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

MGibster

Legend
So before the new rule (the thief) came along, there were rulings - and those rulings were that everyone could do those things - not restrictive. You could have a player in a game go "I disarm the orc!" and the DM would make something up on the spot like "oh ok, do an opposed strenght check" (or whatever). Again, not (very) restrictive. But if the game later on introduces a rule that you need a feat to disarm someone...
Didn't third edition have a Feat for tripping people in combat? I remember there were a few things I wanted my Fighter to do, maneuvers which I thought were very basic ones for any fighting man, and the DM had to tell me that these were Feats.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Didn't third edition have a Feat for tripping people in combat? I remember there were a few things I wanted my Fighter to do, maneuvers which I thought were very basic ones for any fighting man, and the DM had to tell me that these were Feats.
In 3.5 anyone could trip as a maneuver but it provoked an attack of opportunity in return for an opposed strength roll and if you fail the opponent can immediately make a check to trip you. Some weapons had a special quality allowing them to be used to make a trip attempt without provoking an AoO and allowing the weapon to be dropped instead of being tripped yourself on a successful counter trip.

The improved trip feat removed the AoO and gave a +4 on the strength check.

I remember the first time my 18 strength ranger tried out a trip in 3.0 I ended up knocked down myself. When I later made a fighter with the feat and a trip weapon it became a reasonable tactic.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Didn't third edition have a Feat for tripping people in combat? I remember there were a few things I wanted my Fighter to do, maneuvers which I thought were very basic ones for any fighting man, and the DM had to tell me that these were Feats.
You could always trip if you wanted to, however, without the feat you draw an attack of opportunity. This dynamic often made folks feel like you couldnt attempt something unless you had the feats. It certainly had the desired effect.

Edit: ninja'd
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I've never dropped acid, but I imagine it feels a lot like reading your posts. And I mean that in the best way possible.

No sympathy for Snarf; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well... maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
Whereas I would say 5e is much closer to 50/50, in theory, practice, and empirical examination. As I have previously argued elsewhere. The game was designed to make "but you'd better ask your DM if that's how it works in your game" hard-coded for nearly (but not actually) everything; 5e's tools, advice, and general structure leave vast swathes of the experience either poorly supported or totally absent of guidance; and both the way people talk about actual play and the way people advise about actual play reflects an all-pervasive "you never really know what the game is until the DM tells you" pattern.
Hopefully it is clear that my point wasn't really about what percentage it is, and to be honest, I haven't thought too deeply into trying to make that determination, mainly because I don't think it is so clear-cut or either/or (in terms of what is a codified rule vs. a DM ruling).

For instance, I see it more in three categories: things for which there are clear rules, things for which there are "run-of-the-mill" rulings, and exceptional/rare instances with little precedent and/or that require the GM to think into how to adjudicate beyond the usual "roll d20 + X." So maybe 50/45/5? Or something like that. And even then, a lot of rules require some degree of GM judgment, and a lot of rulings are relatively straightforward.

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.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm not sure quite what I'd call it, in terms of pithy phrases. Perhaps someone else can come up with something better, but my first stab would be "awesomeness aversion." There's a pattern I've seen, one that seems to be a creeping issue that even Gygax himself encouraged with some of his writing (despite at the table apparently being the exact opposite): the reluctance on the part of designers and DMs to just allow players to do crazy impressive things.

I think awesomeness aversion is not jest an apt phrase, it's plenty pithy, as well! Plus bonus points for alliteration.

I would slightly cabin it into different areas, however.

First, there is the "Five miles, uphill, both ways," issue- which you identify as the aversion to (inter alia) new races (Dragonborn, etc.). I think that this comes from a misunderstanding and glorification of the past- which is not just something that occurs in D&D. What you often see is the following:
Younger gamers don't fully understand how weird early D&D was, and so they attribute some sort of "Everyone just played it like Lord of the Rings, but less fun" veneer to D&D- not seeing it for the very weird amalgamation of Swords & Sorcery, Science Fiction, Horror Movies, Westerns, and all sorts of other bizarre influences (even Japanese Kaiju Toys) that it really was.
Older gamers reach into the past and nostalgia, and often (instead of embracing the messiness), try to present a single unified version of what D&D "was," which is just not true. The past is never a monolith. Not to mention there is this weird reactionary impulse as you age- it's the same thing that makes people say, "My kids can't do X, Y, and Z" while conveniently forgetting what they did when they were that age.

So when it comes to issues like races, I'm not sure it's an aversion to awesomeness, as much as a variant of "Yelling at clouds."

Now, there might be valid reasons for excluding races (lineages, ancestries) generally from a curated setting (or adding them), and I am always in favor of nuking elves from high orbit, but D&D has a long history, from the very beginning, of non-standard races. If you doubt that, ask Sir Fang. :)


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.

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).
 

Celebrim

Legend
hmmmm... I'm not quite sure that's right...

For example. Let's take a very simple, not well developed game (like ODD). I'll just quote the OP:

So before the new rule (the thief) came along, there were rulings - and those rulings were that everyone could do those things - not restrictive. You could have a player in a game go "I disarm the orc!" and the DM would make something up on the spot like "oh ok, do an opposed strenght check" (or whatever). Again, not (very) restrictive. But if the game later on introduces a rule that you need a feat to disarm someone...

I again don't think you are disagreeing with me much.

Whether we have a rule or a ruling, that rule or ruling can create a silo effect where the answer to something is "no" if it is a bad rule or ruling. Let's not forget that the thief itself started as a house rule. I put it to you that if the rulings at that table by the DM were as generous as "roll under your DEX on a D20" when someone wanted to climb a while no one would have considered a set of rules like the thief. Certainly Gygax didn't see the thief rules as creating restrictions on how he would rule the game or he might have written it up differently.

There may have been tables out there that were extremely forward looking where players proposed to pick pockets, pick locks, free climb dungeon walls, hide in shadows and the DM said, "Ok, let's invent a thing I'll call an ability check where if you roll under your ability score on a D20 you'll succeed. Now, let's make a DEX check to see if you can pick the merchant's pocket", but I doubt that was the typical ruling. Ability checks were always unofficial even when they started showing up in the text of published official adventures, it took a while I think before most tables evolved to using them. More likely the rulings were typically "No, you can't do that", or down to DM whim (whether or not he wanted that to happen) so that metagame wheedling was the process of play and de facto rule, or the chances were set very low by the DM. Certainly the first guy who wanted to play a Thief wasn't at a table where the rulings were not restrictive and he was able to play a Thief without rules, and presumably he didn't feel the rules for the Thief made it harder for him to play one.

I think there is a lot of retroactive claims about how the game played in the early days that strike me as probably romanticizing that era. I doubt that ability checks were used uniformly by a lot of tables until the late '80's at best, at which point those tables might have realized that the thief was creating a silo effect. Where it mostly comes up is when you want the players to climb a wall to keep the narrative going and you don't have rules for the non-thief, something that shows up for example in DL1. I suspect most tables initially found the thief non-restrictive and allowing things that they weren't allowing before, and it took considerable time for most tables to realize the rules around thieves were less than optimal.

Rulings definitely CAN restrict the game (for example, in that made up disarm example, now low strenght characters are bad at disarming!) but they don't have to ...

Rules definitely CAN restrict the game, but they don't have to. It would have been quite possible as a starting point of the thief to write the rules in such a way that the thief was X better at all the things a thief does than the average person. So we aren't really distinguishing rules and rulings here. We are only saying that there are bad rules and bad rulings. The thief itself started out as a ruling before Gygax officially endorsed it.
 

In 3.5 anyone could trip as a maneuver but it provoked an attack of opportunity in return for an opposed strength roll and if you fail the opponent can immediately make a check to trip you. Some weapons had a special quality allowing them to be used to make a trip attempt without provoking an AoO and allowing the weapon to be dropped instead of being tripped yourself on a successful counter trip.

The improved trip feat removed the AoO and gave a +4 on the strength check.

I remember the first time my 18 strength ranger tried out a trip in 3.0 I ended up knocked down myself. When I later made a fighter with the feat and a trip weapon it became a reasonable tactic.

I once played in an adventure where the villain was wielding twin magical rods that made him much more powerful than he otherwise would be. I decided the logical thing to do would be to attempt to disarm him, despite not having Improved Disarm.

The first 3 times he hit me with the attack of opportunity, dealing me damage and ruining the disarm attempt. The 4th time I managed to disarm him - only for the villain to re-gather the rod as a free action on his turn and continue as if nothing had happened. (It was a pre-written adventure, but I think the DM might have given me a hint that I was wasting my time.)

I've never tried a combat manoeuvre in 3.x since, unless I had the appropriate feat.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Dr. Zagyg, thank you for finally diagnosing my disdain for "the rule of cool" as "awesomeness aversion," but I am gonna get a second opinion. ;) :ROFLMAO:

Listen Trust Me GIF by Abitan
 

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