Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most popular tabletop RPG systems in the world, and it has no doubt earned that spot. Through a combination of pervasiveness in the market and in media, and gaining notoriety from the Satanic Panic, along with being a functional game (bear with me here, it’s not like it’s impossible to play), it has turned into a classic game many fantasy fans can trace their roots. But it’s not as perfect of a system as it’s cracked up to be.
I’m not about to claim that a game like Pathfinder is objectively better in every way, though I can sing its praises day and night, and this is after having played and run D&D for about four years. Instead, I want to go in-depth about why I think D&D is being used far too often in favor of other systems.
D&D is not the only RPG out there! Some games have a whole different vibe and their minute differences are built up into something with tweaks that make the game enjoyable to different people. Please don’t be afraid to experiment, especially if D&D is the only game you’ve played! It’s a lovely baseline that many systems have based themselves on to develop something new.
However, people keep trying to make D&D into what it isn’t, and everyone suffers for it.
I don’t mean swapping genres from fantasy to science fantasy or something else. Instead, I am talking about adding mechanics that are not in the game by default, such as mechs or trying to add firearms and have them be worth using over a crossbow. There are some things that by default the game is just not that great at.
There’s a very good reason why guns aren’t really much of a thing. Well, two of them. The big one is that guns don’t fit that well thematically with medieval fantasy D&D by default. You need to put in a lot of work to make a gunslinger of any sort in the normal setting.
The other reason is that technically firearms are already in the rules, but only ever as a couple of pages tucked away in the tail-end of the Dungeon Master’s Guide or as an Artificer’s Arcane Firearm (which, by the by, is not actually a gun, just a magical thingamajig that *looks* like a gun). The guns that exist in the Dungeon Master’s Guide also kinda suck. 500 gold coins for… something marginally better than a Heavy Crossbow! Not a good look.
As for that mecha example, the only one that’s in there, rules as written, is the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O. Yes, there is a mech in D&D. Only one, though, and realistically the machine is the central powerful artifact of a campaign rather than just something the adventurers happen to use to fight. You by no means are anticipated to give your party a whole bunch of these and expect them to get into fights with other giant anthropomorphic robots. That’s what LANCER is for.
Before I lose the forest for the trees, these two examples are only a few out of several. Dungeons and Dragons is designed to work best for groups of 4-5 players (more if you’re fond of herding cats or have excellent players) as individuals working together to clear out dungeons, save cities from evil warlords, and fight gods to prevent the world’s annihilation. It is not a game for parties that wish to command entire armies across the world, nor is it a game designed for enjoyable combat between sailing ships, nor is it meant to depict a gang of gunslinging outlaws trying to clear their name in a notably non-magical setting.
I’ve found it easier to focus on exactly how much of the game you are attempting to change. If it at all deviates from a party of individuals using might and magic to slay their foes in something tangentially related to fantasy, tread carefully. You might accidentally trip on at least five different games that do your idea more justice than any homebrew could ever accomplish. Not to say that homebrew is totally incapable of changing it for the better for your personal needs, but I want to emphasize that choosing a different set of rules is an option that should not be swept aside because you’re worried it will be too complex.
I should not rag on the game too harshly, however. It’s still the baseline of so many different games, and has a massive community behind it. If a game is that popular there’s often a very good reason. The game, albeit not as broad as people may think, still accommodates a wide variety of playstyles and be entertaining for both people who enjoy roleplay and folks who would rather see how hard they can push the rules for combat. That flexibility, matched with the game being very beginner-friendly, is a recipe for success that can’t be denied. Many people who play tabletop roleplaying games today can cite D&D as their first game.
Dungeons & Dragons is still a fine game, but I implore you to experiment with different games instead if you’re tempted to change the game so much it fundamentally changes the flow of gameplay.