D&D 5E My #1 hope for D&D Next


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Mercurius

Legend
Wow, yeah it was Age of Worms that KILLED 3e for us as a group, for a lot of the reasons you listed. I have been playing some Pathfinder as of late, although I find their rules a mess too.

Which is evidence that the APs are the main reason that Paizo is successful. Despite 3e's rules, (which admittedly others find great) Paizo has been quite successful. It also explains why people are perfectly willing to buy books that only slightly different from the ones they bought under the 3e era.

Which also suggests that if 5e produces high qualitly and fun adventures and real good adventure support products (ie. tokens/minis and battlemaps to support the adventures) people will buy in to 5e despite what they say in "dealbreaker" threads.

You hit the nail on the head here, in my opinion - both in terms of characterizing Paizo's success and implying the direction for 5E's possible success. Paizo's success isn't primarily with the actual game system itself. It isn't because the Pathfinder rules are so much better than any version of D&D, but because of other factors that are less quantifiable - like the feeling and vibe of the products and community, the overall aesthetic of the product line, and of course the quality and type of products. The game system is important, but its one of many factors.

People usually don't form affinities based upon rational choice, but because something "speaks to us." Certainly one could try to get into, say, gypsy jazz; one can be open-minded about it, try to develop an ear for it. But at some point it either speaks to you or not.

This is the dirty little secret about the "edition wars." A lot of it is on a gut level. For instance, a lot of folks still--after five+ years--feel burned by WotC for putting out 4E, and for it not "speaking to them" in the way that "real D&D" is supposed to "speak."

This is not to deny legitimate beefs with 4E (or any edition), nor am I saying that this sort of affective response is not valid - it is. But just that a good portion (majority, I think) has to do with feeling and not thinking. Nothing wrong with that, but let's just see it for what it is.

The upside of this is that if WotC realizes this, then they can better cater to the fan-base's affect, to emotion and aesthetics, and all of the other factors beyond the mechanics of the game system. It matters what the cover and design of 5E will be; it matter what the core races and classes are. It matters how the game feels, how the community feels, what the "vibe" of the designers are in relation to the game and the fans.

As someone said in this or another thread (they're all starting to blend together), D&D is never going to be the best designed game system in terms of the aesthetics of game design. Some of the core tropes and iconic components are too anachronistic; there's been decades of game design evolution since. 3E did an amazing job of bringing a 70s-esque system into, at least, the 90s and on par with the state of the art systems of the late 80s and early 90s like Ars Magica and Mage/Vampire. But by the time 3E came out, there was an indie revolution going on, and all kinds of design innovations that immediately made 3E's game system look as old-fashioned as the Stone Roses or Soundgarden.

But that's not why people play, and love, D&D. They play and love it becauses its Dungeons & frickin' Dragons, complete with an ampersand and all. Because you get to roll a d20 and miss 5% of the time, even if you're Lancelot. Because you get to fight demiliches and wield vorpal blades, you get to wonder about the ecology of a gelatinous cube, yet at the same time don't worry too much about what the numerous denizens of a dungeon actually eat (not to mention where they go potty!). Its D&D, and its a feeling. Mostly!
 

delericho

Legend
I assume that many Paizo subscribers read but never play their AP modules. Which makes comments about "flavour" very interesting - because (unless I've badly misunderstood you) you're talking about how it reads, not how it plays - ie the adventure as a work of fiction rather than as something to be played.

That's a really good point. Actually, there are two really good points there.

The first is that something can indeed read one way and play another, and I did always find the Delve Format infinitely better in actual use than to read (not that that's hard, right enough). And, actually, the weaker the DM, the more he seemed to benefit from the Delve Format - a poor DM armed with such a module could at least run a competent game, which is actually quite a feat for the adventure to achieve.

Conversely, it is true that Paizo get a lot of points for their adventures based on the way they read. And, quite often, when you dig under the flavour text you find that the underlying adventure isn't actually all that good - in particular, their recent "Reign of Winter" path was dripping with flavour, but actually consisted of a railroad built of six smaller railroads - very disappointing.

(And yet, again, that "plays better than it reads" thing can apply again - if the rails are hidden well enough, a railroad can play through extremely well. I would still argue that that's still bad adventure design, because the adventure then isn't robust against PCs going "off book" - the fact that the individual group was lucky enough not to see that weakness doesn't mean it's not there.)

The other really good point is this: unless you really are running the adventure without prep, the adventure has to work as something to be read first. If I start reading "Keep on the Shadowfell", and find I simply can't get through it because the Delve Format keeps breaking me out of reading-mode, then I'll never run it because I can't read it. Conversely, "Reign of Winter" was, IMO, not a good path but, because I could read it, there is at least a chance that I'd be able to run it.

So, for a general-use module (as opposed to a zero-prep "Dungeon Delves"-type product), I don't think you can* trade off "reads well" against "plays well". If your adventure reads like crap, it won't matter if it plays brilliantly, because most people just won't get that far.

* Okay, that probably shouldn't be an absolute statement. But you probably knew that. :)
 

delericho

Legend
To be honest I don't think the reaction was so bad. It got the Penny Arcade guys into 4e, particularly Mike Kruhulik, who previously had no experience with or interest in tabletop RPGs. Wil Wheaton liked it and used it for the campaign he ran for his sons. The Amazon reviews are quite positive. 20 five-star reviews, 25 four-star reviews, 20 three-star reviews, 8 two-star reviews, and 8 one-star reviews. The negative reviews either decry the physical product (flimsy) or desire more story or plot. A lot of the 5-star reviews strike me as unbridled enthusiasm ("We just got this can had one battle! Awesome! 5 stars!"), but the four star reviews largely echo my assessment earlier: solid, if uninspired.

It seems to me that a lot of the negative reaction to KotS falls into two types, which one can see on the Amazon reviews. 3e players who use it to whip 4e. I.e., "4e is all about combat. Look at KotS: you just move from one combat to another."

I'm afraid I tend to give Amazon reviews of D&D material about the same weight as the photons used to display them on my screen. That is, almost none.

And the same applies to "reviews" from 3e fans interested in whipping 4e.

And then 4e players who note that it has little in the way of story or narrative weight to its encounters -- it's just a largely linear string of battles until you get to the boss. In a sense, if you're sensitive to the "4e is just aping MMOs," then KotS is a poor module because it plays into that stereotype, without playing to the wholly non-MMO-like strengths of 4e.

The problem is that describing at as "a largely linear string of battles" is pretty accurate, and it's also an example of bad adventure design.

Incidentally, I read a blog post some time ago (sadly, I forget where) that actually talked about level design in FPS video games over time. And there, too, the author noted that the levels had become much more linear in time - that in early games there were far more paths through the dungeon (and, in particular, many more loops), where in more modern games, it tended to be "fight 1, fight 2, cutscene, fight 3, fight 4, cutscene..."

The feeling was that because so much time and effort went into detailing each bit of the game (in D&D, each encounter, in the FPS, each cutscene), and because you wanted the player to get the best possible bang for his buck, you wanted to ensure he saw as much of the material as possible. And, in both cases, the best way to do that is a railroad - force them down a path taking in everything, and they're sure to see everything!

(But it's important to note that that only applied to a certain type of video game - obviously, there has also been a rise in "open world" games to which that of course doesn't apply.)

However, it should be noted that such video-game like structure is in fact a legacy from traditional D&D itself. Many a player enjoyed TSR-D&D and 3e doing exactly that: have a decent background story for the setting and reason for adventuring, then have the PCs go door-to-door kicking evil butt.

This is true, and it's also a weakness in adventure design - that too often we have a whole lot of dressing around an adventure that is really "murder hobos go door-to-door peddling a swift death". It actually really helps some adventures stand out significantly - all they need is some reason not to do this. ("Sunless Citadel" has a tiny nod to this - sure, you could just go kill the kobolds and then go kill the goblins, or vice versa... but there is at least the option of allying with one against the other.)

Also... a lot of adventures give PCs one goal, or at best give the PCs a main goal and then some secondary goals... that they then complete while pursuing the main goal, almost by accident. (That is, the main goal is "stop the orcs", with the second goal "save my daughter"... and in the course of killing the orcs the PCs find the daughter being held in the orcish larder.) A better approach, IMO, would be to give the PCs several mostly-unconnected goals to pursue in the adventure, allowing them to set their own priorities. (Or, even better, several mutually exclusive goals, so that they have to choose whether it's most important to them to "restore prosperity to the village" or gain "fortune and glory".) But that would take more work, and more space, to achieve.

(As an aside, I think there are two flaws in KotS from a traditional dungeoncrawl point of view. One is that there are many Encounters in which battle to the death is the assumed outcome.

Indeed. And that's equally true of just about every 3e adventure, and a great many Pathfinder adventures also. I was actually somewhat shocked when I read "Sword of Valor" (the second part of the latest PF Adventure Path), when it noted that many NPCs could, at least in theory, be redeemed from their evil ways.

Ideally, I would like publishers to at least consider four distinct approaches to each encounter: fight, evade (by sneaking past, or similar), corrupt (that is, negotiate passage, or even ally with the NPCs), and deceive (the old classic of wearing Stormtrooper armour, or similar). Obviously, I understand that space considerations means they won't be able to do everything every time, and of course even those don't cover every approach anyway, but it really would be good to at least see some different approaches considered.

The other flaw is the dungeon is not jaquayed enough.)

Yep.
 

smerwin29

Reluctant Time Traveler
Shawn, I loved that Halls of Undermountain adventure. It was in my mind, one pinnacle of the 4E era. It got some bad reviews on Amazon, simply because monster stats were not included! that's a lame reason. I guess people were looking for the Delve format.

I loved the adventure! I wrote one of the glowing reviews of it.

It would work perfectly in D&D Next. Any chance of a conversion???

Thanks for the kind words. I have not created a strict conversion to the current set of D&D Next playtest rules for Hall of Undermountain. I have, on the other hand, run parts of the adventure at conventions using whatever rules the current playtest packet included, and it has worked very well. Because of the way I was asked to design it (yes, we are almost always given parameters and design goals when we write adventures--rarely can we just do what we want), I think it translates quite well into use with Next. Some might say that it works even better with Next than it does with 4e, because of what everyone has been talking about here. 4e emphasizes the set-piece encounter, and with Halls of Undermountain I was asked to attempt a more "traditional" dungeon crawl where not every encounter has an encounter level set at party level + 1.

Wizards asked me to write up my thoughts on designing the adventure, so I actually had a lot of the conversation happening here with myself: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/drdd/20120411

Matt Sernett, my co-designer, also talked about the plan (and then the ever-changing plans) behind the design of the product:
http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/drdd/20120404 and http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/drdd/20120418

Much of what Matt and I talk about in these articles are very relevant to this conversation. Honestly, I was surprised Matt was so candid about the path of the project, but what he talks about in his two Design and Development articles are not an outlier. Every published project--and many of the digital projects--I have worked on for Wizards (and for other companies as well) have these sorts of behind-the-scenes considerations that the final consumers of the product never know about.

Thanks for the great conversation!
 

jodyjohnson

Adventurer
You can literally run dozens of groups through this module and every one of them will have a fresh and unique experience.

The secondary implication from the "Jaquayed" article is obvious. It's about getting bang for your buck. One module, months of adventure. The first is the primacy of Exploration.

But when I only want to run it once, because I have a backlog of adventures I want to run, replay-ability isn't appealing.

Back in 1978 (When the first TSR modules came out) through 1988 when Dungeon started, groups could play faster than adventures were being printed. And Dungeon was Bi-monthly until May 2003 so things didn't really get out of hand until 3.5 was released. (Shackled City AP started March/April 2003)
 
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jsaving

Adventurer
When you get down to it, there's one thing that I really, really hope that Wizards do and do well with D&D Next, and it has nothing to do with the system.

It is supporting the game with great adventures. Lots of them, and a lot of them available in printed form. Not, "here are the first nine, and then we'll forget about them", no, an ongoing stream of them.
I agree completely that having a plethora of great adventures is absolutely key to the success of Next. But, I'd actually argue the best shot at achieving this is for WotC to not focus on adventure-making but to once again facilitate third-party entry into that part of the industry. 3e's emphasis on this was really helpful to growing the game, and the argument made by then-WotC execs like Ryan Dancey that a thriving third-party adventure market drives sales of the core books (and thereby raises WotC's profit) was exactly the kind of forward thinking that's needed today.
 

pemerton

Legend
I agree with everything said here. Just an excellent summary all the way around. Can someone cover the posrep for me?
Done before you posted!

I do believe that this is where the licensing for 5e would shine. Maybe limit the new OGL (whatever it's called) to module support instead of throwing the doors open. To me, this would create a pretty healthy feedback loop where people are buying modules from Company X, but are still going to be playing WOTC D&D.

Not sure how it works, since how do you define "module", but, IANAL. Smarter people than me can figure that out.
I think the biggest difference this might have from the OGL would be that you might be more likely to want legal advice to work out whether what you were doing was compliant with the (more limited) terms of the licence.

But I don't see why a licence along the lines you describe couldn't be written.

The feeling was that because so much time and effort went into detailing each bit of the game (in D&D, each encounter, in the FPS, each cutscene), and because you wanted the player to get the best possible bang for his buck, you wanted to ensure he saw as much of the material as possible. And, in both cases, the best way to do that is a railroad - force them down a path taking in everything, and they're sure to see everything!

<snip>

Ideally, I would like publishers to at least consider four distinct approaches to each encounter: fight, evade (by sneaking past, or similar), corrupt (that is, negotiate passage, or even ally with the NPCs), and deceive (the old classic of wearing Stormtrooper armour, or similar). Obviously, I understand that space considerations means they won't be able to do everything every time, and of course even those don't cover every approach anyway, but it really would be good to at least see some different approaches considered.
I think Robin Laws does a good job of showing how this sort of thing can be done - write an adventure which admits of multiple approaches to resolving the encounters in it, and open-ended rather than rail-roaded in its resolution.

One feature of that sort of adventure-writing is that the adventure tends to be short by D&D standards - 3 or 4 pretty pithy scenes to drive things to some sort of climax. Very different from a "sandboxy" dungeon crawl, and from a typical WotC event-driven adventure packed full of filler.

Many a player enjoyed TSR-D&D and 3e doing exactly that: have a decent background story for the setting and reason for adventuring, then have the PCs go door-to-door kicking evil butt. And 4e, at least initially, goes well with that playstyle thanks to its detailed combat engine and harder-to-kill characters.

<snip>

IMO there are a lot of players who played the game that way and enjoyed it, and enjoyed KotS. I also suspect that many such 4e players also tend to be more accepting of 5e, because while it doesn't look much like 4e mechanically, it provides them the same kind of play they enjoyed in 4e. But I admit that this last part is me extrapolating from my own experience.
Sounds plausible.
 

MJS

First Post
Great thread, thank you OP, though I havent read it all ; )

I'm heartened to see people come together on the topic of ADVENTURES.
My #1 hope for 5E is quality, exciting adventures of all types. The core rules, hey let's face it... WE ALREADY KNOW HOW TO PLAY!!!! : )
Me, I've been hand waving dumb stuff since 1E (with great respect to Gary) and yet I still consider those books, and Frank Mentzer's, to be my base. I see that lineage in all editions.

It's the writing of adventures that matters most at this point. Core rules are becoming less and less relevant. You can download generic versions if you like. The are dozens of print editions that are riffs off the same theme, all of them written by US, all of them worthy of consideration and long arguing threads. : )

I can hand waive anything in 5E that doesn't jive, and nothing will replace my High Gygaxian tomes ( or my funk bass lines) - my interest is in supplements, and adventure writing when I don 't have the considerable time to write a module myself.

As little interest as I may have in 3e, 4e, 5e cores, I WILL draw on them for inspiration, LISTEN to player's and other DMs ideas, play in their games, and proceed - into the Great Mythic Wilderness -

My real hope is that any new editons bring in kids. The young girl in the 5E playtest really reminded me of the RPGs greatest strength - a game kids and adults can play together. After all it was Gary's daughter who picked the name!

I think Wizards is doing a fantastic job getting their board games into mainstream locations - and hope to see a boxed, Basic 5E, not on RPG shelves, but next to Monopoly. They were on the right track with the Red Box 4E.
 

tuxgeo

Adventurer
I don't agree that they were quite on the right track with the Red Box 4E.

That product had too many shortcomings for my tastes: not enough levels, you could only create a character by running through the same adventure again, not enough options, and limited replayability. How many people actually played that Red Box adventure more than a week or a month? I'm sure we cannot know, but it seems unlikely to me that many would; instead, I would expect most users to need to go on to other products in order to continue playing the same game, and this means to me that it wasn't really a basic game.

On the positive side, there were further adventures you could download on the wizards.com site; but that's still acquiring additional products to play the same game.
 

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