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D&D General Letting a Game feel like a Game ~ Mechanics and Simulationism

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
From the earliest days of my career as a DM, I've always strived for a sense of immersion through simulation. In each of my games, I wanted the story to feel real, not explicitly "gamey", or mechanically precise. I made dozens of subsystems to simulate injury, told stories from the perspective of what the characters would know, and, for a time, I enjoyed that.

But, then, I started to think back on the games (often, the video games) which truly engaged me in their stories. In many of these games, the player was allowed to know, in a purely mechanical sense, what the hell was going on. There's a reason the best games have boss battles with huge health bars at the top of your screen. The anticipation you feel while watching that bar drain out, and seeing the Boss shed its layers, is indescribably exhilarating.

So, I decided to dip my toes into the waters of letting D&D be a game, rather than a purely immersive experience. It started by having the BBEG's health tick down, through Roll20, right on the screen. The players strategized, and waited until the boss had been weakened significantly to unleash the final, most risky, blow. I then tried adding the kind of visual or audible indicators which games often have, but, this time, very explicitly. I'd say "resist" or "weakness" when certain types of damage were dealt, and the information would be noted on-screen. Eventually, I did away with most of the subtlety altogether, letting the players look over the BBEG's stats and gnaw their fingernails in anticipation.

Immersion doesn't always lead to fun, and, sometimes, being able to see what you're up against is half the enjoyment anyway.
 

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Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
Speaking as a player of the old-school TSR editions, I enjoy D&D a great deal more when I let both dungeon-exploration and hex-crawling be as board-gamey as the old rules make them out to be. "Turn three in the dungeon. No wandering monsters this turn. You can move another 90 feet, you can search the area, or you can do something else. Two more turns until you have to rest and three until your torch goes out. What do you do next?" Those structures were put there for a reason, and they're actually a lot of fun to use. Modern D&D loses something by not having them.

In combats, I reveal the Armor Classes of monsters the first time the monster is attacked, hit point totals the first time a monster is damaged, and monster hit dice the moment they make an attack. Players being able to use that information and strategize around it is also really fun for them, in my experience.

I'm not sure whether my style of gaming is good or bad for immersion—rather, my chief overriding concern is "verisimilitudinous simulation of the fantasy milieu"—but certainly giving the players more concrete information to work with is a good thing if you want their actions and reactions to hinge on the question, "What would you do if you really were your character and in their shoes?"
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I feel like a sense of wonder is connected to a sense of mystery, and the more the players know, the less they feel both. Which is partly why older gamers get burned out -- the wonder and mystery is gone. Same happens with movies and TV. I can't help but wonder if the solution for older gamers is to remove information.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
I feel like a sense of wonder is connected to a sense of mystery, and the more the players know, the less they feel both. Which is partly why older gamers get burned out -- the wonder and mystery is gone. Same happens with movies and TV. I can't help but wonder if the solution for older gamers is to remove information.
Wonder, maybe. Fun? On that, I'm less certain.

Whatever works for your group is your method of enjoying the game, of course.

But, I'd be willing to argue that intentional removal of player information is more frustrating than it is immersive, especially in combat.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Too much boardgame in my RPG means I'm playing a boardgame not a RPG.

Too much videogame in my RPG means I'm playing a videogame not a RPG.

Too much miniatures combat game in my RPG means I'm playing a miniatures combat game not a RPG.

Too much focus on mechanics absolutely destroys my ability to enjoy my RPG experience. I'm one of the weird ones that actually trusts the GM to play fair so I don't need to see behind the screen. I like it when mechanics take a back seat and the narrative and the shared imagination space takes precedence. The more I have to engage in mechanical thought the less I can focus on the narrative and the less I enjoy the RPG experience.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
Too much boardgame in my RPG means I'm playing a boardgame not a RPG.

Too much videogame in my RPG means I'm playing a videogame not a RPG.

Too much miniatures combat game in my RPG means I'm playing a miniatures combat game not a RPG.

Too much focus on mechanics absolutely destroys my ability to enjoy my RPG experience. I'm one of the weird ones that actually trusts the GM to play fair so I don't need to see behind the screen. I like it when mechanics take a back seat and the narrative and the shared imagination space takes precedence. The more I have to engage in mechanical thought the less I can focus on the narrative and the less I enjoy the RPG experience.
To each their own, man. All I know is that stuff gets crazy when the LSD is on the table. Sometimes, people need to know what the hit point value is, to try to maintain a little bit of a grip on reality.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I feel like a sense of wonder is connected to a sense of mystery, and the more the players know, the less they feel both. Which is partly why older gamers get burned out -- the wonder and mystery is gone. Same happens with movies and TV. I can't help but wonder if the solution for older gamers is to remove information.
This. Abolutely this.

The biggest regret I have (and have had for 35 years now!) about becoming a DM is that it showed me what's under the hood; namely, a bunch of stuff that as a player I'd be quite happy not knowing.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think it's important to have a good balance of both and to have the rules structured in a way so that the gm can swing the dial a bit either way to play up & down various aspects as plot & action deserve without needing to rebuild half the game to shift from d&d straight over to Bob'sHomebrewSystem. I think 4e & 5e got the balance wrong by trying to excise too much from the dial while designing for narrow scope of "proper".
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Yeah, I am a withholder. I don't tell the players the AC or the monster's HP. When a PC hits a monster I describe the hit and use indicators of quarters of total HP to give a sense of how injured it is. Still have 75% of its hps? Then it is lightly wounded. More than 50% but less than 75%? Moderately wounded, and so on with "Seriously" and "Critically" wounded following. (that is kind of a health bar and like a video game, sans specific numbers).

As for abilities, well that is what stuff like experience and favored enemy or other gathered lore is for.

But I also can see how some people would find this frustrating. But I wonder would they also find it frustrating when they meet a Blink Dog with an illithid's psionic blast or an owlbear with fire breath? In such a game would the players expect the DM to say "By the way this owlbear has a breath weapon?" or "This piercer has human intelligence?"
 

I think there can be value in letting people see some of the game structures. I think sometimes people think witholding achieves more then it does. I tend to be transparent about DCs and that includes AC unless there's a reason that wouldn't be immediately obvious (ie a heavily armoured warrior - I'll tell the DC, a monk that looks like an ordinary bandit, not until after an exchange).

In particular, I think that exploration tends to work better when there's a bit of a transparent game structure.
 


This. Abolutely this.

The biggest regret I have (and have had for 35 years now!) about becoming a DM is that it showed me what's under the hood; namely, a bunch of stuff that as a player I'd be quite happy not knowing.
This isn't necessarily limited to DMs. IME around that days of 3E, players would routinely read the DMG and MM, a trend which continues to this day. Of course, other than magic items and monster abilities there's not much info there anymore that would surprise the players.
 


6ENow!

The Game Is Over
I have to disagree with the OP. If it works for your group and adds to the excitement, great, but that would not be the case IME. It would take too much of the challenge out of the game if players knew what they were up against.

Here is an example: We recently finished our high-level campaign (went levels 1-20 over 18 months) and the final BBEG was an Archmage who was extremely powerful. So, I decided to give him a couple boons from the DMG to make him more interesting. My favorite was Irresistible Offense (IIRC) which allowed him to bypass damage reduction! Boy, was the player with the Dragonborn (fire) and Barbarian (bear totem) surprised when his PCs got hit by his Fireball and ended up taking NORMAL damage, not halved! LOL, the player was pissed off, "Like, WTF! Why am I taking regular damage?!" I told him, there were reasons and he didn't know so just play. The other players got a kick out of it, too, and in the end (after they won) I was free to tell him why he was taking regular damage.

If they had known this Archmage could do that, would it have changed things? Certainly, they would have had to worry about how to deal with the tanks not being as tanky. But, the surprise and shock in the moment was worth more. It created a MUCH greater concern and challenge because they didn't know what they were dealing with.

For mechanical things, such as AC, I only tell them the AC when someone hits it exactly, then I'll say "You just hit, so the AC is 17," etc. Up until then, it is easy enough for the players to call out what AC they hit. Usually after a handful of attacks, they know the ballpack anyway. Often I won't tell them otherwise because there are other factors that might contribute to the AC (or whatever) that they are unaware of and I want them to discover or learn about later on.
 

BigZebra

Explorer
I think this differs wildly from one table to another.
But with my current group I agree. They revel in the combat tactics and to strategize around it. Granted, they want the combats to be part of a great story and plot, but the combats are the highlights. So much, that I'm considering trying PF2e Beginner Box when we are done with our Tyranny of Dragons campaign. They might like the extra options, or perhaps 5e is the sweet spot for them and all the extra complexity isn't worth it.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I never reveal exact HP of monsters, although I do give verbal descriptions of how wounded the monster is looking. I used to have a chart that I used (when I DMed more for public games) that broke it down into 25% ranks.

For AC, I sometimes tell them after the monster has been attacked a few times, but only after it's been hit and missed by different attacks because it speeds things up. I also describe in general things such as heavy armor, dodging nimbly out of the way or just taking the hits with minimal or no armor. Basically give people a general idea at first and then narrow it down.

I don't like getting too into numbers more than necessary, I find it helps my sense of immersion.
 

BigZebra

Explorer
I never reveal exact HP of monsters, although I do give verbal descriptions of how wounded the monster is looking. I used to have a chart that I used (when I DMed more for public games) that broke it down into 25% ranks.
That is a good idea. Think I'll make one. Especially one of my players keep asking me if they can see how wounded the monster is, and I try to make something up, but it would be nice with a table like that.
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
I never reveal exact HP of monsters, although I do give verbal descriptions of how wounded the monster is looking. I used to have a chart that I used (when I DMed more for public games) that broke it down into 25% ranks.
I suppose it depends on how you view the abstract quality of hit points.

I think things like this are ok, though, because after all as DM you typically know about how injured the PCs are, and sometimes (even if unknowingly) metagame your strategy with that knowledge in hand--I've seen it time and time again and know I am guilty as well LOL!

I would probably say something like "Injured" (half HP) and "Wounded" (quarter HP), but that's about it. Otherwise, I also use narrative to describe how well they are doing against BBEG's and such.

For AC, I sometimes tell them after the monster has been attacked a few times, but only after it's been hit and missed by different attacks because it speeds things up. I also describe in general things such as heavy armor, dodging nimbly out of the way or just taking the hits with minimal or no armor. Basically give people a general idea at first and then narrow it down.
Yep, I just find it make things faster and easier unless I have a distinct reason why I can't tell them early on.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I agree with my former drinking buddy Jack Daniel. I give out more information now than back in my old school days. Back then AC and one or two points of information only. Now AC, HP, and status conditions. It is better when I off load the tracking to another player. BUT I see withholders points. SO if it works for your table it CorrectRightFun.
 

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