Why Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder suck

If you haven’t played Role-Playing games, and D&D/Pathfinder in particular, just skip this post. If you have, then you may appreciate my rant.

I have been playing RPGs since 1981 and designing RPGs since 1983. I have tested, played and researched in detail scores of RPGs, and I’ve found many good systems and many well crafted settings. Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder are among the worst RPG systems made. Here’s but a few of the terrible design “features”:

  1. Classes: Enforcing stereotypes is a desgn flaw of any system. It brings with it unnatural restrictions that are hard to explain… “No, you can’t pick up that sword, you’re a Magic User!”
  2. Hit Points increase with level: A medium level fighter can take ten times the damage of an average man in the street. And it takes 10 Cure Light Wounds to get him from fainted to full HP as opposed to one CLW for the average man. You can’t kill an experienced adventurer with an arrow, etc.
  3. Armor Class: In D&D/Pathfinder, waring armor makes it harder to hit you, but the damage done from a weapon is just the same. In reality, armor never makes it harder to hit anyone, it subtracts from damage done.
  4. D20: Using a 20-sided dice with smaller adjustments makes the spread too wide. You’re a dancer with a +7 modifier on the dice roll. One day you throw a 2 on the dice and your dancing is below average.. The next day you throw 19 and your performance is beyond what any everage person can do.
  5. Complexity: With silly basic design flaws like the above, trying to make the system somewhat realistic is a very complicated task. It makes for a complex system with lots of special rules. If the basic design was more realistic, the complete system would be much simpler. Simpler systems make it easer for new players to join in and for new Game Masters to get up and running. Having the GM sift through pages upon pages of complex rules mid-game while players start fiddling with their phones sorta kills the fun. Simpler, more realistic systems let the actual role-playing shine and the playing sessions run more smoothly with less awkward rules getting in the way. The rules should help the game play, not distract from it with surprising unrealism.

</end of RPG-rant-of-the-day>

20 thoughts on “Why Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder suck

  1. 1. If the system is based on a medieval or pre-medieval setting, then enforcing stereotypes makes sense. People were born into their jobs back then, and they stuck to their jobs no matter what. The baker’s son became the new baker when the baker died. The blacksmith’s son became the new blacksmith when he died etc. etc.

    Also *restrictions* are ofte fun, and even the most fun. Complete freedom is just boring, because there are no limits.

    D&D games does this in a terrible way though, like you pointed out: you can’t use this or that weapon because you are a Magic-User or a Thief or whatever.

    Yet again though, it makes sense: a Magic-User (and Cleric) is a class based on the ancient historical druids, who were not allowed to — for religious reasons — touch any sharp weapons or tools, because they could be used to cut down plants. The only exception to this was a golden sickle that they used to cut herbs. So.. it actually makes sense. For Magic-Users (and Clerics) that is. For Thieves… it makes *no* sense.

    2. Yeah, when you double your HP from level 1 to 2 it makes little sense, but if you have a system where the increase is miniscule from level to level, then it *can* be justified. An experienced fighter is better trained to deal with pain and physical stress… so…

    Further, players tend to enjoy character improvement, and it is simply little fun if you just remain a hopelessly weak human being…. which migth explain why RuneQuest never was a big hit…

    3. Ah, but you miss one point with AC: it is not there to determine how hard you are to *hit*, but how hard you are to *injure*, and yes: it is indeed harder to injure a person wearing armour. So, using that logic, it makes sense.

    However, any system where armour absorbs damage when you are hit is of course much more logical. And there really is no reason to abstract armour like they do in D&D.


    I can add, in relation to D&D type games, that there are a heap load of more issues with them. Like why do Magic-Users need to memorize spells every day? And if they are to cast the same spell twice, then why do they need to memorize the same spell twice? How is that even possible? And how can you cast it once, and then forget the spell, but since you have memorized it twice, you can still cast it again, even though you forgot the spell formula after you cast it the first time… ?!!??

    Further, why is Theif a class to begin with? Isn’t anyone who steals something a Thief!? What if the Fighter or Magic-User steals something? Isn’t he a Thief too then?

    Also, why is Wisdom a character attribute? Isn’t wisdom just intelligence + knowledge?

    And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

    There are no Magic-Users or Thieves in D&D anymore, by the way… they changed that for D&D 3.0 and onwards. And yeah: 3.0 came in year 2000. So, you are hopelessly out-dated. 😉

    We are now at D&D 5th edition, and… it is not much better than the previous editions. It has turned into a “hand-holding game”, where players can’t die, because the players of today are a bunch of snowflakes used to playing WoW.

    5th edition… a great opportunity for them to sell three more books to all the same players. Wait a few years, and we will have a 6th edition, and more books to buy…

    Welcome to Capitalism. 🙂

    1. PS. I forgot about what you said about the D20. Yes, you are 100% right. But.. you can use a D20 without having to do any “complex” math…. it’s real simple. If you use e. g. 3D6 instead, they would have to add up three different numbers… and that’s way too complex for most people today. 😉

    2. > “Like why do Magic-Users need to memorize spells every day?”

      Because D&D magic is (was?) based on Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” series of stories and books. In them, Wizard really must memorize spells (and very few of them) well in advance of casting them. The spells have hilarious names, too. I recommend Vance’s stories (at least read “The Eyes of the Overworld” and “Mazirian the Magician”).

      The need to memorize the same spell twice is indeed silly, however.

  2. Hi Geir,
    Do you think it is better use in order to better organize and continualy improvimg everyday real life the RPG framework that is very similar to real life experience or the RPG framework that is different from everyday life experience?

    1. I’d go with similar as the real world is more familiar to the players. It makes it easier for the Game Master to create fun that way.

  3. I have yet to see a “perfect” rpg system. Like you, I have designed, playtested, and simply played a multitude of systems. All have their flaws. All have their shining points and features.

    Currently, I’m DM for two D&D 5e groups. Not because I chose D&D 5e, but because it’s the system the players want to use.

    I’m of the firm belief that as long as the system doesn’t get in the way of having fun, it really doesn’t matter what system is being used. If your group of friends turn into legalistic rule-sharks and you spend hours arguing about how grapple rules should work, you’re probably using the wrong system, or worse, you have a DM who’s not willing to overrule the rulebook, make a decision, and move on. To me, arguing about game mechanics is not fun. Telling and building the ongoing story is.

    I get your rant about the problems and fallacies of D&D, Pathfinder, and such. I could easily add more. Likewise, I can complain about the stupidity I’ve encountered in other game systems – ones you might think are better. Or, I could find good features and ideas in system that you think aren’t worthy of bringing to the table at all.

    I think the real challenge is to look beyond the faults and find ways to make the system fun to play.

      1. Unfortunately, I’d never be able to get my players to switch to another system. Otherwise, I’d run my own homebrew, ND-RPG (no-dice role-playing game. If you’re interested enough, I can make the pdf’s available to you, but I won’t do it publicly.)

        The system looks simple enough, though I’m not a fan of open-ended dice rolling: Roll max, add and roll again. Too many systems use this that I’ve played and even if the probability is extreme, you can still get some pretty whacked results. An example I use, which was cited in a different way in the latest edition of Tunnels & Trolls, is “I want to jump over the moon with a standing jump.” Any system with an open-ended dice mechanic makes this theoretically, though extremely remotely possible. It’s not realistic.

        The real challenge with any system is the tight rope between reality and abstraction; play-ability versus accuracy. I submit that these are mostly mutually exclusive (I said MOSTLY, don’t get your undergarments in knot!) I’ve played games with both extremes – story-based games where there are no conflict resolution rules and everything is verbally described, the players agree or disagree with the stated outcome, to Chivalry and Sorcery or a variant of Role-Master where every detail is described and every outcome is prescribed in a chart somewhere. Most “mainstream” games try to balance these things with varying degrees of success.

        What gets me are some of the striking similarities between your homebrew system and mine. These similarities suggest that we’re kindred spirits and within that, we’ve come to similar conclusions on how to deal with various challenges in RPG design. Notably: Single, common mechanic. Straightforward point-based character build process (though my system has an optional randomized character build process, which some of my play-testers preferred.) Limited skill selection, though I took it one step further and consolidated the skills and attributes into one set of twelve values, which cover everything. I also like your classification of magical schools and breaking out the spells within them. My system has more groupings, but fewer spells within each.

        At any rate, thanks for the link to your system. When I have more time, I want to dig further into the detail to see what other insights and revelations I can discover.

        1. Good reply. I’ll add that open ended rolls are the only realistic way to go. If you know quantum mechanics, then you know that this is indeed how the real world works. Throw a tennis ball against a wall enough times and it will teleport through the wall, etc. If you try out AMAR you will see that you will in fact not get wacky results. I know, I’ve play tested it since 1991.

          1. .Yikes… I’ve spent the last half-hour typing a response, but upon re-reading it, it’s almost incoherent and senseless. I’ll save it off for now and perhaps I’ll figure out what I’m trying to say and say it clearly.

            In the mean time, feel free to check out my blog, even though I don’t talk about this sort of thing at all on it! https://indysligo.wordpress.com/

            Maybe we can move the discussion there. I can use the traffic! 😉

          2. I figured out what it was I was trying to say, and it is now posted as a 2700-word essay on my blog. Go check it out if you are so inclined. 😉

  4. Since I have a “one track mind” combined with a rather compulsive and addictive nature, I stay away from video games. Many years ago I played with a friend’s simple Atarti? game, the next generation after Pong, I believe. I got stuck on it for six hours straight! laughter

      1. Aha – I looked back up and I see that. A difference between RPG, Role Playing Game and Role Playing Video Game. Either one would be just as “deadly” (lol) to me. A couple of years ago I was playing with a Walter Mitty rock star fantasy. It was fun so I let it ride. Two days later it had taken on a life of its own and I had to YANK myself out of it. laughter That was kind of a reverse epiphany – don’t let my ego run wild.

  5. I dont get your beef with rpg systems from roll 20. I like the limitations and the pages wont be sifted as often if the GM preps right. All rpgs have growing pains when first learning em but its fun once ya get the hang of it.

    1. Some have far less growing pains than others – because they are based on sound principles, not awkward complex and unrealistic game mechanics.

      1. I would have to disagree on unrealistic. Granted it is impossible to make a game that mimics reality on a scale of 1/1 but GURPS and other systems leave less options and by definition have less consequences. Having a 20 to roll for flaws, traps etc. with 20 different outcomes for me makes for a richer experience and less work for me as Game Master. D20 have feats addressing why you cannot use two weapons out the gate because in medieval times not everyone was proficient with a blade to be considered a warrior let alone two. The same goes for poisoning, blindness and other effects that a player can fall victim to. The enforcing of stereotypes…that part to me did not make any sense. These are mythical / fictional races which were designed to fit into a magical world so realism is hard to rationalize when discussing dwarves and half orcs. The stereotypes work because if they did not you would not have a Lord of the Rings, Warcraft and other billion dollar franchises. It is nice to have cut and dry explanations because in the real world people like to use shades of grey. If a race lets say devoured humans why would they not be considered evil bastards just because they dress up nice and have the ability of speech? I do not see the problem with trolls, goblins and dwarves fitting into stereotypes much like humans who both in game and in literature are both considered weaker and dumber than their counter parts. It balances out well so that no one race is the clear BEST to play. I know you mentioned classes but races played as classes in OSRs and the TSR books and it worked. I like that classes cannot do everything another class can do other why bother having them if a brutish barbarian can be as smart as the mage? Your argument is as flawed as saying ‘Why is the center on a basketball team more often than not the tallest’ … the answer is simple, his intended role requires him to be taller to snatch rebounds and make the easy shoots in the key. Same goes for mages, fighters, clerics etc. their entire purpose depends on them being good at something and not so good in something else.

        I can only name 3 pen and paper rpgs that I can say come close to D&D and Pathfinder and those are:

        Warhammer Fantasy, Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun.

        I do enjoy The Dresden Files and Vampire the Masquerade but I feel they lack the depth and customization of the before mentionned systems. Please name the systems you believe trump the bestselling RPGs of all time because I really am curious as to which you are talking about.

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