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D&D General If D&D were created today, what would it look like?

pemerton

Legend
it's easy to move to "what if you control one unit", but that just makes it a peculiar wargame, like 40K's 2001 Inquisitor wargame, not an RPG. An RPG entails more than playing just one character in a wargame.
As best I understand it, early Braunsteins and Arneson-esque D&D were wargames where each player controls one unit. I'm no expert, but according to Wikipedia it was the players who introduced and enjoyed the "role-playing" aspect. Wikipedia also notes the influence of Diplomacy in this respect.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As best I understand it, early Braunsteins and Arneson-esque D&D were wargames where each player controls one unit. I'm no expert, but according to Wikipedia it was the players who introduced and enjoyed the "role-playing" aspect. Wikipedia also notes the influence of Diplomacy in this respect.
Having played it, with its inventor as GM, IMO Braunstein is really closer to a form of LARP-lite than anything else; and while I could very easily see it as being a progenitor of more advanced LARPing it's somewhat more of a stretch to connect it to tabletop RPGing. Arneson made quite a leap.

In Braunstein you not so much control one character as try to become that character, interacting with the other characters almost in real time (ignoring time spent on short journeys from one part of the setting - it all takes place in one town - to another) both vocally and physically; different parts of the play area are quasi-designated to be different parts of the town-setting - the town hall, the pub, the library, the university, etc. might be represented by the couch, the patio door, the dining room table, the kitchen, etc. - and players move from one place to another in the room(s) as-when-if their characters move around the town.

The game I played had something like 15+ players in it; also more LARP-like than TTRPG-like.

Before play but after characters are assigned, each player gets a page of prepared notes including a very brief summary of the backstory and a list of specific-to-character goals. There's no character stats as such; the notes give vague character details such as gender, general age, role within the town, a few pre-established relations with some other characters, and maybe a bit of character-specific backstory (I'm sure the spy character gets a lot more), and that's about it. On this, the players are then turned loose to make what they can of it, with the GM fading into the background other than to answer game-based questions and occasionally announce the passage of time.

There's no dice or minis, and the nearest things might ever get to real combat could be if one character tries to restrain or arrest another (one of the game's goals is for us to discover the spy in the characters' midst), and as this never happened in our game (we never did find the spy!) I can't say how this would be handled. I vaguely recall in our game two characters might have got into a dust-up in the pub, which led to a bit of humourous play-acting before others broke it up, but that's as near to combat as it got.
 

pemerton

Legend
Having played it, with its inventor as GM, IMO Braunstein is really closer to a form of LARP-lite than anything else; and while I could very easily see it as being a progenitor of more advanced LARPing it's somewhat more of a stretch to connect it to tabletop RPGing. Arneson made quite a leap.

In Braunstein you not so much control one character as try to become that character, interacting with the other characters almost in real time (ignoring time spent on short journeys from one part of the setting - it all takes place in one town - to another) both vocally and physically; different parts of the play area are quasi-designated to be different parts of the town-setting - the town hall, the pub, the library, the university, etc. might be represented by the couch, the patio door, the dining room table, the kitchen, etc. - and players move from one place to another in the room(s) as-when-if their characters move around the town.

<snip>

Before play but after characters are assigned, each player gets a page of prepared notes including a very brief summary of the backstory and a list of specific-to-character goals. There's no character stats as such; the notes give vague character details such as gender, general age, role within the town, a few pre-established relations with some other characters, and maybe a bit of character-specific backstory (I'm sure the spy character gets a lot more), and that's about it

<snip>

There's no dice or minis
The move from this to a map (like Diplomacy uses, predating Braunstein) does not seem that big a leap. I've never played a Braunstein, but I've played a similar game (a western) with the difference being that (i) the setting was a map rather than a room, with figures used to indicate location, and (ii) there was some very light wargaming-style rules for moving on the map, and referee resolution of some contested matters. I was playing the big dumb guy who had one stick of dynamite on him. My self-imposed mission was to use it!, though I can't remember now exactly who I blew up.

The referee who set up and adjudicated this game was familiar with RPGs, but was much more of a Diplomacy player and wargamer than a RPGer. He, or someone like him, would not need the existence of D&D to go from Braunstein to single-figure movement on a map. There's an argument that Arneson's real innovation was to make the map hidden which is what turns the game from PvP to party-vs-referee.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The move from this to a map (like Diplomacy uses, predating Braunstein) does not seem that big a leap. I've never played a Braunstein, but I've played a similar game (a western) with the difference being that (i) the setting was a map rather than a room, with figures used to indicate location, and (ii) there was some very light wargaming-style rules for moving on the map, and referee resolution of some contested matters.
Both of i and ii there position the game you played quite a bit closer to a regular wargame than what Braunstein was. The version I played had no movement rules as such (if a character wanted to go from the town hall to the university, say, the player just had to walk from one room location to the other to symbolise making the trip), and - much like a LARP might be - we-as-players were the figures on the imaginary map. :)

The one rule that did have to be enforced a few times by the GM was that players/characters in one location couldn't directly talk to players/characters in another location (i.e. no calling across the room) as none of us had radios or telephones or other such long-range comm gear: the setting was something like early-mid 1700s. We also weren't supposed to listen in on conversations in other locations, but there was enough general buzz of conversation anyway that this wasn't really a problem unless someone started shouting (which happened once or twice).
I was playing the big dumb guy who had one stick of dynamite on him. My self-imposed mission was to use it!, though I can't remember now exactly who I blew up.
The true definition of a one-hit wonder! :)
The referee who set up and adjudicated this game was familiar with RPGs, but was much more of a Diplomacy player and wargamer than a RPGer. He, or someone like him, would not need the existence of D&D to go from Braunstein to single-figure movement on a map. There's an argument that Arneson's real innovation was to make the map hidden which is what turns the game from PvP to party-vs-referee.
Most if not all wargames use a map of some kind, Diplomacy is no exception there; and the map really is kinda necessary if only to show who holds what at any given time. The innovation in Diplomacy is that if playing in-person the player can actually speak for and as his or her nation, i.e. rudimentary role-playing. From here Braunstein moved both closer to TTRPGing (in that the player represents an individual rather than a nation) and farther away (in that the map was made imaginary and in-play combat/tactics/warfare were largely eschewed) at the same time.
 

pemerton

Legend
Most if not all wargames use a map of some kind, Diplomacy is no exception there; and the map really is kinda necessary if only to show who holds what at any given time. The innovation in Diplomacy is that if playing in-person the player can actually speak for and as his or her nation, i.e. rudimentary role-playing. From here Braunstein moved both closer to TTRPGing (in that the player represents an individual rather than a nation) and farther away (in that the map was made imaginary and in-play combat/tactics/warfare were largely eschewed) at the same time.
I think that this shows that the move to some sort of RPGing - keep the map, or more generally the imagined space, but go individual - is not a huge leap from the extent ideas of the post-war wargaming scene.

What we might ask, though, is - suppose that Arneson had not come up with the idea of a hidden map, how would D&D or other RPGs be different?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think that this shows that the move to some sort of RPGing - keep the map, or more generally the imagined space, but go individual - is not a huge leap from the extent ideas of the post-war wargaming scene.
I'm not sure on this, unless you're counting LARPing as RPGing (which I'm not; even though one can quite reasonably say LARPing is a form of RPGing, for these purposes I'm treating them as entirely separate branches of gaming and when I read/write "RPG" I'm assuming there's a "TT" in front of it).

Braunstein as I played it is in tone and substance a far more direct link in the development of LARPing than it is in that of TTRPGing; its only real connection to TTRPGing is Dave Arneson, who somehow (!) took Braunstein's individual-character and extremely rules-light play and melded it with rules-heavy unit-based wargame play.

But that's only part of it. Both Braunstein and (most) wargames are very one-off; in each you generally play out one single scenario or battle and that's it.

There's two other major developments that happened in there somewhere: one, the idea of continuing play with the same unit or group into a series of scenarios over multiple sessions (i.e. campaign play); and two, the whole aspect of exploring/delving/colonizing new and unknown places rather than operating on known ground e.g. a historical or simulated battlefield or town. I'm not sure if these two developments came from just Arneson, just Gygax, or as a shared thing from their correspondence.
What we might ask, though, is - suppose that Arneson had not come up with the idea of a hidden map, how would D&D or other RPGs be different?
Of all the various spectacular leaps of logic that Arneson had to make to combine Braunstein with wargaming, the notion of hiding the map is pretty small potatoes. It of course comes from the need for there being new unknown places to explore if the game wants its players to be exploring new ground, and someone having to design them.

Without the hidden-map concept, exploration of the setting as a feature of play largely goes out the window as the map - as with Braunstein or a typical wargame - is already known to all.
 

Ogre Mage

Adventurer
I'd say some of the longstanding sacred cows that 5E has been slowly edging away from would be flat gone. The game would have full-on embraced contemporary RPG conventions.

--I think the XP system would be gone and the D&D would be some sort of milestone experience gain.
--All character creation would be point-buy based. The option of rolling for attributes would not be in the PHB.
--It is doubtful "hit points" would exist. More likely D&D would use some sort of wound system, with Constitution and armor acting as some sort of resistance/mitigation from getting wounded.
--Classes might still be siloed, but I think there is a fair chance what we consider "class abilities" would be much more cherry-pickable. It is questionable if classes would exist.
--Alignment would not exist.
 
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JEB

Adventurer
I'd say some of the longstanding sacred cows that 5E has been slowly edging away from would be flat gone. The game would have full-on embraced contemporary TTRPG conventions.
Obligatory reminder that in this alternate timeline, TTRPG conventions would have followed a different path, without D&D to set so many of them in the first place.

Having said that:

--I think the XP system would be gone and the D&D would be some sort of milestone experience gain.
Something like milestone experience does seem more likely to emerge from a Choose Your Own Adventure (or LARP) inspired path. Although, it's possible the concept of something like XP could have also emerged independently from the scores in video games.

--All character creation would be point-buy based. The option of rolling for attributes would not be in the PHB.
I'm not even sure there'd be attributes, as we know them. I could easily see a more freeform, skill-based system with no base attributes. Or something even more abstract.

--It is doubtful "hit points" would exist. More likely D&D would use some sort of wound system, with Constitution acting as some sort of resistance/mitigation from getting wounded.
Some sort of wound system, rather than HP, seems possible. Possibly similar to the lifebar seen in video games. I could even see health being an absolute, with injuries represented as percentages (i.e. 85% health). (Occurs to me this is also reminiscent of "shields" in SF like Star Trek, and if SF is more likely an influence on the first RPG in this timeline...)

--Classes might still be siloed, but I think there is a fair chance what we consider "class abilities" would be much more cherry-pickable. It is questionable if classes would exist.
Agreed.

--Alignment would not exist.
Probably not. Unless the 2021 D&D is consciously drawing on Michael Moorcock's work, which seems unlikely compared to other, more recent possible influences.

EDIT: If there is a morality system, it's probably much more simplistic, good vs. evil, light vs. dark, etc.
 

JEB

Adventurer
One more note: I really doubt the D&D equivalent in this alternate timeline would even be called "Dungeons & Dragons". Dragons might well still feature prominently, but "dungeons" as a central concept was very much Arneson and Gygax.

Mind, I have no idea what it WOULD be called, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be "D&D".
 

Puddles

Explorer
Another thing I want to add to this thread, (which is a bit of tangent, so I apologise). I don’t believe in the idea of “No D&D = No Warhammer” (which was mentioned a lot on the early pages). And I wanted to explain why.

Understandably, lots of people see a simple progression of D&D being created, then Games Workshop getting the license, then Games Workshop founding Citadel Miniatures, then creating Warhammer, then creating Warhammer 40k. But this is an over simplification and misses out a lot of important things that come before and at the same time.

So in my opinion, while it would not be called Games Workshop, and it wouldn’t have been founded by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, there would definitely be a company coming out of Nottingham in the 1970s, and it would have created Warhammer. With or without D&D.

Here’s why I think that:

The most important person here is Bryan Ansell. Before Games Workshop founded Citadel Miniatures with Bryan Ansell. Bryan Ansell was a miniatures sculptor who worked for Conquest Miniatures and then founded Asgard Miniatures. Now it’s difficult to find information on Conquest Miniatures (long before I was born), but they had at least 2 lines sculpted by him, one a fantasy range called “Age of Joman”, and one a range called “Gunfighters” (Link).

I’m going to presume Gunfighters is a western range of miniatures, (unfortunately I can't track down any images), because I know Bryan Ansell was a big fan of the game: The Old West Skirmish Wargames: Wargaming Western Gunfights, released 1971. And it is this game that is really the genesis of Warhammer 40K.

Now Bryan Ansell wasn’t just a miniature sculptor. He was also a games designer and wrote 2 sci-fi sets of rules, Laserburn and Imperial Commander. These are seen as the early influences of 40k, and if you read them you'll find many shared tropes, but they in turn are influenced by the Old West game mentioned above, (in terms of structure and scope).

When Bryan Ansell became MD of Games Workshop in the early 1980s it was his decision to focus on the Warhammer brands and relocate the company to Nottingham where the miniatures were being produced. I think all it takes for someone who is both a games designer and owns a miniatures business to put two and two together and decide that making games that require lots of miniatures is more profitable than making games that require 1 miniature. And Byran Ansell would still be in that position with Asgard Miniatures if he hadn't formed Citadel miniatures with Games Workshop.

So even without Games Workshop securing the rights to sell D&D, you still get all of those creatives in Nottingham in the 1970s and 1980s working together. You still get Asgard Miniatures and that means you still have Bryan Ansell, Rick Priestly and Jes Goodwin, and no doubt, John Blanche too.

As mentioned above, Warhammer 40,000 has it’s roots in Laserburn - it’s also more 2000 AD (Nemesis the Warlock, and Judge Dredd) and Dune than it is D&D. So while it might not have any “Orks” or “Eldar”, I think it still gets created pretty much as we know today. And if the Sci-if version gets created, I think so does the fantasy one.

So there is perhaps an interesting switch there. I think with no D&D, you might see Warhammer 40,000 come before Warhammer Fantasy. But they both come about. And I think that means you might see Starcraft before Warcraft too, but those games come about too.

So I think when trying to think of what D&D would be like if it were first created today, it's definitely reasonable to presume that both Warhammer and Warcraft came about, and how they might in turn have an influence upon the game. But I think it's interesting to think about Sci-fi being the root of the genre moreso than Fantasy.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
One more note: I really doubt the D&D equivalent in this alternate timeline would even be called "Dungeons & Dragons". Dragons might well still feature prominently, but "dungeons" as a central concept was very much Arneson and Gygax.

Mind, I have no idea what it WOULD be called, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be "D&D".
Dragon Quest!
 

JEB

Adventurer
Another thing I want to add to this thread, (which is a bit of tangent, so I apologise). I don’t believe in the idea of “No D&D = No Warhammer” (which was mentioned a lot on the early pages). And I wanted to explain why.

Understandably, lots of people see a simple progression of D&D being created, then Games Workshop getting the license, the Games Workshop founding Citadel Miniatures, then creating Warhammer, then creating Warhammer 40k. But this is an over simplification and misses out a lot of important things that come before and at the same time.

So in my opinion, while it would not be called Games Workshop, and it wouldn’t have been founded by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, there would definitely be a company coming out of Nottingham in the 1970s, and it would have created Warhammer. With or without D&D.

Here’s why I think that:

The most important person here is Bryan Ansell. Before Games Workshop founded Citadel Miniatures with Bryan Ansell. Bryan Ansell was a miniatures sculptor who worked for Conquest Miniatures and then founded Asgard Miniatures. Now it’s difficult to find information on Conquest Miniatures (long before I was born), but they had at least 2 lines sculpted by him, one a fantasy range called “Age of Joman”, and one a range called “Gunfighters” (Link).

I’m going to presume Gunfighters is a western range of miniatures, (unfortunately I can't track down any images), because I know Bryan Ansell was a big fan of the game: The Old West Skirmish Wargames: Wargaming Western Gunfights, released 1971. And it is this game that is really the genesis of Warhammer 40K.

Now Bryan Ansell wasn’t just a miniature sculptor. He was also a games designer and wrote 2 sci-fi sets of rules, Laserburn and Imperial Commander. These are seen as the early influences of 40k, and if you read them you'll find many shared tropes, but they in turn are influenced by the Old West game mentioned above, (in terms of structure and scope).

When Bryan Ansell became MD of Games Workshop in the early 1980s it was his decision to focus on the Warhammer brands and relocate the company to Nottingham where the miniatures were being produced. I think all it takes for someone who is both a games designer and owns a miniatures business to put two and two together and decide that making games that require lots of miniatures is more profitable than making games that require 1 miniature. And Byran Ansell would still be in that position with Asgard Miniatures if he hadn't formed Citadel miniatures with Games Workshop.

So even without Games Workshop securing the rights to sell D&D, you still get all of those creatives in Nottingham in the 1970s and 1980s working together. You still get Asgard Miniatures and that means you still have Bryan Ansell, Rick Priestly and Jes Goodwin, and no doubt, John Blanche too.

As mentioned above, Warhammer 40,000 has it’s roots in Laserburn - it’s also more 2000 AD (Nemesis the Warlock, and Judge Dredd) and Dune than it is D&D. So while it might not have any “Orks” or “Eldar”, I think it still gets created pretty much as we know today. And if the Sci-if version gets created, I think so does the fantasy one.

So there is perhaps an interesting switch there. I think with no D&D, you might see Warhammer 40,000 come before Warhammer Fantasy. But they both come about. And I think that means you might see Starcraft before Warcraft too, but those games come about too.

So I think when trying to think of what D&D would be like if it were first created today, it's definitely reasonable to presume that both Warhammer and Warcraft came about, and how they might in turn have an influence upon the game. But I think it's interesting to think about Sci-fi being the root of the genre moreso than Fantasy.
First of all, that was very informative, thank you.

That said, I'm afraid I still disagree. Mainly because you don't get Warhammer 40K without Warhammer Fantasy, and it's extremely unlikely that you get Warhammer Fantasy without GW just coming off of the D&D license and starting a sideline in fantasy minis. And there also wouldn't be a significant market for generic fantasy minis to start with, without D&D in the 1970s. (There would still be a market, most likely, but a much smaller one.)

Now, would we still see Ansell as an influence on miniatures wargaming, and SF wargaming in particular? He may very well be behind some significant games in the genre in this alternate timeline. That you've convinced me of. But Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, specifically? I still don't think those exist without D&D. (And therefore, neither do Warcraft or Starcraft.)
 

Puddles

Explorer
First of all, that was very informative, thank you.

That said, I'm afraid I still disagree. Mainly because you don't get Warhammer 40K without Warhammer Fantasy, and it's extremely unlikely that you get Warhammer Fantasy without GW just coming off of the D&D license and starting a sideline in fantasy minis. And there also wouldn't be a significant market for generic fantasy minis to start with, without D&D in the 1970s. (There would still be a market, most likely, but a much smaller one.)

Now, would we still see Ansell as an influence on miniatures wargaming, and SF wargaming in particular? He may very well be behind some significant games in the genre in this alternate timeline. That you've convinced me of. But Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, specifically? I still don't think those exist without D&D. (And therefore, neither do Warcraft or Starcraft.)

We might still be in agreement. I am envisioning a Warhammer 40k without any D&D influence and without any Warhammer Fantasy Battle influence. I think it is possible for Warhammer 40k to come about without either. Of course there would be some changes to it, but I don't think they are so extreme we can no longer recognise it in comparison to Warhammer 40k.

I'm imagining a continuing Asgard miniatures here, with Bryan Ansell and Rick Priestly continuing to make sci-fi rulesets for the miniatures. The name of the game would be different, it would likely be "Rogue Trader 40,000" instead of Warhammer 40,000, and it would lack Orks (Space Orcs), Eldar (Space Elves), and Squats (Space Dwarves). But while those are loved aspects of the setting (well, maybe not Squats), they are not intrinsic to Warhammer 40k.

Some of the big influences on 40k are from Dune and 2000AD. Find any panel from Nemesis the Warlock and you'll see it dripping in what would become 40k terminology:

nemesis-the-warlock-book-one-sample-image-2.jpg


I argue the look and feel of the Imperium still comes about without D&D. Because that has it's roots in 2000 AD instead. With this in mind, at Asgard miniatures, you have another miniatures sculptor Jes Goodwin. If you are unfamiliar with Jes Goodwin, he is the designer of the Space Marine amongst too many others to name.

So I think you get a miniatures sci-fi game with both the dark tone of the Imperium and the Space Marines at it's front and centre. The nature of the alien threats they fight becomes different with no D&D or Fantasy Battle, but everything else remains very recognisable.

The people who created 40k were making sci-fi miniatures and games before Warhammer Fantasy Battle was created, and their influences would still be there even without D&D. So I think this game comes about regardless if there is a Warhammer Fantasy Battle or not.

And then, presuming Space Marines are as popular in the alternate timeline as they are in ours, the company grows and seeks to expand into other ranges of miniatures.

Now, I am much less invested in the history of Blizzard than I am Games Workshop. I think it is known that those at Blizzard at the time were big fans of Games Workshop, so I think Starcraft comes about if 40k comes about. It doesn't seem to be an incredible stretch that fantasy versions of the games might arise from them, (simply the other way round to how it was in real life), ableit fantasy without D&D and Tolkien tropes.

Sorry for walls of text!
 
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And given the emergence of Rogue Trader in the UK, it's not much of a stretch to envision the creation of Traveller RPG in the US, which owes very little to D&D apart from the concept of RPG. And they go on to spawn all the other RPGs, including fantasy games like Runequest, which, without competition from D&D, might have fared rather better.

So, the alternative 2021 still has RPGs, but they are dominated more by science fiction tropes than fantasy tropes, and tend to be classless and level-less.
 

pemerton

Legend
Traveller RPG in the US, which owes very little to D&D apart from the concept of RPG.
"Very little" is not a technical term, but that said . . .

I've seen some posters suggest that Marc Miller's initial idea was "D&D in space" - I don't know how true that is.

The stats are STR, DEX, END(urance), INT, EDU(cation), SOC(ial Standing), which is not identical to D&D but does suggest some influence.

Armour makes you harder to hit, like D&D.

But obviously there are big differences too. The action resolution mechanics are tighter, more extensible to new situations, and cover a broader field of fictional action than D&D did in 1977.

I think a Traveller that was inspired by sci-fi miniature wargaming would have some differences from its reality, but might still be the pioneer of lifepath PC generation and use its skill-based approach to resolution.
 

I will forget old style idea.
Inspired by the numerous publicity of raid shadow legend I see spam on utube,´
I say that a new concept of RPG would be base on a mobile application.
An aggressive marketing campaign, free at basic play, customer will be constantly offer to pay with real cash to have more fun. Cosmetic feature for character, voice enhancement, replay video. The whole game would be integrated to social media, so best fight, best talk and role play would easily sharable. Concept like hit point and ability score would been taken aside, what you look like would be much more important. Death of a character should be thrilling, so a concept of hangover will be nice, highly influenced by either like from followers or the input of real cash. The game will also be highly polarized and using common stereotypes. Orc will be strong, dwarf tough, elf quick, no time to play out of style character.
 
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I think that this shows that the move to some sort of RPGing - keep the map, or more generally the imagined space, but go individual - is not a huge leap from the extent ideas of the post-war wargaming scene.

What we might ask, though, is - suppose that Arneson had not come up with the idea of a hidden map, how would D&D or other RPGs be different?
I think this might relate to what I see a a major difference between our timeline and this hypothetical one: would dungeon crawling as a game structure exist without DnD? Every alternate path to DnD I've seen in this thread doesn't suggest dungeons as a major component of the game.

CYOA would focus on story. LARP would focus on talking over fighting. Wargames would focus on set-piece battles. Video games would (and still do) tend toward fairly linear encounter paths. You might get the trappings of a Cavern of Wonders, but the old-school rpg feel of meticulously working through a hazard-filled space while making sure you have enough torches seems to be a very DnD-based trope.
 

I think this might relate to what I see a a major difference between our timeline and this hypothetical one: would dungeon crawling as a game structure exist without DnD? Every alternate path to DnD I've seen in this thread doesn't suggest dungeons as a major component of the game.

CYOA would focus on story. LARP would focus on talking over fighting. Wargames would focus on set-piece battles. Video games would (and still do) tend toward fairly linear encounter paths. You might get the trappings of a Cavern of Wonders, but the old-school rpg feel of meticulously working through a hazard-filled space while making sure you have enough torches seems to be a very DnD-based trope.
we would have no roguelikes in this world as a consequence?
 


Here we might get into a debate re PC vs NPC builds: to me, a 1st-level NPC Fighter guard is mechanically exactly the same as a 1st-level PC Fighter. They're interchangeable, such that if the PC Fighter drops dead the player could take over the NPC guard without missing a beat. (or, when the player rolls up another Fighter, its backstory could suggest that up till now it was that third guard on the left)

This is to maintain internal setting consistency, which gets blown up if PCs and NPCs operate by different rules.
That's a simulationist concern. D&D is a primarily gamist game, has been for the entire time it's existed, and if it appeared in 2020? It would be way more likely to be even more game-ist, because simulationism in fantasy computer games and TT wargames is stone cold DEAD. RIP. Gravestone. Funeral was years ago. It might, ironically survive a little longer without a gamist RPG dominating fantasy, but it'd still be stone cold dead by 2020.

There's absolutely no way standard NPCs will be identical to PCs.

As for potential to become PCs... not really. It's not something that happens in fiction. Those characters don't become PC-type characters. They might have a "glorious death" scene, or even manage to protect someone or stop some baddy, but they never become protagonists, and they almost always end up dead. It's possible that eventually someone might decide to add these like "background characters as PCs", but as a starting class? Nah mate. There's absolutely no way those guys would get billed alongside people inspired Harry Potter, Ged/Merlin, Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, badass Knights/Samurai and so on.
 

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