5E Legends & Lore - A Retrospective

Iosue

Community Supporter
A while back I floated the idea of looking at Mearls' L&L articles from before the announcement of 5e, and comparing them with how the final game turned out, once all of the core three were released.

Now all three books are out and we have had a bit of time to digest them, so I thought I would go ahead! I don't have the best of records with these kinds of things (still have three threads in Limbo!), so I'm going to try doing two at a time, and aim to get through all 45 articles in a month or so.

So off we go!

Legends & Lore #1 - An Introduction
February 15, 2011
Original EN World thread

As the title suggests, in this article Mearls lays out why he's doing the column and what he hopes to accomplish. Essentials had just come out the previous September, so at this point there wasn't much thought of L&L being insight into a new edition, as the EN World thread shows. More like explorations of where 4e design was going to go post-Essentials. We know now, however, that at this time they were at least exploring where they wanted to go with 5e, with R&D soon (if not already) playing through all the editions of D&D.

What we do see here is the beginnings of 5e as a "unifying" version of D&D. The article opens with a lament over edition-warring, and an appeal to realize whatever one's own preference of edition, we're all in this together as fans of D&D.

Mike Mearls said:
These days, when we think about D&D’s past and present, we all too often think of it in adversarial tones. 4th Edition is a lame tabletop MMO. 3rd Edition is for number-crunching losers. 2nd Edition is for setting junkies. 1st Edition is for people obsessed with polearms. Let’s not even talk about Basic D&D. Who plays that? Take your pick of invective, cast your favorite edition in the most positive terms, and you have what seems an all too common discussion on the internet and in game shops. Even when you talk about an edition (or editions) positively, there can still be an air of defensiveness, as if you have to apologize for what you like in order to avoid making a perceived attack. We allow ourselves to open that proverbial quarrel.
The thrust of the article is that in order overcome these differences in the future, we need to look at the past, to see the road that brought us to the (then) current situation.

Mike Mearls said:
In the end, understanding the past is far more than a mere bath in nostalgia. It’s about getting to the heart of Dungeons & Dragons. Whether you play the original game published in 1974, AD&D in any of its forms, 3rd Edition and its descendants, or 4th Edition, at the end of the day you’re playing D&D. D&D is what we make of it, and by "we" I mean the DMs, the players, the readers, the bloggers—everyone who has picked up a d20 and ventured into a dungeon.
Then comes what is, in retrospect, the mission statement of 5e:
Mike Mearls said:
This may sound strange, coming from R&D—but it’s easy to mistake what Wizards of the Coast publishes as the core essence of D&D. We might print the rules for the current version of the game, or produce accessories you use at your table, but the game is what you, the community of D&D fans and players, make it. D&D is the moments in the game, the interplay within a gaming group, the memories formed that last forever. It’s intensely personal. It’s your experience as a group, the stories that you and your friends share to this day. No specific rule, no random opinion, no game concept from an R&D designer, no change to the game’s mechanics can alter that.
We can see here the movement towards less emphasis on tight, focused design and mechanics in favor of looser design that appeals to a wide swath of playstyles. Mearls would continue hitting this point all through playtest.

How did things end up in 5e?
Well, how unifying 5e ended up being is something of a debate. The movement towards looser design doesn’t really appeal to those who like tight, focused design. On the other hand, it does seem to appeal to a wide variety of groups and playstyles. At the least, we can say that 5e has been the least divisive of all WotC editions to-date.
 

Iosue

Community Supporter
Legends & Lore #2 - Miniatures Madness
February 22, 2011
Original EN World thread
Separate EN World thread

Right off the bat with the first real article of the new column, Mearls hits on one of the touchstones of inter-edition disagreement. The use of miniatures. He first goes through the history of miniatures in D&D: part of the early editions as a legacy from coming from wargames, used mainly for marching order and often with just placeholders instead of actual miniatures, and then a shift towards miniature-focused design in 3.5, continuing on to 4e.

Mearls sees the question as one of DM control vs. player control.
Mearls said:
The best example of this comes from the transition from 3rd Edition to 3.5. In 3rd Edition, the Player’s Handbook provides a table of modifiers and an illustration that give an increasing bonus to a creature’s AC and Reflex save based on how much of its body is concealed by cover. From the standpoint of miniatures use, the DM decides if the pillar between you and the target orc covers half the orc, a quarter of it, or whatever. The DM interprets what’s on the grid (or the image in his mind in the absence of minis) to make a call.
....
The argument in favor of the 3.5/4th Edition approach (4th Edition uses the same design philosophy) is that everyone at the table easily and clearly understands how cover and similar rules work. A player doesn’t need to ask the DM if a creature has cover. He draws the imaginary lines and fires away with the appropriate modifier. This makes things easier for the DM, because he doesn’t have to learn as many rules.
Here Mearls encapsulates the argument for clear grid-oriented rules: it's clear to everyone at the table, and isn't reliant on DM adjudication, making it easier for players and DMs. But his presentation of a counterargument shows an insight that would be applied to the design of 5e again and again.

Mearls said:
The counter is that the rule is more complex than it needs to be, because it has to create a foolproof method for determining cover without the use of common sense or description. When players can control rules, there’s a natural tendency to find ways to break them. In contrast, with the DM serving as impartial referee, you can write a simple rule that’s easy to learn and easy to apply. You don’t have to worry about strange corner cases because the DM—as part of making the judgment call required to determine cover—can simple cast aside absurd results.
A couple of things that I thought Mearls could have addressed, but didn't, were 1) the degree of specificity of miniature rules in AD&D (down to distance scales and adjustments for facing) and possible reasons why those detailed rules never seemed to get in the way of people not using miniatures; and 2) the possibility of specific rules oriented towards gridless play. Granted, the latter has never been a part of D&D history, and at this point it still doesn't look like this is a column about a future edition.

Ultimately, Mearls says that he personally likes gridless and mini-less play, and he ends the column with the first of many infamous and often-maligned polls.

How did things end up in 5e?
This is one area where I think 5e was successful in giving everyone what they wanted, setting aside the question of 4e-style tactical combat. They essentially went to the 2e paradigm. Distances were given in feet, rather than squares, and rules used "reach" and "adjacent" to allow for play with miniatures while still keeping things easy to play without them. The way they released the game also played into this. The Basic game does not assume miniatures, but does include a sidebar providing some rules for playing on a square grid. Fuller expansion of miniature rules would come in the DMG as a DM's option. Further, these rules addressed not just playing on a square grid, but also hexes (blast from the past!). There would even be a few optional rules to facilitate playing without miniatures or a map, such as the rules for adjudicating areas of effect and mob attacks.

Also, along with the release of 5e, WotC partnered with WizKids Games to produce miniatures for their adventure paths.

Basically, no matter what your preference for the use of miniatures in D&D, be it theater of the mind, rulers and gridless maps, squares, or even hexes, 5e has something for you.
 
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A while back I floated the idea of looking at Mearls' L&L articles from before the announcement of 5e, and comparing them with how the final game turned out, once all of the core three were released.

Now all three books are out and we have had a bit of time to digest them, so I thought I would go ahead!
This is a fantastic idea for a thread and I commend you on the work you're putting into it. I recently reread all of the articles (I had several bookmarked that stuck out to me during the playtest process) for just this reason. I'll have some commentary on a few of the articles (later when you cover them) and how revealing they are regarding the intent of specific components of 5e design.
 

Iosue

Community Supporter
This is a fantastic idea for a thread and I commend you on the work you're putting into it. I recently reread all of the articles (I had several bookmarked that stuck out to me during the playtest process) for just this reason. I'll have some commentary on a few of the articles (later when you cover them) and how revealing they are regarding the intent of specific components of 5e design.
I've reread the first four so far, and it certainly is interesting how much of the overall philosophy of the game shows up in these 2011 articles. Despite Mearls ostensibly just spitballing while looking at the game's history; no new edition to see here, nope!

I should note, though, that I'm not planning on going through all the articles done during the playtest. I'm thinking of just doing the 2011 articles, possibly the early 2012 articles before the playtest began. I'm most interested in what they were thinking and planning before they hit the wild and wooly playtest. Also, IMO the 2011 articles are mostly excellent, with a good length for looking at the issues. After Monte Cook took over, they tended to be not so good -- short and shallow. Even then Mearls took over again, he was apparently too busy to give them much attention. A lot of them just feel like placeholders, rehashes of earlier articles jotted down just to put something up for that week. That said, even as I write this, I'm looking at the archive and seeing a few 2012 articles that look interesting. If I can get through 2011 (like I said, my track record is poor!), maybe I'll go through some selected articles from 2012-2013.
 

TerraDave

5ever
...We know now, however, that at this time they were at least exploring where they wanted to go with 5e,
Thanks for doing this, but we "know" no such thing.

My guess is at that point they where still hoping 4E would some how rebound. I think you will see stronger evidence for 5E related ruminations after a few more people get fired in the coming months.
 

Iosue

Community Supporter
Thanks for doing this, but we "know" no such thing.
Actually, we do. From a 2012 interview with Mearls:
Mike Mearls said:
In late 2010 we started looking at the long term future for the tabletop RPG. Two things became apparent. First, we had a divided audience. Second, if we kept altering the core of 4th Edition, the division would only become more apparent.

Like all good ideas, the concept of pulling all the editions into one game seemed like an obvious good idea, once it came up. One of our employees had come up with the initial idea which he used to work up an RPG system for his home group. After talking with him, the R&D team went back to each edition of D&D and started looking at the places where they overlapped with each other and how they were unique. That kicked off the process that led to where we are today.
We don't know at what point 5e design began in earnest, or when exactly they flipped the switch and said, "R&D is now working on the next edition." But we know from Mearls' comments here that after late 2010 they were looking at the long term future of the RPG, but not in terms of altering core 4e. Then in February 2011 they suddenly have a new column looking back at D&D design history, and talking about reducing complexity and celebrating the whole history of D&D. So I stand by my statement.
 

pemerton

Legend
Right off the bat with the first real article of the new column, Mearls hits on one of the touchstones of inter-edition disagreement. The use of miniatures. He first goes through the history of miniatures in D&D: part of the early editions as a legacy from coming from wargames, used mainly for marching order and often with just placeholders instead of actual miniatures

<snip>

Here Mearls encapsulates the argument for clear grid-oriented rules: it's clear to everyone at the table, and isn't reliant on DM adjudication, making it easier for players and DMs. But his presentation of a counterargument shows an insight that would be applied to the design of 5e again and again.
I think this is one lightning rod for the "boardgame vs fictional positioning" debate about 4e.

If cover in 4e really is just drawing lines on a grid (as per the 3E-era D&D miniatures rules) then fictional positioning (whether adjudicated by the GM or negotiated between GM and player) is irrelevant - it is just drawing lines on a gameboard.

The PHB (p 280) is inconsistent. It contains both "fictional positioning" language and "boardgame language:

Enemies behind a low wall, around a corner, or behind a tree enjoy some amount of cover; you can’t hit them as easily as you normally could.​

This (and more) fictional-positioning-oriented language, which is not very different from p 74 of the 5e Basic PDF, is followed by rules, under the heading "Determining Cover", about drawing lines from corners. These rules can't even be applied to an enemy behind a low wall, because the cover from a low wall operates in three dimensions and the rules presuppose a flat playing grid! The Rules Compendium basically reproduces this confusion (p 219).

The DMG (p 43) is clearer that there are two systems in play - a minis boardgame system and a fictional positioning system (which it describes as "common sense"). It says:

As the referee, you decide based on common sense whether a creature has cover against an attack. If you
want rules that can let you determine cover more precisely, you can use these. They’re the same rules that appear in the D&D Miniatures game. In D&D, though, we recommend that you make a quick decision about cover and move on to the fun.​

The boardgame rules are not identical to those in the PHB or RC (being the same for ranged attacks but different for melee). They still can't account for low walls.

It's interesting that the 4e DMG presented the 5e system as the default, yet by the time Mearls writes his column that seems to have dropped off the radar - for Mearls, for 4e critics, and presumably for many 4e players.
 
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Iosue

Community Supporter
It's interesting that the 4e DMG presented the 5e system as the default, yet by the time Mearls writes his column that seems to have dropped off the radar - for Mearls, for 4e critics, and presumably for many 4e players.
I think this is an area where presentation has a lot to do with it, for good or for ill. While the 4e DMG presents a 5e-like dual system, every power, and all the combat rules are written using squares. I think that for a lot of folks that simply set the focus. In contrast, 5e, like Expert, 2e and 3e uses feet. 1e used inches, but wrote it out using ", making it simple to just read the number as feet, rather than inches. (In fact, I suspect a lot of people didn't even notice or remember that it was inches. Symbol confusion is not just for Spinal Tap.)

Square/feet conversion is part and parcel of playing on a map, but an extra step if one is playing without one. I think this is one of those seemingly small things that have surprisingly large knock-on effects. Mearls will talk about another one -- the gnome effect -- in a future L&L.
 
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dracomilan

Visitor
I wonder if Mearls here

One of our employees had come up with the initial idea which he used to work up an RPG system for his home group.

was referring to Chris Perkins' AD&D 3rd edition, an amazing take at evolving AD&D.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
Iosue, great thread topic! I certainly appreciate your comments' both insight and attempt to avoid bias.
 

M.L. Martin

Adventurer
I wonder if Mearls here

One of our employees had come up with the initial idea which he used to work up an RPG system for his home group.

was referring to Chris Perkins' AD&D 3rd edition, an amazing take at evolving AD&D.
I was always under the impression that that was a completely different Chris Perkins than the "DM to the Stars". Was I mistaken?
 
At the least, we can say that 5e has been the least divisive of all WotC editions to-date.
I'm not disagreeing, per se, but how do you reckon this? Looking at 3E at the same time after release, it seemed way less divisive, with virtually everyone I knew (online and off) seeing it as significant improvement over 2E, and tons of people coming back to D&D for it. People sticking with D&D/1E/2E were far and few between and virtually no-one was even considering D&D-esque games.

Whereas say, a year or three after 3.5E, we were seeing significant dissatisfaction, people heading off to other d20 and non-d20 RPGs, and the very beginnings of mainstream retro-clones, and so on. But where will 5E be in four-five-six years? Hard to say.

Even comparing 5E to the latter, I'm not sure it's brought a lot of people back into the fold - I still see a lot of people playing retro-clones and alternative D&Ds like Pathfinder or Dungeon World. 4E was certainly more divisive than 5E, though.

So I'm not really seeing "least divisive". I can see "managed to heal some cracks and certainly avoided exacerbating most of them". But I feel like 3E brought people together way more, even if it later blew them apart.

EDIT:

This is an interesting passage:

Basically, no matter what your preference for the use of miniatures in D&D, be it theater of the mind, rulers and gridless maps, squares, or even hexes, 5e has something for you.
I don't think you're looking at this the way people who play games, do, though. I don't know of any D&D players, from any edition, who actively look for miniature-based play from D&D, who actively look for a grid/hexes, as a goal in themselves.

I mean, I'm a huge fan of 4E's tactical play, but I'm a fan of the tactical play, not specifically a fan of grids, or minis, or whatever (indeed I hate minis outside of actual boardgames - we use tokens). Do you understand the difference? It's a pretty huge difference. I've never come across a 4E group who were play "because minis" or "because grid" (or "because grid+minis" or whatever). Nor a 3.XE group, for that matter. I know of people who WON'T play a game because it requires minis, but that's a different story.

So I think when you flippantly dismiss 4E-style tactical play, and claim 5E has "something for everyone" because it has rules for mini + grid, I think you're not understanding what people actually want. I think it's a failure of understanding that the leads of the 5E team, particularly Mike Mearls have suffered from, too, so I don't think you're crazy to make it, but it is a failure nonetheless. Even 3.XE/PF fans who like tactical combat stuff will find distinctly less in 5E than 4E.

Basically, 5E did a good job of providing something for perhaps most D&D groups (given plenty of people played 4E but didn't really get into the tactical combat and so on), but definitely not for everyone by a long stretch. And a large part of the reason why is the faulty logic we see here, which presumes we want minis/grids for minis/grids sake, not minis/grid for tactics sake.

We'd see more of this strange (to me) thinking with the whole "Tactics means facing rules right guys!?" deal later.

2nd Edit - I think the big "Mission Accomplished" (ahem) from this column is providing really strong support for TotM, as that was something that had been on the decline since 3E (indeed, I remember writing rants about how 3E was "forcing" me to use minis/grid back when it had been released!). For the first time, a WotC edition unquestionably supported TotM.
 
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I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
It's interesting that the 4e DMG presented the 5e system as the default, yet by the time Mearls writes his column that seems to have dropped off the radar - for Mearls, for 4e critics, and presumably for many 4e players
FWIW, I think this has a few causes.

For one, the implication for me is clearly that low walls, corners, and trees were all things that, due to the rules about how you determine cover, had representations on the "board." It wasn't about fictional context as much as it was about having "interesting terrain" on the grid.

The second big one is that "Common sense" was not clearly presented as an option. The paragraph in the DMG that says you can determine cover based on common sense occurs immediately after a paragraph talking about how the PHB rules should be all DMs need most of the time, and in that context, seems to indicate that "common sense" is equal to "the rule in the PHB." And immediately after the option to use common sense, it goes into an EVEN MORE minis-centric rule that you could use instead of common sense.

That's hardly "the 5e system as the default." That's the system in the 4e PHB as equal to "common sense," and an additional "more accurate" system you could use as an option, too.

That might just be a lack of clarity (lawd knows the 4e DMG has issues with presumptions), but it's not hard to see why players got that sense from the actual rules written down. I can see viable alternate interpretations, but the one "many 4e players" got seems consistent with the rules as they were written in the books.
 
The second big one is that "Common sense" was not clearly presented as an option. The paragraph in the DMG that says you can determine cover based on common sense occurs immediately after a paragraph talking about how the PHB rules should be all DMs need most of the time, and in that context, seems to indicate that "common sense" is equal to "the rule in the PHB." And immediately after the option to use common sense, it goes into an EVEN MORE minis-centric rule that you could use instead of common sense.
I think you're indulging in some pretty silly business here. I don't think that we saw any 4E groups "ignoring common sense" or the like when it came to cover. Really, everyone knows that, at best, there's a 2D map of a 3D scene, and inevitably, there's going to be times when common sense comes into play, because the wall on the map is half-height, or full height, or full height but has holes in it (all of which might appear identical from the map).

So yeah, common sense absolutely always was a part of 4E's system, it's just not spelled out, because frankly, you shouldn't really need to spell out common sense.

I can see viable alternate interpretations, but the one "many 4e players" got seems consistent with the rules as they were written in the books.
I don't believe any "4E players" who actually played the game, as opposed to reading the rulebook and tutting over it or the like, didn't think common sense and/or DM rulings was involved with decisions about cover. So it may be consistent with the RAW, if we ignore the reality of play, but ignoring the reality of play is really silly.

I mean, am I misunderstanding you here?
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I don't think that we saw any 4E groups "ignoring common sense" or the like when it came to cover.
Of course, that's not my contention.

Pemerton presented that "common sense" in 4e = fictional positioning = the default in 4e.

My contention is that if "common sense" there = fictional positioning then this is not the default in 4e.

Which is not the same as "4e players ignored common sense." It is, however, similar to "4e players who saw an emphasis on grid-based play weren't ignoring 4e's default, they were just reading the rules as presented and coming to a fairly logical conclusion based on this reading."
 

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