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What Is 5e?

by Mike on 13 May 2024

The term 5e defines compatibility between the products of hundreds of publishers and the 2014 version of the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game – known as 5th edition D&D.

In early 2023, Wizards of the Coast, the current holder of the D&D brand and developer of D&D 5th edition (as well as 3rd and 4th editions) released the core rules of D&D 5e under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license in the 5.1 System Reference Document. I know it sounds boring as hell but it's super valuable and important for the whole tabletop roleplaying game hobby.

With this release, 5e became an open platform for roleplaying games. 5e is like Linux – a platform usable by anyone to build any 5e-based RPG game or supplement they want without needing permission from or paying royalties to Wizards of the Coast.

So now 5e means something different.

I argue the term "5e" no longer means "the 5th edition of D&D" but now acts as a stand-alone term defining compatibility between thousands of 5e RPG products.

For example, by early 2025 there will be at least four different core 5e systems:

One could argue the excellent old-school-style RPG Shadowdark is actually a lightweight 5e variant (it references the 5.1 SRD in its core book). The French-produced Fateforge is another stand-alone 5e RPG. The Iskandar Player's Handbook by MT Black is a fully self-contained 5e player's guide for $4. I'm likely missing others.

D&D is the most popular version of 5e by probably two orders of magnitude but that popularity doesn't matter for you and your own game. You can choose whatever version of 5e meets your preferences, or mix and match from all of them to build the game you want to run for your players.

Beyond the several different core 5e systems, there are thousands of 5e compatible supplements with character options, spells, magic items, monsters, adventures, campaigns, world books, and alternate sub-systems produced over the past ten years. You can use these products to change your own version of 5e any way you wish, all built on this open 5e RPG platform.

You can also modify 5e yourself however you wish. Homebrewing is a time-honored tradition going back 50 years.

So what is 5e?

5e is your system. Use the vast library of 5e products to build your own version of the game and enjoy it as you wish with your friends around the table.

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