D&D 5E Let's Count D&D's Rules

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Another DMing adventure is on my horizon, so I'm wondering several things. Which 5e rules are optional? Is D&D 5e any lighter in rules than 3e (as advertised)? What rules should be memorized, and which are an acceptable look-up? But ultimately...

How many rules does D&D actually have?

Since the game has been (more or less) given to the Commons, I'm interested to see what we've actually received. 403 pages of System Reference Document grants significantly more material than the Basic Rules did, but it's not all rules: it's also lists. In particular, it's lists of magic spells and NPCs. (These aren't rules because they are better described as named instances of the usage of rules.) So, for this post's purpose, the majority of D&D's rules are probably (we might find out!) in the Basic Rules anyway.

I'll skip over some RPG standard/inherent rules to analyze what is probably the most recognizable: the Core Mechanic, referred to in the SRD as the "basic rule."

...roll a d20, add an ability modifier derived from one of the six ability scores, and compare the total to a target number.

In this basic "rule," I see four discrete rules surfacing:

  • Ability Score. Characters have six ability scores that measure their various intrinsic capabilities.
  • Ability Modifier. Each ability score gets an ability modifier, which is a bonus or penalty tied to uses of that ability score. (Insert table here.)
  • Target Number. The total that a given roll result must meet or exceed to be considered a Success or Hit. These can be predetermined or DM-selected.
  • Basic Rule. When the DM wants a success or failure determination, a d20 roll, plus ability modifier of an ability score, plus or minus any other DM-selected modifiers, indicates success if the total meets or exceeds the Target Number.

The SRD dives into races first, but not really rules... Ability Score Increase isn't a rule so much as a usage of the Ability Score rule. Unless...a rule sets out the conditions for modifying ability scores? Age isn't really a rule either since it affects only character description - what I call the "fluff." Languages is starting to look like an actual rule, dictating what a character can and cannot do. Looking further in, Stonecunning looks like one of the earliest/earlier rules of the SRD, giving dwarves permission to do something that relates to other rules.

  • Character languages. A character's race determines which languages that character can speak, read, and write.
  • Stonecunning. A character feature that allows proficiency and 2x proficiency bonus when rolling an Intelligence check related to the origin of stonework.

Anyway, post here if you want to pick at the bones of D&D, or help put an end to the discussion of just how rules-heavy D&D (5e) is. If you don't comb through every post (I wouldn't), please do a quick This Thread search to see if someone has already posted your discovered-rule.
 

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Alby87

Adventurer
When people see my PHB, they think the know the whole book by heart to play the game. Nothing more wrong. Almost all the book is to write the character sheet (abilities, feats, background, equipment, spells). The game is an easy one, with the "combat minigame" (I know, I know) being the more rules heavy part of the game. I think that getting the rulebook of starter set, with preconfigured character sheets, show you how much rules are in the game... Naturally not counting optional rules or DM guide
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Mechanic and Rule are different things. Defining terms is still a rule. "This is what a Human is in D&D' is still a rule. Engagements of the rules are still rules. 'How and when to increase your ability scores' is still a rule.
Ah, you raise a good point: D&D players use weird definitions. (Jesus saves...) I'll denote mine here (as taken from Merriam Webster):

Rule: a prescribed guide for conduct or action.
Rule (alt): a regulating principle.
Mechanic: a manual worker.
Mechanism: a process, technique, or system for achieving a result.

Defining D&D humans is indeed a regulating principle, but it is much less a guide for conduct or action. I would say that the appearance and behavior of humans is a guideline, while the assignment of their racial abilities is a rule.

Would you like to express or define the rules of Human and/or Ability Score Increase for the good of the thread?
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I'm confused because for me the rules for humans and ability score increases are the rules for them in the books.
I'm seeing these as the Human rules:

  • Your ability scores each increase by 1. (This is more concrete than the earlier race generalization on page 3 of the SRD.)
  • Your size is Medium.
  • Your speed is 30 feet.
  • You choose 1 bonus language to speak.

Dwarves, beginning the SRD races, have these racial abilities in addition to stonecunning:

  • Your Constitution increases by 2.
  • Your size is Medium.
  • Your speed is 25 feet and not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
  • You have 60 feet of Darkvision.
  • You have Dwarven Resilience: advantage on saving throws against poison, resistance against poison damage.
  • You have proficiency with battleaxe, hand axe, light hammer, and warhammer.
  • You can choose proficiency with smith's tools, brewer's supplies, or mason's tools.
  • You can speak (and read and write) dwarvish.
  • If you are a Hill Dwarf, your wisdom increases by 1.
  • Your hit point maximum increases by 1, and increases by 1 each time you gain a level.

Dwarves are a bit more rule-heavy than humans! And we've already seen references to several more rules that will show up later in the SRD: Character Size, Character Speed, Heavy Armor, Constitution (ability score), Wisdom (ability score), Darkvision, Advantage, Saving Throws, Resistance, Proficiency, Hit Points, and Character Level.

That's about 32 rules already, mentioned (if not defined) on just 2 pages of the SRD. Already, I'm starting to wonder if my theory of a rules-medium D&D, even the streamlined 5th edition, is due for reconsideration.
 

Clint_L

Legend
The game is an easy one, with the "combat minigame" (I know, I know) being the more rules heavy part of the game.
It's really not. It is an immensely complex game. I work with brand new players a lot, and I think we tend to forget how much abstraction is involved in a concept as basic to the game as "hit points." Rolling "to hit" versus rolling for "damage" is always confusing for new players. Don't get me started on action/bonus action/reaction. Spellcasting. Difficulty checks. Armour class. Saving throws. Many of these things seem intuitive to experienced players, but believe me, they are not.

On one professional development day, I offered a game of D&D for teachers who wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and a full group of eight signed up (it filled up right away; as you can imagine it was a popular option compared to the usual pro-d sessions). So these are smart, educated people, a few of whom had played D&D before, but most of who had never played any kind of TTRPG. I had three experienced students, all DMs, as helpers, as we reduced the rules as much as possible, giving each player a small character card and an extra card with their spells and abilities. Level 2.

The game was a ton of fun, but was only doable because of the helpers and me. The teachers were blown away by the complexity of the game, and very impressed by it as a learning experience for students. All of them commented on the incredible steepness of the learning curve.

Monopoly is an easy game. Risk is an easy game. Amongst TTRPGs, Dread is an easy game. D&D is not remotely an easy game.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
That's about 32 rules already, mentioned (if not defined) on just 2 pages of the SRD. Already, I'm starting to wonder if my theory of a rules-medium D&D, even the streamlined 5th edition, is due for reconsideration.
Have you done this for any other games? I'm wondering what other systems rules quantity is? And at what qty of rules does something move from rules-light to medium to -heavy?

Also, are some rules weightier than other rules? For example, language seems like a light rule because it doesn't impact much outside itself; while ability score modifiers seem heavier since they impact so many other rules.

I'm also wondering about for example equipment lists - is the price listed a rule? After all, it guides what a character can do. Or is "currency" the rule - a PC has a certain amount of currency. They can spend that currency on items per the price in the PHB or other source, including DM choice. I don't know...
 

Alby87

Adventurer
Monopoly is an easy game. Risk is an easy game. Amongst TTRPGs, Dread is an easy game. D&D is not remotely an easy game.

You are absolutely right, I expressed myself bad: what I was meaning is that for players, when non in battles, and with a already done character sheet, the game is just talking back and fort, and there are few rules like Skill and Abilities check. Exploration pillar is more "complex" DM side, who have to know more rules like vision, traps and so on.

Then, Combat pillar is the most complex of the three, because it have a lot of rules. Speaking of boardgames, more than Heroquest, for example.

But, for boardgamers, once grasped, the combat rules are not that difficult; for common people, it's a lot more complex, for sure. When it start to grow in complexity is when levelling up your character.

If you take the Starter Set rulebook, you have all the rules of the game, except something for the DMs. And they stay in 32 pages. That's the Common framework and, for my POV, the rules everyone at the table should know by heart. They are different from the abilities, feats and spells: they are still rules, but not ones everyone should know by heart.

I hope to have explained myself well this time :)
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Have you done this for any other games? I'm wondering what other systems rules quantity is? And at what qty of rules does something move from rules-light to medium to -heavy?
Didn't have to for my game because the rules are numbered. 81.
Microlite20 looks like it's lower than 50. It's basically a one-page game.
What's rules-medium? I thought D&D, or its rules-equivalents, was medium, given that some games seemed quite a bit heavier. But a better guideline might be (totally arbitrary): rules-light requires no rules reference, medium needs occasional book-cracking-open, and heavy means you'd better leave the book(s) on the table and open.

Also, are some rules weightier than other rules? For example, language seems like a light rule because it doesn't impact much outside itself; while ability score modifiers seem heavier since they impact so many other rules.
I wouldn't call one rule much heavier because it ties to other rules - just more important.

I'm also wondering about for example equipment lists - is the price listed a rule? After all, it guides what a character can do. Or is "currency" the rule - a PC has a certain amount of currency. They can spend that currency on items per the price in the PHB or other source, including DM choice. I don't know...
Anything entirely in-game is fluff to me. You can change the price of a spear to anything you want, and most games don't break. A game that revolves around acquiring better gear, with rules that depend on that idea, would have some official equipment-price-rules. D&D's rules about what gear a character starts with are very much guidelines; DMs can add to it, reduce it, allow random rolls, etc, without breaking the game (other rules). There are actual rules about types of gear. "Heavy armor" has certain rules and rule-interactions, but I can make up 8 new varieties of heavy armor and the rest of the rules remain completely intact.
 

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