I’ve seen this description of the game about a million times: D&D is about killing monsters and taking their stuff. I disagree strongly, and I think it hurts the game.
It was the slogan for the Munchkin card game, a parody of D&D. Somehow people thought it
was an accurate description of Dungeons & Dragons itself, and started to
use it as a slogan for D&D. I think that’s wrong: using the slogan for a
parody to describe D&D turns the game into a parody of itself. That is what
4E is (except it isn’t funny).
In the TSR versions of the game, you don’t have to
kill the monsters: You can try to talk to them; charm them; sneak past them; lure them into a trap; lock them in a
prisoner cell; trick them into killing other
monsters for you; or in some cases, play the monsters themselves. There are
many different solutions to an encounter. Making a choice between these
solutions or thinking up completely different ones, that’s the game.
The 5E Playtest rules at least acknowledge that
players might want to take a different approach to encounters besides fighting.
But why should they? The characters have too many hit points and too much free healing,
so fighting still seems the safest option. Other approaches can be taken, but
are often depended on the DM and success is not guaranteed. At least when you
fight the monsters, you know you’re
going to win.
As long as fights in the game are rigged in favor of
the PCs, combat will be the default option in dealing with monsters. Combat
shouldn’t be the best option; it should be one of many. By making combat just
as dangerous as other options, the game will encourage players to consider
other approaches to overcoming challenges. This is good for the game: the
adventuring day will be longer than 15 minutes, characters will be allowed to
shine at different moments, combats will be shorter and less boring, listen and
spot checks will have a purpose again, and so on.