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5E D&D, Epic Fantasy, and the Long-Term Campaign Paradigm

Retreater

Explorer
This is something I've noticed about my DM style with D&D primarily, but I've found it to be true with other system iterations (such as Pathfinder).

I've GMed and played a variety of systems lately, including Gamma World, Star Wars, Savage Rifts, Monster of the Week, and Call of Cthulhu. Of those systems, all seemed to handle free-form, episodic structure better than D&D. The party seems free to go "off the rails" and explore the world. The stories seemed faster paced.

I was talking to my fiancee about this. She mentioned that it's because D&D tends to epic storylines. Maybe there is a built-in assumption that a group should strive for a 1-20 campaign. Level progression is slow. Story progression is slow. My last campaign I ran to conclusion was Tomb of Annihilation, and about a year of play was slogging through the same dungeon for so long that the players could barely remember why they undertook the mission.

What are your thoughts?
 
I don't understand why the system would have anything to do with whether the party is "free to go off the rails and explore the world." That seems entirely up to two factors: player choices and GM facilitation.

Or are you talking more about the implied style of the different games and sort of game play they seem to encourage? Still, I would differentiate that from system, and even then the "implied style" in most cases has a good deal of variance - moreso in games like D&D than in more narrowly thematic games like, say, Call of Cthulhu.
 

Jacob Lewis

Explorer
Everything in the history of the D&D game is structured around combat and levels. Modules were designed to accomodate certain levels. Encounters are scaled to match character levels. Experience points charts dictate the pacing of storylines to provide x-number of encounters for the group to reach the next level. Rewards like magic items and coins are based around character levels. Monsters have levels, spells have levels, and even dungeons have levels.

And what do all these levels suggest? It ain't the story arcs! ;)

D&D is not an open-narrative game because combat encounters are the heart of the game, and they must be measured carefully. A party of level X can handle so many fights with monsters of an appropriate challenge rating before running out of powers and resources. Planning for interesting encounters takes time, but getting the players to arrive at the designated location has more to do with their condition and ability than with the structure or pacing of the plot. Other systems with less emphasis on this kind of power level structure have more room to wiggle and improvise to go with the flow of the narrative.

D&D is good at what it does. You just need to make some adjustments to either the system, your playstyle, or your expectations if you want a different experience. But players have been doing that since the first books were printed, and continue to do so today.
 

gyor

Adventurer
It's not the system that is the problem, it's that 5e doesn't even have the setting support for true sand box play in the Forgotten Realms.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
This is something I've noticed about my DM style with D&D primarily, but I've found it to be true with other system iterations (such as Pathfinder).

I've GMed and played a variety of systems lately, including Gamma World
Gotta ask: which Gamma World? Like, what's the copyright date?

, Star Wars, Savage Rifts, Monster of the Week, and Call of Cthulhu. Of those systems, all seemed to handle free-form, episodic structure better than D&D. The party seems free to go "off the rails" and explore the world. The stories seemed faster paced.

I was talking to my fiancee about this. She mentioned that it's because D&D tends to epic storylines. Maybe there is a built-in assumption that a group should strive for a 1-20 campaign. Level progression is slow. Story progression is slow.
What are your thoughts?
IDK about "epic" (that implies all sorts of things to me that are not synonymous with dungeoncrawling), but the long arc implied by zero-to-hero leveling and the "need" to have stories paced to enforce 6-8 encounter/ 2-3 short rest 'days,' both work against a purely episodic approach.
 

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