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


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Thomas Shey

Legend
I think that reaction stems from differences of opinion around what good and okay mean.

Because I agree with the basic sentiment. That’s basically the same argument i make except with ‘okay’ replacing good.

I'd argue there are absolutely some people--including some in this thread--who have used "good" however, if not stronger terms.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
To me that would be a much more interesting discussion to have.

Historically how important has it been to be first, especially in games and more broadly in all other industries. Sports might make a good starting comparison - it’s really hard for a new sport to totally take off. We get some hype around certain newer ones at times. But they all mostly remain fairly niche. Usually fairly quickly peaking in interest.

But sports is large enough to support 4 or 5 dominate ones and a dozen or so slightly less popular ones before you get to truly niche levels.

A number of those became popular not too far from the same time, however, or became popular in geographically separate areas. All the most well known ones (soccer, American football, baseball, ice hockey) coalesced into what we think of them sometime in the mid to late 19th Centuries, and even basketball, the new kid on the block, didn't start forming long after. An important issue is that they all emerged prior to mass media, too, so it was hard for any of them to become dominant except regionally.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Agreed. Of course, we are not often given the actual design goals the writers were aiming for, so that can be difficult.

One thing I have been saying for a whole now, and I will keep saying, is that when you ask the question, "Is this more/better designed?" the question is incomplete. The question more fully stated is "Is this better designed for specific purpose X?"

If course what confuses the issue here is a phenomenon (not unique to D&D) where at least some proponents seem to think its both a floor wax and a desert topping, which is to say its the proper tool for everything they (and by extension sometimes overtly sometimes not, everyone else) wants to do. At that point you're reducing to discussing its general and broad utility because you've eliminated any focus from the discussion.

(There are games that are at least avowedly intended that way, but even with those its questionable that they work as well as people claim (and I say this as a person who generally prefers generic systems). But for all it sometimes might suggest this, I don't think this has ever really been what any D&D design has tried to do, and the more you try to do that with it the more redesign work on parts you need to do and/or the more warts are revealed).
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
Yeah, heaven forbid that people call a game they enjoy "good ".

If you're going to claim its good, then you don't get to get soggy when other people suggest its just adequate, and then wave around its success and act like that actually says anything about how good it really is.

Basically, you don't get to have it both ways.
 

Oofta

Legend
If you're going to claim its good, then you don't get to get soggy when other people suggest its just adequate, and then wave around its success and act like that actually says anything about how good it really is.

Basically, you don't get to have it both ways.
I'm just stating my opinion that it's a good game.

Why is that so terrible?
 



Thomas Shey

Legend
I disagree with people that say the game is poorly designed because they don't like some aspect. Last time I checked I'm allowed to like the game.

And they're allowed to say there's bad design. If you don't like that, argue with their point, but remember this was about why people roll their eyes and point out the other reasons when people respond to criticism with (and yes, I'm being hyperbolic) "Its obvious its good, look at the success". Don't try to beg the question.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Yeah, heaven forbid that people call a game they enjoy "good ".

I also think 5e is a good game, but not the only good game. So what I personally do not like are the comparative claims that often get made that seek to elevate one game by disparaging others, often games that the people making the claims do not have much experience with. Basically claiming that D&D can basically do everything other games can do, that other games are just more focused and not meaningfully different, calling other games irrelevant or calling all fans of certain games elitist for liking the things they like.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Let's start with the premise that anything officially labeled as "Dungeons and Dragons" as certain built in advantages given that dnd was the start of the hobby and built up a player base and reputation in the 70s and 80s. In that context, it is interesting that you mention dnd 4e as a game with less mainstream appeal and commercial success, as it is an official dnd edition, and it came in with all the advantages of that branding. I'm not making any claims about the design merits or flaws of 4e or any edition, but it seems to me that the advantages of name recognition, existing player base, branding, and having more available capital than anyone else will get wotc so far, but isn't enough to "maximize" the value of all those things. To do that, they needed a different product, hence 5e in 2014. That being said, post 2016, stranger things/critical role/pandemic established a new floor for what they can get out of the brand.

Absolutely. The specific design of 5e is absolutely well suited to the market. If PF2 were instead named Dungeons and Dragons I do not think it would be as popular. It's fundamentally a less accessible game with a very high level of difference between high and low skill players. You hand a 3rd level barbarian to two different 5e players even with dramatically different skill levels you will get fairly similar results in most cases. Do the same in PF2 you will get massively different results based on how well the player handles it at runtime. That sort of play experience is just not well suited to casual play or something like Critical Role. I think PF2 is a well designed game. From a technical perspective one of the best, Still not as fit for the current player market as 5e.

A game's popularity has a whole lot to do with its design. I just don't value mainstream appeal as the highest measure of game quality. I think there are quality games all over the popularity map. I also think people like 5e because they like its premise and it executes that premise masterfully. Not because it enables more playstyles than other games, but because most people like the playstyles it enables better than other options.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
And they're allowed to say there's bad design. If you don't like that, argue with their point, but remember this was about why people roll their eyes and point out the other reasons when people respond to criticism with (and yes, I'm being hyperbolic) "Its obvious its good, look at the success". Don't try to beg the question.
This kind of goes back to the question - what was D&D 5e's design goal? IMO, the simple answer is commercial success. Thus, pointing out it's actual commercial success is strong evidence that it met that design goal and thus it's also strong evidence that D&D 5e is well designed.

There's always the lingering question whether the commercial success is because of the product or inspite of it. I think taking the position that commercial success is in spite of the product is often naive, but there are surely a few examples out there where that certainly seems to be the case so we cannot write it off entirely as a possibility.

To me that's where edition history comes in. Without impugning 4e (a game I liked), the history of 3.5 to 4e, coupled with the pathfinder fracture which resulted in the first non-D&D game growing so large (maybe ever, and definitely at least since the earliest days in the hobby), and then sudden change in direction toward user surveys/play testing and the resulting 5e which succeeded in bringing back many older D&D players along with so many new ones, that it has at this point grown bigger than I think anyone had imagined it could. And likely not just D&D but it's likely the rising sea of newer players in the rpg hobby ultimately lifts all ships so to speak.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I also think 5e is a good game, but not the only good game. So what I personally do not like are the comparative claims that often get made that seek to elevate one game by disparaging others, often games that the people making the claims do not have much experience with. Basically claiming that D&D can basically do everything other games can do, that other games are just more focused and not meaningfully different, calling other games irrelevant or calling all fans of certain games elitist for liking the things they like.
I've made that claim and I'll bring this up every time. I made that claim because of how all those other games were explained to me.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Absolutely. The specific design of 5e is absolutely well suited to the market. If PF2 were instead named Dungeons and Dragons I do not think it would be as popular. It's fundamentally a less accessible game with a very high level of difference between high and low skill players. You hand a 3rd level barbarian to two different 5e players even with dramatically different skill levels you will get fairly similar results in most cases. Do the same in PF2 you will get massively different results based on how well the player handles it at runtime. That sort of play experience is just not well suited to casual play or something like Critical Role. I think PF2 is a well designed game. From a technical perspective one of the best, Still not as fit for the current player market as 5e.
So, I'd tend to agree from the technical perspective. For me I'd also say the BMW is better designed than a Corolla from a technical perspective. I mean it goes faster, accelerates faster, handles better, has better amenities, better saftey features, etc. But that's also evaluating design on someone else's scale and that's not really fair to team Corolla or team D&D 5e. Team Corolla and team D&D 5e never intended to for their products to be technical masterpieces. The intended them to be mass market consumer - which I'm fairly certain there's some law or engineering principle that excludes any mas market consumer product from being a technical masterpiece, and if there's not there should be.

A game's popularity has a whole lot to do with its design. I just don't value mainstream appeal as the highest measure of game quality. I think there are quality games all over the popularity map.
IMO, it depends on what you mean by quality.

I also think people like 5e because they like its premise and it executes that premise masterfully. Not because it enables more playstyles than other games, but because most people like the playstyles it enables better than other options.
I like 5e, but the premise that it executes anything masterfully other than navigating through a minefield of competing play preferences doesn't feel all that accurate to me.

'Most people like the playstyles it enables better than other options' - I can get behind that sentiment. I just would also add that 5e culture and rules text advice constantly reiterate that the game should be modified to fit the needs. So while it's not infinitely flexible, it's encouragement of modifications does tend to enhance how many playstyles it can enable - which directly feeds into the thought that 'most people like the playstyles it enables better than other options'.
 


Oofta

Legend
I also think 5e is a good game, but not the only good game. So what I personally do not like are the comparative claims that often get made that seek to elevate one game by disparaging others, often games that the people making the claims do not have much experience with. Basically claiming that D&D can basically do everything other games can do, that other games are just more focused and not meaningfully different, calling other games irrelevant or calling all fans of certain games elitist for liking the things they like.

So again, who is claiming that there are not other good games out there? I do think D&D is less focused on specific style and goal than some games and likely less than others (although my impression is that some like GURPS was more a toolkit than a game). Yes. Does it make other systems subjectively better or worse? No.

I played a supers game a few times long ago, and the core assumption was "golden age comics" genre. Killing someone, even accidentally was the worst thing ever, everyone had a secret identity, etc. Kind of fun, but very limited.

On the other hand, some people that have had the inclination and opportunity to play other games (I've rarely had the latter) tend to be quite derisive of other people's opinions. That it's impossible for someone who hasn't had experience with a dozen different games to even comprehend how other systems might work. That's B.S.

So how about we just accept other people's opinions as opinions? Acknowledge that D&D 5e is not some dumpster fir of bad design and lazy devs because if it were not a decent game we wouldn't se significant growth for nearly a decade? Oh, and stop making claims that people think D&D is superior to all other games?

As snarf puts it, D&D is the Cheesecake Factory of games. Some things are good, some things average, some subpar. All of it highly subjective.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
This kind of goes back to the question - what was D&D 5e's design goal? IMO, the simple answer is commercial success. Thus, pointing out it's actual commercial success is strong evidence that it met that design goal and thus it's also strong evidence that D&D 5e is well designed.

But again, to make that argument you're ignoring things other than its design, and its not clear that it was intrinsically even designed for commercial success that much better than other games. (This is ignoring whether such a design intention is something anyone should respect even among its players; its only benefit intrinsically is ease in finding players). That's what I mean about begging the question; it could well be a mediocre design even with that intent and still succeed at it because of the other advantages it has. It just can't be bad (and usually the only people who will outright claim that have a bone to pick with it rather than trying to assess it from any sort of neutral perspective).

There's always the lingering question whether the commercial success is because of the product or inspite of it. I think taking the position that commercial success is in spite of the product is often naive, but there are surely a few examples out there where that certainly seems to be the case so we cannot write it off entirely as a possibility.

I think its entirely possible for them to be inseparable; i.e. it wouldn't be as successful with a worse design, but another game of comparable design wouldn't be as successful, either. Accelleration can come from multiple sources, and none of them individually have to be the whole story.

To me that's where edition history comes in. Without impugning 4e (a game I liked), the history of 3.5 to 4e, coupled with the pathfinder fracture which resulted in the first non-D&D game growing so large (maybe ever, and definitely at least since the earliest days in the hobby), and then sudden change in direction toward user surveys/play testing and the resulting 5e which succeeded in bringing back many older D&D players along with so many new ones, that it has at this point grown bigger than I think anyone had imagined it could. And likely not just D&D but it's likely the rising sea of newer players in the rpg hobby ultimately lifts all ships so to speak.

The question there you have to answer is "Is design the primary cause here?" There are a lot of moving parts in that question that you can't ignore, at least if you're having an honest discussion.

I'm willing to go far as to say that 5e is more acceptable to its overall market than 4e because the latter was aimed at too narrow a part of the market, and is a better design in some ways than 3e (and those are ways that are likely to impact a lot of people, while the ways its worse will matter to less). But the former is not an assessment of quality as much as targeting (i.e. being intended for a different use than its predecessor, even if the designers of the former didn't realize that), and the latter has to be noted in the context of 3e being, in some important ways, a serious trainwreck, just one that took a while for many people to identify as such.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Language matters. Connotations of the words we use matter.

The implicit connotation in associating popularity with quality is the implication that games with less mainstream appeal are not as good. It does not help that when this is pushed back on some of the games I really enjoy often get called out as being irrelevant. It's not even like that pushback is coming from a place trying to tear down 5e. Only against using popularity as a measuring stick for quality.

Here's a fundamental issue with the flexibility thing: it implies that the play enabled by other games is a subset of the play enabled by the "flexible" games, as if they were just more specialized forms of the "flexible" games. Like my Dungeon World fun is somehow contained inside your 5e fun. This is just not fundamentally true, like at all.

Another piece of it is that it comes across as very cold to those of us who have struggled to get the sort of game experience we have been looking for out of the games that are being treated as "flexible" is that essentially it is our fault and we could get there if only we were better GMs. I have been told this explicitly on these forums several times. Either that or our core desires are just wrong and should not be catered to any any game. Also been told explicitly several times on these forums (even been called selfish for my desires). Basically it reads like I have never had trouble getting what I am looking for so you should never have trouble finding what you are looking for. Get good. GG.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, I'd tend to agree from the technical perspective. For me I'd also say the BMW is better designed than a Corolla from a technical perspective. I mean it goes faster, accelerates faster, handles better, has better amenities, better saftey features, etc.

So, not arguing with you, but using this to expand a bit...

BMW is notably less reliable than Toyota. When I search around, BMW's are particularly low in reliability - like 28th out of 32 car companies low - whereas Toyota is generally in the top 5, often listed second after Honda. Breaking more frequently is also a technical issue - just one that isn't listed as important here.

Oh, and as for safety - the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has eight Toyotas in their 2022 top safety picks - including two Corolla models. They have no BMWs in the list for 2022.

All evaluation of quality of design depends on what metrics you choose to indicate "good design". It also depends on being accurate in one's consideration of those metrics.

I'm fairly certain there's some law or engineering principle that excludes any mas market consumer product from being a technical masterpiece, and if there's not there should be.

Well, see above - what does "technical masterpiece" mean? Isn't designing a thing that you can't kill with a stick a technical achievement? Isn't having high gas mileage a technical achievement? These are qualities of the leaders in the mass market - Honda and Toyota.

We should beware of what we might call "sexy" technical excellence - speed, acceleration, and handling are all technical achievements, sure, but they have little to do with actual use off of a race track. Having the largest payload or towing capacity only matter if you actually move large loads frequently, and so on.

So, yes, it does depend on what you mean by quality. There is no such thing as general technical quality. There is only a long list of specific technical qualities we are interested in. And if we don't list what we are interested in before we decree what is "good design", the assertion is at best unsupported, and at worst it is misleading.
 

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