On Hasbro D&D.

by waxbanks

Someone asked on Reddit:

Is every 5e adventure [clumsy and/or unimaginative]? Honestly, I’m willing to take one more chance. But then, which one should I try? Is there at least 1 good 5e adventure?

To which I’d say:

WotC/Hasbro doesn’t have any evocative writers or trailblazing designers in its stable anymore, I think. Their job is to maintain ‘IP’ and it goes as well as you’d expect. The D&D brand is carefully protected and corporate-committee-managed, therefore the Product is all boring and ordinary — but it was that way all through 4e times as well, and nearly all 3e stuff is bloated disposable crap too. (The most interesting WotC output is the design of 4e, which is superb but isn’t actually good at being D&D.)

As has been pointed out over and over, paying RPG writers by the word for big vanilla hardcovers is a recipe for disaster — which WotC/Hasbro and Paizo demonstrate, the former more humiliatingly than the latter. See for instance the Fizban’s something something Dragons book, which is an unimaginative fucking disaster.

The essential problem with 5e D&D is that it tries to satisfy customers and shareholders instead of ever actually doing something new or beautiful or weird or even just fun. The lamest LotFP book displays more courage and conviction than the best WotC product, because it’s meant to inspire creativity rather than allay anxiety. It’s childish to mistake comfort for confidence.

All this said:

  • Curse of Strahd is ‘Ravenloft with stuff’ — this is fine, the new stuff included, and easily the best 5e adventure I’ve read, though there’s no reason to spend $50 or even $30 on ‘Ravenloft with stuff’
  • Descent to Avernus has good setpieces to offer if you put in the work to connect them up and give it weight; I really enjoyed playing in our campaign but would never run it
  • Lost Mines of Phandelver is a genuinely excellent introduction to vanilla, lowest-common-denominator D&D, and also gets graded on a curve by OSR types who figured 5e would be trash
  • The Wildemount (Critical Role) book is a good example of WotC’s B/B+ aspirations: nothing about it is interesting, it’s a corporate tie-in product inspired by a TV show, but the production values are nice and it does exactly (only) what you’d expect

The single best Hasbro D&D product is, of course, the Encyclopedia Magica, a late-20C 4-volume set from TSR which renders nearly all 5e material not just obsolete but gutless.