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

HammerMan

Legend
Okay. I have to admit I'm a tad surprised that there's no appreciation or consideration of any kind of integrity of process that you care about in the games you play. I'm wondering why you advocated prep, then, though? What is prep providing to your play?
making it easier at the table, making sure that things feel real even when they aren't... it's just how I always did it.
Also, I would not recommend Blades in the Dark to you. It requires a very high degree of principled play and sticking tightly to the rules system to function.
so like no house rules?
You might better enjoy Fiasco, though, as there are barely any mechanics to deal with and it is pretty low prep as well.
I'm not sure I really would like barely any mechanics... but thanks I will look up both Blades in the Dark and Fiasco
 

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Thomas Shey

Legend
So, I have this issue of categorization as "nothing but a sidekick". Much of the plot of Doctor Who is driven by the Companions.

It doesn't matter that they are. If you're going to use a game system for them, people are going to expect to be playing the ones who actually are doing something than talking to the right people and doing emotional support.

I think a d20 Modern style class system would be a reasonable approach for this game.

To the degree you consider the D20 Modern class system to serve any particular purpose being a class system.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
making it easier at the table, making sure that things feel real even when they aren't... it's just how I always did it.

so like no house rules?

I'm not sure I really would like barely any mechanics... but thanks I will look up both Blades in the Dark and Fiasco
I'm confused. Why do you care about mechanics if they aren't going to be used in play in any meaningful way? If they're freely broken and/or ignored without affecting the enjoyment you get from the game, what exactly are they doing?

As for prep, you mean that prep is NOT available to just ignoring it whenever and having the same fun? So prep is expected to have some integrity in how it's applied to the game, unlike the game mechanics which can be freely broken/ignored?
 

HammerMan

Legend
I'm confused. Why do you care about mechanics if they aren't going to be used in play in any meaningful way? If they're freely broken and/or ignored without affecting the enjoyment you get from the game, what exactly are they doing?
I don't understand. We play D&D. we just don't care if someone decides they hit when they shouldn't or have a few extra hp here and there. Most of us don't do so all the time. I assume your table has little white lies too. Have you never declaired a hit on a miss, or a miss on a hit? have you never pulled a punch to not end a fight in an anticlimatic way?

It's not anarchy, its not sweeting the small stuff. Your stats, your Hp, your bonus to hit... those are the small things
As for prep, you mean that prep is NOT available to just ignoring it whenever and having the same fun?
sometimes the prep leads to fun, and sometimes you need to throw the prep out. Hence why earlier I pointed out that across many editions of many games I have most likly more UNUSED prep then hours worked in a year. If I wasn't willing to throw out what I preped how would that make sense?
So prep is expected to have some integrity in how it's applied to the game, unlike the game mechanics which can be freely broken/ignored?
I don't know what you mean by integrity. If I make the black dragon a CR 27 monster, and prep a high level area around him, and some kobolds that worship him a low level threat, and a cult of dragon sorcerers as a mid level threat... that helps me make the world. If my PCs some how stumble into the dragon's cave at level 4 I can do 1 of 2 things to keep the fun... 1 it isn't the dragon cave, the dragon cave is on the other part of the map now, or 2 that dragon the kobolds were talking about is now a cr 6 dragon...

Now I could 'play it as it lay' and tpk the 4th level party with my CR 27 dragon... but that ends the game so not really fun.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I don't understand. We play D&D. we just don't care if someone decides they hit when they shouldn't or have a few extra hp here and there. Most of us don't do so all the time. I assume your table has little white lies too. Have you never declaired a hit on a miss, or a miss on a hit? have you never pulled a punch to not end a fight in an anticlimatic way?

It's not anarchy, its not sweeting the small stuff. Your stats, your Hp, your bonus to hit... those are the small things

sometimes the prep leads to fun, and sometimes you need to throw the prep out. Hence why earlier I pointed out that across many editions of many games I have most likly more UNUSED prep then hours worked in a year. If I wasn't willing to throw out what I preped how would that make sense?

I don't know what you mean by integrity. If I make the black dragon a CR 27 monster, and prep a high level area around him, and some kobolds that worship him a low level threat, and a cult of dragon sorcerers as a mid level threat... that helps me make the world. If my PCs some how stumble into the dragon's cave at level 4 I can do 1 of 2 things to keep the fun... 1 it isn't the dragon cave, the dragon cave is on the other part of the map now, or 2 that dragon the kobolds were talking about is now a cr 6 dragon...

Now I could 'play it as it lay' and tpk the 4th level party with my CR 27 dragon... but that ends the game so not really fun.
Okay, I'm trying to reconcile this. Why can't the party at level four just declares all crits, never mark spell slots, overcast spells, and inflate their hit points so as to deal with the dragon? Or is there some inflection point where such things cross from white lies to more?

As for my experience, of course I've done those things. Then I changed my mind, and I don't do them anymore at all. I mostly play online these days and I make most everything open when I run D&D. Even in person games, I roll in the open, expect honesty, and overshare information.
 

I tend to feel the benefits of hiding information from the players such as DCs and making secret rolls are vastly overstated, while the benefits of having everything clear and allowing the players to make informed decisions to be underestimated.

I personally really wish game companies would stop selling GM screens. I can't think of any other situation where someone who is expected to lead an activity is encouraged to put up a physical barrier.
 
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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I tend to feel the benefits of hiding information from the players such as DCs and making secret rolls are vastly overstated, while the benefits of having anything clear and and allowing the players to make informed decisions to be underestimated.

I personally really wish game companies would stop selling GM screens. I can't think of any other situation where someone who is expected to lead an activity is encouraged to put up a physical barrier.
I kind of agree but feel that the benefits of blind rolls can be enormous & wish that there were bluetooth/usb camera equipped dice cups or similar to facilitate them in meatspace. Blind rolls might not be useful in an early d&d some versions had the gm rolling player attack rolls instead of players manner but for skill rolls (stealth/knowledge/etc) it's huge.
 

When I DM dnd, especially 5e, I find that it's combat that takes the most mental energy. There's a lot to keep track of: turn order, hit points, lengthy stat blocks, discussing rules, looking up spells, conditions, etc. Combat is likely the part where a player will be unsure of a rule, requiring an explanation, or in which you need to parse some action to figure out how it affects the scene. For us modern gamers we can add onto that futzing with a vtt and a map and tokens.

Social/free play is much easier for me. True, I have to remember or invent NPCs, and inhabit them quickly (even if my NPCs are mostly one dimensional, and I don't do voices). But since I do homebrew I am usually the one who has invented the characters and their stories anyway. Even when doing a module, it's not more difficult than remembering the characters from a play or tv show.

Blades in the Dark is fairly intensive in terms of demanding GM attention. There are a lot of variables to bring into play at each moment, and requires really deft adjudication and clear framing. Comparatively speaking though, fights that happen in blades are not super complicated to run because they aren't a whole mini-game with special rules.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don't understand. We play D&D. we just don't care if someone decides they hit when they shouldn't or have a few extra hp here and there. Most of us don't do so all the time. I assume your table has little white lies too. Have you never declaired a hit on a miss, or a miss on a hit? have you never pulled a punch to not end a fight in an anticlimatic way?
Cheating like that would earn a player a one way trip out of the game. We absolutely do care if a player cheats and hits when they shouldn't or adds hit points they don't have to their sheet.
It's not anarchy, its not sweeting the small stuff. Your stats, your Hp, your bonus to hit... those are the small things
Blatant cheating is not "small stuff."
 

wizard71

Explorer
I would say that yes, D&D is 90% combat. If that were not the case then so many discussions about balance, martials vs casters and other such topics would not have gained traction in the forums. The Rogue is a classic example. Before it was about skills, disarming traps, picking pockets, etc. Now its about sneak attack and massive damage. The biggest complaint about the monk is how she does not dominate combat even though she is an excellent combatant. How the ranger has been a weak sauce class that took a long time to fix
 

I would say that yes, D&D is 90% combat. If that were not the case then so many discussions about balance, martials vs casters and other such topics would not have gained traction in the forums. The Rogue is a classic example. Before it was about skills, disarming traps, picking pockets, etc. Now its about sneak attack and massive damage. The biggest complaint about the monk is how she does not dominate combat even though she is an excellent combatant. How the ranger has been a weak sauce class that took a long time to fix
My complaint about some of the classes (like Rogue) would be that they're boring combatants given how much time combat tends to take.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I tend to feel the benefits of hiding information from the players such as DCs and making secret rolls are vastly overstated, while the benefits of having everything clear and allowing the players to make informed decisions to be underestimated.

I personally really wish game companies would stop selling GM screens. I can't think of any other situation where someone who is expected to lead an activity is encouraged to put up a physical barrier.
This is a downside of the GM screen. One of the plusses of a GM screen, however, tend to be the rules written on the back. That said, a few companies, e.g., Monte Cook Games, have made play mats with a lot of the basic rules on the outer edges so that people at the table can also see them.
 

This is a downside of the GM screen. One of the plusses of a GM screen, however, tend to be the rules written on the back. That said, a few companies, e.g., Monte Cook Games, have made play mats with a lot of the basic rules on the outer edges so that people at the table can also see them.
Oh yes. I buy the PDFs of DM's screens sometimes and print the backsides of them and put them in a plastic slip so that they're sitting in front of me. I just can't stand the actual screens.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Okay, I'm trying to reconcile this. Why can't the party at level four just declares all crits, never mark spell slots, overcast spells, and inflate their hit points so as to deal with the dragon?
becuse that isn't fun...
Or is there some inflection point where such things cross from white lies to more?
yeah.... when Jon crit every other round, and sometimes on non crits did more then max damage, we laughed it off. When he told us he had cancer and was dieing and needed our help, and he moved in with 2 other friends becuse he couldn't work, but 8 months later when one of them said something to his dad and it turned out he got fired for doing drugs on the job... that crossed the line. That is why he isn't our friend anymore.
As for my experience, of course I've done those things. Then I changed my mind, and I don't do them anymore at all.
the only reason I don't right now is we use roll20. So as a DM every roll is out for players to see, and so no 'oh i missed' work... however I still manipulate AC HP and story points... just die rolls can't without saying 'nah we wont count that' (and 1 of our DMs has done that a few times for fun)
I mostly play online these days and I make most everything open when I run D&D. Even in person games, I roll in the open, expect honesty, and overshare information.
in person I rolled infront of myself. If we are all piled up at a table maybe everyone can see the dice, but if we are on a coutch recliner (and once apon a time when we had better knees bean bag chairs) no one can see.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Cheating like that would earn a player a one way trip out of the game. We absolutely do care if a player cheats and hits when they shouldn't or adds hit points they don't have to their sheet.

Blatant cheating is not "small stuff."
why? who cares? what are they cheating? are they winning something? I don't understand?

Lets take a real life example from 2e.
I was DMing and my then best friend was playing. She ALWAYs loved being a fighter. Her power fantasy was to be big strong and kick everyone's butt. I used to keep tabs (both on my own characters I played and on my players both) of something I called Adjusted Thac0. Basicly I would add up all the bonuses and adjust teh Thac0. It made it easier for me to say what AC I hit, and could often with a glance already know if someone else hit while they were adding and subtracting (for those of you that never played 2e you rolled a die, added number then compared that number to Thac0, then back engineered if you hit the AC...I just skipped a step by pre doing it so I could save time...and I wasn't the only one that did ti)
So we had a night Jr year of Highschool I watched and knew she was cheating. My big bad (The Dark Musketeer) had and AC of -4 (in 5e this would be a 24 or 25 by straight numbers but it was REALLY hard to hit... like the non fighters all needed like 18+) I knew her strength, I new her new +2 axe, and I knew she was weapon mastery in it meant she had +x (as much as I remember parts I don't remember this I want to say +8 or +9) and at 6th level her thac0 would be 15 so adjusted it would be 7or 6. that means to hit an AC of -4 she had the best chance at about 50/50. She made 2 attacks the first round and missed with both. The second round she rolled a nat 1 and another miss. She was frustrated. For the rest of the fight (maybe 10is rounds) she didn't miss once. Not when I saw the die come up signal digits or not.

I could have said "Stop, a 4 doesn't hit a -5 like you just said that would mean you were like 6 levels higher" or I could do what I decided... the dice were going to ruin her night, and the story if we followed them. Over the already 6 or 7 years we were playing together up until then I had only seen her fudge a die roll once or twice... that night was WAY beyond that. in the in the 25 years since I have seen her rarely do it again (although I'm sure that since I know she did a few times there MUST be times I didn't catch her too).

Something VERY private had happened to her around that time (to this day I only know the generalities of the trauma, and even then it took 5+ years before she told me that much) but I had 0 clues that night. In retrospect if I was smarter and paying more attention maybe I would have seen other signs but I was a dumb 18 year old. I am sure having a bad game would not have killed her. I am sure that those bad luck rolls were the least of her trouble. I also know that 6 months ago some of the guys were still talking about how awesome that fight was. I also know that night she got to feel a bit better.

so if Jon needs to crit 7 out of 16 attacks to have fun, and Jimmy some how has +12/+12/+7/+2 for attacks and calls 24, 25, 27, finds the 27 hits, then calls 'oh then my last one hits too' then knowing the 27 is the AC calls all 4 attacks the next round as hits, and that other jimmy would try to explain his + to hit or save by recalling bless 3 times "Oh I have +1 from bless + 5 base +3 dex, +1 bless, +2 from magic, +1 from focus, and +1 from bless so +15" even though no one cast bless, and even his math was +14 (and most of us knew it was actually +11 or 12) or Becky has a night where bad luck dice don't ruin her night.... who cares? It's a game.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I would say that yes, D&D is 90% combat. If that were not the case then so many discussions about balance, martials vs casters and other such topics would not have gained traction in the forums. The Rogue is a classic example. Before it was about skills, disarming traps, picking pockets, etc. Now its about sneak attack and massive damage. The biggest complaint about the monk is how she does not dominate combat even though she is an excellent combatant. How the ranger has been a weak sauce class that took a long time to fix
the irony is the time that D&D had no social skills and very few mental skills (called Non weap prof if you were not one of 3 classes to get % skills) was when skill classes stood out the most. I remember thieves (what we used to call what is a rouge now) might hide in a shadow for multi rounds... get 1 big hit in (back stab) then either fall back or be a VERY lack luster combatant... now sneak attack means on a 'per hit' basis no fighter can keep up with the damage of a rogue.
 

pemerton

Legend
sometimes you HAVE to make it up as you go (go look at my post in 'how was your last game' half of it was) but in order for us to HAVE the ability to make stuff up we create worlds, have concepts ideas of history and significant places and cool encounters. Do you NOT prep worlds and/or inbetween sessions?
I know this thread is in the D&D form and is ostensibly about D&D, but the discussion seems to be ranging over a variety of systems.

My approach to preparation depends on the system I'm GMing, and within the constraints of the system, depends on how I want to approach a particular game.

For instance, when I was running a lot of 4e D&D I would often prepare maps and stat blocks. The extent to which I would prepare worlds or history varied. Sometimes I would think something up in advance. Often I would make it up as part of the process, or outcome, of play.

The system I've run most recently is Torchbearer. In two sessions I've used a prepared scenario. In one, I made up the elements of the scenario on the spot. In the session with the most backstory, that backstory was worked out by the players (as part of PC gen), building on the implied setting of the system and using the Greyhawk maps for place names.
 

pemerton

Legend
Plus, one can still have fun with friends while playing something that is a competition regardless of whether one wins or loses: e.g., sports, board game, card game, etc.
Right. The game involves such-and-such competition between such-and-such participants seems pretty compatible with the game is fun. I enjoy playing backgammon and various whist variants. They are all competitive games. The people who play with me often have fun too. They are competing against me.

I'm thinking of trying to get into a Torchbearer game. That's a competitive game, in a way that my favourite RPG - Burning Wheel - is not. I would still expect it to be fun, even though I would also expect not to be especially good at the competition (I've never been an especially good technical wargamer or dungeon crawler).

Assuming that every activity that the game allows for is inherently fun, which isn't the case in reality.
Another favourite RPG of mine is Classic Traveller. But it certainly allows for activity that - in my view - is not inherently fun. I'm thinking of two things in particular - some of the trading it has rules for, which can degenerate into mere bookkeeping; and onworld exploration, for which it has no robust system.

Those things don't stop me playing Traveller. But when I GM, I deliberately steer things away from those activities, or put workarounds into place.

There's a contrast in this respect with other systems I GM and enjoy, like Burning Wheel and Prince Valiant, which don't require me to be so active in managing where the action goes and occasionally deploying workarounds, because they don't have comparable deficiencies (ie of having some fairly core activities having a tendency to be non-fun because of design weaknesses).

Overwhelmingly, yes. The players of my games typically don't find the fun. They are mostly miserable.

Its clear to me now that I've spent far too much time trying to GM a huge variety of games, GM for a huge number of players, deconstruct play paradigms with thoughtful GMs, and think hard about and work even harder on my craft.

All this time the problem was that I_just_wasnt_looking for the fun.
I get where you're coming from!

If a team wants to get better at netball, I think telling them to score more goals isn't very helpful. I imagine most netball teams can work out that the aim of play is to score goals (and prevent the other team scoring). But to get better, they need to improve the particular skills and tactics that will enable them to score more goals.

Those skills and tactics will be different (at least in part) from the skills and tactics a football team needs to work on if it is to improve.

Presumably most people play RPGs to have fun, but identifying that goal doesn't take us very far in identifying what the various participants ought to be doing to try and ensure that the experience is fun. The particular game being played, its systems, the "ethos" it brings with it, etc, are all considerations. Eg D&D benefits from maps in a way that is largely irrelevant to Prince Valiant. D&D as typically approached benefits from - even, arguably, depends upon - cooperative party play in a way that Burning Wheel doesn't have to and even Classic Traveller can depart from. If I wanted to play a game of intense emotional and tactical rivalry between protagonists - if that was the sort of fun I was looking for - I wouldn't choose D&D. It's lack of social conflict resolution mechanics would be just one of the reasons for that; the fact that it is designed around a sort-of "combined arms" paradigm of problem-solving is another. Whereas Burning Wheel or (I would think) Apocalypse World would handle the game of intense emotional and tactical rivalry pretty handily.
 

pemerton

Legend
By default the DM runs the game. They make the final call. That doesn't make them an autocrat, it just makes them the person with the most information about the world and the NPCs that inhabit it.

<snip>

If the DM is using their authority as author of the scenario to f*** over the players, they're being a bad DM.
I don't know where this notion of the "default" is coming from. Do you mean what is statistically typical? Then I think you're probably right. Do you mean what the game rules tell us? Then I think you're probably right for AD&D 2nd ed and 5e, only partially right for AD&D and B/X, and not especially right for 4e.

I don't think the default way to GM 4e, based on what the rulebooks say, is for the GM to draw on their knowledge of the world and the NPCs to tell the players what happens next without f*****g them over.

Judging from the two DMGs plus the PHB, I think the default way to GM 4e is that, whenever something interesting is at stake, either ask the players what they think is going on (ie let them fill in world details, PC backgrounds etc) or else to frame a skill challenge and see what comes out of it.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Presumably most people play RPGs to have fun, but identifying that goal doesn't take us very far in identifying what the various participants ought to be doing to try and ensure that the experience is fun. The particular game being played, its systems, the "ethos" it brings with it, etc, are all considerations. Eg D&D benefits from maps in a way that is largely irrelevant to Prince Valiant. D&D as typically approached benefits from - even, arguably, depends upon - cooperative party play in a way that Burning Wheel doesn't have to and even Classic Traveller can depart from. If I wanted to play a game of intense emotional and tactical rivalry between protagonists - if that was the sort of fun I was looking for - I wouldn't choose D&D. It's lack of social conflict resolution mechanics would be just one of the reasons for that; the fact that it is designed around a sort-of "combined arms" paradigm of problem-solving is another. Whereas Burning Wheel or (I would think) Apocalypse World would handle the game of intense emotional and tactical rivalry pretty handily.
oh boy... and what is fun for 1 maybe no fun for another.

I ran a birthright campaign for just shy of 2 years, PCs only leveled 4 or 5 times (it was 2e so not even at same time) during that time my players all started there own bids for power, started families, and 1 player can honestly say he did not roll a single attack roll or saving throw.

they loved it. Some would call it boreing (including some I play with now that jokeingly call it simcity D&D when we talk about it).

I have seen people run death trap dungeons, ones that you need henchmen or pets willing to sacrafice themselves, 10 ft poles (more then one) and to check for traps every 5ft. I HATE those games. but some people love them.

I played in a game (4e) where by level 7 we all had at least 1 character die (there where 6 players) and one of us was on our third character... when said third character died we all told the DM we were not having fun. (now in this case the DM through a fit insulted us, insulted the owner of the store we were playing in, stormed off saying "I can't stand people who only started in 4e" even though of the 6 of us 3 of us started in 2e and 3 started in 3e... none of us 'started in 4e'. (BTW the owner of the store found his PHB MM and PHB2 by the garbage not even fully in it.. took it inside and kept it as 'anyone can use') and that guy said he had been DMing for longer then I had been alive (I can't belive that but I do know someone that is true for so I can't sayy 100% impossible) and so SOMEONE must injoy his style.
 

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