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

pemerton

Legend
Any system that is not entirely in the hands of the players or run by a set of static unchanging (and transparent) rules can be subverted by the DM/GM/referee.
I don't think that this is true at all. (Unless static, unchanging and transparent is given a very broad interpretation.)

How would a GM go about subverting Burning Wheel? Or Apocalypse World? Or even Classic Traveller?
 

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Oofta

Legend
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.

The PHB and DMG makes it pretty clear that the DM makes the final call although it is not the only way of running the game. I'm not going to bother with quotes. I'm also assuming 5E, but I don't remember it being that different in any version. My wife was going to burn our 4E books as a sacrificial offering* but instead we gave them away instead so I can't check those.

But every other version? It makes the role of the DM clear. They create the world, they're the referee, they say what happens as a result of the PC's actions.

*I kid a bit. But we were going to be moving and she didn't want to pay the $0.25 it would have cost to ship store them so we gave them to someone that wanted them.
 

Oofta

Legend
I don't think that this is true at all. (Unless static, unchanging and transparent is given a very broad interpretation.)

How would a GM go about subverting Burning Wheel? Or Apocalypse World? Or even Classic Traveller?

Every game that has been described that do not follow D&D's pattern of target values set by the DM that need to be hit that have been set by the DM have a way to automatically counter or overcome an obstacle. That to me is static.

Or there's just some magic formula I can't imagine.
 

pemerton

Legend
The PHB and DMG makes it pretty clear that the DM makes the final call although it is not the only way of running the game. I'm not going to bother with quotes. I'm also assuming 5E, but I don't remember it being that different in any version.

<snip>

But every other version? It makes the role of the DM clear. They create the world, they're the referee, they say what happens as a result of the PC's actions.
Moldvay Basic and Gygax's DMG assume that if that the GM has not written down a NPC's reaction in the dungeon key ahead of time, then the reaction table is used. Moldvay Basic states that if a player declare that their PCs looks for traps, or for secret doors, then a d6 is rolled and (depending on class) the number rolled cross-referenced against the dungeon key determines what the answer is. (This approach is also flagged in Gygax's DMG, but a different way of resolving searching for secret doors is also presented as an option.)

In those systems, (i) what the GM says is not unconstrained, and (ii) there are constraints other than just the GM extrapolating from the world that they have created.

As I posted, I think that 2nd ed AD&D is different in this respect, and 5e also though to be honest I know 2nd ed AD&D better.
 

pemerton

Legend
Every game that has been described that do not follow D&D's pattern of target values set by the DM that need to be hit that have been set by the DM have a way to automatically counter or overcome an obstacle. That to me is static.
I thought that one of the systems mentioned was Dogs in the Vineyard. It doesn't have a way to "automatically counter or overcome and obstacle". Nor does it have target values set by the GM.

Other examples I could mention: Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic (all checks are opposed, and all dice are rolled in the open); Apocalypse World and its offshoots (all rolls are resolved on the 6-, 7-9, 10+ pattern); Burning Wheel and Classic Traveller (obstacles are set either as specified in the rulebooks, or as extrapolated from those examples).

I don't see how any of these games is liable to being "subverted" by a GM. And nor do I see how they are "static" in ways that D&D is not. They just use different techniques.

Or there's just some magic formula I can't imagine.
None of these games is magic, and most are pretty easily available.
 

Oofta

Legend
Moldvay Basic and Gygax's DMG assume that if that the GM has not written down a NPC's reaction in the dungeon key ahead of time, then the reaction table is used. Moldvay Basic states that if a player declare that their PCs looks for traps, or for secret doors, then a d6 is rolled and (depending on class) the number rolled cross-referenced against the dungeon key determines what the answer is. (This approach is also flagged in Gygax's DMG, but a different way of resolving searching for secret doors is also presented as an option.)

In those systems, (i) what the GM says is not unconstrained, and (ii) there are constraints other than just the GM extrapolating from the world that they have created.

As I posted, I think that 2nd ed AD&D is different in this respect, and 5e also though to be honest I know 2nd ed AD&D better.

Referring to rules that are nearly a half century old doesn't seem particularly relevant. The game has changed pretty significantly since then and very few people played that closely to the rules anyway. But if the DM hadn't decided the NPCs attitude ahead of time tells me that the DM is still in control. Beyond that, the oldest books I have anymore (I've lost my older books over time) make it quite clear that the DM has "an active hand" that extends to the rules and that the DM has the final say.

But I don't know what you're trying to get at. I could quote the PHB and DMG from several editions, they all make the same assumption. The DM makes the final call. Maybe you don't agree with that. Certainly any group can decide to ignore that advice just like anything else in the book. But it is still the default.
 

Oofta

Legend
I thought that one of the systems mentioned was Dogs in the Vineyard. It doesn't have a way to "automatically counter or overcome and obstacle". Nor does it have target values set by the GM.

Other examples I could mention: Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic (all checks are opposed, and all dice are rolled in the open); Apocalypse World and its offshoots (all rolls are resolved on the 6-, 7-9, 10+ pattern); Burning Wheel and Classic Traveller (obstacles are set either as specified in the rulebooks, or as extrapolated from those examples).

I don't see how any of these games is liable to being "subverted" by a GM. And nor do I see how they are "static" in ways that D&D is not. They just use different techniques.

None of these games is magic, and most are pretty easily available.
Since I've never played Dogs in the Vineyard, I can only go by the examples given. I understand different games work differently, I don't see how a game that operates in the same fashion as D&D could be completely fair.

If I'm wrong explain. Don't just throw out "I know better than you but won't bother to explain how it works" and expect any more responses from me. I don't see the point.
 

HammerMan

Legend
But I don't know what you're trying to get at. I could quote the PHB and DMG from several editions, they all make the same assumption. The DM makes the final call. Maybe you don't agree with that. Certainly any group can decide to ignore that advice just like anything else in the book. But it is still the default.
I have often on this board been told I am 'doing it wrong' by giving my players (who all have DM experience and none of the current ones started with 5e) as much control as I do... and I STILL agree in D&D the DM gets final veto power.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
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.

@Oofta here are some snippets from the 4e PhB and DMG. To me, it doesn't read by default as necessarily being different from how the other games run. It does do a nice job in various places of discussing different options for how a DM might run it (fudging, where you roll the dice, etc...).

From the PhB.

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From the 4e DMG
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pemerton

Legend
Holy smokes. In my opinion, it's woefully inadequate because, for me, according to my preferences, whether or not I can successfully manipulate someone depends in part on how easily manipulated they are, as well as a host of other situational factors.
Everyone agrees with this, ie, that how easily manipulated a person is depends on facts about them and the circumstances.

The Apocalypse World rule that @loverdrive quoted doesn't deny that. It is a technique used in the real world to work out what happens in an imagined world Obviously the result in the imagined world is an upshot of those things everyone agrees on. From the use of the real world process, we learn things about the imagined world.

Now if what you mean to say is that you want a technique that, in the real world, depends upon inputs that are determined by already-established features of the imagined world like what is a person's propensity to being manipulated (eg how strong is their will) or how conducive is the situation to manipulating the person (eg how much distraction is the person subject to), then fair enough.

But that's not what you said.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I have often on this board been told I am 'doing it wrong' by giving my players (who all have DM experience and none of the current ones started with 5e) as much control as I do... and I STILL agree in D&D the DM gets final veto power.

I think most editions of D&D, and also a significant number of other games, at least suggest that the GM has final say. But they also usually say something along the lines of “when in doubt” or “when the rules are unclear”.

Many folks read that as “the GM is free to do whatever they want” but I don’t think that’s really the case. If I’m playing D&D and the DM constantly vetos things that should have pretty clear processes and potential results, I’m likely not gonna stick around. Or ask that we change how this works. I’d expect that would be true for many people.

So, if a DM is constantly making tasks incredibly hard by always using high DCs for ability checks, or if he’s raising opponent ACs, or if he’s constantly not allowing for ability checks where they seem relevant… maybe that’s all technically “by the book”… but it seems like it would stink.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
why? who cares? what are they cheating? are they winning something? I don't understand?
They're cheating the integrity of the game. They are harming the games of the other players who expect the game to be run and played fairly. They are making a mockery of me and the work I put in to make the game fun and enjoyable. And more.
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).
Luck is part of the game. Missing 3 times(or any number of times) is not an excuse for cheating.
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.
I care. And my other players care. Why even have rules if you're going to allow cheating? There's no point to having them.

DM: "You're playing a wizard and you get all your spells and long rest abilities back when you long rest, or whenever you feel like since it's okay to cheat."
Player: "Cool. I'm not going to bother long resting then."
 

pemerton

Legend
If you start thinking to hard about driving, or walking, or breathing, it suddenly becomes difficult, when it previously was easy.
Interesting. I've actually had occasion to think about breathing, how I breathe, and ways to change how I breathe to improve performance at other thing. At no point did I find breathing to become more difficult.
When I'm running or cycling I often think about my breathing, or other stuff - like how I'm moving parts of my body - that at other times (eg when I'm typing message board posts) I don't think about.

It doesn't make it harder to breather, or move my legs, or whatever. Generally when I think about it, I find my performance improves, because I notice some sort of "rut" that I've lapsed into and I correct that (eg because I'm clumsy I don't ride with clips or cleats, and if I stop thinking about my feet they slip forward on my pedals and so my power per stroke reduces; when I think about where my feet are and what they are doing I can bring them back so that I'm transmitting more power through the ball of my foot, which noticeably increases my power and hence speed).

I've been a teacher in universities for nearly 30 years. Today I had a conversation with a colleague about teaching - he's not as experienced as me, but has well over 10 years of teaching experience. We talked about approaches to setting textbooks and providing students with materials. Those sorts of conversations are part of (not all of) what has made me a better teacher now than when I started.

To me it GMing seems like any other reasonably complex, reasonably structured human activity. It benefits from practice. And it benefits from reflection. Some of that can be in the moment, and some of it outside the moment. And the outcomes you get aren't independent of how you do it, and how you do it includes what structures and techniques you use.
 

pemerton

Legend
Referring to rules that are nearly a half century old doesn't seem particularly relevant.
I was replying to this from you:
The PHB and DMG makes it pretty clear that the DM makes the final call although it is not the only way of running the game. I'm not going to bother with quotes. I'm also assuming 5E, but I don't remember it being that different in any version. My wife was going to burn our 4E books as a sacrificial offering* but instead we gave them away instead so I can't check those.

But every other version? It makes the role of the DM clear.
If, by "every other version", you means something other than every other version, fair enough. The only versions in the past 13 years are 5e and 4e, and I've already posted that 4e is different from what you have described.

I don't have enough knowledge of 3E to have a confident opinion of how much it may have fitted your description.

I don't know what you're trying to get at. I could quote the PHB and DMG from several editions, they all make the same assumption. The DM makes the final call. Maybe you don't agree with that. Certainly any group can decide to ignore that advice just like anything else in the book. But it is still the default.
What I'm trying to get at is that your description of the "default" for D&D may be true as a statistical matter - ie what does the typical game look like - but is not true as a normative matter, in terms of what the rules of the game say, once we look at some non-5e versions of D&D.

I don't know if you care about that. I care, because I get frustrated by descriptions of "default" D&D that paint 4e D&D or classic D&D as deviant.
 

HammerMan

Legend
So, if a DM is constantly making tasks incredibly hard by always using high DCs for ability checks, or if he’s raising opponent ACs, or if he’s constantly not allowing for ability checks where they seem relevant… maybe that’s all technically “by the book”… but it seems like it would stink.
not withstanding the issues I have with escalating AC/Tohit wars (well now that the tank has a 24 AC all my monsters have to have +7 or more to hit and my 'tough ones' need +15 or more) I find that a lot of DMs have VERY different ideas of DCs.

I have to remind my players a lot (and again some of us have been gaming 30+ years) that sometimes easy things are dc 5, 7, 9 ect... and that in MOST non super hard situations a 15 is an AWESOME check.

I also as a player have said when a DM set an 'easy' DC at 21 "Um, easy for who? me with expertise a good stat and a +11 maybe, but an average person can NEVER hit that dc with a +0 and a trade's man doing it to make money with a 14 stat and +2 prof needs a 17+... so I have no problem rolling for the 21, but don't call it easy, you need to be a master of this skill just to HOPE to make it"

I don't think those DMs/Players are doing anything wrong... they just for some reason loose sight of the DCs sometimes.

(This is also why I have a house rule where if you are trained you autosuccseed on any check of 10 or less... so the above +4 tradesman is only rolling for DCs 11+)
 


pemerton

Legend
Since I've never played Dogs in the Vineyard, I can only go by the examples given. I understand different games work differently, I don't see how a game that operates in the same fashion as D&D could be completely fair.

If I'm wrong explain. Don't just throw out "I know better than you but won't bother to explain how it works" and expect any more responses from me. I don't see the point.
DitV doesn't operate in the same fashion as D&D. There are no secret numbers.

Marvel Heroic RP doesn't operate in the same fashion as D&D. There are no secret numbers, and all checks are opposed (either by an antagonist, or by the Doom Pool which is a fluctuating dice pool managed by the GM that represents opposition from "the world" or "the scene" or "the crisis" that is independent of any particular antagonist).

Speaking in more general terms:

There are several features of 5e D&D that permit GM manipulation or "subversion" (your word, that you used upthread). The three that I think are most obvious are (i) that the GM often rolls and some of those rolls are secret, or are modified by secret modifiers, (ii) that the GM often sets target numbers, some of which are kept secret, and some of which - even if revealed - are extrapolated from secret information not available to the players, and (iii) that the GM generally decides what the consequence of success on a check is, and that that decision may be informed by extrapolation from secret information not available to the players.

Burning Wheel doesn't have full-fledged (i), doesn't have full-fledged (ii), and doesn't have (iii).

Apocalypse World doesn't have (i), doesn't have (ii), and doesn't have full-fledged (iii).

MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic doesn't have full-fledged (i), doesn't have (ii) and doesn't have (iii).

Classic Traveller doesn't have full-fledged (ii) and doesn't have full-fledged (iii).

4e D&D doesn't have full-fledged (ii) and doesn't have (iii).

Dogs in the Vineyard doesn't have full-fledged (i), doesn't have (ii), and doesn't have (iii).

These various departures from 5e D&D's (i), (ii) and (iii) aren't magical. They're pretty straightforward aspects of RPG design, that have fairly obvious and predictable consequences for the degree and manner of GM influence over what happens next.
 
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pemerton

Legend
@Oofta Here's a nice page of quotes on Rule 0 and the power of the DM from various editions to supplement the ones I gave from 4e above.

I only skimmed it, except for what it says about B/X (which I think is misleading, as it elides the basis on which Moldvay Basic advises the GM to make decisions) and 4e (which I think is broadly accurate, and is contrasted with other versions of the game).
 

HammerMan

Legend
They're cheating the integrity of the game. They are harming the games of the other players who expect the game to be run and played fairly. They are making a mockery of me and the work I put in to make the game fun and enjoyable. And more.
I mean... I just don't get it.
Luck is part of the game. Missing 3 times(or any number of times) is not an excuse for cheating.
yeah, and she has, and will miss. It isn't ALWAYS a call to fudge some dice. But if in her mind THIS time is when it is, I wont call her on it. If she does it alot it might become a joke...but she isn't a problem so I don't care.
I care. And my other players care. Why even have rules if you're going to allow cheating? There's no point to having them.
you can't cheat if you don't have rules... but you can bend rules and/or ignore rules sometimes and still play by them most times... why have rules, as the basic structure, why break rules (and as such the structure) cause they are not working to enhance the fun at that moment.
DM: "You're playing a wizard and you get all your spells and long rest abilities back when you long rest, or whenever you feel like since it's okay to cheat."
Player: "Cool. I'm not going to bother long resting then."
this doesn't sound like any exchange I have ever seen IRL... You do this alot, you take an arrgument throw it to the most illogical conculsions and then pretend that is what I said.

I can give you a better example though

we have a wizard. He is 3rd level (we normally start 3rd or 5th) so we all know he has cantrips + 6 spells (4 1st and 2 2nd and I can do that from memory). We hit a dungeon, and first fight he uses 3 1st level slots and some cantrips. We don't take a rest, go right into the next room, and he opens up with BOTH of his 2nd level spells (meaning he has 1 slot left and it is 1st level) so a player asks "Is any of the equipment form eaither encounter magic?" and the wizard says he can ritual cast detect magic if they give him 10 minutes... but they don't have the time so he casts it with his last slot. (and yes the stone with the seal is magic...with an arcana check it is transmutation... we joke that is the most used school of magic) we have 2 more fights... the wizard is cantripping the whole way. We end the session, but not the dungeon.
We come back the next week and fight the last 2 fights... the first one he just throws cantrips, the second he pulls out a shield spell and turns a massive hit (that might have killed him) into a miss. We didn't rest. He didn't have the slot left. Was it a mistake (it was a week out of game) was it fudgeing, was it cheating? I don't care I am not calling him on it... I let it go.

does that mean he has infinite spell slots? no. and I don't expect he would try to. At later levels I wont be able to double check him though, and he could slip an extra spell or 2 every now and then...
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
@Oofta Here's a nice page of quotes on Rule 0 and the power of the DM from various editions to supplement the ones I gave from 4e above.

Looking at this, there seems to be an interesting corollary going on: where the rules are mutable, the power assigned to the GM is necessarily greater, whereas when the rules are considered to be bedrocks the GM is reduced in scope to trying to fill in the gaps and needing to justify their decisions to the players.

I call that interesting because it seems to suggest that players who don't like the GM to have concentrated authority, but also don't want to feel constrained by rules, want to have two opposing states simultaneously.
 

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