D&D 5E Does/Should D&D Have the Player's Game Experience as a goal?

pogre

Legend
One possible design consideration for games is to consider what do you want the player’s experience to be. I am not sure that has ever been directly stated in D&D aside from the very general - create a memorable story about their adventures.

Maybe that’s enough - I don’t know.

I would argue the game's rules lend themselves to a high action kill monsters and take their stuff game style. I certainly embrace that style in my D&D campaigns.

Others would argue the rules are just a toolbox that permit resolutions in a cooperative story-telling activity. I suspect a consideration of the players’ game experience would be a non-starter for these folks.

I know this is a bit rambling and full of half-thoughts, but here is where I am coming from:
My main group recently switched from 5e to another system. The game play is radically different. I have observed this over and over again through the years.

Now, you might be thinking - ‘ yeah, pogre, that’s because your expectations changed for the different rules.’

Maybe.

Do you think about players’ game play experience? Would D&D benefit from a more direct game play experience goal? Is this something you discuss with your players in session zero?

BTW - Those of you who have followed my posts over the years know the last thing I want to do is endorse one-wayism or disparage your table’s playstyle! These are just questions I have been thinking about lately. I always appreciate the discussions here. Many of you have influenced my game and the way I think about the rules.
 

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MGibster

Legend
I think the rules and setting of any game will have a profound impact on player expectation and how they play the game. And I can't imagine many of the myriad of writers who have contributed to D&D in it's various forms over the years failed to consider what it would mean for the player experience. The writers have done a fine job of being direct about the game play experience goal I think. Even when gaming with total strangers, the game pretty much plays the same to me. I don't mean to say we're all clones, but we're playing by the same set of rules so there's going to be some solid similarities across many tables.
 

Daraniya

Explorer
The question OP raises in the title is a given. Yes

BUT...

player enjoyment as a goal is only achievable with communication of expectations between the player(s) and the GM. World building, story telling, and character actions are all governed by the input from all parties involved. If you're not 'having fun'... why? Too many rules? Garbage rule lawyers? Yet another Ravenloft adventure? Are you sharing that? Do others feel the same way, or is it just you? Did you make an unplayable character? did you expect a sci-fi game and end up in the Underdark? Is your min-maxed your gnome barbarian rogue warlock monk not cutting it, or did someone else's min-maxed character pooch your session?

another D&D version won't fix the 'people' problem... be an adult, communicate your wants/desires and your off-limit (X Card) items. And FFS, let the GM be a player once in a while, they get tired of GMing all the time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One possible design consideration for games is to consider what do you want the player’s experience to be. I am not sure that has ever been directly stated in D&D aside from the very general - create a memorable story about their adventures.

Maybe that’s enough - I don’t know.

I would argue the game's rules lend themselves to a high action kill monsters and take their stuff game style. I certainly embrace that style in my D&D campaigns.

Others would argue the rules are just a toolbox that permit resolutions in a cooperative story-telling activity. I suspect a consideration of the players’ game experience would be a non-starter for these folks.
Me, I just want a generic toolbox of a game system with fairly granular resolution (it's far easier to tweak things to be less granular than more granular). The players (including the DM) will figure out what experience they want as they go along, and if the game design is flexible enough it'll be able to work with whatever they decide.

The issues arise when a system isn't flexible/robust enough to handle these different playstyles without batting too many eyelids.
I know this is a bit rambling and full of half-thoughts, but here is where I am coming from:
My main group recently switched from 5e to another system. The game play is radically different. I have observed this over and over again through the years.

Now, you might be thinking - ‘ yeah, pogre, that’s because your expectations changed for the different rules.’

Maybe.

Do you think about players’ game play experience?
Only to a very limited point: are they having fun. If yes, good enough for me. :)
Would D&D benefit from a more direct game play experience goal?
Only if you want D&D to become more of a niche game rather than big-tent; because if you try to encourage/force/specifically design for one playstyle then everyone who doesn't want/like that playstyle will likely end up dissatisfied and-or drop D&D.

At risk of lighting a fire, perhaps, I think this might have been one of the things that did in 4e: not only did it try to lean into a different playstyle than its predecessors, it also discouraged some other quite-common playstyles. 5e's not perfect this way but it does seem considerably more flexible.
Is this something you discuss with your players in session zero?
Most anyone I invite into my games already knows me and thus kinda knows what they're getting into.
 

Clint_L

Hero
One possible design consideration for games is to consider what do you want the player’s experience to be. I am not sure that has ever been directly stated in D&D aside from the very general - create a memorable story about their adventures.

Maybe that’s enough - I don’t know.

I would argue the game's rules lend themselves to a high action kill monsters and take their stuff game style. I certainly embrace that style in my D&D campaigns.

Others would argue the rules are just a toolbox that permit resolutions in a cooperative story-telling activity. I suspect a consideration of the players’ game experience would be a non-starter for these folks.
I don't understand the distinction that you are making. We just want to have fun making stories and playing the game together. It's not an either/or situation. The two go together. Some games have very little or no combat. Others are combat heavy. It's all part of the story.

I find 5e flexible enough to allow both - we get to do lots of role-play, which I love, and I get to build cool sets for my terrain and miniatures when there's a fight, which I also love.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
One possible design consideration for games is to consider what do you want the player’s experience to be.

That is in fact the starting and ending point of any game, even if it sounds a bit simplistic. I recommend reading the book "The Art of Game Design" if you haven't already.

I am not sure that has ever been directly stated in D&D aside from the very general - create a memorable story about their adventures.

Maybe that’s enough - I don’t know.

D&D quickly grew from Chainmail into something already so wide and encompassing that any attempts at narrowing down the target experience to help design carries a serious risk of alienating too many players. Even editions which focused on certain experience elements (like 3e "system mastery") still maintained a much larger flexibility than most non-RPG games.

Others would argue the rules are just a toolbox that permit resolutions in a cooperative story-telling activity. I suspect a consideration of the players’ game experience would be a non-starter for these folks.

Why would it be? I treat each edition of D&D as a toolbox for hundreds of possible different ways to play the game, and experience is at the centre of my decisions on how to use the toolbox each time.

Would D&D benefit from a more direct game play experience goal?

If you mean, would D&D benefit from providing direct guidance e.g. in DMG on how to use the toolbox to achieve the wanted experience, obviously yes.

if you mean, would D&D benefit from having a more specific experience goal during design, then no: it would benefit only whatever minority has exactly the same experience goal, which would have a better system for their purpose at someone else's expense. That's good for specialised RPG systems, while D&D is mostly generic.

Is this something you discuss with your players in session zero?

Not really, because it is a discussion that generally goes around much before we even set a date for playing. It happens when people are casually talking about "should we have a horror campaign next summer?", "yeah but let's make it more about solving mysteries than fighting", "how about making sure the PC's own wits matter this time, if we get stuck with the plot?", "and include death spirals for more drama!", "but please avoid comic relief as they break my SoD... make it serious, make it creepy!".

Then the DM collects thoughts and browses books for ideas, and maybe ends up collecting a list of non-combat character options, picks monsters with weird abilities that are not about HP damage, design puzzles and problem solving challenges with attached ability checks for clues, chooses to use the insanity rules module plus ability-draining monsters and traps, and plans the proper room dressing and favourite horror movies soundtrack playlist...
 

Oofta

Legend
I've started a new campaign and the first couple of sessions didn't have a single combat. The group has been having a blast, exploring who their characters are, how they interact with each other, learning about their new situation. Other games have been, and will again be off and on, heavy combat.

People obviously play for very different reasons, but I very much try to paint a vibrant picture of the world around them, give the players interesting ways to interact with that world. But I also like to balance it with the tactical side of things and give them interesting obstacles to overcome whether that's all skill based or combat.

Obviously different systems will have a different focus, but personally I like the rules in D&D handling the crunchy bits like combat while providing a framework with skills but leave most of the PC interaction with the world more free form. I don't think focusing on player experience and D&D are necessarily mutually exclusive.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
110% yes, I think about player experiences during prep, and play, and I bring it up during session zero.

My personal view is D&D doesn't follow-through enough on this for my tastes. The goals may be there, but the follow-through isn't...or perhaps the goals become too compartmentalized by a large team or diluted by having to have mass appeal.

But it's also hard to achieve the player experience you define early in a design. For instance, if you think about "dead time between player turns" as a thing we want to avoid because it's a boring experience for players, well, you can achieve that in different ways...

You can give everyone reactions (the 4e approach), but then you're in a balancing act because now everyone can do things between turns, but the time between turns has also increased.

You can rethink initiative and the whole turn order question (e.g. declare / "football huddle") to emphasize teamwork, but then you have a whole other host of questions you'll need to tackle.

You can create a resolution mechanic (e.g. Jenga tower in Dredd) that inspires tension and resolves lightning fast, but then you may be sacrificing the long-term "campaign" playability of the system.

But no matter which of these approaches you take, you're probably NOT going to design a spell like Animate Objects or Conjure Animals, which can triple the turn length of one player.
 

I think that ultimately every game is about the player experience, because each game's different player experience is going to draw different players; likewise any given player will play different games at different times because they are going to be seeking out a different play experience, just like sometimes when I have a spare 45 minutes I'll play through a single expedition in Darkest Dungeon and other times I'll play through a few rounds of Tetris.

These of course closely tie in to people's gameplay preferences - one's preferences at any given time determine the games one seeks out to play, because they determine the play experience being sought at any given time. E.g. when I want to play Darkest Dungeon, I'm looking for a different gameplay experience than when I play or run D&D 5e or when I play in my weekly D&D 4e game, because I'm satisfying different preferences.

By my reckoning, "a cooperative story-telling activity" as described in the OP just is a specific kind of gameplay experience that might or might not appeal to certain players, and that players might or might not seek out on a regular or occasional basis according to their tastes.

For instance, classic dungeon-crawling play is different from fantasy-world-process-sim play is different from DM-driven-heroic-adventure play is different from player-character-oriented-heroic-adventure play is different from player-oriented-slice-of-life-with-a-dash-of-adventure play is different from dungeon-of-the-week play - each playstyle (which I think fairly summarises the core ways in which D&D has been and continues to be played) delivers a different gameplay experience and caters to different gameplay preferences.

This doesn't mean you have to consciously, deliberately design games with a player experience in mind - I don't think anyone's gone out of their way to design chess over the centuries with any particular consideration of play experience, for instance. It just means that different games, however they've been designed, will necessarily and inevitably create different play experiences. E.g. while chess may not have been designed with the intent to deliver a specific play experience, it delivers a specific play experience nevertheless.

Edit to add: So, to answer the question in the thread title, should D&D have gameplay experience as a goal? I think it might be better to say that D&D should have as its goal the ability to enable DMs to deliver gameplay experiences that fall within the remit of those the game has traditionally offered or that players have sought out while playing it. (Keeping in mind that 5e by default enables more heroic styles of play and requires a bit of finagling to support other styles.) So a qualified yes, I suppose.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I would argue the game's rules lend themselves to a high action kill monsters and take their stuff game style. I certainly embrace that style in my D&D campaigns.
Well, yeah. The rules of the game literally define the game experience. The game is the rules. The rules shape and direct play. They cannot be disconnected. The only difference between hockey and baseball is the rules. The rules of the game literally define what the game is and what the game is about. Tabletop RPGs get weird because the referee can decide which rules to use, which areas to focus on, which rules to exclude, etc. This is also why it's so hard to discuss RPGs. Everyone's coming at the conversation from their own preferences and prejudices instead of starting from the book itself, from the rules themselves.

So if you have ~1500 pages of rules almost entirely focused on the fighting and killing of monsters, guess what...you've got a monster-fighting game on your hands. That game having ~20 pages on social interactions doesn't make it all about social interactions. That same game having ~20 pages about exploration doesn't make it all about exploration. It's still a monster fighting game with some social interaction and exploration tacked on.
Others would argue the rules are just a toolbox that permit resolutions in a cooperative story-telling activity. I suspect a consideration of the players’ game experience would be a non-starter for these folks.
Note how they're not mutually exclusive propositions. You can have a monster-fighting game like D&D that also has some spare tools in the toolbox. You can have a monster-fighting game like D&D that is also a cooperative story-telling game. The stories you tell using that game will naturally gravitate towards monster fighting because that's what the rules are focused on, but the rules are not limited to that.
My main group recently switched from 5e to another system. The game play is radically different. I have observed this over and over again through the years.
Yep. Different games have different rules which produce different kinds of play. Again, the defining feature of game rules is creating different play experiences based on the rules. Even games that are otherwise very close in rules. Old-School Essentials plays very differently and produces very different sessions than Dungeon Crawl Classics. Both of which produce different experiences than D&D 5E. Etc.
Do you think about players’ game play experience?
Yep. That's where most of my house rules are focused. If I think this official rule is boring or makes for boring play, I remove it. If I think this house rule would make for more interesting play, I add it. Same reason I homebrew monsters and magic items. The players being able to draw on their encyclopedic knowledge of the game and/or simply Googling the stats of a monster or a magic item makes for boring play. So I do what I need to in order to prevent that from happening.
Would D&D benefit from a more direct game play experience goal? Is this something you discuss with your players in session zero?
It might, in an ideal world, cut down on a few arguments about what the game is about...but it probably wouldn't. Focused games that do a few things really well work infinitely better than games that try to do everything with heaps of specific rules. Generic systems work better if, and only if, they have looser, more abstract rules. General conflict resolution rules instead of specific combat rules, specific grappling rules, specific negotiation rules, etc.

I always try to talk about what I'm going for in tone, feel, and playstyle when first discussing the possibility of running a game. Pre-session zero. I put as much as I can into the pitch for the game so players can decide if they want to play up front. If they're in, then we do your normal session zero stuff. It works better that way, for me. I've tried it the other way round and been burned too many times.
 
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