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D&D (2024) Making spell descriptions less dense?

Quickleaf

Legend
You might be able to get away with a shorter, snappier spell description if you can somehow remove all the rules lawyers or have players willing to accept DM fiat without question. For example, "loudly" is an imprecise term. Loud like a tea kettle, a lawnmower or a bulldozer? Audible to anyone in the room or in the dungeon? One DM might interpret loudly as "can't be done from Stealth", another as "you've just put the whole complex on high alert".

Most of the provisos are designed to either reign in abuse from players (well, a castle is a type of container, knock should open the portcullis) or to be used by the DM as a way to appeal to authority from the rule book itself (no, a container is...) Should that be the way the rule book works? Probably not, but everyone has a bad player/DM story where the outcome bordered on the precise language of the spell or power in question.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but D&D is closer to contract law than poetry.
That's exactly it right there.

Me saying "loudly" is as functionally useful as the PHB saying "a loud knock, audible from as far away as 300 feet", it's just I took fewer words to say it.

My experience is that most people have no frame of reference for what a sound "audible from as far away as 300 feet" is comparable to, nor how such a sound would interact with being in an underground complex.

Your comparing it to something players would have a frame of reference for would be functionally more useful. Though probably terms like a "train whistle" or a "jet engine" would feel anachronistic, with a little thought something suitably faux medieval could be used like "loudly, like an elephant's call" or "as loud as a trumpet."
 

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Quickleaf

Legend
You might be able to get away with a shorter, snappier spell description if you can somehow remove all the rules lawyers or have players willing to accept DM fiat without question. For example, "loudly" is an imprecise term. Loud like a tea kettle, a lawnmower or a bulldozer? Audible to anyone in the room or in the dungeon? One DM might interpret loudly as "can't be done from Stealth", another as "you've just put the whole complex on high alert".

Most of the provisos are designed to either reign in abuse from players (well, a castle is a type of container, knock should open the portcullis) or to be used by the DM as a way to appeal to authority from the rule book itself (no, a container is...) Should that be the way the rule book works? Probably not, but everyone has a bad player/DM story where the outcome bordered on the precise language of the spell or power in question.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but D&D is closer to contract law than poetry.
That's a fascinating perspective.

When I've had the most fun with D&D it's when we've threaded the needle between those two extremes.

And when I've run for my 11 year-old nephew and his friends we were about as far from your "contract law" metaphor as it gets, playing in an extremely creative space.

From my experience, the soul of D&D is closer to poetry than to contract law.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So functionally, the knock spell could be written in One D&D more succinctly as (taking it from 137 words to 29 words)....

Knock
2nd-level transmutation (action, V)
One mundane or magical lock that you can see within 60 feet unlocks - loudly. An arcane lock is instead suppressed for 10 minutes.

Probably someone has already said this, but the two spells don't do the same thing.

Assuming I knew nothing of the game's history, these are things that I would rule against using the second version of the spell:

a) "I cast knock to unbar a door." - Bars are not locks and they don't unlock.
b) "I cast knock to unbolt a door." - Bolts are not locks and they don't unlock.
c) "I cast knock to open the stuck door." - Doors that are stuck because of rusted hinges or warped frames are not locks and they don't unlock.

But all of that goes against the historical implementation of the spell.

Also I love that loudly is defined. As a DM reading "loudly' I would assume, "A sound that would be clear to everyone in the room." I would be imagining a lock unlocking with a loud "click". Instead the spell defines it as something as loud and ringing as a hammer blow or a bell. It's not a click, it's a "BANG!" that potentially everyone in a building hears and goes, "What was THAT?!?!?". That's not at all clear from something as broad as "loudly" and totally transforms how I would imagine the spell playing out.

I strongly disagree. The One D&D wording vastly reduces my cognitive load as a GM because it never forces me to stop and decide what the words actually mean. Nothing involves more cognitive load than issuing a ruling because the rules are silent. Yes, you could probably get away with not giving examples of the types of locks and fasteners it works on, but it probably does clarify for someone what is stuck imagining the spell is only useful on doors. Also, since spells are little packets of narrative force they are traditionally ruled to do exactly what they say they do and only exactly what they say that they do. So your version of knock doesn't unbar, unbolt, and unstick doors.

And actually, I'm not sure either is as perfectly clear and descriptive as I would want. If I cast Knock on a door with one lock, that is also barred, bolted, and stuck, does it become openable or is only one condition removed and if so which one?
 
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Remathilis

Legend
That's exactly it right there.

Me saying "loudly" is as functionally useful as the PHB saying "a loud knock, audible from as far away as 300 feet", it's just I took fewer words to say it.

My experience is that most people have no frame of reference for what a sound "audible from as far away as 300 feet" is comparable to, nor how such a sound would interact with being in an underground complex.

Your comparing it to something players would have a frame of reference for would be functionally more useful. Though probably terms like a "train whistle" or a "jet engine" would feel anachronistic, with a little thought something suitably faux medieval could be used like "loudly, like an elephant's call" or "as loud as a trumpet."
300 feet is 300 feet. Even if you don't want to get into acoustic debates, you know that 300 feet is a large section of a structure and if the guards are in the next room, casting knock is going to alert them, but if the guards are on the other side of the complex, they will not. Moreover, it squashes misinterpretation between the caster and the DM, the former who thinks it's going to make a reasonably loud ding and the latter who thinks it's a choir of church bells ringing all at once.
That's a fascinating perspective.

When I've had the most fun with D&D it's when we've threaded the needle between those two extremes.

And when I've run for my 11 year-old nephew and his friends we were about as far from your "contract law" metaphor as it gets, playing in an extremely creative space.

From my experience, the soul of D&D is closer to poetry than to contract law.
Again, if you and your players are on the same wavelength, that's cool. But the game can't assume they are.

A player once played a fighter who always described killing blows as decapitation. No special rules, just 0 HP = Highlander. The DM was cool with this because most of the time, killing an orc or goblin is just flavor text in the Mercer "how do you want to do this" sense. All went fine until the fighter, dominated by a mind flayer, critted and killed his friend the ranger. When it became time to raise the ranger after the fight, the DM noted that the fighter had decapitated the ranger as is his style and thus raise dead was of no use, they would need a resurrection spell. The ranger argued that there is no rule saying the fighter HAD to decapitate on every kill, and under the Normal rules he could be brought back with raise dead. That little bit of flavor cost another player his PC.

Again, if you do not have a problem with fiat rules made by the DM, simpler rules are fine. But I find a bit more robust (though not Pathfinder robust) rules kept everyone on the same page.
 

Horwath

Legend
if the choice is between,

4E style:
fireball 4e.png


and 3.5E style:
fireball 3.5e.png


I'm always for 3.5E style!
 

Yaarel

He-Mage
if the choice is between,

4E style:

and 3.5E style:
Heh, I strongly prefer the best of both worlds. The 4e consolidated spell statblock is extremely useful. The 3e narrative description adds flavor, and gives context to understand the quirks of a particular spell, and makes narrative adjudication easier (before deciding whether to roll dice or not − a narrative circumstance might make it plausible that a potential target is unaffected by the spell).

The spell does better to omit the "Components: V, S , M" entry. Instead each class and character concept decides what "focus" one uses to cast a spell, whether a Wand, a Symbol, a Mind, a Component Pouch, a Familiar, or so on. Each focus might have its own benefits.

(Note, if the Fireball was a detonating blast that pushed objects, it would also deal thunder damage, whose sonic aspect includes a shockwave.)

The first sentence of a spell description must always be strictly flavor to set the purpose and the tone of the spell, without any reference to numbers or mechanics.

For 5e 1DD, maybe something like:



FIREBALL
3rd-Slot Evocation (Fire)
Casting Time: 1 action
Targeting: 20-foot diameter sphere within 100 feet
Duration: Instantaneous
Save: Dexterity
If Spell Succeeds: 7d6 fire damage
If Spell Fails: Half damage

A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to blossom with a low roar in an explosion of fire. The streak travels in a line up to 100 feet away. It blasts in a 20-foot radius sphere centered at the point of destination. Each creature in the blast must make a Dexterity save. A target takes 7d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful save. The fire spreads around corners. It can damage and ignite any unattended objects.
 
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Your comparing it to something players would have a frame of reference for would be functionally more useful. Though probably terms like a "train whistle" or a "jet engine" would feel anachronistic, with a little thought something suitably faux medieval could be used like "loudly, like an elephant's call" or "as loud as a trumpet."
I mean, if it's good enough for Tolkien...

The Fellowship of the Ring said:
“They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.”

Emphasis mine.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Do we really need a list of examples for what constitutes a "container... that prevents access"? Probably not. We can figure that out.
The number of times "Can I do Create Water in their lungs? Is it an open container?" and such, I think we do.

Do we need to know that the spell makes a sound "audible from as far away as 300 feet"? We've literally never checked whether something is within 300 feet when knock is used, since that's such a vast distance in a built environment, instead going entirely by feel.
I've fielded many questions about how loud verbal components are, could they be whispered, and the like. If there was clarity up front we'd all have the same expectations and be on the same page.

D&D is the gateway for more new players than any other single RPG. Having clearly defined details like this help everyone playing, at the low cost of a bit of extra text for the details instead of just a general description.

So my vote is that yes, we do need that level of verbosity.
 

As an Old School Gamer, OSR Gamer and 5E gamer, I can say........this is a can of worms.

You can only really have a decent rules lite game with a strong DM. If you have a young, inexperienced or otherwise weak DM, then a rule lite game will just be a ruin of a non game.

When a spell or any written rule, says something like "you can target any creature you can see" , there are players that will push against that. A couple players might just be clever, but most will be trying to ruin the game as part of a personal spotlight power trip. A smart, powerful, aggressive DM can easily swat away any silly player "wacky interpretation" with a simple "nope, does not work. The End."

And not every DM can, and not every DM is willing, to control a game with an Iron Fist. So this opens it wide for game disruptions and ruined games by the pushing players. 5E, like many editions before it, has lots of hard rules for things like spell descriptions. This is a great help for DMs that need it, as they can duck behind the rule book and point to a page to defend the game from pushing player attacks.

And this does not even mention how many players...and some DMs...like the hard rules for spell descriptions so "everyone" knows exactly how the spell works as "everyone" follows the rules.
 


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