D&D General Games People Play: Looking at the Gaming Aspects of D&D

Thomas Shey

Legend
That’s the one. WWN came pretty close to what we wanted, but there were a few things that lead me to doing my own thing. It’s definitely had an influence though.
That one struck in my brain because I really want to like Crawford's work more than I do (though I'm more interested in Godbound than most of his other material. Its too bad it looks like its one of those cases that everyone iterates one resource in combat until the first person runs out, and then they lose).
 

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Clint_L

Hero
I think you're leaving out a hell of a big middle here, or defining things as "basically D&D" that really aren't, in some important ways. There's some pretty well-known trad games that aren't very D&D-like but are not specialized indie games, either.
Am I? How big is that middle? Name me some names? What I see is a metric crap ton of people playing D&D and its variants, and not much of a middle at all.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I consider D&D-like games to be 1. interactive story-based RPGs, 2. Heavily rules-based (i.e. the come with big books of rules), 3. Progression-based 4. Are built around the use of dice or similar randomizing tools. I consider all editions of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, and many others to be essentially iterations on the system that Arneson and Gygax invented in the sense that I think they push the same psychological buttons. Most of the differences are just theming and specific rules.

I am aware that the term "indie RPG" is very broad; I use it to refer to Forge-type games. I think these are substantially different from D&D-type games at a functional level.
 

Kariotis

Explorer
As I've mentioned elsewhere, I consider D&D-like games to be 1. interactive story-based RPGs, 2. Heavily rules-based (i.e. the come with big books of rules), 3. Progression-based 4. Are built around the use of dice or similar randomizing tools. I consider all editions of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, and many others to be essentially iterations on the system that Arneson and Gygax invented in the sense that I think they push the same psychological buttons. Most of the differences are just theming and specific rules.
I can see how most TTRPGs out there are basically iterations of D&D. If you had to choose one of them to play with your friends forever, which one would it be? In other words, what is, to your mind and taste, the best iteration of this combination of game elements yet?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
That one struck in my brain because I really want to like Crawford's work more than I do (though I'm more interested in Godbound than most of his other material. Its too bad it looks like its one of those cases that everyone iterates one resource in combat until the first person runs out, and then they lose).
I’m going to keep details limited since this isn’t really the thread for it, but the two big issues for me were: it does a different kind of sandbox that I wanted (more adventure- than exploration-oriented), and the faction stuff just didn’t seem to work at all.
 

Clint_L

Hero
I can see how most TTRPGs out there are basically iterations of D&D. If you had to choose one of them to play with your friends forever, which one would it be? In other words, what is, to your mind and taste, the best iteration of this combination of game elements yet?
Hmmm...that's a good question. I run 5e because of reasons that aren't about the game itself, but because I run a bunch of campaigns for beginners at my school. They want to play D&D because it's what they've heard of and what their friends play, and DnDBeyond makes my life a lot easier by automating a lot of the math and giving them all access to the material (WotC has an incredibly generous programme for sponsoring school groups through DnDBeyond).

As far as D&D goes, I think 5e is the best iteration in the sense that it is the most consistent and thus easiest to teach with. For similar games...I've always loved Call of Cthulhu but maybe I'm just a sucker for percentile dice and tentacles. I dunno. Frankly, to me the "which is better" debate between these D&D-type RPGs is a bit like debating Coke vs. Pepsi. I just don't have super passionate feelings about whether Pathfinder is better than D&D or vice versa.

For me, a huge selling point of indie-type RPGs is that they are actually distinct. A game of Fiasco is not really like anything else (I recently fused a game of Fiasco into a session of a 5e campaign. It was interesting!).
 

Enrahim2

Adventurer
I think a key part to D&Ds apeal and longlivity is that it can provide a very wide range of completely different experiencesm all that can be considered "game".

Dixit, Pictionary, Yatzee, Pool, Trivial Pursuit, MTG, and ASL are all clearly games, even though each are providing incredibly different experiences. However each of these provide a much more defined experience than what D&D provides. Indeed I think a major failure of 4ed was that it provided a somewhat well defined experience.

The beauty of not having the gaming experience well defined is that it can be adapted to the mood of the group. If one dont feel like monster bashing an evening you might have to cancel your Gloomhaven apointment, but you can still join your D&D group. Just mentioning that you are more in the mood for exploration/roleplay/progressing story/solving puzzles/shopping/strategizing or any other sort of activity, and have a fair chance that you indeed can get a bit of that. The others can adapt.

Basically just "hanging out with friends" never gets old, and playing D&D is an activity with not much more restrictions than that.

As such is it gamey? It can be, if you want it to. There are enough stuff that can support an absurd number of kinds of gaming experiences. But there are little that force it to be gamey in any particular way. And indeed there are nothing that forces it to be a game at all. It is fully possible to have a D&D session that do not interact with rules at all, and are just a group of friends sitting around a table talking about fun stuff and ideas.

This is the beauty of a "weakly" designed "game". As there are no clear good way to play it, noone should call out anyone for "playing it wrong" no matter what their take on it is. Just don't be a jerk, as that is loosing at life ;)
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Am I? How big is that middle? Name me some names? What I see is a metric crap ton of people playing D&D and its variants, and not much of a middle at all.

Does RuneQuest not exist? Or are we back to "anything smaller than D&D doesn't matter"?

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I consider D&D-like games to be 1. interactive story-based RPGs, 2. Heavily rules-based (i.e. the come with big books of rules), 3. Progression-based 4. Are built around the use of dice or similar randomizing tools. I consider all editions of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, and many others to be essentially iterations on the system that Arneson and Gygax invented in the sense that I think they push the same psychological buttons. Most of the differences are just theming and specific rules.

Ah, then your definition is so broad I'd consider it useless. Carry on.
 

Clint_L

Hero
Does RuneQuest not exist? Or are we back to "anything smaller than D&D doesn't matter"?



Ah, then your definition is so broad I'd consider it useless. Carry on.
Yeah, I feel like if you'd actually read my carefully written and possibly wrong but certainly thoughtfully considered points, you might have had something more to say, because you would know that I was interested in looking at the underlying psychological mechanisms of these games. But you clearly didn't, so I'll take your snark in the spirit with which it was obviously intended.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
First, I'm sorry if I lose the thread of the discussion. I'm still at extended vacation and I'm very rarely sober and/or well-slept.

Why is D&D the gorilla in the room, instead of Shadowrun or Call of Cthulhu or Pathfinder or one of any number of other games that are, design-wise, more or less the same? I don't think marketing is the answer; D&D has a history of crap marketing. I think it was there first, colonizing brains, and none of those other games are really different enough to overcome that basic fact.
To put on a tinfoil hat, I'd say the fact that D&D doesn't really support anything is intentional exploitation of its cultural cachet. An average person probably heard of D&D and didn't hear of any other TTRPG, so the fraction of them who then try playing D&D don't see how heroic exploits of a rag-tag party of misfits is any more supported by it than running a catboy café, and conclude that game design doesn't exist.

More seriously, creative expression (storytelling) and skill expression (overcoming challenges) are at inherent odds with each other -- pursuing one automatically undermines the other. If you engage in Desert Storm levels of planning in D&D and then flawlessly execute an operation where you behead the dragon before it can even blink, like, yeah, cool, but the story you end up with will be... Bad. Like, you wouldn't want to see it on a silverscreen or read it in a book, because "heroes did everything right, didn't suffer and had no need to sacrfice anything" is just damn boring.

And you won't even be able to retell it as a story of your exploits to people who don't know your GM, yet alone to people who aren't familiar with D&D -- it would ring hollow. Yeah, cool, dude, you killed a dragon, so, anyway, I had this dream last night where Tilda Swinton was choking me...

There's this joke about the police here: "The fact that you are not in jail isn't your merit, but our flaw", and well... The only reason the 1st Tarrasque Cavalry Regiment of 3rd Archlich Army isn't hiding behind every corner is because the GM decided she doesn't want to put em there. She could. She didn't, but she could.

In a sense, GM is basically designing a game that only you can ever play, and other people will have no frame of reference to understand the significance of something. Yeah, the only reason why every enemy in Dark Souls isn't Ornstein&Smough is because From Software decided they don't want to put them there, but could, but other people can just go and experience the same game.

But if there were hard, strict rules on what GM can or cannot do in D&D, it would only enhance both the gameplay and...

Another way of looking at this is that D&D's potential flaws are actually behind its appeal. It has enough story to give a sense of purpose and continuity to the session, so that players want to keep coming back. They want to continue the story. It has enough gameplay elements so that players can engage in creative problem solving within various tactical and narrative restraints, and can aspire towards improvement if not perfection. Could it not be that D&D's "jack of all trades, master of none" design manages to strike a happy medium? It is, at its heart, a kind of half-assed game, and my conjecture is that Arneson, Gygax and co. kind of caught lightning in a bottle with this sort of game structure, in ways that work really well to trigger more or less addictive reactions in human brains.
...the story. Well, in a sense.

As I said, storytelling is fundamentally incompatible with overcomming challenges -- you either provide outcomes based on what makes the story good, or you don't. You can't have more than one first priority.

But if you embrace that the story is more or less linear and the "meat" of the game is, well, the game, it can enable greater intentionality in storytelling too.

I really enjoy Dishonored 2, now that I know how all endings are achieved and can deliberately work towards the one I want.

For a TTRPG example, right now I'm playing in a Dark Heresy campaign that uses an adventure I've already ran.

I know what is actually important to the plot and what isn't, what choices I'll have to make anyway and what choices lead to a branching path, and that allows me to express my character better — because I know the boundaries in which I can do so.

There's a segment that is pretty much a big long cutscene and I know that it's a big long cutscene where nothing of note can be done — so I don't even try to do anything of note and can focus on little things. Is my gal humbled and awestruck by a glorious cathedral devoted to the God-Emperor and will spend her time there in a constant prayer, taking the chance to attone for all the previous and future sins in a holy place where He might actually listen? Or is she wandering around in her tasteless but expensive garb, admiring lavishly decorated building with a sense of amusement, giggling at the reactions monks give her? Or maybe in her paranoia, she will suspect everyone, even in this sacred palace, of heresy and fake faith, looking for clues that aren't there?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. PCs will be just handed the next clue in the morning, but expression is still cool!

Another player, who didn't know that it's nothing but a cutscene, spent the whole session trying to look under every rock, and was very frustrated he couldn't find anything. If the GM just bluntly said that he'll never find any traces, regardless of his actions or rolls, I reckon the guy would have a much better time.
 
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Clint_L

Hero
If this is you at rarely sober or well-slept, then I feel even more out of my league, because I am fumbling around with some half-formed ideas here and you clearly know a lot more about this subject than I do. That said, I do have a lot of tolerance, as a player, with being in the dark. I kind of don't like it when the GM takes pity and then just gives the next clue; I think failure can be a fun story option. But then I also really enjoy games like Ten Candles where it isn't about whether you lose, but how.
 

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