5E How freely can a setting mess with core D&D mechanics?

The Eberron setting book just came out, which has a few new character options, including dragonmarked subraces, and a variety of new gear.

But the setting doesn't change the core mechanics of D&D.

The original Dragonlance mostly forbid divine spellcasting, and tied wizard magic to moon phases. Dark Sun had defiling that caused magic to suck the life out of living things, creating vast swaths of desert.

Check out the optional rules in the DMG when it comes to planar travel. If you based a campaign entirely on another plane, that world's planar traits would alter some underlying assumptions of the game. An all-shadowfell game might have you dealing with 'shadowfell despair' every day. If the whole campaign is in Arcadia, then the 'psychic dissonance' optional rule would basically force everyone to be LG or LN, and the 'planar vitality' optional rule would make people immune to fear and poison.

Ysgard has an optional rule where anyone who dies there resurrects the next morning. That would upend a lot of assumptions about how to play the game.

Have you ever played in a setting where the rules of reality weren't quite the same as the default of D&D (or of whatever ruleset you were playing)?

In the ZEITGEIST adventure path, one of the minor traits of the world is that gold rings block teleportation. If a person is wearing a gold ring, they can't teleport. If you surround a jail cell with a gold ring, someone can't teleport out of it.

Two other traits of the world restrict the duration of magical flight to five minutes, and prevent summoned creatures from sticking around for more than five minutes. All of these have reasons behind them that matter to the plot of the adventure path, and they're fairly minor.

But how far can you step away from default rules before you get uncomfortable?

Would you accept an Ysgard-style game where it's impossible to bleed to death, but death is still possible if someone decapitates you (aka, Highlander)? What about one inspired by the video game Myst, where divination magic doesn't work on islands? If you've watched the TV show Supernatural, salt actually drives off ghosts, and other mundane tricks can protect you from monsters, which might be a fun way to give low-level adventurers tricks in a setting with lots of horror tropes. In a game inspired by His Dark Materials, would you be cool with each PC having a bonded familiar? What if the GM handed each player a copy of their 50 page setting bible, said, "You're all proficient in History as a bonus skill, so you have to read this"?

I've been playing D&D for 23 years. I like trying new things. But how far is too far?
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
There is no too far for me. I love settings defined by rule changes. I especially love settings defined by what is NOT available as much as what is. I love trying new mini-settings that mess with core assumptions as much as I like playing in generic fantasy settings. As a DM I create mini-settings a lot and often shake something up. Lately, I have wanted to shake up the spell lists so they are not just defined by class. That is in the works for next mini-setting. :)
 

ChaosOS

Explorer
So, I think the best comparison might be to more setting-agnostic systems like Savage Worlds. To start, 5e assumes a baseline of heroic fantasy, and the idea of "setting changes" seems centered around cultural shifts (eg not medieval europe) as opposed to genre shifts. 5e isn't dynamic enough of a system - classes are balanced around combat as the primary pillar of the game, with everyone specializing into which pieces of noncombat they get to interact with. By contrast, other systems making investing into fighting/shooting fairly light, so everyone gets to play skill monkey types. Also, the expertise system is fine for making bards and rogues feel special in campaigns that only occasionally engage with the skill system, but if a campaign is mostly skill checks (as most other genres ask), then rogues & bards become the best classes by a much larger margin.
 
How freely can a setting mess with core D&D mechanics?
Its not the setting, it's the DM, and the answer is you can mess with D&D core mechanics as freely as you like.

But how far is too far?
For instance, reduce the number of stats, increase the number of skills, switch from d20 to 3d6, and keep going until it's GURPS.
Still not too far.
 

ChaosOS

Explorer
Its not the setting, it's the DM, and the answer is you can mess with D&D core mechanics as freely as you like.


For instance, reduce the number of stats, increase the number of skills, switch from d20 to 3d6, and keep going until it's GURPS.
Still not too far.
Yes, you can homebrew entire systems - but at some point you're not actually playing D&D. The core resolution mechanic - roll a d20, add a number, and compare it to a target number - is what makes it D&D. You can play tabletop RPGs just fine, but at some point you have to acknowledge it's not D&D.

Also, given the seeming premise that this is "what could you get away with for a 5e setting", there's a lot more to stick with (like the fighter and the core magic system), otherwise you really should be modding a different non-D&D system.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
Go wild, crank the dial to 12. I think that the biggest hurdle is getting the new baselines across enough for informed player buy in. Bacj when I ran an eberronized LMOP one of my players who had both played & run it in the past described it to someone thinking about joining us said something like "It's hard to describe. Everything you know is still there where you expect it to be, but everything is different so your still surprised when things happen & you won't always know what's coming but you'll have fun"
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
Yes, you can homebrew entire systems - but at some point you're not actually playing D&D. The core resolution mechanic - roll a d20, add a number, and compare it to a target number - is what makes it D&D. You can play tabletop RPGs just fine, but at some point you have to acknowledge it's not D&D.

Also, given the seeming premise that this is "what could you get away with for a 5e setting", there's a lot more to stick with (like the fighter and the core magic system), otherwise you really should be modding a different non-D&D system.
Um No, D20 is NOT what makes D&D otherwise all those other versions from basic to 2e weren’t D&D, which is wrong. Plus 3e showed us that D20 works for different genre too - from Traveller to BESM, which are also distinctly not D&D

Imho D&D must have classes, at least 6 ability scores and must be bogged down with too much magic, other than that change whatever you like
 
Yes, you can homebrew entire systems - but at some point you're not actually playing D&D.
Sure, as soon as it stops sucking, or starts feeling like its sometime after 1989, for instance...

... but seriously, D&D at it's most authentic & genuine was also D&D at it's most varied from DM to DM, that's something 5e reaches for with its maxims of DM Empowerment, Rulings not Rules and being a starting point for us to make our best games.

The core resolution mechanic - roll a d20, add a number, and compare it to a target number - is what makes it D&D.
That's literally d20, an OK open-source core system with a 20 year history, less than half that of D&D, of which it is, well, derivative. Ok, from which it was derived.

For the 26 years previous to d20, D&D used multiple resolution systems. Not just d20 to a DC and d20 under a target, you had d6 checks, several d% mechanics, and just whatever arbitrary dice (or other) mechanics the DM or author of a module came up with.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
As long as it makes sense go wild as long as it's using the core mechanics whatever they may be.
If you rewrite the races, classes, way magic works etc so be it. 6 attributes, class based a few other bits and pieces need to be there IMHO.
 
Sure, but if you opened up the Eberron setting book, and one chapter said, "In Eberron, when you die, you respawn at the nearest Dragonmarked guildhouse," would that be a bridge too far for your interest in playing the game?

I'm trying to figure out how many gamers want 'standard' D&D and how many are up for trying weird gonzo s***.
 

Azzy

Cyclone Ranger
Sure, but if you opened up the Eberron setting book, and one chapter said, "In Eberron, when you die, you respawn at the nearest Dragonmarked guildhouse," would that be a bridge too far for your interest in playing the game?
That would work if you want to do the "people from reality trapped in an MMO" trope, and be very appropriate and fun.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
I'm trying to figure out how many gamers want 'standard' D&D and how many are up for trying weird gonzo s***.
As far as 5E goes Id be willing to run or play any setting as long as the change to the core mechanics of the phb, dmg and mm were minimal at best. Once those change drastically, Im not sure at this point Id be willing to learn a whole new sub-set of mechanics on top of the 3 core books. As much as I liked alot of the 2e settings like Darksun, Planescape & Spelljammer, there was a bit of a learning curve to them.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Sure, but if you opened up the Eberron setting book, and one chapter said, "In Eberron, when you die, you respawn at the nearest Dragonmarked guildhouse," would that be a bridge too far for your interest in playing the game?

I'm trying to figure out how many gamers want 'standard' D&D and how many are up for trying weird gonzo s***.
That would be fine if there was a decent in game explaination.

If that guildhouse had the method of creating clones for example.

Not really my cup of tea but could work.
 

Ath-kethin

Explorer
If there's one thing I've learned from similar discusions on Twitter, it's that many people have an extremely narrow view of what D&D can possibly be, and get really worked up when you suggest D&D can be anything else. Even when the core books specifically encourage tinkering, and there are a myriad of off-the-wall settings (such as Spelljammer, Masque of the Red Death, and Hollow World, among others) published in official books that clearly say "D&D" at the top. Or the argument that homebrew content "isn't" D&D, when D&D has literally relied upon it for decades, and WotC (and before that, TSR) published literally reams of it.

To me one of the advantages of D&D is that you can do anything with it. I've run games set in Ysgard. I've run space-fantasy games. I've run games based off of Star Wars, where we adapted the ranger class to be Jedi knights. I've run intense court-intrigue games that almost never had combat. I've played in horror games where the players were twisting in their seats due to the suspense. These are all situations many will argue are "not possible" in D&D and then argue that they are "not D&D" when they work.

For me, tinker away. Add to it, subtract from it. Blow it all up. 50 years of development has left few stones unturned, and a remarkably resilient concept that can take whatever you throw at it.
 

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