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D&D 5E D&D compared to Bespoke Genre TTRPGs

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
edit: two posts have pointed toward the title as indicative of conflict, interpreting “vs” as competitive rather than comparative as I intended, so I’ve changed the title.

So, there is a lot of traffic on the internet dedicated to the idea that DnD is a very limited game, and if you want to run a heist or have romantic fantasy narratives, or even just play a game where bonds with other people is very important, then you should play some indie game that is built for that thing, rather than D&D.

I disagree. I play other games sometimes, to tell short stories with my friends, or to explore and learn different ways of running and constructing a game. For my regular game, I'd almost always rather play dnd. Not only am I so familiar with it that I don't need to think about the rules to use them, but it is a game that is very easy to add to.

What I mean by that is, if I want to have mechanics relating to morale and the bonds formed between PCs and their closest NPCs, or with a community, etc, I can just add rules for that to D&D 5e, and D&D 5e absolutely can handle them without any problems. I have used "act now, plan later" mechanics in 5e. Nothing about 5e prevents or even mildly works against doing so.

What's more, I generally don't want to play a campaign of heists, or a campaign of city building, or a campaign of building a revolution. I want to use those elements within a larger campaign that features those things and more. When my Eberron group did a heist to keep a powerful artifact from being purchased by Emerald Claw terrorists, I stole mechanics and ideas from indie RPGs and from movies and tv shows. If it was a broadcast game, I'd have credited them in the show notes, but I certainly wasn't going to tell my group to remake their characters in Blades in The Dark, expect everyone to learn that system in order to participate in the next story arc, and then go back to DnD when we were done with that job.

So, for me, "you'd be better off playing a game that is made for that" usually rings hollow. What about you?
 
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So, there is a lot of traffic on the internet dedicated to the idea that DnD is a very limited game, and if you want to run a heist or have romantic fantasy narratives, or even just play a game where bonds with other people is very important, then you should play some indie game that is built for that thing, rather than D&D.

I disagree. I play other games sometimes, to tell short stories with my friends, or to explore and learn different ways of running and constructing a game. For my regular game, I'd almost always rather play dnd. Not only am I so familiar with it that I don't need to think about the rules to use them, but it is a game that is very easy to add to.
I think posting on a D&D-specific forum on a D&D-specific site you're looking to hear what you want to hear, really.

The reality is that system matters, and your position is a flat denial that system matters, however you spin it.

If you want to encourage or engage with some aspect of the game, and the system doesn't support that, well, it's not going to work as well if you play a game which does support that. It's not rocket surgery, I'd suggest.

I also don't really agree that 5E D&D is particularly easy to add to effectively, because it has a vast number of peculiarities that make it ill-suited for a lot of genres, and just "adding to" it doesn't resolve them. I mean, the vast majority of abilities and spells are combat-centric, the skill is wildly random because it's d20-based with relatively small modifiers (this is terrible for a lot of games), the HP system is quite peculiar and specific, the magic is also extremely, ridiculously powerful in a world-shaping way (and you have to cut several core classes to fight that), the level-based structure is antithetical to a lot of stories you might want to tell, and so on. 5E isn't even nearly the most versatile edition of D&D, either, nor the best base to build from if you want to add on to (that's going to be either OD&D, RC D&D or 3.XE, I'd suggest).
I certainly wasn't going to tell my group to remake their characters in Blades in The Dark, expect everyone to learn that system in order to participate in the next story arc, and then go back to DnD when we were done with that job.
This seems like a really weird and obvious straw-man.

I've never heard anyone suggest anything of the sort, and I've heard a lot of people suggest a lot of bizarre things. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, by that logic, it would obviously be equally ridiculous for a BitD group who were going to do a kick-down-the-door, stab-them-in-the-face-type deal, obviously a bit better supported by D&D as a general play-style, to remake all their PCs in D&D.
 

Stormonu

Legend
D&D works best when it's a troupe play where the characters grow into their abilities. While you can use the game for a variety of things, the biggest hurdle the game has is level advancement. Characters don't start "fully developed" and there's always something you can add to them to make them more powerful.

I can completely agree with others that other games do their genre better than D&D, and I don't see that as a bad thing. I'm not very eager to learn new rulesets, but a lot of times most other games have rules that are far easier to learn than D&D because they lean into their genre so heavily, whereas D&D tends to be more kitchen sink.

A good example? The recent Aliens roleplaying game. While you could use D&D rules in that game, it would do very poorly emulate the feel and mood of the game. While you could use D&D, and say, Steel Predators to get something close, the D&D game engine would give me a very different feel. It would be difficult to emulate the secret agendas (the distrust works against the troupe aspect of typical D&D) and powerlessness (D&D is generally about beating the monsters, not being crushed by them) without taking a hammer to the D&D game, whereas the Alien game is built for what it does without tweaking a lot of dials and knobs to get there.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
So, there is a lot of traffic on the internet dedicated to the idea that DnD is a very limited game, and if you want to run a heist or have romantic fantasy narratives, or even just play a game where bonds with other people is very important, then you should play some indie game that is built for that thing, rather than D&D.

I disagree. I play other games sometimes, to tell short stories with my friends, or to explore and learn different ways of running and constructing a game. For my regular game, I'd almost always rather play dnd. Not only am I so familiar with it that I don't need to think about the rules to use them, but it is a game that is very easy to add to.

What I mean by that is, if I want to have mechanics relating to morale and the bonds formed between PCs and their closest NPCs, or with a community, etc, I can just add rules for that to D&D 5e, and D&D 5e absolutely can handle them without any problems. I have used "act now, plan later" mechanics in 5e. Nothing about 5e prevents or even mildly works against doing so.

What's more, I generally don't want to play a campaign of heists, or a campaign of city building, or a campaign of building a revolution. I want to use those elements within a larger campaign that features those things and more. When my Eberron group did a heist to keep a powerful artifact from being purchased by Emerald Claw terrorists, I stole mechanics and ideas from indie RPGs and from movies and tv shows. If it was a broadcast game, I'd have credited them in the show notes, but I certainly wasn't going to tell my group to remake their characters in Blades in The Dark, expect everyone to learn that system in order to participate in the next story arc, and then go back to DnD when we were done with that job.

So, for me, "you'd be better off playing a game that is made for that" usually rings hollow. What about you?
I think it depends. “You’re better off playing a game made for heists” is true if what you want to do is play a game about heists (or whatever). But as you say, you don’t really want to play a game about heists. You want to play a game that includes heists, among other things. Things for which a game made for heists may be ill-suited, or at least, less well-suited than D&D.

I think the core message is that system matters, and it is generally a good idea to pick a system that is well-suited to your purposes. Sometimes that means a bespoke system that was purpose-built to do exactly the thing you want (this is often especially true for one-shots). Sometimes it means a general system that handles most things well enough and can be added to as needed.

I think D&D’s biggest strength is in its recognition. Most people who play RPGs are familiar with it, so it’s very easy for most players to jump into, and they’re usually comfortable enough with it to be willing to push it to do things it wasn’t necessarily built to do, in ways they might not be comfortable doing with a less familiar system.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I also don't really agree that 5E D&D is particularly easy to add to effectively, because it has a vast number of peculiarities that make it ill-suited for a lot of genres, and just "adding to" it doesn't resolve them. I mean, the vast majority of abilities and spells are combat-centric, the skill is wildly random because it's d20-based with relatively small modifiers (this is terrible for a lot of games), the HP system is quite peculiar and specific, the magic is also extremely, ridiculously powerful in a world-shaping way (and you have to cut several core classes to fight that), the level-based structure is antithetical to a lot of stories you might want to tell, and so on. 5E isn't even nearly the most versatile edition of D&D, either, nor the best base to build from if you want to add on to (that's going to be either OD&D, RC D&D or 3.XE, I'd suggest).
I agree that, system-wise, D&D isn’t really all that flexible. But it does have the unique advantage of being most RPG players’ comfort zone. People are often more willing to experiment from a familiar basis than an unfamiliar one, so they’re often more ok with house ruling D&D to make it do something it may not be particularly well-suited for than they are with a system they’re not as familiar with.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
I'll concede some of your points, but I would point out that the "learning curve" aspect of your post (I already know 5e, so why would I take time to learn another system) is only true IF you know 5e and not another system. Now, that's probably a pretty common state of affairs, but that's an argument about the high penetration of the 5e ruleset, not an argument for the flexibility of the 5e ruleset.

Most other games are similarly flexible if mostly freeform "rules systems" are used to adjudicate one-off situations.
 

I think it depends. “You’re better off playing a game made for heists” is true if what you want to do is play a game about heists (or whatever). But as you say, you don’t really want to play a game about heists. You want to play a game that includes heists, among other things. Things for which a game made for heists may be ill-suited, or at least, less well-suited than D&D.
Heists aren't a great example either, because D&D is actually pretty good at heists. And BitDs core mechanic (i.e. deciding that you prepared for certain events beforehand) appeared in a D&D adventure BEFORE BitD existed (Blood Money I think, in some Dungeon from 2010). Plus BitD is more about a particular approach to heists, which again, as noted, appeared in D&D years before BitD even existed.

And if you use a different example, I think the case for using a different RPG is likely to be more persuasive.
But it does have the unique advantage of being most RPG players’ comfort zone. People are often more willing to experiment from a familiar basis than an unfamiliar one, so they’re often more ok with house ruling D&D to make it do something it may not be particularly well-suited for than they are with a system they’re not as familiar with.
My experience is that if you can get people to play a different RPG to D&D, and have fun, even once, you've broken the back of the notion that the familiarity of D&D is actually important, for the people who took part.

I'd also particularly suggest PtbA (inc. BitD) games and Resistance-based games are extremely effective for this, as they have very simple and accessible rules (which even non-gamers pick up quickly), and tend to be instantly fun (in fact some PtbA games get old pretty fast but are usually extremely extra fun to start with).

If the alternative however is some rules-heavy beast, though, yeah, then you have a challenge on your hands, and probably need to make quite a specific case.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I do definitely hate it when people say "Just play X" This goes for both systems and classes/class combos when someone has an idea for a new class. DnD might not be have systems set up for a certain playstyle so you might need to create them yourself, but I do think it is still largely doable.

That said, I do think that there are systems out there which are better suited for certain styles of games because they have been built for it from the ground up. In this case they are much like DnD, they do their style of game well but a dungeon crawl probably not so well, and any changes to play style are largely going to have to be homebrewed because the system can't handle it natively.
 

In this case they are much like DnD, they do their style of game well but a dungeon crawl probably not so well, and any changes to play style are largely going to have to be homebrewed because the system can't handle it natively.
I'd argue there are even some games which handle a dungeon crawl better than 5E (or sometimes other editions) does. Dungeon World comes to mind, in that you can literally throw adventures at it from various D&D editions and it'll work fine and be extremely fun (I was using a ghastly 2E adventure with it recently, it sure handled it better than 2E ever did!). 5E is particularly tuned for not just dungeon crawls, but a specific kind of dungeon crawl that isn't as much about getting the drop on people as pre-3E D&D (and 3E to some extent), nor as much about "fair fights" as 4E, but somewhere in-between.
 

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