RPG Theory- The Limits of My Language are the Limits of My World

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
Sure but IMO that made a bit better argument before 4e and 5e as the cause for D&D’s popularity. But it doesn’t explain 5e’s popularity relative to 4e’s. What does is the difference in the game itself. There’s something more to it than starting first and branding, especially after all these years.
I'd say, "all these years" only increase the advantage of cultural significance, branding and starting first if we're talking about a product totally dominating the space.

With each passing decade, chances that something will ever replace Coca-Cola are getting more and more slim. Or Google. Or YouTube.

For me, Coca-Cola is just a part of life that existed since forever, not really different from water or even the sun in the sky. I've been drinking it for my whole life, I've constantly seen it in movies and heard it mentioned in songs. В руке банка колы, в кармане пакетик с киви-и. For me, Pepsi isn't a soft drink, it's a Coca-Cola-like.

For modern internet users, especially young ones, Google is such a thing. Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo aren't search engines, they are Google-likes, to the point where "bing it" product placement in some movie I don't remember felt almost like a joke.

D&D existed since forever, and is a most prominent roleplaying game, that is often referenced in TV, film and videogames. Other games are D&D-likes, and, probably, will forever be.

All in all, I can't see D&D being really eclipsed by anything now, in 2E 21, even if WotC will wake up tomorrow and decide that the dice must only be played on certified birch dicefields. I can see that happening in the eighties, though.
 

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I think it might be time for people to take a step back and away from anything personal; it doesn't advance the discussion.

Having played D&D 5e, and having read and wanting to run other systems... I can certainly see advantages and disadvantages to 5e as a system, and to using 5e for fantasy, and for using 5e as a base for a system outside of fantasy. Level Up 5e seems like it will solve a number of these problems and be quite a good refinement; I hope that the 2024 revision will incorporate positive changes; but I certainly know that if I can find players for it, I'd prefer to run pathfinder 2e. Likewise, if I ever get to run it, I'd certainly prefer to use Cyberpunk RED over 5e for a cyberpunk world I have in my head.

So for me, 5e is inferior to the other options I have for the games and stories I want to run (and maybe play).

That doesn't make it inferior for everyone, or a 'wrong' choice, or anything but a preference. I think people need to step back and realise that most of us, when talking about our opinions, and what we prefer, and what we dislike, are speaking with subjectivity being implied. Like... that is certainly how I go about it the vast majority of the time. It's the only sane position to hold. This video by Joseph Anderson is perhaps harsh and not immune from criticism, but I feel it's the only way to handle conversations on the internet now.

It doesn't mean that examining it's popularity from the point of view of "what does the system does well that make it so popular?" is wrong either (though like others it needs to be acknowledged the system does have many inherit brand advantages). I do think the system gets a lot right, more than it gets wrong - it's ability of being fairly pick up and play from a player side is a big system advantage, and I think it should be acknowledged that Lost Mines being a (as far as I know) great adventure - showing a commitment from WoTC to work hard on adventures - definitely helped the system and showed DMs what was possible to do.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
There was a thread about social mechanics a while back, and I said I was ambivalent about them (I think I made an offhand reference to FKR and then @Snarf Zagyg kept making new threads and now here we are). And the more I think about it, I think the way that 5e handles it (i.e., by not handling, whether by design or not (probably not)) is actually fine, and is actually a feature, not a bug. It provides a context (fantasy archetypes and strong characterization) and then steps out of the way, and I think people like this. That is, we can look at people describing play experiences that don't utilize the 5e rules and ask if there is a better system for them, and maybe there is! Maybe they just don't know enough about other games. On the other hand, there's maybe something about the 'provide context, then get out of the way' approach of 5e that is actually a preference for groups
Sometimes, better system is no system at all.

I think, the benefits of using a ruleset must outweigh the inherent overhead of using it and there's a lot of overhead coming with 5e.

The context that D&D provides is also kinda weird. Like, what's the difference between a barbarian and a fighter? Or a cleric and a paladin? Or a sorcerer and wizard? The D&D archetypes are mostly endemic to D&D, and I don't think they mean much for people who aren't already neck deep in the game, so I don't think I can agree with that.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
There was a thread about social mechanics a while back, and I said I was ambivalent about them (I think I made an offhand reference to FKR and then @Snarf Zagyg kept making new threads and now here we are). And the more I think about it, I think the way that 5e handles it (i.e., by not handling, whether by design or not (probably not)) is actually fine, and is actually a feature, not a bug. It provides a context (fantasy archetypes and strong characterization) and then steps out of the way, and I think people like this. That is, we can look at people describing play experiences that don't utilize the 5e rules and ask if there is a better system for them, and maybe there is! Maybe they just don't know enough about other games. On the other hand, there's maybe something about the 'provide context, then get out of the way' approach of 5e that is actually a preference for groups.

There's something analogous going on with using natural language for combat things. One could ask, how is that good design, if you have a combat mini-game with imprecise language. But I think maybe natural language is evocative and accessible in ways that constitute a preference and are not just an indication that people don't yet know about other systems.

Together with other social and cultural changes, I think this makes 5e a more accessible game to people who had been previously marginalized in the hobby.

Separately, this thread from Avery Alder is interesting for this discussion

What are you talking about? 5e has a clear set of social mechanics and a process for play. It's in the DMG, and not as an optional set of rules. It's about setting initial attitude for NPCs, having players interact to discover NPC BIFTs, and then being able to leverage those for advantage on the called for check to resolve an ask or demand. Social conflict resolution mechanics totally and absolutely exist in 5e. They're just ignored by just about everyone that already knows how to play D&D and so doesn't bother with the 5e rules that don't align with how they already know how to run D&D.

It's page 244 of the 5e DMG, by the way, under the heading "Social Interactions." This is in the "Running the Game" chapter.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The context that D&D provides is also kinda weird. Like, what's the difference between a barbarian and a fighter? Or a cleric and a paladin? Or a sorcerer and wizard? The D&D archetypes are mostly endemic to D&D, and I don't think they mean much for people who aren't already neck deep in the game, so I don't think I can agree with that.


A thing can be "high quality," and have "broad appeal," and still be forced to make compromises- in fact, I'd argue that making those compromises is part of what drives the broad appeal.

Because 5e is not, and cannot be, a niche product, it has to make compromises. To use one example that I think most people can agree with is the inclusion of legacy components and lore.

5e includes legacy components. It has to use "parts" (rules, lore) from older editions. If the game designers were designing 5e from scratch, if they were making some "white room" best game ever using only the "best practice" design that has been learned over nearly 50 years, I'm guessing some of that legacy would be ditched. Which ones- the six ability scores? The weird mishmash of classes? The half-orc? Who knows? One person's sacred cow is another person's hamburger. We've already seen alignment marginalized over time- but also the difficulty in removing it completely; I don't think it would have been possible with 5e's release.

The point of this is that part of the broad appeal of the game, part of the "popularity" is that it retains some continuity- that it continues to have those compromises. There is something for everyone, or for most people. There is both some modern design, and some continuity with the past.

You can use this with many aspects of the game. It's an incredibly tough thing to design for broad appeal. It's easy to design something when you're only designing for a small group, and don't have to worry about large sales, or broad popularity.

I'm reminded of the McDonald's example I heard of some time ago- the executive chef had some serious training and chops in terms of haute cuisine- top of class from CIA, and so on. But the reason why developing new products is so difficult isn't because they can't make all sorts of tasty things in their test kitchen; it's because the sheer scale that is required means that basic logistics and sourcing is the primary challenge for new menu items- not to mention that any dish has to be either be made with pre-exiting equipment or requires a serious investment, plus anything has to be easily made by that workforce. In short, it's a look at what types of design choices have to be made in different contexts.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
A thing can be "high quality," and have "broad appeal," and still be forced to make compromises- in fact, I'd argue that making those compromises is part of what drives the broad appeal.

Because 5e is not, and cannot be, a niche product, it has to make compromises. To use one example that I think most people can agree with is the inclusion of legacy components and lore.

5e includes legacy components. It has to use "parts" (rules, lore) from older editions. If the game designers were designing 5e from scratch, if they were making some "white room" best game ever using only the "best practice" design that has been learned over nearly 50 years, I'm guessing some of that legacy would be ditched. Which ones- the six ability scores? The weird mishmash of classes? The half-orc? Who knows? One person's sacred cow is another person's hamburger. We've already seen alignment marginalized over time- but also the difficulty in removing it completely; I don't think it would have been possible with 5e's release.

The point of this is that part of the broad appeal of the game, part of the "popularity" is that it retains some continuity- that it continues to have those compromises. There is something for everyone, or for most people. There is both some modern design, and some continuity with the past.

You can use this with many aspects of the game. It's an incredibly tough thing to design for broad appeal. It's easy to design something when you're only designing for a small group, and don't have to worry about large sales, or broad popularity.

I'm reminded of the McDonald's example I heard of some time ago- the executive chef had some serious training and chops in terms of haute cuisine- top of class from CIA, and so on. But the reason why developing new products is so difficult isn't because they can't make all sorts of tasty things in their test kitchen; it's because the sheer scale that is required means that basic logistics and sourcing is the primary challenge for new menu items- not to mention that any dish has to be either be made with pre-exiting equipment or requires a serious investment, plus anything has to be easily made by that workforce. In short, it's a look at what types of design choices have to be made in different contexts.
This leads back to that massive brand feature D&D has. Instead of pursuing games that don't have D&D legacy items in them, some gamers campaign to have them striped out instead. Its really important that the Kleenex/Coke of the hobby fit their preferences.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I agree that compromise plays a large part of 5e’s initial and continued appeal. A number of rules are in/substantial enough for fans of different play styles to utilize as written, beef up, or ignore entirely, particularly in regards to social and exploration pillars of the game.

I do wish that WotC would take more risks with the system now that they have garnered trust amongst its new core fanbase or go back and address some commonly acknowledge sore spots in the game. I do think that they are taking some risks given how they are removing racial bonuses. And maybe they will make further improvements and polishes as part of the 2024 revision.
 

Apologies if this has been discussed in detail in past threads, but something I've wondered about for years is the prominence of fantasy as a genre in the TTRPG hobby.

I think this directly ties into what we're talking about re: D&D's popularity, but I could be wrong. And maybe there are easy answers I'm just missing. But I can't work it out, because, with very rare exceptions (Game of Thrones, the LotR movies) fantasy barely registers in pop culture, and yet it's the overwhelming default in RPGs.

It feels to me like there's a chicken-and-egg dilemma here.

Is it the case that:

-People who are super into fantasy are drawn to D&D, which has become synonymous with fantasy, feeding its popularity?

-D&D's popularity draws people to fantasy, because D&D is synonymous with the genre?

It could be both at once, obviously, but I wonder if, in addition to what @loverdrive was saying about D&D being the normie term for all TTRPGs, it's also in some ways a universal reference point for fantasy, a genre that otherwise lives mostly in books and video games, and rarely achieves the kind of pop culture ubiquity that sci-fi, for example, often has. Is part of D&D's gravitational pull and brand momentum the fact that it started in the 70's as sort of a safe haven for fantasy fans--the dweebiest of dweebs, long before nerd culture was absorbed into the mainstream, and back when even Trekkies could look down on them in their cultural ghetto--and was just never really challenged as a way of establishing a specific kind of fandom-based identity. It's a less fragile fandom, in a lot of ways, than being a Star Wars fan or even a LotR fan. It's basically saying "I'm a fantasy fan." And time and culture has just cemented that unique relationship, making fantasy fandom and identity inextricable from D&D fandom and identity, to the point that you literally can't separate the two now.

Not a terribly great example, but the Pixar movie Onward is set in a fantasy version of modern day, but it doesn't actually play on fantasy tropes. It plays almost exclusively (IMO) on D&D tropes. There's a damn gelatinous cube scene and everything!

Anyway, that's something that's been bugging me--whether D&D essentially created and sustained the modern version of fantasy fandom, or whether fantasy fandom sustains and grows D&D, for all the reasons above (relative paucity of mainstream fantasy content, historical associations with D&D, etc.).


Or is it much simpler and more mechanical: Fantasy is the most natural fit for TTRPGs, because guns, spaceships, and technology of all kinds make it generally harder for GMs and adventure writers to anticipate what players might do, and most gaming is based on anticipating, railroading, etc (no judgments there, just seems like an obvious baseline to me). Same for full-on superheroes, which, if all things were equal and TTRPGs reflected the larger culture, would completely dwarf all other gaming genres.
 

What are you talking about? 5e has a clear set of social mechanics and a process for play. It's in the DMG, and not as an optional set of rules. It's about setting initial attitude for NPCs, having players interact to discover NPC BIFTs, and then being able to leverage those for advantage on the called for check to resolve an ask or demand. Social conflict resolution mechanics totally and absolutely exist in 5e. They're just ignored by just about everyone that already knows how to play D&D and so doesn't bother with the 5e rules that don't align with how they already know how to run D&D.

It's page 244 of the 5e DMG, by the way, under the heading "Social Interactions." This is in the "Running the Game" chapter.
Yes, there are about 6-7 pages dedicated to the social pillar in the phb/basic rules, and 3-4 pages in the dmg (the latter has sections like "Multiple Checks: Certain situations might call for more than one check, particularly if the adventurers come into the interaction with multiple goals." Helpful!). My point is that maybe the relative lack of detail and integration for some of the "pillars of play" actually helps facilitate engagement.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
This leads back to that massive brand feature D&D has. Instead of pursuing games that don't have D&D legacy items in them, some gamers campaign to have them striped out instead. Its really important that the Kleenex/Coke of the hobby fit their preferences.

Yeah, and it definitely results in awkward arguments.

That, to me, is partly why I find design decisions in 5e so fascinating- I think that they can tell us a lot about what is broadly popular outside of our preferences. Because we know that 5e (and Hasbro) have the resources to survey, playtest, and iterate- but with the goal of making a game that is broadly popular, and not necessarily well-designed.

So looking at the crystal ball, all of the discussions about things like increasing the lethality of 5e, or making it less magical (preferences expressed by people like me) are just complete non-starters. That's not what most people like or want. I would also say that tucking away variant rules like plot points in the DMG without further elaboration or publicity shows that 5e is unlikely to move from the current play loop / narrative authorship model any time soon. And so on.

Personally, I'm guessing that the next edition might have additional rules that allow the table to de-emphasize combat for a more narrative approach, but maybe I'm misreading recent releases.
 

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