D&D 5E L&L: Monsters and Stories

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
One of my players had just taken over the DM chores for another group when he joined my group about three years ago. At the time, he had only been playing DND a few months and his other rpg experience was limited to a year of LARPing and White Wolf tabletop games (as a player). He had no idea that he could he could ban things, house rule things, or make any changes to what was published by WOTC until he joined my campaign and saw me house ruling.

He is not the first player (and beginning DM) that I have had holding that mentality before joining my group.

Then he didn't read the DMG advice?

A few years ago, so that was probably 4e? 4e DMG, page 133,"You don’t have to use that material exactly as it stands. You can and should change things you don’t like, incorporate elements you like from other campaigns or adventures, and put your own distinctive stamp on the world. ...It’s a good idea to establish at the outset that not everything in the book is necessarily true in your version of the world...It’s your game, and the players should understand that its events make sense in your vision for the setting."

You can find the same sort of advice in all editions of the game, all the way back to Basic D&D.

Of course it is harder for a new player to know all this. But then, it's MUCH harder for a new player if they have nothing in the book to go on to begin with. The idea that you need a caveat for every single creature is a policy of making rules for the lowest common denominator. Leaving the explanation in the DMG is exactly where it belongs, and where new DMs will find it. That's the point - as a guide for dungeon masters.
 
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I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
So you're seriously asserting that, IF SOMEONE DOES NOT LIKE THE FLUFF FOR A MONSTER IN THE MONSTER MANUAL, that they will use it anyway rather than change it for their game? That if I ran a poll on that question, you think people will either answer yes they will use it anyway, or lie, or mistakenly think they will change it but really won't despite their years of experience knowing how they react to such things in this game?

No. I'm not making a prediction, I'm stating that the default effect is real and significant, even though D&D says right up there in front that you can change anything you want, because telling people that they can change a default is not enough. As the studies show, decisions are often constructed at the moment of request, and if no request is made, a decision to go with the default is presumed to be the wisest/most sensisble/"intended"/easiest/least costly position. A default suggests a preferred path. Since that's not the case in D&D (the ideal path, the most rewarding path for any group, is the path that they actively choose), it's bad design to have a default.

If I was to predict what the fallout of assuming a default in 5e might be, I would predict that it would be something like the fallout from presuming a default in 4e. You have some people that love it, you have some people that adjust certain elements of it, and you have some people that just say "Um...no" and go play Pathfinder (or whatever). This regardless of a big Rule Zero printed right up front. 3e had that, and a lot of folks still thought you should play the grapple rules as they were written. 4e had that, and a lot of folks still decided that they'd go with demon succubi in PF rather than change a keyword in 4e thankyouverymuch.

The benefits of not presuming a default include giving a useful decision-point for the DM, at which point they are actively provoked to look at this option not as a default (with all the attendant problems that defaults have), but as something they can actively select if it provides the right benefits for their game (a much more honest portrayal of how a good DM runs the game anyway).

Mistwell said:
Then he didn't read the DMG advice?

Telling someone that they can change a default isn't enough, as these studies show, so even if he read it, it likely wouldn't affect his behavior.

Mistwell said:
Of course it is harder for a new player to know all this. But then, it's MUCH harder for a new player if they have nothing in the book to go on to begin with. The idea that you need a caveat for every single creature is a policy of making rules for the lowest common denominator. Leaving the explanation in the DMG is exactly where it belongs, and where new DMs will find it. That's the point - as a guide for dungeon masters.

This panicked false duality ("If we don't have WotC telling us what monsters are like, we'll have NO MONSTERS!") keeps popping up, and it keeps being woefully misinformed. The alternative to a default isn't nothing. It's a field of options! They will have something to begin with. They will have LOTS of somethings to begin with! And they'll be making an informed choice about which something they want to use rather than tripping down the trail of presumed monolithic defaults. It creates better games, better DMs, stronger encounters, because it requests a little bit of active decision-making that a good DM should be doing anyway.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
Then he didn't read the DMG advice?

A few years ago, so that was probably 4e? 4e DMG, page 133,"You don’t have to use that material exactly as it stands. You can and should change things you don’t like, incorporate elements you like from other campaigns or adventures, and put your own distinctive stamp on the world. ...It’s a good idea to establish at the outset that not everything in the book is necessarily true in your version of the world...It’s your game, and the players should understand that its events make sense in your vision for the setting."

You have to read all the way to page 133 before it tells you that? No wonder he didn't catch it. Very few people read the rulebooks cover to cover, paying careful attention on every page, and it's preposterous to expect them to. This is a game we play for fun, not a bar exam. The usual way to learn is to join an existing group and pick things up as you go; maybe you read the intro chapter, but otherwise the rulebook is just a reference to look things up as needed. In 25 years of gaming, I think the only D&D book I've ever sat down and read all the way through was the player's book from the original Red Box. And I only did that a couple of years ago out of curiosity.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
One easy answer is to provide multiple options for non-derived stats. Or, if you use these elements as stories instead, as the article mentions D&D Next will be doing, multiple stories could be published.

That is multiple stories under the same name. Whether that be monster name, treasure name, NPC name, location name, and so on.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
No. I'm not making a prediction,

You have to though. You're banking everything on your belief it's read for D&D. So, then, you have to predict people would answer that way, or lie.

So take a position. You either believe it to be true, in which case you're predicting people would answer that way, or you doubt the veracity of your argument. Which is it?

I'm stating that the default effect is real and significant, even though D&D says right up there in front that you can change anything you want

How is this not a prediction of how people would answer the poll? It's real and significant, but you won't risk answering my question about how people would answer the poll? Either you think it's real and significant, or you do not. Let's find out, right? I want to see you tell people they're all wrong about their games, or lying, when they answer they would just change it. I want to see you tell people how your theory, which was not applied to D&D in the study, holds true for their actual games, despite them telling you it's never held true for their games, in any version of D&D.


If I was to predict what the fallout of assuming a default in 5e might be, I would predict that it would be something like the fallout from presuming a default in 4e.

No no...ALL versions of D&D. They ALL did this. They all had fluff, and they all had an explanation in the DMG that you can change the fluff for your games. Not just 4e, which is entrenched with a host of other issues that caused a rift in the D&D community, ALL D&D. Your argument would have resulted in almost nobody changing monsters over the years. It presumes the forces against house ruling are tremendous - in the 90% or so. Which is why I am saying you already know your theory is false as you have tons of evidence this game doesn't play out that way.

You have some people that love it, you have some people that adjust certain elements of it, and you have some people that just say "Um...no" and go play Pathfinder (or whatever).

But Pathfinder also does this. If you're theory were true, they'd be just as upset about it with Pathfinder. But no wait - they wouldn't ever be upset. They would just almost always go along with the fluff no matter what it was. That's your theory right, that people just use the default no matter what. So, why are you predicting people would get upset and choose a different game? That seems entirely inconsistent with your theory.

This regardless of a big Rule Zero printed right up front. 3e had that, and a lot of folks still thought you should play the grapple rules as they were written.

And a lot changed it, but more importantly we're talking about stuff that is super-easy to change - fluff about a monster. No math necessary, no balancing with other things in the game needed, no connection to a series of other rules about ability scores and circumstance bonuses and all that. Just monster fluff. You're honestly claiming people didn't change that in their games at-will if they didn't like that, despite all the evidence you have people have routinely done that.

4e had that, and a lot of folks still decided that they'd go with demon succubi in PF rather than change a keyword in 4e thankyouverymuch.

Ah ha! So we know, for sure, that people DON'T DEFAULT TO WHAT'S IN THE BOOK. If your theory were true, they would have just accepted the 4e version. But your theory proved false - they went with an entirely different description than the one in the book, from a different game even! So why are you arguing this theory is true for D&D when you already know it's false?


This panicked false duality ("If we don't have WotC telling us what monsters are like, we'll have NO MONSTERS!") keeps popping up, and it keeps being woefully misinformed. The alternative to a default isn't nothing. It's a field of options!

If you have infinite space, sure. But you don't. Realistically you have room for one developed description, or else you have several undeveloped ones. You cannot do both, in the space provided. So they're choosing one developed description, like every other version of D&D before this one. And like all those other versions, if people don't like it, they will just use their own or one from a different version of the game.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
You have to though. You're banking everything on your belief it's read for D&D. So, then, you have to predict people would answer that way, or lie.

So take a position. You either believe it to be true, in which case you're predicting people would answer that way, or you doubt the veracity of your argument. Which is it?

My position is that this effect exists and is significant in D&D players, and that it would be better to take this into account in design than to pretend that a few words in the DMG are all anyone really needs.

That position doesn't entail supernatural powers of prophetic accuracy. It just entails a clear view of reality and an ability to think critically about the problems the game faces.


No no...ALL versions of D&D. They ALL did this. They all had fluff, and they all had an explanation in the DMG that you can change the fluff for your games. Not just 4e, which is entrenched with a host of other issues that caused a rift in the D&D community, ALL D&D. Your argument would have resulted in almost nobody changing monsters over the years. It presumes the forces against house ruling are tremendous - in the 90% or so. Which is why I am saying you already know your theory is false as you have tons of evidence this game doesn't play out that way.

Yes, they all did this. But this isn't an honest criticism, because there isn't just one variable in play. If 5e can go back in time and be the first RPG ever, or wants to embrace the OGL, or wants to publish the flourish of settings that 2e had, perhaps it can mitigate the default effects as well. Those would all be ways of essentially presenting more options (or, in the first case, removing the desire for them).

But Pathfinder also does this. If you're theory were true, they'd be just as upset about it with Pathfinder. But no wait - they wouldn't ever be upset. They would just almost always go along with the fluff no matter what it was. That's your theory right, that people just use the default no matter what. So, why are you predicting people would get upset and choose a different game? That seems entirely inconsistent with your theory.

The OGL provides options, mitigating the default effect (which is still present, just less aggressive).


And a lot changed it, but more importantly we're talking about stuff that is super-easy to change - fluff about a monster. No math necessary, no balancing with other things in the game needed, no connection to a series of other rules about ability scores and circumstance bonuses and all that. Just monster fluff. You're honestly claiming people didn't change that in their games at-will if they didn't like that, despite all the evidence you have people have routinely done that.

People do change it. A significant number of people don't. They either accept it, or reject it.


Ah ha! So we know, for sure, that people DON'T DEFAULT TO WHAT'S IN THE BOOK. If your theory were true, they would have just accepted the 4e version. But your theory proved false - they went with an entirely different description than the one in the book, from a different game even! So why are you arguing this theory is true for D&D when you already know it's false?

They defaulted to what's in the Pathfinder books. I don't imagine WotC wants to continue this trend.

If you have infinite space, sure. But you don't. Realistically you have room for one developed description, or else you have several undeveloped ones. You cannot do both, in the space provided. So they're choosing one developed description, like every other version of D&D before this one. And like all those other versions, if people don't like it, they will just use their own or one from a different version of the game.

The OGL gives you infinite space. The fan community gives you infinite space. New settings give you infinite space. You've got limited space in those pages, but, again, the strawman of "You can't fit EVERYTHING into this book!" is ignoring my actual advice. Don't fit everything. Fit what you can, and just don't make it the default.
 
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Klaus

First Post
Interesting note on this L&L on today's Wandering Monsters:

In this week's Legends & Lore, Mike talked a little bit about the monster story work we're doing right now, presenting the (a?) tale of the medusa's origins.

Emphasis mine. Seems keeping things vague/flexible is on their radar.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
<snip>


But Pathfinder also does this. If you're theory were true, they'd be just as upset about it with Pathfinder. But no wait - they wouldn't ever be upset. They would just almost always go along with the fluff no matter what it was. That's your theory right, that people just use the default no matter what. So, why are you predicting people would get upset and choose a different game? That seems entirely inconsistent with your theory.

And that's the main reason I'm leery about using Pathfinder. A lot of the defaults are attached to visualisations I don't share -- and I don't look forward to grabbing a metaphorical sharpie and changing a little bit of everything and then finding a way to convey the differences to my players. I get exhausted thinking about it.
 

The alternative to a default isn't nothing. It's a field of options! They will have something to begin with. They will have LOTS of somethings to begin with! And they'll be making an informed choice about which something they want to use rather than tripping down the trail of presumed monolithic defaults. It creates better games, better DMs, stronger encounters, because it requests a little bit of active decision-making that a good DM should be doing anyway.

Look, I'm no beginner to D&D or fantasy games in general, and I still believe I could find myself easily overwhelmed by a "field of options" regarding something as trivial as the origin of orcs. I have no reason to believe that we are not better served by default assumptions in this kind of thing, as long as they build upon the history of the game instead of breaking it, like 4E unfortunately did.

In fact, for everything we know and has been talked about, WotC has achieved a lot of recent success with MtG by adopting a practice of keeping overall complexity and the number of choices players have to make relatively low at common cards (the ones a beginner player will see more frequently), recognizing that "dumbed down MtG" is still more complex than the majority of games we have around.

So, what this means to D&D? In my opinion, default should be in the core books and our "field of options" could appear either in sourcebooks or in core rulebooks, but in the later case, only for "vip monsters", such as dragons, outsiders and undead. Having lots of options to begin with sometimes is not as awesome as it seems, and I believe we can achieve a higher degree of success if a beginner DM don't find himself overwhelmed by having to make such trivial choices as where gorgons come from.

Cheers,
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
Interesting note on this L&L on today's Wandering Monsters:

Emphasis mine. Seems keeping things vague/flexible is on their radar.

Yeah, this weeks WM column is pretty big into acknowledging different origins! I think he's bumping up against the One True Cosmology that Mike's mentioned elsewhere (another thing it would be smart to go "options, not defaults" on, IMO), and the poll question gave a "one story among many" choice for the gnoll origins specifically, so it feels like a first step in the right direction to me. A little awkward, but really encouraging. And I'm probably a little overly-perceptive about it. ;)

Nagol said:
And that's the main reason I'm leery about using Pathfinder. A lot of the defaults are attached to visualisations I don't share -- and I don't look forward to grabbing a metaphorical sharpie and changing a little bit of everything and then finding a way to convey the differences to my players. I get exhausted thinking about it.

The Default Effect: Still present in a game where you are free to not only make, but even SELL, your own house rules. ;)

Giltonio_Santos said:
Look, I'm no beginner to D&D or fantasy games in general, and I still believe I could find myself easily overwhelmed by a "field of options" regarding something as trivial as the origin of orcs.

Totally fair. I think the right question to ask here is, how can we make the options available something anyone can parse easily? How can we effectively tell people the real difference between Option A and Option B so that they know which one to pick? I've got some ideas on that, too, but I think it's a solvable problem that even encourages strong, thematic design. What gameplay factors distinguish the mythic Medusa of Greek myth from these cursed medusa of human stock? Why might a DM use one, and why might they use the other? If the differences are strong enough, it should be cake to decide which one you want and which one you don't (one's a level 18 solo-style boss monstrosity with deadly gazes, one's a level 6 humanoid with slow petrification and maybe a charm effect to boot!).
 
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