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

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Other RPG's, unless they also mimic D&D, will not have that immediate recognition. An RPG with no levels, for example, is less recognizable than one with levels. Something like Blades in the Dark's clock system will not be as immediately understandable as D&D, simply because so many D&Disms have proliferated beyond D&D itself, including so much of the unstated stuff.
Agreed. Every other RPG exists in the negative space that D&D leaves behind.
 

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Hussar

Legend
if it matters postively or negatively to the game's ability to satisfy and stimulate its players.
Just teasing this one out though.

Branding doesn't explain growth. There are tons of popular brands, but most don't "coast" on their brand. At least not for long. iPhones aren't popular solely because of name. While you can argue that there are better cell phones out there (for a given value of "better") the fact is that an Iphone is a pretty darn good phone. It does what most people want it to do.

D&D hasn't seen year on year record growth because of branding.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
Just teasing this one out though.

Branding doesn't explain growth. There are tons of popular brands, but most don't "coast" on their brand. At least not for long. iPhones aren't popular solely because of name. While you can argue that there are better cell phones out there (for a given value of "better") the fact is that an Iphone is a pretty darn good phone. It does what most people want it to do.

D&D hasn't seen year on year record growth because of branding.
Heh, you're a lot less cynical than me, I think that growth doesn't intrinsically equate to a superior product, we very much live in an era where products can leverage other strategies to push growth. I do think that Hasbro/WOTC has pursued active strategies, so coasting may not quite be the right word, but I don't think they're living and dying by the quality of the 5e system either.

One thing that helps them is that they're pursuing a blue ocean strategy where their player base are specifically new to the hobby, and the barrier to try competing products is actually much higher than it would be in other industries. It is much easier to try a Pepsi than it is to try out Pathfinder or whatever (to a degree, the Pathfinder sub has noticed massive influxes of newbies every time WOTC releases a 5e book or makes a One DND announcement.)

They're also setting up DND as a lifestyle brand with lots of different contact points someone can stay engaged with, so that you identify as a DND person even if your RPG group isn't much of a thing, in the same way most Marvel fans today probably don't read comic books-- and if your passion is channeled in other directions, maybe accepting the rules is just the cost of doing business with the other parts, we already get people reporting that they play dnd as the cost of getting an easy table. They're also setting the next edition of the game up as a walled garden-- if you buy into their proprietary virtual tabletop you own a lot of cool features for playing DND, but would have to leave that investment behind to try something else.

That's a lot of very proactive strategies that allow them to leverage the brand, but that aren't oriented toward the rules of the game.

Apple incidentally, does sell tech thats inferior for the price (they still perform adequately as modern computers, obviously), they depend heavily on the perception that their products are a prestige brand where owning one as a status symbol might be more important to you than the extra power, they also work to provide an interconnected infrastructure between their devices that's harder to use if you don't remain in their garden, and people who use apple devices daily have to relearn the basics of how to use other devices because of the differing GUI (though this has been changing since mobile interfaces have started picking up on their design, as opposed to ye olde traditional windows set up, starting with windows 8.)

Amusingly, Apple recently announced a new business strategy where they're trying to reduce their businesses dependence on selling phones.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
How I'm interpreting Snarf's post is that "D&D as a culture" is about us as a fanbase having a constant conversation with all the tropes and history that surround, and that the game itself is really only a part of the larger conversation.

If we lived in an alternate reality where 5e had failed, and Pathfinder had caught the energy from streaming instead and become the de facto most popular TTRPG, we might label that conversation as "Pathfinder" instead of D&D, but it would still be part of the same 50 year conversation of what D&D really means.
And my friends would include "What does World of Darkness really mean' and all of the other RPGs that we played. It's not liited to D&D. D&D is the first and biggest, but the conversation about RPGs isnt limited to it.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Heh, you're a lot less cynical than me, I think that growth doesn't intrinsically equate to a superior product, we very much live in an era where products can leverage other strategies to push growth. I do think that Hasbro/WOTC has pursued active strategies, so coasting may not quite be the right word, but I don't think they're living and dying by the quality of the 5e system either.

One thing that helps them is that they're pursuing a blue ocean strategy where their player base are specifically new to the hobby, and the barrier to try competing products is actually much higher than it would be in other industries. It is much easier to try a Pepsi than it is to try out Pathfinder or whatever (to a degree, the Pathfinder sub has noticed massive influxes of newbies every time WOTC releases a 5e book or makes a One DND announcement.)

They're also setting up DND as a lifestyle brand with lots of different contact points someone can stay engaged with, so that you identify as a DND person even if your RPG group isn't much of a thing, in the same way most Marvel fans today probably don't read comic books-- and if your passion is channeled in other directions, maybe accepting the rules is just the cost of doing business with the other parts, we already get people reporting that they play dnd as the cost of getting an easy table. They're also setting the next edition of the game up as a walled garden-- if you buy into their proprietary virtual tabletop you own a lot of cool features for playing DND, but would have to leave that investment behind to try something else.

That's a lot of very proactive strategies that allow them to leverage the brand, but that aren't oriented toward the rules of the game.

Apple incidentally, does sell tech thats inferior for the price (they still perform adequately as modern computers, obviously), they depend heavily on the perception that their products are a prestige brand where owning one as a status symbol might be more important to you than the extra power, they also work to provide an interconnected infrastructure between their devices that's harder to use if you don't remain in their garden, and people who use apple devices daily have to relearn the basics of how to use other devices because of the differing GUI (though this has been changing since mobile interfaces have started picking up on their design, as opposed to ye olde traditional windows set up, starting with windows 8.)

Amusingly, Apple recently announced a new business strategy where they're trying to reduce their businesses dependence on selling phones.
I would agree that branding does not imply a superior product but it does require a certain adequacy. It has to do what it says on the tin.
 


Oofta

Legend
That's essentially what I said upthread; branding won't pave over a really subpar product, but it can absolutely make a very middle-of-the-road (or even somewhat mediocre) one a resounding success.
A mediocre product may be successful but nearly a decade of double digit growth every year seems to indicate a little more than bare minimum competency. We've seen numbers that go beyond initial growth, 5E is a mature product by RPG standards and yet it continues to increase sales rapidly.

Lot of reasons for that of course, but the fact that no other RPG even comes close even now indicates it works for a lot of people.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Sure, popularity doesn't equal high quality. Fair enough. But, continued popularity does generally mean that it's getting the job done. Not that improvements can't be made. Heck, we've got a two year process that's just started that's likely going to make a number of changes to the system.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Fifth Edition is indeed uniquely popular for a variety of reasons. D&D has a compelling premise that feels natural to just about anyone who has played a video game like ever because its basic format matches the expectations of someone who has played Dragon Age or Mass Effect pretty much perfectly. The drop in format of Adventurer's League makes it extremely easy to try the game out and meet other people who play it. It's also the most accessible it's ever been and the design has been executed more soundly than most prior versions. Add on top the effect of streaming and Let's Play.

That does not mean it is necessarily of higher quality than other games with less mainstream appeal and/or commercial success like Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 4e, 2d20 games, Apocalypse World, Exalted, Tales of Xadia, et al. It also does not mean it is more meaningfully flexible and can provide the sort of play experience other games do.

I really do not get why people in this community feel the need to put up D&D as superior to other games, to place it on a unique pedestal. Basically there's this tendency to treat other games and people who do not exclusively play other games as Eddie(s). As not fundamentally just as worthy of inclusion in our greater community.

 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And my friends would include "What does World of Darkness really mean' and all of the other RPGs that we played. It's not liited to D&D. D&D is the first and biggest, but the conversation about RPGs isnt limited to it.

Of course conversations about RPGs aren't limited to D&D. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills?

Look at some of the threads- or just your own comments. To you, D&D is successful because it's a brand. Or (as you wrote before) because it's "fun." Cool! That is totally fine.

You want to have conversations about World of Darkness? Awesome! Have them! Or, for that matter, Torchbearer. Blades in the Dark. Fiasco. Neon City Overdrive. 2400. Twilight 2000. Heck, you could have conversations about any game you want to.

Here's the thing, though. If you try to have a conversation about why D&D (and 5e) "works" or "is successful" or even "why people like it," you get immediate pushback. For some reason, the idea that D&D is a designed system that embodies deliberate decisions is somehow considered ... uncouth? Not avant garde enough? To have a discussion about why a game might be appealing to lots of people is ... well, we can't talk about it, because it's just a "brand." And because we can't talk about it, we end up passing over in silence a great deal of what makes it interesting.

A long time ago, I had a good work-friend who had an old industrial '30s poster about some menial factory task that broke down a really simple job into 40 discrete steps (think sharpening a pencil). I always thought it was some kind of arch-ironic joke about the drudgery of modern life. Anyway, I asked him about it one day, and he told me that it wasn't. He was a UI guy, and he kept the poster to remind him that even the simplest thing, even the things that are most self-explanatory, have to be broken down into the component tasks if you want people to understand it. Sort of a version of your elderly relative asking you, "I don't see an escape key," and you have to say, "E-S-C." Or, if you're highfalutin', "S/Z" (you know, Snarf Zagyg).

All of which is to say that there is a lot of fascinating issues that go into the design of D&D- it has freedoms and constraints that other TTRPGs do not have. For that matter, other games have the (relative) luxury of being able to design in the "not D&D" space (as @TwoSix aptly stated).

Unfortunately, when a person tries to have this conversation, one of two things (or, often, both things) happen:

1. It's the brand! The conversation gets derailed by those who wish to only talk about what brands mean.
2. The other thing. I do not wish to summon it, but let's say people who wish to discuss other systems, and the matters of them.

Both of those conversations are fine things. But look at this thread- it's D&D specific, it's discussing heteroglossia within that context, and it's an attempt (whether good or bad) to analyze D&D on its own terms. And yet, it doesn't stay that way. Instead, it's replete with the same conversations that D&D is only successful because it's a brand- which completely short-circuits any attempts to understand why D&D employs its design, and what it means to have a "D&D system" as we do.
 

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