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After yet another thread on Facebook’s big 5e group, I found myself writing the same thing for the umpteenth time, so I’m going to set it out here as an essay for you, dear readers (and so I can just post a link next time I have to say the same goddamned thing).
Here’s the original post, for reference’s sake:
What if every martial class had access to Action Surge? What are the downsides to this? What would you give Fighters to keep them unique before getting their archetypes? Something I’ve been pondering since looking at the topic of “linear Fighters vs Exponential Spellcasters”.
Here’s my answer:
DON’T FUCK WITH 5E’S FUNDAMENTALS.
Because D&D 5e is the only only tabletop RPG to go through literally years of playtesting with literally tens of thousands of enthusiasts literally doing everything they can imagine specifically to break it.
Before the books on your shelf were published, everything inside them was subjected to infinitely more rigorous scrutiny than your house rule can ever hope to get. Even now, before anything makes it into a book, it’s released as Unearthed Arcana, rigorously playtested (read: “deliberately broken”) for months if not years, modified, and re-tested. Again, with infinitely more rigorous scrutiny than your house rule can ever hope to get.
That means I can state with supreme confidence if not outright guarantee that any “problem” you’ve “discovered” has already been spotted and solved in the rules as they exist, if you play the game as designed.
It ain’t broke. And even if it was broke, your fix, well, isn’t.
That’s not exactly right. It is broken, but it’s broken because, like 99.99% of the “problems” anyone can point out with 5e’s class abilities, the way they work, and the way they intersect, you broke it, Dungeon Master. These kinds of problems always, without exception, stem from the DM’s failure to apply the rules as written. Whether you did so in ignorance or willfully, it’s still your fault.
In this case, it’s highly likely the problem has its genesis in the DM’s failure to present the PCs with the number of combat encounters per long rest for which the game was designed and the classes were balanced. When you fuck around with class abilities to try and create the problem caused by your failure to properly run your game, what you’re doing is further breaking the game because you broke the game in the first place. That doesn’t make any logical sense. Fix the first problem properly by running the game the way it was designed to be run, by bringing your table to the assumed number of combat encounters per long rest, and you won’t have to break the game in a different way, by fucking with the way the class powers intersect, to get the result you want.
In other words, play by the rules and you won’t have to break the rules because you’re breaking the rules.
That’s not to say there aren’t rough edges on D&D 5e (looking at you, Ranger). It’s saying that the game engine as it exists is sound, and it only fails to run properly when the driver fails to maintain it.
It happens that players get itchy about 4-8 combat encounters per long rest, even the Fighters with abilities that recharge on a short rest. They look at their powers and abilities, and get concerned about resource management. They especially don’t like using their hit points as a resource to manage! I know this because my wife played a Battlemaster and got really itchy.
But, like a good DM, I ensured we had had a Session Zero where I covered stuff like “the game’s design relies on a certain number of combat encounters per day, and you can trust me not to go outside the game’s design parameters.” If you do that, as well as play the game according to its own rules and design parameters, you won’t have to break the game to accommodate the players’ concerns.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.