Wherein I debrief 5e

245

Comments

  • Thanuir said:

    Not giving experience for combat and being explicit about the game not consisting of encounters, and in particular "encounters" not being balanced at all, worked in Pathfinder (after some character deaths) and seems to working with D&D 5.

    Myself, I'm starting to wonder when something stops being D&D and starts being "a processed D&D-like product."

    Once you cut out experience, and once you cut out the idea of the balanced encounter, and as others have suggested cutting out any kind of pressure toward combat – at which point does all of the mechanics of the game and the design of the set up start not being the name you're slapping on it?

    It seems like it might be just far more reasonable and far less work to just start with a system that does what you want and say "we are playing in the D&D fifth edition setting with system X."

    Are people really so terrified of playing anything but D&D that they are willing to turn the entire thing into an exercise in cutting off everything meaningful in order to just retain the brand?
  • SquidLord said:

    Once you cut out experience, and once you cut out the idea of the balanced encounter, and as others have suggested cutting out any kind of pressure toward combat – at which point does all of the mechanics of the game and the design of the set up start not being the name you're slapping on it?

    Maybe people are just working out what they want D&D to be? I mean, you list those things like they were some grand touchstones of D&D, but neither balanced encounters nor combat pressure are original elements of D&D. Experience points admittedly are, but the way 5th edition uses them definitely isn't, so I wouldn't say that removing them makes the game any less "D&D".

    Then again, it seems to be pretty common that people try to make 5th edition do stuff where another version of the game might serve better. I guess it's a brand thing, or something about accessibility; 5th edition at least has pretty rulebooks easily available for money, so you don't have to like climb a mountain to seek a hermit sage to bestow upon you the True D&D if you satisfy yourself with that.
  • edited November 2018

    Maybe people are just working out what they want D&D to be? I mean, you list those things like they were some grand touchstones of D&D, but neither balanced encounters nor combat pressure are original elements of D&D. Experience points admittedly are, but the way 5th edition uses them definitely isn't, so I wouldn't say that removing them makes the game any less "D&D".

    There's an argument to be made to that unbalanced encounters that the PCs aren't intended to be able to grapple with have been a hallmark of bad GMing since ever. Unless we go back to Chainmail, where the expectation is that you will control more than one character and thus be able to escape with some resources intact. Pressure to kill things and take their stuff is so much a grand touchstone of D&D that it has literally become a running joke in every single media reference, including geek-insider media references, exactly since ever.

    You don't get a reputation for murder hobos that everybody who has ever played the game gets a good laugh at unless there are murder hobos.

    The change of XP away from XP and into milestones is something one could reasonably state makes fifth edition D&D less D&D. I would state that, and I don't even have a dog in this hunt.

    Then again, it seems to be pretty common that people try to make 5th edition do stuff where another version of the game might serve better. I guess it's a brand thing, or something about accessibility; 5th edition at least has pretty rulebooks easily available for money, so you don't have to like climb a mountain to seek a hermit sage to bestow upon you the True D&D if you satisfy yourself with that.

    Which, again, seems pretty aggressively counterintuitive.

    There are 10,000 games loose in the world. Many of them address exactly the issues that people say they have with D&D, function more concretely and better, deliver a more consistent experience in line with exactly what people are describing that they want, and are easily available on this giant porn hose that we call "the Internet."

    Especially for people who are members of this community, it would seem that there's no excuse for not knowing other, better-for-this-purpose games exist, or for recognizing that what they're demanding from D&D is not something it's not designed to provide.

    Just seems like it would be far more productive to actually figure out what you want from the game and not from D&D and then go seek a game that provides those elements rather than taking D&D, hollowing out its body, and then wearing the bloody skin while effectively playing something else.
  • SquidLord said:


    Myself, I'm starting to wonder when something stops being D&D and starts being "a processed D&D-like product."

    The rules that are actually used play a role in determining what the game is like, and are important for that. The name of the ruleset is a marketing tool.

    Whether something qualifies or not as "D&D", like all questions of definitions, is only relevant when you fix a purpose for the definition. For the purpose of marketing, I seem to be well within the bounds of what most people consider D&D. And that is what the name is for, for me, at the moment.

    Once you cut out experience, and once you cut out the idea of the balanced encounter, and as others have suggested cutting out any kind of pressure toward combat – at which point does all of the mechanics of the game and the design of the set up start not being the name you're slapping on it?
    I do not cut out experience, but I do not give it for killing things, by default. The default is experience from wealth acquired by adventuring, but the players are free to negotiate other goals and will get experience from succeeding at those, too.

    Changing how experience is earned is very common in D&D and the methods have varied quite a bit among editions. D&D 5 offers milestone levelling as a method that does cut out experience, for example, and experience for good roleplay is rules as written from rules cyclopedia, as is experience from goals and killing and getting rich and heroic actions and GM fiat.

    Balanced encounters have never been the norm, or at least almost never. Maybe with 4th edition? With third, you were explicitly supposed to mix in easy, normal and difficult encounters, for example. Very difficult, but avoidable, encounters have been there in all but possibly D&D 3.5 and more modern editions.

    And, 4th edition possibly aside, sandbox play has been an option in all the editions thus far.

    It seems like it might be just far more reasonable and far less work to just start with a system that does what you want and say "we are playing in the D&D fifth edition setting with system X."

    Are people really so terrified of playing anything but D&D that they are willing to turn the entire thing into an exercise in cutting off everything meaningful in order to just retain the brand?
    Using D&D 5 is a brand thing - as an immigrant in a country where my command of the native language is not adequate for playing, and due to not living in a capital region, finding players to play D&D is much easier than finding players for homebrew games or other games, those those are hopefully feasible at conventions.

    D&D 5 is further convenient because it allows a measure of mechanical character customization, which many people enjoy, while keeping it mostly voluntary. Players can make their characters independently. The rules are light enough to not require extensive study to use and to allow giving stats to monsters and phenomena and spells on the fly.

    Personally, I do not see the adjustments I have made more radical than those made in the opening post, where resting rules were completely decoupled from the fiction. That is something editions of D&D have been very loathe to do.
  • SquidLord said:


    Especially for people who are members of this community, it would seem that there's no excuse for not knowing other, better-for-this-purpose games exist, or for recognizing that what they're demanding from D&D is not something it's not designed to provide.

    While I'm generally on board with your premise of "FFS people, play a different game!" I think in this particular case, we really have someone who was playing the game BECAUSE IT SAID IT WAS GOOD AT A THING. And then discovering that it actually wasn't delivering on that. You could blame them for "not doing their research" if you want, but I don't think that's fair, because the world is full of people who produce videos full of D&D apparently doing the thing.

    The problem is that D&D is doing the thing on the backs of a great deal of effort by those people, not on its own merits, but there's very little way to tell that by looking.
  • As a counterpoint, whenever I've played modern D&D (3rd Ed and up), I've *always* seen - XP for combat, balanced encounters (or something close to balanced), and "pressure towards combat" (even if it's self-imposed - it's just the sense that this is what we came to do!).

    In theory? Sure, you could play 5E differently. I really seriously wonder how D&D players actually do, though. I haven't seen it yet!

    (Oh, I suppose when I played in Adam's game, there were very explicitly no balanced encounters! Very sandboxy in that sense. But otherwise, yeah.)
  • SquidLord said:

    Are people really so terrified of playing anything but D&D that they are willing to turn the entire thing into an exercise in cutting off everything meaningful in order to just retain the brand?

    Looking at the history of D&D as a whole, the answer to this question is a resounding yes.
  • For better and for worse, D&D is a standard.
  • Paul_T said:

    As a counterpoint, whenever I've played modern D&D (3rd Ed and up), I've *always* seen - XP for combat, balanced encounters (or something close to balanced), and "pressure towards combat" (even if it's self-imposed - it's just the sense that this is what we came to do!).

    In theory? Sure, you could play 5E differently. I really seriously wonder how D&D players actually do, though. I haven't seen it yet!

    You just do it.

    It takes players and a game master who are comfortable with the amount of rules that are present. Use the written rules when they are a reasonable approximation to the fictional reality, and when not, make a ruling. Keep track of rulings if you want to, or rely on memory. Have everyone agree that a ruling is reasonable; the published rules are a fall-back, in any case.

    Maybe use gold for xp or similar house rule unless you want to play a game of monster hunters.

    Socially, as a referee, emphasize that you are not out there to kill or to save the player characters. Roll things in the open and explain random encounter checks and so on. Emphasize that they might lose characters. Some players will not want to continue once the nature of the game becomes clear to them, which is good; others will thrive, and some will be okay but not terribly enthusiastic about the style of play.

    And, as they say, fuck game balance. Use adventures for different editions and different games with different assumptions, and be open you are doing that. Do not adapt them to follow the logic and assumptions of the present game. Since you are playing fiction first, it works fine, and it keeps life interesting for everyone.
  • edited November 2018
    Airk said:


    While I'm generally on board with your premise of "FFS people, play a different game!" I think in this particular case, we really have someone who was playing the game BECAUSE IT SAID IT WAS GOOD AT A THING. And then discovering that it actually wasn't delivering on that. You could blame them for "not doing their research" if you want...

    Yeah, @SquidLord, you're really making a lot of assumptions about me, my play history, my familiarity with games and the arc of indie game design over the last twenty years, etc, etc.

    You sort of remind me of myself, eight years ago, yelling at someone on rpg.net that what they said they wanted out of D&D could better be served by The Shadow of Yesterday, or whatever.

    My first roleplaying game was GMing a session of 3.5 set in Eberron for some teenagers I was working with at the time. I enjoyed myself, but was perplexed that the game didn't seem to produce the sort of gripping fiction and engagement with the kewl setting details I wanted. This was in...2006? 2007?

    I quickly found independently-published rpgs. Dogs blew my mind in a way that accorded with what I knew of avant-garde art and fiction. Of course roleplaying games could do all sorts of weird and beautiful stuff, because all of the other art that I love does. I was an art major in college, and studied literature a fair bit as well, and it quickly became obvious that this rpg thing was simply in dialogue with all that. I dropped D&D.

    5e came out and I hadn't paid attention to new rpg design in a little while, because Personal Reasons, and something about the old promise lured me back (this is where I might legitimately be criticized for lazy thinking and falling for slick marketing). I liked what I saw of 4e's focused design in it. It read smooth; it seemed to Just Work (other than the rest rules that I houseruled as discussed). It seemed to give me what I wanted out of Eberronian fantasy; I was coming full circle to my first experience with rpgs and maybe trying to redeem it (though I hadn't remembered that first 3.5 Eberron session until just now, writing it out).

    As I've said,
    Hans_c-o said:

    I wanted to run a game that forced the players to make interesting and difficult decisions, about three different things: 1) resources, 2) tactics, 3) the situation at hand, i.e., what NPCs are doing and asking of the characters and what pressure monsters and their violence are putting on the characters.

    And I should add a 4) that allows me to use published D&D settings easily, because I have a great deal of fondness for many published D&D settings, and they seem fun to game in.

    Now okay, @SquidLord, assume I haven't done my research: What game does that well?

  • And also: one can read pages and pages and PAGES and pages about what New School D&D does well and what it doesn't, but sometimes one simply has to have the experience to really understand.
  • Balanced encounters were not a thing in the original game, a la Gary and his players. Characters were expect to run away if they encountered something they couldn't handle. Really, once they encountered something bad, they had already messed up, since they should have been more careful, picked up on the clues, done more reconnaissance, etc.

    Still, you could run away. The original use for vials of oil, other than the main use as lantern fuel, was to light and drop behind you to create a barrier when you were fleeing monsters. Also, you could drop food for unintelligent monsters, and I think there was a standard roll to see if they'd stop for it.

    Actual play reports from the 70's often include encounters with creatures far too tough to kill. Either their reconnaissance warned them of the creatures (and often they'd rob the creature's treasures with invisibility or other sneaky measures) or they fled and (usually) narrowly escaped with their lives.

    Remember the crazy "Mad Monk" encounter in Keep on the Borderlands (B2)? Or any number of caves you'd go in, and there'd be like 30 orcs. When I run modern players through B2, they have to learn the hard way that there's no encounter balance there. It's usually a near-TPK until they figure out how to approach things more carefully, and with better tactics than a straight-on fight.

    Ideas of balanced encounters came in later editions, with guidelines for monster encounters codified in the 3rd edition.

    Balance is overrated.
  • Hans_c-o said:


    Now okay, @SquidLord, assume I haven't done my research: What game does that well?

    D&D 4E. As written.

    That was easy. Do you have any other questions?

    Don't make the assumption that I haven't been in the RPG industry since before there was a story games sub-sub-sub genre. I predate filthy dirty hippie games.

    If what you want is literally what you said, then what you want is D&D 4E and all the faffing about is faffing for the sake of faffing. I'm not saying that's not something worth doing, but I am saying it's not something worth doing in public – like a lot of other activities.

    But seriously look at this thread. Now, stop. Look at it.

    Three quarters of the posts are about trying to make D&D do things it's explicitly uninterested in doing and which any sane and sensible person would know it's uninterested in doing simply by reading the bloody thing. Reading comprehension seems to have been on the outs for the last couple of decades, but this is an extreme example.

    At a certain point, when do we start to say that what people want is not what they say they want? If to enjoy the game you have to remove several of its axiomatic cores, are you actually enjoying that game or are you enjoying a game that has the wrong label slapped on the outside?

    Though if you were asking me more abstractly for the name of a game that involves managing resources, tactics, and the situation at hand – I would be forced to point out that describes 99% of the RPGs out in the wild. Anything. Nearly everything. That's the whole point.

    And if you amplified that by saying "okay, and I want to run in established D&D settings," I would have to reply "you can do that in any game you invest a minimum amount of imagination in playing."

    Personally, I would probably use some lightly hacked version of Warrior Heroes to run a very classic D&D-inspired game and twiddling in any of the establish D&D settings wouldn't be much of an effort. It's just not.

    Hell, you could bust out the truly old-school story game Universalis, sit down and start banging out content cards at the table with the rest of your group and end up playing a game that is explicitly about resources, tactics, and the situation at hand – even though it completely side-steps any traditional notion of tactics in the sense of miniature wargaming tactics and the resources will be different but equally important. And the results will be in line with published D&D settings if you and the other people at the table want them to be.

    And all of that, any of that, would be a thousand times more interesting to read about than one more Fantasy Heartbreaker hack of D&D. Any of that would be a thousand times more creative for everyone at the table than one more Fantasy Heartbreaker hack of D&D.

    The gain you seem to want to play is D&D 4E. If I were at all interested in playing one of the offspring of D&D, that would be the one that I would choose too, even though it seems to be the edition which inspired the most hate and disdain. (In fact, that might be part of why it's the most interesting edition from my point of view.)

    So go play that one.

    You know 5E doesn't do what you want to do. You probably should have known simply by reading it and by skimming over any of the public comments made by the designers at any point.

    Put the mallet down, stop trying to push the rectangular prism into the circular opening, and go play a game that works for you.

    And if it doesn't work for you, find a different game that does.

    It just seems that most of this thread takes lonely gameplay to the next step, where people are just talking about changing a game that they're not really playing into another game that they won't really be playing.

    If you want to play D&D, go play D&D. If you want to play D&D 4E, go play D&D 4E. But don't spend hundreds of words and millions of murdered electrons on trying to make D&D do things it just won't.

    Go find a game that will do those things and then make it do additional things to bring in the elements that you still end up wanting, if there are any.
  • Squidlord, you claim to have a very strong grasp of what things D&D will not do. Your claims would be easier to evaluate if you were more explicit about the matter, and provided some arguments for it, rather than only making a claim.

    So what is it that D&D will not do, particularly when it comes to goals expressed by Hans? Why is it so?
  • I'd argue balance is overrated if the purpose of your game is strategic Step On Up play wherein the PCs are mostly disposable playing pieces (and if you punish your players for "playing the game wrong" by killing their characters, that's exactly what the PCs are), although I personally feel detailed character backgrounds and deep character customization options in such a game is largely a waste of time. If you have different creative purposes for your game, however, balance can serve as a valuable tool and may even be instrumental in fulfilling those purposes.

    I'd also argue that, although 3E and 5E both have "balanced encounter" rules, they're basically pointless exercises as the way both PCs and monsters are constructed in those games ensures there will never be such a thing as a "balanced encounter" in one's game unless the GM has a very heavy hand in a) what monsters he/she uses and b) what character options he/she allows in the game. The only edition of D&D that has actually functional "balanced encounter" rules is 4E (or maybe 13th Age if you count that as "D&D"), at least prior to the Epic Tier --- and the purpose of those 4E encounters isn't to "challenge" the players in any meaningful strategic sense but to provide a scene for PC characterization and protagonism, while also engaging them tactically.

    In regards to what is or is not "D&D", my take on the issue is that each instance of D&D-esque publishing is its own self-contained entity and there is little creative continuity in the license except in the most vague and abstract sense possible --- with the caveat that 5E seems to be trying really hard to be 2E using 3E's ruleset (with predictably mixed results).
  • edited November 2018
    SquidLord said:


    Don't make the assumption that I haven't been in the RPG industry since before there was a story games sub-sub-sub genre. I predate filthy dirty hippie games.

    I made no such assumptions about you.

    Anyway, you seem intent on coming into this thread to basically say, "this is all a waste of time," which, okay, I can appreciate your perspective, but, you know: not helpful.

    @Trent_W yes, there's no such thing as "D&D". If someone says, "I played D&D", that statement is close to meaningless. We need to know a lot more. This particular has been discussed to death here and on the Forge and I assume elsewhere.
  • edited November 2018
    Adam_Dray said:

    Balanced encounters were not a thing in the original game, a la Gary and his players. Characters were expect to run away if they encountered something they couldn't handle. Really, once they encountered something bad, they had already messed up, since they should have been more careful, picked up on the clues, done more reconnaissance, etc.

    Yes and no. Yes, there wasn't any idea of a "balanced" encounter. But there totally WERE lots of ideas about what was "appropriate" on level 1 of a dungeon, and that was less dangerous than what was appropriate on level 2, and that was less dangerous than level 3, etc. Because even Gary knew that if you put 3d6 ogres in room 1 of the first level of your dungeon, you were going to kill the whole level 1 party and have a sucky game. Level 1 was supposed to "mostly" be populated with weaker monsters. Yeah, there might be a room at the back that HAS 3d6 ogres in it, and maybe they're the bosses of all the other monsters in the dungeon and sometimes you find one or two of them stomping around collecting tribute on the wandering monster table, but the whole thing was BUILT around the assumption that yeah, 2d6 ogres could not usefully be the "standard" encounter on level 1 of the dungeon. This was reflected all over the place, in random "stocking" tables and the like.

    Yes, the PCs were expected to somehow deal with or die to the occasional "off level" encounter, but the idea of "These are the typical kinds of monsters you encounter on level 1 of the dungeon" is baked right in there and it feels inaccurate to assert that the concept of a "balanced encounter" didn't exist, because it pretty much did, albeit in a less precise way (A room containing 5d10 orcs could well be fine even though 50 orcs would obviously kill the party if they fought them.)

    What wasn't present was the idea that ALL encounters needed to be balanced and that the DM was "doing something wrong" by presenting an encounter that WASN'T balanced. But I think any party of old school gamers who went into a dungeon at level 1 and found it largely populated by basilisks, ogres, hydras, neo-otyughs and Xorns is probably going to be pretty cranky at the DM who told them (directly or indirectly, if you want to include the whole "Did you pick the right dungeon?" nonsense) that this was the right dungeon for their first adventure.
  • @Hans_c-o Oh, I totally agree. D&D is clearly just a marketing license and little else. I was more addressing the comments made in regards to whether "XP for combat" or "balanced encounters" or "milestone leveling" was intrinsic to D&D or not. Near as I can tell, there is precious little that is intrinsic to D&D that has remained a universal constant since 1974.

  • edited November 2018
    This thread's been to a lot of places so perhaps I'm repeating ideas or boiling them down from elsewhere in the thread, but the common factor for Wizards-era D&D is that the game is explicitly about overcoming fantasy action-adventure challenges. Usually this is combat but everything in the game points to this. This is why (for example) in 3e and 4e there are no mechanic for persuading people. Diplomacy doesn't (necessarily) let you convince people something is true, it only lets you shift their attitude towards you in a positive way. The most positive is "Helpful"; they will Help you to overcome a challenge.

    5e jumbles this approach. Look at all those things Charisma can do - Deceive, Persuade, etc. At least in 3e the game pointed really strongly at overcoming challenges, pointed as hard as it could, and explicitly said do that, do that thing. If you were playing D&D to do anything else - slice of life, personal revenge, melodrama, etc., you were out of the box and soon you would realize the mechanics had taken an off-ramp a few miles back and you were now traveling alone. 5e tries to think of itself as a more generic fantasy game than 3e or 4e, but fails horrendously because it doesn't know anything about any aspect of the fantasy genre except D&D, and for 2.5 editions previous, D&D meant overcoming challenges. 95 percent of the time when someone has a serious problem with (modern) D&D it's because they're trying to get it to do something it can't (3, 4e) or won't (5e) do. The reason people are so frantic to get it to do what it stubbornly won't is entirely due to the social circumstances surrounding it (before the age of streaming) or the financial incentives connected to it (during the age of streaming, aka now.)
  • Well said, @Airk, I just wanted to touch upon this:
    Airk said:

    What wasn't present was the idea that ALL encounters needed to be balanced and that the DM was "doing something wrong" by presenting an encounter that WASN'T balanced.

    Even in more modern iterations of D&D, this is not the assumption laid out in the text and mostly seems to be a caricature of those games made by people who a) don't play them or b) don't like their design approaches.

    In 4E, for example, recommended encounter guidelines can fall anywhere from N-2 to N+4 where N is the level of the PCs (an N+4 encounter is hardly "balanced" at Heroic Tier, especially if the PCs have already been in a few encounters that day). There is also the little known practice of budgeting an encounter that would be extremely hard (if not impossible) in a straight-up fight but also having other means of overcoming it, whether that's an aspect of the terrain or some sort of skill challenge. The first adventure in the Scales of War AP, for example, features an Ogre for a party of 1st level PCs (which would decimate them in a toe-to-toe fight) but the Ogre is constrained in a way that it can still be defeated.
  • If it isn't too far afield, I might suggest at least experimenting with some campaign minis wargame at a warband level. I just picked up Frostgrave (and it's related game Ghost Archipelago).

    Allow/encourage Blue Booking and general hammy acting during play and it should, combined with the campaign wargame aspects, give you the bulk of what you're looking for.
  • edited November 2018
    JDCorley said:

    This thread's been to a lot of places so perhaps I'm repeating ideas or boiling them down from elsewhere in the thread, but the common factor for Wizards-era D&D is that the game is explicitly about overcoming fantasy action-adventure challenges. Usually this is combat but everything in the game points to this. This is why (for example) in 3e and 4e there are no mechanic for persuading people. Diplomacy doesn't (necessarily) let you convince people something is true, it only lets you shift their attitude towards you in a positive way. The most positive is "Helpful"; they will Help you to overcome a challenge.

    5e jumbles this approach. Look at all those things Charisma can do - Deceive, Persuade, etc. At least in 3e the game pointed really strongly at overcoming challenges, pointed as hard as it could, and explicitly said do that, do that thing. If you were playing D&D to do anything else - slice of life, personal revenge, melodrama, etc., you were out of the box and soon you would realize the mechanics had taken an off-ramp a few miles back and you were now traveling alone. 5e tries to think of itself as a more generic fantasy game than 3e or 4e, but fails horrendously because it doesn't know anything about any aspect of the fantasy genre except D&D, and for 2.5 editions previous, D&D meant overcoming challenges. 95 percent of the time when someone has a serious problem with (modern) D&D it's because they're trying to get it to do something it can't (3, 4e) or won't (5e) do. The reason people are so frantic to get it to do what it stubbornly won't is entirely due to the social circumstances surrounding it (before the age of streaming) or the financial incentives connected to it (during the age of streaming, aka now.)

    Hi @JDCorley , excellent points made here. I agree with your take on modern D&D's emphasis on fantasy action-adventure. Although, I fail to see how 5E's take on skills is reasonably different than either 3E or 4E. Its basically just a slight rephrase of the Bluff and Diplomacy skills from those editions (both of which were keyed off Charisma, as well). The only difference is 5E's skills are more vague and less defined than the skills in 3E and 4E, so instead of the players knowing up front what they can likely do with the skill it is left up to the DM to make something up on the fly.

    I would also dispute the notion that 4E doesn't have a mechanic for persuading others. High-stakes persuasion scenes are clearly the domain of 4E's Skill Challenge system and an example of such is even given in the DMG. I mean, its true 4E doesn't have a mechanic for persuading people in a single roll or action* but that's because of its philosophical approach that all meaningful conflicts in the game should involve all the players (as opposed to a spotlight rotation philosophy).

    *(Ignoring the rule that you can use the Intimidate skill to force bloodied enemies to surrender, which is definitely a form of "persuasion").*

    Also, for all the claims that 5E is a more flexible or generic framework, 4E's Skill Challenge framework coupled with its use of Quests to leverage player-authored goals/keys/themes provides a much stronger support for the types of play you are describing here than anything in 5E to date. And, that's before even getting into the chapter in the DMG2 that discusses collaborative storytelling, roleplaying vignettes, and integrating these sorts of structures into 4E's mechanical reward cycles.

    I would point out, of course, that a lot of 4E DM's didn't try to use Skill Challenges (or, if they did, just didn't grok them) so the general perception 4E couldn't approach these types of play is understandable if misinformed.
  • JDCorley said:


    5e jumbles this approach. Look at all those things Charisma can do - Deceive, Persuade, etc. At least in 3e the game pointed really strongly at overcoming challenges, pointed as hard as it could, and explicitly said do that, do that thing. If you were playing D&D to do anything else - slice of life, personal revenge, melodrama, etc., you were out of the box and soon you would realize the mechanics had taken an off-ramp a few miles back and you were now traveling alone. 5e tries to think of itself as a more generic fantasy game than 3e or 4e, but fails horrendously because it doesn't know anything about any aspect of the fantasy genre except D&D, and for 2.5 editions previous, D&D meant overcoming challenges. 95 percent of the time when someone has a serious problem with (modern) D&D it's because they're trying to get it to do something it can't (3, 4e) or won't (5e) do. The reason people are so frantic to get it to do what it stubbornly won't is entirely due to the social circumstances surrounding it (before the age of streaming) or the financial incentives connected to it (during the age of streaming, aka now.)

    I agree that many editions of D&D work well for a game about overcoming challenges, though the nature of the challenges has been changing quite a lot along the lifespan of the game.

    Overcoming social challenges has always been on the table; in older editions there were explicit and frequent possibilities for that (due to reaction rolls and other factors), while newer editions have light mechanical support in the form of skills. Ignoring the utterly broken 3rd edition diplomacy, which is so strong as that it turns social challenges into challenges about managing friends and allies if played hard, the rules are typically vague and sketchy because most roleplayers are completely happy and capable of playing social challenges without elaborate mechanical support.

    In fact, having only vague skills allows for a multitude of approaches, with anything ranging from mostly ignoring the skills or using them as inspiration and characterization, not for rolls, to using them essentially as reaction rolls and checking for the attention of the target is changing, to using explicit stakes setting in the style of for example Burning wheel, to just rolling dice and not roleplaying at all. Same can be done with charisma rolls and/or reaction rolls in the editions that do not have explicit skill rules.

    Likewise, many roleplayers are completely happy playing character drama, or slice-of-life, with little mechanical support. Hence, they are also always on the table with D&D, much like with every other traditional roleplaying game (here meaning: players play characters, GM the world, rules discuss how skilled characters are and how successful they are at tasks).
  • edited November 2018
    That's the whole point of what I posted - that once you get away from overcoming challenges, that modern D&D really starts to stumble and eventually you end up in freeform land and you're trying to push back on something and the mechanical gears aren't there to make that pressure work. What Eero calls middle-school D&D doesn't have this issue as much, because it had in some way some aspirations to broader meaning, and old-school D&D didn't know what the hell it was (nobody did) so my comment definitely doesn't apply to them.
  • I am failing to see why it inevitable stumbles, rather than working fine as freeform, with occasional bits of more rules-bounded D&D between.
  • edited November 2018
    First, that's been my practical observation.

    Second, that's because all the assistance for the DM, all the guidance for the player, every page of every book is set up to point in a particular way. At some point we're going to need to adjust course - to turn the steering wheel, even just a little bit. And there's nothing in the game that will respond to us doing that, once we leave behind overcoming challenges.

    I guess you could argue here that my particular bugaboo - D&D streams - actually might be the counterexample that changes things here in the modern day, insofar as we can all just watch professional performers improvise quasi-D&D-flavored material, and try to learn from that how to handle our own freeform quasi-D&D-flavored experiences. Perhaps we are entering into the newest era, where nothing that's printed in the books truly matters? This is not a joke.
  • JDCorley said:

    Perhaps we are entering into the newest era, where nothing that's printed in the books truly matters? This is not a joke.

    Totemic D&D enshrined as Official D&D.
  • Hans_c-o said:

    Totemic D&D enshrined as Official D&D.

    I think that if there's actually any truth to the idea that 5E was designed to be "all things to all people," then it's only a formal embrace of the way that many people have been using D&D in practice for decades. Feature not a bug, and cetera and cetera.

    D&D is less a roleplaying game than an ideology that structures people's understanding of what a roleplaying game is. A fantasy self-reference engine. No one can be told what D&D is; you have to see it for yourself. And other lofty proclamations of that sort. I'm probably just irreparably damaged by Ron Edwards's old essay on the subject.
  • People have done all kinds of wild and improbable things with D&D, and will probably continue to do so.

    However, as far as game design goes, I still think that it's a remarkably focused and clear design. It does a veru specific thing.
  • For what it's worth, speaking as a game designer of sorts, I think that several different internally well-defined games that have a claim to be called "D&D" exist. I can parse them from rules texts or actual play culture, same as any other game. It is wrong to call D&D only a culture or ideology, as clearly not everybody treats it that way - I personally know many people who are fully competent to treat D&D as a specific game (or several), with specific conceits that they are capable of setting aside when they play other games. (I do know people who are incapable of that as well, admittedly - true members of the D&D culture, one might say.)

    That being said, however, not only has the D&D brand been whored out over the years nilly-willy, which has caused several different games to emerge under that name, but the way TSR utilized the brand also made it become something that I would basically consider a generic trademark. "D&D" in common parlance encompasses a meaning so wide it's essentially the same as "fantasy adventure roleplaying game". (This was not accidental under the later management of TSR, I understand; I hear they wanted to maintain D&D's market dominance, and chose to attempt it by making AD&D's second edition into the one true game that was supposed to have everything for everybody.)

    If you feel like doubting that claim about D&D being sorta generic as a label, try a thought experiment: if you stumbled upon a group playing a relatively normal fantasy adventure rpg - Earthdawn or Runequest or whatever - that was not D&D, would you truly have any reason to claim that it is not D&D except for the incidence of the name? What if the group informed you that they're playing D&D, just with some house rules? Why are they wrong, aside from the brand technicality? What is the essence of D&D that their campaign lacks but D&D in all its mutated iterations has? I would argue that the existence of such essence is a rather technical matter, only of interest to scholars of roleplaying, and that the average consumer might as well call all fantasy adventure roleplaying games "D&D" for all the difference that makes to the experience of play.

    I guess it depends on what you mean by D&D: if we're talking about the phenomenon in general, I would argue that it is a genre of gaming - ideology is a good description, really. If we're looking at specific game texts, however, or specific schools of play (of which D&D historically has developed several, as has been discussed), then it is very possible to observe a well-defined game. You'll never capture everything that's ever happened under the brand name into a single well-designed and concrete game, but if you're happy with a game that is D&D, that is possible. (I recommend the Mentzer Red Box myself - it's indisputably "D&D", but it's also more well-defined as a game than most traditional rpgs, consisting of much more real procedure than your typical fluff-and-powers rpg.)
  • edited November 2018
    Yes, "middle school" D&D is decidedly broader in scope (or, at least claims to be) than the earlier and modern varieties.

    Let me just say that I love the label "fluff-and-powers RPG"! What a great descriptive term.

    (And I think it's meaningful that most varieties of D&D, in my opinion, are
    not that. They say a lot more about playstyle and mode of play, whether implicitly or explicitly.)

  • edited November 2018
    yukamichi said:


    D&D is less a roleplaying game than an ideology that structures people's understanding of what a roleplaying game is. A fantasy self-reference engine. No one can be told what D&D is; you have to see it for yourself. And other lofty proclamations of that sort. I'm probably just irreparably damaged by Ron Edwards's old essay on the subject.

    Mearls has said as much himself. He said something along the lines of "Wizards views D&D as a culture." I'll see if I can find the source.

    "D&D" in common parlance encompasses a meaning so wide it's essentially the same as "fantasy adventure roleplaying game".

    I've had interesting experiences with this, running a "D&D" game at my office. We started with 5e a couple years ago and have moved through a few different systems and have arrived at DCC. Most of the players couldn't care less - "D&D" means "fantasy adventure roleplaying game", indeed. I advertised "D&D" for this exact reason, and not because I actually expected any of the players to care whether we were using a D&D rules-set as the basis of play.

    Only one of the players has been like, "We're playing DCC? I thought you said this was D&D."
  • JDCorley said:

    First, that's been my practical observation.

    Second, that's because all the assistance for the DM, all the guidance for the player, every page of every book is set up to point in a particular way. At some point we're going to need to adjust course - to turn the steering wheel, even just a little bit. And there's nothing in the game that will respond to us doing that, once we leave behind overcoming challenges.

    I guess you could argue here that my particular bugaboo - D&D streams - actually might be the counterexample that changes things here in the modern day, insofar as we can all just watch professional performers improvise quasi-D&D-flavored material, and try to learn from that how to handle our own freeform quasi-D&D-flavored experiences. Perhaps we are entering into the newest era, where nothing that's printed in the books truly matters? This is not a joke.

    1. Other people have had other experiences. See for example the blog post I linked earlier. It is for OSR, but the events are not rules-specific.

    2. Is your claim that D&D is not better than freeform, or that D&D is actively worse than freeform, for, say, playing a game focused on relationships and slices-of-life? I would say that D&D 5 offers roughly the same level of support as most traditional roleplaying games, 3rd and 4th editions offer less, old school offers very different support, and I can not really comment on AD&D 2 etc. But many people also play such games with no mechanical support whatsoever and prefer that.

    3. I do not think that a particular book has ever mattered a great deal. People have learned how to play roleplaying games by a random process involving various amounts of books, mentors, gaming groups, online material, magazines, and related media (computer games, books, movies, now streams).

    For someone starting out the specifics on how to run a game written somewhere do not matter a great deal (I think) - it is a strange mental discipline one needs to get a hang of first, and then various finer distinctions can be made.

    Those who grasp what roleplaying is also have preferences and experiences, and they might or might not prioritize what some book says over these, if they even read all the books, cover-to-cover, which some will do, and many will not do.


    There seems to be roughly three groups of people who actually care about the minutiae of the game books say. First is character optimisers. Second is game designers who care about their craft (at least they care about what their own book says, one hopes). Third is people who analyze games to divine their true purpose; Forge had a lot of this going on, as did the early OSR.
  • I for one would certainly rather freeform Slice of Life than use D&D for it. Why am I wasting my time figuring out my character's attack bonus?

    So I guess that puts me in "This game is actually worse than freeform for Slice of Life." because I need to either waste time on irrelevant things or occasionally include those things in my slice of life game.
  • Airk said:

    So I guess that puts me in "This game is actually worse than freeform for Slice of Life." because I need to either waste time on irrelevant things or occasionally include those things in my slice of life game.

    Also, those systems (when deprioritized) tend to exacerbate dissonant expectations rather than resolve them. You often need to spend more time resetting shared expectations than in a game that reinforces the agreed-upon focus of play.
  • There's a really interesting thread on rpg.net right now, Would it still be D&D without Incrementalized leveling?, that I think is a an excellent companion to this tangent.

    I want to argue that rules don't necessarily need to be followed or implemented in order to influence the game. Their presence makes certain implicit arguments and shapes expectations even when they aren't explicitly interacted with during play (something that I think might tend to be more true for games that are less procedural). In that sense, "Freeform Within D&D" is still going to have constraints that will shape the fiction in a way that's different from "Non-D&D-Constrained Freeform."

    There was a conversation recently on S-G about what purpose ability scores serve, and someone made the very important observation that they can explain what the game is about, and in some cases make arguments about the game/game world (for example, you can either be smart or strong, but not both) that can potentially transcend their actual use. I think that's another good example of rules as ephemeral boundary markers rather than rules as productive procedures.

    So maybe for some people, knowing their attack bonus is somehow beneficial to telling a story about relationships and slice of life. Sometimes the weird internal mechanical logic of games can take us to places that we wouldn't reach otherwise, even if those places aren't defined directly by the rules.
  • ... They are framed by the expectation that the rules text and illustrations have created.
  • edited November 2018
    Yes, of course.

    Knowing each character's stats, character class, hit points, and various implied facts (e.g. He's a cleric, so he can't pick up that knife to stab me; no point punching Ted because he has an Evasion feat and I don't have enough hit bonuses to land one) all affect how you might make choices in free roleplay.

    Consider how you might feel differently about having character X over for coffee when you know their character class is "Thief"...

    And that's before getting into implied natures of the genre, adventure design, GM powers, and special character features like alignment. (Alignment is a big one!)

    What's the afterlife like? Does resurrection magic exist? Do we ignore things like infections?

    Are gods real? That alone changes a lot of attitudes in the fictional world.

    Of COURSE playing D&D is worse for free roleplay and "slice-of-life" play.

    And that's before we get into how inefficient it is to spend two hours writing up your character's combat stats before playing out our little coffee date.

    (Or other implications and assumptions, for example that all the characters are of the same power/experience level. Just getting to the point of playing out a coffee date between a young hobbit and a famous wizard requires a whole lot of negotiation and discussion: is it possible to have characters of entirely different experience levels in our game?)
  • Identity is complicated. What is the identity of D&D?

    What is the identity of a person? If you remove my leg, is it still me? All my limbs? If you replace my head with a cybernetic version with my brain inside? With an artificial brain inside, filled with my memories, somehow digitized into a computer?

    Remove parts of D&D, and you might still recognize it as D&D, but when interacting with it--playing it--you might not feel it's D&D at all. Or you might not recognize it as D&D, but in play, it might feel like D&D after all.

    It's interesting that when Wizards of the Coast released the D20 License (the one that lets you say it's a D20 product based on D&D, not the OGL that lets you use the content), they forbid those licensees from doing two things: 1) telling you how to create a character and 2) telling you how to level up. That suggests that Wizards believes that's the essential DNA of D&D.
  • That makes a great deal of sense to me.

    Those cover many/most of D&D's most identifiable features.
  • Airk said:

    I for one would certainly rather freeform Slice of Life than use D&D for it. Why am I wasting my time figuring out my character's attack bonus?

    So I guess that puts me in "This game is actually worse than freeform for Slice of Life." because I need to either waste time on irrelevant things or occasionally include those things in my slice of life game.

    Two good reasons, independent of each other:

    1. You want to have dungeoneering or fantasy action or domain management or magic research or whatever you think D&D is good for *and* the slices of life.

    2. You start playing D&D and the slides into personal drama and slice of life. You rescue some villagers, find out the tavern-keeper is a monster, kill them, are gifted with a tavern, and then as a group you figure out that running the tavern and interacting with the locals and guests is pretty fun, actually. So the nature of the game changes midway. (Some people would write "drifts".)

    I personally would not use D&D if the idea is to play purely and only slice-of-life, with insignificant change of more traditional D&D-like activities.
  • Paul_T said:


    And that's before getting into implied natures of the genre, adventure design, GM powers, and special character features like alignment. (Alignment is a big one!)

    What's the afterlife like? Does resurrection magic exist? Do we ignore things like infections?

    Are gods real? That alone changes a lot of attitudes in the fictional world.

    Of COURSE playing D&D is worse for free roleplay and "slice-of-life" play.

    And that's before we get into how inefficient it is to spend two hours writing up your character's combat stats before playing out our little coffee date.

    (Or other implications and assumptions, for example that all the characters are of the same power/experience level. Just getting to the point of playing out a coffee date between a young hobbit and a famous wizard requires a whole lot of negotiation and discussion: is it possible to have characters of entirely different experience levels in our game?)

    If you play freeform, you need to figure out how magic works, how to come to an agreement about how skilled your character is at various things, how to resolve adventurous and violent parts of the game (if any), and so on. Using any traditional set of rpg rules is a fast way of coming to an agreement about such matters.

    And of course you need to agree about the style of play etc., but this is the case most of the time when playing roleplaying games - always when using homebrew or most traditional games (that do not have a strong all-encompassing focus) and usually when using highly specialized games because you are the only one who has read it anyway and so has to explain it.
  • Adam_Dray said:

    I have been disappointed with most of the canned adventures for 5e from Wizards, with the exception of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, which I've only read, but is the most brilliant adventure module ever written.

    I'm intrigued, so I've started a new thread here.
  • Haven't read the whole thread, but I wanted to respond to some of the comments further up regarding "simulationist" play (the players play their characters, the GM plays the world but doesn't create a story per se, see what happens), and the difficulty of making it work.

    I think one way to make this style of play work (possibly) is for the characters to have strong motivations and well-defined goals. Next time I want to play a game like this, I'll probably import some version of Unknown Armies 3e's Objectives mechanic into whatever game I'm using.

    The problem with doing this in D&D is that for player characters to have well-defined goals, the players need to have a certain level of knowledge about the setting. D&D has so many different settings, and also encourages the DM to create their own setting, so the likelihood that all the players are going to have a decent familiarity with the specific setting you're playing in is pretty low.

    That being said, it could be possible to introduce the players to the major factions that will be in play in the game and what their goals are, and let the group come up with a collective goal that they're all highly invested in. You could also allow player input on the setting up front before play starts.

    Then, I'd award XP for reaching specific pre-defined milestones on the way to that goal, and lots of XP for achieving the goal.

    It wouldn't be hard to also graft on the UA3 Objective mechanic whole cloth. I don't remember it exactly right now, but it's something like, when they do something toward the goal, they roll a d10 (or two depending on what they did) and add it to the percentile rating of their objective. When the objective reaches 100%, they've successfully achieved it. At any time, the whole group can agree to just go for it, roll percentile dice, and if they roll under the current rating of the objective, they've achieved it. If not, they've failed (or it's reduced by a certain number). You could do this style of play without a mechanic for reaching goals, but it could also help to have one.

    D&D is certainly not the best system for this, for a variety of reasons, but D&D 5e is often the easiest game to get players for, so it's nice to be able to tweak it in the direction of whatever playstyle you enjoy.

  • It's annoying that Personality Traits / BIFTs don't include Goal.
  • edited November 2018
    It's annoying that the whole game still points through the rules and mechanics that the objective is plainly to kill monsters for loot and XP, yet modules point that PCs should have other motivations. Except the kind of motivations that would take them away from the place because designing new places, obstacles and plot takes too much time to do it properly at the table and still achieve Flow.

    BIFTs and Alignment are actually really great for roleplaying, but both are mainly reactive. That isn't bad per se but again, it points at a game where the GM is expected to come up with objectives and motivations that fit both the characters and the story. Or does it?

    I mean, there's also the current of thought where we get players familiarized with the main setting parts at character creation (building the setting together with the players being the best way to do this, IMHO), sandbox the game, give fronts a plan instead of prepping events, let randon encounters happen and let a story emerge out of that by having players define their objective before prepping what kind of conflict we should throw into their path.

    Otherwise you need collaborative players and some illusionism to fill the holes in the game mechanics if you want the kind of stories presented in the modules or something even closer to the fiction sources. Which is something the rules reccomend at some point if I'm not mistaken.
    DeReel said:

    ... They are framed by the expectation that the rules text and illustrations have created.

    I's more like we're being framed on our own expectations of / prejudices against the game, which come from previous editions, other games, which fictional source are we looking the game through, best and worst RPG moments in our life, our gaming group, etc. These make us read the same rules and understand them differently, and even completely miss things that are or never were in the book, yet swear over Gygax tomb that we know them to be The Game As It Should Be Played.

    I thought Illusionism was the only way to play until SG proved me it wasn't ethic to rob players from their choices. Then SG (and my group) made me doubt if I should instead steal the Illusion from the players for the sake of fairness. I prepped a lot to be ready for a survival minigame with the first levels of 5e, but the game betrayed me by giving the players options to bypass the whole deal of logistics, like the Wanderer feature of the Outlander background or the Goliath features.

    There isn't a single way to play the game, not even by RAW. It's a bunch of too many rules, systems and subsystems created by different people with different intentions, so it requires players and GMs to read a lot, experiment and make conscious choices to get different things out of it. By comparision, hacking it is easier and playing a different, less complex, straight-to-the-point game (or just one that you are more familiar with) is even easier, but different people will find their own different solutions to the same problem, and that would be for the best.
  • Paul_T said:

    Adam's solution is brilliant, in my opinion: he has resting "erase" or counter some of the benefits of gaining XP, so that choosing to rest is something you always want to balance against your HP total (or other resources lost) and your desire to level up and gain abilities. I think this is fantastic, because it makes every hit point lost matter (since rests are costly in terms of advancement), and every healing spell used matter, which is, as far as I can tell, the point of new-school D&D, and what makes it run as intended. If I ever run new-school D&D, I will definitely borrow that little bit of rules technology!

    That does sound brilliant! Can you give any more details on how that works exactly?
  • I ran a megadungeon campaign with an "open table." I ran two-hour sessions on Roll20 and managed a "stable" of players on a Facebook Group.

    Because the sessions were short, there was a temptation to take a long rest every time. That meant a 15-minute adventuring day, more or less.

    I used a rest system adapted from the one in 13th Age. You gained XP normally. Also, every time you earned 1/4 of the XP needed to gain the next level without taking a long rest, you earned an "advancement." Any time you took a long rest, the XP needed to gain the next advancement was reset.

    An advancement is defined similarly to how it is in 13th Age. Essentially, you get one of the perks of the next level: more hit points, access to a new spell level, a new class ability, or similar.

    Each advancement puts you incrementally closer to having the stuff at the next level. You get three advancements, then you have enough XP for the level and you just level up and get all the stuff you'd get at that level.

    If you earn 1/4 the XP needed for the next level without a rest, congratulations! You get the advancement AND can take the long rest without penalty.
  • This is extremely well put. Not only explaining the rules, but also showing how simple they are.
  • Assuming you're referring to me, thanks!
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