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

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I love getting accused of trying to push bespoke indie games or non-traditional games. Have you seen my posting history? Here is my list of fairly traditional games that I have lavished over (e.g., True 20) and here are the ones that I still play and recommend (e.g., Fantasy/Modern AGE, Cypher, 5e D&D, ICRPG, SotDL, Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures, Black Hack, etc.) as well as others that I want to play (e.g., Ryuutama, Pathfinder 2, The One Ring 2e, etc.). How are people getting the impression that I only play more narrative-focused indie games? And I'm still not loving 5e in the correct way?
Hmm. Yeah, it's weird. I've been playing and loving D&D for, let me count, 35 years. Pretty much continuously. Every edition (although only a little 4th, I'll admit). But somehow that fact that I also play FitD and PbtA games (among others) or, worse, think that those playstyles can profitably inform D&D play, really seems to be the only thing some people see. Wacky. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
 

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Personally I don't really think people on this board are hostile to criticism of 5e on these boards. Loads of people criticize the game without getting raked over the coals. Many fans of the game still get caught in the crossfire for liking it for the wrong reasons.

What I have personally experienced is that these boards are firmly entrenched in the playstyle advocated by the folks at White Wolf magazine and people like John Wick. Even if you are fan of 5e if you are not a fan of GM as Storyteller no matter how respectful you are you are in the outgroup. You can enjoy pretty much every other way under the sun to enjoy playing roleplaying games (as I pretty much do). You can like 5e or not like 5e. If you acknowledge other ways of playing the game, view the game as a game, or suggest that there are other ways to enjoy the unfolding narrative of the game (even if you ground it as personal to you) you are in the out group.

Look at what happened in the recent Apocalypse World thread on these boards. The game was basically raked over the coals for not being congruent with traditional GM as Storyteller presenting a mystery players are expected to work together to solve play. Attempts to clarify that the game handles mysteries just fine, but not GM defined ones players are duty bound to solve only resulted in more consternation.
I agree that people are generally open to good faith criticism of 5e on these boards (and that criticism is generally actually much less severe than in dedicated 5e spaces.). I also agree that there are a variety of ways to play 5e. In fact, that is what people are trying to reference when they say there is a "spectrum" of 5e play (between sandbox and railroad, for example)...they are trying to say, in effect, that there are lots of ways to play this game. It's interesting because I interpreted the ensuing discussion in the other thread differently from you. Namely, that discussion become a (somewhat tedious) debate about the word "spectrum." The seeming effect was that a bright contrast was made between 5e and games like AW, Burning Wheel, and others, but at the cost of collapsing or minimizing the range or spectrum of play available within 5e. More practically, I perceived that the conversation had fewer participants as people dropped out, not interested in following lengthy discussions about a single word. So if the goal of communication is to expose people familiar with 5e to a wider array of gaming styles, the focus on categories and the refinement of terms can actually be counterproductive, even if that same terminology can be helpful to people already familiar with a variety of games and approaches.

In this and other threads there has even been hostility towards what I call Critical Role kids - people my age and younger who are fans of Critical Role and expect a deeply collaborative play experience. The GM Authority thread in particular seemed to want to not acknowledge that play culture.
Totally agree; this was what I was trying to reference in that thread. Aside from your responses, I'm not sure the discussion on that point was very open to thinking of that as a distinct play culture, much less one that has emergent, hybrid properties.

 

pemerton

Legend
The seeming effect was that a bright contrast was made between 5e and games like AW, Burning Wheel, and others
I don't agree. I've run AD&D quite successfully using shared backstory authority (especially in PC build, but also the GM taking suggestions from players on the way through) and GM authority over situation/scene-framing.

I don't see why 5e D&D couldn't be run the same way if a group wanted to do so.
I don't see the thread the same way you do. The self-quote is only one of many posts by me in that thread, and others, making the same point.

collapsing or minimizing the range or spectrum of play available within 5e.
My own feeling is different. It seems similar to @Campbell's although coming from a different place.

To me it feels that attempts to suggest that certain approaches are possible elements within the variety of play available within 5e - eg approaches that are "situation first" rather than "backstory first"; or approaches which treat the GM as constrained by rules and principles in their exercise of their authority over the game's fiction - are met with quite a degree of opposition. And that opposition seems to come primarily from posters who present as strong 5e advocates.
 

I don't see the thread the same way you do. The self-quote is only one of many posts by me in that thread, and others, making the same point.


My own feeling is different. It seems similar to @Campbell's although coming from a different place.

To me it feels that attempts to suggest that certain approaches are possible elements within the variety of play available within 5e - eg approaches that are "situation first" rather than "backstory first"; or approaches which treat the GM as constrained by rules and principles in their exercise of their authority over the game's fiction - are met with quite a degree of opposition. And that opposition seems to come primarily from posters who present as strong 5e advocates.
I think some people, myself included, were expressing the sentiment that the difference between a sandbox and a railroad was significant, especially in regards to player agency, and thus were opposed to that distinction and play experience being overwritten by a new set of categories that took priority. Actually it's surprising, because that whole discussion didn't strike me as 5e advocacy at all.

Regardless, my main takeaway from @Campbell 's post above is that I ought to be mindful, as much as possible, of the way that others are experiencing the same conversation differently, and possibly in ways that are exclusionary.
 

Haiku Elvis

Explorer
To see if @Aldarc has a point.
Instead of “Force” we have decided to use the term “Rainbows” instead. Likewise “railroading” will be renamed to “vacationing.”

I think that a thread about language used to discribe how we play, use, critique rpgs has often been reduced to discussing individual style issues such as the use of rainbows and vacationing and their effects on players fun says a lot about the underlying vagueness of how to discribe what these TTRPGs that we enjoy actually are, mean, and how should be used that fuels and feeds the ever more fluffy series of big hugs and jovial banter that this or related threads descend into. Whether it's the definition of vacationing or whether the use of childrens entertainment to hide the rainbows from players can impact a player's fun if the players are unaware of the rainbows in the first place. Nevermind, if someone suggests something like using pretty unicorns in a game which is going to get some members of the community so fluffy they are likely to suggest the commenter is lined up against the wall and told they are pretty.

In fact jovial banter leading to genuine fluffyness is to be the expected outcome where so much lies undefined. Which I believe was one of the points of the OP. And tolerance, understanding and listening to create a truely shared method of descibing our experiences are the only solutions.

Except for those people with the pretty unicorns. Screw those guys!
 
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I'm all about outcomes, play it and see what it does. Look at design patterns and understand how they affect that. That's theory, useful theory. That's how I see it. No, it isn't very useful to spend tons of time arguing about 'jargon', but at the same time, a lot of it distills truths that have emerged from previous analytical efforts. It is true that a too-rigid sticking to an existing analytical paradigm without understanding its basic assumptions can be limiting. OTOH its pretty limiting to start at 0 too, certainly ambitious....
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
At the end of day I just want to talk about the things I actually want to talk about without being required to basically write a novel (even though I sometimes do anyway). Show me the language to use that doesn't require me to talk about worlds (loving, breathing, or otherwise), plot hooks, sandboxes, adventures or preplanned stories. Provide me with some language that actually gets to what's happening at the table between players of a game and I'll gladly use it.

Whatever the verbiage is it will still be contentious because it's not the verbiage that's really contentious. It's playing games as games, focusing deeply on character, or not treating the game's setting as a thing that has an independent existence that is contentious. It's expecting game mechanics to have teeth (a demonstrable impact) that is contentious. It's designing the setting around the players' characters that is contentious.

I think the vast majority of the time people know exactly what most of the folks here on this board are talking about. They just do not like the actual content. Language becomes a proxy war because actually talking about this contentious stuff upsets most gamers sense of social harmony.
 

pemerton

Legend
Whatever the verbiage is it will still be contentious because it's not the verbiage that's really contentious. It's playing games as games, focusing deeply on character, or not treating the game's setting as a thing that has an independent existence that is contentious. It's expecting game mechanics to have teeth (a demonstrable impact) that is contentious. It's designing the setting around the players' characters that is contentious.
I think that I agree. For me, this was really brought out in the discussions of 4e D&D. But as was mentioned upthread, I think by you, we see it in other places too: eg the AW thread. I'm also reminded of a thread a while ago now where I asked What is Worldbuilding For?

Articulating the sorts of approaches to play that you describe often seems to be treated as "improper" or even "insulting" per se. As when, in the other thread, I posted that I think 5e D&D could be approached in such a fashion. No one seemed very interested in discussing further how that might be done. But it did seem to be considered overly forward to even make the suggestion!
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think that I agree. For me, this was really brought out in the discussions of 4e D&D. But as was mentioned upthread, I think by you, we see it in other places too: eg the AW thread. I'm also reminded of a thread a while ago now where I asked What is Worldbuilding For?

Articulating the sorts of approaches to play that you describe often seems to be treated as "improper" or even "insulting" per se. As when, in the other thread, I posted that I think 5e D&D could be approached in such a fashion. No one seemed very interested in discussing further how that might be done. But it did seem to be considered overly forward to even make the suggestion!
I don't recall others speaking to it, but I did say that I don't think that 5e supports that kind of play. I don't think it forward to suggest it, I merely think that the 5e ruleset requires too much GM intervention to make it work that any attempt to actually play it more in a story now approach isn't possible. With some fairly extensive hacks, sure, but you're going to need to climb into the system for that and either rebuild some things or just take entire categories of play off the table. For example, 5e has quite a lot of rules for combat, but they are not encounter balanced at all. This effectively requires daily pacing if you want the combat game to have teeth, or overloading of the encounters which comes with other issues (very tippy). This kinda takes serious engagement with the combat engine off the table for situation framing without concern for pacing. It's the need to be concerned about pacing that kills the idea in my mind. And, if I'm taking the combat engine offline or downgrading it, I'm seriously wondering why we aren't just playing a different game!

But, no, not forward. No purity being protected here. I just think the system doesn't have the tools to do it close to well (too many GM calls) and does have tools that actively fight against it.
 

I don't recall others speaking to it, but I did say that I don't think that 5e supports that kind of play. I don't think it forward to suggest it, I merely think that the 5e ruleset requires too much GM intervention to make it work that any attempt to actually play it more in a story now approach isn't possible. With some fairly extensive hacks, sure, but you're going to need to climb into the system for that and either rebuild some things or just take entire categories of play off the table. For example, 5e has quite a lot of rules for combat, but they are not encounter balanced at all. This effectively requires daily pacing if you want the combat game to have teeth, or overloading of the encounters which comes with other issues (very tippy). This kinda takes serious engagement with the combat engine off the table for situation framing without concern for pacing. It's the need to be concerned about pacing that kills the idea in my mind. And, if I'm taking the combat engine offline or downgrading it, I'm seriously wondering why we aren't just playing a different game!

But, no, not forward. No purity being protected here. I just think the system doesn't have the tools to do it close to well (too many GM calls) and does have tools that actively fight against it.

This post feels eerily similar to one of my early posts in the 5e concept test back in late ‘12 or perhaps ‘13!

The thrust of that post was that balancing a game around the zoomed out Adventuring Day rather than the site of the Encounter was begging for a fraught combat engine where (a) GM intervention and exceptional cognitive load was going to be a profound feature of play (given the intricate features of modern D&D combat), (b) therefore play would progressively (as levels piled and Long Rest classes through-put and spike capability on recharge became increasingly significant) feature an arms race over the Long Rest recharge (that GMs who wish to control pacing can trivially do at their discretion by deploying offscreen assets or unrevealed backstory), (c) and therefore it’s going to pose problems to surmount (via more GM intervention) for both Story Now play (where everyone, including the GM, can play aggressively, just let things unfold, and can play to find out what happens) and also challenge-based Gamist play (where the engine does its work seemlessly and predictably, for the GM, at the encounter-level…without intervention…eg x difficulty is reliably x difficulty fight-in and fight-out…so both sides can play accelerator to the floor and feel good with the competitive integrity of play).

And my second critique was that class resource scheduling not being unified is going to obviously exacerbate this (requiring more GM intervention in tailoring, pacing, and the temptation of fudging…and increased related cognitive burden on the GM). But that ship had set sail so that critique was just an aside.

EDIT - As you might imagine, that offering was not received well back then!
 
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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think the attrition model in 5e is pretty much uniquely unsuited to scene based play, even the more linear sort used by most Vampire GMs. It absolutely can be done, but if you care about reaching the point where the game's systems feel tense you absolutely have to orchestrate it or at the very least design scenarios to it. My personal experience is that even Pathfinder First Edition (if you ban fighters or just let natural selection take its course) handles scene based play somewhat better because you can still make single fight days feel pretty damn intense.

Of course a lot of people will not see the issue because reaching the system's tension points is not something they particularly care about or even really desire. A lot of 5e play does not even come close to the tension point built into the game pretty much ever. That's part of the appeal for some people. I have seen a fair number of 5e players try games like Pathfinder Second Edition, Exalted Third Edition, or L5R Fifth Edition with me and not enjoy the scene based play specifically because of the level of tension in the encounters.

That's fine by the way guys. Not everyone is into the sort of uncertainty I am.
 

I feel like 5e could be GMed with a more story now approach. I don't think it's strongly suited for it. I think the adventuring day "budget" and the short rest/long rest recharges are where the strongest opposition would be.

But I don't think it's something that can't be done. I feel like I've GMed with this general goal in mind in a campaign my group was playing that went on hold at the start of the pandemic. I'm sure if I could look back over a transcript of play, there would be points that clearly failed the sniff test, but I don't think it might be as many as would be typical in 5e.

I think if the GM and the players are approaching play with this mindset, then it's possible.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I feel like 5e could be GMed with a more story now approach. I don't think it's strongly suited for it. I think the adventuring day "budget" and the short rest/long rest recharges are where the strongest opposition would be.

But I don't think it's something that can't be done. I feel like I've GMed with this general goal in mind in a campaign my group was playing that went on hold at the start of the pandemic. I'm sure if I could look back over a transcript of play, there would be points that clearly failed the sniff test, but I don't think it might be as many as would be typical in 5e.

I think if the GM and the players are approaching play with this mindset, then it's possible.
I think another important part of this is the actual make-up of the party. The amount of magic and the potentially competing rest mechanics change the picture a lot. I also think this is much more doable at lower adventuring tiers when the party as a whole has less on-tap resources.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I feel like 5e could be GMed with a more story now approach. I don't think it's strongly suited for it. I think the adventuring day "budget" and the short rest/long rest recharges are where the strongest opposition would be.

But I don't think it's something that can't be done. I feel like I've GMed with this general goal in mind in a campaign my group was playing that went on hold at the start of the pandemic. I'm sure if I could look back over a transcript of play, there would be points that clearly failed the sniff test, but I don't think it might be as many as would be typical in 5e.

I think if the GM and the players are approaching play with this mindset, then it's possible.
"More" is doing work here, and in saying you could do it "more" story now, I don't think I could disagree. There are places you can do it "more," but you can't just run it story now. Not without serious revisions. I mean, I've absolutely used skill challenge frameworks that were situation-framed and they work. But, overall, it's still very GM directed, and has to be, if you aren't ignoring large parts of the system in play.
 

A lot of 5e play does not even come close to the tension point built into the game pretty much ever.

I'm currently playing in a game and this is what I'm finding to be true, due to a combination of reasons. There are five players, and so five characters, which just spreads out all the resource management that much further. Short rests have been easy to come by, and two of the PCs are monks, so they get to use their Ki freely without ever having to strongly consider conservation for later use. These kinds of things, combined with the generally forgiving nature of 5e (death saves, full HP restore on long rest, etc.), just mean that any actual moments of tension aren't all that strong. Sure, there may be concern that a character will drop to 0 hp....but if that happens, there's very little actual worry that he'll die.

I've been playing my character in a pretty reckless manner just to see if I can get him killed. Not actively seeking death, but doing nothing much to actively prevent it.

I don't really see it happening, at least not unless things change a bit. He's also an archer, so he tends to be out of a lot of immediate danger compared to other characters. There have been moments where he's gotten in danger and it feels a bit tense....but as I said, it's minimally so.

This isn't a complaint about the game overall, to be honest....I'm enjoying it just fine. There are moments of actual tension, but they're more story based, or about NPCs or other elements that may be at risk rather than the PCs.
 

"More" is doing work here, and in saying you could do it "more" story now, I don't think I could disagree. There are places you can do it "more," but you can't just run it story now. Not without serious revisions. I mean, I've absolutely used skill challenge frameworks that were situation-framed and they work. But, overall, it's still very GM directed, and has to be, if you aren't ignoring large parts of the system in play.

Oh, sure....I don't know if I'd say running it in a pure story now mode is even possible. But I think if you're approaching with that mindset, you can play that way.

Skill challenge type scenarios are a good part of it. I've used clocks a lot just because they're simple to deploy. That's not anything that's really described in the rules, but I don't think that's a major revision.

Fronts rather than detailed map/key type locations. Tweaks to the way certain skills work, especially more "knowledge" based ones. Asking questions, building on answers. These all can help do a lot of the work.

I think the basic design and the way characters are constructed is the challenge. But a lot of that can also be a problem if you run 5e as written if you're not creating the proper number/difficulty of challenges to put pressure on the PCs' resources. But that can be handled through the use of multiple scenes/obstacles. Again, it's not a perfect match in this regard, but I don't see it as impossible so much as a bit of a challenge.
 

gorice

Explorer
While we're putting the boot into 5e, I want to mention that I've found it very unsuitable for traditional dungeon-delving, map-and-key play, as well. Even at 1st level, PCs have access to insane amounts of utility through cantrips, which makes it very difficult (but not impossible) to provide challenges that aren't just monsters and certian kinds of traps. And combat encounters are a different problem: no chase rules, attrition-based balance combined with tactical-based play and no system for rapid combat resolution... It's either a drawn-out mess, an underwhelming speed bump, or a 'tippy' set of tough battles. All of this is fixable with houserules and/or fiat, but that sort of defeats the purpose.

I actually think 5e is much better suited to scene-based play, so long as you substitute something like giffyglyph's 4e-inspired monster maker for the normal monster & encounter rules.
 

Aldarc

Legend
The question of whether Game A could be run with Playstyle X seems a bit off. I think the more fundamental question is whether running Game A with Playstyle X actually plays to the strengths of Game A in a way that does justice to the game experience for everyone involved.

While we're putting the boot into 5e, I want to mention that I've found it very unsuitable for traditional dungeon-delving, map-and-key play, as well. Even at 1st level, PCs have access to insane amounts of utility through cantrips, which makes it very difficult (but not impossible) to provide challenges that aren't just monsters and certian kinds of traps. And combat encounters are a different problem: no chase rules, attrition-based balance combined with tactical-based play and no system for rapid combat resolution... It's either a drawn-out mess, an underwhelming speed bump, or a 'tippy' set of tough battles. All of this is fixable with houserules and/or fiat, but that sort of defeats the purpose.

I actually think 5e is much better suited to scene-based play, so long as you substitute something like giffyglyph's 4e-inspired monster maker for the normal monster & encounter rules.
I think that's why some see 5e as being more in the spirit of 2e-style D&D (and Dragonlance) than anything else.
 

gorice

Explorer
The question of whether Game A could be run with Playstyle X seems a bit off. I think the more fundamental question is whether running Game A with Playstyle X actually plays to the strengths of Game A in a way that does justice to the game experience for everyone involved.


I think that's why some see 5e as being more in the spirit of 2e-style D&D (and Dragonlance) than anything else.
My memories of 2e are pretty hazy. Do you mean 'trad', follow-the-adventure-path kind of play?
 


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