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

Honestly, the disparity between short and long rest classes is one of those design decisions in 5e that has me scratching my head. There are plenty of things in the game that I might not like, but do understand; but that one seems to serve no purpose other than to create problems.

I really wonder what kind of game 5e was 'supposed' to be. I know opinion here leans towards trad, and I can see that, but you'd think that sort of game would be poorly served by the balance problems that occur with the attrition-based, short rest/long rest system they went with. On the other hand, the playtests had some honest-to-God 'old school' exploration procedures, and even a version of Keep on the Borderlands, but that all got ripped out in favour of DM fiat and linear adventures.

Maybe if I'd actually played any 3rd Edition (or any official adventures for second), I'd see more of a family resemblance.
Yeah, I don't know what the reasoning was with not including the exploration stuff, they talked about it as a 'pillar' during the much-vaunted design process, but then just basically ignored it. AFAICT 5e is aimed squarely at reproducing 2e's game play. 2e did the same thing, it took 1e and ripped out all the exploration stuff, made it much harder to do things like create magic items, and then subverted the old GP for XP mode of advancement.

I guess you could say that the play of 2e is well-known to a lot of older players, and is the last TSR version of D&D, the last one that is really seriously mechanically a child of Gary's own handiwork. So, evoking it may have been a sort of mandate, a way of insuring fan loyalty. I mean, 5e REALLY is sort of 2e reborn in a more robust set of rules. That also explains the whole resource thing, its not intended to be a clean sheet design of a resource system, it is exactly delivering all the quirks and foibles of good old vancian wizards and TSR fighters, though with a reasonably decent job of filing off some of the rough edges. Certainly a 5e fighter is a bit less vanilla than core 2e ones, though once you add available kits and such they seem fairly comparable (sort of depends on which 2e books you would consider reasonably usable, like NOT 'weapons and tactics', lol).
 

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pemerton

Legend
Thanks @hawkeyefan, @Ovinomancer, @Malmuria and @Manbearcat for your reflections in response to my post.

My own experiences with "situation first" AD&D (back in the days of yore) are what make me think that it must in some sense be feasible in 5e - are the differences that great? (Ovinomancer makes the strongest case that they are) - but I agree that compared to a gold standard like Burning Wheel it's all a bit shaky. @hawkeyefan's account of what he's done make sense to me. And I think the idea of urban environments - or at least socially rich environments - as better suited to this are correct. Also that it makes more sense at lower levels. (I think @Fenris-77 said that - I agree.)

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.
Yes and no.

There's something to be said for working with what you know. For a vanilla narrativist system with vibrantly-painted characters and a basic stat-and-skill system, 5e D&D seems as workable as AD&D. So if someone were inclined to drift it in a more "situation first" direction, or was interested in "story now" but didn't want to learn a new suite of mechanic, I think it makes sense to talk about how 5e D&D might be used in such a fashion.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I wonder if there are types of campaigns or even types of individual sessions that might lend themselves more to this approach. For example, urban campaigns where combat is deemphasized (because of the context of the city). The problem of how to "crawl" a city is complex enough that it can lead to a more scene-based approach. For example, this product is interesting in providing encounters for PCs as they wander through the city. Ostensibly, they have a destination in mind (as related in the Waterdeep AP), but I can imagine a session that just introduces an encounter, keeping in mind the fronts/factions at play in the city, and letting things snowball from there. (This take is somewhat inspired by this podcast episode).

But, dnd being games not one game, it might be the case that style of play various from session to session, or even within a session, and so things become blurred.
Using prepped encounters that aren't built around the PC's stated drives and motivations is kinda opposite of what a story now approach would be doing.

I don't think there's a kind of campaign or session, but you can use story now techniques in certain cases -- like the skill challenge example I posted. Even there, the structure is something you have to add to 5e, because 5e doesn't support skill challenges of any kind out of the box.
 

Thanks @hawkeyefan, @Ovinomancer, @Malmuria and @Manbearcat for your reflections in response to my post.

My own experiences with "situation first" AD&D (back in the days of yore) are what make me think that it must in some sense be feasible in 5e - are the differences that great? (Ovinomancer makes the strongest case that they are) - but I agree that compared to a gold standard like Burning Wheel it's all a bit shaky. @hawkeyefan's account of what he's done make sense to me. And I think the idea of urban environments - or at least socially rich environments - as better suited to this are correct. Also that it makes more sense at lower levels. (I think @Fenris-77 said that - I agree.)

Yes and no.

There's something to be said for working with what you know. For a vanilla narrativist system with vibrantly-painted characters and a basic stat-and-skill system, 5e D&D seems as workable as AD&D. So if someone were inclined to drift it in a more "situation first" direction, or was interested in "story now" but didn't want to learn a new suite of mechanic, I think it makes sense to talk about how 5e D&D might be used in such a fashion.
But can you ever really get good results? I don't think so, personally. I mean, I've PLAYED in 5e campaigns twice that were run by a GM who is fully versed in and capable of running story games. It STILL wasn't much of a story game. Nobody knows what their character can DO, that's the main problem. I have stats, but they are essentially just hints. Even if the GM is operating in totally good faith, I still don't know how situations could play out, and there's no driving principles or deep nested 'onion structure' of process and principles such as exists in a PbtA-based game.

WORSE there's no real process, outside of the most basic elements of combat, so I don't know what the VALUE of any action is. I can say I want to do X but I have only my notion of what the unrevealed story might be and what the GM's judgment of how to deploy checks is to gauge the impact of my character's actions. I mean, there's genre logic, right? But in the D&D milieu that seems pretty weak, unless its a pretty cut-and-dried situation. Ironically 5e doesn't even cater to those (IE dungeon crawling exploration stuff) very well!

I mean, a lot of the time it kind of worked, but things kind of 'derailed' quite often. Then we would have to go back out of character and negotiate what everyone meant and how their intentions mapped onto what was happening in a very explicit way. And then something like the pressures on the GM to manage situations to make the resource game work out come along and meh, it isn't that pretty.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
But can you ever really get good results? I don't think so, personally. I mean, I've PLAYED in 5e campaigns twice that were run by a GM who is fully versed in and capable of running story games. It STILL wasn't much of a story game. Nobody knows what their character can DO, that's the main problem. I have stats, but they are essentially just hints. Even if the GM is operating in totally good faith, I still don't know how situations could play out, and there's no driving principles or deep nested 'onion structure' of process and principles such as exists in a PbtA-based game.

WORSE there's no real process, outside of the most basic elements of combat, so I don't know what the VALUE of any action is. I can say I want to do X but I have only my notion of what the unrevealed story might be and what the GM's judgment of how to deploy checks is to gauge the impact of my character's actions. I mean, there's genre logic, right? But in the D&D milieu that seems pretty weak, unless its a pretty cut-and-dried situation. Ironically 5e doesn't even cater to those (IE dungeon crawling exploration stuff) very well!

I mean, a lot of the time it kind of worked, but things kind of 'derailed' quite often. Then we would have to go back out of character and negotiate what everyone meant and how their intentions mapped onto what was happening in a very explicit way. And then something like the pressures on the GM to manage situations to make the resource game work out come along and meh, it isn't that pretty.
Yup. This describes the general problem. You have to import structure, either like introducing formal frameworks like skill challenges or by establishing how DCs will be set transparently (like @loverdrive's suggestion that a 17+ is a success, 12+ success with complication (or whatever the numbers were)). These are modifications to the 5e rules, though. Just using the system as is it fights against story now.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Even traditional games that are well suited to scene based play like Exalted Third Edition, Legend of the Five Rings Fifth Edition, or Pathfinder Second Edition benefit more from an approach like Ron Edwards' accounts of his own Champions games. Basically you prep for the session based on player character motivations, but inside the session you pretty much run it like a sandbox game. These games have abilities that assume a much richer view of the situation than most scene framed games expect. I think it behooves GMs to work towards that somewhat.
 

Yup. This describes the general problem. You have to import structure, either like introducing formal frameworks like skill challenges or by establishing how DCs will be set transparently (like @loverdrive's suggestion that a 17+ is a success, 12+ success with complication (or whatever the numbers were)). These are modifications to the 5e rules, though. Just using the system as is it fights against story now.
Right, but I would say that even @loverdrive's suggestion isn't going to get you all the way there. I mean, its going to tend to result in a more consistent application, perhaps. I guess really there are a couple ways to go here. One is in the DW/PbtA direction where you simply stop modeling 'the world' AT ALL (PbtA doesn't, not even a little bit). Tossing dice in a PbtA game is a way of bringing randomness into the PLOT! The bonuses you can get for various things "hold" and such, are simply exercises in players directing the game. 4e OTOH is the other direction, which is one where the mechanics still relate to the game world and arbitrating it, but you have that structured system that tells you what each check is 'worth'.

So, the problem with 5e in the PbtA-like approach is then what about combat? I mean, I used a 4e-like approach in HoML, because I was having fun getting engaged with tactically interesting story play, and just wanted to do that. So, combat is coherent with the rest of the design, checks actually DO have some relation to fiction, its just 'meta' enough to let you tell the story around it/with it that you want, or at least for the players to say "this is interesting, I try this interpretation of things!" That always gets me in @pemerton's examples of play in 4e, someone is always doing some crazy thing combining 4 different game elements and drawing on keywords and whatnot to concoct how the world might work to bring about their crazy plan, or not lets roll dice and find out... lol.

The DW and 4e end results are pretty similar, but they definitely take different paths. Not sure how 5e goes down the DW-like path.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Ovinomancer, @AbdulAlhazred

I can absolutely follow your posts and understand your reasoning. All I can say in response is that I think you're getting close to treating the gold standard of a system like BW or AW as the floor!

In AD&D played vanilla narrativist, it's closer to AW than BW in the following sense: there's less of a sense of "scene stakes" and more of a sense of the "local" (for lack of a better word) stakes of a particular check. (This also fits with there being nothing like a skill challenge.)

But the GM can set a difficulty for checks, and honour success. And there can be a practice of allowing retries on a miss of (say) 4 or less (on d20), with the cost of a retry being some sort of fictional escalation like the passage of time or having to increase the offer to a NPC or similar.

That's a bit different from the approach that @Campbell has described. It can be done in AD&D. I can see that 5e has more moving parts. It might work better in 5e for a rogue, a fighter and a warlock than (say) a paladin and two full casters.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
Yup. This describes the general problem. You have to import structure, either like introducing formal frameworks like skill challenges or by establishing how DCs will be set transparently (like @loverdrive's suggestion that a 17+ is a success, 12+ success with complication (or whatever the numbers were)). These are modifications to the 5e rules, though. Just using the system as is it fights against story now.
I don't think it makes D&D 5E a story now game, and the result table wasn't an attempt to do so. I used PbtA-like static DCs because I can't be bothered to assign DC for each and every task.

I don't think there is a way to turn 5E into a story now game without tearing it down and rebuilding it anew.
 

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