D&D 5E Is D&D 90% Combat?

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In response to Cubicle 7’s announcement that their next Doctor Who role playing game would be powered by D&D 5E, there was a vehement (and in some places toxic) backlash on social media. While that backlash has several dimensions, one element of it is a claim that D&D is mainly about combat.

Head of D&D Ray Winninger disagreed (with snark!), tweeting "Woke up this morning to Twitter assuring me that [D&D] is "ninety percent combat." I must be playing (and designing) it wrong." WotC's Dan Dillon also said "So guess we're gonna recall all those Wild Beyond the Witchlight books and rework them into combat slogs, yeah? Since we did it wrong."

So, is D&D 90% combat?

And in other news, attacking C7 designers for making games is not OK.


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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


B/X Known World
The game mechanics in the books, mostly yes.

The game as people actually play it at the table, mostly no.

As discussed in the Doctor Who thread, the fact that Wild Beyond the Witchlight had to be marketed as having the potential to be completed without combat and apparently has special rules written to allow this proves the general point.

ETA: Since this just keeps coming up and coming up, here’s the “special rules” I was told exist in Witchlight. Clearly I was lied to and clearly they’re not special rules.

“One of the many novelties of this adventure is that the characters can accomplish their goals without resorting to violence—but only if they're clever. They can fight their way through the adventure as well, but the odds won't always be in their favor.” WBtW, p4

Though advancement is based on travel-based milestones rather than combat.
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im my experience I'd say it's about 50 /50 the number of tables that play it either way. i know people that just do dungeon crawls and would rather die than go back to town and roleplay with the citizens. I also know people that can play for 6 months and have one combat. Both are equally valid ways to play and there are groups all the way across the spectrum. It's funny how many people love to think thier way is the way most people play, when even the most experienced of us have played with less than 1 percent of the gamer community.


Not normally in my experience, but that is anecdotal at best.

It's more of a 50/50 in most cases, though I've had cases where it's been as low as 10% combat or lower.


Thats really too bad to hear. I think Dr. Who is the least combat focused idea of a game I can think of. A lot will be up to the presentation on how the game will be played. In the past, I've found 5E to be hard to evade the combat drive. For example, we did a run of Carbon 2185(?) that was cyberpunk skinned 5E. At one point when a player was struggling to attack a person or not. The GM just said "dude these are like D&D goblins; just kill them" and it destroyed our immersion.

So, really it will come down to the fact if you see mechanics as simple under the hood tools, or bits that blend into the game experience itself. I have found that the answer is yes, 5E does mean 90% combat for me and prefer other systems for other genres.

I wouldn't be shocked if a literal 90% of the verbiage of the rules is devoted to things related to combat, but if you look at a real world legal code it does not line up in percentage of words to how citizens spend their lives. Radically more words are spent on crimes most people will never even consider committing than on, say, the act of sleeping that people devote a third of their lives to.

I would also argue that even for people going out of their way to treat it as a combat game, "90%" is hyperbolic.

While I do think 5e is a terrible fit for Doctor Who from a game design purist standpoint, the simple fact is that it's a lot easier to get a 5e-derived game together than anything else. If you have an established tabletop group that is always happy to learn a whole new system and are Doctor Who fans, this isn't for you. If you are looking to create the highest Venn diagram overlap of potential people in the world interested in the show and willing to learn the rules it suddenly makes a lot of sense.


Gameplay is not 90% combat; but the rules are overwhelmingly focused on combat. There is very little mechanical support for anything else--just a quick-and-dirty skill system that has to bear the weight of resolving everything that isn't fighting, plus a smattering of spells that let you point at a noncombat challenge and make it vanish.

People can and do run low-combat or no-combat D&D, and more power to them. But doing that is like buying a car because you need a place to keep your stuff. A car can certainly function as a storage unit, but you're paying for a whole lot of functionality you're not going to use.

The space of written game mechanics do focus far more on combat than the other two pillars, which is a shame. However, actual play varies based on group and campaign. A campaign could be 100% combat or 0% combat, but most are in between. I feel the published adventures are about 50-70% combat though, which will also skew public perception of the game. Most of my campaigns are probably about 40% combat, 40% exploration, and 20% social.


While one can, and most certainly will, quibble about the exact percentages, it does seem pretty clear that not every pillar in the game shares equal mechanical support in D&D. The degree to which a table chooses to engage with what mechanical support is there (or not) for their own games is a distinctly separate matter.

The game mechanics in the books, mostly yes.

The game as people actually play it at the table, mostly no.
This pretty much nails it, right in the first response.

The rules for any particular non-combat activity are a single roll, yet when it comes to combat you have hit points, armor class, different dice for a range of deadly weapons, a good chunk of the game's spells, hit dice, critical hits, etc., etc. You certainly can play non-combat DnD, and I've recently run a game with where we almost got through 3 sessions before I had in inject a combat into the campaign, but the rules are undoubtedly combat-oriented compared to other systems out there.

I saw that they were making a DnD Doctor Who and was struck by how poor of a fit it is. You CAN smash a Doctor Who shaped peg into a DnD shaped hole but I'm sure there are dozens of other systems out there that would work much more naturally.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
I saw that they were making a DnD Doctor Who and was struck by how poor of a fit it is. You CAN smash a Doctor Who shaped peg into a DnD shaped hole but I'm sure there are dozens of other systems out there that would work much more naturally.
They’ve made a Doctor Who RPG for over a decade with its own system. The 5E version doesn’t take away from that game. People can choose! But let’s not rehash that here; they’re getting a lot of toxic blowback on Twitter over that.

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