Narrative/Novel D&D...ND&D. Imagine if the game played just like the D&D novels?

I've been reading the Icewind Dale Trilogy. And one thing that struck me is how quick and picturesque the battles are compared to our slow 5E slugfests. Yeah, I know we could describe the blow-by-blow more imaginatively, but I'm speaking more of playing time.

Imagine if WotC (or someone) gathered all of the D&D Fiction: the Dragonlance Chronicles, the Drizzt and Elminster novel series, Gygax's Greyhawk novels...all of the D&D novels (here's a big list). Plus all the DRAGON magazine short stories from over the years. And even the comic books and graphic novels...

...and read through them, with the intent of "reverse engineering" a new version of D&D which closely modeled the "novellic" experience.

Research questions:

  • In the stories, exactly how long does each battle take, as far as page-length / reading time? How does this compare to playing the same encounter with the TRPG?
  • How long does it take to read an entire novel, compared to playing out those same events in TRPG form? There are existing examples for playtesting: the DL series of adventures, the Azure Bonds adventure, etc. For example, the Read Length website says it takes about 7 hours to read the Crystal Shard, and 17.5 hours to read the entire three-volume Dragonlance Chronicles.
  • Similarly, how long does it take to read a D&D short story or comic book?
  • A close reading reveals there are so many cool and colorful moves that seem to be specific to the races and classes as portrayed in a particular novel, which aren't quite modeled in the 5E ruleset. For example, Regis seems to have a knack for hitting adversaries in the groin. Yeah, I know from a TRPG standpoint, he just "hit for such-and-such hp of damage" and maybe knocked the opponent to 0hp (unconscious), or in 2E, he did a called shot. But ND&D would tease out these colorful moves and array them more explicitly as part of the game.
  • Can a PC do all the cool and quick stuff which the fiction characters can? (Strap a barrel of flaming oil on their back and jump on the shadow dragon's back?) What if they could? Or maybe they "can" do it in the existing ruleset, but it's not really baked into the game, but rather, relies on having an exceptionally talented DM who can translate yet another "grapple" or "12 points of damage" into a descriptive, imaginative scene. But what if these "novellic" moves were baked into the game itself, from the start?
  • Where known, would also need to take note of the official stats for the Fiction characters as they were during each story. Like, okay, at this character level (as a 1E Ranger 10), Drizzt slew three verbeegs in this amount of time, while in later adventures (as a 3E Ftr10/Rgr5/Bbn1, or as a 4E 21st-level Skirmisher NPC) he could defeat such-and-such monsters in so many rounds.
  • Cut every D&D novel into pieces (paragraphs and sentences) which are equated to specific D&D actions. And then compile those pieces into a Narrative D&D sourcebook. Like: these are all the ways which ND&D described lighting a torch, these are all the ways which ND&D described the blow which felled a giant (sorted by bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing weapon), etc.

And then, craft a new version of D&D which closely models this experience. I call this ND&D...Novel D&D or Narrative D&D.

Narrative D&D would be a different expression of the D&D brand, complementary (and convertible to) the 5E TRPG. (In a similar way that the various D&D-branded boardgames or parlour games are distinct from the TRPG, but are still "D&D experiences.")

I'm only beginning to consider what such a game would look like.

Some of the main features are:

  • Battles are resolved in a matter of a few minutes, in real time.
  • An entire novel (such as the Crystal Shard) can be played through in 7 hours. In contrast, at our 5E table, a single battle usually takes up a big chunk of our 2.5 hour session.
  • More extensive "boxed text." Yeah I know some people have been opposed to boxed text, but in ND&D, the goal is to basically to "play a novel." So we want to hear the masterful authorial verbiage. Cut-and-paste keyed scene descriptions from the novels themselves. For example, our group ventured into Neverwinter Wood in the Starter Set adventure - but we didn't know anything about it (not being FR experts), and so the DM described it as just another dense dark wood. In ND&D, there'd be a more extensive "boxed text" keyed to Neverwinter Wood (and various sites therein) which are taken from existing D&D Fiction.
  • Such a game would be sort of a cross between a "choose-your-own-adventure" novel and a TRPG, but it'd still be a TRPG. Your character could still do anything.
  • Relies on cut-scenes for most travel, also for much of the dungeon exploration. Like: okay, "You've been travelling on the road for a week." "Or, you travelled through the upper halls and here you are at the dragon's lair." Yeah I know it's sometimes done that way in the RPG as well, but in ND&D that would be standard. I mean, how long does would it take for a 5E party to explore Mithral Hall compared to how long it took for me to read of the Companions' exploration of Mithral Hall in Streams of Silver? Yeah, in standard TRPG, this could seem railroady, but in ND&D, we assume the players want to play the story which is offered.
  • Has flashback scenes.
  • "Statwise", a character sheet might be little more than a picturesque list of moves which are gleaned from the actual D&D Fiction itself (e.g. Halfling Groin Bash, followed by actual "boxed text" which the player reads off (or improvises), replacing "Regis" with your own character's name, and fill in your own weapon instead of Regis' "mace.").
  • For character creation, maybe there'd be a big list of all the moves ever displayed by heroes of D&D Fiction (broken down by race and class) and then you roll to see which moves you start with.
  • Spells would include actual verbal components (Light = "Shirak!") and somatic components (the player actually waves their hand or whatever) (along with descriptions of material components, if they actually come into D&D Fiction), taken from actual D&D Fiction. (The ND&D sourcebook would include every example of spells cast from every D&D novel.)
  • At the end of each "novel", the character gets one more move.
  • Perhaps, characters can't die??? Or if they do, then a new character takes on their legacy (e.g. there's some in-story connection between the old and new character; and starts with the same character level)?

Well, it would be a big project. But I'd prefer that my D&D sessions covered ground as quickly and as picturesquely as a D&D novel, short story, or comic book.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
And then, craft a new version of D&D which closely models this experience. I call this ND&D...Novel D&D or Narrative D&D.
You can't. Narrative isn't core to RPGs. It's not like you can ever borrow narrative or literary techniques from books!

The only way to engage for DMs and players to engage each other is with framing. Wordless, but meaningful, framing. :)


/ducks
 
I. And one thing that struck me is how quick and picturesque the battles are compared to our slow 5E slugfests.
Believe it or not - and I'm gonna assume not - 5e actually jettisoned what narrative mechanisms D&D had accumulated in the hopes of achieving 'fast combat.' Yeah, and here you are complaining that it's not narrative enough /and/ too slow?

...and read through them, with the intent of "reverse engineering" a new version of D&D which closely modeled the "novellic" experience.
Seriously,
'reverse'-engineer novels based on a game inspired by novels?

A close reading reveals there are so many cool and colorful moves that seem to be specific to the races and classes as portrayed in a particular novel, which aren't quite modeled in the 5E ruleset.
Again, for the sake of that fast combat you find too slow...

Can a PC do all the cool and quick stuff which the fiction characters can?
As long as it's done with a spell or magic item that does exactly that cool thing, sure.
But, no, probably not "quick."

(Strap a barrel of flaming oil on their back and jump on the shadow dragon's back?) What if they could?
If it worked, the concern seems to be, they'd do it every round. So you have to assume the character in the novel had a very generous hypothetical DM, and got lucky - in a novel, authors just make that happen at the dramatically appropriate time, in D&D, not s'much.

Cut every D&D novel into pieces (paragraphs and sentences) which are equated to specific D&D actions. And then compile those pieces into a Narrative D&D sourcebook. Like: these are all the ways which ND&D described lighting a torch, these are all the ways which ND&D described the blow which felled a giant (sorted by bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing weapon), etc.
Sure, WotC could print them on cards and sell them in blind/random foil narative-booster packs.
I hear they've had success with that model before.

Battles are resolved in a matter of a few minutes, in real time.
Short of Foglio's "coin-toss dungeon" parody, IDK how you'd even begin to do that...

An entire novel (such as the Crystal Shard) can be played through in 7 hours. In contrast, at our 5E table, a single battle usually takes up a big chunk of our 2.5 hour session.
I guess it might be informative to see, quantitatively how much of a genre novel is devoted to each 'pillar.'
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Seriously,
'reverse'-engineer novels based on a game inspired by novels?
The novelization of the movie that's based on the book!

Yeah, I saw that too. ;)
[MENTION=6985696]Travis Henry[/MENTION]

Your desire is great. HOWEVER, the above quote encapsulates the problem.

D&D is an RPG. As such, to make it a good reading experience, liberties have to be taken- with the rules, for example. No one wants to read a typical D&D combat ... to use one example.

If you want, you can look at all sorts of other source material that started as books or film properties and see how they were translated into RPGs, as that has been a common occurrence throughout time.

You'll keep noticing that, for the most part, these various systems will borrow heavily from the setting so that you can approximate playing Gandalf, or playing the Hulk, or Starbuck, but ... it's just an approximation, you'll never quite the exact feel of the book/movie, because there is a difference.

On the other hand, some RPGs are set up with a decidedly more narrative feel to them- think of Amber (to use one that adapted from a book).


I guess what I'm getting at is that you're probably better off just designing a good diceless game or adapting a low-rules, high narrative fantasy game for your needs, than you are reverse-engineering.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Hey, you know those books that are perfectly adapted into movies. nothing changed, everything included, even the most exacting of fans satisfied.

Neither do I. And both of them are a narrative experience, just with different media.

Trying to fit an edited book to a gaming group improv-ing their characters where everyone wants to have their mark - it's not the same experience and attempts to force it into the same mold will de-prioritize (or worse, discard) what makes a TTRPG special.

So no, I would not want this. I do not want to give up the chaotic, messy, uncertain, tension-filled, clever, group experience. And trying to pretend that writing those novels, with drafts, revisions, multiple types of editors improving it is the same as the smooth finished product - and then using that as a target for a completely different type of experience is a shoehorning I would not like

Learn what you can from fiction. Robin D. Laws has already given use multiple books about it. But don't assume the format of a finished book and a free-form multiplayer game are interchangable.
 

Bobble

Villager
You could not. A D&D type RPG is the antithesis of a narrated style . The game and its action isn't told to the players. THEY create it moment by moment. AFTER it happens THEN one could describe it in prose or whatever.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I have to add my voice to the growing chorus here: how would (or could) this work with any kind of open-ended or sandbox-style game where the DM didn't have a pre-planned story in mind?

I ask because if your idea is that ND&D only cater to the pre-planned story type of DM then it'll lose a very big - as in, enormous - core element that makes D&D as successful as it is: flexibility. As it is D&D can more or less handle both open-ended or sandbox play and pre-planned story play, and a bunch of stuff in between and to either side; in a huge variety of settings and-or eras.

This is one reason many "niche" game systems tend to stay that way: in order to achieve the specific design goals their creators have in mind they sacrifice these sorts of flexibility in one way or another, thus reducing their overall mass appeal.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I'm curious how combat would work. I cannot see me or my players liking a diceless game, but something with maneuvers based off things in books may need some variables to see how well you pull off the maneuver. Maybe you can pick combat action stunts you know as you gain levels and could even lower the DC of success of these stunts.

Typically I rule things like strapping a flaming oil cask to your back and jumping onto a dragon with some skill checks and making it use your actions to do it. Not very thematic, but tends to fit in the regular rules. With these proposed rules, maybe that is a level 10 power that I chose and I get a roll to see how well I pull it off. It is easy to narrate success when you role a 19 or a 3, but when you role a 11, what happens.
 
You could not. A D&D type RPG is the antithesis of a narrated style . The game and its action isn't told to the players. THEY create it moment by moment. AFTER it happens THEN one could describe it in prose or whatever.
Yeah, I totally understand where you're coming from. Yet the characters would also be narrating their moves and decisions. It's not like the DM is just sitting there droning.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
If I remember right, a popular opinion on the forums here is that combats typically last 3-4 rounds. Since each round is ~6 seconds, that's 18-24 in-game seconds. Pretty quick to me.

I will also say that combat in 5E is the fastest yet. If your combats are taking too long, then you need to get your group into using best practices. A single character's turn should typically take less than 60 seconds to resolve.
- Use an initiative tracker.
- Have players roll attack and damage dice at the same time "longsword attack is 18 for 9 slashing damage." DM replies, "The orc takes the blow on it's shield." Or if you hit, "Your sword sinks into the orc's thigh, leaving a nasty gash."
- Players should know what they are going to do when it becomes there turn, they have had several minutes to figure it out while the other players and NPCs were going.
- Don't look up rules at the table, if the DM or another player isn't sure, the DM says, "Not sure, let's make a strength attack with proficiency for grappling, on the orc's turn he can try to break it with an opposed check." (Sure, they got the rule wrong, but who cares? Fun continues!)
 

Bobble

Villager
Yeah, I totally understand where you're coming from. Yet the characters would also be narrating their moves and decisions. It's not like the DM is just sitting there droning.
Then it is NO different than how almost every game I've seen has done it since '78. Players say (narrate) what their character is doing and roll the dice. You don't NORMALLY play that way??? :erm:
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
If you think 5th edition combats are "slow slugfests," then I have two reactions:

1. Have you ever played any other editions of D&D?
2. Are you sure you don't just want an indie game? (Nothing wrong if the answer is "I do want an indie game.")
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I have only played one RPG that has had something close to what you are calling "Novel" fighting... and that is Feng Shui.

The edition that I played in that game had the barest minimum in combat mechanics. Instead, because the game was meant to be an adaptation of action movies, our combats were to narrate like 10 seconds of "action movie action" and then finish it up with like a single roll for a movement or an attack. So we would go through the whole thing of narrating some Jackie Chan-esque sequence of slamming one guy in the knees with a vaccum cleaner, then pulling the cleaner away from the wall so the next bad guy coming in trips over the cord still plugged into the wall, then throwing the cleaner through the picture window to create an opening that allows us to dive out through the now-broken window and crashing into the roof of the car below... and after describing all that we make like a single roll for whether we got hurt from the fall onto the car. The assumption of course being there's no concern about whether or not you "hit" one of the bad guys with an attack and did "damage"... it's an action movie-- of course we hit and knocked the dude out of the fight with one blow. That's the entire point.

But this was explicitly an RPG whose "game" part was different than D&D's "game" part. It was all narrative and making up cool stuff to do and get hurt by, rather than rolling piles of dice to knock counting numbers down to zero.

I have no idea if the newer editions have changed anything in that game or indeed if we were playing our version actually per the rules (rather than the GM just running the game the way he wanted in order to exemplify the action movie aspect), but Feng Shui was the closest game I've ever played for that type of narrative result.
 
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I guess what I'm getting at is that you're probably better off just designing a good diceless game or adapting a low-rules, high narrative fantasy game for your needs, than you are reverse-engineering.
You have a good point, yet, for me, there's something impelling about D&D Fiction itself. I'm especially interested in the D&D Multiverse and its stories. It seems to me that, say, the Icewind Dale Trilogy or the Dragonlance Chronicles could be converted into a ruleset that plays as quickly as the time it takes to read the novels. And I'm stoked by how Salvatore describes scenes. I want a game that bakes that quick descriptiveness into the game itself. There's a bunch of D&D picturesque color and lore in the D&D Fiction which hasn't really made back into the TRPG in a systemic way. For example, the verbal spell components as depicted in D&D Fiction: e.g. "Shirak!" and "Dulak!" (Light and Darkness spell). In ND&D, the player would actually voice (narrate) the verbal spell components!
 
If you think 5th edition combats are "slow slugfests," then I have two reactions:

1. Have you ever played any other editions of D&D?
2. Are you sure you don't just want an indie game? (Nothing wrong if the answer is "I do want an indie game.")
Good questions.

1. I was raised on BECMI D&D. Quick. Especially in regard to character creation! Later I played 2E as well. I've played and DMed 3E too, and yeah, you're right that 5E is streamlined compared to that. But my point isn't just about quickness. Yet even BECMI was slower than it takes to read a story of similar scope.

2. There may be features of indie games which are relevant to what I'm aiming for. But my question is specific to the D&D Multiverse and its stories. I want to be able to run TRPG games which are: 1) truly as quick as D&D Fiction stories, and 2) which more fully capture the picturesque color and description of actions and abilities as seen in D&D Fiction. It's not only about becoming a master DM (or master player) who's good at describing things - I'm conceiving a ruleset that "bakes" a picturesque array of narrative descriptions into the game itself.
 
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I have only played one RPG that has had something close to what you are calling "Novel" fighting... and that is Feng Shui.

The edition that I played in that game had the barest minimum in combat mechanics. Instead, because the game was meant to be an adaptation of action movies, our combats were to narrate like 10 seconds of "action movie action" and then finish it up with like a single roll for a movement or an attack. So we would go through the whole thing of narrating some Jackie Chan-esque sequence of slamming one guy in the knees with a vaccum cleaner, then pulling the cleaner away from the wall so the next bad guy coming in trips over the cord still plugged into the wall, then throwing the cleaner through the picture window to create an opening that allows us to dive out through the now-broken window and crashing into the roof of the car below... and after describing all that we make like a single roll for whether we got hurt from the fall onto the car. The assumption of course being there's no concern about whether or not you "hit" one of the bad guys with an attack and did "damage"... it's an action movie-- of course we hit and knocked the dude out of the fight with one blow. That's the entire point.

But this was explicitly an RPG whose "game" part was different than D&D's "game" part. It was all narrative and making up cool stuff to do and get hurt by, rather than rolling piles of dice to knock counting numbers down to zero.

I have no idea if the newer editions have changed anything in that game (or indeed if we were playing our version actually per the rules (rather than the GM just running the game the way he wanted in order to exemplify the action movie aspect), but Feng Shui was the closest game I've ever played for that type of narrative result.
Thank you DEFCON 1! This is close to what I'm picturing. As far as quickness and intent. One difference though is that ND&D would offer a sample array of descriptors for each action, taken from D&D Fiction itself, to help spur the imagination of the player when they narrate their character's turn.
 
AFTER it happens THEN one could describe it in prose or whatever.
You're right that any TRPG session could be novellized afterward. But here's what I'm getting at...

...Okay, let's set aside the Narrative aspect for a moment. And just speak about sheer numbers. As in exactly how long it takes to run a story using a TRPG interface (5E, or any previous edition) versus the time it takes to read that same story in novel (or short story or comic book) form.

The most basic aspect of my question is about making a version of D&D which somehow runs as quickly as D&D Fiction -- covering the the same amount of ground, in the same amount of Real Time. Now, if those were the design parameters, I'm sure that any D&D game designer worth his/her salt could do that. (Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, anybody)

And it would still look and feel like D&D. Because it (ND&D) would be fully based on D&D Fiction. But numbers-wise, it would have to play a lot quicker than any existing iteration of D&D!
 
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Shiroiken

Adventurer
As a side note, most of the Drizzt books were written with the rules (at the time) in mind. This is why combats were quick in the early books, because in AD&D combat didn't take very long (about 2-3 rounds, same as in 5E). From my memories of the Dragonlance Chronicles, this was similarly true. The two books written by Gygax for Greyhawk were close to the rules... with some heavy houserules (included in the appendix).

The problem is the difference between game time and real time. A 4 hour session can take anywhere from a few minutes of game time (6 second rounds with a crap-load of combat) to weeks, months, or even years of game time, depending on the needs of the story. The closest part of the game that matches game time to real time is social encounters fully roleplayed out, and even those are thrown off by the time required to roll dice.
 

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