Wherein I debrief 5e

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  • edited November 2018
    Morale checks aren't part of the core 5E rules, no. However, on p 273 of the DMG, an optional rule for monster morale is presented: under any of a suggested set of circumstances (ie a solitary creature is surprised, a group of creatures sees its leader reduced to zero hit points, etc), the creature can make a DC 10 Wisdom check (a saving throw, in oldster terms), or flee immediately.
  • Indeed. I've yet to see any 5e groups use Morale rules; again, the structure of the game seems to suggest or a text least imply that is not a congruent part of the game.

    In any case, that doesn't help with PC losses.
  • Morale is absolutely in 5E. It’s right in the DMG.

    More when not on mobile.
  • So immediate flight is the only possible result?

    Truly, RPGers are not war gamers in these sad and fallen times. :wink:
  • @komradebob more nuanced and fine grained outcomes for (failed) morale checks are certainly something I might like to integrate in my own take on D&D. However, it is in my opinion essential that a failed (group) morale check indicates the fight is over, or if rolled at an individual scale it at least removes a combatant from the fight.
    Admittedly, my preference is for zoomed out one-roll resolution of each "melee", a la T&T, with only the most indecisive outcomes resulting in a prolonged, multi-round fight. I wish for fights to be dangerous speed-bumps in the course of exploring the dungeon or other environment, rather than the point of the game.
  • Paul, I'd like to suggest that your particular experience with 5E was especially poisonous to the game's enjoyment. Not only did you have no input over the game's premise—even moderately-skilled GMs know to do a session zero these days—they even directed you to play a particular type of character, and that was a spellcaster, a poor choice for someone worried about length of chargen. On top of that, they advised you poorly, resulting in you ending up with a character concept you weren't invested in.

    Honestly, if I had to come up with a worse way to introduce someone to 5E, I'm not sure I could do it.

    I do think you're right that the general aesthetic of a bunch of non-human weirdos, rather than mostly humans with a few demihumans à la Tolkien, is a real aesthetic thing. My own games tend to trend towards more "Tolkienesque" parties (if not majority human, then majority "usual" D&D races), for the simple reason that my players' preferences run in that direction.

    I actually think my player base has as much to do with my 5E success as my own brilliance, in fact. One of the things I'll talk more about in my separate post, but which I'll mention now: I actually don't prep much directly related to people's BIFTs, but since Inspiration is so good, my players are motivated to play off their own and each other's BIFTs all the damn time.

    Having players who are creative and mostly GMs themselves is not really optional to forming a good ongoing gaming group, for any game, but particularly one that can drag if the players don't deliberately bring the characterization.
  • Matt,

    While you are right that there were some negatives aspects to that particular game, that wasn't my point in writing about it. In the end, I was actually pretty excited about the character, and exploring some of the interesting mechanical options available via Sorcery (Metamagic) and Wild Magic. I didn't feel my hand was forced at any step along the way.

    I was bringing up that particular character in response to Hans's question about how modern D&D has more Colour baked into its procedures than earlier editions. It's a perfect illustration.

    In early versions of D&D, many of the details are either generic and neutral in format (e.g. classes like "Fighting Man" and "Magic-User", can be interpreted in a number of ways) or specific reference to historical or real-world details (e.g. becoming Lord of a Keep, the equipment lists, and most character details except for spells and the Tolkienesque races - Elves, Hobbits, Dwarves).

    It's not at all hard to create a game like Lord of the Rings, where a group of hobbits go to adventure out in a basic fantasy world. A hobbit can be a Fighting-Man, sure, and it's easy to imagine that as simply describing a more stalward or direct hobbit than the others.

    In "middle school" D&D, we started to have a lot more specific character creation options, like the various "kits", but many of these still referenced real world things - you could be a Corsair or a Samurai or a Templar Knight. These were all also optional.

    I find that, in comparison, "modern" D&D bakes a lot of assumptions about the genre and style of play into character generation, monster stats, and so forth. The way character balance and powers work, stat generation, the way races interact with your stats, and many other details mean that you end up with, as you write:


    But personally I find it annoying that the game officially allows any race / class combo, while heavily punishing people who choose one of the many "wrong" ones.

    [...]

    The purpose of this rule is to solve the problem of "suboptimal" race / class combos. Paul might not like this one, as it actually encourages the party of Kenku Paladin + Tabaxi Wizard + Gnome Barbarian + Dragonborn Rogue sort of nonsense. :smiley:

    When I play OSR-style D&D, it's easy to envision a character just about any way I like. My character is a young woman disguised as a cabin boy on a corsair ship? No problem. Being a "fighting man" could mean just about anything, and I don't *need* any particular set of stats to make that choice "workable". I roll up stats and my Shakespearean corsair pirate cabin boy is ready to go. This means a variety of fictional setups, adventures, and campaigns is possible, without too much effort.

    In "modern" D&D I try to make a character and I end up with a demonic heritage, which means I have a tail and horns, can call upon the powers of Hell to punish my enemies in battle, resistance to fire, and - in addition! - I'm also half-dragon, and will soon be able to breathe fire and grow dragon wings. This is all without consciously trying to seek these features out.

    Yikes! Could this person believably disguise herself as a cabin boy?

    These things aren't referents to classic fantasy literature or medieval Earth; all these details tend to create, as you say, "a party of Kenku Paladin + Tabaxi Wizard + [...]". The game foists a great deal of fictional details which are purely based in D&D itself - and not even "classic" D&D (e.g. Beholders) but a modern conception of weird fantasy ideas like Dragonborn, Warforged, Tieflings, and so forth.

    This is no way good or bad design at any objective level - in fact, I suspect most young D&D fans love this stuff! - but it's very offputting to ME, personally, and I don't like how much it limits my options for creating settings, campaigns, characters, and adventurers that resonate with me and I'm interested in seeing in play.

    (This also happens in other ways, beyond character creation: for instance, the way combat has been reworked for 5th Edition, "normal" actions and attacks have been reduced in effective value - e.g. daggers still deal 1d4 damage, but hit points for everyone have been increased - to make room for the various special powers, spells, abilities, and effects. This means that combat tends to be dominated by the powers which are granted by character builds, special abilities, and so forth. A "typical" D&D5 combat will have people saying a lot more things like "I use my Hellish Rebuke as a reaction" and a lot less "let's grab those barrels and roll them down at the tavern guards" or "I throw a milk jug at him" than earlier editions of D&D (at least before 3E). This all contributes to a certain feel to the game and the fiction it creates, and lends a certain D&D-with-video-game-influences Colour to all the proceedings.)

    Hans, hopefully that answers your question. :)
  • @Paul_T, don't forget that I ran a 5e campaign (City of Brass) based on the idea that 1st level characters were totally down on their luck and were forced into a menial existence as squatters -- far worse off than cabin boys. And we had at least one tiefling sorcerer.

    The house rules to make this work were pretty simple: You get 8 gp and no equipment or money from your class or background. You have to pay upkeep every session, using the rules for such. You have to tell the group why you're so down on your luck that you're living in the "Commune" with the other squatters.

    That's it.

    I think you just have a lower tolerance than average for "gonzo," so it all seems so weird to you, you can't imagine it as anything but high fantasy whackiness.
  • @Adam_Dray That was the City of Brass, though - a place run by evil genies and other literal demons, right?
    I understand where @Paul_T comes from: that's by far a different fantasy aesthetics than what I grew up on.
  • It was not the famed City of Brass, per se. Day-to-day, you dealt with people and such, not evil genies and literal demons.

    Adventure challenges were things like:

    * Your friend is hooked on this magical drug and it's causing problems for the Commune.

    * The Blackguard left a tiny black bag on your doorknob and expect your Commune to play the Black Tax.

    * An evangelistic Fire Priest has decided to make a project of the Commune. He's ranting about your evil ways right outside the door.

    * Two of the young roughs in the Commune keep getting into fights. One of them didn't return home last night.
  • @Adam_Dray I like those hooks a lot.
  • @Adam_Dray sorry for sounding off-handedly dismissive. I'm familiar with your Commune campaign from your posts here and I like the concept a lot. I'd play that in heartbeat if I ever had a chance.
    Still, to me the weird multi-species population inherent in post-2000 D&D (partly inherited from Planescape, sure), with all the tieflings and elves and ogres and stuff, imparts to it all quite a different feel - closer to the Star Wars canteen scene than any "fantasy" I grew up reading or playing (be it Tolkien or Howard or Moorcock). Nothing wrong with that per se, sure, but also not very appealing to me... I'd rather give up the sword n' leather boots trappings and play the exact same campaign as some flavor of science fiction, then (cyberpunk, post-apoc, space travel or whatever).
  • edited November 2018
    Paul: You've answered it in spades. Thanks.

    I have a different experience than you, Paul, with regard to the baked-in color. I agree with you about how it all works, naturally, but since I never played D&D until about 2007, the strongly baked-in color to characters seemed as natural as the blue sky. In fact, as I read you describe all the creativity one can put into a "Fighting Man" to make it a young woman disguised as a cabin boy on a corsair ship, I realize that I never really considered that. I just assumed "Fighting Man" meant you were one of a few obvious things: soldier, pit fighter, day laborer who brawls in taverns, etc. - and almost certainly a man, at that! (New School Dain Bramage, perhaps! :smile: )

    But then I haven't played much OSR, though I very much want to.
  • I've been thinking a bunch about the topic of "gonzo fantasy", and whether it is present in "modern D&D" or not.

    My experience is that "modern D&D" assumes and encourages a certain level of fantastic variety which by far outstrips any other kind of genre media you might be inspired by or look to emulate.

    There is, of course, no real objective sense in which this is "better" or "worse" - this isn't a judgement call. It's purely a question of taste. (Some people equate fantasy mish-mash with low quality art, but I don't think it has to be that way - for example, China Mieville is arguably a pretty "gonzo" writer but considered to be an author with depth and nuance.)

    However, it's changed a lot over time, and it's something which makes it difficult for me to be drawn to "modern D&D". D&D players seem to be used to this and to accept it freely (as @Hans_c-o says, above).

    Here's a comparison; perhaps this will be instructive. Here's an illustration of a D&D adventuring party from the 80's (I believe it was in the Player's Handbook):

    image

    Here's an illustration of a D&D adventuring party in 5th Edition:

    image

    The former puts me in the mood for classic fantasy adventure, romance, magic, mysteries, and medievalism. I start thinking of Tolkien, or Game of Thrones, or other bits of media which I find enjoyable and exciting.

    The latter... I can't relate to at all in terms of artistic inspiration. For instance, I recently watched a bit of Critical Role, and I watched a combat scene which involved:

    A blue dragon/snake hybrid which fired lightning from its maw, fighting a motley crew:

    * A half-dragon sorcerer floating in the air
    * A "force of nature" druid who can and does turn herself into an eagle or a snow leopard, stalking through the snow
    * Two twin half-elves, one a ranger and the other an assassin
    * A man who has invited gunpowder firearms, and carries several high-powered guns
    * A singing gnome bard
    * A blue-skinned enormous half-giant kind of fellow with an axe
    * A pet bear

    At the conclusion of the fight, they collected some scales from the creature, which they could use to make armour which would be resistant to lightning damage (!). Oh, and they are on their way to fight some vampires, by the way.

    To a D&D player, all of this is, in some ways, fairly familiar, after getting used to it over time.

    However, I can't think of any other media (books, movies, television), except for cartoons, perhaps, that has this range of strange fantastic elements all jammed together into a single scene. Send that script to a movie producer, and they'll likely think you're out of your mind. (Even the most wildly whimsical properties like Harry Potter or Star Wars have a lot more thematic coherence - sure, you know to expect just about any alien you can imagine, but you would be quite shocked if you saw a vampire in the next Star Wars film! You can easily judge for yourself that it doesn't belong. In Lord of the Rings, there are weird races like Elves and Dwarves and Orcs, but they all reflect some theme of the story and the setting. And so on.)

    This means that it's incredibly difficult to create the kind of fantasy world/story/setting I'm interested in or inspired by with these rules. That alone keeps me from reaching for D&D a lot of the time, and that's unfortunate.

    It's not just a vague knee-jerk reaction, either: I also have all kinds of gameplay concerns, practical concerns about getting the game I want out of these rules. For instance, consider the kind of story where a group plans a heist and dresses up as the serving staff at a tavern or small keep. Perhaps the PCs are part of a group trying to infiltrate or arrange a political scheme, like the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones.

    Can you imagine the characters in the photo, above, infiltrating the Red Wedding?

    No.

    To even consider that a possibility, I must either create a setting of unbelievable mish-mash (like a Star Wars canteen scene - every population in my world must now be an incredible kaleidoscope of colourful creatures) or include other wild things like common illusion magic, which, logically, ought to transform the setting so much as to make envisioning an event like the Red Wedding nearly impossible in the first place.

    I know it's a matter of personal preference, but it gets to me. I'm tempted to play D&D5 these days, for a variety of reasons (and these threads are a big part of that), but the work involved in dealing with these aspects of the design is a huge stumbling block for me. That's unfortunate.

    Does that make me a weirdo, or lacking in "nerd credibility"? I don't know. What do you think?
  • I think you can just restrict the game to the first half of the races in the main PhB. Seriously! Just say, no one but humans, elves, half-elves, halflings, and dwarves. The game won't break. Though for my money I think gnomes and half-orcs are probably pretty okay even by your tough standards.
  • That's a good start. But don't a lot of classes have other restrictions, too? You also need players who are accepting of such restrictions.

    I keep thinking of my first 5E character, a Sorcerer, who had to choose to be half-dragon or to use Wild Magic. But then, people explained that the Wild Magic option was much less effective, so I should choose the Draconic option. On top of that, because of the way the game is set up, I was high encouraged to be a Tiefling or a Half-Elf to get the Charisma modifier... (I like your house rule on that front, by the way!).

    A far cry from how easy this would be in a variety of other games.

    (But possible, yes, of course. The question is, rather, why would I choose this game over those others?)
  • edited December 2018
    I have been thinking about 5e A TON over the last couple weeks. I've been re-reading the core books, reading blog posts, and I have a 10-page campaign document in the works. I still have a ton of work to do.

    All this AFTER I wrote a big series of posts stating why I mostly disliked 5e that spawned 4 pages of discussion.

    Why? Why would you choose this game over others, Paul? I considered many for the kind of campaign I want to run, including many OSR-style games, 4e, Strike! RPG, and a few others. I concluded 5e was best. I can think of a few reasons, which is why I continue to tinker with it:

    1. You want an action-adventure fantasy roleplaying game, where action mostly means fighting monsters, where characters progress in power (where power progression is in a linear relationship to setting impact). I'm designing a campaign explicitly based on the XP assumptions of the core books: XP only for defeating monsters. The PCs can spend a session politicking all they want, and I'd be happy to run that. But no XP. This is me taking the rules at face value and reverse-engineering the setting from it: If people get more powerful by defeating monsters, what does that mean? (I have answers for it in my setting that drive play).

    2. You want it easily hackable. 5e is explicitly designed for this. I cannot imagine running 5e without hacking 10-30% of the game. "Hacking" also means, of course, omitting things you dislike (for me, it's the Gnome and the Perception, Persuasion, Insight, and Investigation skills; for Paul, it might be the Dragonborn* and Tiefling* and Drow*, and allowing the player to reskin the Draconic Sorcerer). I thought an OSR-style game with tactical combat would be best for the campaign I want to run, and then I realized that 5e is the best game for that (hacked, obviously). It's easier to cut away cruft that fights against OSR-style and keep the tactical combat system rather than start with B/X or something and design a tactical combat system.

    3. It is ubiquitous. If you're looking to play a PC, you'll likely be able to find a table that fits your style. If you're looking to GM, you'll likely be able to find a group of players who accept your houserules and want to play the type of game you want to run.

    If I were trying to run a Deliverator-style game I still think I'd shove off from 5e and pick something else like Dungeon World. My campaign will probably excise BIFTs altogether.

    *In fact the PHB calls out these races and a few others, including my hated Gnome, as "less common" in the "multiverses" of D&D, and only in the game at the DM's discretion.
  • Hans_c-o said:

    2. You want it easily hackable. 5e is explicitly designed for this. I cannot imagine running 5e without hacking 10-30% of the game.

    A question: what exactly about 5E makes it "easily hackable"?

  • edited December 2018
    That's exciting, Hans!

    I hope you will post your house rules and campaign format in some detail. I would enjoy reading it!

    It's funny, because all these threads about 5E are giving me thoughts, as well.

    Similar thoughts: like, maybe I want to run my own 5E game. I don't know what it would look like yet, however.

    Deliverator-style, like you say, seems odd. Why not use a more story-oriented or dramatically-oriented game?

    Doing something OSRish seems crazy to me in a similar way: something in the vein of an older edition of D&D seems far better for that.

    But there is a game in there for me, too, perhaps... I'm thinking about it.

    Your own reasons for choosing the ruleset don't speak to me - I don't see what makes the game hackable at all (so I look forward to hearing about that!), and "finding players" isn't really a consideration, either. Your #1 is correct, though. If you want to play D&D it should be precisely because you like al those things that are specific to D&D, and that's classes and level progression and the particular spell lists and so forth. (And probably some nostalgia or other desire for the familiar.)

    A side note on excising the overly "colourful" races:

    If that's what you guys think would make D&D interesting to me in terms of Colour, I didn't explain myself earlier. It's not just that. It's how that stuff is baked in at every level of the game:

    The inflexibility of character generation. (My character can't be a kid who's a baker's apprentice. Or even a Ranger who doesn't cast spells.) The need for character builds (which means that your need to be a certain race to play a certain class, if your table is at all competitive in terms of effectiveness). The assumptions about how gods and religion function. The need for high-powered opposition which makes it hard to scale the game down (e.g. at many points your opponents need magical abilities or you're working against all sorts of design assumptions), and, for similar reasons, an expectation and a need for magical gear for the PCs. The way combat takes a long time to play out and is, essentially, about each character and monster firing off their special abilities one by one. And so on.
  • Paul_T said:

    The inflexibility of character generation. (My character can't be a kid who's a baker's apprentice. Or even a Ranger who doesn't cast spells.) The need for character builds (which means that your need to be a certain race to play a certain class, if your table is at all competitive in terms of effectiveness). The assumptions about how gods and religion function. The need for high-powered opposition which makes it hard to scale the game down (e.g. at many points your opponents need magical abilities or you're working against all sorts of design assumptions), and, for similar reasons, an expectation and a need for magical gear for the PCs. The way combat takes a long time to play out and is, essentially, about each character and monster firing off their special abilities one by one. And so on.

    I think it's worth noting that I haven't exactly left the area, but this summarizes something which I think I've found a way to phrase more succinctly:

    Modern D&D play is not about an adventuring party in a pseudo-medieval setting, a bunch of people trying to make their way in the world. It has largely abandoned those tropes.

    It's a superhero game with superheroic tropes largely masquerading as a mid/high-magic fantasy setting.

    Every member of the party is very visually distinct. Every member of the party has a special power, and everyone that looks mostly like that member of the party shares that special power. You don't run stories about building emotional connections with other people and having those threatened, not because the mechanics don't support them (though they really don't) but because the only threat that exists within the context of people creating narratives is "do you die?" Everything is existential. (I would note that such makes for some of the most boring stories and yet so easy to put together.)

    Now, obviously some of these tropes are directly connected to those which resonate with "old school D&D" as it's evolved. But honestly, taken as a whole and ending up where we're at – I am surprisingly reminded in this course of analysis that old-school Vampire at a certain point turned into "Trench Coats and Katanas: Superheroes at Night." Perhaps the same process has occurred to D&D to make 5th "Wands and Dagger Throwing: Superheroic Dungeons."

    Taken in that light, it's not surprising that not everybody is on board. If I want to run what is effectively a superheroic RPG set in a fantasy world, D&D is probably almost the exact wrong system to do so with. But it's the one that a lot of people know. If you don't want to run superheroic dungeon crawlers, if you want something that hews back to more traditional examples of the genre, D&D 5th Edition doesn't do that. It doesn't want to do that.
  • SquidLord,

    Yes, well put. That's a big part of what I've been trying to get at, and you said it so much better than my rather misguided attempts.

  • So what exactly is left of 5E once you throw out the "fantasy cosmopolitanism"? Have all those options actually supplanted a game system, or is it just that the game system underneath is boring, and the robots and warlocks and half-dragons are there to keep people from straying to something more interesting?

    How different would 5E actually be compared to B/X if you went back to the core 4 races and classes? That's just what the free basic rules are, right? Are they functionally unplayable? Or is it just that everyone has come to identify D&D so much with the menagerie that they don't see a point to the game without it?
  • edited December 2018
    Trent_W said:

    Hans_c-o said:

    2. You want it easily hackable. 5e is explicitly designed for this. I cannot imagine running 5e without hacking 10-30% of the game.

    A question: what exactly about 5E makes it "easily hackable"?

    Good question! To clarify, I mean "easily hackable" within a certain fairly strict bandwidth of what D&D does. You can easily hack it to play in a more old-school fashion (3d6 in order, cut out certain skills, track death saves taken for the character until they reach a limit and die for good, give XP for treasure, do side initiative, give monsters more damage dice), or you can easily hack it to play in a more 4e fashion (give monsters Bloodied abilities and import other 4e abilities to monsters, import Skill Challenges), or you can easily hack it to curate your specific vision of D&D fantasy (no X races, no Y classes, we're not playing with these 5 spells, point buy chargen).

    I say it's easy because, if you know about those things and want to import them as rules into your game, it's easy AND it doesn't break anything, since the system is not a tightly-designed mechanism in the way that something like Burning Wheel is. You'll notice that a few of the examples of hacking I posted are just options in the core game. "Do it like this, or if you want, do it like this, or here's another weird option in the DMG if you want to try that (and implied: if you want, do it another way of your own design once you have some experience with the game).

    5e will never be all things to all people, but it can be many things to most people, with GM-side design work. Whether that GM-side design work to get the game one wants is a feature or bug is in the eye of the iconic proprietary monster.

    But! Consider that an emergent property of GMing D&D is becoming a game designer. That's pretty cool.
  • Hans_c-o said:

    I say it's easy because, if you know about those things and want to import them as rules into your game, it's easy AND it doesn't break anything, since the system is not a tightly-designed mechanism in the way that something like Burning Wheel is.

    This is a big reason why I run 5E more often than BW these days, even though I love BW. That, and the fact that 5E has a lower frustration factor (though it can still be quite frustrating / punishing, the way I run it). Meanwhile, it's much more mechanically fun and interesting than Dungeon World, which I also love, but am kind of sick of.

    ***

    What do you mean, Paul, about classes having restrictions? (You could certainly remove certain classes without breaking the game. I ran an all-Wizards game for awhile, and also a game where no spellcasting classes at all were in the game.)

    One interesting thing about the race / class combos is that, even by total RAW, human is always an optimal option. The people you played with, Paul, were just morons who didn't understand that or point it out as an option. The only thing needed for a race / class combo to be viable is that you start with a 16 in your main stat. With my rules, with the floaters, any race / class combo is doable. But with the PHB rules, while there are some combos that are just not good, like Gnome Barbarians, human is always a good option. Many people would argue that it is, in fact, always strictly best, from a power-gaming point of view, to be a Variant Human, because of the free Feat... and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree.

    The new subclasses in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, by the way, do a lot to flesh out the range of possible character concepts. Paladin who wants to seek peace rather than war? Done. Non-magical Ranger? Done. (Not technically a Ranger, but a subclass of Rogue called Scout.) Non-evil Death Cleric? In there. Oh, and a bunch of Sorcerer options far less stupid than Wild Mage, and less... specific... than Draconic.

    By the way, I'm... not sure why you think it's not possible to have a character be a baker's apprentice. Even if there's not a specific Background in the book that exactly fits your character concept, just make one up: every Background is two skills, two languages and/or tool proficiencies, some non-combat / setting ability, and some equipment. If I had a player tell me they wanted to be the child of a baker, then, sure.

    I keep hammering on these points because I really genuinely think the people who taught you to play 5E misinformed you quite badly as to some specific things about chargen. And sure, the average person isn't as adept as I am at making rule changes and using the system to its best advantage, but most of the things I'm pointing out are right there in the book.

    ***

    The superhero thing, however, I do agree with. 5E parties do tend to resemble superhero teams, and probably would even if the "weird" races (and even some of the more exotic classes, like Warlock) were excised. I've never been into superhero comics, but I'm deeply into the movies and TV shows (both DC and Marvel in the latter case), so this doesn't bother me.

    Specifically, in the superhero stories I'm into, there is a ton of room for interpersonal drama, hamming it up, and even characters changing over time, albeit in fairly broad strokes sorts of ways. Leaning on the BIFTs the way I do—well, I hadn't thought of it before, but it does a reasonably good job of producing that sort of party dynamic: they're still a team, but they might fight over things, or someone's personal weaknesses might screw over the entire group at a crucial moment, and then there will be fallout from that.

    Even 5E games I've been in but not run, and without extensive houseruling, that are in even moderately competent hands, tend to resemble that kind of fiction, just with a dungeon setting. My rules are really just designed to push the game more in that direction, with a strong dose of in-fiction problem solving as well.
  • edited December 2018
    @SquidLord I also agree that you've basically nailed it with the superhero analogy. There's something about that comparison that doesn't sit well with me, but it's probably just the other tropes of superhero fiction that D&D doesn't employ (like that normal people can't just become supers by trying, but people become PCs by just deciding to; there's no level 1 Superman or Wolverine, frex), which is simply a part of the translation from the "Here and Now" setting of supers to the fantastical pseudo-medieval setting of D&D.

    It's like, player characters become superheros, but the rest of the world doesn't necessarily operate on superheroic tropes. I'm not intimately familiar with supers, as I was never into reading comics, so I may be missing a lot of other things about supers that 5e emulates. I'd sure like to read someone else's comparison study on the two genres!
  • In the DC Television Universe, there's an interesting mix of heroes who became so through training / effort, like Sarah Lance (Black / White Canary) and Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), and those who had their powers thrust on them, like Barry "The Flash" Allen. This is roughly analogous to Fighters or Monks versus, say, Warlocks or Sorcerers.
  • edited December 2018
    Hans_c-o said:

    @SquidLord I also agree that you've basically nailed it with the superhero analogy. There's something about that comparison that doesn't sit well with me, but it's probably just the other tropes of superhero fiction that D&D doesn't employ (like that normal people can't just become supers by trying, but people become PCs by just deciding to; there's no level 1 Superman or Wolverine, frex), which is simply a part of the translation from the "Here and Now" setting of supers to the fantastical pseudo-medieval setting of D&D.

    Except that normal people become superheroes all the time and superhero settings simply by trying. Batman is sort of the ur-example. A brush with tragedy in his youth pushes him into training himself to the pinnacle of human capability in certain ways, coupled with a native intelligence and emotional ruthlessness. If anything, Batman may exemplify the sort of superhero trope tradition that D&D has hooked into the hardest.

    Of course, Batman is probably a PC.

    Pointing out that the level progression of D&D doesn't really resonate with superheroic tropes doesn't work either, really. How many games go ahead and say, "start at level 10?" And how many superhero stories start with a street-level origin story with a long arc that culminates in being a respected vigilante/superhero? (Hint: Spider-Man is probably a good place to start.)

    Now, which direction most of those tropes have flown over the last decade of evolution of both genre of stories is something that several people could get thesis papers out of on a regular basis – because there has obviously been some transference, in part because the audience for both have significant overlaps, and also because everybody likes to nick successful setups.

    In the modern fantasy D&D-derived set of literature, part of the problem is that the setting really does run on a lot of superheroic tropes. Since the PCs are superheroes, their opponents end up being superheroes a lot of the time. Forget despotic kings, doublecrossing dukes, and the like – the current crop of enemies is more likely to be an ancient undead Lich, an incredibly powerful necromancer, a rogue wizard, a dark god-empowered death night, or so on. There seems to be a surprising lack of dungeons in Dungeons & Dragons these days because superheroes generally don't go into deadly labyrinths just to make a buck, nor do they lead armies of lesser men into battle on behalf of goodness and righteousness (or greed and power consolidation).

    The more I think about it, the more that it seems that the superheroic architecture of the setting is one of the big problems with D&D 5th, especially because it is not only part of the narrative furniture but also baked into the mechanics.

    It seems that D&D has gone from a set expectation of low magic/local importance to a regular expectation of trans-high magic/global importance to start with, and that is definitely a change in flavor which a lot of people may not and don't necessarily have to enjoy.

    It's funny, because I was just looking at a description of Starfinder on TV Tropes and realizing how much fun the setting sounded because it truly embrace to the gonzo, over the top sci-fi/fantasy hybrid nature of the setup. But it felt to be sci-fi/fantasy, not fantasy/superheroic because the stories that it wanted to tell dropped the PCs into these gonzo, Star Wars cantina-style environments without making the PCs stand out in contrast to them.

    In a sense, D&D has become its own parody.

  • SquidLord,

    I can't agree more. Well said, once again.

    On the subject of "who's a hero?":

    It's true that superhero stories have a slightly different approach to "who's a superhero" than D&D/fantasy stories. In fantasy stories, it's often a question of birthright or lineage (the heroes tend to be of royal blood, ancient bloodlines, born half-human half-God - e.g. Greek myths - or similar). In superhero stories, there's usually an "origin story", which often involves some terrible traumatic incident.

    In D&D, however, there's an assumption/idea that anyone can just choose to become an adventurer, and, bam! they're level 1 and can collect XPs.

    That's an interesting distinction!

    D&D also builds in the "zero-to-hero" story, which most superheroes don't share (but some do, like Spiderman). However, that's not so different from fantasy stories, either: Frodo and Sam go from zero-to-hero, but Legolas and Gimli are basically the same throughout (except for learning to love each other).

  • Hans_c-o said:

    the system is not a tightly-designed mechanism in the way that something like Burning Wheel is. You'll notice that a few of the examples of hacking I posted are just options in the core game. "Do it like this, or if you want, do it like this, or here's another weird option in the DMG if you want to try that (and implied: if you want, do it another way of your own design once you have some experience with the game).

    5e will never be all things to all people, but it can be many things to most people, with GM-side design work.

    Thanks, Hans. That's an interesting point of view!

    I wasn't particularly looking at it that way, I think, because that's a feature most traditional RPGs share. But, yes, D&D5 does try a lot harder than previous editions to be "something for everyone", which arguably means that hacking and redesign is part-and-parcel.

    I don't find the game *easier* to hack than other games, however. Maybe easier than D&D4, but significantly trickier than, say, Apocalypse World or Savage Worlds or GURPS or The Shadow of Yesterday.

    I can see what you mean, though. Very interesting. I'll think on it.
  • edited December 2018
    Matt,

    Looks of interesting thoughts here, too. Let me answer quickly:


    Meanwhile, it's much more mechanically fun and interesting than Dungeon World, which I also love, but am kind of sick of.


    Yeah, this explains a lot to me, I think, if I can read between the lines. I keep thinking "why wouldn't you do this in Dungeon World?" ("You" in that sentence being you, Matt.)

    I'm not a huge Dungeon World fan, as I've said before, so I agree with your (implied) criticisms of the game. I can totally see, though, how someone who really enjoys the basic gameplay of Dungeon World but wants a little more mechanical detail to keep their interest and grow/develop the game as it goes along, would gravitate to D&D. There's certainly a lot more to explore there, in terms of System, and to keep interest alive as the characters level up.

    Am I guessing somewhere in the right area, here? :)


    What do you mean, Paul, about classes having restrictions? (You could certainly remove certain classes without breaking the game. I ran an all-Wizards game for awhile, and also a game where no spellcasting classes at all were in the game.)

    Hmm! I'm not sure which of my comments you're referring to.

    What I was probably talking about, though, is how I find most D&D classes to be parodies of themselves at this point. The Barbarian is really strong and gets really angry and hates wizards. The wizard is weak but knowledgeable. Stuff like that.

    D&D makes it really hard for you to make, say, an angry, strong, stupid wizard who runs around with a big hammer.

    Moreover, it's not just about character creation: it's something you're buying into for a long time. This is kind of what I was hinting at earlier:


    By the way, I'm... not sure why you think it's not possible to have a character be a baker's apprentice. Even if there's not a specific Background in the book that exactly fits your character concept, just make one up: every Background is two skills, two languages and/or tool proficiencies, some non-combat / setting ability, and some equipment. If I had a player tell me they wanted to be the child of a baker, then, sure.

    Ok, so what I was using "baker's apprentice" as a shorthand was a fantasy trope: there's the young innocent kid, who doesn't have anything going for him. He's bored, he has no experience and no skills. This is the kid whose life is changed one day when he draws a sword from the stone. It's Bilbo Baggins, it's Luke Skywalker...

    Basically, he's poor, he's innocent, he knows nothing, he owns nothing, he lives in a little town. What will happen to him? We know he will be a hero someday; dramatic necessity tells us he's destined for great things.

    But will he become squire to a knight? Or apprentice with a wizard? Or turn dark and become an assassin? Or join a troupe of dragonslayers? Or refuse to pick up a sword and take on hardship, sacrificing himself for the greater good? We don't know yet. We're excited to see what he will become.

    How do we do that in D&D? I have no idea. Any class I pick will give me combat powers and magical spells and all kinds of awesome weapons and gear and armour. My stats will start good and basically stay that way.

    And then I've signed up for a certain "career path", if you will. (Sure, you can multi-class - does that still exist in 5E? - but many options or combinations are not a good idea mechanically.)

    That little dirty kid who knows nothing? Ain't part of the D&D world anymore. As SquidLord says, this is superhero fiction (except for those superheroes who DO start as clueless innocents, or those who are grizzled veterans trying to stave off their inevitable doom).

    Likewise, I can't be that guy (the grizzled veteran at the end of his career): I can't be Luke and I can't be Obi-Wan, either. I can only be Anakin in the prequels. :D


    One interesting thing about the race / class combos is that, even by total RAW, human is always an optimal option. The people you played with, Paul, were just morons who didn't understand that or point it out as an option. The only thing needed for a race / class combo to be viable is that you start with a 16 in your main stat. With my rules, with the floaters, any race / class combo is doable.

    Human isn't impossible... but having a character with really lousy stats unsuited to their class/race combo isn't a good option at most D&D tables.

    For instance, with that particular group stats were rolled, not allocated. That means that if you have a 16, you'd better choose a race which bumps that up to 18! Those restrictions are very real - you could argue that, hey, "you can do anything you want!" but the system sure pushes you in a certain direction.

    (If you want to tell me that rolling your stats in D&D5 is illogical, I won't argue, of course! But it's part of the tradition and it's right there in the book. :) )

    (Also: I think your house rule there is excellent, by the way, and would use it in my own game, if I ever run one. That changes thing dramatically!)

    For another example, I didn't want my Sorcerer to be charismatic - I was hoping for the dark, grim, antisocial one. But, no, not an option. There are small restrictions like that every step of the way, in terms of rules, in terms of Colour, and in terms of where you're headed as the game progresses. Your Sorcerer is going to be really good with people, full stop.


    The new subclasses in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, by the way, do a lot to flesh out the range of possible character concepts.

    That's fair! But also a big commitment in terms of money and time spent. That wasn't an option for me (for example).

    There's also always the (fairly justified) fear that such "splats" will screw something up and won't be balanced properly. That may or may not concern you, but it could concern the group you're playing with, who may push back against your desire to play some newfangled race/class that they didn't have access to when they started the game (for instance).
  • edited December 2018


    And sure, the average person isn't as adept as I am at making rule changes and using the system to its best advantage, but most of the things I'm pointing out are right there in the book.

    [...]

    Specifically, in the superhero stories I'm into, there is a ton of room for interpersonal drama, hamming it up, and even characters changing over time, albeit in fairly broad strokes sorts of ways. Leaning on the BIFTs the way I do—well, I hadn't thought of it before, but it does a reasonably good job of producing that sort of party dynamic: they're still a team, but they might fight over things, or someone's personal weaknesses might screw over the entire group at a crucial moment, and then there will be fallout from that.

    You're not entirely wrong, of course, but I think you overestimate how hard or easy that is to do when you're not someone who is a) knowledgeable about the rules, and good with tinkering in general, b) has the time to look into all these options and figure out how to make them work, and c) is either running her own game, or has enough social clout to impose such modifications on a group she's joining.

    I can see someone saying, "Hey, that just means you're not a dedicated enough gamer!" But, practically speaking, those are still major roadblocks for people. I'm a knowledgeable and experienced gamer, but I don't feel confident (nor do I have the time to) write up my own class and bring it a group I'm joining. That could take many, many sessions of playtesting and fiddling. (And then it would require a pretty involved social situation to convince the new group to allow it, in many cases.)

    I'm glad you've worked out a way to get BIFTs to work for you, for instance, but it's clearly not something that's obvious for most D&D players. Surveys show that very, very few D&D groups ever use Inspiration at all, never mind get some good mileage out of them in the way you're describing.

    Even the Critical Role folks (who are certainly committed to what they do!) have decided not to use Inspiration because they don't know what to do with it, and it's not worth the trouble to them.

    I've been involved in four different D&D5 games at this point, and watched two other online, and I have yet to see a single example of D&D's rules "producing that sort of party dynamic". Another friend of mine (a very experienced and committed gamer) has just had to reboot his D&D campaign because leaning on the BIFTs and Inspiration created so much disjunction in his group that they've been forced to rewrite the BIFTs and the GM's prep almost from the ground up to get things aligned again.

    I can see how your methods and modifications produce that kind of play, with the right players, but what you're doing is practically a different game, in my opinion (and/or you have the right players who've bought into that idea in the first place, and play it to the hilt).

    I hope I'm not coming across as too critical: I'm just trying to explain where I'm coming from. I'd love to play in your game someday, for example, to experience it first hand (because I have no doubt that you're reporting it correctly).

    I'm still excited to learn more, as well, and to hear about Hans' "style" when he (hopefully) shares that with us! There's lots of gaming fun to be had out there. :)
  • Paul_T said:

    I don't find the game *easier* to hack than other games, however. Maybe easier than D&D4, but significantly trickier than, say, Apocalypse World or Savage Worlds or GURPS or The Shadow of Yesterday.

    Hi @Paul_T , I would say 5E is easier to hack than 4E to do an old-school D&D style game.

    I would say 4E is much, much, much easier to hack to do literally anything other than Another Flavor of D&D game. A big part of this is because it is easier to gate content through the tiers framework, it has far more robust reward cycles, and much of the assumptions you highlighted earlier (especially in regards to the presence of spells and magic items) are pretty absent in 4E.

    As an example, I want to run a low-fantasy game of political intrigue where combat is relatively infrequent but quite deadly. In 4E, I can literally do this out of the box with only a modest tweaking of the rules (mostly limiting what races, classes, and perhaps feats are available) and the game's PC resource suites, reward cycles, and conflict resolution systems would support my style of game just fine.
  • Interesting, Trent! I stand corrected. :)
  • Hi @Paul_T , it sounds like some of your issues with D&D might stem from the fundamental conceits of the game: Ability Scores and Character Classes. Does this sound right?

    (Incidentally, I think the six abilities in D&D are incredibly dumb and don't serve any real purpose, so I'm with you there if that's your position. You could replace them with "you get a +3 to your class's Main Thing and to every skill you're trained in", reduce all skill and save DCs by 3, and almost nothing would be lost. Death To Ability Scores.)
  • edited December 2018
    Well, I don't love Ability Scores and Character Classes (and your solution is not at all bad :) ), but I'd like to stick to the topic at hand, which is the specific game that is D&D5.

    For instance, many flavours of old-school D&D do not share any of the problems I've describing here, even though they have Ability Scores and Character Classes. (Roll up a B/X character and you can very easily get a Magic-User with a high Strength score, for instance. And if that same Magic-User has low Intelligence, that won't make him unable to contribute meaningfully to a combat encounter. Envisioning a first-level Thief or Fighting Man as a baker's apprentice is no trouble, either - only thing you might struggle with is justifying a high starting wealth roll! And so on.)

    D&D always has a lot of stuff baked into it, but more recent editions constrain you a lot more by including very specific Colour in the characer options (e.g. the Draconic Sorcerer I keep bringing up :) ) and by making character effectiveness and specific character abilities and character builds a necessary part of the game.

    In old-school D&D, sit down and watch people play... you'll hear a lot of things like "I take the beer mug and smash it on his helmet!", and that could be most of what happens at the table. In modern D&D, the dialogue tends to sound more like "I'll use my bonus action to activate my Arcane Shield Fighter advantage and then Eldritch Blast him, which gives me double damage dice."

    I'm not making the argument that one is better than the other, but they're *very different*.
  • Paul_T said:

    For instance, many flavours of old-school D&D do not share any of the problems I've describing here, even though they have Ability Scores and Character Classes. (Roll up a B/X character and you can very easily get a Magic-User with a high Strength score, for instance. And if that same Magic-User has low Intelligence, that won't make him unable to contribute meaningfully to a combat encounter. Envisioning a first-level Thief or Fighting Man as a baker's apprentice is no trouble, either - only thing you might struggle with is justifying a high starting wealth roll! And so on.)

    Hi @Paul_T , I think the main difference here is how ability modifiers are derived from the ability scores.

    In modern D&D editions (from 3E to present), ability modifiers have a linear distribution: 10 is a +0, 12 a +1, 14, a +2, 16 a +3, and so on. Old-school D&D, by contrast, tends to have a bell-curve distribution for ability modifiers (so more like 9-12 is a +0, 13-17 is a +1, etc). This, coupled with the fact that actual ability scores increases are fairly rare in old-school D&D compared to modern editions, means that your abilities in general are fairly inconsequential.

    Which still begs the obvious question: why bother having them in the first place? ;)

    (The only decent answer I can think of is for ability checks, but since D&D has had some form of non-weapon proficiencies or skill rankings for decades now, I really don't see the point.)
    Paul_T said:

    D&D always has a lot of stuff baked into it, but more recent editions constrain you a lot more by including very specific Colour in the characer options (e.g. the Draconic Sorcerer I keep bringing up :) ) and by making character effectiveness and specific character abilities and character builds a necessary part of the game.

    This is much less of an issue in my preferred iteration of D&D because of a strong emphasis on re-fluffing or re-flavoring (its actually discussed in some length in the DMG2).
    Paul_T said:

    In old-school D&D, sit down and watch people play... you'll hear a lot of things like "I take the beer mug and smash it on his helmet!", and that could be most of what happens at the table. In modern D&D, the dialogue tends to sound more like "I'll use my bonus action to activate my Arcane Shield Fighter advantage and then Eldritch Blast him, which gives me double damage dice."

    I'm not making the argument that one is better than the other, but they're *very different*.

    Sure, but that old-school paradigm really only functions at the lowest levels of play before PCs have acquired a small arsenal of spells and magic items (remember spells were treasure in old-school D&D as well). After which, you're largely mashing special buttons or using Cool Powers or Playing The Character Sheet or whatever meme one wishes to invoke... as in modern D&D.

    In fact, I'd argue a lot of what gets described as "old-school play" really only meaningfully takes place during levels 1-3 of the editions in question.

    Just my two cents. ;)
  • edited December 2018
    That's somewhat true! My preferred D&D *is* in that "levels 1-3" area, though, so it's not a minor point (for me!).

    And Ability Scores matter in a different way in different editions: in the earliest D&D, they're an XP bonus, and that's it. In D&D5, though, they're often required elements of playing a particular class well (e.g. your spellcasting ability, or your most-used skills). Different paradigms.
  • Paul_T said:

    That's somewhat true! My preferred D&D *is* in that "levels 1-3" area, though, so it's not a minor point (for me!).

    And Ability Scores matter in a different way in different editions: in the earliest D&D, they're an XP bonus, and that's it. In D&D5, though, they're often required elements of playing a particular class well (e.g. your spellcasting ability, or your most-used skills). Different paradigms.

    Quite true!
  • edited December 2018
    Trent_W said:

    In fact, I'd argue a lot of what gets described as "old-school play" really only meaningfully takes place during levels 1-3 of the editions in question.

    I would agree, in principle, with this statement – but it leaves out an important part of the gameplay experience which is the gameplay experience.

    Now, keep in mind – I don't like D&D. I don't like D&D 5th, I don't like D&D 3rd or 3.5, I don't like AD&D, and I think that truly old-school very basic original D&D is kind of interesting from a conceptual point of view as an inheritor of Chainmail and has an interesting implicit setting but the mechanics make my eyes bleed.

    D&D 4th is kind of interesting.

    Having exposed myself as some kind of weirdo and perverse provocateur, let me also say that I recognize the place of D&D in the overall architecture of traditional gaming and I recognize there are certain traits and tropes which are clear and rooted in the literature. While I may not enjoy them for myself, I understand why other people do.

    Which brings us back to the traditional idea of D&D play really only taking place as you would say it "during levels 1 – 3 of the additions in question." I would bump up the high-end of that to 5 or 10, but essentially maintain it.

    The difference in a significant way is that versions of D&D prior to 4th strongly focused on character as process. If you didn't start as a first level character it was expected that it was an advanced option. You had experience of going through the establishment and evolution of a character from nothing and everyone had simply decided to move on past that initial qualification – but often it wasn't with serious equipment, treasure, or spell craft. The advanced character was considered competent but not extraordinary.

    And that's important, because the "zero to hero" idea is not just about power, and you could make the argument that it has nothing to do with power, but instead is about character and player agency as regards the setting.

    Traditionally, your experience with the character was an accumulation of "cool shit" to tap into, and every time that you did so it was implicitly assumed that it was a reminder of how that particular aspect became a part of the character. If you activate your Cool Power, implicitly you and everyone at the table is reminded of the adventure that you went on to get the XP to unlock the Cool Power. If you swing of the life-draining Hell sword, you and everyone at the table are reminded (and sometimes talk about) that awesome adventure you went on where you got the life-draining Hell sword. Thus, a lot of what gets described as "old-school play" is really about play which is deeply connected in the latter stages to experiences in the earlier stages.

    Modern D&D play seems to want to skip a lot of that, and as a result it comes up a little bit hollow with characters who all seem to be obsessed with the buttons on the character sheet and their cool powers and less so about establishing cool context with the other people at the table.

    Interestingly, this is also a problem that superhero-focused RPGs can and have had. The debate about whether a character is being played and portrayed as something larger than the selection of cool buttons on the character sheet that get hit for some kind of delicious reward has been going on since there were superhero-focused RPGs. Always the response centers around whether or not the character has context which other players at the table can share.

    The new D&D party looks like a group of superheroes. Everyone looks different, everyone has different powers, and everyone comes to the table with an assortment of colorful buttons that are linked to false context.

    I think this is what @Paul_T is really getting at in a lot of his response.

    Cool powers in D&D 5th are linked, aggressively, to inherent traits of the character class, of the character race, all the things which are set very early on before anyone else is at the table. That first through 3rd level experience seen in more traditional D&D doesn't happen on screen. It's assumed to have happened before the characters show up at whatever their initiating experience is. It's never really talked about how important setting up the context, the shared mental space, of gameplay for the characters to be interesting really is.

    That's not to say that context can't be meaningful and doesn't eventually get established in modern D&D play but it is saying that driving that context, creating that space, isn't helped to by modern incarnations of D&D – to the point where it's perfectly reasonable to say "if I'm going to have to do all this anyway without the support of the system, why shouldn't I play a system which actually helps me do things I want to do?"

    It is more than okay to say, "you know what? D&D is not a set of tools that helps me get what I want at the table. It doesn't have to be. It's okay that it's not. And other people are using it out of brand loyalty, out of a fixation on a dream that is not actually happening, or out of a desire to want to be seen playing the Right Game – but I don't have to."

    And they don't.

    D&D, from my perspective, has evolved away from doing one thing well to trying to do everything well and doing no one thing well, and I don't need that.

    That's no problem for me, but it seems to be a problem for some other people.
  • Hi @SquidLord , I'm with you here but one thing stood out for me...
    SquidLord said:

    And that's important, because the "zero to hero" idea is not just about power, and you could make the argument that it has nothing to do with power, but instead is about character and player agency as regards the setting.

    Traditionally, your experience with the character was an accumulation of "cool shit" to tap into, and every time that you did so it was implicitly assumed that it was a reminder of how that particular aspect became a part of the character. If you activate your Cool Power, implicitly you and everyone at the table is reminded of the adventure that you went on to get the XP to unlock the Cool Power. If you swing of the life-draining Hell sword, you and everyone at the table are reminded (and sometimes talk about) that awesome adventure you went on where you got the life-draining Hell sword. Thus, a lot of what gets described as "old-school play" is really about play which is deeply connected in the latter stages to experiences in the earlier stages.

    The part I bolded above literally describes like 90% the entire play process of 4E. You start off with a couple of Cool Powers (which eventually get swapped out once you hit 13th level on) but the lion's share of your Cool Powers are the result of you going out and doing things (much of which may not even involve killing baddies) and earning XP.

    5E seems to want to give PCs fewer bigger powers, mostly earlier on than 4E does, so that may exacerbate the issue here somewhat.

    Also, it seems to me that even in old-school D&D spellcasting characters predominantly get their special powers the same way --- by just being a magic-user and getting XP (and perhaps using their time and wealth to research spells in between adventures).
  • edited December 2018
    Trent_W said:

    The part I bolded above literally describes like 90% the entire play process of 4E. You start off with a couple of Cool Powers (which eventually get swapped out once you hit 13th level on) but the lion's share of your Cool Powers are the result of you going out and doing things (much of which may not even involve killing baddies) and earning XP.

    And that's part of why I think D&D 4th is actually kind of interesting. I would never run it but unlike most of the other editions I would actually seriously consider saying "yes" if someone invited me to play with them. The fact that it is a lot better at, for lack of a better word, "the UI" is also one of the strokes in its favor.

    Of course, 4th also seems to be strangely different than 5th in presenting the Star Wars cantina-nature of the setting. In a sense, 4th doesn't even pretend to try to say "this is the good old D&D you've always been playing." It just goes gonzo from page 1 and continues blithely on.

    (I've often thought that while it would have had nothing like the brand loyalty push or awareness, D&D 4th Edition suffered the most from simply being D&D. If it had been Ultra-Fantasy RPG instead of D&D 4th, most of the criticisms of the game generally just fall away.)
    Trent_W said:

    Also, it seems to me that even in old-school D&D spellcasting characters predominantly get their special powers the same way --- by just being a magic-user and getting XP (and perhaps using their time and wealth to research spells in between adventures).

    Sure – but they have the advantage of everyone being onboard at the beginning with an understanding of the fact that old-school spell casters pull cool powers right out of their own butts between adventures. In fact, that's part of the appeal of having one in your party. Unfortunately, it's less cool when everybody has the same mechanical expectation as the spell caster in traditional D&D gameplay.

    That's part of the reason I really don't enjoy traditional D&D gameplay. Especially as it evolved toward modern play styles, it became more and more about every single player at the table having a different set of mechanics attached to them and while I enjoy expressing my system mastery as much as any 14-year-old boy, at a certain point it's just tedious.

    That is also what is helping drive this feeling of superhero-tropes in modern fantasy D&D, the feeling that every character in the party absolutely has to be completely unique not just in narrative, or in personal attachments, or in history, but across the board mechanically. It's always been part of the D&D experience, but if you're going to turn it up to 11 at least make it convenient as in D&D 4th and not a right pain in the ass to manage like D&D 5th.
  • Big picture: my goal in this thread has been (or has become) to untangle a couple of strands of people's reactions to 5E, especially Paul's.

    As someone deeply invested in 5E, but often skeptical of RAW and frustrated by its vague stance on crucial matters, here is my take:

    A. There are some things that people have identified as features of 5E that are genuine matters of taste.

    1. Yes, by default it caters to people who enjoy having a very wide mishmosh of fantasy races in the game, and a bit of a "superhero team" feel to most parties.

    2. No, 1st level characters are not incompetents forced to improvise desperately in order to survive, à la OD&D.

    3. Yes, the game requires a certain amount of system mastery—more on that below, in fact.

    B. There are a number of other strands of the conversation that feel to me like either misunderstandings, misrepresentations, or conclusions that are only true about 5E under the worst of circumstances, but won't hold under medium-to-good play conditions.

    1. With even a modicum of system mastery, it is absolutely possible to construct perfectly viable characters who fall outside of stereotypes ("wizard with a big hammer").

    2. Even at mid-to-high levels, 5E can be quite challenging; although the risk of character death is generally low (certainly not nonexistent, even past the low levels, but low), it is not hard for PCs to end up in circumstances where they are unable to accomplish their goals and/or are forced to allow their antagonists to accomplish bad goals.

    3. 5E has excellent game balance, and using the material from splatbooks (of which there are very few, relative to 1st-4th editions) won't break your game. On top of that, it does a great job of allowing total min-maxers to play side-by-side with people who only moderately optimize. (This has to do with Feats vs. Stat Improvements, and the fact that multiclassing is actually punishingly bad in most cases, and certainly never better than single-classing.) 5E even works fine with characters of different levels in the party, because of flattened math ("bounded accuracy").

    In fact, the addition of Xanathar's Guide to the canon of 5E books significantly improves the game along several dimensions. Not only does it contain support for a number of long-wished-for character concepts (non-magical Ranger, peace-loving Paladin, divine Sorcerer and Warlock, and non-evil Death Cleric, for examples), but it also has much more robust support for establishing detailed character backstories.

    4. Combat is not supposed to take a long time! The average combat is supposed to take 2-3 rounds, which should be about a half-hour of real time at most. This isn't theoretical: this timing is consistent with my own play experiences, both as player and GM.

    C. Other things fall somewhere in the middle.

    1. For example, while it's not the game's default, it's easy to restrict a setting to just the "normal" PC races from prior editions, and/or to excise certain character classes / subclasses.

    2. While characters do not start out as incompetent schlubs, earning your way to 2nd or 3rd level is normally the way you earn your "name," i.e., gain your subclass. Sorcerer and Cleric are the exceptions here. Barbarian, Bard, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, and Warlock gain their subclasses at 3rd level, while Druid and Wizard enter theirs at 2nd. (Warlocks are a bit of an exception, in that they gain their patron at 1st level, which determines many of their abilities, but their true subclass doesn't come until 3rd.)

    Having played and GM'd from 1st level through to (or past) 3rd level a number of times, I can tell you that there is a very big difference in feel. 1st-level (and 2nd-level characters, in the vast majority of cases, as you can see) feel much, much more like "beginners" than characters who have acquired their subclasses. It happens reasonably quickly, but it feels like a real achievement.
  • edited December 2018
    I don't mind the apologism myself, but in case you feel that your message is not being sufficiently appreciated, do remember that we all have our own favourite games, too [grin].

    It is not a very special feature for a trad game to be very good assuming you first rip out all the bits you don't like and then do skilled game design to reconceptualize the rest to fit with your vision, followed up by a good execution of actual game mastering. This is what the good GM of the good GM myth does. My own reading recognizes an approximate 100 trad games over the history of roleplaying that are worthwhile classics by this metric. Plenty to play right there - I suggest starting with Runequest, I hear it's a hoot if you hack the shit out of BRP.

    I don't find Paul's judgement of 5th edition that controversial myself. Yeah, it's got a clean mechanical execution and a very middle-of-the-road design philosophy intended to cater to all tastes. It's also totally sold on both the ethos and genre stylings of "video game fantasy", so hopefully that works for you or you like hacking; anything else you see there is because of you, not the text, aside from a few paragraphs of old school GMing advice randomly mixed in here and there to support the concept of "something for everybody". It is also nothing special, unless you specifically consider a mechanically slightly modernized 3rd edition published almost 20 years later a revolutionary development. I would have difficulty naming a situation where I couldn't pick Pathfinder instead of the 5th, myself; minor differences this way or that, sure, but nothing the good GM can't hack over if they want to.

    This being the case doesn't have to be a problem, surely? Or does Paul need to be convinced to give the game another go? I feel like that's what this thread has been about for a while now - telling Paul why he should give 5th edition another shot in a world full of interesting gaming projects. Don't pass on your happiness, Paul! This could be your time of visitation!
  • Well, personally, it doesn't matter to me if someone doesn't like 5E for its creative aesthetics or whatever, but it does bother me when people misunderstand it.

    I couldn't disagree more regarding Pathfinder (or, really, most trad games). That thing's a fucking mess, and there is in fact, not a way to easily hack it to make it work.

    This is actually important: the basic mathematical structure of PF is just... horrible. Endless stacking fiddly bonuses, different tiers of character class effectiveness (which leads to practically needing a degree in the mechanics to make a good character), unintuitive action economy, magic item dependence... the list goes on.

    5E really, genuinely is better than that, as a core game. The stuff I've done is change the XP rules and some play procedures. To fix PF, you'd have to rewrite the mechanics from the ground up, which would give you... 5E. :smile:
  • I'm not familiar enough with Pathfinder to say how it compares to 5e... I would probably choose 5e on the basis of having slightly simpler rules, but otherwise, from the outside, it's hard to see any substantial differences in playstyle (although I trust Matt/Deliverator on questions of implementation).

    I should clarify, perhaps, that I've come across as really negative here recently, due to most of my posts be responses to people asking about what I see as negatives in D&D5. There's a lot about the game that's not to my tastes, in terms of fictional material, implied playstyle (as this thread shows, from the opening post), a lack of focus in design (e.g. BIFTs which don't interact with adventure modules), and just the weight of rules in places that don't particularly interest me.

    (For instance, I totally trust Deliverator when he says he runs combats in 30 mins or less, but I don't think the rest of us have his Intelligence or carefully-chosen gamer Feats. :) In two games I joined, a combat took about 30 mins per round of combat, quite reliably, and Critical Role's stats show that the average combat is about an hour long - but they're incredibly fast at referencing rules and potentially get off-screen help.)

    I nevertheless see a lot of good things in D&D5, and appreciate the very well-managed design, which seems to have achieved all of their design goals. If I felt it was worth it to learn a lot of rules, loved D&D-video-game fantasy imagery and tropes, and bought into the whole "fantasy superheroes" approach, I'd play this game with zero hesitation.

    Watching some Critical Role with the "superhero" mindset so well explained in the last page or so of this thread gives me some insight into how to make the game work, actually. You NEED those borderline-campy four-colour villains and monsters and heroes, rather than classic fantasy storylines or anything even vaguely medieval/historical/realistic, and if you commit to that, you get really dramatic and cool action/adventure.

    The game definitely seems to deliver well on those fronts (with the problems outlined in the OP still outstanding, however - basically, embrace Participationism or you're somewhat on your own).

    So, yeah, it works.

    (Although, thinking about it a little further, I don't consider XP rules and BIFTs/Inspiration playable "out of the box"; I would need to hack that, at least, to make the game workable, as Deliverator has, as has 2097, and so on.)

    Thinking about this further led to me rediscover this old idea I had about running D&D modules as a weird sort of explicit-Participationist-sandbox-hybrid, starting about here, which I still think might be an interesting inversion of the way the game is supposed to go:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/comment/448071/#Comment_448071

    I'm actually really excited to see @Hans_c-o's eventual "House D&D" thread, which I really hope is forthcoming!
  • 5e is not "slightly simpler" than PF. Pathfinder is ornate and baroque, comparatively speaking. I played a PF character from 1st to 9th and can tell you it is hard to manage without using a character generator like Hero Lab. A level-up can offer literally hundreds of choices ("which feat?" is the hardest).

    I really like PF, but 5e is a lot simpler in play.
  • (Ah! Good to know. I've never played Pathfinder, only 3e, and at relatively low levels, so that's quite believable.)
  • @Paul_T That thread will definitely be forthcoming, but whether in a month or three is anyone's guess. I'm having quite a bit of lonely fun right now with 5e, which I'm starting to realize is a necessary part of what it will take for ME to enjoy running it. Part of my mistake before is that I didn't prep enough (not that 5e needs ungodly amounts of prep, but if I am going to run a non-OSR trad game I think the only way to successfully do that (for ME) is to prep a lot).

    Eero, you might say, "but that's just normal successful trad play." Okay, but I haven't had that experience yet!

    Also, Paul, I find my combats were more or less in accord with Matt, when it comes to time. I ran for 6-7 PCs, and most fights took 30-45 minutes unless they were big boss fights. I've sort of taken it as known and obvious that 5e fights are about this fast; they were for me.

    And yeah, you can squint and say 5e and PF are basically the same, but that's nonsense. Some friends roped me into short PF and Starfinder games a couple years ago and I wouldn't touch those games again. I just found them awful.
  • edited December 2018
    Note that I played in a group with seven players and a relatively inexperienced (though not at all bad, in many respects) GM and we definitely did most "normal" combats in 30-45 minutes. If they're taking longer, either people are taking a lot of time to describe things, in which case maybe everyone is enjoying that and there is some character interaction mixed in with the action, or everyone is talking slowly and taking a long time to make decisions... in other words, dead time, which I can't stand under any circumstances.

    Edit: point being, that amount of time for combat is normal 5E play, nothing to do my with my personal brilliance. The other times I've played, rather than run, 5E have been similar.
  • It's incredible how much Pathfinder style thinking still dominates the D&D space. There are people doing "60 feats!" supplements for 5e. If you've read what feats are in 5e you know why this is extremely bonkers.
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