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D&D General "Hot" take: Aesthetically-pleasing rules are highly overvalued

I think there are two broad approaches that go beyond the limits of "classic" D&D - and both are canvassed in the posts above.

One is a player-side "move" or ability that obliges the GM to establish and share some fiction within parameters that are useful or meaningful for the player given the player's goals for his/her PC. Apocalypse World (eg Read a Charged Situation) and Dungeon World (Discern Realities, Spout Lore) provide canonical examples of this.

These moves don't ignore fictional positioning - both the context which enables their use, and the way the GM establishes responses, have to respect fictional positioning. But if the player makes the check then these moves have the effect of giving the players access, here and now, to highly salient and useful fiction that will enable him/her to drive things forward (via the play of his/her PC).

Having recently re-read some old CoC scenarios (looking for a good murder mystery to run for a kid's birthday party), I'm struck by how weak they are in this respect. All the information is presented with its meaningfulness being GM-sided, and then there are various clumsy devices hinted at to help secure salience to the players - eg the NPC draws the PCs attentions to it or the even worse hopefully the PCs will notice this! It's GM-driven all the way through.

The other approach is the one adopted in @AbdulAlhazred's 4e spin-off HML. It's also prominent in Burning Wheel, and Cortex+ Heroic: a successful check enables the player to directly establish some element of the shared fiction.

Again, this doesn't circumvent fictional positioning. It builds on it.
Yeah, CoC is a funny story. So, WAY back in the day I was always smitten with the genre, and immediately picked up the game when it came out. For any who haven't played it, rules/play concept wise it is not super different from any other RPG of the time, the rules just describe concrete attributes of the character strength, etc. and skills they have, and you wander around making checks whenever the GM says you need to resolve some action. State of the Art ca. 1978 RPG design.

So we had fun with it, clunky as it is, and then now and then dusted it off when we wanted a shorter campaign (PCs don't tend to survive long) and it tickled our fancy. Then there was a pretty long hiatus. I found myself playing RPGs with a few close friends in the late 00s and we dusted off CoC and came up with a sort of clever idea for a mini-campaign where we would each run part of it (the PCs being reincarnations of themselves in different eras). It was just unplayable. In the intervening 15 years or so, we just moved on. The system was SO CLUNKY and got so much in the way we finally just ditched it entirely and went back to using PACE, which we'd used in a previous mini-campaign I'd run before that (PACE is a diceless system where all the participants exchange tokens to 'buy' narrative control).

I will always have a soft spot for CoC, but it is a great illustration of a game which did not age well. The idea of using the core 'engine' of RQ was one of those decisions that was perfectly in sync with the game design trends of the early 80s, but it just doesn't work. Not without more help. The addition of SAN and tweaking of the way POW works HELPED some. The way the core rules become this deadly meat-grinder when you remove things like armor and add in guns, that works. The rest? As you say, the PCs have to stumble through each adventure hoping they make the right check at the right time, and only GM force keeps the story "on the rails", and each story is VERY MUCH a railroad!

If I were NOW to design a game in that genre, I would design it such that NARRATIVELY the outcome was essentially a foregone conclusion, with maybe the alternatives being "die with your boots on", "become totally corrupted, THEN die", and "just go mad, after leaving a puzzling typed manuscript for your heirs to puzzle over." The story would then simply be coloring in the details and basking in the oeuvre of it. You could have choices of which monstrosity devours you, and how and when, etc. Clues and such wouldn't really be an issue. Deciding which ones to follow up on, and exactly how, would be within the PCs wheelhouse, but their real choices might revolve more around things like "do I let the policeman bite it, or do I cast myself to my fate now and go out with a bit of nobility?" (all the while knowing that the poor slob is still probably going mad even if I saved his butt).

Well, that and you have to really avoid all the icky racist nastiness. I must say I admire the way Charles Stross has handled it in his books. They are a good model.
 

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And yet that is something that happens extensively in GDS-speak 'simulationist' games! I understand what you mean, but it is so ironic that the VERY PEOPLE who would say that bothers them think that 'class is a real thing' in classic D&D and PCs go wandering around the world calling themselves 'rangers' and 'clerics'! Nothing could be more reified than that (and they also usually insist that 'hit points are meat', another example of reification of the game rules WRT the fictional milieu).

I'll tell you the truth; I've never seen much sign heavy simulationists are very fond of D&D derivatives, at least in part because the various narrative conceits and mechanical abstractions in the game are a bridge too far. There used to be a heavy dose of gamist/simulationist hybrids in D&D at one time, but its not a coincidence that modern incarnations of D&D and its offshoots like PF have largely abandoned simulationist concerns.
 

I'll tell you the truth; I've never seen much sign heavy simulationists are very fond of D&D derivatives, at least in part because the various narrative conceits and mechanical abstractions in the game are a bridge too far. There used to be a heavy dose of gamist/simulationist hybrids in D&D at one time, but its not a coincidence that modern incarnations of D&D and its offshoots like PF have largely abandoned simulationist concerns.
Well... D&D REALLY wasn't ever much of a 'simulationist' game in GDS terms. Actually there are VERY few such games, and none of them are very mainstream. Aftermath (and its various cousins) springs to mind as one of the few which has attained some level of popularity (albeit it is still a pretty obscure game these days). Truthfully, you have to back BEFORE D&D to find the true RPG simulations, which were forms of Kriegsspiel. These were of course true wargames, who's explicit purpose was utmost realism (at least in certain dimensions). I'm not sure about the 'Braunsteins' that Dave Arneson was engaged with, they sound like they were more recreational, but I'm not sure.

HOWEVER, a lot of players, particularly older ones, do have a somewhat 'realism oriented' bent. This seems to take the form, often, of an extreme aversion to any game mechanics which don't map very closely onto elements of the game world's fiction. This is where the whole weirdness of reifying things like Class come in. The general concern is similar to what has been put forward in this thread, that any game process which is detached in any way from the fiction breaks immersion.

Maybe what we should be talking about then is 'immersionism', but I have never seen a theoretical elaboration on that dimension of RPG play, nor any developed terminology to describe it.
 

glass

(he, him)
In 1978, race was separated from class officially and allowed demihumans to be classes other than fighters.
Technically, race was officially separate from class right from the start, but since they all had to be fighters (except elves who all had to be a weird precurser to Fighter/M-U multiclass) right from the start. However, demihumans could be classes other than Fighters (and M-Us in the case of elves) from Supplement 1: Greyhawk in 1975. [/nitpick]

_
glass.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Technically, race was officially separate from class right from the start, but since they all had to be fighters (except elves who all had to be a weird precurser to Fighter/M-U multiclass) right from the start. However, demihumans could be classes other than Fighters (and M-Us in the case of elves) from Supplement 1: Greyhawk in 1975. [/nitpick]

_
glass.
Hence "officially", the odd corner-case of elves being able to switch notwithstanding. 1e was the first run for dwarven thieves or mulitclasses.
 

Hence "officially", the odd corner-case of elves being able to switch notwithstanding. 1e was the first run for dwarven thieves or mulitclasses.
Well... there were NPC dwarf clerics before 1e (which of course people played) and of course other races (elves and halflings) weren't as restricted as dwarves, or were at least more flexible in what they had. I think the problem with OD&D, specifically, and talking about 'officially' is that OD&D was more of a set of tools and ideas than it was a complete game (the combat system barely existed, though Greyhawk provided one that most people standardized on). Truthfully, it would be more correct to look at Holmes Basic, which was more of really a set of rules. My copy is long disintegrated, but I think Red Box pretty much follows it closely, so I would agree that in THAT game, playing a 'dwarf cleric' or something like that just wasn't really a thing.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that 1e is basically a codification of what EGG was running at the time, so he clearly considered race and class to be independent variables which could take on, potentially, any combination. Some of which he forbade or restricted, and to which he added MCing (basically a rationalization of the rules for elves in OD&D).
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And yet that is something that happens extensively in GDS-speak 'simulationist' games! I understand what you mean, but it is so ironic that the VERY PEOPLE who would say that bothers them think that 'class is a real thing' in classic D&D and PCs go wandering around the world calling themselves 'rangers' and 'clerics'! Nothing could be more reified than that (and they also usually insist that 'hit points are meat', another example of reification of the game rules WRT the fictional milieu).
I've no idea what 'reified' means.

That said, I can easily see people in the game-world more or less self-identifying as clerics (by whatever local term), mages, warriors (by any of a bunch of different terms that all boil down to 'warrior'), etc., much like people in the real world self-identify to their profession e.g. "I'm Jim; I'm a butcher" or "I'm Miranda; I'm a real estate agent" or - and much closer to the mark - "I'm Bill; I'm a priest".
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm not sure about the 'Braunsteins' that Dave Arneson was engaged with, they sound like they were more recreational, but I'm not sure.
Having played it with its creator as GM, my take on Braunstein is that it's perhaps more akin to a costume-less LARP than anything else.

There's very little setting description: there's a town, a university, and one or two other places, all in an area likely to be overrun by invading forces before long; and the players take (or are given) specific roles e.g. town mayor, university student, travelling bookseller, etc. to play within that setting. If memory serves, each player then gets a short handout regarding their 'character' and its relationship with some others, along with some in-game goals, after which the players are turned loose to give their characters whatever personality they like and then try in-character to achieve their goals via interaction with other characters.

Each location in the game is assigned a different space within the play area. When I played it we were in a condo: the area near the sofa represented the town, a space by the kitchen door was the university, and so on; such that if (for example) someone went in-game from the university to the town it would be obvious to anyone paying attention that they had done so because the player had just walked from the kitchen door to the sofa (and this is where it verges a bit into LARP territory).
HOWEVER, a lot of players, particularly older ones, do have a somewhat 'realism oriented' bent. This seems to take the form, often, of an extreme aversion to any game mechanics which don't map very closely onto elements of the game world's fiction. This is where the whole weirdness of reifying things like Class come in. The general concern is similar to what has been put forward in this thread, that any game process which is detached in any way from the fiction breaks immersion.
Yeah, I'm sort of in this camp. In an ideal game the players would have thier characters just do what they do and the mechanics would self-run in the background...kind of like a completely open-ended MMORPG that could adapt in real time to players doing/trying unexpected or unforeseen things.
Maybe what we should be talking about then is 'immersionism', but I have never seen a theoretical elaboration on that dimension of RPG play, nor any developed terminology to describe it.
Interesting point.

Your homework for today, then, is to write that theoretical elaboration. :) (j/k)
 

I've no idea what 'reified' means.
It just means to "take something abstract and treat it as a concrete thing", or (I'm assuming this was what the guy who used it first here meant) to take some abstract game concept like 'class' or 'level' and treat it as if it was a real part of the game world. So if you play as if every 'character' in the world ACTUALLY PICKS (consciously or not) a CLASS and IS that class and is literally the same, in some sense, as all other characters of that class, that would be 'reifying class'.
That said, I can easily see people in the game-world more or less self-identifying as clerics (by whatever local term), mages, warriors (by any of a bunch of different terms that all boil down to 'warrior'), etc., much like people in the real world self-identify to their profession e.g. "I'm Jim; I'm a butcher" or "I'm Miranda; I'm a real estate agent" or - and much closer to the mark - "I'm Bill; I'm a priest".
Right, and I don't disagree with that. I mean it makes sense that an NPC who is, mechanically, a 'priest of Zamorra' is ACTUALLY called in-game "Priest of Zamorra" and considers himself as such. Now, suppose you have 2 characters who are pretty functionally equivalent in a 5e game (this is so in our current game). Mine is technically a Battlemaster Fighter, and the other one is technically an Arcane Trickster. They both wear light armor, and my character's 'urchin' background grants proficiencies with thieves tools, etc. My character is high DEX and INT, and uses two weapons in combat, and does a lot of scouting, lock picking (he's quite good at it) etc. While there are some mechanical differences, it would be quite legitimate to lump the two of them together as being "the same sort of thing" within the game world. Call that 'thief', 'adventurous rogue', whatever you want. I would look askance at some ruling which handled them differently on the basis of their CLASS, because it just doesn't mean anything. It isn't MANIFEST in any important way within the game world, and I would call doing so 'reifying class'.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It just means to "take something abstract and treat it as a concrete thing", or (I'm assuming this was what the guy who used it first here meant) to take some abstract game concept like 'class' or 'level' and treat it as if it was a real part of the game world. So if you play as if every 'character' in the world ACTUALLY PICKS (consciously or not) a CLASS and IS that class and is literally the same, in some sense, as all other characters of that class, that would be 'reifying class'.
Gotcha - thanks!
Right, and I don't disagree with that. I mean it makes sense that an NPC who is, mechanically, a 'priest of Zamorra' is ACTUALLY called in-game "Priest of Zamorra" and considers himself as such. Now, suppose you have 2 characters who are pretty functionally equivalent in a 5e game (this is so in our current game). Mine is technically a Battlemaster Fighter, and the other one is technically an Arcane Trickster. They both wear light armor, and my character's 'urchin' background grants proficiencies with thieves tools, etc. My character is high DEX and INT, and uses two weapons in combat, and does a lot of scouting, lock picking (he's quite good at it) etc. While there are some mechanical differences, it would be quite legitimate to lump the two of them together as being "the same sort of thing" within the game world. Call that 'thief', 'adventurous rogue', whatever you want. I would look askance at some ruling which handled them differently on the basis of their CLASS, because it just doesn't mean anything. It isn't MANIFEST in any important way within the game world, and I would call doing so 'reifying class'.
Which raises a rather obvious question: if the two classes are that similar why haven't they been combined into one?

I see your point, though, in a system like 3e-4e-5e where there's a huge number of classes, builds, and combinations - identity by class gets pretty blurred. I look at it from a more old-school perspective, where there were relatively few classes and each of them often had quite strong and obvious in-fiction markers. There, even if people didn't self-identify as a class, external identifiers would (most of the time) peg them as being what they were.
 

Gotcha - thanks!

Which raises a rather obvious question: if the two classes are that similar why haven't they been combined into one?

I see your point, though, in a system like 3e-4e-5e where there's a huge number of classes, builds, and combinations - identity by class gets pretty blurred. I look at it from a more old-school perspective, where there were relatively few classes and each of them often had quite strong and obvious in-fiction markers. There, even if people didn't self-identify as a class, external identifiers would (most of the time) peg them as being what they were.
Right, but even in the old days we had the questions which came up "why can't my fighter pick up a magic wand and say the command word and make it work?" If it was a fiction book, that probably WOULD work (maybe not, we can invent magic to be any way we want, but still). So it was a legitimate question, and you could see that rule as being one that tended to support reifying class.

It doesn't help that the obvious reason which would be given (and was surely EGG's reason for this rule) is a completely gamist one "because it is part of magic user's niche in the game." That may explain the purpose of the reification, but it is still weird, awkward, and kind of bizarre. It is amusing how many of the 'classic' versions of classes, like Ranger, literally have specific class feature 'loopholes' that allow them to emulate specific fictional characters (the famous example being rangers and crystal balls).

As for why the two classes (or sub-classes in this case) aren't combined... Each one has a range of ways it can be played. In OD&D you COULD have played a leather-clad fighter who was high dex and did a lot of scouting and such. He wouldn't have had the special abilities of a Greyhawk thief, and he would fight a good bit better than one, but the same questions could arise!

I'm not really against the strong thematics of classic D&D classes though. I think it is an aid to RP and makes the game easier to play, mostly. OTOH I'm not too sad that they can be bent in newer editions. In fact my 5e Battlemaster calls his maneuvers 'magic' and that makes things even more blurry! but it works. I think classic D&D was often a bit far in the other direction.
 

Well... D&D REALLY wasn't ever much of a 'simulationist' game in GDS terms. Actually there are VERY few such games, and none of them are very mainstream. Aftermath (and its various cousins) springs to mind as one of the few which has attained some level of popularity (albeit it is still a pretty obscure game these days). Truthfully, you have to back BEFORE D&D to find the true RPG simulations, which were forms of Kriegsspiel. These were of course true wargames, who's explicit purpose was utmost realism (at least in certain dimensions). I'm not sure about the 'Braunsteins' that Dave Arneson was engaged with, they sound like they were more recreational, but I'm not sure.

[/quote]

I'd argue there were a number of games of that era that leaned in that direction including Runequest and Traveller.

HOWEVER, a lot of players, particularly older ones, do have a somewhat 'realism oriented' bent. This seems to take the form, often, of an extreme aversion to any game mechanics which don't map very closely onto elements of the game world's fiction. This is where the whole weirdness of reifying things like Class come in. The general concern is similar to what has been put forward in this thread, that any game process which is detached in any way from the fiction breaks immersion.

Maybe what we should be talking about then is 'immersionism', but I have never seen a theoretical elaboration on that dimension of RPG play, nor any developed terminology to describe it.

First you need to get a common agreement on what support immersion. Good luck.
 


It just means to "take something abstract and treat it as a concrete thing", or (I'm assuming this was what the guy who used it first here meant) to take some abstract game concept like 'class' or 'level' and treat it as if it was a real part of the game world. So if you play as if every 'character' in the world ACTUALLY PICKS (consciously or not) a CLASS and IS that class and is literally the same, in some sense, as all other characters of that class, that would be 'reifying class'.

Correct.

Right, and I don't disagree with that. I mean it makes sense that an NPC who is, mechanically, a 'priest of Zamorra' is ACTUALLY called in-game "Priest of Zamorra" and considers himself as such. Now, suppose you have 2 characters who are pretty functionally equivalent in a 5e game (this is so in our current game). Mine is technically a Battlemaster Fighter, and the other one is technically an Arcane Trickster. They both wear light armor, and my character's 'urchin' background grants proficiencies with thieves tools, etc. My character is high DEX and INT, and uses two weapons in combat, and does a lot of scouting, lock picking (he's quite good at it) etc. While there are some mechanical differences, it would be quite legitimate to lump the two of them together as being "the same sort of thing" within the game world. Call that 'thief', 'adventurous rogue', whatever you want. I would look askance at some ruling which handled them differently on the basis of their CLASS, because it just doesn't mean anything. It isn't MANIFEST in any important way within the game world, and I would call doing so 'reifying class'.

Yeah. I had an argument on the Paizo forum not long ago on this very topic.
 

I see your point, though, in a system like 3e-4e-5e where there's a huge number of classes, builds, and combinations - identity by class gets pretty blurred. I look at it from a more old-school perspective, where there were relatively few classes and each of them often had quite strong and obvious in-fiction markers. There, even if people didn't self-identify as a class, external identifiers would (most of the time) peg them as being what they were.

Sort-of. Relatively early on there were abilities some classes had that there were NPCs who had similar, but not identical ability sets. The easiest is some incarnations of "fighting man" or "fighter" who had particular tricks they could do that various kinds of NPC warriors, well, didn't.
 

Sort-of. Relatively early on there were abilities some classes had that there were NPCs who had similar, but not identical ability sets. The easiest is some incarnations of "fighting man" or "fighter" who had particular tricks they could do that various kinds of NPC warriors, well, didn't.
This was a point of argument in a number of cases where people claimed that you couldn't have a PC adopt some ability, like a fighting technique, which was in a 'monster' stat block. I never bought this. 4e very specifically calls out 'reflavoring' of powers and other elements for one thing, which is pretty darn flexible. Beyond that it is easy enough to invent a new power or magic item, you can pretty much just steal the text from the stat block in most cases. The argument then devolved down to a non-negotiable demand and statement that the exact details of the rules ARE THE WORLD in every detail, and if the PC doesn't get the same recharge dice and every other mechanical detail exactly the same as the monster, then its "not doing the same thing" even though you would never be able to tell the difference, fictionally.

So, needless to say, I just came to the conclusion at that point that the whole line of argument was basically about not liking a specific system for entirely other reasons. If you took those statements literally they are demanding that every line in the rulebooks be reified! There was literally a poster on the old WotC D&D forums who flat out demanded that (and mysteriously claimed that 'D&D Next' (5e prototype at that time) was somehow a holy grail of this sort of play, lol. It was funny, but kind of eye-rolling too.
 

I'm arguing on your side on this one if that isn't clear. My argument is more than trying to make the argument moot by going back to OSR versions of the game doesn't really work; these sorts of things have been true well before feats or what we'd consider class abilities were really that big a thing.
 

I'm arguing on your side on this one if that isn't clear. My argument is more than trying to make the argument moot by going back to OSR versions of the game doesn't really work; these sorts of things have been true well before feats or what we'd consider class abilities were really that big a thing.
Yeah, I didn't think we were really disagreeing ;) 2e was kind of the inflection point. Kits and such marked the transition from sort of "customize in an ad-hoc way based on the details of your game, working with the DM" to "pick from lists of options." I can recall my sister's (@Gilladian) dwarf who's hand got chopped off and eventually became the proud possessor of a 'soul blade' in place of a hand, which had various tricky implications... IIRC he had a hook for a while before that, which let him get away with a few tricks as well. That was the "old way" of doing things.

Now, in my own hack of 4e, things are kind of in a 3rd way. You don't get to just pick any old thing from lists, but there are still a lot of things that are fairly standardized that you can 'pick up' as part of the narrative and then use/become part of your character. This also drives leveling (you could see that as either a new thing, or a sort of almost return to "XP for GP" in a sense).
 

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