5E Just One More Thing: The Power of "No" in Design (aka, My Fun, Your Fun, and BadWrongFun)

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
So I was involved in another thread, and thinking about a topic that often comes up ... like, all the time. So instead of inserting this into that thread (and thus derailing it) I thought I'd create a separate thread and share some thoughts on a topic that has a habit of continually popping up at enworld, in a multitude of aspects.

I think of it in a number of ways, but the best, macro-level way to view it is to think of the old Monty Python skit from the movie Meaning of Life. It's Mr. (Monsieur) Creosote. If you haven't seen it before, I'd recommend viewing it; it's quick google away. If you're at work, be aware that it has simulated vomit.

Here's the premise along with a link to the video. Do you need spoilers for Monty Python on enworld?????
The basic premise is very simple; person is eating. At a certain point, they are overfull. They are offered one more thing to eat. The famous "wafer-thin mint." They know they shouldn't have it. And yet, with much coaxing, they do. They eat the wafer-thin mint. And then they explode.


Now, let's get into the real thesis of this piece. Enworld (blessed be its name) is a great forum for discussing nerd culture generally, RPGs specifically, D&D even more specifically, and 5e at the most specific. There are numerous, wonderful conversations on enworld about what people want to see in 5e. What classes, subclasses, campaign settings, new rules, new crunchbooks, new art directions, whatever. This is a board for enthusiasts, and, well, we enthuse.

That said, this is also the internet. Which means that you can't post anything (for example, "The sun is hot") without someone, or multiple someones, disagreeing with you ("Yeah, but is it hot in an absolute sense- I mean, think about some quasars, dude..." or "How do you know the sun is really hot? Have you been there?" or "Since we are all just running through our lives in a vast AI-directed simulation, then there is no real heat, ROKO'S BASILISK!").

Which means that on any given thread about the direction of 5e, or D&D, there will be people who disagree. You want to add a class? They don't want it added. You want official support for magic item prices? Nope. You want a Spelljammer expansion? No Space Hamsters for this guy. You want a PHB2 filled with more crunch than all the boxes of Cap'n Crunch ever made? Not for my elderly gums. You get the idea.

And as the number of posts in any given thread about adding something officially to 5e increases, there will inevitably be a post with language similar to the following (I am not quoting any particular post):

Why are you harshing on my mellow? Adding something new will increase my fun, and won't affect you at all. You shouldn't even advocate against the inclusion of something new because that is gatekeeping, mean, badwrongfunning, and generally obnoxious. Since my getting what I want doesn't affect you, since you don't like it and wouldn't use it, you don't get to argue against it.
Please note I am simplifying and making the argument generic, but we've all seen the variations on it. Essentially, if you don't like something in 5e, you don't have to use it, therefore any thing you don't like, you need to be silent about since it can be added without affecting you.

Sidebar: My focus is not about homebrew, and is certainly not about those threads where people are congregating to discuss how to effectively make something or what they'd like to see in an official version (so-called + threads). Nor am I advocating threadcra**ing. This is solely related to conversations about adding things, officially, to D&D, and whether additions are truly "costless" and do not affect other people, given the prominence of this argument. Finally, I do not claim to be always right, and I am using this thread solely as a conversation starter on this topic both so I can point to it in the future as needed, and so other threads about adding things don't get bogged down in this argument.


A. Design Basics.
Let's start with a general idea. Good design sometimes means less. Most people are familiar with some of the following quotes:
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."
Steve Jobs

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage- to move in the opposite direction."
E.F. Schumacher

Now, not everyone has the same aesthetic. Some people prefer sleek Scandinavian modernism, others prefer overstuffed homey bric-a-brac. But the idea of limits being important isn't just relevant to design in general, we see it in language as well; for example, what is an adjective but a word that limits a noun? Before you had a house, but after you have a red house, you can no longer have a house of any other color. As we all know, specificity (in this case, limits) is the soul of narrative.

I don't want to go too deep into design aesthetics and/or the proper use of adjectives, but the general concept should be apparent. Sometimes, good design requires less, sometimes it requires limits. Additions for the sake of additions are the bane of thoughtful design. Before moving to the topic of 5e and RPGs, this should be apparent when you think about any physical object; if you have a car, for example, you need to make choices about what to add, and where. Good design requires intelligent choices.


B. RPGs and Design
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Lowkey13, stop smoking/drinking/snorting that stuff. We all know that RPGs aren't cars. You can only put so many cupholders in a car. You can only make those tailfins so high. But there is no limit at all to the number of classes, or campaign settings, or books. You aren't the boss of me, and you can't stop the infinite proliferation of awesome until I get my Actuary Class printed in the PHB3."

This is certainly true. I will stipulate, here and now, that RPGs are not cars. However, RPGs are designed. Sometimes well, sometimes poorly. This means that they will contain commonalities due to the design; there will be conscious design choices related to levels of complexity; uniformity of art (or not); how various systems interact within the RPG; how modular the RPG is overall and how modular various subsystems are; use of different dice and systems for resolution, role of players vis-a-vis DMG; ease of modification and/or homebrew; and so on. The key, here, is that the more modern trend in RPGs in to reduce the overall amount of rule complexity and to use more unified resolution systems; in that sense, 5e is certainly more modern than its early predecessors. But unlike some RPGs (PF and many others excluded), 5e is also somewhat modular, in the sense that it is fairly easy to modify, homebrew, and add to.

So, if 5e is easy to add to, and there is design space to add to it, why not just add everything possible to 5e? Honestly, who cares if there are 500 more splat books, and 30 more classes, and rules for prestige classes, and the PHB3 "Play as a Gelatinous Cube"?

Well, that gets into the next few issues.


C. 5e Design
I would posit that 5e is designed to be simple and easy to pick up for beginners, and to be easy-to-play (in terms of time commitments) for experienced players. That is the core strength of 5e. That the game is not so much in the rules (a la 3e, or even older editions) but in the unfolding game. It does not offer an abundance of complexity in the rules, and the interest in the game is supposed to be maintained through play and adventure, not through new crunch. I think that this is very much a conscious choice, and that the slow rollout of new crunch (usually paired with an AP or setting) reflects this. There is no desire to have a new crunch book, a PHB2, or to force DMs and players to understand a slew of new rules.

Another aspect of this is that as you continue to add new features to TTRPGs (like 5e), you are continuing to come up with new rules and new "meta-rules" (aka, rules that break other rules). All these rules have to interact with all the rules already in place. Not to mention, all the optional rules. Call this the "3e problem" (heh). As you continue to add (grow, bloat) the game, these interactions increase in ways until eventually, well, you spend most of your time arguing about the rules (and/or munchkining).

There are a number of design ways around this. One is to sandbox certain features (bounded accuracy is kind of a way of doing that!), another is to prevent to much design bloat (restrict classes and design within a more restricted space- the subclasses), another is to rigorously test, another is to just not have a lot of rules (more narrative game play), another would be to institute DM-side controls (such as Core+1) and so on. But this is always a concern that has repeated itself in D&D in past editions.


D. Examples of the Past
Another issue that comes up is examining the trajectory of past editions. For example, these statements have been made about prior editions:
2e: Too many campaign settings were produced and supported at the same time, fracturing the player base.
3e: Too much crunch, too many classes, prestige classes, etc. "broke" the game and made it hard to run.
4e: Consumer confusion about the core rules occurred due to rapid proliferation of core books.

Regardless of the absolute truth of those statements, I think that people hear them often enough that, to some extent, they become received wisdom. Certainly it would appear that 5e's designers, to date, have observed those issues. Campaign setting releases have been sporadic; they have released APs that reference settings (Ravenloft in CoS, Greyhawk in Saltmarsh), but have only released two actual settings qua settings in five years- Ravnica (to attract MtG fans) and Eberron. And they continue to pursue a kinda FR, kinda generic strategy.

They have released exactly one (1) new class. Tied into Eberron. They continue to solely use the subclass as the design focus for experimentation.

They have not released any new "core" books; there remain the Core 3 just as they have been since release. The new "splat books" (VgTM, MToF, XGTE) have differentiated names, are clearly optional, and contain modest (at best) variations on what we already have.


E. Opportunity Cost & Market

I will finish the general analysis section by noting the biggest issue with official additions to the game; opportunity cost and market. No addition is costless; adding Eberron as a setting now meant, for example, that another setting wasn't put in. Companies have limited resources, time, and employees to design and playtest products; as such, there is no such thing as a "costless," official, supported product. Finally, there will always be concerns about what the market wants; famously, 5e looks to have things that no one has a strong, negative reaction to. I don't know if that is a good idea or bad idea, but it is a philosophy. Put another way, just because you (and other people) want an addition, doesn't mean that the market wants it, or that it is the best use of limited resources.


Conclusion

This is where I try to explain why I dislike statements of the type I referenced above so much, and why I started with M. Creosote. I am a firm believer that everyone should get what they want (although in some cases, I do that because they don't know what they're about to get .... heh). And enworld should always be a good place for people to discuss the additions that they want to have in 5e.

That said, when there is a thread where people are discussing whether or not to add something officially, it does a disservice to other people to say that adding something never, ever, affects other people and can only be good. People have all sorts of reasons to want things in (or not in) the game on an official basis, and demanding that something be in solely because it increases your fun without acknowledging that it will have an impact on other aspects of the game is the same as demanding that M. Creosote keep eating food. Sure, maybe it's just an appetizer, or maybe it's a wafer-thin mint.

Final disclaimer to a very long piece: I think that there is probably a taxonomy of bars to be cleared in 5e for arguing for official inclusion; for example, a new AP or magic item is trivial, a new race slightly higher, a new subclass a smidgen higher, a new setting higher still, a new class much higher, and a massive expansion of core mechanics (a PHB2, for example) would be pretty much at the top. But YMMV.

And I also wanted to say that this isn't specific to any single request, it's just that I've seen this exact point made across numerous threads, in everything from magic item shops, to new classes, to re-working the sorcerer in the core rules, and so on. I love seeing people make great points, on the merits, for the things that they love (so long as the things that the love aren't Paladins).



So, what do you think?
 
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NotAYakk

Adventurer
I think you need an editor; you meander on for paragraphs about not what you want to talk about, but something that inspires what you want to talk about, then talk about other people talking about something else saying things along a certain pattern, and then I honestly don't know what you said because I got tired of reading about what needs to be talked about and not saying it.

OTOH, at least you used sentences, unlike me.

But seriously, for gygax's sake, say something in the first 5 paragraphs of a post.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
tldr: I largely agree.

Part of the issue is, partly because D&D is overwhelmingly the most popular RPG, people want it to do everything. 5e's strength, in part. is it's accessibility.
I agree, and I think it's great that it is so easy to homebrew. I just had to get out this (um, very long) piece because I had seen one too many threads with the whole, "Adding more official stuff to the game doesn't hurt anyone."

Adding good stuff is good, generally.* But like anything, too much stuff, even good stuff (like cookie dough!) eventually is bad. And then we'll have to start again with 6e. :)


*And adding bad stuff is bad. Right?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think we've had this discussion before. If we were being intellectually honest there I think we all know there is one solution, one race, one class, one fighting style, one attribute. Gnomish paladin with dual rapier style with an attribute of awesome.

The only problem would be how to set up significant obstacles. How can you counter the ultimate in awesome? :unsure:

P.S. I'll try to give a real response eventually. Just had to get that out of my system.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
hmm... I feel that a Race is easier to implement than a Subclass. It's a small handful rules that don't change much as the character grow and Lore is basically the biggest obstacle, something that doesn't REALLY need playtesting in the same way crunch do, just a bit of brainstorming. But I think that ease is also a curse because then it becomes tempting to just bloat the game.

I think as long as consumers don't feel overwhelmed by additions to the game, we've not breached any sort of dangerous frontier in terms of additions and the PHB+1 rule is a good basis to avoid the insanity that could arise in 3e (plus, it excuses reprints).

I totally get your point about simplicity of design, but there is another force at play here: stagnation. I think the game needs to strike a balance between simplicity and avoiding the game become stale. If you only like 50% of the PHB subclasses and 30% of the Xanathar one, you risk running out of character concepts that interest you and be bored with the game.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I play and run Adventurer's League. So, if it's in the official game, I have to deal with it. Streamlined game design is not just prettier, it's easier from the consumer point of view.
A small narrow but real subset of consumers certainly not sure that is a super argument.
 

tetrasodium

Adventurer
I think you took too many pains to distance your post from what I feel like was probably the "another thread" & lost too much foundation for your post resulting in a lot of feel good statements that don't go anywhere. Since I too don't know what your looking for other than "um ok, maybe" I'll go with something from recent discussions on here that does touch on what you wrote.

For example your 3e "too much crunch" is both accurate & an oversimplification. In some areas that crunch was good, bad, & sometimes misapplied(recent thread about 3.5 skills). It's possible for 5e's skills to improve on & avoid every one of the 3.5 skill system's pitfalls and rough edges while simultaneously going too far & creating other problems in the process. The same can be said of fixing the golf bag of weapons & from 3.5 by making damage types virtually irrelevant & extending that simplification across weapons as well as armor. Those decisions all may have improved upon things & met design goals to objectively improve one area of the game, but they have effects on other areas that are objectively problematic to other areas of the game & there's a lot of discussion on those kind of things in the nobody is playing high level thread.
 
If the point of 5e were parsimony it could have delivered a broader range of possible characters with far fewer classes (as few as 3, I'd say), and the assumption of MCing instead of clumsily designing sub-classes & Backgrounds on the assumption that MCing wouldn't be used.

For that matter, classless works very well, and is much more efficient in delivering more meaningful choices with less page count.

The point of 5e, though, was to heal the rifts in the community, be inclusive of all past fans (but accessible to new ones), and allow them to evoke the feel of, and play the same sorts of characters they could in, each of those past editions. Among other virtually impossible goals. ;) That meant making familiar class designs with familiar names, in spite of all the redundancies, inefficiencies and imbalances that entailed.

Given that, there's no slippery slope, no danger of infinite additions to the game, the finite set of past editions' offerings would be the maximum. And, even that'd be a gross exaggeration, as there was a tremendous amount of overlap among those editions. Every class that was ever in a PH1, even every /character type/ that was ever in a PH1, is doable with 2 more classes, the Psion(icist) & Warlord. Every class ever in a PH, would take it up to, what, a half-dozen, perhaps?

A potential, worst-case, 50% increase in player choice (further, gated behind DM opt-in, as with all supplements) is hardly devastating bloat. Really, the current proliferation of sub-classes is more worrisome, that way.

(Though, it is true that a literal PH2 would be against the current conventional wisdom, so it'd have to be another goofy "So-and-so's guide to things you're not interested in, newbie," format.)
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
I play and run Adventurer's League. So, if it's in the official game, I have to deal with it. Streamlined game design is not just prettier, it's easier from the consumer point of view.

More to the point, and I don't know if this is an issue elsewhere or just in my area, but AL DMs are in short supply. So by the nature of AL, they have to be DM friendly. If you have too many official options, it's hard for DMs to keep up with everything because a DM should be familiar with everything the players are doing or will do. It's just part of planning an preparing. So if you have something like the AD&D UA stat generation and a player saying "Well, it's in the official book, so you have to accept it." I'm pretty sure most DMs hated that stat generation method. Only monty haul munchkins loved using it*. That dissuades people from DMing if they are forced to include something they don't like. I think that's a key problem between making something official, and making it 3PP for your own personal gaming groups.


*for those not familar, you basically rolled 9d6 take top 3 for your primary attribute, 8d6 for secondary, etc. So you were pretty much assured to have a bunch of 18s and 17s for your stats.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I totally get your point about simplicity of design, but there is another force at play here: stagnation. I think the game needs to strike a balance between simplicity and avoiding the game become stale. If you only like 50% of the PHB subclasses and 30% of the Xanathar one, you risk running out of character concepts that interest you and be bored with the game.
It's an interesting question. It really depends on where you feel that majority of emphasis should be placed, I guess. The vast majority of time spent playing D&D is spent ... playing D&D. And that has nothing, or at best, little to do with character concepts. I mean, take Brad (PLEASE TAKE BRAD!) who has played Legolas, the Elven Archer, for four decades. He doesn't care about character concepts, so long as there is a pointy-eared critter that can shoot a bow.

But it's also true that, with 2.5e (the class splat books) and certainly 3e that more player engagement was fostered by making Chargen and Charop its own, well, minigame. Or if you prefer ... playing different character concepts that have meaningful mechanical differentiation. Some people really like that.

I'm just not sure how much play you get. I mean, I used to have infinite amounts of time to play, but even then, I didn't get to play full campaigns will all the different characters in just base 1e (or even B/X). Sometimes, I think that a plethora of options leads to dissatisfaction, and a continuing search for even more. That's more behavioral economics, though.

Anyway, I'd rather guard against bloat than stagnation at this time.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
For the most part, I agree with your long and rambling post (welcome to the old man club). You can simply shorten almost everything you've said into: "bloat has killed prior editions; 5E has done an excellent job of keeping bloat minimal. We should not advocate for an increase in bloat."

I think it's great that it is so easy to homebrew.
This is actually the greatest success of 5E. It has a solid chassis that can be manipulated to great extents to maximize your group's entertainment without affecting other groups. Prior editions lived and died by RAW, and 5E has tossed RAW into the garbage can (where it belongs IMO). The fact that the DM's Guild exists shows that 5E officially supports and encourages houserules, homebrew, and 3PP.

This may be a harsh reality check to some people (especially former 3E and Pathfinder players IME), but that is the reality of 5E. You are free to play by RAW, but you are not expected to do so. There is official support for people to create and share aspects of the game that WotC has not yet addressed (within set rules, limiting new settings). This is WotC solution to bloat: if groups want it, they can have it, but it will not done by them.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
For me... I've seen your point as the result of a way of thinking that many people appear to have. Which is that there is still very much a "D&D is a thing to WIN" mode of thinking.

I have seen in countless threads during 5E and 4E and 3E the stark belief of some players that they cannot NOT use something that is in the game-- they cannot willing nerf themselves, even if the thing they are using is something they dislike or even outright hate. If it's in the game, then they HAVE to use it, because they are not playing to their highest intelligence and skill if they aren't. And to not do so is an anathema to game playing. D&D is a game-- a game that has a "win state" (which is not to die and lose your character)-- and thus making choices that don't advance yourself towards that win state goes against everything that is holy about game playing.

As a result, the only way that person can be happy is if the game itself does not use or offer things that they don't like, thus entirely negating the need to self-nerf. If it's not in the game, then they never have to make the conscious decision NOT to use it. Their problem is solved for them.

And I think this is why people get so adamant about not having the game add things they don't want. They don't want to have to make the choice not to use it. Because to make that choice means to play sub-optimally, which they think says something poorly about themselves as game players. If you aren't playing to win then you are a bad player. And people just can't handle that thought.

I mean, it's the same exact thing when it comes to "re-balancing" the rules-- how many times have we seen complaints here of players who are sick and tired of seeing the exact same classes/subclasses/builds used in their games over and over and over again? They want all these other fluffy concepts in the game to be used because they aren't overdone-- but they don't ever get used because they supposedly just aren't "as good" as the ones that get repeatedly taken. So they demand that WotC do something about this-- that WotC "re-balance" the game-- so that the other options WILL get taken, and thus they no longer have to be bored with seeing the same small number of things re-used because their players have to "play to win". As though it's WotC's job to make the game work the way they want it to.

I mean to all those people I always end up reacting here on the boards the same way... which is posting about personal responsibility and how it's NOT WotC's job to fix things you don't like. They just give you tools, YOU have to decide whether or not to use them. And most people seem to rather complain then actually get their hands dirty.
 
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Nagol

Unimportant
I agree a designer needs a vision and should create just enough to provide a comprehensive experience that conforms to that vision.

Unfortunately, each person that encounters that potential experience has their own unique take on that same vision. So the designer's take may not be 'complete' for that potential user. Some designers like to provide a toolset that is wider and allows a larger proportion of the potential users be consider it complete at the risk of providing 'too much' for other potential users.

There is no right answer, just a preference along a continuum.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
It's an interesting question. It really depends on where you feel that majority of emphasis should be placed, I guess. The vast majority of time spent playing D&D is spent ... playing D&D. And that has nothing, or at best, little to do with character concepts. I mean, take Brad (PLEASE TAKE BRAD!) who has played Legolas, the Elven Archer, for four decades. He doesn't care about character concepts, so long as there is a pointy-eared critter that can shoot a bow.

But it's also true that, with 2.5e (the class splat books) and certainly 3e that more player engagement was fostered by making Chargen and Charop its own, well, minigame. Or if you prefer ... playing different character concepts that have meaningful mechanical differentiation. Some people really like that.

I'm just not sure how much play you get. I mean, I used to have infinite amounts of time to play, but even then, I didn't get to play full campaigns will all the different characters in just base 1e (or even B/X). Sometimes, I think that a plethora of options leads to dissatisfaction, and a continuing search for even more. That's more behavioral economics, though.

Anyway, I'd rather guard against bloat than stagnation at this time.
I don't get THAT much play time, but I do get tired of the same character after a while. I did 3 levels or so as a Druid and I felt I had seen enough. I snuck around as a Spider, I got info from animals, I unleashed a pack of 8 wolves on unsuspecting villains, I used Plant Growth to stop a caravan of slavers, etc. I had done the 'Cool Things' the character had to offer that got me interested in it in the first place and I was ready to try something else. I was going to stick with my Druid longer but then he died and I decided not to have the party invest in his resurrection only for me to ditch them a few sessions later ya know?

Another with character generation being a thing is that it keeps us engaged with the game away from the table. I can come in here and talk about builds and stuff, I can pore over books, I can discuss the options in the books. It keeps DnD in my mind. If we only had the PHB we'd have less to talk about.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But it's also true that, with 2.5e (the class splat books) and certainly 3e that more player engagement was fostered by making Chargen and Charop its own, well, minigame.
Somewhat cancelled off by the reduced player engagement, fostered by the same thing, from players who would rather spend their time playing their characters than building them and-or who aren't all about the system-mastery game-within-the-game.
DEFCON 1 said:
I have seen in countless threads during 5E and 4E and 3E the stark belief of some players that they cannot NOT use something that is in the game-- they cannot willing nerf themselves, even if the thing they are using is something they dislike or even outright hate. If it's in the game, then they HAVE to use it, because they are not playing to their highest intelligence and skill if they aren't. And to not do so is an anathema to game playing. D&D is a game-- a game that has a "win state" (which is not to die and lose your character)-- and thus making choices that don't advance yourself towards that win state goes against everything that is holy about game playing.

As a result, the only way that person can be happy is if the game itself does not use or offer things that they don't like, thus entirely negating the need to self-nerf. If it's not in the game, then they never have to make the conscious decision NOT to use it. Their problem is solved for them.
Players feel they have to use those options because they know full well that if they don't, someone else at the table probably will; increasing that PC's odds of surviving (winning) at expense of your own. It's almost like an arms race, where the only way to truly curtail it is to not produce the arms (options) in the first place.

3e and its offspring are/were particularly bad for this.

And sure, non-AL DMs can ban whatever they like, but many don't want to be the Grinch at the table (and-or get out-talked or out-voted by the players) and so they just accept what's in the books.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I think that there are valid points and perspectives that people can have, and, for example, that we just saw in the last two posts ( @Lanefan and @Undrave ).

The good things about 5e is that, for the most part, it has managed to thread the needle of appealing to as many people as possible.

One of the problems of appealing to wide base of people is that you can't be the "best in class" at most things- it can't be the most intensive CharOp, or the most Complex, or the most beginner friendly. But so long as it threads that needle of appealing enough to most people to keep up a large player base and benefit from scale (being the default RPG) that won't matter.
 

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