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D&D General How much control do DMs need?


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pemerton

Legend
D&D is distinctively flexible not by design but simply by popularity. So many gamers understand the basic principles that it provides an easy jumping off point. It's the lingua franca of RPGs. As well, it basically assumes that every table will hack it.
Fair enough, but in a somewhat technical or analytic discussion like this one it is probably more helpful to say that D&D is widely hacked rather than that D&D is distinctively hackable.

Another factor here is that, once a person becomes familiar with a few non-D&D RPGs, they probably stop hacking D&D and use other ones that work better. Eg I gave up all my efforts trying to make AD&D more "simulationist" (systematised spell lists, a proper skill/proficiency system, etc) once I discovered Rolemaster, which does all that work for me!
 

To clarify, I enjoy the characters in my Temple of Elemental Evil game just fine. They’re not that deep, but I dig them.

Other campaigns I’ve played have led to deeper characters that I tend to care more about.

It also depends on the situation though. One character I made for an AP game was pretty static, but I really enjoyed playing him.
Yeah I didn't mean it as any form of disparagement. It's just that over a long campaign the characters for me become primary and the adventures secondary - and I like the collab nature (however limited) with the player in pursuing the interests and development of their characters.

Shorter campaigns direct the fun elsewhere :)
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Regarding your (b)… I think in a game with a more traditional approach to prep like 5e D&D, that can be an issue because everything is prepared for a party. Adventures are typically balanced with the idea of X number of PCs. So when players split the group, that can quickly lead to issues where the sub-groups are no longer capable of facing the challenges they may encounter.

Things can be adjusted on the fly to allow for this, but a lot of DMs don’t want to make such adjustments, and there’s certainly no guidance for it in the 5e material.

Also, should combat break out while the group’s split, then you have to roll initiative and resolve combat without all players, which can potentially take a lot of time.

There are other games that handle these things better than D&D does. Again, this is just because of the way the game functions.
I mean, beyond the preparation stuff...human beings are generally more capable in groups than they are solo, and generally more capable in full groups than in partial groups. Further, in most games, whether they are D&D-like or not, there is a tendency for the group to choose options that fill gaps: the fundamental concept of division of labor. E.g., if you know someone else in the party is dead set on playing a Paladin, then playing another beefy, high-defense character is probably wasteful unless the party already has most stuff covered. If you're playing Shadowrun and someone else is already playing a decker/rigger, it might be seen as rude to intrude on the stuff they've specialized in, and it would be more useful to be a face, mage, street sam, etc. if the party doesn't already have one of those. A party built along these (very reasonable) lines will thus have gaps appear when forced to split up.

Again, that doesn't mean it can't be a good thing. Sometimes it is. Getting your decker and face on the inside, so they can open security doors from the inside in order to let the chromed-up street sam and glowing-like-an-astral-Christmas-tree mage in through the back door is a wonderful plan that highlights weaknesses and strengths in a useful way, but it still means the two relatively squishy folks on the inside (who probably have the lowest personal combat ability) are the ones taking risks now, while the two people least able to sneak and stealth must keep a low profile while still staying close enough to get in, especially if things go loud.

Point being: even if people are just tackling context-appropriate challenges in a purely "think about the situation rationally, before any rules come into play" sense, splitting the party often means high-risk, high-reward approaches, which tends to clash with the generally play-it-safe mindset of most folks playing RPGs, tabletop or otherwise.

Picking up a bit more on this caring about others' contributions issue that @hawkeyefan has raised:

In 4e D&D, at least as I've experienced it, the characters are painted in fairly broad strokes. The game makes it easy to locate a character inside certain pretty clear fantasy tropes and themes - Dwarves who took their freedom from the giants; magical Elves (Eladrin) who travel between the lands of the Fey and the mortal world; incarnate immortals (Deva) who carry with them all their memories of their past lives; etc.

The creative contribution - again, as I've experienced it - tend to be not in the subtlety or nuance or beauty of the characters as such, but rather in the way the player orients their character towards those various tropes and themes and the conflicts and choices inherent in them.

So caring for others' characters means caring about and engaging with those choices.

This has implications for GMing methods. For instance, if the GM preps material, or establishes consequences of actions, which pre-empt or run over those player choices about how their PCs are oriented towards, and engaging with, those tropes and themes and so on, that is not really caring about and engaging with those player choices. It's disregarding them.

The 4e rulebooks don't have super-clear instructions about what GMing methods will work instead of those more typical ones. But luckily for me, when I was GMing 4e, I had read some other RPG rulebooks that did give me suitable advice (HeroWars/Quest and Burning Wheel being the mains ones).
Just wanted to add: this is lovely and helps crystallize some of the...not "issues" I had per se, because I didn't, but more like...tacit assumptions I knew I was bringing but couldn't put into words. Probably will hop over to the "how would you re-do 4e" thread and make mention of this.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I hear yer mum's isomorphic cohort to cohort.

Anyway...


If we go with the tool analogy, the next question is: what are this particular tool's affordances? In plain language: what is it obviously good for, and how does that work? If I pick up a hammer, it's immediately clear to me that it's going to be good at hitting things, and that those hook thingies on the back can be used to pry and pull things.

If the analogy holds, we should be able to describe the particular affordances of, say, 5th edition of D&D, compared to other RPGs.

I want to note that I don't really agree with @loverdrive that a game should just work by itself. To extend the analogy: a clumsy person, such as yours truly, is perfectly capable of accidentally hurting themselves with a well-made hammer.

As for the uniqueness of every cohort... I think it's entirely possible to have external (even normative) standards for what constitutes (1) play as such, and (2) motivated play of one kind or another.
I like the way that you've engaged productively with the tool analogy, but please don't direct insults at me. They make me feel unsafe to post.
 

S'mon

Legend
If you've never looked at Agon 2nd ed I highly recommend it. The production values are great, the prose clear and mostly crisp, and the instructions unequivocal.

I don't find it disconcerting, but I agree that it does stand out from many RPGs. Prince Valiant is another example, though probably not quite as tight as Agon in its presentation.

As you know, I also tend to find 4e D&D much closer to "complete" than many other RPGs. But that one might be more contentious!

Yeah I would not agree re 4e D&D. :LOL: Maybe 4e stands comparison to Moldvay Basic D&D & similar which have a 'closed play loop' per Alexander - it has everything you need to make & run your dungeon crawl D&D game. As opposed to the most incomplete games, the worst of which are little more than a character generation system, a combat system, and (hopefully) a general task resolution mechanic. But Forbidden Lands (I think) and some Nar story-making games are complete games in that they are playable out of the box without the GM needing to engage in an act of creation pre-play.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Fair enough, but in a somewhat technical or analytic discussion like this one it is probably more helpful to say that D&D is widely hacked rather than that D&D is distinctively hackable.
Completely agreed, and the very statement of the argument shows the problem. Though they've blocked me (and thus can't see what I post), their example was that D&D is the "lingua franca" of TTRPGs. But the thing is, in the world today, English is the "common tongue," and it is notoriously difficult to learn and full of byzantine, loophole-ridden rules that often make little sense to an outsider. Why do we pronounce thorough*, rough, trough, through, brought, borough, and drought as words that do not rhyme, despite each of them containing the string "rough"? Because English spelling is about orthography and history, not about phonetics. Traditions passed down unrelated to the rules. The "success" of English has genuinely nothing to do with its linguistic features, and everything to do with the cultural, geopolitical, and historical context.

*Pronounced "thurruh," rather than "thor-oh."

Another factor here is that, once a person becomes familiar with a few non-D&D RPGs, they probably stop hacking D&D and use other ones that work better. Eg I gave up all my efforts trying to make AD&D more "simulationist" (systematised spell lists, a proper skill/proficiency system, etc) once I discovered Rolemaster, which does all that work for me!
Indeed. When all you have is a hammer, you come up with all sorts of creative ways to remove screws using the hammer. "Oh, if I just bend the claw part straight, I can use that for screws!" "Ooh, if I make the claw part articulated I could use it to loosen nuts and bolts!" As soon as you get screwdrivers and socket wrenches, trying to adapt a hammer into an omnitool goes out the window.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This part of the conversation wasn’t about the DM controlling players feelings. It was about @Lanefan saying that focus on individual characters isn’t preferred because his players are concerned only about the group.
Mostly, not only. It's not as absolute as all that.
I find that odd because I get invested in most of the characters in most of the games I play, not just my own characters.
I guess I look at the bigger picture a bit more, in that (in the games I'm used to playing and running, anyway) the party and-or campaign pretty much always outlast any character*; thus while being invested in a character (of my own or someone else's) certainly happens it's a more or less temporary thing, while being invested in the party or campaign lasts as long as the campaign runs.

* - not necessarily because the character dies, but because there's often numerous parties in the same campaign and no one character is ever in all of them; never mind there's also long-term player turnover.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
How about you make a perfectly designed RPG that doesn’t need any skill to play, an RPG that guarantees that anyone who plays it has tons of fun. You will become a millionaire.
I don't know about you, but I live in the world where Forge already happened, where Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World already exist.

So you mean that your bar for a "well designed game" is that it is impossible to have a bad time if played without breaking any rules? If even one player testified to having a bad time playing Torchbearer 2 then, that would count as a badly designed game?
Well, I'm operating under the assumption that everyone at the table actively wants to participate and bought into what the system promises.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Fair enough, but in a somewhat technical or analytic discussion like this one it is probably more helpful to say that D&D is widely hacked rather than that D&D is distinctively hackable.

Another factor here is that, once a person becomes familiar with a few non-D&D RPGs, they probably stop hacking D&D and use other ones that work better. Eg I gave up all my efforts trying to make AD&D more "simulationist" (systematised spell lists, a proper skill/proficiency system, etc) once I discovered Rolemaster, which does all that work for me!
Agreed. For me it is clear that D&D is not distinctively hackable. It's objectively measurable that PbtA has yielded more new games than 5e, and from a designer's perspective the "design language" of PbtA is much cleaner and more versatile than 5e. FitD has stood up well and consonant with my own interests some of its basic methods are used in FKR. Fate is a good toolkit (as was Fudge.) BRP has some advantages.

I value the distinctive differences between TTRPGs such as 5e and PbtA. I know that 5e is a workable and hackable set of rules from the primary evidence of my own experience and in view of the available published mods of 5e that have had success. And from the secondary evidence of a vast body of testimonials. I believe that 5e is sometimes understood too narrowly (i.e. what can be achieved with it is underestimated): in particular once one is operationalizing 5e under diversified principles.

For me, we can treasure both. Regarding the OP, based on arguments on all sides over this threads, the answer seems to be that centralizing power in the DM is not a necessity. It's not inevitably good nor inevitably bad. It can have payoffs for some modes of play. It can get in the way of the play afforded by other modes. Choices can be made about it: it's not all or nothing.
 

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