D&D 5E Heteroglossia and D&D: Why D&D Speaks in a Multiplicity of Playing Styles

Hussar

Legend
Which would be fine @Oofta except that you’ve repeatedly argued against changes based on things being “good” now. And your justification for them being good is because they are popular and you like them.

Your insistence that judgements of quality are subjective is the main point of contention.
 

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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
You saying that 5e is good, simply means you like it. It does not mean that it is well designed. If you mean that it is well designed, then provide examples where you think that it is well designed and SAY that you think it is well designed. Simply saying "5e is good" doesn't mean anything. It just means you like it.
How would one show a Corolla is well designed? What evidence would you cite? I would cite comparative sales/popularity, comparative reliability ratings, comparative price, and any important awards it won.

How would one show a BMW is well designed? I'd primarily look at comparative technical specs.

Is D&D 5e the Corolla or the BMW?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
How would one show a Corolla is well designed? What evidence would you cite? I would cite comparative sales/popularity, comparative reliability ratings, comparative price, and any important awards it won.

How would one show a BMW is well designed? I'd primarily look at comparative technical specs.

Is D&D 5e the Corolla or the BMW?

I am not a fan of the car analogy. It assumes that different games are substitutes. That one might get you there faster, but that the other is more reliable. That's not how this fundamentally works. Different games get you to different destinations.
 

pemerton

Legend
To me, it seems that whether or not one is interested in the technical specs of a car, there are relatively objective measures for its performance: reliability in general, reliability relative to price, safety rating, etc. By any measure of these things, Toyota has made some good cars. The Corolla is one of them.

RPGs aren't comparable. They're not tools used to perform a particular function with many objective measures of whether or not that function is being performed well in general, or well relative to a price. (Contrast: we could usefully compare dice to cars, or dry erase mats to cars.)
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I am not a fan of the car analogy. It assumes that different games are substitutes. That one might get you there faster, but that the other is more reliable. That's not how this fundamentally works. Different games get you to different destinations.
That depends on your perspective. Aren’t all games ultimately taking their players to a good time?
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
That would work if everyone's sense of what makes a good time was the same. But its more like "taking to a person's favorite vacation spot"; there may be many overlaps, but there's also going to be quite a bit of variety.
As there would be taking different sorts of car. A trip to a good time is going to be different in a convertible, a sports car, a Yugo...
It seems a bit odd to me to pick apart one analogy vs another since everyone's got a different perspective on what's going on.
 

Hussar

Legend
How would one show a Corolla is well designed? What evidence would you cite? I would cite comparative sales/popularity, comparative reliability ratings, comparative price, and any important awards it won.

How would one show a BMW is well designed? I'd primarily look at comparative technical specs.

Is D&D 5e the Corolla or the BMW?
Comparative sales doesn't really apply to well designed, because you have to detail the reason for a particular design. The statement must always be "well designed TO ((Insert design goal here))". That's the problem. People want to skip over the detail part because that's harder to articulate and requires actual knowledge rather than just "Well because I like it".

And, to take it further, since you need to detail the goal then even "have a good time" isn't specific enough. I can have a good time sitting on the couch alone with a cat. Errrr, you know what I mean. :p

But, if you mean "have a good time creating a shared story with each participant sharing as equally as possible input into that story" then you absolutely can compare one game to another. By the same token, if the goal is to have a good time rolling dice with beer and pretzels, then, probably something like D&D is better designed for that goal than something like My Life with Master or any GURPS product (since GURPS requires SO much rules and involves so much detail that casual play just isn't any fun).

That's the whole point about these discussions. No one ever defines the design goals and thus their design parameters are unknowable.
 

Oofta

Legend
Which would be fine @Oofta except that you’ve repeatedly argued against changes based on things being “good” now. And your justification for them being good is because they are popular and you like them.

Your insistence that judgements of quality are subjective is the main point of contention.

How else are you going to judge quality other than by subjective opinion? You, stating that your opinion is objective and above reproach? The collective opinions of a dozen or so posters on this forum that want change, but frequently completely incompatible change?

I argue against changing the game in ways I would not want. That's kind of the point of having an opinion. I also believe that 5E is on the right track for appealing to a wide audience as evidenced by double digit growth for nearly a decade. Maybe I'm wrong about the latter but I don't see why people would want dramatic changes to a game that continues to work for a whole lot of people. The goal of selling a product is to have it grow and make a profit. Why would WOTC not continue doing what has repeatedly exceeded expectation?

People keep talking about "quality" as if it even means the same things to all people. I don't think it does. I think different people put value on different qualities. We probably share some qualities that we think are important. Things like does the text have minimal grammatical errors or misspellings, is it reasonably easy to read and follow. Some people probably have qualities that they care about that honestly I don't see as a big deal like how well their index is organized. I don't remember the last time I looked up anything in the index, so that last quality doesn't matter much to me.

The qualities I value such as streamlined play and a light touch for out of combat rules may be the opposite qualities someone else wants. But it all comes down to personal preference and what the person wants out of the game. An analogy would be cars. Some people value the qualities of speed and handling over reliability so they buy a BMW. Other people value safety so they buy a Volvo. Some cars don't meet minimum qualities for basic competence like Yugo so they go out of business. Some people buy pickup trucks to go to the mall which I don't understand.

No game is going to work for everyone. I empathize with people that can't get the game to work for them but after making suggestions for house rules or 3PP supplements what else is there to say? Agree we should change the game to something I would not want to play? So if you want to discuss specific issues, no problem. But I'm going to continue to state my preferences on what I like and what I believe contributes to the ongoing success of the game based on interactions I've had with people at various tables over the decades.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
And that's why I make essays like this. Because understanding why D&D is deigned the way it is ... understanding the decisions that go into it, understanding what makes it popular ... that's interesting!

To make a game that appeals to a few people- to make a game that is the bestest and greatest game ever for a small group of people for a short period of time ... that's not easy, but it's not hard either. But once you have to start making compromises to your own vision ... once you realize that this is a game that has to be in a conversation with both the future and the past, a game that has to appeal to both the hardcore crunch and the hardcore lore people, a game that has to be mini-ready AND playable as ToTM, a game that has to have relatively complete rules but also be easily hackable ... that makes for fascinating design!

To me, that's the interesting conversation that a lot of people don't want to have. I hear you when you write, And then you have edition wars and D&D players who fight even more than they do about other systems. Yeah, they do. And it sucks. Because fandom has a toxic side. But that's the whole thing- D&D is the only system that has people arguing about editions, about rules, that has people (like me) posting histories of the use of the scimitar for the druid class; it is a game and an ecosystem. Which is why I keep getting back to the point that it's not just about the system. There are plenty of games out there that provide better and bespoke systems for certain uses, but to concentrate on the rules alone, to ignore the history, the community, the norms, the massive amount of homebrew and 3PP, the lore, the ... the EVERYTHING associated with D&D? When you do that, you miss what D&D is.

IMO. And it is my opinion because I've written a fair amount about the topic. ;)
This reminded me of Dworkin's take on Law. He says in one place "Law is an interpretive concept. Judges should decide what the law is by interpreting the practice off other judges deciding what the law is. General theories of law, for us, are general interpretations of our own judicial practice." Later he offers a different perspective "Law's empire is defined by attitude, not territory or power or process."

The space you characterise as negative is not empty. It is filled with attitudes that we have learned, frameworks for meaning, and of course meanings, and I think what the 5e game text does so successfully is remind us of that attitude. The attitude we have when setting out to play D&D. This is indeed not found soley in the words on the page. One has to see both beyond them, and see how they bring what is beyond them into our grasp.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I am not a fan of the car analogy. It assumes that different games are substitutes. That one might get you there faster, but that the other is more reliable. That's not how this fundamentally works. Different games get you to different destinations.
Nothing in my analogy suggested different games are substitutes that can take us to the same destination. Analogies have a scope. When you push beyond they scope they all fall apart because they aren’t identities, they are analogies.

That said I think if we are going to talk about the resulting playstyle(s) of a game then driving experiences between different cars would be the most apt analogy and for that it doesn’t really matter what the destination is either.
 

Oofta

Legend
I am not a fan of the car analogy. It assumes that different games are substitutes. That one might get you there faster, but that the other is more reliable. That's not how this fundamentally works. Different games get you to different destinations.

If all people cared about was getting to destinations we'd all be driving generic but reliable econo boxes or taking public transportation. Depending on the size of your family you might be driving a minivan.

How you decide what qualities of a vehicle are important is very subjective. There are some objective things you can measure from cost of ownership to how quickly the car can get to 60 from a dead stop. Other things like styling and overall design are highly subjective. My brother-in-law loves his Tesla but the unintuitive design of the interface and other factors leaves me cold. Literally. They had it set to 68, it was chilly when we borrowed the car.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Nothing in my analogy suggested different games are substitutes that can take us to the same destination. Analogies have a scope. When you push beyond they scope they all fall apart because they aren’t identities, they are analogies.

Xeno: Money is the engine of litigation.
Achilles: What? Money isn't an engine! My god, man, money is completely different than engines! Engines convert power into motion, whereas money, assuming you're talking about fiat currency, is only a medium of exchange issued by the government without any commodity behind it. Here, allow me to further illustrate my knowledge of these concepts ....
Xeno: You must be fun at cocktail parties ...

Something I’ve noticed in recent years … is that readers desire precision in metaphors and analogies, even though metaphor is — by definition! — not supposed to be taken literally. People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Xeno: Money is the engine of litigation.
Achilles: What? Money isn't an engine! My god, man, money is completely different than engines! Engines convert power into motion, whereas money, assuming you're talking about fiat currency, is only a medium of exchange issued by the government without any commodity behind it. Here, allow me to further illustrate my knowledge of these concepts ....
Xeno: You must be fun at cocktail parties ...

Something I’ve noticed in recent years … is that readers desire precision in metaphors and analogies, even though metaphor is — by definition! — not supposed to be taken literally. People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor.
It’s always good to ask the purpose of the analogy. For this particular one, it was because there is high emotional investment in defining what is quality in relation to rpgs and low emotional investment to the same in relation to cars. The goal was to pull emotion out of it so we could talk more objectively. For the most part that worked.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
It’s always good to ask the purpose of the analogy. For this particular one, it was because there is high emotional investment in defining what is quality in relation to rpgs and low emotional investment to the same in relation to cars. The goal was to pull emotion out of it so we could talk more objectively. For the most part that worked.

The fundamental problem with the analogy is that you are trying to evaluate the quality of things that ultimately serve different purposes as if they were fundamentally the same class of thing. A game that is built around individual player character dramatic needs with intersecting relationships between the characters should not be evaluated in the same way as a game built around group based adventuring. It's like trying to evaluate differences in quality between a boat and a car.

Quality can really only be fundamentally evaluated in terms of things that are fundamentally the same sort of thing. It will still be a subjective judgement because we all weigh things differently. That's why explaining our reasoning is far more important than the actual evaluation. When I read a review for a book or movie the actual score is pretty much irrelevant to me. The reasoning behind that evaluation will tell me far more than the actual score.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
The fundamental problem with the analogy is that you are trying to evaluate the quality of things that ultimately serve different purposes as if they were fundamentally the same class of thing. A game that is built around individual player character dramatic needs with intersecting relationships between the characters should not be evaluated in the same way as a game built around group based adventuring.
That was precisely the point the analogy made. That we can’t judge the quality of a Corolla and BMW and thus the quality of D&D and other RPGs the same way.

Quality can really only be fundamentally evaluated in terms of things that are fundamentally the same sort of thing. It will still be a subjective judgement because we all weigh things differently. That's why explaining our reasoning is far more important than the actual evaluation. When I read a review for a book or movie the actual score is pretty much irrelevant to me. The reasoning behind that evaluation will tell me far more than the actual score.
Exactly. That’s what we are saying too!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It’s always good to ask the purpose of the analogy. For this particular one, it was because there is high emotional investment in defining what is quality in relation to rpgs and low emotional investment to the same in relation to cars. The goal was to pull emotion out of it so we could talk more objectively. For the most part that worked.

The primary issue with analogies & metaphors on the internet (including this forum) is this-

The best use of an analogy is generally to explain. A good analogy can illuminate - if you've ever taught or tutored, you know that a skillful analogy help illuminate underlying concepts. Here, for example, the car analogy (and this is hardly the first time it has been used) is trying to get to the salient point- that design has a goal and an intended audience, and that "good design" does not exist in a vacuum. A person designing a broadly popular car will have different design goals than a person designing a performance sports car (for example). Even the idea of what is "broadly popular" changes over time- your use of a Corolla is slightly anachronistic, as the top selling vehicles in the US are all pickup trucks and SUVs/CUVs (in 2021, of the top 25 best-selling vehicles, 4 were sedans; #6 was a Toyota Camry, #10 was a Honda Civic, #12 was the Corolla, and #16 was an Accord).

Heck, if I was to use the car analogy, I would probably say that D&D 5e is a pickup truck (#1, #2, and #3). You can complain that it's poorly designed for most consumers because it's just being used to go to the grocery store and drive around and they don't need a pickup trick, but guess what? Maybe you should learn why people keep buying them, because if all you are doing is making hot hatches with stick shifts in the American market, you're not selling many vehicles.

Anyway, in my experience one of two things usually happens when you are using an analogy: (1) either the person doesn't get it (because there are people who just aren't great at analogies, very literal, etc.); or (2) the person will argue with the analogy.

The second is usually the issue- again, the purpose of the analogy is to try and explain a position. It is always a trivial exercise to argue with an analogy because (as you correctly noted) analogies are not identities. But if you're offering an analogy to explain, and the other person wished to argue, it will always prove unhelpful.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That seems like a critique that could be laid against most anything. We rarely have an agreed upon measure for anything.

Yes! Exactly!

Are you bringing these points up to suggest that we shouldn't have this conversation? Because that's what it comes across as to me.

No. Just that these points should be realized as part of the discussion. It leads away from "I am right and you are wrong" and towards "Okay, so what are the essential similarities and differences in our positions, and what are the less important fiddly bits."
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Like this - I see this and think that Masks is thematically constrained, to use Campbell's own term.. Masks is designed to do teenage supers angst. And that's about it. It literally hands you a set of iconic figures for that in the character playbooks. Anything else requires a full rewrite of the playbooks, and when most of the genre/theme divers of a PbtA game are in the playbooks, that's basically saying that I have to write a new game. Heck, I looked at Masks and thought about doing Middle-age supers angst, and gave it up because I'd need all new playbooks.

To clarify my stance from earlier in the thread:

I'm not saying that Masks isn't strongly themed by default, but it absolutely can be extended in all sorts of ways. I just do not view it as less thematically constrained than D&D. I don't view angsty teenage superheroes as more specialized than ragtag group of adventurers of assorted fantasy races go off on adventures where they explore strange new environments and fight lots of things (mostly monsters). Like if I want to play a game that's mostly grounded in social intrigue with a much more elided timescale the class design of D&D is just as fundamentally inadequate from my perspective*. I also do not view Masks as fundamentally harder to extend or alter than D&D. Actually kind of easier. A new playbook involves a lot less design work than a new class in any version of D&D.

* Not saying the game cannot handle individual social intrigue scenes. Just that the mechanics of the game actively push away from a game where that is the focus.

Figured I would elaborate towards why : When a game gives you buttons there is a natural tendency to want to push the buttons it gives you. I found this to be a problem personally when attempting to use Mutants and Masterminds for an X-Men style angsty teen super game even though the players were all on board. The presence of detailed power writeups on players' sheets tended to focus player attention on the details of their powers and using them to solve problems rather than on the interpersonal relationship stuff we were trying to make the focus of play. The rules got in our way and pulled play away from our intended focus despite an xp reward systems that should be pretty good for this stuff.
 
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Thomas Shey

Legend
Like if I want to play a game that's mostly grounded in social intrigue with a much more elided timescale the class design of D&D is just as fundamentally inadequate from my perspective*. I also do not view Masks as fundamentally harder to extend or alter than D&D. Actually kind of easier. A new playbook involves a lot less design work than a new class in any version of D&D.

* Not saying the game cannot handle individual social intrigue scenes. Just that the mechanics of the game actively push away from a game where that is the focus.

This was a point I made earlier. Its one of the reasons I'm not fundamentally a fan of class or playbooks as an approach to character design, but as you say, playbooks are easier to put together than at least most modern classes.
 

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