5e took some great ideas, implemented them well, and came up with a wonderful game. They had some other ideas that weren’t implemented so well, that imo fell flat on their face. Then there were other ideas that made me wonder “What were they thinking?”.
Chapter Four starts out talking about character details: name, sex, height and weight, age, eye color, etc. I like that they point out that all of these things can simply be selected however the player wishes. Earlier editions had players roll for these things and I always thought that was unnecessarily controlling. We’ll leave alignment for another day. But then we get to Backgrounds.
I am a huge fan of players coming up with a detailed back story. It’s hard to get into the spirit of the game if your character is just a series of numbers. Players need to bond with their characters in order to make the game come alive. Developing unusual mannerisms and traits for your character can add to the fun. But it needs to come from the player as something they want to do.
Backgrounds, as presented in the Player’s Handbook, are too contrived and forced for my taste. Select a background, pick a personality trait, ideal, bond, and flaw all from predefined lists. Each of the latter may be selected or rolled for. By requiring a player to select these things, it becomes a chore and the background becomes something thrust upon the character, opposed to details that the player chose to develop in order to fill out the character.
Also, as presented, it makes the character generation process become larger and more time consuming. I prefer to streamline this process as much as possible, so making a character doesn’t feel like work, and then encourage players to more fully develop their characters between games (if they wish).
I would very much have liked to have seen backgrounds presented as more of a list of ideas and suggestions on how a player could give their characters more depth.
You could almost use this section that way had it not gone on to include special features, associated skill proficiencies, etc that give each background a different game mechanic which now fosters min-maxing by having players pick a background based on what additional abilities it will give them.
I’m not a fan of what they came up with here and I think they would have been better off to just leave backgrounds completely out of the PHB, opposed to presenting them the way they did.
As far as I’m concerned, this just takes a bad idea and makes it worse. As I said, I think backgrounds are something that should be developed by the player and done so because the player wants to fill out their character. Playing a character with certain mannerisms and flaws is part of the fun and is its own reward. Giving any form of additional reward to a player for displaying their assigned traits seems a bit silly to me, not to mention being steeped in meta-gaming. Rewarding players for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is counterproductive to the kind of game I like to run.
At the end of chapter six, after equipment and services, there are a couple of pages on trinkets. Roll 1d100 and receive a trinket for your character. Huh? It just came out of nowhere and got tacked on to the end of the chapter. The items are all pointless and, from the way they are presented, it is clear to the player that this trinket is just completely random with no actual meaning whatsoever.
This really should have been put in the DMG along with a paragraph on how to use it. Once in a while, tell a player that their new character also has this item (generated secretly by the DM) that was left to them or was found sometime in their past. It may or may not have any real significance. But the player has no way of knowing that. Maybe it’s a random piece of fluff. Maybe the DM has a detailed adventure tied to it. The player will never know for sure and it has a lot more meaning that way.
Now this is an excellent addition!
Players have a tendency to walk in the town gates and consider that time has stopped until they head out again. None of my players has ever been particularly interested in town adventures so I’ve been hard pressed to insert any sort of social interaction beyond the quest at hand.
Charging them room and board while they heal up and seek out buyers for their last haul goes mostly unnoticed. Tying those expenses to the characters’ reputation is a wonderful idea. Once players become aware that they are being looked down on by town folk, for living in a hovel and eating gruel every day, they may take an interest in improving their standard of living.
This recognition, of the importance of their perceived status, may quite possibly also spark an interest in developing social contacts with notable members of society. I don’t really want to get into a full blown game of intrigue, but a little more depth and longevity to the interactions with NPCs would be rather nice. I can really see this use of living expenses as a stepping stone to make that happen.