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D&D General D&D's Evolution: Rulings, Rules, and "System Matters"


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pemerton

Legend
Thankfully my point that I am trying to make is not dependent on pemerton's relationship to either "canon" or "official."
This is true! But I did intend my account of my own relationship to those things to illustrate a more general point - that I don't think "canon" and "official" are necessary to have a common language to discuss RPGing. As I tried to bring out in my discussion with @Chaosmancer, shared knowledge of published materials tends to do that job.

It's many years since I spent any time there, but a RPG site that I think illustrated this point was the ICE site. There is practically no such thing as "official" Rolemaster, given that historically the publication model is mostly the offering of optional rules modules. And even when it comes to settings, there have been enough reprints and do-overs that "canon" doesn't have that much purchase.

I think the function of "canon" and "official" in D&D culture is more closely connected to notions of identity and authenticity than to possibilities of successful communication.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
This is true! But I did intend my account of my own relationship to those things to illustrate a more general point - that I don't think "canon" and "official" are necessary to have a common language to discuss RPGing. As I tried to bring out in my discussion with @Chaosmancer, shared knowledge of published materials tends to do that job.

It's many years since I spent any time there, but a RPG site that I think illustrated this point was the ICE site. There is practically no such thing as "official" Rolemaster, given that historically the publication model is mostly the offering of optional rules modules. And even when it comes to settings, there have been enough reprints and do-overs that "canon" doesn't have that much purchase.

I think the function of "canon" and "official" in D&D culture is more closely connected to notions of identity and authenticity than to possibilities of successful communication.

I agree that the ideas of more closely connected to identity and authenticity. But, unlike Rolemaster, DnD and most RPGs have publication models that are more... static? Most RPGs have a single book of rules, then supplements. DnD has the Core Three. The official material is easily recognizable and generally where most people start learning about the system. And that becomes the basis for the language that then gets used in supplemental materials, be they 3rd party or not.

Edit: To put a bit of a fine point on it. Nothing created for 3.5 makes sense in the context of 4e, without trying to convert it. And even between 3.5 and 5e, there is a lot that doesn't translate well. You generally can't pick up something made for a different edition and just run it as written, because it isn't using the same "language" or expectations.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I agree that the ideas of more closely connected to identity and authenticity. But, unlike Rolemaster, DnD and most RPGs have publication models that are more... static? Most RPGs have a single book of rules, then supplements. DnD has the Core Three. The official material is easily recognizable and generally where most people start learning about the system. And that becomes the basis for the language that then gets used in supplemental materials, be they 3rd party or not.

Edit: To put a bit of a fine point on it. Nothing created for 3.5 makes sense in the context of 4e, without trying to convert it. And even between 3.5 and 5e, there is a lot that doesn't translate well. You generally can't pick up something made for a different edition and just run it as written, because it isn't using the same "language" or expectations.

This is all true, and fair, but I think that there is a fundamental distinction between talking about RPGs (such as we are doing here), and playing RPGs.

It's perfectly possible to play an RPG without having a shared language that requires discussion on a forum. Moreover, I think the entire point of many rules-light systems is to concentrate on playing, instead of those extraneous discussion.

Again, I think too many of these conversations come from a position of one-upmanship; the need to defend (or attack) a mode of play. But it shouldn't be that way! There are advantages to systems that rely on more rules, and advantages to systems that rely on less. I think that many people who play for long periods of time likely experience both, and enjoy both at different times.

Personally, I think it was fascinating that we have an OSR-offshoot (Worlds Not Rules, or FKR) that is looking back not just at rules-lite, but at purely minimalist rulesets. But the beauty of the hobby is that it can, and should, support a multiplicity of play options. :)
 

Chaosium was just house ruled DnD with a percentile skill system and is one of the most successful game companies out there. The concept of a roleplaying game took an incredibly talented and created person to discover, but once revealed even 11 year olds get the game and run it.

As someone who was around for RuneQuest's advent, was involved in playtesting it, and ran it for years, the idea that it was just houseruled D&D is ludicrous. About the only thing the games have in common is some overlapping attribute names and a vague scale.

I suspect strongly you're conflating the RQ design with Steve Perrin's (at one time) well known D&D conventions, but they only have the kind of passing relationship you're liable to get with any common designs by the same person.
 

I think that is one reason why I have heard so often from game designers nowadays that game designers shouldn't just run the game they created, but also play the games and have other people run them as well as other tables and groups. You don't necessarily know how much of an RPG is the system or the designer/GM who is doing the heavy sustain work.

Its one reason I think a lot of problems with published games is inadequate (and to be fair, its difficult and expensive to do this right) playtesting and usually nonexistent blindtesting. Even having people with associated groups running the game is no substitute, as they may have a similar game culture and set of expectations that won't translate to a random purchaser of the game.
 

I suspect strongly you're conflating the RQ design with Steve Perrin's (at one time) well known D&D conventions, but they only have the kind of passing relationship you're liable to get with any common designs by the same person.
My impression was that the Conventions (which WERE D&D house rules) were one of the foundational texts for design of the RQ combat system. Which makes sense.

That being said, of course RQ is a lot more than some combat rules.
 

My impression was that the Conventions (which WERE D&D house rules) were one of the foundational texts for design of the RQ combat system. Which makes sense.

That being said, of course RQ is a lot more than some combat rules.

I had Steve's Conventions back in the day, and any relationship to at least the final published RQ is, as I said, more a sign that a designer with certain ideas will have those ideas express in multiple designs most likely. But any relationship is--well, let's just say its pretty thin at best. If RQ could be called a set of D&D houserules, you could apply that to a rather large number of games no one would ever confused with D&D.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
This is all true, and fair, but I think that there is a fundamental distinction between talking about RPGs (such as we are doing here), and playing RPGs.

It's perfectly possible to play an RPG without having a shared language that requires discussion on a forum. Moreover, I think the entire point of many rules-light systems is to concentrate on playing, instead of those extraneous discussion.

Again, I think too many of these conversations come from a position of one-upmanship; the need to defend (or attack) a mode of play. But it shouldn't be that way! There are advantages to systems that rely on more rules, and advantages to systems that rely on less. I think that many people who play for long periods of time likely experience both, and enjoy both at different times.

Personally, I think it was fascinating that we have an OSR-offshoot (Worlds Not Rules, or FKR) that is looking back not just at rules-lite, but at purely minimalist rulesets. But the beauty of the hobby is that it can, and should, support a multiplicity of play options. :)

I never said nor implied anything differently. This was about the use of such rules as a language for discussion, it had nothing to do with playing the game itself.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Its one reason I think a lot of problems with published games is inadequate (and to be fair, its difficult and expensive to do this right) playtesting and usually nonexistent blindtesting. Even having people with associated groups running the game is no substitute, as they may have a similar game culture and set of expectations that won't translate to a random purchaser of the game.

To put a more specific point on this, I own a game I have never played (was never able to get a group) called OVA. In reading the rules I saw one or two abilities that could be heavily exploited to make insanely powerful characters. The game had a forum, and I went there to make sure I hadn't misunderstood the abilities.

The designer told me they were aware, but didn't consider a problem because we could just ask players not to exploit the rules for their own gain.

Very different gaming culture compared to what I'm used to here.
 

To put a more specific point on this, I own a game I have never played (was never able to get a group) called OVA. In reading the rules I saw one or two abilities that could be heavily exploited to make insanely powerful characters. The game had a forum, and I went there to make sure I hadn't misunderstood the abilities.

The designer told me they were aware, but didn't consider a problem because we could just ask players not to exploit the rules for their own gain.

Very different gaming culture compared to what I'm used to here.

Yup. I saw some of this same sort of thing in the playtest for Silver Age Sentinels back in the day, where the designer's tendency to ad-hoc things personally colored how much he cared about vagueness in the rules, too.

But it can have even more subtle impact than that; the classic that's relevant here is how much some of the D&D 3e designers expected people to run games with it like they were playing 2e, rather than like what it seemed to imply mechanically, and then were startled (and misfired in some of their early adventures) when they didn't.
 

Yup. I saw some of this same sort of thing in the playtest for Silver Age Sentinels back in the day, where the designer's tendency to ad-hoc things personally colored how much he cared about vagueness in the rules, too.

But it can have even more subtle impact than that; the classic that's relevant here is how much some of the D&D 3e designers expected people to run games with it like they were playing 2e, rather than like what it seemed to imply mechanically, and then were startled (and misfired in some of their early adventures) when they didn't.
Which is one of the central problems of the "leave it to the table to figure out." Players will naturally read the materials available to them, and while some will always make choices without meaningful regard to their utility, most will at least consider utility as part of making their mechanical choices. It is frankly foolish to expect players to never ever consider the mechanical impact of these choices (in 5e, things like class/subclass and race, spell selection, feats vs ASIs, etc.); even for players that consistently prioritize theme/flavor/concept over utility, there will almost certainly be near-equally-flavorful options at some points, and why would one choose the weaker of the two options if both produce good story of essentially equal quality?

Furthermore, why put players in the frustrating position of having to choose between what is flavorful and what is effective and leaving the balance cleanup job to the DM? Flavor and effectiveness, despite claims to the contrary, are not mutually exclusive. Why not design so that, at least in most reasonably-expectable cases, things just work pretty well and do what they say on the tin, so that DMs only really have to worry about weird edge cases? It's not like D&D games are actually THAT weird and out of left field. We have a pretty good idea of what most people want out of D&D. Despite the lofty "you can do ANYTHING" rhetoric from many folks, tradition runs rather strong. Players tend to embrace certain kinds of novelty more than DMs, even when mechanically disadvantaged, e.g. Dragonborn have steadily grown in popularity over time (according to the D&D Beyond they've recently risen to 3rd, surpassing Tiefling for the first time in 2020, behind only Half-Elf and Human.) But semi-heroic, semi-comedic adventures in a pseudo-medieval faux-European henotheistic setting, where characters embark on "quests" (usually into dangerous wilderness, ruins, or underground locations) to recover/extract treasure/resources/people, save the day/stop a bad thing, or complete a contract forms the basic structure for the vast majority of play experiences. There will be combat, exploration at both large scales (overland) and small ones (individual rooms/spots), interactions with other sapient beings that do not need to end in violence, and lots of problems solved either by using a spell designed to solve that problem or by applying resources (magical or otherwise) to get through it. Both thematically and mechanically, these are pretty easily defined goals. Now, obviously some things will push boundaries, but the above is quite comprehensive despite this fact, and it isn't too hard to make rule-frameworks that are open-ended enough to encompass almost anything one might do in these spaces. On the thematic side, there have already been many settings that play with or reject parts of the established formula to one extent or another (Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Eberron, Planescape, Dragonlance, etc.), so all we really need do is give light-touch thematic support for the most common representation, followed by advice (ideally for both DMs and players, but definitely at least the former) on how to curate the thematics for different goals. E.g., a world where the only spellcasters are Paladins, Druids, Warlocks, and Artificers is going to feel different from one where no one can cast spells at all without becoming corrupted monsters unless blessed by the gods (but there are workarounds like Monk's ki). Or, a world without elves and dwarves, where the great ancient kingdoms were decadent but brilliant tieflings and industrious dragonborn bound by a rigid caste system. Or one where the only playable races are gnomes, halflings, kobolds, tengu, and other "small" races, as the Tall Ones died out long ago. Or any of a million other variations on deities/the sacred, the nature and prevalence of magic, what species/classes exist to play, and the overall technological development and societal structure present. This need only be a few pages at most--evocative suggestions and general guidance, for new DMs looking for that spark of inspiration.

...this kinda got away from me. Whole point is, I reject the notion that leaving known metaphorical holes or oversights in the rules is necessary for giving DMs the leeway to adjust things to suit their interests. I reject the notion that it is necessary (to say nothing of good!) to make players choose between mechanical competence and flavor/story/theme. And I reject the notion that D&D is, in practice, too diverse and open-ended to be designed reasonably well "off the shelf" for the vast majority of use-cases.
 

Well, honestly, my answer to that, as to a lot of related things, is when you insist on making every damn thing exception driven in design you're asking for this kind of problem, but I know I'm pretty much an old man shouting at clouds talking about that on a D&D-centric board.
 


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