D&D 5E Fluff & Rule, Lore & Crunch. The Interplay of Class, System, and Color in D&D

Classes, what do you think?

  • 1. Classes are designed to reflect both a certain set of rules as well as lore.

    Votes: 63 63.6%
  • 2. Classes are designed to reflect a certain set of rules, but all lore is optional.

    Votes: 26 26.3%
  • 3. I have some opinion not adequately portrayed in the two options and I will put in the comments.

    Votes: 7 7.1%
  • 4. I have no idea what this poll is about, even after reading the initial post.

    Votes: 3 3.0%

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
After reading through the excellent post by Jon Peterson (Does System Matter) and the related comment thread here, I was thinking of the very specific interplay of rules and fluff that occurs in D&D.

To move back for a second, for better or worse, D&D has always been a "class-based" system. People can, and do, argue about what a class means. Is it a job? A descriptor? An archetype? Just a convenient grabbag of abilities? Regardless of the exact nature of what a class is, D&D is a class sytem.

Assuming this classist system (ahem), what does that really mean? Well, I was thinking about this because D&D generally (and 5e) tends to have a mix of what, for lack of a better phrasing, you can call "lore" and "crunch." (lore is also fluff, crunch is also rules, and I often used the terms interchangeably). Sometimes, the lore can be heavy and will really influence the crunch (arguably, the TSR lines of D&D). Sometimes, the crunch will be at the front and the lore will follow (arguably 4e). 5e is a useful way to examine this; for example:

The PHB says, under dwarf traits, "Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in the dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. ..."

In that, we have both the system (rule) that provides specific language regarding how darkvision works if you play a dwarf, as well as additional color language (fluff) saying that it's because dwarves live underground.

Which brings up the question that many a D&D group has- what if the dwarves aren't living underground? Do tropical coconut dwarves living out on the islands have darkvision? Well, maybe only I have that question, but the general principle stands. At what point does the fluff interact and inform the rule, and at what point is the fluff just ... fluff, completely devoid of any rule-like substance or any impact on the game?

This becomes important when it comes to how people view classes in the world of D&D. A common example of this is the Druid.

Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields (druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal).

Initially, there has to be the determination of whether this is a rule or fluff. If it's a rule, what is the penalty? Does the druid explode? Cease to exist? If a captor encases the druid in plate armor, does the druid vanish into a singularity? If every other class can take advantage of some advantages of MC'ing, why not druids (see PHB 164). A paladin that falls from grace becomes an Oathbreaker; what happens to a druid that deliberately wears metal armor?

While this might seem nitpicky (most tables will just answer this with a resounding, "Duh, don't wear metal armor," while a minority will be all, "You can't tell me what to do!") the issue comes up fairly often when it comes to the correlation of class and lore. A warlock has a patron, while a cleric has a deity. What are the lore issues involved with those (and is this a DM or player-driven issue, and what happens when there is a conflict between patron and deity).

So I was wondering what the general outlook of people are given the way 5e is deigned today. It certainly reads as "lore heavy" in many ways, given the natural language it is written in. Nevertheless, many people play the classes as if they are more of a grab-bag of abilities, removed from any particular conception of what that class might "mean."

I looked for some prior threads on the subject, but didn't find much. On the advice of @Oofta I thought I'd put a poll up.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

jgsugden

Legend
They want classes to be both mechanically, and thematically, distinct.

They do not want you to feel that a ranger is a reskinned fighter, sharing the same mechanics but with a different 'skin' thematically.

They do not want the druid and cleric to both feel like essentially the same priests, sharing the same 'skin' thematically, despite having different mechanics.

I think the balance is fairly well done. If you break down the mechanics modularly too much more, you end up with GURPS, which tends towards optimization and a lack of theme. They need to do some repackaging in light of elements now considered insensitive, but overall the approach gets my approval (if they'd included psionics in it from the start).
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
So, I believe that classes are supposed to reflect (or maybe, be) a set of rules, and they are supposed to reflect (somewhat) lore. I don't think every class is going to be the same place on that spectrum; I don't even think every subclass (even in a given class) is going to be the same place on that spectrum.

I'm not sure that's a super-helpful answer, and I'm not sure it adds much. Oh comma well.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, I believe that classes are supposed to reflect (or maybe, be) a set of rules, and they are supposed to reflect (somewhat) lore. I don't think every class is going to be the same place on that spectrum; I don't even think every subclass (even in a given class) is going to be the same place on that spectrum.

I'm not sure that's a super-helpful answer, and I'm not sure it adds much. Oh comma well.

I think it is interesting and helpful to explore some of the assumptions that we have about why we think that is the way it is.

For example, I think that if you are playing (say) 1e, there is an assumption that the lore is heavily baked into the rules, such that the two are inseparable in some ways. You can expand, modify, and change it easily (and you were expected to), but even minor modification to the "lore" of a class often necessitate creating a new class (or homebrew).

I don't know that this is necessarily the case with 5e. But then it brings up interesting questions when it comes to the interstitial areas of the intersection of lore and rules. I agree that some classes (Druid, Paladin, for example) are more "lore heavy" in 5e. But again, if you have a Warlock owing allegiance to a patron, and they multiclass with Cleric owing allegiance to a particular god, and then they thirdclass with a Druid owing allegiance to a different god, and then they fourthmeal to a Taco Bell for a chalupa, how bad will they get the diarrhea?

These are the things that need answering.
 


Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
This becomes important when it comes to how people view classes in the world of D&D. A common example of this is the Druid.

Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields (druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal).

I think this is a good example, because you can read that "lore" as applying in two different ways, and those aren't the only two ways it can be read.

1. A druid will not not normally wear a suit of metal armor.
2. A druid will never wear a suit of metal armor.

If, for example the PCs were infiltrating a bad guy's fully armed and operational battle station and to blend in they had to don a suit of black and white enameled platemail to fit in....would the druid do so because it makes sense for the ruse or would they have this strange line in the sand that doing so is impossible so they have to wildshape into a bear that the rest of the party can pretend is headed to the detention block AA-23.

I am a HUGE fan of reskinning almost anything in the game that has rules, so I voted that the design is rules only and all lore can be ignored. A MONK doesn't have to know karate or learn in a monastery, a MONK is just a collection of game rules that can be used to represent that lore (but also can be used to represent something completely different like a primitive warrior who doesn't use armor or rage or even have a super high strength but yet still can be a factor in melee combat.
 

Classes have more theme than lore.
Patron, Oath, Gods are thematic and can be adapted to many setting style.
Even the Druid armor restriction is thematic, and can easily get overpassed.
Classes can be restricted to players only, or can be used also to build Npc and setting lore.
So a PC can be the only cleric in the world, or a Cleric as many other priest of various gods. It is up to the setting.
Monsters manual don’t use classes at all, even the Volo guide Npc are lightly referencing to classes.
So Optional.
 

I think it is interesting and helpful to explore some of the assumptions that we have about why we think that is the way it is.

For example, I think that if you are playing (say) 1e, there is an assumption that the lore is heavily baked into the rules, such that the two are inseparable in some ways. You can expand, modify, and change it easily (and you were expected to), but even minor modification to the "lore" of a class often necessitate creating a new class (or homebrew).

I don't know that this is necessarily the case with 5e. But then it brings up interesting questions when it comes to the interstitial areas of the intersection of lore and rules. I agree that some classes (Druid, Paladin, for example) are more "lore heavy" in 5e. But again, if you have a Warlock owing allegiance to a patron, and they multiclass with Cleric owing allegiance to a particular god, and then they thirdclass with a Druid owing allegiance to a different god, and then they fourthmeal to a Taco Bell for a chalupa, how bad will they get the diarrhea?

These are the things that need answering.
For your question, activated charcoal is very efficient.

but otherwise, Role of the various patron, gods, oath is very attached to the setting and DM mood.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Personally, I play with classes as a grab bag of mechanical abilities, linked together for gamist purposes, with some optional flavor slathered on to provide an introduction to D&D tropes for novices. In my own settings, class does not exist as a recognizable attribute within in the settings, and prominent NPCs all have unique abilities that do not exist within the existing class framework.

Now, do I think the game is designed that way? Almost certainly not. Everything published suggests to me that NPCs linked together by commonality of class is something the designers think of as extant within the fiction. (Rangers train other rangers, wizards form schools of other wizards, etc.) But I find treating classes purely as out-of-game entities a much more natural, enjoyable way to play.
 

jgsugden

Legend
The lore can be changed to fit your world. It doesn't have to stay with the character.
I absolutely agree with this. My current monk is reskinned and has nothing to do with monasteries - his supernatural abilities come from his ancestors, and (due to human variant / magic initiate) manifest mostly as extensions of a mage hand spell (pulling him along for his speed, doing extra attacks for his unarmed attack / martial arts, etc...)

However, I also think they put effort into making the default lore of each class different.
 

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
Is the question, “are classes currently designed to include both rules and lore” or “should classes be designed to include both rules and lore?”
This is the crux. Currently, classes are rules and lore. In the future...?
I like a class with a nice lore example. Paladins and their oaths in 5E are a good example of the crunch being supported by the fluff. Spell lists and oath abilities lead to a nice thematic whole. Warlocks and pacts are similar, but some classes are a bit weaker. The Ranger stands out as being more like a fighter subclass than its own theme. Monk is a muddled mess, the lore does not reinforce the crunch and the class feels rickety. Fun to play but every monk I have played with seems (in)different. Having reinforcing lore is a boon for players new to the game and people who want to be able to pick up and play without the huge customization/ optimization minigame. Part of the longevity of D&D as a system is the class archetype.

I would like there to be some advanced options for a more robust system, like Level Up is doing. There are some cool system things that were brought up during the D&D Next playtest that was put aside as the rules focused. Remember the different focus items transforming wizard magic? A wand user and a tome user would have subtly different effects on the spells they cast. Some of this came through in the Warlock class, but imagine a less class defined and more about the technique employed. Maybe something that could span all spellcasters. A wand using cleric and a wand wielding sorcerer might produce a similar spell effect. There are many ways to break down the ribbons of each class and put them in a pool to choose from to create a custom character. No two characters are fully the same until the inevitable Treantmonk guide comes out and says which combination is statistically better.
 

aco175

Legend
My first thoughts were that classes will of course have lore that goes with them- that's what makes a class and the rules just support that. Than I read what @Sabathius42 said about using the mechanical abilities of a class to fit a concept you want to play. I can see both sides now, especially in 5e. I do think that older editions were more themed with each class having a role.
 


I generally view class lore as mostly optional, but only to an extent: A Monk does not have to come from a shaolin-style monastery or practise mystical martial arts, but they are still channelling magic. A Paladin does not need a god but they still swore, and are bound by, their oath. A Druid does not need to be a nature-priest will all the trappings, but they will still not wear metal armour.
 


pemerton

Legend
In the context of 4e D&D, as I experienced, classes serve as thematic "pathways to" or "bundles of" player-side engagement with the game.

The theme results from the mechanical abilities that flow from a particular class, and the associated fiction.

For example, being a cleric or a paladin means worshipping a god. And that manifest through abilities that tend towards the radiant - which is a reflection of the "fact" that, in the fiction of 4e D&D, gods mostly live or are connected to the Astral Sea and radiance is a manifestation of divine power. (The 4e DMG has a little section offering advice on how to change this feature of divine abilities to make it better fit clerics and paladins of deities, evil ones, who are not associated with the Astral Sea.)

Being a fighter means having a high armour class and this is generally reflected, in the fiction, by wearing heavy armour. (An alternative, but not a build I've personally seen in play, is to be a STR/DEX fighter in which case AC should still be good but in the fiction this would be understood as being quick on one's feet and adept at dodging attacks.)

In many ways I see this as similar to Gygax's AD&D, but with a few differences (which in my view are mostly strengths):

* Moreso than AD&D, there is a focus on player-side abilities that will support the thematic play at which the class is aimed. Eg in 4e, fighters have abilities that strongly encourage the player of a fighter to put his/her PC into the heart of any fray. Gygax expresses a similar view about how fighters should be played (PHB p 18: "Fighters generally seek to engage in hand-to-hand combat, for they have more hit points and better weaponry in general than do other classes; DMG p 86: "fighters who hang back from combat . . . or fail to boldly lead . . . are . . . clear examples of a POOR rating), but there is less in the actual design of class abilities - at least in the case of fighters and I think some other classes too - to help ensure that this will be an emergent consequence of playing the class well in a tactical/technical sense.

* Moreso than AD&D, these thematic aspects of classes are coupled to the default cosmology and campaign history. This is particularly visible in the warlock class for 4e, but even with fighters there is more of a sense in 4e of what it is about the fantasy world that brings it about that people like this exist in it. (A comparison could be made here with Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed.)

* 4e is overall a bit more permissive than AD&D (especially for human characters) in allowing combinations of classes, either via multi-class rules or hybrid rules or both. As the PHB 3 expressly warns about hybrid characters, they generate a risk of creating an unplayable character. I think there is a corresponding risk of creating a thematically dislocated or incoherent character. But equally these can be used to create strong thematic characters, especially when the role of Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies is also considered. In my long-running game, for instance, we had two "paladins" (to use the term in a loose sense) though mechanically one of them was a paladin and the other was a fighter with a cleric multi-class feat and the cleric Warpriest Paragon Path. Both character were melee-oriented heavily armed and armoured god-fearing and divinely inspired warriors, ie paladins.
 


Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top