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

To which I said that's a ridiculous way of looking at it, because even if you have the "best" mechanics for your character, you are still going to have a whole heap of failures. So those "best" characters are not the requirement for being "competent"... how the character is perceived in the game world does it.
But, how the character is perceived in-world is informed by how he performs - based on those mechanics, and the DM's judgement - and on how the DM decides NPCs perceive him. Of all those factors, only the choices made by the player at chargen & level up are under his control, the rest is D&D - Dice-luck & DM-judgement. ;)

I really just should have said "competent". A "competent" character in the game world just needs to be seen as such by the people within the world and within the story. They do not ALSO need to have the best game mechanics vailable too (despite the claims of others).
Even the best mechanical stats available don't readily deliver under BA, because consistency is a major marker for competence, and you're unlikely* to ever overwhelm the d20 that way.
Conversely, getting the DM to consistently narrate success for your character's area of competence will deliver...
...and I'm not sure that isn't the point your making?








* notable exception being the Rogue's reliable talent class feature, at 11th.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
With respect... please allow room for other people to find interest and wisdom in things that you didn't intend. And don't get insulting about it, please.
True enough. I amended my post.

This does not address the issue that started the tangent - when the mechanics do not support the in-game-world perception.

I agree that you used entirely the wrong language - because the question of what qualifies as "competent" is nowhere near the question of what qualifies as "world's best." It is very easy to be seen as "competent" in the world - you go out, you kill some monsters that would make a common man shudder, and come back alive, and you are competent.

And if that's all you were talking about, that's fine. We are in basic agreement on that.

So, people on the internet actually listened to you. They took you at your word. They specifically didn't restate your position in words you didn't use to change it...

...and you're not happy with that? :p
Of course not! Why am I getting special treatment here?!? Don't I deserve to be taken out of context and strawmanned like every other poster?!? What'd I ever do to you people to be treated with such... respect! 🤮

;)
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yes, in D&D, play starts as one thing, and it changes as power rises. I don't deny that. But let us be careful...

Folks who play D&D most certainly can say, "I want to play a character that is the Best Swordsman." They just have to start at high level. Then, across play the game would not change so much. Ergo, "the game changes too much" isn't really the barrier.
The general presumption of D&D is that you do not start at high level which is as you point out far from obligator. IE sure that is A solution if you start in epic tier, the greatest swordsman alive has pretty solid foundations mechanically and such a character is likely to interact with other heros of extraordinary scale however see the following.

A reason to do FATE or the like is that you can arguably have someone very meek say a player with a hobbit and his squire and 3 of the worlds most noticeable heroes standing alongside each other and the meekness will bring the hobbits huge story clout rather naturally and nobody expects anything different the hobbit spends a few points and decimates entire towers worth of goblins by turning them against each other (for instance) .

The thing we are missing is that there's likely a stark difference between the concept in your head of the experience of "the best swordsman" and the experience high level D&D supplies.
OK you got me listening.
D&D combat is, to this day, squad level tactical wargaming.
Yes so a lot of the baggage is nicely tuned for teamwork or somewhat tuned.
And best swordsman alive you expect the character to be beaten by other things but I think kind of needs a periodic series of call outs so he can reinforce this sense of best ness. Not entirely the same but It's related to why minions (and swarms) are a great concept.

In D&D, you have a whole bunch of combat mechanics bits, and when it is over, you find the resulting narrative is that the character is the Best Swordsman, because, empirically, it has been proven such.

But the Best Swordsman is.. Inigo Montoya. He doesn't win because he has these feats, those class abilities, this other subclass, and a huge bag of hit points. He wins because he is the Best Swordsman. The only way to beat him is to use something other than Swordsmanship.
Inigo also has ridiculous hit points LOL but I definitely agree you expect other challenges to be how the character is pulled through the story. Like finding your father's killer become exploration and detective work and so on... Eventually the story gives him his climactic expression of his gift, but it's not the feature of much of the story or its conflicts.

See Amber Diceless Roleplay introduction to awesome characters where sometimes making the adversary think they are better is the most useful thing and even conflicts were a process of discovery.

Correct me if I am wrong - but in a game where you want to step in and declare that your character is the Best Swordsman, you ought to start with that declaration, and have things cascade from that fact, rather than have a bunch of other stats that add up to that fact.
hmmmm well concepts some times are built with different legos.
Here's the thing that gets lost in this discussion. D&D has something that, say, Fate, or Cortex+ does not - extensive headroom.

I think, if you set down to it, games with people who step into the Best Swordsman role directly last no longer than a typical D&D campaign. Probably less, in fact, because if you start at the top... where you going to go? How much story can you tell before you start getting repetitive?
As far as duration and amount of story maybe yes.... (hard to come up with good story for superman)

However I think that without the progression of that D&D sort you get well I hesitate to say it because it implies you cannot do it otherwise (and that isn't right) . OK I will say it consequences be damned you get different forms of character growth instead of power pumping AND these other games may actually express those better. It's not exclusive but it seems people think about how the experiences the character has are actually changing the character and their motivations more when there isn't this visible progress bar over their heads. Now I feel bad.
 
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DM Dave1

Adventurer
Sorry, but I'm not following. In D&D 5E there is no way to give yourself advantage using magic other than True Strike which requires an action.
Huh? There are plenty of ways to give yourself advantage using magic other than True Strike: Faerie Fire, Guiding Bolt, Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Blindness, Hold Person... among others.

If you are a magic casting fighter, then use Action Surge after casting to get your attack in first before your allies.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Huh? There are plenty of ways to give yourself advantage using magic other than True Strike: Faerie Fire, Guiding Bolt, Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Blindness, Hold Person... among others.

If you are a magic casting fighter, then use Action Surge after casting to get your attack in first before your allies.
All of which are spells. Which is fine - spell slots are a limited resource. After enough fights with no chance to rest, things roughly balance out. The fighter with the mage slayer feat will get an attack and the caster will have to make a concentration check with disadvantage.

Different builds will have the advantage depending on circumstances.

But that didn't seem to be what @Son of the Serpent was talking about.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
All of which are spells. Which is fine - spell slots are a limited resource. After enough fights with no chance to rest, things roughly balance out.
Someone mentioned a Duel however... in that context its back to oh look martial types are not allowed to pull out big booms (not saying they do not get any just saying I think the magic does that better assertion is directly tied to this) so to be the best, well.
 
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Schmoe

Explorer
I don't know if I'm too late to this thread, but after reading the OP (yes, the whole thing. really) I'm really hoping they will add a PHB2.
 
All of which are spells. Which is fine - spell slots are a limited resource. After enough fights with no chance to rest, things roughly balance out. The fighter with the mage slayer feat will get an attack and the caster will have to make a concentration check with disadvantage.

Different builds will have the advantage depending on circumstances.

But that didn't seem to be what @Son of the Serpent was talking about.
Actually, that was somewhat relevant to some of what i was saying. Of course i was talking about a swordsman (supplementing their martial techniques with magic) fighting a swordsman (vanilla) in a vacuum but otherwise yeah. Those are also some of the spells i was umbrella implying could be used. Not all if them. But yeah.
 

pemerton

Legend
Why are you trying to make what a PC says about themself into a game mechanic? You're right, we are not playing FATE. This idea that a PC says they are "the best swordsman in the land" has NO mechanical weight, and is not used to satisfy any game conditions.
I'm trying to make sense of what you're saying. And up until your most recent posts that was the best sense that I could make.

All it is, is what the PC has seen of themself within the narrative. That's all. If this PC has won every fight they have ever been in within the story... then they decide within the story to claim themselves to be the best swordsman in the land. And as a DM I find that perfectly acceptable. Does it matter to me if they are only 1st level?
But very little D&D play is going to stay at 1st level, and as the rules are presented an important aim of play on the player side is to go beyond 1st level. So the player knows that his/her PC is getting better, and generally in the fiction the PC is getting better.

Even in default 4e - that is, 4e that uses the Monster Manual as written and the tiers of play as described in the PHB and DMG - a character isn't plausibly the best swordsman in the land until upper heroic. (Because at that point anything better than them is a paragon or epic tier challenge and therefore not, in any ordinary sense, "of the land".) But 5e is more "earthbound" and less fantastic in those ways than 4e which I think makes this harder.

In 4e it's fairly easy to change the fiction away from those defaults - Neverwinter Campaign Setting does it one way (crunching paragon fiction into the mechanics of upper heroic tier) and Dark Sun a different way (extending paragon fiction into the mechanics of the epic tier). But 5e is less flexible in this respect also (and not accidentally so - it's a deliberate design decision to depart from the so-called "dissociated mechanics" of 4e).

Really? When does the game tell us the PC fights against a random town guard? I didn't realize that was a requirement of the rules.
For "random town guard" substitute "kobold soldier number X" or "orc warrior number Y" or whatever it is. D&D - in its published rules, and published scenarios, very much pushes towards multiple combats with multiple nameless foes.

The fiction of the story is about what actually happens... not what COULD happen.

<snip setting up of example of Arcana-skill rogue>

The Rogue PC out-Arcanas the wizards in this campaign story, and continually shows off his ability, even without having the best possible mechanics to do it. And why? Well, maybe the times when the Rogue PC shows off their knowledge of Arcana the player keeps rollings 17, 18, or 20s and the wizards NPCs roll 4s, 7s, and 8s. And the Rogue keeps winning these "contests" in arcana lore even without being the best mechanical representation. Even against wizards that might 2, 3, 5 levels "higher" than the PC. In the story those "levels" do not matter, the actual Arcana skill number doesn't matter...

...all that matters is that in-story, this Rogue has exemplified their superiority. And at that point... the DM does the proper improvisational "Yes, And..." and goes along with the idea that in this story in this campaign, this random Rogue PC apparently is the most knowledgeable magical-lore person in the land.
But unless the GM (or player?) is manipulating those dice rolls then this can't be planned for, and can't really be built around. Because it's luck.

this is all baseline improv rules. 'Yes, And...' and all that. The player says "I want my character's story to be that they are known as the best swordsman in the land." And I go, "Okay! Yes! Sounds great!" And at that point, I begin working stories that help exemplify that narrative
If the narrative depends in part on rolling repeated 16+ against others' repeated 5-, I don't see how that is going to work (assuming the game sticks to D&D's resolution mechanics).

the mechanics do not dictate the in-game reality of the story.
I really think that you are not explaining how your vision of D&D play fits with such basic features of the system as characters gaining in level, multiple PCs who have different strengths reflected in different mechanical features of their builds, default lists of antagonists which consist primarily of mechanical specifications of said antagonists, etc.

Even in 4e your vision would be hard to pull off. I don't see how it works at all in 5e. Especially when spells are factored in, which is something I've raised several times now but you've still not responded to.

EDIT: Apologies, I saw this:

Because the actual descriptor doesn't matter. It's whatever a character claims about themselves in the fiction. The whole "best swordsman in the world" thing was just a single example. By the same token, a wizard who is known as the greatest wizard known to man in a particular narrative I am running does not need to have better "game mechanics" than any other potential wizard in the game. Because up until those two characters actually start rolling dice at each other... those mechanics are meaningless. As a matter of fact, I don't even need to create game mechanics for that wizard and still let him be known in the narrative as the greatest wizard known to man. Because if it's known as such in the story... then it's known as such in the story. And I don't need to build this NPC mechanically to "prove" it. What a waste of time that would be. Build every single NPC mechanically just so we can categorize and compare who's the "good" blacksmith in the town or the "best" sage. Rather that just describe them as such.

If at some point down the road a PC wanted to get into a wizard's duel with that wizard? Then sure, I'll probably make the character up mechanically. But that doesn't mean I have to make him 20th level in order to define him as actually "the greatest" wizard either. I'll make him whatever mechanically would help benefit the drama of the story we are telling.
I'm also finding this hard to follow. Most of it seems to be about NPCs, which is fine as far as it goes (what you say about doing NPCs primarily through GM narrative fiat is fine for (say) 4e D&D or Apocalypse World, but not for (say) Runequest or Burning Wheel). But I thought we were talking about PCs.

If, in the fiction, everyone knows that great wizards can walk the planes, then how can a 1st level PC possibly present him-/herself as a great wizard? Your fighter example trades in part on the fact that combat is resolved by dice rolls (to hit, damage) and related mechanics (hp tallies) that don't correlate to anything particular in the fiction. But magic isn't resolved the same way (eg via Arcana checks).

Again the version of D&D to get closest to what you're advocating here is 4e but even it didn't go all this way.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
I really think that you are not explaining how your vision of D&D play fits with such basic features of the system as characters gaining in level, multiple PCs who have different strengths reflected in different mechanical features of their builds, default lists of antagonists which consist primarily of mechanical specifications of said antagonists, etc.

Even in 4e your vision would be hard to pull off. I don't see how it works at all in 5e. Especially when spells are factored in, which is something I've raised several times now but you've still not responded to.
At this point if you really don't get it from my multiple posts on the subject to all manner of different people, there's nothing more that I can say that isn't just a rehash of it. And sorry, but at this point it just doesn't matter to me if you understand how I play the game or not. It's fine. I mean, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to wrap my head around all of your multiple posts over the years about explaining "scene-framing" and the like, and at some point I just came to the conclusion that whatever that is... if it works for you, great. But I just don't care about trying to figure all of the nuances out anymore. Sorry.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think as soon as you run into any opposition in the narrative that mandates the use of mechanics, something is going to be formalized. And that's going to out some kind of bounds on the practical mechanic expression of the PC.
This. And it will only be compounded by cross-time comparisons where the PCs stats have changed. And even moreso in respect of magic, where player-side resoures are discrete bundles of capability ("spells") that (i) correlate to discrete sorts of fictional events (like eg walking between worlds) and (ii) are at least presented as correlating to discrete packets of capability within the fiction (in virtue of the preparation rules, spellbook rules, etc).
 

pemerton

Legend
My point originally was that there are people on the boards who equate game mechanics to a character's place in the narrative. That if a character doesn't have the "best" game mechanics available, then their character isn't "competent". Because how could you be "competent" if you knew you were leaving better mechanics on the table? To which I said that's a ridiculous way of looking at it, because even if you have the "best" mechanics for your character, you are still going to have a whole heap of failures. So those "best" characters are not the requirement for being "competent"... how the character is perceived in the game world does it.
In my posts I'm not arguing with this. I'm not talking about comparisons between actual PC builds and purely hypothetical PC builds. If everyone agrees to leave GWM (for instance) off the table then it's off the table. In my 4e play we have never used Expertise feats. That doesn't stop PC being great exemplars of their types. And the fighter PC, a dwarf, started with 16 STR and so has less than the hypothetically possible max strength. That doesn't stop him being an Eternal Defender who is one of the strongest beings in the cosmos.

I'm thinking about actual experiences in a game once the action resolution rules are invoked. That's why I fastened on (what was it?) a single attack for +3 to hit and 1d8 damage. I find it very hard to envisage a D&D game in which the action resolution experience produced by those stats would be consistent with being a great swordsman. (I guess there could be a one-shot in which the PCs are all built at low level and the kobolds, orcs etc are reflavoured as invading demons or great warriors or whatever, but I didn't take this sort of outlying case to be what you had in mind.)
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
This. And it will only be compounded by cross-time comparisons where the PCs stats have changed. And even moreso in respect of magic, where player-side resoures are discrete bundles of capability ("spells") that (i) correlate to discrete sorts of fictional events (like eg walking between worlds) and (ii) are at least presented as correlating to discrete packets of capability within the fiction (in virtue of the preparation rules, spellbook rules, etc).
Agreed. I think DEFCON 1's point got a little obscured, and more boiled down to "Just because a game element is usable in the character building portion of the game doesn't mandate its inclusion in the game narrative." If the needs of the game make it so that a 14th level champion fighter is "the greatest swordsman in the world", the fact that a hypothetical 20th level vengeance paladin could exist doesn't suddenly invalidate the fiction. As the DM, you simply need to frame your encounters in a way not to violate that constraint (or possibly challenge it!) if you've already accepted that concept as true.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
I'm thinking about actual experiences in a game once the action resolution rules are invoked. That's why I fastened on (what was it?) a single attack for +3 to hit and 1d8 damage. I find it very hard to envisage a D&D game in which the action resolution experience produced by those stats would be consistent with being a great swordsman. (I guess there could be a one-shot in which the PCs are all built at low level and the kobolds, orcs etc are reflavoured as invading demons or great warriors or whatever, but I didn't take this sort of outlying case to be what you had in mind.)
Actually, I think that's pretty relevant to what DEFCON 1 is saying. Basically, what I'm interpreting from his posts is this:

1) The relative potency of game mechanic elements is objective, at least within related categories. A 15th level wizard is more powerful than a 5th level one. An ogre is stronger than a 1st level fighter, but a 10th level fighter is stronger than an ogre.

2) The relative potency of narrative elements is subjective, and can vary from campaign to campaign. If we accept reskinning as viable, there's no strict relation between a narrative object and a game mechanic object until we declare one (usually as part of framing the scene.)

3) Once we add in declarations linking a game mechanic object to a narrative object, we implicitly add a host of constraints to any further declarations. If I define a 1st level fighter as a superior swordsman (and to be clear, this is about the DM and player both accepting this as true, not the player stating a character's belief), then definitionally, common guards and peasants must be assigned stats that would allow the superior swordsman to beat them. They might only have 2 HP, no stat above 12, and no weapon proficiencies, just as an example.
But, once that constraint is assigned, that will certainly have profound implications on how we frame further scenes, especially in regards as to how we assign mechanical opposition. We can't have the town guard show up as 4th level fighters because we've already made a declaration that town guards are inferior swordsmen to this 1st level fighter.

4) Our common fantasy tropes and use of defined stat blocks simply serve to do offload a lot of that decision making for us. That's why the 1st level "greatest swordsman" is so problematic; to maintain consistency, a large swath of our available tools, tropes, and assumptions have to be sidelined. In that game, 6 kobolds can ravage the town guard, and 2 ogres is an existential threat.
 

pemerton

Legend
Agreed. I think DEFCON 1's point got a little obscured, and more boiled down to "Just because a game element is usable in the character building portion of the game doesn't mandate its inclusion in the game narrative." If the needs of the game make it so that a 14th level champion fighter is "the greatest swordsman in the world", the fact that a hypothetical 20th level vengeance paladin could exist doesn't suddenly invalidate the fiction. As the DM, you simply need to frame your encounters in a way not to violate that constraint (or possibly challenge it!) if you've already accepted that concept as true.
If that's the pont then I agree - as per my egs from 4e play.
 

pemerton

Legend
If we accept reskinning as viable, there's no strict relation between a narrative object and a game mechanic object until we declare one (usually as part of framing the scene.)

<snip>

If I define a 1st level fighter as a superior swordsman (and to be clear, this is about the DM and player both accepting this as true, not the player stating a character's belief), then definitionally, common guards and peasants must be assigned stats that would allow the superior swordsman to beat them. They might only have 2 HP, no stat above 12, and no weapon proficiencies, just as an example.

<snip>

Our common fantasy tropes and use of defined stat blocks simply serve to do offload a lot of that decision making for us. That's why the 1st level "greatest swordsman" is so problematic; to maintain consistency, a large swath of our available tools, tropes, and assumptions have to be sidelined. In that game, 6 kobolds can ravage the town guard, and 2 ogres is an existential threat.
This is why I think that what is being described is hard even in 4e, which is the version of D&D that is closest to encouraging what you describe here. I think D&D isn't very well suited to a game in which town guards have 2 hp and 12 STR; because so many other parts of the game (the rules for stats and stat checks; for weapon damage rages; animal stats in the MM which factor into druidic spell casting; etc) push against it.

But if the claim is simply that hypothetical PC builds can be disregarded when locating actual PC builds in the fiction, that's something different and true. E6 is probably the best-known example of this. The 4e Neverwinter Campaign Setting is a published example. And any table can do this pretty easily.

And to make a concrete link between the preceding two paragraphs: using the town guard or cult thugs stats from the 5e MM, or a scenario, is going to be completely irrelevant to whether the best swordsman in the land is a 6th, 10th or 20th level fighter.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But the supremacy of magic vs martial is as old as D&D. My buddy in high school swears he should have won our impromptu PVP session between my fighter and his wizard. He may well have, if his hold person spell had worked. But my fighter walked away that day and Binkster wasn't going walk anywhere under their own power.
When the Fighter-vs-Mage throwdown happens, the first thing I say as the Fighter is always this: "If you're lucky, you'll get one spell away. Make it good, 'cause if I'm still moving afterwards you will not get off a second."
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Of course not! Why am I getting special treatment here?!? Don't I deserve to be taken out of context and strawmanned like every other poster?!? What'd I ever do to you people to be treated with such... respect! 🤮

;)
Simple.

You made sense, and that's so uncommon here sometimes that people just don't know how to deal with it. :)
 

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