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


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Voadam

Legend
So, who wants to talk about heteroglossia?
Sure.

I think the heteroglossia you talk about in the OP as in people playing the same game differently happens in other RPGs as well.

Thinking about Vampire the Masquerade as a big popular game with a large player base I think plenty of people were playing it differently.

Vampire supers.

Personal horror.

Politics.

Cross-over urban fantasy.

Those who are excited about metaplot and or lore.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Sure.

I think the heteroglossia you talk about in the OP as in people playing the same game differently happens in other RPGs as well.

I agree- there is nothing that is necessarily exclusive in the concept to D&D. I think that the concept is useful in that it helps to distinguish a salient different between certain games that are effective because they have a more unified concept (or conceit) as opposed to games that are effective because they allow multiple styles simultaneously.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Sure.

I think the heteroglossia you talk about in the OP as in people playing the same game differently happens in other RPGs as well.

Thinking about Vampire the Masquerade as a big popular game with a large player base I think plenty of people were playing it differently.

Vampire supers.

Personal horror.

Politics.

Cross-over urban fantasy.

Those who are excited about metaplot and or lore.
Taking 5e out of the mix for a moment.

Do you really believe that all rpgs contain equal levels of heteroglossia? I think we all agree that all rpgs can be played somewhat differently. But are some games potentially better at that than others? Are games that have a more unified concept or more narrow scope or more intertwined mechanics worse at allowing different play styles than games which have a less unified concept, a more broad scope and less intertwined mechanics? What about games that actively encourage high levels of heteroglossia in their very rules text. Does that potentially increase heteroglossia?
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Taking 5e out of the mix for a moment.

Do you really believe that all rpgs contain equal levels of heteroglossia? I think we all agree that all rpgs can be played somewhat differently. But are some games potentially better at that than others? Are games that have a more unified concept or more narrow scope or more intertwined mechanics worse at allowing different play styles than games which have a less unified concept, a more broad scope and less intertwined mechanics? What about games that actively encourage high levels of heteroglossia in their very rules text. Does that potentially increase heteroglossia?

I don't know that I'd say all of them do. But I think I'd claim most (depending on what "most" means--there are an enormous number of virtually unknown boutique games that if you start counting literally all of them the argument would look funny) are, and virtually all trad games are.

In fact I'd claim that a large number contain more (there are a fair number of things baked into D&D's structure that make it actively fight against some styles--for the most blatant example, consider that even as RPGs go, D&D has an enormous amount of its structure wrapped up in combat: even non-martial classes are full of class features and related things that are, in the end, about fighting support. This doesn't mean other games don't lean into that fairly commonly too, but I can think of several general purpose games where its entirely possible to generate a character who is absolutely not about combat in any meaningful way. I'm not saying this is a super-common desire in a hobby that's all about adventure fiction, but its a telling example that D&D has made decisions virtually from day one that narrow its scope intrinsically. And I'm not just talking about the genre things here. I know there's a lot of "but we don't want icky mechanics in our social interactions" in the trad hobby, and particularly in big parts of D&D fandom, but if you're going to run a game that's very heavily based around social manuevering, just what does D&D actually do for you?)

That's the thing about claims that D&D is especially well suited to a variety of styles: compared to what? At the very least it always seems like people really cherry-pick the counter-examples to claim it at best, and at worst want to make claims about the narrowness of a number of other games that is not clear to be true.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Taking 5e out of the mix for a moment.

Do you really believe that all rpgs contain equal levels of heteroglossia? I think we all agree that all rpgs can be played somewhat differently. But are some games potentially better at that than others? Are games that have a more unified concept or more narrow scope or more intertwined mechanics worse at allowing different play styles than games which have a less unified concept, a more broad scope and less intertwined mechanics? What about games that actively encourage high levels of heteroglossia in their very rules text. Does that potentially increase heteroglossia?

I think it makes more sense to talk about these things in more nuanced ways.

What's the overall scope of the fiction?
Who determines the scope of play?
How socially free are players to set the agenda for their characters?
Is the game built around the group concept or individual characters who sometimes work together, sometimes work independently and may even work at cross purposes?
Are characters integrated into the setting or wanderers? There are different sorts of freedom and restrictions inherent in each.
How much of the setting is embedded into the rules? Does the game embed stuff like how much magic works and the like?

So one thing I think is true is that the overall flexibility of a game with conflict resolution mechanics is about the same in terms of overall flexibility as one where the GM decides what happens. It allows the GM less flexibility to direct play but offers players much more flexible to direct play. That's only a single dimension of play though.
 
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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Thomas Shey

I would clarify that our hobby is only mostly concerned with adventure fiction. There is at least a significant minority of us that care as much about dramatic fiction (focused on interpersonal relationships) or at the very least games integrate a strong focus on dramatic fiction and slice of life elements.
 

Voadam

Legend
Taking 5e out of the mix for a moment.

Do you really believe that all rpgs contain equal levels of heteroglossia?
I am not sure why you seem to think I said equal levels.
I think we all agree that all rpgs can be played somewhat differently. But are some games potentially better at that than others? Are games that have a more unified concept or more narrow scope or more intertwined mechanics worse at allowing different play styles than games which have a less unified concept, a more broad scope and less intertwined mechanics?
Is Vampire where you play a political urban fantasy gothic-punk vampire an example of a more narrow scope game with more intertwined mechanics here?
What about games that actively encourage high levels of heteroglossia in their very rules text. Does that potentially increase heteroglossia?
I am just taking what Snarf said about heteroglossia and applying it to the non-D&D game I have probably played the most that is super popular and seeing that a lot of the heteroglossia still applies.

Pretty much every aspect seems similar with heteroglossia except for the grid combat.

Can you provide an example of a popular or well-known RPG that is narrowly tailored and not heteroglossic so that the differences can be highlighted?

I've played a bit of GURPS and my experience is that while it is a universal system the mechanics are designed for gritty level, highly defined characters, (sort of a low level D&D with really detailed granular skills) but I also have sourcebooks for GURPS Supers and GURPS Mage the Ascension and such which seems to me like they are play style concept games that go counter to the mechanics. Despite view that this is a clash I've also heard of people having rolicking fun in high powered GURPS supers games.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
@Thomas Shey

I would clarify that our hobby is only mostly concerned with adventure fiction. There is at least a significant minority of us that care as much about dramatic fiction (focused on interpersonal relationships) or at the very least games integrate a strong focus on dramatic fiction and slice of life elements.

"All about" was mostly hyperbole. Mostly.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I've played a bit of GURPS and my experience is that while it is a universal system the mechanics are designed for gritty level, highly defined characters, (sort of a low level D&D with really detailed granular skills) but I also have sourcebooks for GURPS Supers and GURPS Mage the Ascension and such which seems to me like they are play style concept games that go counter to the mechanics. Despite view that this is a clash I've also heard of people having rolicking fun in high powered GURPS supers games.

Its absolutely true that GURPS handling of high-power games could be better (and particularly supers). That said, when you look at the range of potential campaigns it does handle it'd still be hard to call as failing the test of a wide variety of style preferences.
 

The thematic focus of a lot of indie games are exactly their strength. In a 5e game, you might have players throwing together character options from core, Theros, Strixhaven, Tasha's etc etc in order to play Curse of Strahd and expect the DM to make it work. And mechanically it does. But that's more diffuse thematically from just picking up Urban Shadows or Silent Legions and going along with the theme.

Notably, a lot of newer OSR games ("nsr") actually broaden the scope of dnd rather than constrain it. They think through some of the thematic assumptions of dnd play without tying it so closely to medieval fantasy pastiche. The stripped down rules of Into the Odd, for example, allow them to be easily adapted to a variety of thematic contexts. You can even play as a little mouse! (Seriously Mausritter might be the platonic ideal of dnd-style play I'm not joking)
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Malmuria

The essential feature of games like Sorcerer, Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Cortex Heroic and Masks is that theme is something we discover and define through setup and active play. The diversity of play I have seen in Monsterhearts alone is staggering. All of these game lack a default setting or even much of an implied one. Much of how things work in the game's setting is defined by players and the GM. Far more than in D&D. Certainly far more than something like Vampire or Exalted.

Sure My Life With Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, Lady Blackbird and Urban Shadows are more thematically constrained.

So (in my sincere opinion) a lot of people's impressions of how this stuff fundamentally works is based on the novelty of using games for a very short amount of time and maybe only ever playing them once, usually at a convention. Such play experiences do not do a good job of highlighting the diversity of play. The novelty of it tends to shine through. Many people end up comparing more than a decade of diverse play to a 4 hour convention game or a 3 session short run game.

I do agree that many OSR games do a much better job of being general fantasy games.
 

So a lot of people's impressions of how this stuff fundamentally works is based on the novelty of using games for a very short amount of time and maybe only ever playing them once, usually at a convention. Such play experiences do not do a good job of highlighting the diversity of play. The novelty of it tends to shine through. Many people end up comparing more than a decade of diverse play to a 4 hour convention game or a 3 session short run game.

That's true, at least in my experience. The reality of my life is that I don't have that much time to game, and at my table I'm the person introducing non-5e games usually, or I get to play one shots of various systems at a game store. But, especially as a GM, that's also why I lean into the thematic focus of a specific game. For example, over the summer I ran 4 sessions or so of Brindlewood Bay for two different groups. It's very easy to tell your players, look this game is like murder she wrote + golden girls and is supposed to be cozy but also a little lovecraftian, go!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I am just taking what Snarf said about heteroglossia and applying it to the non-D&D game I have probably played the most that is super popular and seeing that a lot of the heteroglossia still applies.

It's almost like I was writing about how games (like D&D) that need to appeal to a broad and popular audience must speak to multiple audiences and different types of players. ;)

In other words - you got it.

This isn't the same as having a single thematic voice (D&D is good at D&D, and not, for example, collaborative explorative science fiction like TNG Star Trek). Instead, it's about why different types of players can co-exist and play D&D.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Do you really believe that all rpgs contain equal levels of heteroglossia?

So, the problem is that we don't have a measure of heteroglossia - largely because genre, theme, and style are things we don't have measures for.

So, using the Vampire example, one person can say that it does a bunch of stuff, including politics and cross-over urban fantasy.

But I'm here thinking that there's darned little daylight to be found between politics and cross-over urban fantasy - the crossover stuff is usually centered on the politics between the groups! What there is in crossover stuff that isn't politics is Supers or Romance. Supers is another duplication, and Romance doesn't have much direct support in WoD game rules.

The end result is that two reasonable people can look at a game, and disagree on the level of heteroglossia supported by it.

@Malmuria

The essential feature of games like Sorcerer, Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Cortex Heroic and Masks is that theme is something we discover and define through setup and active play.

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.

Now, I can agree that the themes and style of the engine are more open. The PbtA engine, the Cortex Prime engine, and so on, aren't nearly as constrained as any particular implementation of that engine. But then we shouldn't be comparing PbtA to D&D - we should be comparing PbtA to the d20 engine.

But even then, there are some constraints. For example, PbtA does not, as an engine, support tactical wargame style play well, no matter the playbooks.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I am not sure why you seem to think I said equal levels.
For me it was these things:
  • The focus on establishing that other games are heteroglossiac
  • The lack of mention of any appreciable differences in how heteroglossiac games could be
In retrospect that doesn't necessarily show you believe there are no differences. So I should have asked first. Apologies there.

Though I will say, that different games can support varying levels of playstyles is an important concept in this discussion and partly my post was intended as a jumping off point in that direction.

Is Vampire where you play a political urban fantasy gothic-punk vampire an example of a more narrow scope game with more intertwined mechanics here?
No idea. I know very little about Vampire.

I am just taking what Snarf said about heteroglossia and applying it to the non-D&D game I have probably played the most that is super popular and seeing that a lot of the heteroglossia still applies.
I agree. I think it probably applies to RPG's as a whole. Even more narrowly scoped ones. Which is why I bring up magnitude of heteroglossia to really differentiate.

Pretty much every aspect seems similar with heteroglossia except for the grid combat.

Can you provide an example of a popular or well-known RPG that is narrowly tailored and not heteroglossic so that the differences can be highlighted?
I could not. As I said above, I believe all support some heteroglossia. I could provide a game that would be less heteroglossiac than another. Take Lancer vs Stars without Number. Both games I've played. I would rate Lancer as having less heteroglossia than Stars without Number.

I've played a bit of GURPS and my experience is that while it is a universal system the mechanics are designed for gritty level, highly defined characters, (sort of a low level D&D with really detailed granular skills) but I also have sourcebooks for GURPS Supers and GURPS Mage the Ascension and such which seems to me like they are play style concept games that go counter to the mechanics. Despite view that this is a clash I've also heard of people having rolicking fun in high powered GURPS supers games.
Gurps might make a good example of a game supporting high heteroglossia, though since it's support comes essentially building on the base via additional printed rulesets, it might reveal more about how we are defining things than anything more important.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
So, the problem is that we don't have a measure of heteroglossia - largely because genre, theme, and style are things we don't have measures for.
That seems like a critique that could be laid against most anything. We rarely have an agreed upon measure for anything.

What that means is that the nature of the conversation on this point will be more subjective - which is fine. What it doesn't mean is that we can't discuss it.

So, using the Vampire example, one person can say that it does a bunch of stuff, including politics and cross-over urban fantasy.

But I'm here thinking that there's darned little daylight to be found between politics and cross-over urban fantasy - the crossover stuff is usually centered on the politics between the groups! What there is in crossover stuff that isn't politics is Supers or Romance. Supers is another duplication, and Romance doesn't have much direct support in WoD game rules.

The end result is that two reasonable people can look at a game, and disagree on the level of heteroglossia supported by it.
Reasonable people can look at a game and disagree about almost anything about it.

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.


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.

Now, I can agree that the themes and style of the engine are more open. The PbtA engine, the Cortex Prime engine, and so on, aren't nearly as constrained as any particular implementation of that engine. But then we shouldn't be comparing PbtA to D&D - we should be comparing PbtA to the d20 engine.

But even then, there are some constraints. For example, PbtA does not, as an engine, support tactical wargame style play well, no matter the playbooks.
No disagreement here.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
That's the thing about claims that D&D is especially well suited to a variety of styles: compared to what? At the very least it always seems like people really cherry-pick the counter-examples to claim it at best, and at worst want to make claims about the narrowness of a number of other games that is not clear to be true.

I think it’s also a question of what is considered “styles”. Like D&D can come in a variety of flavors… you could be treasure hunters braving ancient ruins, or occultists dealing with gothic horrors, or freed slaves fighting against a dying world ruled by sorcerer tyrants… all of that can be D&D. But those are more a matter of theme and tone than of play style. The games will certainly feel different in sone ways, and may even have alternate mechanics to help give the vibe desired… but at the end of the day they mostly play the same, don’t they?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I think it’s also a question of what is considered “styles”. Like D&D can come in a variety of flavors… you could be treasure hunters braving ancient ruins, or occultists dealing with gothic horrors, or freed slaves fighting against a dying world ruled by sorcerer tyrants… all of that can be D&D. But those are more a matter of theme and tone than of play style. The games will certainly feel different in sone ways, and may even have alternate mechanics to help give the vibe desired… but at the end of the day they mostly play the same, don’t they?
IMO. Being able to fiddle with dials and craft rulings to fit and set differing dc's based on 'theme' definitely feel like they produce a change in playstyle to me.

I think playstyle is more than just process, it's also the specifics within that process.

Shooting a shotgun feels different than shooting a pistol than shooting a high powered rifle even though the basic process is aim and pull the trigger.
 

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