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

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Vantage point matters here (by like a country mile). It's fundamentally like being an American Football player and expecting to be able to play quarterback in a soccer game or being a so
ccor player and expecting to pass the ball forward with a kick in an American football game.

Sure, expecting to be able to engage in a game like Sorcerer in the same ways you can engage in a game like D&D is asking for an exercise in frustration. The same is also true - the various ways I can play/run Apocalypse World are simply unavailable to me in D&D. Trying to get the same sorts of play experiences is like trying to get blood from a stone.

As far as accommodating different sorts of players at the same table all I can say is that in my experience players bring their own focus and energy to any game, whatever the process of play. How that manifests will be different from game to game but I can say that on a basic playstyle level each of us in the Blades game @Manbearcat is running sure seem to be approaching the game in phenomenally different ways. They won't map to Robin Laws' player types because it is a different sort of game so of course the player topology will be different.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Vantage point matters here (by like a country mile). It's fundamentally like being an American Football player and expecting to be able to play quarterback in a soccer game or being a succor player and expecting to pass the ball forward with a kick in an American football game.

Sure, expecting to be able to engage in a game like Sorcerer in the same ways you can engage in a game like D&D is asking for an exercise in frustration. The same is also true - the various ways I can play/run Apocalypse World are simply unavailable to me in D&D. Trying to get the same sorts of play experiences is like trying to get blood from a stone.

To summarize.
  • Different games produce different ranges of playstyles.
  • Even if Game A produces a greater range of playstyles that doesn't mean there is necessarily any overlap with the range of playstyles that Game B produces. (there could be or could not be).
I've been focusing on the first. You on the 2nd. I agree with both. Do you?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
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.

Sure that stuff matters. But how much? And perhaps more specifically, how much compared to games that have a different structure?

To use your example, how different is firing a pistol versus a shotgun, and then how different is firing a pistol from water-skiing?

What I’d love to see are peoples’ actual examples of how they changed something about the way they play D&D and it had a dramatic impact on the way the game played, and why.

People assert this stuff all the time, but we don’t often get specific examples.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
What I’d love to see are peoples’ actual examples of how they changed something about the way they play D&D and it had a dramatic impact on the way the game played, and why.

People assert this stuff all the time, but we don’t often get specific examples.

And to what degree can you still do so and have most people agree it's D&D?

My longest period with a D&D version was in the OD&D days, and it wasn't exactly uncommon for people to do various hacks of OD&D (sometimes pretty severe ones) back then--but I'd be willing to bet some would be a bridge too far for most D&D players. Some had a distinct change in feeling to the game, but those tended to be the more severe ones (some of the spell point systems, for example, or things like the Armsmaster critical hit system).
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
And to what degree can you still do so and have most people agree it's D&D?

My longest period with a D&D version was in the OD&D days, and it wasn't exactly uncommon for people to do various hacks of OD&D (sometimes pretty severe ones) back then--but I'd be willing to bet some would be a bridge too far for most D&D players. Some had a distinct change in feeling to the game, but those tended to be the more severe ones (some of the spell point systems, for example, or things like the Armsmaster critical hit system).

So what did those things do? How does a spell point system change the game? Or a critical hit system?
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
So what did those things do? How does a spell point system change the game? Or a critical hit system?

The spell point system I'm thinking of seriously upped the flexibility of spellcasters, as their spell slots were only relevant for spells available; basically it made all spellcasters like latter-day sorcerers, but even more flexible, as you could spend all your points on lower or higher level spells as you wished. On the whole, it upped the power of spellcasters in a time when there was some serious issues with stalling around waiting for the right minute to use a spell, and/or only taking spells that had a very consistent use case. Basically, it tended to impact the way people played spellcasters and viewed them in a fairly serious way.

The Armsmaster system tended to strongly impact the way people interacted with the hit point system, because it made it less consistently relevant. You (or your opponents) could get taken out by a single hit even if there was a D8 damage and 50 hit points involved. There were also maiming and temporary disablement rules. All of those impacted how people approached dealing with combat an its aftermath seriously (in some ways more severely than it did in things like Runequest).

(Both of these arguably tilted the net benefit to spellcasters more than they already were, though it was complex with the crits, since it provided some capability for fighters to sudden-death opposition that previously only been available to mages at certain slices of advancement-to-opponents).
 

Hussar

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.

Yes but now you’re being a bit vague. Liking something does not make it good as in well made but good as in delicious.

That’s the core of the problem. You’re using good to mean “stuff I like” and someone else is using good to mean high quality. And then you’re complaining when they disagree with you.

Context is everything.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think the point of a lot of non-DnD games is that they are more focused and less about heteroglossia. That’s the strength they are relying on.

If you sit down to, say, Ironworn, you are going to get a fairly specific play experience. One would not expect high fantasy Harry Potter style stories. Nor would I expect 17th century Swashbuckling adventure.

The trade off in this design though is it is not as widely appealing.
 

Oofta

Legend
Yes but now you’re being a bit vague. Liking something does not make it good as in well made but good as in delicious.

That’s the core of the problem. You’re using good to mean “stuff I like” and someone else is using good to mean high quality. And then you’re complaining when they disagree with you.

Context is everything.

What is confusing about "in my opinion" and "I consider"? You may consider livers and onions a delicious meal, I'm not sure I could choke it down. That doesn't make your opinion incorrect, we just have different opinions.

So the "context" is that quality is largely in the eye of the beholder. In my eyes, 5E is a good game.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think the point of a lot of non-DnD games is that they are more focused and less about heteroglossia. That’s the strength they are relying on.

If you sit down to, say, Ironworn, you are going to get a fairly specific play experience. One would not expect high fantasy Harry Potter style stories. Nor would I expect 17th century Swashbuckling adventure.

The trade off in this design though is it is not as widely appealing.

There are plenty where that's not true, though. A lot of generic and semi-generic systems are built specifically to provide a variety of experiences as built, not only in genre, but in emphasis and style (and do the latter at least as well as any D&D version would). I've seen both BRP and Hero campaigns over the years with vastly varied emphasis. This doesn't mean the mechanics don't lean one way or another, but that's every bit as true of D&D.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
D&D is not general fantasy game. It is built towards what I personally consider a very particular type of fantasy action-adventure narrative built around GM funneled scenarios with a very detailed implied setting that defines how different sorts of creatures interact with each other. It's a pastiche, but a very particular one. It's just one largely shared by most fantasy video games, but not novels. Despite valiant efforts I have never played or seen anything that feels like the fantasy I grew up reading in a D&D game.

It's certainly not less specific than sorcerers who bind and bargain with demons with dark desires, supernatural teen romance, teenage superhero teams forging their identities, basically Hellboy, post-apocalyptic survival, criminals ascending the underworld in haunted cities, post cyberpunk focused on identity issues or any number of genre that are not dungeon fantasy.

Dungeon fantasy has much more mainstream appeal among gamers just like MCU movies have more mainstream appeal because more people value that specific experience. They know what they are getting. Just like a cop show. There's certainly a lot of diversity within that experience, just like there is for most games/genres.

At this point this feels like a point of faith, mostly based on some stuff some people said like damn near 15 years ago. Sure something like Dogs in the Vineyard or My Life With Master are pretty damn focused, but those aren't the games under discussion here. Most of the games under discussion are fairly new games explicitly built with a good deal of flex. They also contain very large sections about how to modify them to suit your group's preferences.

D&D says you can change anything and is considered flexible. Other games provide detailed instructions on the impact of various changes, sometimes even have complete books around customizing them yet are considered inflexible. It makes no sense to me personally.
 
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pemerton

Legend
D&D is not general fantasy game. It is built towards what I personally consider a very particular type of fantasy action-adventure narrative built around GM funneled scenarios with a very detailed implied setting that defines how different sorts of creatures interact with each other. It's a pastiche, but a very particular one. It's just one largely shared by most fantasy video games, but not novels. Despite valiant efforts I have never played or seen anything that feels like the fantasy I grew up reading in a D&D game.

<snip>

Dungeon fantasy
This is an interesting post.

I'm not especially well-read in fantasy. My touchstones are JRRT, REH's Conan, Conan comics from the 70s and 80s, and Earthsea. When it comes to film, my touchstones are Excalibur and 90s HK-style (Tai Chi Master, The Bride With White Hair, Green Snake and then more arty like Ashes of Time and Hero). Dr Strange and Claremont X-Men are also big influences for me.

I can't say I've ever had D&D experiences that resemble the books I've mentioned. My 4e D&D play was closer to the X-Men, I think, than to those books or films.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Party-play is one. The trajectory of level-gains is another. The sorts of conflicts and action that the resolution systems tend to foreground is a third.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I don't honestly think you're going to get too many fantasy games that actually resemble fantasy fiction that much; as Pemerton says above, fantasy fiction is not commonly that oriented around groups.

In fact that's a problem with most RPGs; to resemble a lot of fiction, you need to be running a bunch of, effectively, semi-independent games for different characters to get close to a lot of them (or to have a very small number of players in the 1-2 range). That can be done, especially with simple systems or those based around conflict resolution, but its not common and excludes certain other priorities (like detailed engagement) to do it.

(One of the advantages superhero games have (once you get around the question of how much you're willing to not deal with heavily narrative resolution or not depending) is group stories are very common there. There are few other branches of fiction that do that consistently (caper stories are usually group operations) but they're a relatively small part of the fictional palette.)
 

Now that I think of it, D&D can acutely do a wide verity of games.

Everyone make four level one commoners with 3d6 stats rolled in order! Let's see how many of them survive!

Ban all magic for that super gritty, low power feeling!

Want slice of life? Spend a session window shopping and talking with every merchant.

High level campaigns. Where a hundred dudes charging at you is considered a trivial encounter and you throw a dozen dinosaur riding liches at the party!

And last but not least, you can always do it the Matt Merce way!
 

Aldarc

Legend
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.
Agreed, but the same is true, in my own experience, when it comes to D&D. If I want something outside of the base classes, then I have to write up new classes or subclasses. If I want a different style of fantasy or magic, then I have to write up new rules for that. This was a big problem for me during the d20 System era because I often found myself fighting against D&D and the broader d20 System when it came to creating the sort of fantasy that I wanted. IMHO, the stress points are different between systems and games, though this requires some knowledge of what and where those pressure points are.

These personal experiences with hacking the game are what taught me that D&D does D&D-style fantasy well but not too much outside of that, unless I wanted to "write a new game." There is nothing with writing a new game, but sometimes it's easier if you find another game that is closer to your desired vision and direction for the game.

Even if I want to do fantasy adventure, which D&D 5e does well, that does not mean that D&D 5e is appropriate for all flavors of fantasy adventure. Sometimes it's better for me to go with games like ICRPG, WWN, Shadow of the Demon Lord, Tales of Xadia, Fantasy AGE, OSE / B/X, TOR 2e, etc. than with D&D 5e, depending on what sort of fantasy adventure game I want.

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.
Agreed, though even with the d20 engine, we can ask "which one?" While the d20 system is fairly close together, the feel of the 3e d20 engine is different than that of the 5e d20 engine or PF2's d20 engine due to things like "bounded accuracy."
 

Oofta

Legend
Now that I think of it, D&D can acutely do a wide verity of games.

Everyone make four level one commoners with 3d6 stats rolled in order! Let's see how many of them survive!

Ban all magic for that super gritty, low power feeling!

Want slice of life? Spend a session window shopping and talking with every merchant.

High level campaigns. Where a hundred dudes charging at you is considered a trivial encounter and you throw a dozen dinosaur riding liches at the party!

And last but not least, you can always do it the Matt Merce way!
Throw in arcane casters are bad like Dark Sun, Dragons everywhere Dragonlance, epic level NPCs are a dime a dozen Forgotten Realms. Magic-punk noir detective stories in Eberron or old school dungeon delving in Dungeon of the Mad Mage, space pirates with Spelljammer, space fantasy with Esper Genesis.

I've played games that were very restricted like golden age superheroes where killing someone (even accidentally) was the worst thing ever, everybody had a secret identity and secret and so on. It's on a scale, some games are more focused, some less.
 

Aldarc

Legend
D&D is not general fantasy game. It is built towards what I personally consider a very particular type of fantasy action-adventure narrative built around GM funneled scenarios with a very detailed implied setting that defines how different sorts of creatures interact with each other. It's a pastiche, but a very particular one. It's just one largely shared by most fantasy video games, but not novels. Despite valiant efforts I have never played or seen anything that feels like the fantasy I grew up reading in a D&D game.
I don't honestly think you're going to get too many fantasy games that actually resemble fantasy fiction that much; as Pemerton says above, fantasy fiction is not commonly that oriented around groups.

In fact that's a problem with most RPGs; to resemble a lot of fiction, you need to be running a bunch of, effectively, semi-independent games for different characters to get close to a lot of them (or to have a very small number of players in the 1-2 range). That can be done, especially with simple systems or those based around conflict resolution, but its not common and excludes certain other priorities (like detailed engagement) to do it.
Agreed. There is certainly a lot of fantasy adventure fiction that is closer to D&D style fiction, but these are ones unsurprisingly that come in the wake of tabletop and video games, sometimes by authors who used their tabletop game settings as the spring board for their fiction.

IMHO, there was a d20-based tabletop game co-authored by Jeremy Crawford that was closer to a lot of fantasy fiction that I recall reading: Blue Rose RPG. It was oriented towards more romantic fantasy and even had rules for relationship bonds. The magic was subtler and less of an "I win" button for exploration or combat encounters. But even this is but a small sliver of what fantasy fiction magic and there is a lot that D&D would be horrible for playing. (Yes, I am aware of the 5e D&D Blue Rose conversion, but I think that it does a massive disservice to Blue Rose for the sake of pursuing an easy 5e buck.)

I would not touch D&D with a 3 meter pole if I wanted something like magic in Earthsea. I would instead look to games like Fate or Cortex or even PbtA.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Here's a few general question:

Let's say I run a game of D&D where for 6 sessions in a row we are engaging in fancy parties, social encounters and interpersonal drama. That counts as D&D even though the rules might impact play once or twice a session (other than basic play loop stuff) ?

Let's say I run a game of Monsterhearts where the characters are doing Teen Wolf / Vampire Diaries action adventure stuff for a couple sessions where there's tons of exploring the environment, sneaking into enemy compounds and much violence. Basic moves only matter once or twice a session (although the basic play loop and principles are being observed). How is this still not Monsterhearts?

Why are the standards different for different games on this score?
Why are house rules in D&D treated differently than special permissions in Blades, custom moves in Apocalypse World, changing the game or other ways to customize games when games explicitly talk about these things and how to do them?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Here's a few general question:

Let's say I run a game of D&D where for 6 sessions in a row we are engaging in fancy parties, social encounters and interpersonal drama. That counts as D&D even though the rules might impact play once or twice a session (other than basic play loop stuff) ?
Good example. That's D&D.

Let's say I run a game of Monsterhearts where the characters are doing Teen Wolf / Vampire Diaries action adventure stuff for a couple sessions where there's tons of exploring the environment, sneaking into enemy compounds and much violence. Basic moves only matter once or twice a session (although the basic play loop and principles are being observed). How is this still not Monsterhearts?
Good example. I'll take your word about Monsterhearts here as I've not played it. But based on what you are saying is possible, that's Monsterhearts.

Who is saying the later isn't monsterhearts? I know I have specifically not talked about the monster heart examples because I've learned that these discussions go badly when I start taking posters word for how games function - no matter how seemingly contradictory their assessments can seem at times. I imagine others behave similarly.

Why are the standards different for different games on this score?
I don't know enough about monster hearts to say if there is any difference or not. I can try to suss it out by asking you questions about it, but that's not proven very beneficial in the past.

Why are house rules in D&D treated differently than special permissions in Blades, custom moves in Apocalypse World, changing the game or other ways to customize games when games explicitly talk about these things and how to do them?
This I can answer better. D&D encourages all manner and variety of house rules. No part of D&D is listed as off limits to houserules in that explicit encouragement. Feel free to correct me, but I'm playing Blades now and I've yet to see much in text permission to change DM or player principals, to change harm/stress/resistance/heat rules, to change the setting, etc. D&D encourages changing anything. "Don't let the rules get in the way".

I often get told how other games explicit principles make them different than those without those explicit principles. Why isn't an explicit principle to houserule everything you want not making D&D 5e different than games without that principle?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@FrogReaver

There's a Changing the game section in Blades from p. 229-235 that discusses expanding the scope of the game, tweaking how stuff works and mechanics for special narrative situations. Some of the changes include changing how Tier works, changing how Resistance works, playing vigilantes rather than criminals, rules for journeys and stuff like joining a cult or becoming bound to a demon.

Things like rituals, inventions, et al are entirely negotiated and designed by the play group as a matter of general play. Like there's one example ritual.

There are also all sort of expansions available to play that change the scope of the game including playing cops, vigilantes, secret police, etc that fundamentally change how stuff like heat works.

Generally this is encouraged to by an exercise the whole group is involved in and treated as an act of game design, but that's also how I treat house rules in D&D.

Here's the opening text to Changing the Game:
After you play Blades for a good while (or maybe even right away if you’re one of those types), you’ll start to think about how you might add stuff to the game, or how elements of the game might be different, or how you might play a different sort of game using the Blades system as the foundation for something new. These impulses are called “game design” and you’re off onto a very rocky and rewarding road. This chapter is a crash course in some design concepts that might help get you started.

The first bit of advice I can give you is: play and iterate. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting at your computer, typing away, thinking up all kinds of game stuff, then despairing and tearing it all apart, or starting over, or throwing it away. Fight that tendency by focusing your design process on playing the game, then iterating a few things, then playing again, then iterating, and so on. Elements that seemed simple at the keyboard will reveal themselves as too complicated at the table, and vice versa. A small detail that you didn’t think important will be seized on by the players and expand into something amazing. A roleplaying game is dead on the page—you have to get it into play to really see what it’s like. Keep your design efforts focused on play, not a lonely writing exercise.

Also, you don’t have to do it alone. There’s your game group, of course—they’ll help you a lot. But there’s also a huge, vibrant community of tabletop gamers online that love to try new things, give feedback, and support design efforts—from minor hacks to full blown new creations.

Go to bladesinthedark.com to find a bunch of game-hacks that other people have already done (maybe they’ll inspire you!) and links that will take you to various community hubs online so you can talk to other gamers and designers.
 

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