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D&D 5E Describe your mode of D&D

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Following a couple of interesting threads on modes of play, I wondered what mode I might run my next campaign in, and what modes other DMs run theirs in. Thinking specifically in terms of 5th edition D&D (I know that other systems support divers modes, I'm interested in 5e here). If you have time, could you concisely state the terms of your mode of play? For example, for my next campaign I am thinking about -

1. DM crafts the situation

Rather than having a story in mind, the DM crafts the situation—made up of elements with reason for being and dynamics that govern them.
We do this so the established facts can unfold flexibly, in any direction.

2. Play to find out

There is no pre-scripted story. The story emerges from -
  • player choices in the situation +
  • creature means and motives +
  • world dynamics and affairs +
  • game mechanics that afford, constrain and resolve those things
We do this so surprising and satisfying tales are discovered.

3. Let the rules stand

RAW is adhered to in the way that it is explained, given campaign-specific, written, exceptions. Players can rely on their characters’ abilities. If an ability lets them achieve an outcome without explaining the steps, they can do that.
We do this so that character ability is undiluted by player ability.

4. Players decide, DM arbitrates

Unless under magical mind control, players choose what their characters do. The DM arbitrates -
  • what creatures do, based on their means and motives
  • how the world behaves, based on dynamics and affairs
  • how game mechanics are applied, based on RAW and RAI
We do this so player success is validated by impartial arbitration.

[EDITED to add the purpose behind each choice.]
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
This seems very much like my approach, in the campaigns I'm running. I'd add that I'm tending to craft the situations to play to the players'/PCs' abilities, interests, and needs, and I am--especially at higher levels--giving them opportunities to change the world. Those aren't excluded in your post, but it seemed relevant to explicitly add them.
 

I'm pretty close to what you stated above:

1. Basically this, except I also have a few npc's with plans of their own they are working on. If these clash with the pc's, we play it out.

2. Which I guess is where this changes: if the pc's do nothing, stuff happens. The players can all sit around and watch, in theory, though I've never seen that in the wild.

3. Precisely. Rule of Cool is for exceptions, rulings are for undefined areas.

4. I add a point: The player controlling the character decides the DC to persuade (etc) them. So you can only convince my paladin to do something if I, as the paladin's player, thinks they can be convinced. If you'd rather roll, I set the DC (not the dm.) I don't like it when the dm sets a dc to convince my character of anything, since it can make them behave wildly out-of-character in my mind.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher

4. Players decide, DM arbitrates

Unless under magical mind control, players choose what their characters do.
Is there a game where players don't decide what their characters do? I've never heard of that before. Players always decide based on information available to them. What happens can depend on a lot of things, but the DM never makes the choice for them to the best of my knowledge. I probably wouldn't play with a DM who did.

In my games, the DM is a referee--fair and impartial as much as possible. The world is a living world, and the DM plays all the personalities in the world and have the react as they normally would based on their intelligence, biases, personalities, etc.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Is there a game where players don't decide what their characters do? I've never heard of that before.
I have a feeling any answers to this thread are going to be like Jazz - it’s more about the notes you don’t play. In this case “players decide what their characters do” is implying that the DM doesn’t describe character’s actions.
Players always decide based on information available to them. What happens can depend on a lot of things, but the DM never makes the choice for them to the best of my knowledge. I probably wouldn't play with a DM who did.
I started playing with 3e, and at the time it was extremely common for players to declare that they were using a skill (or ask to use a skill) with no real description of what their characters were doing, then after the check was rolled, the DM would describe what the character did to achieve that result. And in my experience, that style of play remains quite common to this day.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I have a feeling any answers to this thread are going to be like Jazz - it’s more about the notes you don’t play. In this case “players decide what their characters do” is implying that the DM doesn’t describe character’s actions.

I started playing with 3e, and at the time it was extremely common for players to declare that they were using a skill (or ask to use a skill) with no real description of what their characters were doing, then after the check was rolled, the DM would describe what the character did to achieve that result. And in my experience, that style of play remains quite common to this day.
Matt Mercer seems to do that, unless it's a critical killing blow. And knowing the influence of CR....yeah, I suppose you're right
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I started playing with 3e, and at the time it was extremely common for players to declare that they were using a skill (or ask to use a skill) with no real description of what their characters were doing, then after the check was rolled, the DM would describe what the character did to achieve that result. And in my experience, that style of play remains quite common to this day.

Sure. If the player chooses to not describe their declared action, the DM does. Then again, I usually ask the players to describe their action to some degree to give me as DM a framework for the scope of success - esp. for broad nebulous actions (like "I search the room").

So like:

Player: I search the room.
DM: How?
Player: I start in the right corner of the room where the small desk is and [says what she's doing]
DM: Are you using a skill?
Player: Can I apply Investigation or Perception skill?
DM: Whichever you prefer.

OR

Player: I search the room.
DM: How?
Player: I don't know. I just search.
DM: Okay, you start in the right corner of the room where the small desk is (give me a perception check)

Mostly I like it because it establishes where PCs are and the order they're doing things, for if and when things go sideways AND makes the players think about which skills to make use of and how.

But I know I have an old school approach to this kind of stuff and many people just roll and either succeed or fail based on the roll alone.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Anyway, this seems very much aligned with my approach, except while I don't have a story in mind, the players do expect me to direct them somewhat in terms of choices between prepared adventures to create something of a framework, even if in actual play they end up making choices that directs them somewhere completely different (in which case, I also try to be prepared - but am willing to improvise until the end of the session - and then do my prep based on that for the sessions that follow).

The only other difference, I think, is that I am highly skeptical of the notion of RAW, though I think in practice it plays out as you describe.
 


The way I run my campaigns, I come up with a rough outline of a large over arching story and various smaller sub stories. The conclusion of any of these is not set, and the players are free to interact with them and affect the outcome. But there is a story, which I adjust based on the course the campaign is taking. Npc's and villains are also able to take their own actions, even if the players are not present. Ignored plothooks can develop into different problems further down the line.

The players choose what their characters do. I adhere to a strict hands off approach when it comes to player actions. I merely describe the outcome.

I often ask my players for a more detailed approach to their actions, as those details determine if a roll is needed at all, and what kind of roll.

I follow RAW, with a tendency to allow cool actions when the rules are fuzzy.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
In my campaigns, I decide a current setting, a few different factions and groups with differing goals and strategies. I do have a general idea of what's going to happen if the PCs don't act, but other than that it's the world reacting to the actions of the PCs. For example in a previous campaign there was a dragon claiming to be the returned Emperor that was consolidating power and reuniting city-states by force. The PCs didn't have to get involved in which the dragon would have been successful and taken over the region. Even then there was no guarantee of success.

So yes, the story emerges from what the players decide to do. I will also say that there are times when I will emphasize or drop possible story lines depending on player interest. Basically I only have a rough outline and the story goes where the fun is.

When it comes to rules, I only have a handful of house rules but try to be flexible with improvised actions. However (and I think I just mentioned this on another thread) things that PCs do without explicit magic or supernatural still have to be visually plausible. Think things that you would see in an action movie or the LOTR films. They can do things that are just barely plausible, so Die Hard but wire-fu.

On a related note, I do want PC choices to matter so there will be times when I ask for a skill check. If you make a convincing argument I'll take it into account for that persuasion check and adjust the DC or give advantage. I also have a sheet of everybody's skills and modifiers along with tools and background bonuses. It helps me remember to challenge a variety of skills so everyone can contribute.
 

Voadam

Legend
I generally run modules heavily modified for my homebrew mashup setting, my own tastes, and the players' inputs.

I like having events and situations already set up for engaging players. My preferred style is to go from that base and be improv flexible as the players take things in different directions or to extrapolate and integrate things I think would be fun.

I like having a theme to work off of such as the Freeport Trilogy's Pirate City with hidden Dark Cults, the Reign of Winter Adventure Path's Dark Winter Fey and folklore, the Carrion Crown's Gothic Horror Adventure Path, and my Current Iron Gods AP which is a you got your post apocalypse and sci-fi peanut butter in my chocolate D&D.

I like integrating player themes and stories in my games so my Iron Gods game now also has Werewolf the Apocalypse and Wile E. Coyote themes running through it thanks to the PC character concepts.

I generally shoot for a PG-13 feel of pulpy heroism, so Army of Darkness or Indiana Jones type tone.

I enjoy more immersive first person play so a bunch of in person talking and descriptions of environments from my end and character actions from the players end with quick generally narrative adjudications on my part based on reasonableness and desired pulpy heroic tone or a quick die roll. When I extrapolate narratives I go with the players' character concepts over mechanics of their character sheets.

I place a strong emphasis on the player's self conception of their characters and how they actually play those characters at the table, I consider those much more important than stats on the sheet for narrative roleplaying. I have no problem using stats as just handling mechanics and not significantly impacting narrative roleplaying (so a high strength/con/wisdom build fighter can be roleplayed as a smart persuasive Hannibal style leader and tactician). I think an appropriate background is sufficient mechanical match so a Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes concept works fine as a non-int build bare-knuckle boxing monk with a made up investigator background and RDJ style roleplay.

I don't care for policing players' characterizations of their own characters. I try to keep descriptions to sensory stuff and not tell PCs how they feel about stuff.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
On a related note, I do want PC choices to matter so there will be times when I ask for a skill check. If you make a convincing argument I'll take it into account for that persuasion check and adjust the DC or give advantage.
I like this approach, and use something like it, too. It might also affect what the check can achieve.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
I generally run modules heavily modified for my homebrew mashup setting, my own tastes, and the players' inputs.

I like having events and situations already set up for engaging players. My preferred style is to go from that base and be improv flexible as the players take things in different directions or to extrapolate and integrate things I think would be fun.

I like having a theme to work off of such as the Freeport Trilogy's Pirate City with hidden Dark Cults, the Reign of Winter Adventure Path's Dark Winter Fey and folklore, the Carrion Crown's Gothic Horror Adventure Path, and my Current Iron Gods AP which is a you got your post apocalypse and sci-fi peanut butter in my chocolate D&D.

I like integrating player themes and stories in my games so my Iron Gods game now also has Werewolf the Apocalypse and Wile E. Coyote themes running through it thanks to the PC character concepts.

I generally shoot for a PG-13 feel of pulpy heroism, so Army of Darkness or Indiana Jones type tone.

I enjoy more immersive first person play so a bunch of in person talking and descriptions of environments from my end and character actions from the players end with quick generally narrative adjudications on my part based on reasonableness and desired pulpy heroic tone or a quick die roll. When I extrapolate narratives I go with the players' character concepts over mechanics of their character sheets.

I place a strong emphasis on the player's self conception of their characters and how they actually play those characters at the table, I consider those much more important than stats on the sheet for narrative roleplaying. I have no problem using stats as just handling mechanics and not significantly impacting narrative roleplaying (so a high strength/con/wisdom build fighter can be roleplayed as a smart persuasive Hannibal style leader and tactician). I think an appropriate background is sufficient mechanical match so a Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes concept works fine as a non-int build bare-knuckle boxing monk with a made up investigator background and RDJ style roleplay.
Both subject and style are quite different from my approach: no bad thing!

I don't care for policing players' characterizations of their own characters. I try to keep descriptions to sensory stuff and not tell PCs how they feel about stuff.
This is similar however. I try to show that the game isn't about straightforward winning and losing: players can take risks on following their portrayal even when that is inconvenient. I also have the world respond to their portrayal... not overlook it.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Sure. If the player chooses to not describe their declared action, the DM does. Then again, I usually ask the players to describe their action to some degree to give me as DM a framework for the scope of success - esp. for broad nebulous actions (like "I search the room").

So like:

Player: I search the room.
DM: How?
Player: I start in the right corner of the room where the small desk is and [says what she's doing]
DM: Are you using a skill?
Player: Can I apply Investigation or Perception skill?
DM: Whichever you prefer.

OR

Player: I search the room.
DM: How?
Player: I don't know. I just search.
DM: Okay, you start in the right corner of the room where the small desk is (give me a perception check)

Mostly I like it because it establishes where PCs are and the order they're doing things, for if and when things go sideways AND makes the players think about which skills to make use of and how.

But I know I have an old school approach to this kind of stuff and many people just roll and either succeed or fail based on the roll alone.
Also, the DM knows things the PCs don't, like how many HP the monster has. So a 8hp attack on a monster with 10 hp is going to narratively be different than if the monster has 100hp. The PCs would have no way of knowing, so the DM does the narration. For killing blows, the PC can do it (like Mercer does)
 

Sure. If the player chooses to not describe their declared action, the DM does.
Not in 5e. The player describes what the PC thinks, does, and tries to do.

Then again, I usually ask the players to describe their action to some degree to give me as DM a framework for the scope of success - esp. for broad nebulous actions (like "I search the room").
100% - the player should be prompted to be reasonably specific so the DM can properly adjudicate. Avoids the "Hey, I didn't say I touched the chest (which I now know is a mimic)" awkwardness at the table.

Also, the DM knows things the PCs don't, like how many HP the monster has. So a 8hp attack on a monster with 10 hp is going to narratively be different than if the monster has 100hp. The PCs would have no way of knowing, so the DM does the narration.
The key distinction here being that the DM is describing the impact - and hence the result - of the attack, not the attack action itself. The player can add any descriptive flourish they like to the action regardless of the HP of the enemy. As a 5e DM, I'm not embellishing upon a player's declared action as that's not my role.

For killing blows, the PC can do it (like Mercer does)
Yeah, I like letting players describe the killing blows in combat - especially the blow that ends a combat.
 

I keep it real.

1. Interesting story with a fixed framework. The DM and players coordinate around being a part of a campaign theme. Current campaign is: "you are empowered to raise a barony." Perhaps you raise a kingdom, or mageocracy, perhaps you rise up against your benefactors, or recruit the bandit element you worked so hard to clear out. The DM doesn't craft the situation. Rather, everyone does, and everyone works towards a common story. The DM maintains a "behind the scenes" framework of events that move forward, whether PCs are reacting to them or not, so the story isn't completely up to PC action. Don't take the One Ring to Mount Doom? Sure, the bad guys move forward and begin conquering region by region. Pretty soon, it'll be sad little hobbits in chains.

2. Randomness rocks if impacted by character decision making. This follows the lack of a pre-scripted story. In the current campaign (Kingmaker, from Paizo), random kingdom events each turn along with preset political flavor create a fluid part of the campaign to complement #1's fixed framework. However, it's not the random event that moves the storylines that unfold. It's player reaction to them. Give the widow of the man who died because you didn't catch the marauding werewolf in time because you were gallivanting out in the countryside looking for treasure a pension? She won't hate your rulership, join the hag cult and later become part of a plot to switch babies in their cribs with changelings, nor assassinate your soldiers.

3. Let the dice fall as they may, but "role-play" supersedes "roll-play." In original D&D, puzzle solving and some metagaming occurred as gamers tried to solve situations. No character had skills. In tournaments, you were rewarded for clever play. At the table, good DMs would reward bold, intuitive play rather than stifle it. Your gnome thief wants to leap off a 20' overhang onto the back of a marauding blue dragon, and the player makes the case this should (in AD&D rules) count as a backstab? Was it bold? Was it unexpected? Is it plausible? Then let's do it! Nowadays, too much reliance on "roll-play" can (can being the key word) stifle this creativity as we turn to page 1xx, reference Athletics, figure a DC, and reward that creativity with a 50/50 die roll or by saying "that's not RAW, you can't." So, in summary, I aim for a "yes you can" style of play when it comes to creative solutions and worry less about RAW when it comes to skill and ability score usage.

4. Get everyone involved in describing the world. The DM shouldn't always be the one describing the world. Pretty much anytime a natural 20 is rolled, I ask for the player to describe what just happened. If the player fumbles a bit, I leap in to assist rather than put them on the spot. After awhile, players might look forward to saying "this is how it happened" or "this is how my character felt when she struck down the Prince of Darkness."
 

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