D&D is Bad¶
I grew up on the original D&D, and then AD&D 2nd edition. Some of my favorite times were playing these games. I love role-playing. I love role-playing in fantasy worlds.
The D&D game is bad. It is so bad, no minor update can rescue it. If you like role-playing, you will love some alternative systems, and you will never be able to go back.
D&D’s Magic System is Inadequate¶
The once-a-day spell slot system is based on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series. As the name implies, in this series magic is dying. The reason mages can only memorize a limited number of slots, and the spells fade after they are cast, is because magic is literally dying.
If it was meant as a magic system for this setting, or for a vaguely similar setting, that would be great. But this is not the typical setting. The official source materials, as well as most people’s home-grown campaigns, feature worlds rife with magic.
Even where mages are rare, they are powerful and at the top of their games. Yet, they live with a magic system that is based on a totally different genre.
D&D is not Generic Enough¶
D&D was written to allow a wide range of fantasy settings. Yet, classes and races are hard coded, and the system is intentionally designed such that new classes and races are not as good.
The only fantasy settings that it is even a little bit of a fit for are the Tolkien-rip-offs. Even there, it took a stereotype of the frail wizard and superimposed it on Tolkien’s setting. All of D&D’s settings are slightly reskinned Forgotten Realms.
D&D is too Generic¶
The core system is not optimized for a particular settings. It cannot say “Mountain Dwarves hail from the mountains to the north”, because it is supposed to allow deserts in the north. It does not come with a built-in world, and is super-tuned to it. Because of that, the mechanics are plain and without twists. There is no official way to add twists, so everyone plays with house rules that, almost certainly, have issues with them.
Each non-human race has common mental traits. Dwarves are dour and tough, elves love magic, and hobbits enjoy good meals. In D&D, this is not based on who raised you: oh no, nature over nurture.
While other systems, when they try to allow for non-human races, will often separate the physical traits (hobbits might be shorter and cannot be as strong as the strongest humans) with cultural traits that depend on how a character grew up, D&D just decided that all dwarves dislike magic.
The level system is bad. Suddenly, after reaching a threshold, all abilities, even ones that were not used, get better.
Sure, there might be an in-game explanation that after enough experience, you go off and train with a mentor. Which is just a weird way to justify a rule, instead of doing away with it
Armor Class (AC) ties together both armor and ability to evade blows. Additionally, HP rising with levels means there is a weird “way to avoid blows” that, by chance, heals just like the body does but is…not visible? Or partially visible? What does it mean when a human, normal-sized, fighter has 80 HP and suffers a 10 HP blow? Such a blow would kill any normal human, and yet the fighter barely notice. A 5 HP blow would incapcitate any person, but eventually they will recover. In exactly the same amount of time, the fighter will only recover from the marginal effect of a scrape.
A round is a minute. In that minute, most normal characters can only hit once. Tell that to anyone who fights with a sword and learns they can only take one swing. The excuse is that “this is accumulative”, but this does not look like real battle at all. The amount of total damage would be on a bell-curve if it is accumulated from many blows. Also, somehow, arrows or other missiles are accounted for by attack, not with a “cumulative” number.
Saving throws are at once too abstract and not abstract enough. Is a wizard really good at saving throw v. magic because they can soak up the magic? Then why do they gain a benefit from dexterity?
Because the leveling system applies to all skills at once, the ability to gain specific high proficiency is limited. In order to compensate, most campaigns are aglut with magic item. A level 10 fighter without a +4 Sword, at least, has a miser for a DM. This means that magical items do not have a history, a plot, a personality: they are just a high positive number for attacks.
Rolling a Character¶
Character creation involving randomness is ridiculous. The original rules (just roll dice and then figure what you can play) were so ridiculous (ah, a party with three clerics and no fighter because nobody rolled high STR?) that eventually everyone just goes for the “roll lots of dice and choose the best one and also place them where you want”. Those quickly converge to low randomness, but without making the final leap to just a point system, they involve taking a lot of time to roll dice, for the sole benefit of reducing the randomness.
Rolling for a level’s HP is the absolute worst. Levels take a few sessions to get, and rolling a 1 on the HP roll is the worst disappointed. In practice, most campaigns I played just went with “you get the max HP”, otherwise at level 5 you can easily get unlucky enough to have a fighter who can’t last a fight with a lucky guard.
D&D requires six kinds of dice. Players need to train themselves to quickly mapping dN to the right shape. Additionally, people must carry complicated, special-purpose, dice packs. This would make sense if somehow gameplay was so much better, but almost every other system uses one or two kinds of dice, without any reduction in fun or excitement.
The alignment system literally adds nothing to the game. It is there, it results in some minor player penalties and maybe a weird limitation o Paladins and Druids, and that is it. If nobody is playing a Paladin or Druid, the whole system could be thrown out and nothing would be different.
There are much better ways to balance over-powered classes. If you want “behavioral limitations”, put them right in the class. Alternatively, make the class weaker.
If you love table-top role playing games, why use the oldest system that has been patched and patched, and is still not good?
Get Hero or GURPS if you like making your own campaign worlds. If you want fantasy, get the fantasy supplements for these, which will lead you through the options you have. Since they are based on generic systems, you build your own magic system: or even several, if you want priest magic and wizard magic to feel completely different.
If you want a ready made campaign world, get something that has a flavor. The Amber Diceless system. Changeling: The Lost. Shadowrun. Ars Magica.
Either direction guarantees more fun than using D&D, even if you sometimes have to drag people kicking and screaming into the light.