D&D General On the Evolution of Fantasy and D&D

1) The current demographics do not say "fans of older editions". They say, "Broad age range".

2) Saying that going with the classic ideas was "to help bring in fans of previous editions" is likely an oversimplification.

2a) You seem a little vague on which "classic ideas" you think brought those supposed fans in, and are currently being violated.

In the end, the past will not sustain them forever - those fans of older editions will age out of the market, and must be replaced with new players if the game is to have a long future. Thus a focus on things relevant to a younger market is called for.
Sure. Which is why I suggest they just bite the bullet and release 6e, preferably with an all-new campaign setting that makes things the way they want. This half-measure is, imo, a terrible idea.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Sure. Which is why I suggest they just bite the bullet and release 6e, preferably with an all-new campaign setting that makes things the way they want. This half-measure is, imo, a terrible idea.

You are still vague on which classic ideas, exactly, are being left behind.
 

You are still vague on which classic ideas, exactly, are being left behind.
Honestly, I'm mostly hung up on my by this point well-known campaign setting issues. That being said, I am not a huge fan of either whimsy for it's own sake or the Feywild in general, none of the MtG settings appeal to me, and I miss classic fantasy settings that are somewhat human-dominant, with other races seen primarily by how they differ from humanity, like AD&D or Star Trek.

Mechanically, I feel the current game is sacrificing good complexity for ease of use. The new monster book would be an example. The likely removal of the short rest is another. I've never liked the lack of long-term effects from combat. I feel most of Tasha's was designed to let players ignore necessary choices in character creation, and I liked having to make those choices (although I have accepted the removal of racial ASIs, I'm still not happy about it).

Shall I go on?
 

Mercurius

Legend
Any time we see the word "evolution" in this context, we ought to be aware of the meaning.

"Evolution" is not movement "forward". Direction is a thing game design can have, that evolution does not. Game designers make choices, while random changes in DNA do not. Evolution does not have will.

If evolution is movement at all, it is a drunkards walk that, if a line survives, turns out to have been, out of sheer luck, toward being more effectively adapted to a niche in an ecosystem. If the ecosystem changes, or if niches become available, the species available will, through random changes, either meet the new needs, or not.

Meanwhile, game design and fiction writing can be aimed at a niche. The author's vision of the viability of the niche may be hazy, but it
You seem to be using evolution in a very specific sense, relating to biological organisms changing over time. That is just one definition and contextual usage of the word, but not the only one. I am not using it in that sense, more towards directional unfolding over time. Or to use a synonym, development.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I want to add something to this that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere; 5e's approach to adventures is changing right now. For a long time, D&D 5e only had big adventure paths meant to span an entire campaign (Tyranny of Dragons, Curse of Strahd, Princes of the Apocalypse, Storm King's Thunder, Out of the Abyss). Early D&D adventures were mostly just short modules that you could mix-and-match to add to your campaign. 5e didn't really have these until when Tales from the Yawning Portal was released in 2017, reprinting a lot of classic adventures from older editions of D&D (unless you count the Lost Mines of Phandelver).

But since Tales from the Yawning Portal we've gotten Ghosts of Saltmarsh (another classic adventure anthology book), Candlekeep Mysteries, and now Journeys Beyond the Radiant Citadel. While they're not "modules" (because they're all printed in the same book instead of smaller pamphlets that can be bought individually), they are similar in being smaller adventures that can be inserted into an ongoing D&D campaign. So while D&D 5e is transitioning away from some older trends, it is also embracing some of them more than it did at its start.

(Not to mention the fact that we literally only had the Forgotten Realms as an official supported setting for the longest time, and we're now getting more and more reprinted older settings. Or that a lot of older monsters keep reappearing in new monster books like Mordenkainen's and Fizbans. Or how they're bringing back the D&D Multiverse.)

tl;dr - While 5e is definitely transitioning away from some older trends/themes/content (even ones that it focused on more towards the start of the edition), it is also transitioning towards some older ones.
Yes, I've had a similar thought - and with increasing frequency: first Tales in 2017, then one in 2019, then one each in 2021 and 2022. So yes, while it isn't distinct modules, it is essentiallly "module compilations." And this isn't even only a shift within 5E but different from what we saw in 4E which, if I remember correctly, had very few short adventures.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I'd really like to believe that. But lately I've seen no indication that WotC remembers why 5e became popular in the first place.
Well, aside from the fact that I'm not promising anything, it might take a few years, or at least a period in which "classic elements" are de-emphasized. But things come around, and one thing that seems consistent is a "back to our roots" cycle.
 

Yora

Legend
I agree with this philosophy in principle, but I have two comments.

1. D&D is an interactive game, and in order to play it you need people who sufficiently share your fantasy preferences for all of you to be satisfied. If the leading edge swings away from your preferences, it get increasingly difficult to find these people.

2. Similarly, while I believe you are correct in that no aspect of fantasy jusy disappears entirely, it might be a while before the cycle comes back to something you like. What the leading edge is doing matters whether you like it or not.
Precisely because RPGs are an interactive medium and not one that is passively consumed, the prevalence of any general or specific fantastical traits really depends on what the players choose to focus on. Traits don't become prominent by waiting for them to become popular. If you want certain traits in your capaigns, you have to put them in.
Evwryone has the same tools. All it needs is the confidence to run a game with certain elements and making them fun and exciting.
 

Hussar

Legend
Honestly, I'm mostly hung up on my by this point well-known campaign setting issues. That being said, I am not a huge fan of either whimsy for it's own sake or the Feywild in general, none of the MtG settings appeal to me, and I miss classic fantasy settings that are somewhat human-dominant, with other races seen primarily by how they differ from humanity, like AD&D or Star Trek.

Mechanically, I feel the current game is sacrificing good complexity for ease of use. The new monster book would be an example. The likely removal of the short rest is another. I've never liked the lack of long-term effects from combat. I feel most of Tasha's was designed to let players ignore necessary choices in character creation, and I liked having to make those choices (although I have accepted the removal of racial ASIs, I'm still not happy about it).

Shall I go on?
How is a "short rest" mechanic a "classic idea"? Two step recovery didn't exist in the game until 4e. Human dominant settings haven't been a thing since 3e was released. And whimsy is a FAR more usual thing in earlier D&D - Beyond the Magic Mirror is a classic adventure after all.

See, the problem is, your issues are largely yours alone. They have nothing to do with the history of the game or how the game was presented in the past. You are simply choosing to rewrite history in order to pretend that you are being somehow excluded from the hobby.
 

One quality, among others, of this shift, is the idea that "violence isn't always the answer."

The association, or not, of classic/old school play with combat and violence is interesting. On one hand, you have a prevailing attitude that dnd is about "killing things and taking their stuff," and that this is all we did in earlier editions of the game. This is either a virtue or criticism depending on who you are talking to. On the other hand is the OSR analysis that concludes that combat in early dnd is a fail state. Because survival is low, encounters not balanced, and with low xp rewards, dungeon crawling was actually about taking stuff without getting into combat. I don't know what accounts for this divide, but it's either that different players played differently in all eras, or perhaps it refers to the original grognard/munchkin divide, with now very old munchkins remembering dnd as primarily a combat game.

For example, people often look back at 2e as this golden age of settings for D&D. And, it's an understandable POV. Most of the iconic D&D settings (outside of Eberron) have their genesis and development in 2e.
And yet, many of those settings were not very popular during the 2e era. Spelljammer lasted for what, two years? Planescape products are worth so much now in part because they had such a low print run to begin with. And dnd players at the time criticized both settings for not being "classic" dnd. Planescape was very whimsical and explicitly not about combat, because you couldn't fight every extraplanar being you came across.


Mechanically, I feel the current game is sacrificing good complexity for ease of use. The new monster book would be an example. The likely removal of the short rest is another. I've never liked the lack of long-term effects from combat. I feel most of Tasha's was designed to let players ignore necessary choices in character creation, and I liked having to make those choices (although I have accepted the removal of racial ASIs, I'm still not happy about it).
To me, Tasha's is the opposite of a simplification. Each class option adds so many more things to track and is a significant power creep compared to core 5e. The removal of short rest abilities seems more a corrective on the original design based on how people actually play (e.g. 2 combats and then long rest).


Yes, I've had a similar thought - and with increasing frequency: first Tales in 2017, then one in 2019, then one each in 2021 and 2022. So yes, while it isn't distinct modules, it is essentiallly "module compilations." And this isn't even only a shift within 5E but different from what we saw in 4E which, if I remember correctly, had very few short adventures.

Short adventure "modules" is as classic dnd as it gets. So it makes sense that Tales from the Yawning Portal is a compilation of older adventures.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't know what accounts for this divide, but it's either that different players played differently in all eras, or perhaps it refers to the original grognard/munchkin divide, with now very old munchkins remembering dnd as primarily a combat game.
I blame fudging. :D

Actually, as flip as that is, I wonder if there isn't some truth to that. The notion that AD&D is this very high lethality game is predicated on the notion that the players are not creating characters that are ... shall we say... suspiciously ahead of the probability curve? :p

But, then you run into things like generous creation methods - even before Unearthed Arcana, we mixed both 4d6 drop the lowest with Basic/Expert rules that let you trade 2 for 1 Str, Int and Wis up or down or increase Dex. Only Con and Cha were not adjustable. So, when I talk about fighters always having 18 percentile strength, well, of course we did - you simply dropped Int and Wis and got that all important 18.

Multiply that by all PC's and suddenly you have a group that is punching WAAAAAY above it's weight class. Instead of doing d8+1 damage, you're dealing d8+4 or 5 plus magic items and whatnot. Then, you get into 2e where the fighters are absolute killing machines capable of dealing 30, 40 points of damage in a single round, even at 1st level and suddenly those old 1e modules are made of so much tissue paper.

The issue with older D&D is that the math was so fragile that you actually had to work pretty hard not to break the system. Robustness was a much later development.
 

S'mon

Legend
I think a lot of these 'evolutions' tend to be much more one person's creative vision, than a response to the zeitgeist. Although I did notice yesterday in Orc's Nest that the new WoTC 3-book slipcase came with an Anime-style cover... :D But current rainbow-coloured D&D seems more about Jeremy Crawford's personal vision, than an attempt to appeal to the largest number of new players. The same for eg 2e Planescape - it was influenced by 1990s Gen-X culture, but was primarily an authorial vision. I think 2014 5e D&D was quite unusual in being designed primarily around market research, and that was only because of the failure of 4e D&D and a resulting lack of confidence in the creative-vision approach.
 

We are talking about almost half-century and of course there are several factors. Today there are several influences in the current speculative fiction: the movies with better FXs, the manganime from Japan, the videogames.. and social changes. Today the message "everybody is wellcome, sit down here, feel confortable and ejoy the game" is very important. The d20 system has been redesigned to be easier to be understood by the new players, and with a family-friendly tone even with Ravenloft. The open licence has allowed lots of 3PPs to show new ideas, and someones from these were enough good.

The market now is used to Lord of Rings, Game of Thrones and Warcraft. Now Greyhawk isn't too "exotic" but maybe "not enough".

Today players who choose to play TTRPG are looking for something they can't do in a videogame, for example social interactions to investigate a murder or to flirt with the taberneer's daughter.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
The association, or not, of classic/old school play with combat and violence is interesting. On one hand, you have a prevailing attitude that dnd is about "killing things and taking their stuff," and that this is all we did in earlier editions of the game. This is either a virtue or criticism depending on who you are talking to. On the other hand is the OSR analysis that concludes that combat in early dnd is a fail state. Because survival is low, encounters not balanced, and with low xp rewards, dungeon crawling was actually about taking stuff without getting into combat. I don't know what accounts for this divide, but it's either that different players played differently in all eras, or perhaps it refers to the original grognard/munchkin divide, with now very old munchkins remembering dnd as primarily a combat game.
It is not the grog/munchkin, while all munchkins were in to powergameing and tricked out in magic items and killing stuff, a lot of the grognards were as well but less magic items and better squad tactics. My own early experience in the nineteen eighties in Ireland suggested to me that there were linages of D&D based on foundational DMs. By foundational DMs, the people that bought rulebooks and figures out how to play from those books. They were mostly wargamers, but not all and you could come across significant differences in playstyle in different regions.
Gradually this started to mix and merge but all the strands were visible at the beginning but different clubs and groups had their own style.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You seem to be using evolution in a very specific sense, relating to biological organisms changing over time. That is just one definition and contextual usage of the word, but not the only one. I am not using it in that sense, more towards directional unfolding over time. Or to use a synonym, development.

With all due respect, you seem to be only concerned with denotation, when connotation also matters a great deal. Even in it's non-techical meaning, in modern English it carries the suggestion of the technical term. If one didn't want to suggest the natural process, other words would be distinctly better choices. Thus, it should be reasonable to expect that the reference was intentional.

And, if that reference is intentional, noting how this significantly differs from the natural process is quite relevant indeed.
 

Voadam

Legend
The association, or not, of classic/old school play with combat and violence is interesting. On one hand, you have a prevailing attitude that dnd is about "killing things and taking their stuff," and that this is all we did in earlier editions of the game. This is either a virtue or criticism depending on who you are talking to. On the other hand is the OSR analysis that concludes that combat in early dnd is a fail state. Because survival is low, encounters not balanced, and with low xp rewards, dungeon crawling was actually about taking stuff without getting into combat. I don't know what accounts for this divide, but it's either that different players played differently in all eras, or perhaps it refers to the original grognard/munchkin divide, with now very old munchkins remembering dnd as primarily a combat game.

I think it is a truism that different people have always played differently.

There are different types of players (actors, beer & pretzels, combat-focused, plot-focused, whatever) who enjoy different aspects of the game. Different DMs can focus on different aspects leading to widely divergent game experiences.

OD&D was fairly lacking in descriptive guidance on expected norms.

In a game where you make a fantasy fighter based on Conan combat can easily be something you seek out, reacting with panther-like reflexes to cleave an opponent with a sword immediately is in genre. The majority of magic are chainmail based battlefield fantasy artillery spells.

The example of play from Moldvay Basic is full of "failed" states. The party tries to talk to hobgoblins but ends up fighting. In the fight people get hit and die. The thief does everything he is supposed to, he tries to carefully use his thief detect traps ability on a chest he suspects is trapped but the secret DM dice are against him and then he dies from a failed saving throw roll when the chest is opened. The lesson learned could be act carefully and avoid danger when you can, or it could be that the game is deadly no matter what you do, expect death regularly as part of the normal course of play.
 

Yora

Legend
I blame fudging. :D
I blame Dragolance.

The idea that the players are acting out a pre-written story is what really cemented the "kill everything" approach. Can't have the PCs die, as it would disrupt the story, so the GM has to fudge to make them survive every fight. And when every fight is survivable, then why give in to enemies by retreating? Players know they can't lose, and their characters are special, so they deserve to win every time.

Maybe some or many groups did chose to fight everything they encounter because the GM was ignoring the reaction roll mechanic and simply make all encounters hostile. But in the 70s and early 80s, the rules were designed to have parties run into monsters that can wipe the floor with them on a regular basis, and to have them encounter a large number of creatures that aren't looking for a fight or might offer them assistance. There were a number of rules to create environments and situations where PCs are almost certain to die if they try to kill everything.
Dragonlance dropped that whole idea and instead established that the PCs are special and can not lose. Unless the script says that they will lose. Then they can not win and not escape.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I blame Dragolance.
Dragonlance or something like it was inevitable. There were enough people wanting to rerun the Fellowship of the Ring that story focused D&D was inevitable. If not Dragonlance then something else.

The idea that the players are acting out a pre-written story is what really cemented the "kill everything" approach. Can't have the PCs die, as it would disrupt the story, so the GM has to fudge to make them survive every fight. And when every fight is survivable, then why give in to enemies by retreating? Players know they can't lose, and their characters are special, so they deserve to win every time.
It was also reinforced by the somewhat adversarial nature of some early D&D playstyles and by the habit (encouraged by many modules) of having NPCs betray the party at the first opportunity like bargain bin Lokies (MCU prior to the tv series)
Maybe some or many groups did chose to fight everything they encounter because the GM was ignoring the reaction roll mechanic and simply make all encounters hostile. But in the 70s and early 80s, the rules were designed to have parties run into monsters that can wipe the floor with them on a regular basis, and to have them encounter a large number of creatures that aren't looking for a fight or might offer them assistance. There were a number of rules to create environments and situations where PCs are almost certain to die if they try to kill everything.
Dragonlance dropped that whole idea and instead established that the PCs are special and can not lose. Unless the script says that they will lose. Then they can not win and not escape.
CRPG were a big factor in this. In the computer environment there is really no meaningful consequence to killing everyone, in most there is little other option as it would be too much work to write a script tree and allied path follow up for every encounter.
 

Mercurius

Legend
With all due respect, you seem to be only concerned with denotation, when connotation also matters a great deal. Even in it's non-techical meaning, in modern English it carries the suggestion of the technical term. If one didn't want to suggest the natural process, other words would be distinctly better choices. Thus, it should be reasonable to expect that the reference was intentional.

And, if that reference is intentional, noting how this significantly differs from the natural process is quite relevant indeed.
I guess we speak a differ modern English, because in my circles, the word doesn't inherent suggest biological evolution, nor does the dictionary say that's the only definition. I mean, it is an actual pre-existing word that is applied to Darwinian evolution, but not synonymous with it. The word is from the Latin evolvere, which means "to unroll, roll out, roll forth, unfold" and is strongly related to development.

Anyhow, it seems like a funny nitpick to get bogged down in. Generally speaking, in discourse it is important to consider context and what someone might actually mean, rather than get hung up on whether or not their usage is proper in your mind. :rolleyes:
 

Hussar

Legend
Dragonlance is a bit of chicken or the egg to be honest. I mean, there's lots of plotsy based modules before Dragonlance. If you were playing GDQ (as we did), then there was very much a full on storyline to follow. And, you were very much encouraged to kill virtually everything you met. You didn't talk your way through the G series.

Basically, the drift from Dungeon play was the major change. Early D&D was very focused. You started in Place X, went to Dungeon Y and then returned to Place X and that was play. That's what the game expected you to do. Then people started ignoring the dungeon to explore around the dungeon or explore the town and the game expanded.

But, if you expand beyond the goals looting the dungeon of the day, suddenly that PC actually matters. You kill that PC and suddenly the plotlines (adding plot lines being a newer development that wasn't there at the outset) that you've been developing over the past few sessions get flushed down the toilet. So, you fudge the dice and keep the PC alive.

Dragonlance is the clear example of this, but, make no mistake, lots of people were playing D&D this way long before Dragonlance hit the shelves.
 

The association, or not, of classic/old school play with combat and violence is interesting. On one hand, you have a prevailing attitude that dnd is about "killing things and taking their stuff," and that this is all we did in earlier editions of the game. This is either a virtue or criticism depending on who you are talking to. On the other hand is the OSR analysis that concludes that combat in early dnd is a fail state. Because survival is low, encounters not balanced, and with low xp rewards, dungeon crawling was actually about taking stuff without getting into combat. I don't know what accounts for this divide, but it's either that different players played differently in all eras, or perhaps it refers to the original grognard/munchkin divide, with now very old munchkins remembering dnd as primarily a combat game.
I, ironically enough, blame the late 1e move away from XP for GP to a more narrative focused game.

Fundamentally when you gained 1XP for each GP then 80% of your XP came from treasure hunting, stealing the gold, and getting away. Only 20% of your XP came from combat - and it was where 80% of the danger was. A dungeon crawl was a badly organised heist where if you fought you'd messed up.

With a switch to both "realism" and a more narrative focused game people found XP for GP silly and unrealistic. And after that your primary source of group XP was ... slaughtering your way through dungeons. So it's what you did.
 

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