New to Sly Flourish? Start Here or subscribe to the newsletter.

This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!

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.

More Sly Flourish Stuff

Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Choosing the First Adventure that Works and Horned Devil Bakis – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 28 Lazy GM Prep.

Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

Patreon Questions and Answers

Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

RPG Tips

Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

Related Articles

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Subscribe to the weekly Sly Flourish newsletter and receive a free adventure generator PDF!

More from Sly Flourish

Sly Flourish's Books

Share this article by copying this link:

Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. It allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, for noncommercial purposes only by including the following statement in the new work:

This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

This site uses affiliate links to Amazon and DriveThruRPG. Thanks for your support!