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

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
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 (He/They)
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

Not your screen monkey (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
 

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