The Trad Reformation

So, I think we need to talk about this. Just as we like to talk about how pivotal the early 2000's were in terms of early story game design, the Forge, etc., in thinking about this more recently I think there was a parallel trend going on in the trad world that is under-discussed.

I think that, completely independent of Ron Edward's criticisms, the trad TTRPG world recognized that it had a problem around the turn of the millenium. From TSR CEO Lorraine Williams driving it into the ground (leading to the takeover by WotC, with their own design philosophy), to Vampire the tabletop game beginning to lose out to Vampire LARP, to just overall dissatisfaction with almost two decades of railroaded adventure design as the norm (DragonLance was 1983), there were many people who were dissatisfied with the current state of the art.

I propose that WotC's takeover of D&D from TSR marks the beginning of what we might call the Trad Reformation. (I'd argue that it ends in about 2008, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.) Let's really consider D&D3.0 (aka "3E"), the first modern edition of D&D.

Fundamentally, 3E was an attempt to do two things:

(1) Have the game make sense mathematically

(2) Because the mechanics would now be reliable, empower players' choices to matter — not thematic choices, but to give players real control over their characters' engagement with the game's subsystems (spellcasting, shapeshifting, etc.)

It's hard to overstate what a wild, wild departure this was from 1E and 2E. Those editions emphasized DM fiat, random chargen, and frankly nonsensical product development. So, even though, as a design, 3E largely failed to meet its goals, they were distinct from those of prior editions—and much more respectable.

Note, also, how much those failed goals of 3E overlap with the Forgite doctrine:

-They wanted to do away with the idea that the GM is god (even though they still made some nods to this in the DMG)

-They wanted rules that would, if followed, deliver a specific kind of experience, reliably

While the Forge has had an enormous influence on the history of TTRPGs, the timing of the Trad Reformation marks it as an example of parallel development, one over which the Forge had no influence. (Much like how Luke Crane and Jake Norwood wrote Burning Wheel and Riddle of Steel completely separately, despite some significant overlap between those games, on several levels!) It was only later on that the two trends in game design could begin to influence each other.

It also isn't the Forge and story gaming that led to the rise of the OSR. The rise of the OSR was in no small part a reaction against the codification and "video gamey ness" of WotC D&D, aka the Trad Reformation.

Since about 2008, pretty much every major development in TTRPGs can be viewed as situated somewhere along or within the triangle formed by Forge + diaspora, Reformed Trad, and OSR. Unreformed Trad has really faded in relevance; while there are still many gamers who cling to the idea of the all-powerful GM, there are relatively few prominent designs that don't at least try to get the math right, that don't at least try to be playable out of the box. Recognizing what happened at WotC circa 2000 is a missing piece of understanding the history of recent TTRPG design.
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Comments

  • @Deliverator Thanks for writing that.
  • So what's your take on things like Wrath of the Righteous by Paizo? That one gives me a 90s vibe for sure
  • In my mind there are a lot of 3e and 4e adventures that are pretty hopeless. Something kinda happened around The Dead in Thay and Lost Mines of Phandelver
  • For me, the third option (OSR [and proto-OSR like the Knights of the Dinner Table] and Story Now games being the two other ones) has been neo-trad games a la Apocalypse World and Blades in the Dark.

    I honestly saw the 3e era as sort of the ultimate excesses of the 90s game writ large: the rules on the player side grew even more complicated and cumbersome, and the culture of "DM, do wtf you want, change monster hp and die results to suit your needs" [a la Matt Colville] to definitely be alive and well. Sites like EN World and Paizo's own forums being places where this culture lived on. Since I see this split [heavy player book, bullshitty storyteller guide] as the defining feature of the 90s style game it's hard to see 3e as a very big leap from that. The 3e games that had rules setup for the DM like West Marches and Advanced Wizards & Wizards bumped shoulders with a looot of games ran in the 90s style.

    Between 3e and 4e there is a bigger break. [Book of Nine Swords etc being something I had never heard of.] 4e is… just such a unique experience that it's hard to fit it among any of the main line traditions. It sorta reminds me of Three Sixteen and Rune.
  • There was definitely an instance of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing in terms of the development of 3E. And by "development" I actually mean a couple of things:

    -The crafting of the rules engine
    -The evolution of its play culture
    -The deployment of its supplement treadmill

    Those three things definitely did not work in harmony with each other!

    So, I don't disagree that there was and is still a strong culture of Trad Gaming and all its problematic aspects among 3E players (including everyone into Pathfinder). BUT, because the player-facing charop minigame is really centralized, I have found in practice that there are some types of GM Fiat bullshit that it's harder for Viking hat GMs to get away with. In particular, anything that feels like an arbitrary nerf of a player ability tends to be looked at askance. (Players are less likely to detect cheating in their favor.)

    Yes, between 3E and 4E is a bigger break, which is why I believe the Trad Reformation era ends in 2008, and begins the Era of Synthesis.

    I don't know anything about Wrath of the Righteous.

    @Hopeless_Wanderer : thanks for the compliment! <3
  • Ugh, actually I think there are four strands that need to be discussed:

    -Rules engine
    -Play culture
    -Player-facing supplements
    -GM-facing adventure design
  • Good stuff. I always like the historical reviews - rpg theory is often much too concerned with conceptual issues and too dismissive of understanding the history of the form. As everybody who's ever tried to write history knows, it's far from trivial. Even things you've lived through yourself are often too large and complex to somehow "know" just because you happened to experience a random cross-section of the events yourself.

    I don't have much to add to Deliverator's analysis. 3e D&D indeed was a major watershed for its sheer popularity; it captured market shares among old-timer roleplayers so effectively that it was pretty much responsible for finishing the job on throttling the old trad play culture dead on a demographic level. It's not like there still wasn't some trad play going on afterwards, or that we would have somehow magically forgotten how to play Fading Suns, but the balance of play definitely shifted. I like the phrasing "trad reformation" for this shift, yes. It was the biggest revolution in the relatively conservative progress of trad gaming since the Vampire thing (which doesn't have a name in our history-writing as far as I know - I mean the shift of emphasis from the '80s "engineer rpgs" into '90s "big story" rpgs).

    I've generally called the resulting era of trad rpg development the "neo-trad era". Its characteristic feature has been the reshuffling of the play culture into a hard core of D&D "grind gaming" (charop and skirmish fighting filled big rulebook RAW fantasy adventure games) surrounded by a softer nimbus of more traditional games that often introduce minor innovations from outside traditions. The grind gaming hasn't quite separated entirely into its own thing, just as D&D never quite detached from the rpg hobby it spawned through the earlier decades, either, but the cultural distance is so large that it is easy to find grind gamers for whom a more '90s style trad game already qualifies as exotic.
  • Ugh, actually I think there are four strands that need to be discussed:

    -Rules engine
    -Play culture
    -Player-facing supplements
    -GM-facing adventure design
    You beat me to my own thing♥♥♥
    100% concur
  • image

    i hate 90s games
  • The nice thing about more traditional, or traditional-seeming games that draw on more progressive design influences is that you can play them with people who might be turned off by a hardcore story-game. In that sense, both FFGSW and Apocalypse World / Dungeon World (etc.) are relevant. Both are a familiar enough paradigm that you can plop them down with folks who have heretofore never played anything but D&D and they'll do just fine. That's not necessarily the case with MLWM or Burning Empires.
  • Very true.

    Although I think the “neo-trad” games (like Apocalypse World, Blades in the Dark, maybe FATE, and others) seem to be mostly derived from the story game tradition, curving back towards traditional play rather than the other way around. We’re starting to see some games which definitely fall into that camp which do not come from that lineage, though (perhaps like the Star Wars game you’re talking about, Trail of Cthulhu, and Mutant Year Zero).

    Matt, has that game taken the place of your home brew Star Wars rules in your gaming life? Do they have any meaningful overlap?
  • Yeah, I haven't really looked at my own personal Star Wars system in awhile. The existence of FFGSW + Scum and Villainy kind of makes it unnecessary. My game *is* much more of a straight-up Star Wars story-game, however.
  • Although I think the “neo-trad” games (like Apocalypse World, Blades in the Dark, maybe FATE, and others) seem to be mostly derived from the story game tradition, curving back towards traditional play rather than the other way around. We’re starting to see some games which definitely fall into that camp which do not come from that lineage, though (perhaps like the Star Wars game you’re talking about, Trail of Cthulhu, and Mutant Year Zero).
    Mutant Year Zero def does come from that lineage. It just has two mommies; the license/setting of the old Mutant game and the rules design of people who read/play a lot of @lumpley.

    The first couple of versions of Fate seemed more like their own thing; maybe by the time Spirit of the Century and Fate Core rolled around it had picked up some influence from the other indies.
    The existence of FFGSW + Scum and Villainy kind of makes it unnecessary.
    Which do you like better of the two? Me I've been thinking of using Stars Without Numbers revised for an SW game.

  • So what's your take on things like Wrath of the Righteous by Paizo? That one gives me a 90s vibe for sure
    Namely that Paizo's writers are garbage.
    I honestly saw the 3e era as sort of the ultimate excesses of the 90s game writ large: the rules on the player side grew even more complicated and cumbersome, and the culture of "DM, do wtf you want, change monster hp and die results to suit your needs" [a la Matt Colville] to definitely be alive and well. Sites like EN World and Paizo's own forums being places where this culture lived on.
    I believe this could be characterized as a reaction to these changes. The rules are logical, consistent, and open to players >>> they interfere with the railroad adventure path >>> GMs, change the rules on a whim to truncate player agency to maintain the railroad.
  • What makes Wrath of the Righteous štand out, compared to other Paizo adventure paths?
  • What makes Wrath of the Righteous štand out, compared to other Paizo adventure paths?
    Aside from the generic plot point predetermination, I recall a mandatory scene where Iomedae (goddess of justice) summons the party to her court, quizzes them, and smites them if they answer incorrectly or backsass.
  • WotR: The fact that the math didn't work making it very dependent on fudge culture.
  • I believe this could be characterized as a reaction to these changes. The rules are logical, consistent, and open to players >>> they interfere with the railroad adventure path >>> GMs, change the rules on a whim to truncate player agency to maintain the railroad.
    Yes, exactly, the total incoherence of the four strands (mechanics design, play culture, adventure design, splatbook / supplement design) lead to exactly that cycle.
  • As for my SW game of choice: there's something about the FFG SW I just really enjoy. I've so far stayed away from delving too deeply into the gear porn and other excessively crunchy aspects of the game. My plan has always been, if I have a player who really cares about that stuff, to put them in charge of learning and implementing those rules. If I had a player who was deeply invested in, say, modding their B-Wing, I'd be much more willing, as a GM, to go there with them, but on my own, it's not the aspect of SW I care about the most.
  • Looking back to the OP:

    1 - Vampire was never "supplanted" by the Vampire LARP. The tribulations of the MET was in monetization, not in publication. The peak of MET in the late 1990s was a genuine LARP movement, but White Wolf simply couldn't take advantage of it. Membership fees couldn't be collected because the benefits of membership were questionable. Publications were also questionable because unlike the tabletop game, MET LARPs didn't have a single all-fictionally-powerful creative director. They relied on player-created content far too much for the publication model to support. MET was a very big deal but White Wolf simply never cracked how to make the money from it that clearly was out there. I have my own theories on why that is, but to say that it was more important to White Wolf than publication is ahistorical. White Wolf's money still came from publications.

    White Wolf's decisionmaking in the early 2000s, especially with respect to the launch of Vampire: the Requiem and the "blue book" era of World of Darkness, fits with the historical movement you describe, however. The fictional world had gotten too unwieldy and contained far too many strange side-tangents and bug fixes to be effective. Looking at what changes actually got made when turning to Requiem, it was a streamlined, unified system with improved probability designs. The setting was also simplified and presented as a more explicit toolbox than the supplements the audience had gotten used to in the 1990s.

    2 - Any look back at 3e has to take into account the idea of a financial restructuring of the D&D business. The idea was that the OGL would permit WOTC to get out of the adventure creation business except for specific targeted ideas (the introductory adventure, the big mythic location, etc.) The intended result was to make the corebooks increasingly evergreen products which would be supported by enthusiasts connected to competitor's brands. In this respect 3e (and then 3.5e) was a phenomenal, overwhelming success.

    3 - Historically, the early OSR games (Castles and Crusades, OSRIC) post-date the 3e boom a little too much for your account to work. The proto-OSR games were created and spread because WOTC pulled its PDFs off the site it was selling them at, svgames.com. Although they made comforting noises, the feeling among fans was that they would return to the TSR anti-piracy/anti-fan-site crackdown era and make it virtually impossible for previous publications to be viable in terms of gathering a knowledgeable group. These were explicitly reactions not to artistic changes in terms of 3e's direction, but material consumer product availability changes. The OSR as specifically an artistic movement didn't take off until 4e "destroyed D&D". (In fact, in early Castles and Crusades material you can often see 3e-isms creeping in around the sides....) The original need of the OSR to keep alive early systems and early material is gone with the embrace of digital publishing by WOTC, so you don't see a lot of Castles & Crusades or OSRIC discussions in OSR spaces these days - you can just buy AD&D and play that! Thus, what remains is primarily centered on a set of aesthetic priorities formulated in the 4e era and the games played/discussed/advanced reflect that.

    Anyway, overall a good theory. I definitely think there was a "revised" era for many games in the era you describe, and not just because of the d20 boom (though certainly in some cases it fuelled it; see Traveller for the biggest example.)
  • Great info there. Thanx
  • Here RPGs had a ginormous impact in the 80s, was only a niche hobby during 90s and 00s (for nerds & kulturtants like me obv), and started up again big post 5e.
  • Great additions to the discussion, JD!

    I'm less well-versed in the history of Vampire and White Wolf than in that of D&D, in particular, so knowing that they also tried to streamline in the early 2000's is fascinating.

    I think the fact that the LARP stuff was un-monetizable is precisely the reason it seemed more cool to a lot of gamers in the late 90's. Which, as you say, was bad for WW!

    Regarding the OSR, I think it's a fair point that it only really got going around the time of 4E. I've definitely talked to a lot of OSR people, and read on blogs, that they didn't like the codification and standardization of either 3E or 4E, though.

    And yes, no question that 3E + the OGL (aka "the d20 boom / d20 glut") were phenomenally successful from a commercial point of view. I was merely commenting on the fact that on the whole, the Trad Reformation only solved a few small problems and mainly created new ones.
  • One problem with this theory/idea (or maybe it’s not a problem!):

    Doesn’t this mean that the current most popular game - 5e - is a throwback to the trad era? I mean, it seems far less Reformed than 3e or 4e, doesn’t it?

    If not, what features do you feel qualify it as part of the Reformation? (I could see the argument that the math is far more “balanced”, for example, but I don’t know whether a) that produces a meaningfully different play experience, if we assume everything else, including culture of play, is the same, and b) whether other trad games of the pre-Reformation era didn’t have that kind of rigorous design.)
  • edited May 21
    5e is a game that the designers have said is explicitly informed by the OSR and by Fate and AW/DW.

    They went back and played every edition. I see a lot of Rules Cyclopedia era stuff in 5e. I have it sorted among OSR games. I hate 3e pretty much. Kinda have a hard time with the entire "advanced" branch (1e, 2e, 3e, 4e) but 3e my least fave.
  • I switched from loving and advocating for rules light games to rules heavy games but for a specific purpose: I look to rules complexity to give answers. The answers need to be clear. They don't need to be detailed. 3e doesn't help me. It drowns me.

  • Fundamentally, 3E was an attempt to do two things:

    (1) Have the game make sense mathematically

    (2) Because the mechanics would now be reliable, empower players' choices to matter — not thematic choices, but to give players real control over their characters' engagement with the game's subsystems (spellcasting, shapeshifting, etc.)

    It's hard to overstate what a wild, wild departure this was from 1E and 2E. Those editions emphasized DM fiat, random chargen, and frankly nonsensical product development. So, even though, as a design, 3E largely failed to meet its goals, they were distinct from those of prior editions—and much more respectable.
    Emphasis mine.

    My feeling has long been that the potential was expressed in (especially) the Player's Handbook, but the "failure" had already started with a high degree of inconsistency within the Dungeon Master's Guide and a first wave of supplements that were a hodgepodge of stuff with no paradigm shift whatsoever from the AD&D2e era.

    I might be overstating the influence of a single designer, but I tend to associate the most cohesive (not ambitious, just cohesive) vision of D&D 3e with Jonathan Tweet. Who, already by the time the 3 core books finished being released or shortly afterwards, moved away from the D&D product development team to work on a string of miniature skirmish games loosely related to the D&D brand.
  • IDK about that; I know you and I have a shared love for Everway though, Rafu
    Tweet also did Portal, which I loved except A. it should've been tournament legal and B. changing "block" to "intercept" was so… uh, wait, is that why there is intercepting in 13A?
  • Paul, read the damn 5E books. Seriously. And play it with some people who aren't morons. It's far, far, far more balanced than 3E ever was, more streamlined and has much better support for non-fiat play than *any* other edition of D&D since Basic.
  • Matt,

    I guess I have to take your word for it... as you know, my first experience was playing the Wild Magic Sorcerer, which, as you yourself basically explained to me was screwed up, design wise, demands the GM to adjudicate things in a very particular way to make sense at all, and is clearly worse than the alternative (the Draconic Sorcerer).

    I’d be very curious to hear how 5e enables play that’s more... modern... than 3e or 4e, but obviously I won’t twist anyone’s arm if they don’t want to tell me. (I didn’t start this thread, after all!)

    Everything I’ve heard about the game from friends and online suggests that the reason it’s been so successful is precisely the opposite: because it’s looser, with more places for fiat and rulings on the spot, more like older editions of D&D. At least, that’s what people talk about and seem to enjoy the most. So I dunno.

    The idea that 5e has “much better support for non-fiat play” than 3.5 or Pathfinder is entirely new to me, so I’m stating my surprise. Online, people seem to praise 5e because it doesn’t try as hard to codify and leaves more room for interpretation than the rather over-designed 3e, never mind the frustratingly perfect balance of 4e; I got the impression that people enjoy 5e precisely because it’s rougher around the edges and therefore shows more variety.

    I don’t think it’s fair to call the type of play I was involved in (Deliverator and I had a long discussion a few years ago about a particular D&D campaign I played in) as by “morons”. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent gamer, and yet I don’t feel like I know how to fix the problems that came up (without house-ruling important parts of the game; which *everyone* who has posted about playing 5e here on Story Games has done, including Deliverator).

    I’m also not familiar enough with other trad RPGs from the late 90s forward... but surely at least some of them had mathematically capable design? I don’t know - some of the d20 line (Mutants & Masterminds), Savage Worlds, EABA? GURPS 4th Ed? Not an expert here... just surprised.

    However, I recently played a board game called Kingdom Death, which struck as being quite interesting from a design perspective. I could see this kind of design being a real exemplar or “endpoint” of this new trend you’re suggesting: very regimented and careful design from step to step, everything “automated” (there are decks of cards that enable enemy AI, effectively, for instance), high production values, lots of incredible art, and so forth. I could see that being a sort of “flagship” for a very particular generation of games.

    Not trying to stir up trouble, you understand. I’m just surprised, so I’m expressing my confusion.
  • edited May 21
    @Paul_T:
    I’d be very curious to hear how 5e enables play that’s more... modern... than 3e or 4e, but obviously I won’t twist anyone’s arm if they don’t want to tell me. (I didn’t start this thread, after all!)
    5e does not provide any strong support for non-fiat play. The skill checks are virtually all matters of GM fiat: the GM agrees to allow a skill check, then he sets the DC, then the players roll the dice. There are typically defined skill checks within an adventurer, but the rest of the system is rather loose, and one need look no further than the marked success of Critical Role to witness this '90s playstyle phenomenon as thriving.
    Everything I’ve heard about the game from friends and online suggests that the reason it’s been so successful is precisely the opposite: because it’s looser, with more places for fiat and rulings on the spot, more like older editions of D&D.
    Agreed.
    surely at least some of them had mathematically capable design? I don’t know - some of the d20 line (Mutants & Masterminds), Savage Worlds, EABA? GURPS 4th Ed? Not an expert here... just surprised.
    The majority were garbage. I would say there are a handful of games that work reasonably well in terms of numerical design, but perhaps by accident. The BRP family seems to work well enough, if only for mathematical transparency, FUDGE for similar reasons, Savage Worlds because the numerical range is fairly tight.
  • Look, anyone who can't run a round of combat in 5E, even in a fairly complex, climactic fight, in under 15 minutes, is a complete idiot who needs to find a new hobby. Period. That has nothing to do with house-rules. Those people **didn't know the actual rules**. That was eminently clear from your descriptions of the game. Not my weird house-ruled stuff, not my bizarre but technically RAW fixation on Inspiration, I mean just the basic combat mechanics.

    I've seen this exact phenomenon almost every time I've tried to play a trad game: the GM and the other players don't even know what's in the books. Since that's a major "feature" of unreformed trad play, sure, it's possible to play 5E that way, or any game. I've seen it done with Burning Wheel, and it sucked.

    The only trad game from the 90's with even reasonable math was Earthdawn 2E. Possibly 3E as well but I know it less well. However, its GM-facing stuff was predictably terrible. All the other 90's designs were written by people who truly know no math at all, or at least didn't apply that knowledge to their designs. Awful.

    As for why 5E is far less fiat-dependent than 3E (but possibly more than 4E--don't lump those together): it's precisely because it's less complex. It's fairly easy for GMs to adjudicate unexpected things in a way that's fair and transparent.

    In the longest 5E game I played in (not GM'd), there was a scene where a monster swallowed one character ( @DBB 's), and the paladin deliberately got swallowed to go rescue her. He then lit a lantern to try to make the monster sneeze them both out before they died from its stomach acid. Now, there was nothing explicit in the rules about how to make a monster sneeze, but the GM very sensibly set a DC for a Con save and rolled. There were a few other things in that scene where the GM had to extrapolate from the existing rules how to handle the characters' intents. And while he didn't necessarily make the exact calls I would have, the important thing is that his reasoning was clear, the dice rolls all mattered, etc.

    Again, this was someone with much less theory background than me, and no experience running anything other than 5E.

    In 4E, such actions wouldn't be hard to adjudicate, but would be hard to make feel organic because of this thing called the p. 42 problem. (Long story, not germaine.) In 3E, by contrast, unless your character was exactly built to dive into monsters' stomachs to rescue Gnomes, then by the rules you simply would have no chance of succeeding at something like this. Such that if the GM did try to improvise to make such a venture possible, they'd end up invalidating the choices made by someone who did invest in the exact right feat chain.

    Now, there are some things in 5E where the looseness of the design is a bit problematic. The fact that every group has to figure out exactly how they want to handle Perception vs. Investigation, and Perception vs. Insight, is a problem. The game does need a 5.5 pass. Tool use was clarified in Xanathar's Guide. Etc. But fundamentally, when people online talk about it being looser, they don't generally mean that GMs can just do whatever they want. They mean that it isn't a straitjacket, which both 3E and 4E were (albeit in hugely different ways).
  • edited May 21
    4eD&D made the very slightest move towards mechanical consistency between different character types and that move was heralded as the end of the world, death, doom, destruction, a vicious personal attack on each and every D&D player, and after the usual Christmas firings, they put a team in charge of it that walked it all back in Essentials. In fact, I would say that the publication of the 4eD&D player's guide in December 2007 was The Beginning Of The End for the streamlining and consistency of trad approaches, and September 2010, when Essentials came out, was the absolute end of what the OP describes as the Trad Reformation.
  • Yes, I agree with those dates.
  • Hi @JDCorley I'd argue it continued on into 2009. 4E's DMG2 is the closest Dungeons and Dragons has ever gotten (and probably ever will get) to any kind of "storygame".

    Trent
  • That's why I said 2007 was the beginning of the end and 2010 was the actual end.
  • Ah, well said then! :smile:
  • edited May 21
    Ok, so this has me majorly confused. You've established a "trad reformation", and its features, and then you're saying that it was "over" around 2010 or so, but when I say that D&D 5e looks more like a pre-reformation game, you tell me I've got it wrong. Help me understand! Is 5e part of the "reformation", its apotheosis, or a slightly regressive game which borrows some influence from it?

    I'll go point by point:
    [...] Look, anyone who can't run a round of combat in 5E, even in a fairly complex, climactic fight, in under 15 minutes, is a complete idiot who needs to find a new hobby. Period.
    I'm not going to argue about the specifics here (I find it vaguely offensive, because *I* would have trouble running a fairly complex fight in under 15 minutes, and most fights take 2-6 rounds, anyway, which means the fight is still easily an hour long - Critical Role's stats show an average combat duration of one hour, so that backs this up), but here's the important bit:

    Are you saying that "running a round of combat in under 15 minutes" is a hallmark of the Trad Reformation? I can't tell.

    It seems to me that lots of pre-Reformation games ran very fast; surely the slow and very battlemat-based combat of something like 3e/4e/other new RPGs would be the NEW thing here, and therefore a Reformation feature?

    How is 5e's relative speed not a return to an earlier school of design, then?
    The only trad game from the 90's with even reasonable math was Earthdawn 2E. Possibly 3E as well but I know it less well. [...] All the other 90's designs were written by people who truly know no math at all, or at least didn't apply that knowledge to their designs. Awful.
    I'm not widely enough read in the 90s RPG repertoire to hold a debate on this, but I remember some good games from the period. Greg Porter's games were incredible works of mathematical elegance, for example (although I could easily see that being an outlier rather than an exemplar!). GURPS certainly tried, despite some issues (which you agree even 5e has, after all).

    So let's say that's correct. I honestly don't know.
    However, its [that is, 3E's] GM-facing stuff was predictably terrible.
    Is 5e's "GM-facing stuff" meaningfully different from 3e and 4e? If so, is it more "Reformed" or less?

    I'm asking out of curiosity; I'm not familiar enough with 3e and 4e to be sure. What I've read in 5e books so far seems not too different from what I remember in 90s games.

    What might the hallmarks of "Reformed" GM-facing stuff be?

    For instance, 5e has rules for "balanced encounters"; if they work well, that seems like somewhat of a "tell". I can imagine a system for "balanced encounters" being a Trad Reformation "ingredient" - typical of the movement/genre/style.

    I seem to remember that AD&D 2nd Edition had rules for this, too, but I never used them, so I couldn't comment on whethe it's more of the same or whether there's been a meaningful qualitative change in this department from 2E to 5E. (I would hope there has been, but I don't know what it is!)
    As for why 5E is far less fiat-dependent than 3E (but possibly more than 4E--don't lump those together): it's precisely because it's less complex. It's fairly easy for GMs to adjudicate unexpected things in a way that's fair and transparent.

    [removed excellent example of on-the-spot ruling which might have been more difficult in 3e or 4e]

    In 3E, by contrast, unless your character was exactly built to dive into monsters' stomachs to rescue Gnomes, then by the rules you simply would have no chance of succeeding at something like this. Such that if the GM did try to improvise to make such a venture possible, they'd end up invalidating the choices made by someone who did invest in the exact right feat chain.
    Again, I don't disagree with any of this at all, but I have no idea how it fits into the narrative you're spinning here. (I'm not arguing with it, by the way! Just trying to understand. I'd like to have a sort of mental model of trad RPG development over the last 20 years to lean on; that seems like a handy thing.)

    So, 5e is meaningfully different from 3e and 4e (though perhaps in different ways) because it's less complex. Are you saying that pre-Reformation games were more complex or less complex?

    My sense is that "make a saving throw to resolve the sneezing dragon" sounds like something very much more in the vein of a typical 90s RPG than a typical "Reformed" RPG; exactly in line with what I was saying about 5e being more of a "throwback" to an earlier era - that's what people seem to like about it. Having that flexibility is what you get when you don't have a rigorous and balanced system of feats and movement rules and tightly-bound economies. That, to me, sounds like a feature earlier designs had, not more modern ones. (My basic understanding is that in Basic D&D, you'd make a saving throw or an ability check - which are basically the same thing in 5e - whereas in 3e, we'd look up some highly specific and involved rules for a specific situation like this and try our best to follow them to the letter, and whereas in 4e we'd either say "that's not an option; try something else" or find an abstract mechanic to determine the outcome, like a Skill Challenge or something of that sort.)

    In short, I don't disagree with anything you're saying (except maybe the comments about the speed of combat ;) ), but I don't understand why you're bringing these things up as a counterpoint, rather than supporting the view I was asking about. These all sounds like ways in which 5e is separate from or a reaction to the Reformation, in other words.

    My sense is that the whole thing that's unusual about 5e is that it's taken more rigorous and streamlined design and math from the 3e and 4e school/era and combined it with a more loose, free-wheeling, old-school approach to play. It's kind of a hybrid, in other words, and that makes people like, say, @2097 extremely happy (and understandably so), but isn't a good replacement for something more carefully circumscribed (like 3e/4e - I don't see someone like @Trent_W seeing 5e as a good replacement for 4E, for instance) or hardcore OSR gamers (who find it overly limiting and defined, and the obsession with balance to be too "new school" for their tastes).

    I'm not trying to rag on 5e, either - clearly it does a bunch of things really well, and makes people happy. I'm just trying to understand how it fits into this Reformation idea.

    I'm also not an expert on any of this, and am woefully under-schooled on 3e and 4e, which I mostly avoided; I'm just here to listen and learn.
  • Paul you are mixing up one round of a fight with one entire fight
  • Hi @Paul_T ,
    (My basic understanding is that in Basic D&D, you'd make a saving throw or an ability check - which are basically the same thing in 5e - whereas in 3e, we'd look up some highly specific and involved rules for a specific situation like this and try our best to follow them to the letter, and whereas in 4e we'd either say "that's not an option; try something else" or find an abstract mechanic to determine the outcome, like a Skill Challenge or something of that sort.)
    In 4e, you would adjudicate this with Rule 42 (so named from page 42 of the DMG1) or an on-the-fly terrain power from the DMG2. In many significant ways, what @Deliverator described here would be *much easier* to run with in 4e than in 5e precisely because it has more streamlined, consistent mechanics. (For example: in 4e the attacker always rolls an attack vs one of the enemy's 4 defenses --- whereas in 5e you return to the 3e paradigm of sometimes the attacker rolls, sometimes the defenders rolls, and sometimes both the attacker and defender roll. One of the reasons that @2097 's Players Always Roll approach is so neat is precisely because it is so much more consistent and logical than the 5e rules-as-written).

    Just as an aside, one of the fundamental guidelines in both the DMG1 and DMG2 in 4e is Always Say Yes. Telling the player "no, you can't do that" is very much against the spirit and design of the game.
    (like 3e/4e - I don't see someone like @Trent_W seeing 5e as a good replacement for 4E, for instance)
    I could swing with it, but it would take a lot of work and I'd end up just porting a bunch of stuff over from 4e and 13A.

    Trent
  • Paul you are mixing up one round of a fight with one entire fight

    Yeah, I caught that in the edit! Thanks all the same, though. Glad you're keeping an eye out for me!
  • For example: in 4e the attacker always rolls an attack vs one of the enemy's 4 defenses --- whereas in 5e you return to the 3e paradigm of sometimes the attacker rolls, sometimes the defenders rolls, and sometimes both the attacker and defender roll. One of the reasons that @2097 's Players Always Roll approach is so neat is precisely because it is so much more consistent and logical than the 5e rules-as-written.
    Agreed. The monsters now pretty much has a "dex defense" etc. :bawling: I was so glad to get away from all that "touch AC" "flatfooted" crap and just have one AC and now we're back to this, seven defenses


  • FWIW, I don't particularly know what the right label is to put on 5E. It's sort of weirdly pre-Reformation Trad in terms of its stance on how GM authority should work—i.e., it doesn't really take a stance but kind of says it's okay to maybe fudge sometimes? (Except that it's easy to play it in a less dysfunctional way.) But it's also post-Reformation in terms of having actually good underlying math.

    And, given the incredibly high levels of absolute GM asshattery I've dealt with, I don't really agree that "DM sets the DC for skill checks and calls for a roll" really makes 5E fiat-based. I mean, that's how most games work. What makes a game feel fiat-driven is if there are things where the GM just won't let you roll, or will refuse to set a DC, or the like.
  • Agreed! (Although how a game informs the scope and stakes of such rolls, and how disciplined it allows the GM to be in setting the difficulty, is pretty instrumental in making it run more or less “objectively”. I don’t see a great deal of that in 5e, but maybe it’s made more clear in some of the materials I haven’t read.)

    When you say “good underlying math”, are we just talking combat? Or are there other aspects of the game which 5e does clever things in which help with the gameplay somehow? (I suppose non-stacking Inspiration and advantage/disadvantage could belong in that category, if we read charitably.)
  • But it's also post-Reformation in terms of having actually good underlying math.
    3e kinda don't have good math though? So how is it reformed?
    When you say “good underlying math”, are we just talking combat? Or are there other aspects of the game which 5e does clever things in which help with the gameplay somehow?
    Exhaustion levels, food foraging, spell casting, weather, it's just overall a system that's made by people who know what they are doing. Unlike the weather system in 2e that quickly spun into a never ending hurricane. (I guess they forgot about the golden rule of game design: always be testing.)
  • Well, I see everyone in this thread talking about 3e but then saying they don't remember it very well. It just happens that I have been running core D&D 3e as recently as last fall. And loving it, as Max Smart says. So... ask me anything?

    As for making monsters sneeze from the inside, here's the 5e MM on the purple worm, which I suppose is the most typical monster for swallowing people:
    If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it must succeed on a DC 19 Dexterity saving throw or be swallowed by the worm. A swallowed creature is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the worm, and it takes 21 (6d6) acid damage at the start of each of the worm's turns.

    If the worm takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the worm must succeed on a DC 21 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the worm. If the worm dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse by using 20 feet of movement, exiting prone.
    And here's 3e:
    A purple worm can try to swallow a grabbed opponent of Huge or smaller size by making a successful grapple check. Once inside, the opponent takes 2d8+12 points of crushing damage plus 8 points of acid damage per round from the worm's gizzard. A swallowed creature can cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 25 points of damage to the gizzard (AC 20). Once the creature exits, muscular action closes the hole; another swallowed opponent must cut its own way out.
    The worm's interior can hold one Huge, four Large, sixteen Medium-size, or sixty-four Small or smaller opponents.
    I don't especially see anything about the two rules text blocks that provides the DM more guidance in the one game than the other for how the worm will react to lighting a fire in its gullet. Why is the DM allowed to make up an adjudication in 5e but not in 3e?

    By the way, here is a short essay from Monte Cook about how the rules were supposed to work in 3e.

    Imagine this situation: Six bugbears block a 5-foot-wide doorway in two rows. The PC fighter just wants to get out of the room. The player says to the DM, "I want to charge the bugbears with my shield in front of me, and my weapon used to just ward away their blows. I don't care about hurting them -- I just want to get out, hopefully without taking too much damage."

    This is a reasonable thing to try, albeit a difficult one to accomplish. While some DMs could come up with rules on the fly to handle the situation, many others would take a lot of time with it. A reasonable and action-oriented plan by a player could slow things way down. Further, even the on-the-fly-savvy DM runs the risk of forgetting how he handled it, and running a similar situation completely differently the next time, which can confuse and irritate players. Worst of all would be the situation where either because he can't think of how to handle it, or because it would take too long to figure it all out, the DM replies, "No, you can't do that."

    When Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams, and I designed 3rd Edition, we wanted something for the DM to be able to fall back on. We wanted to provide rules the DM had at his disposal that wouldn't be hard to adjudicate, wouldn't slow down the game (at least not too much), and wouldn't force him to say "no." Our attitude was, "Don't worry, DM. We've got your back."
    Tells you a lot about what they intended in the reformation -- whether or not the typical 3e players understood all this at the time.
  • edited May 22

    Bug bear example:
    In 5e you need to make two strength checks, one per row (spending both your main action and your bonus action as per DMG p 272) and take six OAs since you can’t disengage w/o actions left. Survive all that and you’re out.

    How would it work in 3e?

    ← OK, forgot to click through to the essay where he mentions it uses bullrushes & OAs, just like 5e. Except that the bull rush chapter in 3e is thrice as long (311 words) as in 5e (89 words), and the OAs chapter is… there just isn’t one…? There isn’t a simple way to see what provokes OA because there are so many separate things that do. Tryna grapple. Tryna bull rush. Tryna cast spells etc etc. In 5e there is one thing: leaving the reach.

    Presentation also matters. The bull rush chapter in 5e (called “Overrun”) is under variant rules; a variant you’d want to employ if you’re like me and want clear answers instead of relying on on-the-fly rulings, but keeping it sorted under “variants”

    1. keeps the starter set simpler & cleaner & more approachable while still being “real” D&D (unlike Pathfinder where the beginner box is more of a subset of the game), and
    2. keeps it modular & opt-in for those who don’t want, need or like this rule
  • Monte's essay demonstrates how 3e improved on 2e though, I obv can't argue otherwise
  • One of my regrets about the way 3e is presented is that often the rule is presented without the derivation. Grapple is an example: the grapple rule is (in my opinion) derived from several simpler rules, but the "rules behind the rules" are only somewhat obliquely stated. The way they present it as a series of steps makes it seem like it is a unique procedure to memorize, whereas I suspect the designers must have at some point been thinking you would grasp the principles behind it and then use it as the basis to make your own adjudications.

    I'll try the bugbear example. First I'll do it off the top of my head, then check it against the book to see if I get it right. I suppose that will tell me if I am smart enough for 3e!

    Off the top of my head: he is trying to charge and overrun the bugbears. He enters the first bugbear's space, so he provokes AoO's from the front row of bugbears (moving inside their reach). His AC is at -2 because he's charging. Then the bugbear in the middle has a choice--let this guy pass, or get in his way. Bugbear decides to get in his way. They collide. Opposed strength checks. Our man has +2 from his charge. Our guy wins, bugbear is knocked prone. So our man continues into the second row. He provokes from the second row of bugbears, still at -2 AC (it lasts for a round). Then opposed strength checks--at this point, no longer with the +2 bonus, since he spent the momentum on the first bugbear. If he breaks through, he's free. So, almost identical to 5e.

    The one point I'm wavering on is whether bowling a bugbear down uses up a standard action, in which case he'd be forced to end his turn standing over the first bugbear. I think he can do it, though--he's continuing his movement in the path of his charge.

    Now let me check the book. I'm sure this scenario is covered under an "overrun" manoeuvre, since Monte Cook said he has my back. Here we are, PHB p. 139.
    You can try to overrun as part of a charge action. You can only overrun an opponent who is one size category larger than you, the same size, or smaller. You can make only one overrun attempt per action.

    An overrun takes place during the movement portion of a charge. With an overrun, you attempt to plow past or over your opponent (and move through his area).

    First, you must move at least 10 feet in a straight line into the defender’s space (provoking attacks of opportunity normally).

    Then the defender chooses either to avoid you or to block you. If he avoids you, you keep moving. (You can always move through the space occupied by someone who lets you by.) If he blocks you, make a trip attack against him (see Trip, below). If you succeed in tripping your opponent, you can continue your charge in a straight line as normal.

    If you fail and are tripped in turn, you are prone in the defender’s space (see Table 8–8: Attack Roll Modifiers). If you fail but are not tripped, you have to move 5 feet back the way you came. If that space is occupied, you fall prone in that space.
    Almost what I said, except instead of an opposed strength check, it is sending me to cross-reference under "Trip." That's annoying, but I suppose logical because we wanted to knock the bugbears prone, which is technically a trip. Checking the trip rules...
    Make a melee attack as a melee touch attack. If the attack succeeds, make a Strength check opposed by the defender’s Dexterity or Strength check (whichever ability score has the higher modifier).
    OK, so it's an opposed check after all, but the defender gets to use either Dex or Str to oppose, just like 5e (I guess that's where 5e took the rule from). Not relevant in this case (since the bugbears will have higher strength than dex), but good to know.

    Supposedly also there is a melee touch attack, but that feels like a bug in the rules; the characters already collided when the bugbear decided not to get out of the way of the charge. Here I am appealing to the underlying principles as I understand them. A touch attack is required whenever you want to touch someone and they don't want to let you--which applies in the case of a trip attack made normally, but wouldn't seem to apply in the case where you are incidentally running into someone while trying to get through their space.

    Overall I will give myself a 4/5 on being smart enough to run 3e at 3:00 in the morning. Points off for not realizing this could be considered a trip attack, but good job me for basically calling for the right rolls. Also the rules do not say that he loses the +2 bonus after the first bugbear, so I guess I was wrong there, but I think I am actually right in terms of the logic of the situation.
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