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

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.
I'd be happy with playing a five torches deep game that collapses some of those similar archetypes, but I think the detail provided in the phb is enough (obviously) to sustain prolonged interest

dnd-derived video games also help introduce these archetypes even before new players try ttrpgs

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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.
I think that some better guidelines would be appreciated so that the sorts of engagements that are facilitated between participants at the table aren't the sort of heated engagements reminiscent of when people talk politics on Thanksgiving.


As long as i get to be the frog
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.
it may be that simple fantasy concepts resonate with people on many different levels. The knight in shining armor, rescuing the princess, handling good kings, handling bad kings, the warrior, hard work, risk and sacrifice to improve ones place in life, supernatural evil, heroic good making it right. Fantasy has a ton of concepts that fundamentally have meaning to people.


No flips for you!
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.
This feels like special pleading. We're looking at, what, 9-11 pages defining how social interactions work in 5e, some with pretty exacting specificity some being pretty vague. However, when it comes to convincing the shopkeeper to give you a better price while shopping, 5e defines this interaction and mechanizes it pretty effectively. You have a shopkeeper NPC, you assign them BIFTs and an initial attitude towards the player which will be friendly, indifferent, or hostile (and the scope of actions from the NPC is pretty well laid out here). Then the players can engage in conversation with the NPC, and make checks with clear processes to improve attitude or discover BIFTs, which can be spent for advantage on improving attitude or the final CHA check. Then there's the final CHA check to see if the results were obtained, with a DC set by way of current attitude and what's being asked. This is a pretty robust and well mechanized process. It doesn't look at all like the freeform play you were characterizing.

Now take a game like Blades in the Dark, which is often held up as an example of a game that strongly mechanizes social encounters and is quite often decried for it. There are fewer pages of rules for social interactions. Matter of fact, the rules to use are the same ones for any action in the game, with a quick list and blurb for the various social actions (which are pretty wide open and often interchangeable) -- less than what 5e has to define the proficiencies, even. Yet, this gets held up as too much system for social challenges quite often, with distaste for this often stated. 5e has more than this, but gets a pass because you can just ignore it.

There's a double standard at play here.
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Thomas Shey

Because... that's constructive?

When talking about it from my specific POV, absolutely. Whether absolutely anyone wants to do that is, of course, in serious question. :)

I'm going to reject that there is a flat "superior" or "inferior" to RPGs, without regard to goals or intended experiences. Just as there's no objective superior in cuisine, books, or movies. To steal the line from Shakespeare, in its original meaning, there is no accounting for taste.

If you look, that's exactly what I said--that such things almost always require a specific POV. I just know there are a few of what are sometimes called "fantasy heartbreakers" that don't seem to do, well, anything better than other similar games, and I've never seen anyone who really seemed to think they do. And I'm including games that have aims I don't share here (some OSR products for example) where I'm not just reflecting my own views. Unsurprisingly, they aren't exactly games with a big fan base.

If you want to make arguments why 5e is superior than OtherGame at doing X, Y, and Z, for your group that wants to have a game with lots of A and B, but no C, that might make sense. But a general, "5e is better than OtherGame" is devoid of context.

Again, go back and look at what I said, which was making such arguments only makes sense when argued from a specific POV.

Thomas Shey

On what do you base their superiority?
Are we talking about my comment about 5e or the games I reference as having games that seem to do everything others do better? In the latter case it'd require a lot of unpacking with examples that would almost certainly be immensely off-topic for this thread, but in general its games that claim to have the same design ethic as other games, where when compared its difficult to see any benefit to the changes even when viewed from that ethic.

Thomas Shey

Comparing just between 4e and 5e controls for most of the non-system related advantages of d&d. The remaining popularity difference would presumably be driven by system differences - unless there’s some other highly plausible explanation?

Not really. Note there's also some different emphasis on settings between the two--there were also people who responded badly to the Nentir Vale and PoL approach in 4e. I don't consider those part of system, per se, though they influence playstyle at least somewhat.

Thomas Shey

They're not F.A.T.A.L.

Or, honestly, in somewhat less extreme cases, at least possible to play with the material available. There are games where it appears literally impossible to complete character generation with the material provided, and lacking in any indication that the holes are intended to be filled by those playing. There was at least one game I was aware of that apparently failed to actually explain how damage was done in the system (and no, it was not a game with a non-combat focus).

Aiming at games with these sort of writing flaws is, of course, low-hanging fruit, and as I indicated there are more subtle cases where you have two games that are trying to emulate some particular old-school game, and where the difference in changes they've chosen seems, even by their apparent market, to be nonsensical. In some cases this may simply misaimed design (in other words, the apparent target market is not actually the intended one), but I'm pretty comfortable describing misaimed design as being worse than games that know what they're trying for and know how to tell you that, too.

Thomas Shey

A related thing, perceived ease of modification. In, say, videogames, when one thinks "oh my God I love Call of Duty so much, what if it was like Star Wars, with blasters and stuff?", modifying the game to be Star Wars is not really an option. You can do that, sure, but for an average gamer, it's an insurmountable task — it's obviously easier to look for a Star Wars first-person shooter that it is to mod stormtroopers into Call of Duty.

IN TTRPGs, you don't need to know how to code, or make 3d models or levels or sound design. You just need to know how to write. The perceived amount of effort required to homebrew Star Wars D&D is, at least, comparable to the perceived amount of effort required to learn a new system.

Eh. I know you used "perceived" in this, but I think there are many, many systems where if you try to do that without having a clear idea of how the mechanics fit together you're going to get pretty bad outcomes. While not perhaps as severe as doing computer mods, its not a trivial skill.

Post AD&D 1E complexity of the game also is a factor — after studying 300+ page behemoth of a rulebook for your first game, it's reasonable to assume that other games are just as damn heavy.

The cultural significance. There's no "normie" word for videogames. Like, an average person who is even just vaguely interested in vidya ain't gonna call them all "Call of Duty". Call of Duty, however big, way damn bigger than D&D will ever be, is still a videogame.

There's a "normie" word for TTRPGs — it's "D&D". Dungeons and Dragons is the tabletop roleplaying game.

Well, that's got more to do with the fact that for many of them, other RPGs effectively don't exist. They don't often even know there are such things.
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Thomas Shey

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.

Even then, the explosive growth of D&D would have made it almost insurmountable to displace in fantasy at least, and there's always the question if any other genre could have competed with it at all (certainly neither SF nor supers ever did).

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