning dirge, but was really more a meditation to recover the expended spirit essence.

Thyrona also performed some sort of funeral, although it would have been sacrilegious judged by almost any religious metric, save for some twisted goddess of death like the Raven Queen, which she sometimes mentioned, even if she despised the non-fey divine beings, like most inhabitants of the Feywild.

Carwyn, finally, managed to be the most melodramatic and twisted of all, crying over the bodies while caressing them softly (although only the ones of nymphs).
He finally took the initiative for a speech, like everyone was expecting him to do.

"Oh, companions!
Oh, dear comrades in arms, and in sadness!
What is the meaning of such a wasteful bloodbath, you must be asking yourselves. Because I am!
And let me tell you once again, it's clear to me: the meaning is far from what would give us peace in this torment.
The meaning is far from what would satisfy our heart's thirst.
The meaning is far from... Our reach.
And in our reach instead there is form.
The form that all this took before our eyes: take it in!
Try, if you can, to see the beauty of this bacchanal that turned onto itself.
For whatever reason the nymphs went mad and wanted to rip us apart, they craved blood. And they got it.
What beautiful deaths!
Look at their faces: satisfied of the carnage even in their final crazed rictus.
Love, I tell you.
Love was probably responsible.
Terrible, drunken, elated love.
But don't dwell too much on this!
Don't let such waste weight on your soul and deprive you of your rightful joy: we are thanes of revel!
Our joy shall never be taken from us!
Nor our freedom!
So hide these ruined bodies well: none should know of what happened here.
None would understand!
Don't tell this to your best friends, even less to your families.
And rejoyce that none of us lost their lives.
That none of us lost this fated battle.
That all of us won!
Like destiny dictates!"


"What about the hags, my jarl?" - Said Thyrona with her usual boldness - "What was the beauty of their bodies twisting lustfully with yours, before the blood spilled?"

Both Blydrian and Delsevas sounded the discord they felt at those words, as if trying to show the shame that the little pixie didn't, sure that Carwyn wanted to hear about those details the least.

"Nepenthean wine, my dark baroness! I remember little if at all! For my mind, soul, heart, and even body: this never happened."

"Oh but it did." - Continued Thyrona in a stinging mood.

"Enough! For a few instants during the heat of the revel, I almost felt the love I was craving. The hags gave me that? I don't want to know that, and I won't! But that special sensation, that special state of the heart: I think we all felt it at some point. Some from others, some from within. That's the meaning you can get, if so much you want to find some, because I know you in particular have this fetish for meaning, Thyrona: the deaths's meaning was for you to feel that special moment. Those fragments of eerily infinite satisfaction: save them in your memories forever, and enlarge them. Let them cover and delete the memory of all this bloody waste. Let your spirits be sated with beauty, and rid of hideous death!"

"Well, hideous for you, maybe: death is just as beautiful to me as those half-forgotten, delightful..." - Continued shockingly the pixie.

"You evil-on-wings! What else can that tiny stomach of yours digest?" - Interrupted Blyrdian nearly scandalized, but also envious of the tiny lady's guts.


"More than yours for sure, green fleck." - Delsevas didn't miss an occasion to bully the gnome. The careless wickedness was coming back to him at last.

"I dare you to say that again!! I FEYDARK-DARE YOU!!" - Retorted the gnome after jaunting in the eladrin's face, ensorcelled blade all but cutting at his neck. The elementalist monk didn't even flinch, and actually grinned slightly

Red Mane seemed to mirror that grin, losing his sad face for the first time.

"Please, my friends! Quiet your arcane fires... But YES, keep them alive!! ...This is the spirit! Let's restore this place to a verdant haven, my red friend, and let the necromancer deal with her specialty, while we reason together of novel and ambitious plans, other than necessary and useful contingency plans! Such as those we should employ should word of this as much as get near the Teal Tower of Autumn, were the lady you know rules sovereign."

"HAH! That I wanted to hear! That's what troubles you, right, oh our fearless leader!?" - Blyrdian appeared in front of Carwyn this time, blade in hand, to which the fey knight responded with an arcane flourish of his mithredain long-sword, and a jaunt-blink of his own, appearing behind the gnome, followed by another blink of the duelist, who appeared on his head, to which Carwyn replied dive-rolling onto some bushes, to then disappear again: a faux-fight resembling that of ermines or weasels, an adult and a cub, chasing each other's tails in jumps and spins.
"I tell you: you should be even more afraid than I am, of the witch of Teal Tower! She could make sure you will all only dream of revels, from bleak prisons of air and shadows!"
"That is fairly true." - Commented Delsevas, who knew the capabilities of this phantomatic lady, since he came from a related eladrin house, making him a distant cousin of Carwyn.


"Let us move on."

Red Mane spoke.

Silence followed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Carwyn & The Revelthanes Of The Feywild - I


"ARGH!" - The cry of Carwyn was not of pleasure anymore, but it went unheard, absorbed by the densely misty night as if the Feywild itself would have wanted to silence it. 
His most unwise companions were near but distant at the same time, embowered as they were in their concubines' gardens of delight. Lost in Feywilds of their own, rather literally.
Red was the only friend to hear the knight's pain, but couldn't do much more than replying with another dire howl, which resonated in the soaked air as if piped through an organ, to the cheers and inane replies of the three unaware companions, and their apparently frivolous lovers.
The willowy firbolg was pinned to the ground by four nymphs, which proved extremely strong, making him enraged for not having seen through the illusion before. Although at last he did pierce it. The same could not be said of the others.
Red managed to free his mind enough to call his loyal companion: a vortex of wind and primal spirit, which carried moss, dirt, leaves, and anything else it could carry from the ground, to which it appeared vaguely tethered.
The elemental came bobbing up and down like a pouncing predator made of zephyr and roiling anger. It took one of the berserk nymphs in its bludgeoning currents, freeing him from her grasp.

Carwyn in the meantime had recovered a measure of consciousness: the nepenthean mead was the only lymph animating his thinking tissues, but since that matter must have been rather vegetable in nature, the sweet sap was strangely capable of making the cogs of his thought turn.
In that instant of clarity, Carwyn touched one of the nymphs while pronouncing a word of power that not even oblivion could delete from his mind. Suddenly, the being changed under his very nose, appearing like a twisted knot of bones and sick flesh of a vaguely human form. Carwyn's mind probably didn't register the horror of having been intimately touched by that being, but it was for the best: he absent-mindendly flicked a finger and the monstrous humanoid crouched into a ball of claws and hair, and then jumped like a rabid toad onto a nymph that was about to replace the lost grip of the magically fooled sister. Sister? Carwyn's mind was drifting in the astral sea, and yet it perceived more truth then when it rode the horse of sober judgement.

Exiting the roaring fire, drunk of flames more than alcohol or passion, Delsevas finally focused, perceiving the ugliest of beings next to Carwyn, clawing at one of the nymphs.
All but enraged, he leaped in supernaturally high bounds, accumulating momentum like a topspin about to be played with by a cloud giant.
Arrived at the scene showing the meaning of haste, he released a flurry of rotating kicks and spear slashes, igniting the air with each stroke: he HAD to save the NYMPH!
The deformed hag screamed in pain, looking back at Carwyn as a a surprised wife witnessing betrayal (she was in fact unable to see Carwyn as anything else than a lover after he placed the eldritch spell on her). She then turned to Delsevas joining his dance of pain with crazed moves of her own, clawing and biting at the eladrin. Notoriously hard to catch, Delsevas was nonetheless left bloodied by the onslaught, and redoubled his efforts in a defensive position, calling for the others, who were now pinned by nymphs themselves.
Carwyn was trying to tell Delsevas about the nymph behind him not being what she appeared to be, but while remembering magic words of power easily, he could not speak high elven for the death of him.

While tiny Thyrona was unable to escape the strong hands of a nymph, even if she was starting to understand in her mind what was happening, Blyrdian was much more agile, and managed to free himself, and watch the degenerate bacchanal while hiding in the undergrowth.

Red in the meantime was trying to push aside the beings to reach his staff. Unable to do so decided to resist, healing his multiple lacerations with primal words of regeneration, and sending the elemental to retrieve the unassuming weapon, which it did quickly in a series of mad low flights.
Once the firbolg had the staff in the grasp of just one of his reaching hands, he unleashed the power of Shillelagh, becoming a force to be reckoned with. The false nymphs got hit one by one and forced to exit the reach of the mighty magic wood. Then from the ground emerged a new spirit called forth by Red: a spirit of the earth which threatened to entangle the unseelie fey into the roots of Yggdrasil itself.

Blyrdian was still thinking how to save the nymphs from the hag, when he witnessed the nymph behind Delsevas join in the flesh-eating just like the monstrous annis.
Seeing how the two companions had a chance of surviving (Delsevas not as much, but he never liked him anyway), he went back to the bower were Thyrona was held, not in lustful bondage as he thought, but as true prisoner.
The scene on his arrival was a mire of skeletal hands raising from the ground and holding the screaming nymphs. 
Thyrona's playful mood had ended. In fact, she then unleashed a spell of darkness and death so great, that Blyrdian got lost in its arcane shadows, even if his eyes had been used to the pitch black of the feydark for most of his life. Or maybe exactly because of that.
Memories of his sad childhood of slavery mixed with the narcotic effect of the faerie wine and the disheartening necromancy: the gnome started crying desperately, but that didn't stop him from throwing knives into the darkness, wherever he remembered the enemy to be standing.

The bacchanal raged on into its deathly crescendo, until some annis hags were lying lifeless in the bower.
Their blood coagulated hastily, forming mockeries of berries on the bushes where it had been sprayed.
The turn of the tide came when Carwyn had started singing drunk, while engaging in confused swordplay, raising the spirits of his wounded or deeply upset friends to the point of making them even more deadly than the crazed hags.
Strangely, though, not all the downed creatures turned to their ugly forms. Some stayed nymphs, golden and silvery fluids mixed with blood on their sprawling bodies.
What was happening? None of the companions really cared, since Carwyn's song had started: they had to WIN. Win against any attacker. Possibly chasing down those who escaped the battle, too. Which Delsevas and Red were happy to do.
When the wild chase brought the two noble fey outside the reach of barely-conscious Carwyn's elating song, though, they lost their will to fight, exhausted and wounded, and went back to the camp.
They found their noble half-elf friend sleeping half-standing, his sword impaling a nymph to the ground, and forming a grim and cold pillow for his limp body to rest on.
Blyrdian was throwing knives at the bodies while still crying like a shaken toddler.
Thyrona was the only one in her right mind, as much as her studying of the corpses in detail could be right in the minds of the two disgusted friends.

"Some of them were nymphs. The rest were annis hags. I have no idea what they were doing together, but they nearly took our lives. Of you two in particular. The mage tended their wounds, making sure none of the hag's taint remained stuck in them. Red Tail did the rest of the healing, the earth spirit helping in replicating it for all the nearby allies, sleeping and bloodied Carwyn included.


The Revelthanes had survived another revel, which turned into another fight. But at what cost? This is the question none of them asked themselves. A question they never asked themselves.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Carwyn & The Revelthanes Of The Feywild - Intro


In my latest installment of "Playing a *Twisted* Fey Knight" I confirmed I would go on and finally write Carwyn in some fiction of his own, as I had also said as a comment to the last of the "ancient posts" I rediscovered about him.

I already said it twice, and even more times outside the blog, so the time has now come.

I will totally improvise this, and as the title should suggest, it will be nothing serious, but will try to be something fun.

I will still continue the old series with some goodies such as the character profiles of the "Revelthanes Of The Feywild" (Carwyn's companions), and my usual ramblings on game mechanics, but will keep the fiction separate, in a series bearing this post's title.

No more boring introductions then, and let's get going!

_____________________________

   "Hello, I am Carwyn Sidherfein, jarlet of the Teal Tower domains..."
*Nymphs swooning coquettishly.*
   "Me and my Revelthanes will be off hunting dragons till third dusk, but we would love to share the spoils of the hoards with you, at evening-star set, if you would be so friendly inclined..."
*Nymphs' swooning intensifies.*
   A tall gnome sporting a shiny mithril breastplate, and dazzling green hair styled like a frozen flame, jumped on a big moss-covered stone idol next to Carwyn, to reach his ear: "Great job, mate!!"
   Carwyn ignored the companion and let out a sunny smile to the group of scantily clad fey ladies, probably as a diversion so they wouldn't listen to the gnome's blather.
Their sparkly eyes welcomed the gesture.


Carwyn and The Revelthanes were after this fabled circle of nymphs for months.
The rumors they gathered feverishly had entangled them in a confused ball of threads, weaved by the likes of easily-offended sprites, frivolous boggles, less-than-bloodthirsty redcaps, and love-crazed coures, which all lead them astray.
A love-crazed coure
In the end, it was a strangely romantic colony of myconids to guide them to their quarry, having left a trail of spores in the wind, revealing their bashful thoughts on the fair ladies they spied from underground.


A romantic myconid
After kisses blown to the wind, long rhymes of good bye, and painfully prolonged prancing of their rides, the band of fancy adventurers galloped off in style on their mage-bred steeds, never to return to the fairy circle before having killed "at least two" dragons.
Or so they bragged to the nymphs.


   "So what's the plan, my tall jarl?"
Magnifying the noble title on purpose to attract his attention, pixie mage Thyrona, only female member of The Revelthanes, interrogated Carwyn with inquisitive eyes.
Clearly, she knew they wouldn't kill two dragons by third dusk.

   "Don't stress, my little dukess," the title repaying the wizard's humour in kind, "I know of a stash of rich-looking trinkets made by lousy humans that should not be guarded. If you will be so kind as to perform that little magic of yours on them, you might manage to make them look like the hoard of an ancient red dragon, at least."
   Thyrona expressed her disdain in an exaggerated pout, before replying. "Excuse me?? I am a necromancer!! Dabbling in the alchemical nonsense is the stuff of swindling gnome artificers! No offense, Blyrdian."
   The green-haired fey replied instantly: "None taken: no gnome artificers here... Only a gnome duelist sorcerer-extraordinaire!"
   The rest of the regular-sized band laughed at the gnome's hat flourish, with the bare-chested Delsevas quick to add his sarcasm: "If you can call yourself a duelist wielding that tiny dagger, then I am a lancer of the court with my-"
  "Gentlefey! Come on now, let's not spoil the thrill of this wild hunt with images we won't be able to un-cairvoie..." Sober Carwyn did not fancy jokes on male anatomy, even if when drunk he was quite liberal about them (the jokes and the parts, his and others').
  In all of this, Red Tail was silent as usual, although smiling absently. Slim to the point of gauntness for a firbolg, his presence still commanded respect because of his tremendous height, and the aura of blissful calm he emanated. Sunset-winged butterflies often frolicked around his namesake long red hair. The eye of the storm that was The Revelthanes, Red Tail could actually bring and become a storm of his own when need be, and was no less of a crazy reveler when the tall order of emotion needed to move his spirit was reached.

  Carwyn commanded silence by taking the word yet again, ending the boasting and bickering of the unlikely party in the only way possible: by catering to their egos.
  "Thyrona! You... Are our key to the arcane secrets of creation! True, your art is that of darksome puppetry of death, but sometimes the lower kind is needed, and you are so kind as to provide..."
  The tiny raven-haired lady smirked with a flash of her violet eyes.
  "Blyrdian! Yours is no dagger, but ensorcelled rapier, to which many a foul creature paid tribute in currency of blood! May it become ever-richer! By the taxing will your wrist imposes!"
  The gnome didn't understand much, but seeing the approving motion of Thyrona allowed himself to chuckle boastfully.
   "Delsevas then, our master of graceful and fiery pain by hand... And kick, and elbow, and spear! Your dance of summer flame has bewitched hearts from Winterfell to Everspring... And left burning reminders on flesh and bones of our unworthy opponents!"

  The Summer Eladrin's pointed the chin up as much as his vein-riveted neck allowed, in pride.
  "And our Red friend, finally... Your mastery of the Great Spirit is the anchor keeping the caravel of OUR spirits steady, in the rocking waves of youth and l...ove. May your guiding bliss always be with us!"
  The willowy firbolg gently swayed using his long staff as a crutch, as if to avoid falling from the saddle. Smiling without baring the teeth, his crimson hair and slow motion made him look like a true tree dressed for autumn.
   The band cheered, and stirred their steeds to speed: another stolen prize was nearly in their grasp.

Worthless treasures were uncovered, magic rituals unraveled, vats of mead unsealed, and the revel in the faerie circle soon got stoked into a dire bacchanal.

Carwyn sung his songs of serendipity and dragon-slaying with a voice broken by pleasure, while his ornate plate armor was replaced by a chainmail of entangled, thirsty nymphs.

Thyrona buzzed madly like a bug around too many lanterns, diving from one nymph to another, giving free rein of her usually rational mind to her peculiar appetites.

Blyrdian jumped on the pixie's preys when they were most distracted by the tiny surprise on wings, using her as a diversion to sneak into the fun, barely noticed.

Delsevas didn't need company: he engaged in a dervish dance around the fire, which later continued inside the fire: his elemental-attuned body burning of passion but not flame.

Finally, shrouded in a whirpool of primal spirit-wind while standing on a statue's severed head, Red Tail howled like a beast-daemon of Brux, voicing the unfathomable inside him.

That was the last thing Carwyn saw, before giving in to the oblivion of the nepenthean mead.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

My Fixes to #DND5E - Part 1: Blending #L5R


Previously on this absurd blog, my rant about me not liking D&D 5e anymore focused on how I would hybridize 4e with it, to get the feeling I was looking for.
This is a fairly recent idea of mine, born mainly out of nostalgia, which sparked in me when I recovered old 4e-era material I thought lost.

What I did already with my main online group, with whom I play extremely rarely, so we want to have fun and advance meaningfully when we do, is blending D&D and Legend Of The Five Rings, the feudal Japan fantasy RPG, which has recently seen a new divisive edition. Something of the caliber of D&D 4e when it first arrived, with the difference that it was play-tested publicly, and from what I see it provides a really solid system and experience, which I remember wasn't exactly the case with 4e, which kind of came into shape after a year or two of books, errata, and constant expansion through official game-expanding magazines.



What I love of this latest edition of L5R (Legend Of The Five Rings) is that their namesake five rings (scores) which describe the characters (the four traditional elements plus "Void") don't really cover different things each like before, where some things were determined by your Fire ring, some by the Water one etc. While it's still true for some basics, which anyway usually take two rings and blend them (such as Endurance being derived by Water+Earth or "Focus" by Air+Fire), what these descriptors of the characters really provide is different approaches to every single skill/action. That is, you have five different ways of approaching everything, and you can usually be very good at one or two approaches, lacking in one or two more, and mediocre at the rest, depending on how you distribute your points, which in L5R depend in large part from your clan, family, school and background.

The connection of these elements with the story of the character can be very cool in the context of L5R, which is by design culture-heavy, but what really interested me is the mechanic of the game.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Undead Posts: "Playing a *Twisted* Fey Knight!" - Part 3


Part 2 of this series was the last one that came from the dead blog of 2011.
But we are talking D&D and fantasy here, so with a bit of cheap necromancy, we can raise even dead blog posts, so from here on we have an undead blog series, shambling forward from its grave into its new third chapter! What undead, you ask? Well a death knight, of course!


________________________________________

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Ancient Posts: "Playing a *Twisted* Fey Knight!" - Part 2


Second and last part (at least among the ancient recoveries) about my "twisted fey knight", Carwyn.

This one was the single blog post I was the happiest to have recovered because, although I remembered the main plot of the character's story, there were some details I knew I had forgotten, and they didn't disappoint me: they turned out as cheesy as I was expecting them..!
Cheesy because, although Carwyn does have some (perhaps a lot) of traits that are not my own (or not anymore), this was one of the most blatantly autobiographic characters I had ever made, especially in his family's background, which is basically a fantasy allegory of my own.

Related to this, a big part of my happiness in recovering this piece was due to the pictures.
Not the still from the movie Excalibur (1981) of course, but the two related to Carwyn's parents.
The mother Thindreve is basically a fantasy version of my mom, even in looks, and the one I wanted to see again even more is that heraldic stylized capricorn at the end.
I know: all this fuss for a drawing? Well, first of all I never found the same or a better one, ever (you can verify there's no other online by reverse image search), and secondly it was about the choice of that symbol for Carwyn: even if you will see it makes perfect sense that the capricorn would be his heraldic animal, it was also a reference to the zodiac sign of my father. Silly, I know, but at that time it felt like a spark of genius, and now it just makes me look very nostalgically at the whole thing, just like Carwyn would...

Yep, the penchant for melodrama is another autobiographic trait!

P.S.: My father is alive and well, I made it sound as if he's long gone! Actually, today it's his birthday: happy birthday (grand)Pops! :)

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Friday, January 3, 2020

A Damning Rant: I Don't Like D&D 5e Anymore


One of the first new posts I'd like to write on this old blog of mine, is of a type I posted a lot in the past: a rant! Oh yes: I got older, so if anything I rant more, not less... And while before I was mainly ranting about details I didn't quite like here and there in the game, nowadays I find myself rather seriously disappointed by the direction that D&D took, design-wise.

The cost of success?

During the times of 4e there was talk of "D&D being dumbed down", especially around the time the so-called Essentials books came out. The then new and radically different 4e was accused of wanting to cater to the masses that were playing videogames, making the game dumb like one.
But I think it's clear to everyone now that the version that really dumbed down D&D is the 5th.

Sure, the edition is a big success, and it's in part responsible for this big renaissance of D&D and pen & paper RPGs, that the world is living right now. (I think Stranger Things has a much larger share of this responsibility, but alas, this is all speculation anyways.)

But see, this is the point: D&D became a game for the masses, which basically by definition means it has been dumbed down. I'm not playing elitist here: I love to see my favorite game accessible and liked by more and more people. My point is this had a cost: now I don't like it as much as before.

Of forgotten (or ditched) ideals.

When 5e was in the making, the famous #dndnext you see named all over the place in this blog, back when I was one of the official alpha-testers of the game, it was exciting: a lot of new and radical ideas were being considered, and there was this feeling that we were going to have a super-simplified rules-set first, but that later on an advanced one would have surfaced, being totally compatible with the simplified one, but catering to the players that enjoy complexity, like me.

This never happened.

While there are here and there, even nowadays, some efforts to do this (recently Variant Class Features, or the Mystic class, which seeing recent tweets by the designers and the direction taken to represent psionics, I am about to consider dead in the water), the impression is that designers got blinded by the gold of the good sales, and just thought "Hey, we don't need no complexity: just do more of the same!" While simplicity has its virtues, and more options actually do add a bit of complexity in that they make every choice a little bit harder, there is really a big lack of complexity at the core of the game, and I can very easily identify where it lies.

The (forgotten) magic word is: modularity.

Modularity was all the rage during the development of 5e, in the dndnext times. It seemed like the game was going to become something that you could customize however you wanted, down to the core.

You can see a fossil of this long-lost gamelogical era in Feats, in 5e: they are optional, and if you choose to play with less complexity (yes, even less!) you can exclude them and just get ability score modifiers. Now, not only this is the only piece of modular design left, but it's a bad one to boot: many of the feats, or at least many of the first ones which are STILL the majority (because very few others were released), don't provide ability score bonuses, making you ache like crazy when choosing to go for them, even if they add flavorful concepts that sometimes define the characters, given how "big" they are, in design space, compared to 4e or even 3e feats.

The cool idea of skill dice? It could have been modular, replacing proficiency bonuses. But nothing, it got lost. And what about granular skill improvement, 3e-style? It could have been another modular piece, without losing anything, but again, no luck. Same examples could be made about many many mechanics: the math of 5e is solid, so there could be many ways to dance around the same balance level but moving stuff around, or increasing the amount of "choice points" in character creation, or class feature usage, or more.

But the great sin is my usual pet peeve: class identity

The examples above are just details. The big losses in my opinion are in the way classes and spells were designed. By wanting all the classes and "traditional spells" in the first book (a clear message, going against one of the big whining wars against D&D 4e), 5th edition cornered itself in a very bad spot when it comes to class identity: whatever they released as Ranger should have been the Rangers for years to come. Same for Warlock, Sorcerer, Paladin, etc.

The few of you who know this blog, know that I played the part of the "lathspell" in this, many times. And guess what: it all came to pass as predicted. The problem with hybrid classes was never solved, with Ranger seeming just a jumble of Rogue, Fighter and Druid in a single package, and the problem of Vancian magic used to represent everything was also just accepted by the majority, probably as another design-middle-finger against 4th edition, which had dared kill this sacred cow.

So the problem runs deep. While designers acknowledged the fact that some classes (and in particular the Ranger, as I always always warned) "fell flat" compared to others, their abandonment of  modularity as a key concept of the game made it very hard to correct the mistake. Even when they announced they COULD have (they still didn't) release a revised Ranger, they always said this would have been an optional alternative, not a true revision. And of course it would be, because the way classes are designed, you can't do much else. For all its reputation of being monolithic and hard to modify, 4e was much more modular in comparison, with powers potentially changing a class without even having to modify a single bit of it. Not to mention how the whole system of AEDU could be changed into AADU, or AEU, changing the game as we knew it, as shown by Psionics and Essentials. What can still have the same effect on 5e? Spells. But that's another can of worms, because as I said, part of the issue of class identity is represented by spell design.

From everything is a power to everything is a spell

One of the latest ways in which designers tried to save some classes (and the interest of players like me for the game, I guess) was by giving them free access to Hunter's Mark (a spell with VOCAL components, mind you), as a replacement of the trainwreck class feature "Favored Eneemy". Replacing it imaginatively with "Favored Foe". Where to begin in explaining how wrong this is?

  1. A ranger casting spells with vocal components is extremely contrary to the class identity of "silent and lethal woodland warrior". Can you imagine Rambo chanting magic words to be do more damage to an enemy? Ok, Rambo might be a bit of a bad example (although to me he is the most iconic ranger), but you can see this with any elf archer usually represented as a ranger, or Aragorn, or Drizzt, or anybody. It's just plain silly.
  2. It tries to go back to the previous philosophy of 4e of "everything is a power", which could be a solution, but changing powers to spells means we are shoehorning them into daily vancian slots, assigning them somatic/vocal/material componenets, and giving mundane abilities a mystical flavor that they shouldn't have.
  3. It's an attempt of driving attention away from the flaws of the system, and of classes, which in the cae of the Ranger are much deeper.
This problem fell like an axe on the necks of other classes too: Sorcerer and Warlock. Classes that, while beloved by many, are in my opinion monuments to missed opportunities.

The usual problem of arcane magic

Again, this might feel to you like "just another dogmatic opinion", but it can't be argued that by using largely the same system (vancian spell-casting), Wizard, Sorcerer, and (to a lesser extent) Warlock missed the opportunity of being truly different from each other. 

Already many times people noted that the Sorcerer is basically an upgraded Wizard. The problem might become even worse if the Variant Class Feature allowing the Sorcerer changes of spells every rest becomes official. But mine is not a point of balance: what's really sad to me is having three classes just access the same power source in slightly different ways, instead of accessing truly different power sources. And you might say "But the Sorcerer and Warlock ALWAYS accessed the same power source as Wizards: Arcane magic." And I'll reply: "And is that a good reason to continue that way?"

The Arcane could have become something really arcane, really mysterious, by dividing it into truly different wizardry, sorcery, and witchery (or whatever you would call Warlock's magic).
Many people feel like it's bad to have to "learn different systems to acknowledge the same thing", but this is an ungainly union of two different and equally bad fallacies:
  1. Thinking that different systems are inherently harder to learn than a single one.
  2. Thinking that different magic systems try to accomplish the same thing: magic.
The first one is wrong because of course it depends on how those systems are designed.
The second one is the worst, because it ASSUMES that these three classes try to accomplish the same, which is exactly the problem with their class identity. If they try to accomplish the same they shouldn't even be separate classes. The fact that until now they always tried to accomplish the same is just another fallacy, because it doesn't mean they should.

The big improvement of role-playing is actually not enough at all

I am one of those players that thinks roleplaying should not be regulated at all, but since everyone agrees "4e was terrible for roleplaying, 5e is great", I assume people talk about roleplaying but actually mean the game elements that define characters out of combat. And although Backgrounds in 5e did improve this somehow, the problem of "this pillar of the character never levelling up" remained: you take a background at level 1 and it stays there, counting less and less in your characters, while spells become (whether you are a spell-caster or not, mind you) more and more important in your character sheet, especially if you would write them down and see how much space they take compared to everything else.

So what did 5e do exactly to improve "role-playing"? A set of rollable/choosable personality traits and flaws for each background? It's quite nice, sure, but it can't be worth much. Those things existed since forever, and everyone could have used them in 4th edition as well. So I'm quite sure that the change was just proportional in nature: there is less space devoted to combat (although mainly due to the fact spells are not considered "combat", even if 90% of them are all about it), so the general impression is that "story" became more important.

Less is more in design, or in some design school, true. But the way things are now in 5e, the system will stagnate very soon, and become a cemetery of lost opportunities, which will if anything be raised as rotting zombies, when finally the people's cry for MORE will be listened to. It will be too little, too late. And a 6th edition will be inevitable, just as the huge community-breaking rift it will cause.

All right, so that was a long rant, but what do you actually propose?

Oh, so many things. 
  1. I like how, system flaws aside, classes have actually much more identity in 4e. It had a Ranger that without spells managed to be truly different compared to the Fighter and (to a lesser extent) the Rogue, and the same for other classes, especially when you consider how much they evolved (with less being more, as per the 5e design philosophy) in 4e Essentials.
    I would seriously play 4e classes with 5e math (mainly Hit Points), and be much happier, BUT:
  2. I like many non-combat features of classes in 5e. The thing is: they compete for space with the combat stuff. Solution? Take them out of the classes and put them where they belong: Backgrounds! Backgrounds should be more like classes, in that they should evolve in time, level up so to speak. Heck, one should even be able to "multi-background", because it's frankly silly to think that a couple of years in the army would count so much for the character that decades of adventuring wouldn't change the character's mindset from the "Soldier background".
  3. I would redesign completely the Ranger, the Sorcerer, the Warlock, and perhaps also the Rogue (since so many of its features would go into the Criminal background), and the Paladin.
    Sorcerer would get on-the-fly magical effect creation, and Warlock would return to using powers that are more than just spell-like, they are supernatural. Paladin and Ranger would borrow a thing or two from the Tome of Battle, Mike Mearls true forgotten masterpiece, in 3rd edition times.
  4. Advantage and Disadvantage are nice and all, but they can't be used for every damn thing. I feel like randomness has way too much weight on the game's math. Advantage and Disadvantage should, if anything, stack (roll 3 or 4 dice, take best or worst), and/or be accompanied by other bonuses, such as skill dice, proficiency bonus, and also a return of additional modifiers which could be standardized to +2, maybe.
  5. Skills should be much more important and feel like they develop more in time. This proficient/non-proficient dichotomy is boring as hell, and just doesn't do justice to how much time and effort it takes to become really good at something. Expertise kind of solves this, but guess what, all my characters dip into the Rogue class just for this. You know the system is wrong when you have to multiclass all over the place to represent something that shouldn't require it.
  6. I would welcome back Themes of 4e with open arms, and make them marry Backgrounds of 5e. With a big difference: the features and powers they would offer would not compete with class, but be totally parallel and in addition to it. If anything, they would compete with other Backgrounds-Themes the character might want
  7. Quite the same for Race: it should matter more. It should basically provide a standard background for those that don't want to think about a Background-Theme, and allow those that want a Background-Theme to choose if to develop more towards the default of their race or their Background-Theme, at every level, and not only: these are features that could even be swapped in-level with the right story.
  8. I would have Arcane magic split into Wizardry, Sorcery (with this split into elementalism and chaos sorcery), and Witchery or Eldritch Magic for Warlocks. All of them using different systems.
  9. I would do Psionics justice with another separate system, and powers that feel really different compared to magic, much closer to the abilities of martial characters and monks. In fact, I might even have the Monk be the first Psionic class, like in 4e.
  10. All of this, and everything else should follow a single design principle: modularity.
Sounds very complex, right? Well, first of all it doesn't have to be: taking modularity in mind means that you can have complexity or opt out. In some cases, classes would provide the difference in complexity by themselves (an elementalist would be extremely simple compared to a wizard), but most of the time, even within the same class you would be able to opt in and out of complexity, with premade choices expandable into multiple ones, subclasses that provide builds that "just work" even for the Wizard, and so on. On the surface, a character of this "new edition" would seem the same as a 5e one, but it would be much more interesting to make and play because of the additional choices, or lack thereof in case one opts for simplicity. What 5e should have always been.

Then you could also say there's a lot of 4e in it. Well yes, I discovered only now how much 4e had done right. You realize the good of something when you don't have it anymore.
And in fact, my next post will be some kind of "conversion manual" to merge 4e and 5e into a system that more or less does what I described.

Stay tuned!