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D&D General Ranking the Pillars of Play

How would you rank the pillars of play, in order of preference?

  • Total voters


Limit Break Dancing
Most folks will agree that there are three pillars of play: Combat, Exploration, and Social.
Few people will agree on how much of each pillar they would like in their games, though.

So how would you rank them, in order of importance?

For example, vote for "Combat > Exploration > Social" if you feel that Combat is most important, Exploration is second-most important, and Social is least important. If you like them all equally, vote for the option with the equal signs.

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Magic Wordsmith
I voted for all being equal because I think the game benefits from having an equal opportunity for all, depending on what the players want to do. In terms of importance, exploration covers more ground than either combat or social exploration - given the actual definition of the exploration pillar in the D&D 5e rules - and will likely be more present in any game.


Limit Break Dancing
@iserith it's true, the game does need all three in order to be complete. But not everyone enjoys them in equal amounts: not many gaming groups would like to spend an hour picking locks and an hour shopping for gear, for every hour spent in combat.


Social > Combat > Exploration

I play roleplaying games to roleplay, and the Social pillar is the best and easiest way to do that. Of the other two... one has really extensive rules with which to play it, the other has very little. So for the board game part of RPGs, I go with the one with the most interesting ruleset.


I thought about it, like this.

Combat > *, because I enjoy that aspect the most.

Then I was stuck with Combat > Exploration > Social or Combat > Social > Exploration, because there is no Combat > Exploration = Social.

Then I thought, well Exploration may be needed to get to my next Combat.

Therefore: Combat > Exploration > Social. :D


Magic Wordsmith
@iserith it's true, the game does need all three in order to be complete. But not everyone enjoys them in equal amounts: not many gaming groups would like to spend an hour picking locks and an hour shopping for gear, for every hour spent in combat.
I think that's a bit of a different thing though. If we break adventures and campaigns into discrete challenges, I would say it's best to make these more or less equitable in my opinion. But the time spent on one challenge or another is going to vary. Certain, by virtue of combat often being a bit of a lengthier process, an equitable distribution of challenges across all pillars probably still results in more time being spent on combat in many games.


Social is irrelevant to the rules, therefore not a pillar.
5e doesn't really support social with rules (coz they rushed the DM's guide out on a deadline), but it can be. Give the PCs an obstacle they need to RP to overcome, without a combat option. Or, give them a combat obstacle that can be more easily defeated if they parley with the opponent, find out a vulnerability, use what they learned to go explore to get the vulnerability, and then apply that in combat to more easily defeat the opponent. You can combine all three to play off each other to reward all three pillars of play...or not, as the players choose.


Moderator Emeritus
I voted Combat > Social > Exploration, but really 2 and 3 are very close and I could just as easily swap them if asked a different day. I love combat, but it needs to be tactical and be in an interesting material environment (i.e. potentially has a mechanical effect on the combat, but doesn't have to be fancy - a mud pit could be an interesting combat environment) and there should be some kind of stakes, not necessarily world-shattering or even connected to a plot, but stakes nonetheless. The most memorable combats I have run and been in have also been part of "Social" encounters and that Sociality is a great source for stakes. Exploration, naturally leads to cool environments for fights, but avoiding fights or working to change the future combat condition is a lot of fun too.
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I voted Social > Combat > Exploration, because when I've been in sessions that revolved disproportionately around just one that has been the order I've enjoyed them or been annoyed with them the most.


Social - Combat - five miles of bedrock - Exploration.

Mainly because how D&D deals with exploration as just a bunch of penalties and bookkeeping instead of discovering cool places and things.


Limit Break Dancing
...4 out of the last 5 sessions I've run have had no combat whatsoever. And they've been fun!

Angry Fire GIF by PBS Digital Studios

According to certain dark, dusty corners of these forums, anyway.

But yeah, I feel ya. Combat is nice, but it isn't the end-all, be-all reason for adventuring in my games. It's in solid second place, though, and even though we generally like it, we have entire gaming sessions where we don't even roll initiative. And it's fun!


He / Him
I voted for Exploration > Social > Combat, and here's why:

To me, combat is hollow without the stakes built through social or exploration. If all I'm doing is fighting goblins, but I'm not doing it to save a town (social) or find treasure (exploration), then I might as well be playing a board game. Now I really enjoy combat, but again without story stakes (yum!) it's just not as fun to me.

Exploration is the top dog because I love both running and playing it. Unlocking doors, listening for monsters, scouting ahead, avoiding traps, sneaking, solving puzzles, making maps, making plans, making camp... All that just really describes D&D to me. I don't think overland travel is the most important part of exploration, the dungeon stuff is!

Then in the middle is social, because it's fun to pretend to be someone else and interact with the world!

If it were an option, I would have voted Combat = Social > Exploration.

I suppose it's just poorly supported, but I've never found the exploring part to be a good part of a ttrpg. It works in video games well enough.

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