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D&D 5E On rulings, rules, and Twitter, or: How Sage Advice Changed

Jaeger

That someone better.
IMO 5e has very nearly no serious issues. Plenty of minor stuff, but nothing that threatens to make the game not work.

I agree that if they do 50th/6e D&D, they will change as little as possible.

But I think that there is design space to improve things while still maintaining backwards compatibility to adventures, monsters and most class features.

Combat could easily be made faster. The action economy tweaked. Skills streamlined or backgrounds/careers as skills like barbarians of lemuria. Inspiration dropped and the spend for advantage effect added to what Hit Dice do, (just one meta-mechanic guys...) Drop the whole badly implemented Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws stuff that most groups ignore. Bring back morale rules for monsters. And the exhaustion rules need a bit of a revamp... etc..

There are things that can be done to actually improve the game, streamline mechanics and enhance speed of play at the table.

You are probably right in the direction a potential 50th/6e D&D will go: Virtually zero mechanical change. Just sourcebook changes moved to core.

I just think it would a shame to waste 10 years worth of real-world playtesting to not improve the game where you can, and still maintain a very high degree of backwards compatibility.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I agree that if they do 50th/6e D&D, they will change as little as possible.

But I think that there is design space to improve things while still maintaining backwards compatibility to adventures, monsters and most class features.

Combat could easily be made faster. The action economy tweaked. Skills streamlined or backgrounds/careers as skills like barbarians of lemuria. Inspiration dropped and the spend for advantage effect added to what Hit Dice do, (just one meta-mechanic guys...) Drop the whole badly implemented Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws stuff that most groups ignore. Bring back morale rules for monsters. And the exhaustion rules need a bit of a revamp... etc..

There are things that can be done to actually improve the game, streamline mechanics and enhance speed of play at the table.

You are probably right in the direction a potential 50th/6e D&D will go: Virtually zero mechanical change. Just sourcebook changes moved to core.

I just think it would a shame to waste 10 years worth of real-world playtesting to not improve the game where you can, and still maintain a very high degree of backwards compatibility.
The thing is, a lot of what you suggest would severely anger swaths of the user base.

Get rid of background personal traits? Hard pass.

Any change to the action economy itself, rather than how a thing interacts with it, is a hard no because that alone is enough to say, “this is not the same.” Drop bonus actions and you have to rewrite a huge chunk of the game and old books become unusable with an update sheet, for instance.

“most class features” isn’t good enough to be considered backward compatible. If it invalidates the player options in any 5e books, it’s gonna be a hard pass for a lot of people.

Of course, we could both be wrong. Wotc likely has a much better grasp than we do of what players want, broadly speaking.
 

Greg K

Hero
While not exactly D&D, I always hold to the GMing advice of Palladium creator Kevin Siembieda (as he said to a friend who played in a game with him at a con): “If I don’t remember the rule, I just roll a die. If I roll high, it succeeds! If I roll low, it fails! If I roll in between — something weird happens!”
One of my gaming friends in the eighties claimed to have had a totally different experience with Kevin at a con. Back in the eighties, another player wanted our group to try one of the Palladium games. The player, who claimed to have encountered Kevin at the con, refused. His explanation for the refusal was that, while he running at a con, Kevin overheard something at the table, grabbed his copy of a Palladium book, and wrote in it to change or clarify rule (I can't recall which).
Note: I am not saying that Kevin did it (I was not there), but that the player claimed he did.
 

Mort

Legend
One of my gaming friends in the eighties claimed to have had a totally different experience with Kevin at a con. Back in the eighties, another player wanted our group to try one of the Palladium games. The player, who claimed to have encountered Kevin at the con, refused. His explanation for the refusal was that, while he running at a con, Kevin overheard something at the table, grabbed his copy of a Palladium book, and wrote in it to change or clarify rule (I can't recall which).
Note: I am not saying that Kevin did it (I was not there), but that the player claimed he did.

I used to play A LOT of Palladium games!

Gotta say 2 things turn me off Kevin's opinions :

1. He's been quoted numerous times as being "too busy" to game. Now, I get being busy, but if you're a game designer and you don't play, preferably multiple types of games? That's not a great sign for me.

2. If you look at Villains Unlimited (a supplement of Heroes Unlimited) , there's a forward by Kevin. In it he discusses this little nugget: IF a PC has his character jump on a live grenade, that character is DEAD, regardless of SDC, abilities, or other circumstances. Which is all well and good, but this is the forward to SUPERHERO game. Invulnerability, metal bodies (like colossus) and many other superhero abilities are a thing!
 

5E's Rulings, Not Rules was intentionally chosen as a credo so that no one would have to spend their time (or as I might say it, waste their time) searching for just the right answer. Whatever you decide in the moment IS the right answer. If others agree with you, cool! But if they don't... it doesn't mean you were wrong.
Page-flipping over exact rules is a gameplay nightmare. Every instance in which the participants half the game to consult the rulebook leeches tension and engagement. It is valuable to have an understanding of the rules, and a proper adjudication of the game requires the GM to recall them well enough, but this must be balanced with the needs of the table. Sometimes, the game needs to progress without ten minutes of rules deliberation, and a quick brushing-under-the-rug with GM fiat serves this purpose nicely.

When I GM, I expect the players to know the rules for their mechanics, and I desire that they correct me when I'm making an erroneous ruling (especially because I habitually forget certain rules, and I likewise have a tendency to refer to skills by their 3rd Edition counterparts). However, there are cases when I've had to assert my authority as the dude running the game and say, "This is how I'm ruling it, we can look up the exact rules during a break or at the session's end." If I am far off the mark and my ruling disadvantages a player considerably, I am happy to rectify the error in future games and compensate him for the improper adjudication. ("Here's 100xp, kiddo, now shut your gab.")
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
I agree that if they do 50th/6e D&D, they will change as little as possible.

But I think that there is design space to improve things while still maintaining backwards compatibility to adventures, monsters and most class features.

Combat could easily be made faster. The action economy tweaked. Skills streamlined or backgrounds/careers as skills like barbarians of lemuria. Inspiration dropped and the spend for advantage effect added to what Hit Dice do, (just one meta-mechanic guys...) Drop the whole badly implemented Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws stuff that most groups ignore. Bring back morale rules for monsters. And the exhaustion rules need a bit of a revamp... etc..

There are things that can be done to actually improve the game, streamline mechanics and enhance speed of play at the table.

You are probably right in the direction a potential 50th/6e D&D will go: Virtually zero mechanical change. Just sourcebook changes moved to core.

I just think it would a shame to waste 10 years worth of real-world playtesting to not improve the game where you can, and still maintain a very high degree of backwards compatibility.
I generally agree with the sentiment that there are minor areas within which the game might improve to serve the overall play experience, but I also agree with @doctorbadwolf that I'd take a hard pass at the idea of dropping the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws content. That stuff rules!
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I generally agree with the sentiment that there are minor areas within which the game might improve to serve the overall play experience, but I also agree with @doctorbadwolf that I'd take a hard pass at the idea of dropping the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws content. That stuff rules!
I like them but they are kludgy. Something a bit more incorporated and less on-off, like inspiration. Maybe dis/advantage when those traits are actually relevant in the moment rather than an RP lever to get one advantage token to use somewhere in the future completely unrelated to those traits. Then pull the lever again to get another shiny token. That part is terribly done.
 

I initially only saw your reply to tetrasodium, and assumed you were replying to all three of us in the same paragraph. I don't know if it was there all along and I just didn't notice, if you edited it in at some point, or if there was a problem with my browser. Sorry.

Now that I've actually seen what you were saying to me:

The less moving parts there are in the rules, and the more clearly defined what the functions of each of those parts are and how they relate to each other; the easier it is to change the rules or add new subsystems to the rules to suit your preferences without worrying about accidentally affecting other parts of the game in ways that you did not intend.

I'm thinking of the OSR ethos of "rulings not rules", and thinking of how a lot of OSR games that aren't just straight-up B/X clones tend towards very streamlined rules design. Thinking of The Black Hack, Knave, Into the Odd, Mork Borg, and Whitehack like I already mentioned. Tiny Dungeon and Quest are also coming to mind, but I don't think those are OSR.

Point being, if you want to encourage a culture of hacking and modifying the rules and thus not seeing the RAW and RAI as sacrosanct, having simpler and lighter rules in general would help with that; conversely, having a lot of complex rules would detract from that design goal.

What are the main obstacles to this happening in 5e, do you think? I don't follow sage advice, but I'm thinking to moments where we had to look up a rule or were otherwise confused at the table. Off the top my head, areas that are not rules-lite enough involve

  • parsing the action economy (including all the rules related to movement)
  • what conditions and status effects do and how they interact, and also the cognitive load of keeping track of them during an encounter. (I mean, look at this s***)
  • over reliance of exception-based design, especially in spells and special abilities, which complicate the 'd20+mod' simplicity of the core mechanics

Apart from this, of course, a large portion of the fans would love a rationalized, rules-heavy system that they could analyze for optimization purposes.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
I like them but they are kludgy. Something a bit more incorporated and less on-off, like inspiration. Maybe dis/advantage when those traits are actually relevant in the moment rather than an RP lever to get one advantage token to use somewhere in the future completely unrelated to those traits. Then pull the lever again to get another shiny token. That part is terribly done.
We can agree to disagree! I think it's a great way to encourage behaviors, and I love to see players using it to reward each other.

Aiming to give each character inspiration about once per session of play, as recommended in the Dungeon Master's Guide, also helps to keep me focused on the type of experience I want to offer.

:)
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
I generally agree with the sentiment that there are minor areas within which the game might improve to serve the overall play experience, but I also agree with ... that I'd take a hard pass at the idea of dropping the personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws content. That stuff rules!

As far as I can tell those things are valued by people differently depending on how their group plays the game.

In our last campaign - the space on the PC sheet could have been used for other stuff; they could be completely gutted from the character sheet.

For my group a PC's "ideals, bonds, and flaws" are just something that is emergent in play. We don't need to write it down ahead of time.

They are entirely vestigial to the 5e system mechanics as a whole.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
As far as I can tell those things are valued by people differently depending on how their group plays the game.

In our last campaign - the space on the PC sheet could have been used for other stuff; they could be completely gutted from the character sheet.

For my group a PC's "ideals, bonds, and flaws" are just something that is emergent in play. We don't need to write it down ahead of time.

They are entirely vestigial to the 5e system mechanics as a whole.
They're not if you use the system's mechanics for resolving social interactions, where they feature heavily.
 


Argyle King

Legend
As far as I can tell those things are valued by people differently depending on how their group plays the game.

In our last campaign - the space on the PC sheet could have been used for other stuff; they could be completely gutted from the character sheet.

For my group a PC's "ideals, bonds, and flaws" are just something that is emergent in play. We don't need to write it down ahead of time.

They are entirely vestigial to the 5e system mechanics as a whole.

I view those things as being in the same general ballpark as D&D alignment.

It's the Cliff's Notes version of what the character might care about.

Other times, if I'm sitting down at a new table, it can be fun to just roll randomly and see what sort of personality gets attached to the mechanical parts of the character.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I view those things as being in the same general ballpark as D&D alignment.

It's the Cliff's Notes version of what the character might care about.

Other times, if I'm sitting down at a new table, it can be fun to just roll randomly and see what sort of personality gets attached to the mechanical parts of the character.
Same for me. They can be an inspiration for how to run my PC, but that's about it.

At one time I paid attention what my player's had written, but decided it kind of like I was trying to enforce how they should run their PC, or at least with a carrot for "good" RP if not a stick.

So now I treat it like alignment: it's a tool for the player of they want it, but I don't care.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
They're not if you use the system's mechanics for resolving social interactions, where they feature heavily.
Well, not really, right? The player's BIFTs don't matter at all in that system, only NPC BIFTs. You can leave that space on your sheet blank and get all the use out of that system as someone more diligent.

As a player side mechanic, BIFTs don't do much at all. Let's lay out how they work, according to the book. You have a BIFT, and you do something during play that characterizes one of them. Cool. The GM then has to notice, meaning they have to remember what your character's BIFTs are and recognize your play as invoking one of them. They then have to think that this characterization rises to whatever arbitrary level the GM has for rewarding. The reward is to mark Inspiration, but if you already have it, then you get nothing, even if your play was amazing -- no reward unless you've spent the last one. And then you have Inspiration, which gets spent arbitrarily by the player whenever they want, and doesn't reinforce playing to BIFTs when used, so only the lack of Inspiration actually encourages playing to BIFTs.

Most people that really like this system have changed it in some way, usually allowing fellow players to reward, or stocking Inspiration, or letting the players claim it on their own. And/or they change Inspiration to be a reroll-after-the-fact, or stackable, or have to be immediately used in the same action that earned it. These do more work to letting the system do something, but still isn't terribly strong.

BIFTs RAW are kludgey, don't really do much, and really just add to GM overhead. Most houserules address the don't do much bit, kinda, or take it out of the GM overhead, or both.
 

What are the main obstacles to this happening in 5e, do you think? I don't follow sage advice, but I'm thinking to moments where we had to look up a rule or were otherwise confused at the table. Off the top my head, areas that are not rules-lite enough involve

  • parsing the action economy (including all the rules related to movement)
  • what conditions and status effects do and how they interact, and also the cognitive load of keeping track of them during an encounter. (I mean, look at this s***)
  • over reliance of exception-based design, especially in spells and special abilities, which complicate the 'd20+mod' simplicity of the core mechanics

Apart from this, of course, a large portion of the fans would love a rationalized, rules-heavy system that they could analyze for optimization purposes.
Those three points are a pretty big part of it. I'd need some more time to gather my thoughts for anything outside the points you mentioned.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
Well, not really, right? The player's BIFTs don't matter at all in that system, only NPC BIFTs. You can leave that space on your sheet blank and get all the use out of that system as someone more diligent.

As a player side mechanic, BIFTs don't do much at all. Let's lay out how they work, according to the book. You have a BIFT, and you do something during play that characterizes one of them. Cool. The GM then has to notice, meaning they have to remember what your character's BIFTs are and recognize your play as invoking one of them. They then have to think that this characterization rises to whatever arbitrary level the GM has for rewarding. The reward is to mark Inspiration, but if you already have it, then you get nothing, even if your play was amazing -- no reward unless you've spent the last one. And then you have Inspiration, which gets spent arbitrarily by the player whenever they want, and doesn't reinforce playing to BIFTs when used, so only the lack of Inspiration actually encourages playing to BIFTs.

Most people that really like this system have changed it in some way, usually allowing fellow players to reward, or stocking Inspiration, or letting the players claim it on their own. And/or they change Inspiration to be a reroll-after-the-fact, or stackable, or have to be immediately used in the same action that earned it. These do more work to letting the system do something, but still isn't terribly strong.

BIFTs RAW are kludgey, don't really do much, and really just add to GM overhead. Most houserules address the don't do much bit, kinda, or take it out of the GM overhead, or both.
They're for fleshing out your character's personality; what drives them, what connections they have, and how they can be exploited. Inspiration rewards you for staying true to those personal characteristics.

As a player, it's helpful to have a list of suggestions to spark my imagination. As a Dungeon Master, it's helpful to be aware of those player choices when designing adventures because I'm better able to anticipate how the characters might react in a given situation or social encounter.

What I like most about them is that they offer tools for talking when discouraging metagame thinking. Gentle reminder: "What do your characters think?"
 

BIFTs RAW are kludgey, don't really do much, and really just add to GM overhead. Most houserules address the don't do much bit, kinda, or take it out of the GM overhead, or both.
Exactly. The system--along with Inspiration--are clearly tacked-on and underdeveloped in an attempt to create more narrative- or story-oriented gameplay. They should either be excised or expanded. As they stand, they crowd the character sheet.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
They're for fleshing out your character's personality; what drives them, what connections they have, and how they can be exploited. Inspiration rewards you for staying true to those personal characteristics.

As a player, it's helpful to have a list of suggestions to spark my imagination. As a Dungeon Master, it's helpful to be aware of those player choices when designing adventures because I'm better able to anticipate how the characters might react in a given situation or social encounter.

What I like most about them is that they offer tools for talking when discouraging metagame thinking. Gentle reminder: "What do your characters think?"
I mean, they're fine for reminding new players that they should actually roleplay, sure. The argument against them is that lots of other non-D&D games have mechanics that do the same thing, but better.
 

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