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D&D General D&D's feel vs. what D&D should keep - final comparison

JEB

Hero
As many of you folks have likely noticed by now, I ran two polls here, on rpg.net, and on nine different D&D-related subreddits: "What makes D&D feel like D&D?" and "What elements does D&D need to keep?"

Before I step back from this for the foreseeable, I figured it might be interesting to take the final tallies from both polls (364 responses for "feel" and 389 for "keep") and compare them - to see want people feel is part of D&D, as opposed to what they want to keep in the game. (This also addresses the question that led to the second poll even happening.)

I'm using the same general tiers I used in every previous poll summary; however, this time, items in bold are in the same tiers between the two sets (you'll see why):

What makes D&D feel like D&D?What elements does D&D need to keep?
Very important (80% and up)Ability scores (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha): 302 [82.96%]
Levels: 295 [81.04%]
Distinct character classes: 293 [80.49%]
Distinct character classes: 350 [89.97%]
Levels: 342 [87.92%]
Ability scores (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha): 335 [86.12%]

Using multiple types of dice: 328 [84.32%]
Hit points: 326 [83.80%]
Important (60% to 80%)Hit points: 266 [73.08%]
Armor Class: 259 [71.15%]
Using multiple types of dice: 249 [68.41%]
Saving throws: 222 [60.99%]
Armor Class: 308 [79.18%]
Distinct character races/lineages: 297 [76.35%]
Saving throws: 280 [71.98%]
Lists of specific spells: 267 [68.64%]
Initiative: 265 [68.12%]
Debatable (40% to 60%)Distinct character races/lineages: 203 [55.77%]
Lists of specific spells: 188 [51.65%]
Experience points: 181 [49.73%]
Alignment: 168 [46.15%]
Initiative: 152 [41.76%]
Lists of specific magic items: 227 [58.35%]
Damage types: 219 [56.30%]
Conditions: 200 [51.41%]
Creature types: 197 [50.64%]
Multiclassing: 196 [50.39%]
Lists of specific equipment: 195 [50.13%]
Feats: 189 [48.59%]
Advantage/disadvantage: 187 [48.07%]
Proficiencies: 185 [47.56%]
Experience points: 184 [47.30%]
Hit dice: 167 [42.93%]
Less important (20% to 40%)Lists of specific magic items: 131 [35.99%]
Hit dice: 114 [31.32%]
Lists of specific equipment: 99 [27.20%]
Creature types: 86 [23.63%]
Damage types: 85 [23.35%]
Deities: 155 [39.85%]
Backgrounds: 146 [37.53%]
Surprise: 143 [36.76%]
Alignment: 128 [32.90%]
Challenge ratings: 100 [25.71%]
Great Wheel cosmology: 80 [20.57%]
Not important (20% and below)Deities: 69 [18.96%]
Multiclassing: 56 [15.38%]
Great Wheel cosmology: 56 [15.38%]
Proficiencies: 52 [14.29%]
Feats: 49 [13.46%]
Surprise: 42 [11.54%]
Challenge ratings: 38 [10.44%]
Conditions: 36 [9.89%]
Advantage/disadvantage: 33 [9.07%]
Backgrounds: 26 [7.14%]
World Axis cosmology: 23 [6.32%]
World Axis cosmology: 34 [8.74%]

Observations:
  • As you may have noticed, there's very little overlap as far as tiers. There are lots and lots of elements that respondents thought were not part of D&D's feel, but voted much more strongly in favor of keeping... though many of those low-ranking "feel" elements only rose to the "debatable" middle in the "keep" poll.
  • I feel pretty confident in saying that ability scores, levels, and distinct character classes were strongly supported in general by respondents, considering they ranked at the top of both polls (though for whatever reason, in exactly the opposite order). I don't think I'd try making a version of D&D that lacked them, at least if I wanted the forums to support me. Armor Class and saving throws also seem to be solid runners-up in both polls.
  • XP garners mixed opinions, whether it's a matter of feel or desire to keep. (Also, those vote counts are weirdly close.)
  • Excepting the top-tier stuff, most of the generic elements shared widely by other RPGs (multiple dice, initiative, etc.) scored much lower on "feel", but were still desirable to keep.
  • Only two things actually score lower in "keep" than "feel". One is XP, although only by a few percentage points, so not likely significant. More notable is alignment - almost half thought it was part of D&D's feel, but only about a third actively want to keep it. (I admit that's not a result I wanted to see, but it is what it is.)
  • The Great Wheel cosmology rates higher in "keep" than "feel", although not by much. That seems counterintuitive to me, considering it's a lore element, but there it is.
  • I want to give the World Axis a hug at this point.

Disclaimers:
1. I am not a professional pollster; I am only one person with few analytic resources at my disposal.
2. These polls were very simplistic and binary. As such, while the polls indicate affirmative support, they do not indicate what a lack of support means - it could be anything from "I don't care" to "I hate this". However, this information could be captured by different polls.
3. The polls do not reflect intensity of support, which could also be captured by more sophisticated polls. This means it's possible that support for an element may be weaker than it seems (if lots of people support it, but only weakly) or stronger than it seems (if fewer people support it, but very strongly). I don't know how much impact this would have on the high and low ends of the scale, where the very large or very small numbers of votes would be hard to override, but it could mean a lot for stuff in the middle.
4. I deliberately kept the descriptions of each element broad, because I didn't want to favor any one edition's approach to, say, saving throws. However, I am informed that this led some folks to not vote in favor of elements they might have otherwise supported. This is unfortunate, but it's too late for me to fix now.
5. The sample sizes for the two polls are small, especially considering how many people had the opportunity to answer (at least hundreds here and thousands on Reddit). So these results can really only be said to reflect the views of the respondents, might reflect the communities they came from, and only possibly suggest trends among online D&D fans, or D&D fans generally.
6. In short, these results shouldn't be taken as the final, definitive answers to the questions. But I still think they're interesting.
 

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aco175

Legend
It is interesting to look at the things that are more than one step away from each other. I can skip over Hit Points being 80-100% in one and only 60-80% in the other ad close enough. Things like Feats, Proficiencies, and Advantage/Disadvantage jump from below 20% in feeling like D&D to the 40-60% in keeping with D&D. Not sure what that really is saying about the responders.

I would guess that this is more a mechanical aspect or tool of the game and less a feel for what the game is. Most of these double-jump items are newer things from the last few editions and not things that have been around for 50 years. Not sure if that says something about today's player vs. the older 1e/2e player in terms of style and imagination, or having/needing rules and structure.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
I imagine that if you'd put Great Wheel cosmology instead of World Axis cosmology, that you'd have had a higher response rate. Although I personally thought the cosmological changes of 4e were all sensible and good ideas that I'd either already implemented, or even gone further than in many cases, I was clearly an outlier, and that was among one of the most voiced complaints about 4es cosmology. I'm a little out of touch with what people think of the World Axis vs the Great Wheel, although no doubt they like it better than they did the 4e cosmology, because it's more like the Great Wheel, and more to the point, it belongs with Forgotten Realms as the default assumption much better.

Although given its low showing, I'd guess that the World Axis cosmology isn't really a big hit.
 


I think the tops of both lists really represent what is iconic about D&D. You could change a lot of other rules, but as long as you have distinct classes, different dice, levels, and iconic ability scores, it's D&D.
 

Although given its low showing, I'd guess that the World Axis cosmology isn't really a big hit.
I don't think that's entirely true.

I think the main issue is that whilst world axis cosmology is my favourite D&D cosmology, when I've seen it listed in polls I had NO CLUE WHATSOEVER what they were talking about and assumed it was some weird old thing.

I think if you put it as "World Axis - i.e. Feywild/Shadowfell/Elemental Chaos etc." then it would have been a hell of a lot more popular. I'm very sure I never voted for it despite loving it.

Also any time the Feywild and Shadowfell come up they're extremely popular and they're in 5E for a reason.
 

JEB

Hero
I think the tops of both lists really represent what is iconic about D&D. You could change a lot of other rules, but as long as you have distinct classes, different dice, levels, and iconic ability scores, it's D&D.
Classes, levels, and ability scores definitely seem to be must-haves for D&D, at least to respondents of both polls. Different dice a bit less so, but definitely up there, along with hit points (but not so much Hit Dice) and Armor Class.
 

JEB

Hero
Also any time the Feywild and Shadowfell come up they're extremely popular and they're in 5E for a reason.
The funny thing is, thanks to 5E the Great Wheel basically stole some of the best ideas from the World Axis (Feywild, Shadowfell, and even a version of the Elemental Chaos). Doesn't leave the World Axis with as much distinctiveness (in terms of structure - lore is a different matter).
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
So it seems the argument between D&D as Simulationist and D&D as Gamist has been won hands down by the preference of the majority for a Gamist approach. I wonder if that'll stop denunciation of elements (such as the Bo9S or much of 4e) as being elements that don't fit into D&D's simulationist tradition, but I suspect they'll continue to draw the same objections.
 

JEB

Hero
So it seems the argument between D&D as Simulationist and D&D as Gamist has been won hands down by the preference of the majority for a Gamist approach. I wonder if that'll stop denunciation of elements (such as the Bo9S or much of 4e) as being elements that don't fit into D&D's simulationist tradition, but I suspect they'll continue to draw the same objections.
It only looks like "gamist" won out because nearly all the distinctive elements I listed in the poll were part of the structure of the game. There simply weren't many non-gamist elements for voters to choose from.

Also worth noting that in the comments on the threads for each poll on ENWorld, rpg.net, and Reddit, as well as responses provided under "Other", there were plenty of more abstract, non-gamist answers, such as "dungeon crawls" or "exploration". It wasn't one of my goals for the polls to look at such elements, but had they been voting options, they might have done quite well for themselves.

In short, these polls don't really address the gamist vs. simulationist question for D&D. (But if someone cleverer than me wants to make such a poll, I'd love to see it...)
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
The funny thing is, thanks to 5E the Great Wheel basically stole some of the best ideas from the World Axis (Feywild, Shadowfell, and even a version of the Elemental Chaos). Doesn't leave the World Axis with as much distinctiveness (in terms of structure - lore is a different matter).
Feywild is both new and yet not; D&D has had faery-like planes kicking around for a long time (Elysium in particular comes to mind although a specific Feywild-like plane of faerie was an alternate in the 3rd edition Manual of the Planes. I doubt that's the first time it had appeared in D&D, although I admit I don't know off-hand of an earlier appearance), not to mention their provenance from actual folklore, that serve as prototypes for feywild. Shadowfell being radically different from (as opposed to a little bit of new development within) the plane of shadow is a hard sell too.

That said, I think what 4th edition did with them specifically were among the more popular developments of that cosmology and they were seen as salvageable in a different cosmology, whereas much of the rest of 4es cosmology hasn't been mentioned since.
 


TheSword

Legend
I don't think that's entirely true.

I think the main issue is that whilst world axis cosmology is my favourite D&D cosmology, when I've seen it listed in polls I had NO CLUE WHATSOEVER what they were talking about and assumed it was some weird old thing.

I think if you put it as "World Axis - i.e. Feywild/Shadowfell/Elemental Chaos etc." then it would have been a hell of a lot more popular. I'm very sure I never voted for it despite loving it.

Also any time the Feywild and Shadowfell come up they're extremely popular and they're in 5E for a reason.
Interestingly most of the questions are simple keep or not. There is nothing in conflict with keeping polyhedral dice or saving throws for instance... well nothing listed in the survey.

However, the World Axis is in direct competition to the Great Wheel. So for that question people have to choose between one or the other. As far as I can see these are the only things in the game that have this. It’s quite possible it partly accounts for the lower score.

A better question would be... “Would you keep a default planar setting like the Great Wheel or World Axis.”
 

A better question would be... “Would you keep a default planar setting like the Great Wheel or World Axis.”
Yeah that's a more interesting/valuable question.

D&D has an implied lore setup (from monsters, spells, etc.) that does pretty much require there to be some planes or conceptual spaces, but doesn't really require very many of them. Most of the outer and inner planes could vanish tomorrow and I suspect about 99% of campaigns would be largely unaffected (assuming gods were re-housed etc.), as could most of the elemental/para-elemental planes. The Feywild and Shadowfell contribute to this, and they do have relevance. I'm pretty sure you could get around with paring D&D down to the Feywild, the Shadowfell, the Astral Plane, an elemental space (perhaps the elemental chaos), and maybe "niceland" "mechaland" and "badland", if that.

If the answer to the question was overall no, D&D might want to look at paring back some of the frequent references to that smaller selection of planes even. It would certainly move it more towards the "generic fantasy" space a small amount.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Yeah that's a more interesting/valuable question.

D&D has an implied lore setup (from monsters, spells, etc.) that does pretty much require there to be some planes or conceptual spaces, but doesn't really require very many of them. Most of the outer and inner planes could vanish tomorrow and I suspect about 99% of campaigns would be largely unaffected (assuming gods were re-housed etc.), as could most of the elemental/para-elemental planes. The Feywild and Shadowfell contribute to this, and they do have relevance. I'm pretty sure you could get around with paring D&D down to the Feywild, the Shadowfell, the Astral Plane, an elemental space (perhaps the elemental chaos), and maybe "niceland" "mechaland" and "badland", if that.

If the answer to the question was overall no, D&D might want to look at paring back some of the frequent references to that smaller selection of planes even. It would certainly move it more towards the "generic fantasy" space a small amount.
While I agree with this, and it makes a kind of logical syllogistic sense, the reality is that when 4e consolidated to a niceland, badland and an otherwise easier to use structure, it seems to have gone over with the fans rather poorly. I personally quite liked it—better than just about anything else from 4e other than the points of light assumption, but I appear to have been in the minority.
 

While I agree with this, and it makes a kind of logical syllogistic sense, the reality is that when 4e consolidated to a niceland, badland and an otherwise easier to use structure, it seems to have gone over with the fans rather poorly. I personally quite liked it—better than just about anything else from 4e other than the points of light assumption, but I appear to have been in the minority.
Did it though?

I mean, if we put a list of people's complaints about 4E, and a list of people's positives for 4E, I strongly suspect complaints about the planar structure would extremely low down the list of complaints, but contrastingly, positive comments about the planar structure (particularly the Feywild and Shadowfell) would have been extremely high up the positives list, if we ranked by frequency.

I mean, I was a veteran of the 4E wars, and I have the scars to prove it, and it seemed like whilst a few people were like "But my great wheels!", it wasn't many, really, and even many of those were like "Meh, doesn't really matter...".
 

TheSword

Legend
Did it though?

I mean, if we put a list of people's complaints about 4E, and a list of people's positives for 4E, I strongly suspect complaints about the planar structure would extremely low down the list of complaints, but contrastingly, positive comments about the planar structure (particularly the Feywild and Shadowfell) would have been extremely high up the positives list, if we ranked by frequency.

I mean, I was a veteran of the 4E wars, and I have the scars to prove it, and it seemed like whilst a few people were like "But my great wheels!", it wasn't many, really, and even many of those were like "Meh, doesn't really matter...".
I suspect these things are very much bound by generation. The Great Wheel would probably be more important to people who came to the game in AD&D, Planescape, Torment, 3e.

While world axis will appeal more to people from the 1e and 4e eras. I suspect there isn’t much more to the question than that. They are all just variations on the same theme though.

It might just be that the lower scores would be higher if respondents didn’t need to make a choice between them.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Did it though?

I mean, if we put a list of people's complaints about 4E, and a list of people's positives for 4E, I strongly suspect complaints about the planar structure would extremely low down the list of complaints, but contrastingly, positive comments about the planar structure (particularly the Feywild and Shadowfell) would have been extremely high up the positives list, if we ranked by frequency.

I mean, I was a veteran of the 4E wars, and I have the scars to prove it, and it seemed like whilst a few people were like "But my great wheels!", it wasn't many, really, and even many of those were like "Meh, doesn't really matter...".
Shrugs. Who knows? Whether it did or didn't may well be a matter of perception without the data to prove it one way or another. I saw a lot of complaining about it. I noticed it in particular, because I thought that the changes were among the few good things that 4e brought to the table. But maybe that bias is what made me notice it more.

Or maybe I just saw way too many Shemeska posts. I dunno.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
A week or so ago I asked Frank Mentzer what was the one big thing, mechanically, that made D&D what it was when it came out. His answer? Using a d20. Everything prior was using d6s. So I suppose the biggest sacred cow and thing that makes D&D feel like D&D would be the d20 ;)
6e will use 2d10s instead of a d20 for a less swingy system! :p
 

JEB

Hero
However, the World Axis is in direct competition to the Great Wheel. So for that question people have to choose between one or the other.
Nothing kept folks from voting to keep both options, though. In fact, looking back at the anonymized individual responses on Google Forms (which I am happy to share), a number of folks on Reddit did vote to keep both: 16 in all, 7.11% of the total votes. (Which is also 84.21% of folks who voted for World Axis and 34.78% of folks who voted for Great Wheel; suggesting to me that World Axis fans on Reddit are the more open-minded of the two sides...)

However, folks did agree with your binary on rpg.net: nobody voted to keep both cosmologies, only one or the other. Guess rpg.net folks are more winner-take-all on the matter. (Though their sample was extra tiny, so who really knows?)

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what folks on ENWorld thought, since I can't extract individual responses from the forum poll. Though I can tell you I personally voted for both...

Note that 5E does technically have both options as well (which is why I included both in the list). It's just that the World Axis is only an option in the DMG.
 

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