D&D 5E Context Switching Paralysis, or Why we Will Always Have the Thief Debate

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Yeah, I believe this is why Battlemasters were given the bonus damage on top of the maneuver. So they could do the special do-dad and cause damage, while it gave DMs an easy way to allow everyone else to do these actions if the DM wanted to allow it while not stepping on the BM's toes-- use the combat maneuver rules for everyone else to get the special do-dad, while not getting to cause damage on top of it with the attempt.
 

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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Where I think awesomeness aversion comes in (and what the phrase evokes for me) is when a DM is afraid of making a ruling because it is awesome. It's the counterpoint to the so-called "Rule of Cool." It's when a player proposes something that is outside of the defined skills or abilities and the DM just reflexively wants to say no, because the DM is afraid of allowing things that are "awesome" that are outside of granted/enumerated abilities. Because if they do, who knows where it will stop? It's a pernicious bugbear that many DMs have in their mind- "If I allow Player X to do this awesome thing, how can I stop Player Y from demanding to do the an even awesomer thing?" Unfortunately, when a DM is in this mindset, it squelches the creativity of the players.
I agree with what you wrote here, in that the more freedom you allow stunting the more pressure you put on the DM to maintain game balance. (I'm sure plenty of DMs have run into the "if I allow you to blind that guy with some dirt you picked up, than our fights become nothing but flinging dirt" issue.)

I'd also say that the more the DM allows unenumerated powers, the more that renders the "character-building" portion of the game (that many players are heavily invested in) inconsequential. That's not such a big deal in a generally freeform game like OD&D, but it's a pretty big deal if you're playing any 21st century version of D&D.
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm thinking of that scene from one of the Lord of the Rings movies where Legolas surfs down a flight of stairs on a shield while shooting his bow at a bunch of orcs. I thought it was a cheesy and unwelcome aspect of a scene that was otherwise good but some people loved it. Would that be an example of awesome aversion?
 

Celebrim

Legend
First of all, to everyone in the thread in general, this is a really good thread with so much great stuff going on I can't barge into every discussion (yet). Thanks @Snarf Zagyg

I think D&D is a game that generally involves DM adjudication throughout the process and/or in most instances, but some more than others. My sense is that what we're talking about is the degree to which individual players are comfortable with that.

I do wonder if some of this has to do with when one cut one's teeth on D&D. As an "80s boomer," I learned D&D in a context in which the rules were very much a toolset and different groups incorporated different elements and ignored a lot else (e.g. encumbrance, treasure types, etc). By the time 2E rolled out, it was a bit more clear and consistent, but still involved a lot of rulings. 3E and 4E weighed more towards codified rules, and this probably reflected a game developed during the video game era in which there are no rulings. So I'm wondering if those who prefer a more heavily rules-over-rulings style are mostly folks who started with 3E/4E and/or grew up playing video games, whereas maybe those more comfortable with rulings-over-rules started before or after 3E/3E, and/or weren't as imprinted with the video game paradigm.

Not saying this is the only possible factor, but maybe one of the key ones.

I come at this with a little different perspective because say 80% of my gaming career I've been asked to be the GM for the table so when you talk about whether I'm comfortable with GM's adjudicating the process of play I come from it from the perspective of being the one doing it.

And I'm also a product of the 80's, a kid GM on a bike, who started playing back in that era when the rules were vague, incomplete, and often narrow and frequently not optimal. And so I do remember what it was like to have to run the game when the toolset for running the game was maddeningly hard to apply and use in a fair and consistent manner and having all the time to search for house rules to make the game better, without necessarily as a teenage DM having a good idea what those would look like. Like other DMs I knew, I added things to the rules because it seemed cool or vaguely addressed some mental problem I had with the rules (even if often as not it addressed it badly and made new problems).

So when I left D&D it was in part with how hard it was to run the game that I wanted to run, not because I had tired of high fantasy or tired of the setting, but because I had tired of fighting the rules set tooth and nail. And when I came back to 3e, it was because I saw in it an elegant version of the rules set I had been struggling to create that was clear and consistent and had a pattern I could apply to cover almost everything that would come up without having to a do a lot of thought in the middle of the game to figure out how to rule on a situation. It's not that everything was perfect, but the framework was so good that I was sure I was going to be able to fix any problems that came up. And while there was more wrong than I realized at the time, the sense that the framework was going to support me proved true.

As a GM, I come at the "Rulings vs. Rules" question much like I come at a published adventure that has an enormous amount of it left out that I then have to create before I can run the adventure successfully. A system that heavily depends on "Rulings vs. Rules" is objectively a bad system in the same way that a "carefully read this, figure out what I've left out that is going to be important in play, then do all the heavy lifting yourself to fix it" adventure module is a bad adventure. During my 3e tenure I did a one shot in 1e out of nostalgia, and I hated it. I had ran 1e AD&D for like 15 years, and going back to it after getting used to the system supporting me rather than fighting me felt like torture. I was running a scene with a flash flood of water that would have been easy and fair when ran in 3e, where the published guidelines for the scene in 1e were extremely tedious, unfair, and failed to cover even the most basic of play propositions (such as "I try to lend my buddy who might drown a helping hand"). I was once again forced to throw out the system and ad hoc something in the middle of play without even a formal system in place that made ad hocing something easy the way skills and saves in 3e do.

Being heavily codified does not in fact make the rules more complicated. In practice, it makes them simpler. And at worst, the process of looking up a good rule to cover a situation is still quicker than the process of making up a good rule, especially when the rules already are pretty good when covering most situations. It's so much easier to not to have to create rulings, but even more so it's so much easier to create rulings if you already have good rules.

As a GM that grew up with 1e, I have no problems with using a ruling or changing a rule if I feel I need to do so. No one has to tell me or enable me or empower me to do that. But doing so is not an advantage to the system.

And I'm like baffled at the idea that there exists any sort of player that would rather most of the time be issued arbitrary rulings with no real expectation when they make a proposition what sort of stakes and risks might be involved or whether or not their character is remotely good at the test that is likely to be called on or even whether their character's abilities will be considered at all in the resolution. I always try to be the GM I would want to have as a player, and I have to think that no matter what era you are from, that's not great.

That's not to say that there aren't differences between players and GMs of different eras, but let's not dismiss player discomfort of rulings over rules as "them youngsters in the yard".
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm thinking of that scene from one of the Lord of the Rings movies where Legolas surfs down a flight of stairs on a shield while shooting his bow at a bunch of orcs. I thought it was a cheesy and unwelcome aspect of a scene that was otherwise good but some people loved it. Would that be an example of awesome aversion?

I think that's a really good example, because like you I hated that scene. I don't know that that is an example of "awesome aversion" but it is an example of one of the reasons "The Rule of Cool" is a terrible rule.
 

payn

Legend
I'm thinking of that scene from one of the Lord of the Rings movies where Legolas surfs down a flight of stairs on a shield while shooting his bow at a bunch of orcs. I thought it was a cheesy and unwelcome aspect of a scene that was otherwise good but some people loved it. Would that be an example of awesome aversion?
No, thats just taste aversion. Now, if you limit the ability of players to do things like this, despite the rules or not, then that might be awesome aversion. (This is one of the reasons I like bespoke games so much. They give a strong impression of the types of game play to expect. D&D to me is sword and sorcery up to high fantasy, but to others its Marvel and Anime.)

I like the magic spell comparison. If my ranger can shield surf anytime he wants to, that sucks for the caster who has to use their limited spell slots to do the same. On the flip side, folks don't tend to like martials only being able to shield surf X amounts per day. Im trying to rectify it in my head. Would it work if one side (casters) have specific magic tricks, but martials have general stunt tricks?
 
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Lord Shark

Explorer
I agree with what you wrote here, in that the more freedom you allow stunting the more pressure you put on the DM to maintain game balance. (I'm sure plenty of DMs have run into the "if I allow you to blind that guy with some dirt you picked up, than our fights become nothing but flinging dirt" issue.)
Uh huh. This is why in the pre-3E era (at least in my experience), you never, eeeeeever saw a fighter try to trip, or disarm, or try any swashbuckling tricks. Most DMs who tried to adjudicate those sorts of actions fell back on the called shot rules, so the player ended up eating a stiff penalty in exchange for minimal effect, and quickly learned there was no point in doing anything other than "I swing at that guy." As flawed as 3E's rules for maneuvers are, they were light-years beyond earlier editions.

I think that's a really good example, because like you I hated that scene. I don't know that that is an example of "awesome aversion" but it is an example of one of the reasons "The Rule of Cool" is a terrible rule.

And I thought that scene was a heck of a lot of fun, and I wish more games empowered players to try that sort of thing rather than playing conservatively.
 

We often talk about trust- especially how some games are "high trust" (in that the players have to trust the DM to make fair rulings). The flip side that we rarely mention, and what I think awesomeness aversion speaks to, is that "high trust" settings also require the DMs to trust the players. That the players are playing to the fiction, and not just looking for a loophole (which ends up in adversarial play, which is fun for no one).

I would add that everyone has to understand and stick to the tone of the game. This is a hard thing to establish, and not even because of a discrepancy of vision between GM and players, but because of that discrepancy among the players themselves.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Now, if you limit the ability of players to do things like this, despite the rules or not, then that might be awesome aversion.

Now we're back to "MMI" (which in my experience is not used to disparagingly refer to a playstyle overall but individual abilities or rulings - though that may be splitting hairs), where some players will feel cheated when they say they want to do as Legolas did and I quote some high acrobatics DC for doing it without busting your butt and not giving much benefit for success aside from maybe getting to the bottom of the steps faster (depending on how long they are). Making something difficult is often translated by some players as "The DM doesn't want you to do that" even when it is just "You can try to do that if you want, but I want you to understand it is difficult before you try, so it doesn't feel sprung on you."

I understand that some players might feel like I am squelching their ability to do something cool - but my perspective is, "If getting to the bottom of the steps faster is really that important to you, you will take the risk of it, and if it is not - why risk it just to look cool?"
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I agree with what you wrote here, in that the more freedom you allow stunting the more pressure you put on the DM to maintain game balance. (I'm sure plenty of DMs have run into the "if I allow you to blind that guy with some dirt you picked up, than our fights become nothing but flinging dirt" issue.)

I'd also say that the more the DM allows unenumerated powers, the more that renders the "character-building" portion of the game (that many players are heavily invested in) inconsequential. That's not such a big deal in a generally freeform game like OD&D, but it's a pretty big deal if you're playing any 21st century version of D&D.

You know ... you have a point there. The char-gen minigame has really become a maxigame.

And I totally get it. When I make a character now in 5e, it's a very different process than when I do the same for a TSR-era game (OD&D, 1e, B/X).

For the TSR-era game, I crave simplicity. Not knowing anything about the character until it's revealed in play. My concept would be something like, "He's a fighter. He has a sword."

But when I make a 5e character, I have to have a concept and then I tinker around endlessly with options to see if I can make the concept come to life. Now it's, "What if Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday had an unholy love child with Nic Cage's Ghost Rider... and he was forced to wander the Domains of Dread because he was reborn as a vengeance-fueled killer due to a terrible deal he made with his warlock patron?"
 

Celebrim

Legend
And I thought that scene was a heck of a lot of fun, and I wish more games empowered players to try that sort of thing rather than playing conservatively.

Which is exactly why the "Rule of Cool" is such a bad rule. Because ultimately, it's a tautology. Telling that if it is cool, it should work tells me absolutely nothing.

Your position is based on the idea that players want to do cool things but GMs are these stingy SOBs that are trying to stop them from having fun. And maybe there is a table out there that is like that, but all in all functional tables the GMs aesthetic of play is that he gets enjoyment out of the players triumphing over the bad guys in an awesome way. Because for a GM, the fun is over if the players lose (I mean actually lose and not merely have a set back) and the fun is ruined if the players triumph but do it in a way that isn't cool. So the whole time I'm running a game I'm hoping for the players to win with style. I want them to do cool things.

The trouble is of course that everyone has their own subjective idea of what is cool. And even worse, the players ultimately don't care that they win with style as much as they care to win. From the players perspective, what is often cool is just a shortcut to win easily, which is actually the opposite of cool. Cool is achieved when the players win in a way that is both believable and dramatic.

The trouble with Legolas's shield sliding scene is that it adds basically nothing to the scene except that it allows Orlando Bloom to film the scene without tripping over his own feet in the way that Legolas or a D&D hero probably wouldn't. In fact, it's trading something that is easy for such a hero ("running down stairs at full speed") for something that is probably harder ("surfing on a spiky rusty shield down stonework"). Legolas isn't getting a lot of real advantage. The real advantage of the scene is that you can do close up of the actor pretending to fire a bow without risking him face planting and breaking his pretty million dollar insured face. It doesn't feel like something that would be a real tactic by a hero. In D&D specifically it gets you nothing. Going down stairs doesn't cost extra movement generally (as opposed to going up them), and only requires a fairly easy balance check because running down stairs is pretty easy - you've probably done it in real life. Whereas surfing down stairs also only requires a balance check, and it's probably a harder one than you are forgoing - otherwise stairs would be equipped with safety boards so that elderly people could traverse them more easily.

So what a player is really asking me in this situation, "Can I cheese your scene with unnecessary showboating and risks that I don't need to take?" And well, no, that's not cool. You as a player can certainly showboat if you want, but you could also just fire the arrows before or as you run down the stairs and it is basically going to work the same.

Save the stunts for when they actually make sense.
 

I don't need a rule to tell me what to do.
My take is that this is a worthwhile principle for RPG play and design, but OD&D botched it from the jump, well before the thief was released. It was codified rules for spellcasting and rulings for everything else. They could (should, IMHO) have "designed" (to the extent the original rules were designed) a freeform spellcasting system with ample room for the more-than-a-little ad hoc "rulings not rules" ethos that pervades everything else. Other old-school games did it. Many OSR games have done it.

But they didn't do it. This split personality in how the game treats magic and how it treats the mundane has been with us ever since. And all the movement (with occasional backpedaling) had been towards more codification of the mundane stuff, which, for me, is taking things in precisely the wrong direction. D&D, for me, would have been better if the Greyhawk supplement, instead of introducing the thief, had scrapped the spell lists and descriptions and presented a freeform magic system that would have been a better fit for the game (worse for a set of wargaming rules, but better for a set of RPG rules).

TL;DR OD&D needed more and consistent MMI, and they missed their chance.
 

payn

Legend
Now we're back to "MMI" (which in my experience is not used to disparagingly refer to a playstyle overall but individual abilities or rulings - though that may be splitting hairs), where some players will feel cheated when they say they want to do as Legolas did and I quote some high acrobatics DC for doing it without busting your butt and not giving much benefit for success aside from maybe getting to the bottom of the steps faster (depending on how long they are). Making something difficult is often translated by some players as "The DM doesn't want you to do that" even when it is just "You can try to do that if you want, but I want you to understand it is difficult before you try, so it doesn't feel sprung on you."

I understand that some players might feel like I am squelching their ability to do something cool - but my perspective is, "If getting to the bottom of the steps faster is really that important to you, you will take the risk of it, and if it is not - why risk it just to look cool?"
First of all, this is why I think this very important to understand the genre your are emulating. To you, it seems like a complicated maneuver that ought to have some risk to it, the player might just want to do something cool. Doing the shield surf might seem a legit cinematic thing that should be encouraged. So, in this instance the MMI of the situation comes down to genre conventions and expectations. I mean, I look at D&D settings as fantastic places that allow ordinary people to do heroic things. Others, see the PC as fantastic themselves, powerful beings alone and unique to the setting. I'd likely accept your interpretation as perfectly legit. Others, might start making MMI accusations.

Secondly, I think the rules also have a role in this. Depending how they are written, they can determine playstyle and MMI perception. Like the trip rules in 3E combined with feats. You may if you paid the price, or else its likely to be a bad day for you. Again, I dont have an issue with this. The character has put developing resources into being good at something, anybody can try it with various levels of success though. Other folks? Tripping should just be something anybody can do at any time with reasonable chance of success.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Secondly, I think the rules also have a role in this. Depending how they are written, they can determine playstyle and MMI perception. Like the trip rules in 3E combined with feats. You may if you paid the price, or else its likely to be a bad day for you. Again, I dont have an issue with this. The character has put developing resources into being good at something, anybody can try it with various levels of success though. Other folks? Tripping should just be something anybody can do at any time with reasonable chance of success.

Well, yeah!

fear-and-loathing.gif


Success, as always, is in the eye of the beholder.
 

Lord Shark

Explorer
So what a player is really asking me in this situation, "Can I cheese your scene with unnecessary showboating and risks that I don't need to take?" And well, no, that's not cool. You as a player can certainly showboat if you want, but you could also just fire the arrows before or as you run down the stairs and it is basically going to work the same.

Save the stunts for when they actually make sense.

And I see it as "What does it harm to let Legolas do this, other than possibly offending Celebrim's sensibilities?" See, it's not my scene the player is trying to "cheese" with "unnecessary showboating." It is, or should be, all of ours at the table. If Legolas is trying to get around the mechanics (like, trying to move farther in one round than his movement would normally allow), then I might disallow it because it wouldn't be fair to the other players. But otherwise, again: what's the harm?

Learning to unscrew the viking hat and leave behind the instinctive need to say no, no, no (or worse, "yes, but I'll load you up with so many penalties you'll fail anyway") whenever a player tries something unconventional was a great experience for me as a DM.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I'm thinking of that scene from one of the Lord of the Rings movies where Legolas surfs down a flight of stairs on a shield while shooting his bow at a bunch of orcs. I thought it was a cheesy and unwelcome aspect of a scene that was otherwise good but some people loved it. Would that be an example of awesome aversion?
Well let's not forget the obvious: That's a movie, while D&D is a game - and one that is far more magical and superheroic than LotR. So I wouldn't consider it "awesome aversion" to dislike it within the context of LotR, especially to the degree that it conflicts with the tone and vibe of Tolkien's vision, and the style of fantasy he employed - which wasn't superheroic or high magic. I mean, it would sort of be like if Gandalf cast meteor swarm.
I come at this with a little different perspective because say 80% of my gaming career I've been asked to be the GM for the table so when you talk about whether I'm comfortable with GM's adjudicating the process of play I come from it from the perspective of being the one doing it.
I'm guessing that the vast majority of people engaging in this conversation are in the same boat - mostly GMs.
A system that heavily depends on "Rulings vs. Rules" is objectively a bad system in the same way that a "carefully read this, figure out what I've left out that is going to be important in play, then do all the heavy lifting yourself to fix it" adventure module is a bad adventure.
The paragraphs before this outlined what I interpreted to be your own personal background and subjective taste, which is entirely valid and serves to explain why you like things the way you like them. But then you lose me on this. I don't think the two are at all the same, at least in my experience and, I think, for those who are comfortable with rulings.

I see what you're talking about as less about some kind of objective value and almost entirely a matter of taste and play-style preference. Perhaps a more apt analogy is that of a published campaign setting that is only lightly outlined. Some want tons of detail, while others like big gaps to fill in. This, I think, is a lot closer to "rulings vs rules," because it simply relates to different styles and preferences and makes no remark on what is or is not "objectively bad."

So when you say a system that relies heavily on rulings is "objectively bad," you're saying that lots of people like systems that are objectively bad - which of course then means that either those people have bad taste (and also implies that taste is mostly objectively measurable), or that it isn't an objective matter at all, because it isn't bad for the many who embrace rulings. I tend to think that the latter is a better approach to take, because it doesn't reduce such differences to those who have good vs. bad taste.

And I'm like baffled at the idea that there exists any sort of player that would rather most of the time be issued arbitrary rulings with no real expectation when they make a proposition what sort of stakes and risks might be involved or whether or not their character is remotely good at the test that is likely to be called on or even whether their character's abilities will be considered at all in the resolution. I always try to be the GM I would want to have as a player, and I have to think that no matter what era you are from, that's not great.
Well I don't think anyone is advocating for "arbitrary rulings," because that implies a lack of any kind of consistency or logic. I think most DMs, or at least reasonably proficient ones, develop a style and follow a certain logic. Players learn the style and logic of the GM, and dialogue/negotiate with it. I think that's just a natural part of the game, and not dissimilar to students learning the individual proclivities of a teacher. Where it becomes problematic is if the teacher (or GM) isn't consistent or fair, which inevitably happens at times - it is just part of the nature of the beast. But it really depends on the teacher (or GM), and varies by degree. A good GM (or teacher) cultivates self-awareness and tries to be as fair and consistent as possible, but will inevitable miss the mark at times.

A clear and strong ruleset can ameliorate some of this - as some have been advocating for - but there's always going to be a gap, especially in a relatively free-wheeling "rulings paradigm" game like 5E. But as I said in the other thread, I don't think the best or only way to solve the problem of human inconsistency is inherently or only through replacing it with mechanical systems....that way lies dystopia. Good and clear rules, yes, but we also need to work on developing our own capacity for consistency, logic, and dialogue. Meaning, some of these human "problems" can only be addressed on the human level.

So I'm saying both: a good ruleset that develops/evolves over time (through editions and rules updates) and developing the craft of good GMing (and good playing!).

That's not to say that there aren't differences between players and GMs of different eras, but let's not dismiss player discomfort of rulings over rules as "them youngsters in the yard".
What I said wasn't about age, but the paradigm of the game that a person grew up in - and I actually posited that the youngest cohort of all--people who learned D&D via 5E--might be more comfortable with rulings than 3E/4E folks.

Again, just one factor. I think a larger factor is personality type - the Alan Watts prickles vs. goo thing from my first post in this thread.
 



Celebrim

Legend
And I see it as "What does it harm to let Legolas do this, other than possibly offending Celebrim's sensibilities?"

It makes the transcript of the play dumber. And well, my sensibilities count for that. One of the reasons we have rules is to share the sensibilities of story construction in a way that you don't have when you pass around a notebook and take turns adding to the story - a process that if you have done then you know it almost always goes wrong as people begin to offend each others sensibilities and take story in directions that other participants don't like. Rules are what help us share the story by defining a set of sensibilities we agree to share.

If Legolas is trying to get around the mechanics (like, trying to move farther in one round than his movement would normally allow), then I might disallow it because it wouldn't be fair to the other players.

But that's the opposite of when I would allow it. If Legolas's player found himself in a situation where the only way he could do the scene and accomplish the goal was jump on a shield and start sledding, that's precisely when I would err on the side of allowing it. (I mean, technically, I'd allow it at any point it's just that in the example scene my allowing it would look a lot like punishing the player for trying the stunt, since it would actually make the scene harder while giving the player no advantage.) For example, if the scene was, "300 yards below down the mountain, you see part of the orc warband is in the village, and amidst the chaos you see one of the orcs is dragging Lady Delia by the hair toward one of their wagons", and the player responds, "I jump my shield and start sledding down the icy mountain slopes, firing off arrows at the orcs that try to stop me!" then that is is "AWESOME!" and we definitely are doing that scene.

Will it be easy? Probably not. But it there is a clear purpose and logic to the stunt, and while it isn't easy it's probably easier than accomplishing the purpose in any other way. Hopefully the character has the skills to attempt such a feat of daring, because I'm wanting him to succeed and not face plant unheroically as he goes down the slope.
 
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I think that's a really good example, because like you I hated that scene. I don't know that that is an example of "awesome aversion" but it is an example of one of the reasons "The Rule of Cool" is a terrible rule.
And I thought that scene was a heck of a lot of fun, and I wish more games empowered players to try that sort of thing rather than playing conservatively.
I would add that everyone has to understand and stick to the tone of the game. This is a hard thing to establish, and not even because of a discrepancy of vision between GM and players, but because of that discrepancy among the players themselves.
And this is what makes writing and running D&D rules so difficult at times; it tries to be all things to all people. Rule of Cool, Exploration Pillar, MMI, Underpowered Fighters, &c.

I think that what would be beneficial for D&D is to look back to the BECMI edition and think about how the layering could be accomplished. Not that it is a shining exemplar of that, but if adjustments to "power level" or character capabilities are desired BECMI was designed with similar thoughts in mind.
 

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