D&D 5E How Far Could D&D Change--And STILL Be D&D?

Stalker0

Legend
I think a key part is not just the mechanics, but presentation.

I still contend that part of the rejection of 4e was not the mechanics (several of them are quite good) but the presentation. 4e reads like a sterile textbook rather than a tome. It made things clinical instead of fantastical.

I think those elements are important, and that you can change a lot more than you might think at first glance and keep it dnd if you keep the spirit and flavor alive.


Mechanically, the question of "what is the true core of dnd" is always an interesting one. For me its probably these things:

1) Rolling dice for checks: I don't think ability scores are absolutely required, I don't think you have to have skills or X or Y. But at the end of the day, if your trying for something crazy and not having to roll a d20 + some number to do it....your not playing dnd.

2) Heroic Combat: Unlike some other people I don't think HP is absolutely required for dnd, but there does need to be the notion that I can play a raging barbarian that just runs into danger and not get immediately gaked. There has to be some form of "narrative protection" from danger, HP has been that traditional mechanic, but its not required. While gritty variants are often popular, they will never be the norm....the standard dnd player wants to fight a bunch of a monsters....and then do it again.

3) Monsters: If there is no book of monsters, its not dnd.

4) Spells: I don't think vancian spellcasting is required, I think many spellcasting mechanics can go out the window. But I do think the notion of self contained magic (I cast spell X and get effect Y everytime), is a key aspect of dnd's identity. If we were to shift to an Ars Magica style where you can just design your magical effects on the fly and make checks and see if it happens....it would turn things into a very different game.
 

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Mort

Legend
Supporter
I think back to when I first started playing with the "red box" Basic: race and class were mashed together, there was no such thing as a "background" or a "feat," armor class was upside-down, and there were only 4 pieces of armor to choose from (leather, chain, plate, and shield).

But nobody can deny that Basic D&D in 1986 was just as much "Dungeons & Dragons" as the 5th Edition D&D is in 2022. So I don't think that mechanics define the game. To paraphrase one of my favorite geeks,

Basic was certainly "D&D," but I think the rest (that anything can be D&D), IMO, is only partially true. I think feel AND mechanics define D&D, though it's quite difficult to pin down where the line is.

You can run Keep on the Borderlands with Savage Worlds or GURPS or heck Blades in the Dark (that might actually be a fun different feel) - but I don't think that would be "D&D."

Plus, I think there are some hard lines. For example, I don't think you can have "D&D" without levels. IMO levels and the multitude of adventures that went with them (even IF some of them were not great or even good) are one of the cornerstones of "D&D" and without the level system - it's something else.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think back to when I first started playing with the "red box" Basic: race and class were mashed together, there was no such thing as a "background" or a "feat," armor class was upside-down, and there were only 4 pieces of armor to choose from (leather, chain, plate, and shield).

But nobody can deny that Basic D&D in 1986 was just as much "Dungeons & Dragons" as the 5th Edition D&D is in 2022.

Well, I won't agree that nobody can, because there are always unreasonable people willing to say anything, but I agree that both Basic D&D in 1986 and 5e D&D in 2022 are both D&D. But that's largely because I think they are very similar systems from a rules standing with only some really minor variations such as what you mention. The core of both games hasn't changed much - classes, levels, XP, hit points, AC, d20 fortune mechanics, saves, fiddly different dice for computing damage, 6 attributes that generally appear in a range between 3-18 unless modified, etc. It's not that hard to pick up a Basic D&D module and run it for 5e D&D. Heck, it's possible to do that and not even convert the monsters to the new system.

Which is why I countered with the claim that Traveller is not D&D, because that assertion meets all the different tests that have been offered - mechanically dissimilar, wildly different flavor, and obviously and literally not the same brand. So if someone said, "We're playing D&D" and you showed up and it was BD&D or 5e you might be surprised and maybe disappointed, but you would agree that you weren't lied to. But if you showed up to play D&D and you were playing Traveller, you'd think you were either lied to or that the GM was crazy, and you would I think have objective basis for thinking that.
 
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James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Well let's look at some things that are D&D, yet a lot of players think don't "feel" like D&D.

*Psionics.
*Cross-genre gaming: the 1e DMG has a section called "Sixguns and Sorcery", showing you how to cross-pollinate D&D and Boot Hill characters.
*Science Fiction elements like androids, rayguns, and crashed technological spaceships, ala City of the Gods or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
*Pop-culture references, say, for example, "Isle of the Ape" or "Dungeonland" (I'll refrain from mentioning "Castle Greyhawk").

How would people react if all of these things were core elements of 6e?
 

Celebrim

Legend
How would people react if all of these things were core elements of 6e?

While I agree there is a flavor line that could be crossed where it's not D&D any more, I feel that line is harder to define or agree on than the mechanical line.

I note however that all the things you list are added on to what is already recognizably D&D and don't replace it. For example, if we played an all human D&D game, with no magic and thus only pure martial classes, set in a pastiche of the American Old West, with cowboys and six shooters that bypassed armor and made it irrelevant at some point I'd feel, "Is this D&D or just a D20 Western game?" Where as if we were playing a recognizably D&D game and we met a gunslinger or a musketeer, then I'd just feel we were playing D&D with supplemental firearms rules.

I tend to have little problem with game companies presenting a buffet and saying, "Take what you like." I will with or without their permission. What I tend to have problems with is when the mechanics are so deeply rooted in assumptions I don't want, that I can't dig those assumptions out of the game. So for example, someone said, "If you are playing Heroes in Blades in the Dark, you are doing it wrong." Now, my daughter has more experience with Blades than I do, and I don't know that that person's opinion should be trusted, but generally speaking the idea (and others) seems to be enough baked into what I've seen of Blades that I'm just not super interested. I don't mind playing villains and have done it before and enjoyed it, but I would prefer a system generic enough that I can play the game I want to play with it, not just the game I'm intended to play.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Which is why I countered with the claim that Traveller is not D&D, because that assertion meets all the different tests that have been offered - mechanically dissimilar, wildly different flavor, and obviously and literally not the same brand. So if someone said, "We're playing D&D" and you showed up and it was BD&D or 5e you might be surprised and maybe disappointed, but you would agree that you weren't lied to. But if you showed up to play D&D and you were playing Traveller, you'd think you were either lied to or that the GM was crazy, and you would I think have objective basis for thinking that.
See, and I'm one of the rare birds who would.

Let's say for a minute that a friend of mine invites me over for a game of Dread. It's a great game, one of my favorites, so I say Sure! When I arrive, he hands me my questionnaire and it's all questions like "why is magic missile your favorite spell" and "how did you survive the dragon attack that destroyed your village." Then the game starts, and I'm a cleric, and we're heading into a dungeon to look for a local wizard who has gone missing. And later we find a chest, which turns out to be a horrible monster in disguise. And later, just when The Tower is so unstable nobody can think straight and we're fighting a dragon....

...with all that going on, it's gonna be really hard to convince me that I'm not playing D&D. I'm aware that we're not rolling any dice, and I can see that I don't have "armor class" or "hit points" written anywhere on my character sheet, but my brain is still going to default to D&D.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Of the things that have come up recently in this discussion that can make/break something D&D:
1) mechanics
2) flavor
3) presentation

I think it's a bit of #1 and #2, not so much #3. As much as I disliked 4e, I thought its presentation was generally quite good from a usability standpoint. I might have quibbled with its organization, but most of those issues flowed from decisions about how the game's mechanics were redesigned (long lists of powers, magic items presented player forward even more strongly than in 3e, etc). The clarity with which most of it was written and laid out made the game very easy to understand. I had a very good view of something I didn't really want to play. I'd rather see those powers of clarity directed toward an edition I do want to play.

But on the issue of mechanics and flavor, it has to be a mix of the two because there are games out there with similar mechanics (particularly during the d20 glut) that clearly aren't D&D any more than Call of Cthulhu is D&D. But it isn't just flavor either because, with respect to Wil Wheaton, Keep on the Borderlands can be adapted into a variety of different games including Runequest or GURPS, neither of which is D&D.
 

Well let's look at some things that are D&D, yet a lot of players think don't "feel" like D&D.

*Psionics.
*Cross-genre gaming: the 1e DMG has a section called "Sixguns and Sorcery", showing you how to cross-pollinate D&D and Boot Hill characters.
*Science Fiction elements like androids, rayguns, and crashed technological spaceships, ala City of the Gods or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
*Pop-culture references, say, for example, "Isle of the Ape" or "Dungeonland" (I'll refrain from mentioning "Castle Greyhawk").

How would people react if all of these things were core elements of 6e?
just suggest artificer be in the 2024 PHB and people will melt down... throw in warforged and you may get some real fireworks.

meanwhile I want to split fighter and wizard up add artificer and maybe other new ideas...
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
How would people react if all of these things were core elements of 6e?
No one said a word when the 5e DMG had anti-matter rifles.

And people are constantly demanding that all the non-humans present as alien monsters to avoid being 'humans in funny hats', so we're halfway there.

As long as they don't introduce some dumb psychic thing from pop culture like the 'Mind Flayer'. They need to stop ripping off Stranger Things. Don't think I didn't see that they statted Vecna.
 

See, and I'm one of the rare birds who would.

Let's say for a minute that a friend of mine invites me over for a game of Dread. It's a great game, one of my favorites, so I say Sure! When I arrive, he hands me my questionnaire and it's all questions like "why is magic missile your favorite spell" and "how did you survive the dragon attack that destroyed your village." Then the game starts, and I'm a cleric, and we're heading into a dungeon to look for a local wizard who has gone missing. And later we find a chest, which turns out to be a horrible monster in disguise. And later, just when The Tower is so unstable nobody can think straight and we're fighting a dragon....

...with all that going on, it's gonna be really hard to convince me that I'm not playing D&D. I'm aware that we're not rolling any dice, and I can see that I don't have "armor class" or "hit points" written anywhere on my character sheet, but my brain is still going to default to D&D.
thank you... that was much better then my d6 example
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
...with all that going on, it's gonna be really hard to convince me that I'm not playing D&D. I'm aware that we're not rolling any dice, and I can see that I don't have "armor class" or "hit points" written anywhere on my character sheet, but my brain is still going to default to D&D.

Right up until you make ONE mistake, the tower falls over and there's nothing you can do about it. You can use all the D&D terms you want, but this kind of mechanic will pull you right out of the "D&D" feel.
 

Right up until you make ONE mistake, the tower falls over and there's nothing you can do about it. You can use all the D&D terms you want, but this kind of mechanic will pull you right out of the "D&D" feel.
have you never rolled a 1 at the worst moment and screwed everything up?
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
just suggest artificer be in the 2024 PHB and people will melt down... throw in warforged and you may get some real fireworks.
Only because they're generally seen as setting specific. I mean if you include warforged and artificers in the main book, my complaint would be I want half-giants and thri-kreen too - not that the former aren't D&D enough.

meanwhile I want to split fighter and wizard up add artificer and maybe other new ideas...

I don't think that would threaten D&D so much as need to be a separate supplement of some kind - too much space.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
have you never rolled a 1 at the worst moment and screwed everything up?

If the entire D&D adventure completely depends on you not rolling a 1 for success (or even progress) then either the group did something very wrong, or the DM is a jerk.

Dread, meanwhile, EXPECTS the players to drop out (dead, insane etc.) because of bad luck etc. It's practically unheard of for them all to make it to the end of the session alive.

To someone actually accustomed to D&D, It's not going to be remotely the same, even if the terminology is ported.
 

Only because they're generally seen as setting specific. I mean if you include warforged and artificers in the main book, my complaint would be I want half-giants and thri-kreen too - not that the former aren't D&D enough.
I don't know if I would want Thri-kreen in but the half giant I would 100% push for. Warforged is pretty setting specific i will admit (although they don't have to be living golems can be generic too) Artificer though is just a half arcane caster that makes items as his specialty... I don't see anything that ties that more to eberon then the realms or birthright or krynn I guess I can see why it would not fit darksun but half the classes don't
I don't think that would threaten D&D so much as need to be a separate supplement of some kind - too much space.
I wouldn't mind that
 

If the entire D&D adventure completely depends on you not rolling a 1 for success (or even progress) then either the group did something very wrong, or the DM is a jerk.
um... 1e and 2e SoD worked that way and gary him self removed the save sometimes...just die
Dread, meanwhile, EXPECTS the players to drop out (dead, insane etc.) because of bad luck etc. It's practically unheard of for them all to make it to the end of the session alive.
so is it like Coc? I only know the instead of rolls take a jenga peace and that was enough to tell my shakey hands not to try it
To someone actually accustomed to D&D, It's not going to be remotely the same, even if the terminology is ported.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Right up until you make ONE mistake, the tower falls over and there's nothing you can do about it. You can use all the D&D terms you want, but this kind of mechanic will pull you right out of the "D&D" feel.
Dread was just the first game that came to my mind when I was trying to think of "RPG that isn't D&D." I could have said Savage Worlds, I could have said Pathfinder, I could have said One Ring, G.U.R.P.S., Quest, or Mouseguard.

All I'm saying is, the game mechanics don't really define D&D for me. (shrug) And I recognize that I'm in the minority, here in this thread.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
um... 1e and 2e SoD worked that way and gary him self removed the save sometimes...just die
Generally that was for tournament style modules (such as Tomb of Horrors) not for campaign play. Though there were a few spells and the like that were the exception. Still it was rare, not the norm. And for campaigns where it was the norm, you had the paranoid 10' pole style of play where the goal was to never ever roll a die for fear of death.

so is it like Coc? I only know the instead of rolls take a jenga peace and that was enough to tell my shakey hands not to try it

I've only seen it Demoed not played it. Basically, task resolution is a Jenga tower. When a player wants to accomplish something, the GM sets the difficulty by determining the number of blocks that need to be pulled. Failure (the tower falls) generally means the player is out of the game.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Dread was just the first game that came to my mind when I was trying to think of "RPG that isn't D&D." I could have said Savage Worlds, I could have said Pathfinder, I could have said One Ring, G.U.R.P.S., Quest, or Mouseguard.

All I'm saying is, the game mechanics don't really define D&D for me. (shrug) And I recognize that I'm in the minority, here in this thread.

I find that interesting because mechanics matter A LOT for me re: feel of a game.

For example, I just can't get into GURPS. I've tried (I"ve DM'd, friends have DMd, have tried it at a few conventions) - and I honestly think it's the D6s rolling 3d6 all the time just feels off. If D&D moved in that direction, it would be pretty tough for me to move with it!

Or when Deadlands released a D20 version. Group tried it, and wow was the feel completely off compared to the "regular" one. Even WITH all of the terminology etc. being the same.
 

Generally that was for tournament style modules (such as Tomb of Horrors) not for campaign play. Though there were a few spells and the like that were the exception. Still it was rare, not the norm. And for campaigns where it was the norm, you had the paranoid 10' pole style of play where the goal was to never ever roll a die for fear of death.

I've only seen it Demoed not played it. Basically, task resolution is a Jenga tower. When a player wants to accomplish something, the GM sets the difficulty by determining the number of blocks that need to be pulled. Failure (the tower falls) generally means the player is out of the game.
that really sounds like 2e to me... the party fights through hoards of rooms and minions, walks into the BBEG and he cast disintegrate or slay lvng or finger of death and the thief dies and can't draw up a replacement fast enough and even if he could DM couldn't reintroduce hm tonight

or with my hands and ability with jenga more like First trap of the night my thief rolls 00 on % dice to disarm triggers the poison trap and dies...
 

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