D&D General Rules, Rules, Rules: Thoughts on the Past, Present, and Future of D&D

Oofta

Legend
You repeatedly caricature the opposition, and wonder why these threads get so contentious.

Maybe if you allowed for the possibility of something other than "a facade of control on the player's part," a productive discussion could occur, rather than a contest to see who can optimize their Sling Mud rolls.

Who, me, sarcastic about the exact same topic brought up the umpteenth time? I apologize that it came across as overly harsh but we're just not going to agree.

HIDDEN [CONDITION]
While you are Hidden, you experience the
following effects:
Concealed. You aren’t affected by any effect that
requires its target to be seen
Surprise. If you are Hidden when you roll
Initiative, you have Advantage on the roll.
Attacks Affected. Attack Rolls against you have
Disadvantage, and your Attack Rolls have
Advantage.
Ending the Condition. The Condition ends on
you immediately after any of the following
occurrences: you make a sound louder than a
whisper, an enemy finds you, you make an
Attack Roll, you cast a Spell with a verbal
component, or you aren’t Heavily Obscured or
behind any Cover.
HIDE [ACTION]
With the Hide Action, you try to conceal yourself.
To do so, you must make a DC 15 Dexterity
Check (Stealth) while you’re Heavily Obscured or
behind Three-Quarters Cover or Total Cover, and
you must be out of any visible enemy’s line of
sight; if you can see a creature, you can discern
whether it can see you.
On a successful check, you are Hidden. Make
note of your check’s total, which becomes the DC
for a creature to find you with a Wisdom Check
(Perception).

In any case I can summarize again. There are bad DMs. No amount of rules will make a bad DM any better. If a DM doesn't want anyone to hide ever there will simply be no options to hide. Meanwhile more rules frequently makes it more difficult for good DMs because it takes away their freedom to tell engaging stories.

While the wording is a bit confusing, my understanding is that you can take the hide action DC 15 Dex to become hidden which is now a condition. So what happens if one guard A could see you soon because they're walking your way but guard B doesn't have a chance to see you? Perhaps you can take guard A out or cast silence before they can raise the alarm. But with the new rules it doesn't matter because hidden is a condition: once guard A sees you, you lose the condition whether or not they have a chance to raise the alarm.

There will always be mother may I issue because the DM is the one establishing the environment. More rules have never improved bad DMs. Feel free to disagree.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In any case I can summarize again. There are bad DMs. No amount of rules will make a bad DM any better. If a DM doesn't want anyone to hide ever there will simply be no options to hide. Meanwhile more rules frequently makes it more difficult for good DMs because it takes away their freedom to tell engaging stories.

While the wording is a bit confusing, my understanding is that you can take the hide action DC 15 Dex to become hidden which is now a condition. So what happens if one guard A could see you soon because they're walking your way but guard B doesn't have a chance to see you? Perhaps you can take guard A out or cast silence before they can raise the alarm. But with the new rules it doesn't matter because hidden is a condition: once guard A sees you, you lose the condition whether or not they have a chance to raise the alarm.

There will always be mother may I issue because the DM is the one establishing the environment. More rules have never improved bad DMs. Feel free to disagree.
More to the point, IME more rules - and the accompanying attitude of rules-uber-alles - can sometimes turn a good DM into a bad one if the DM insists on following those rules to a T even though doing so makes no sense in the fiction.

My go-to example is that two allies in a combat can't move together from point A to point B, as WotC-era rules state a) a character can only move on its turn and b) turns cannot be simultaneous. Pre-WotC D&D, however, had no problem with this; as simultaniety of actions was accepted and allowed.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:

@Oofta and @EzekielRaiden - it is barely page two, and already someone has to come in here and tell you to get out of each other's faces?

If you cannot be kind to each other, maybe stop speaking, before you say something you'll regret.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Gygax (sometimes, he isn't easy to pin down) wanted AD&D to be the standardized game, so all players would be playing the same way.
Where do you get that from? Everything I've seen from his thread quotes to the 1e books themselves indicates that he wanted DMs to run the game how they wanted and the rules be damned if they get in the way.
 

More to the point, IME more rules - and the accompanying attitude of rules-uber-alles - can sometimes turn a good DM into a bad one if the DM insists on following those rules to a T even though doing so makes no sense in the fiction.

My go-to example is that two allies in a combat can't move together from point A to point B, as WotC-era rules state a) a character can only move on its turn and b) turns cannot be simultaneous. Pre-WotC D&D, however, had no problem with this; as simultaniety of actions was accepted and allowed.
I don't understand how that would be beneficial. What is gained by allowing this?
 

Oofta

Legend
More to the point, IME more rules - and the accompanying attitude of rules-uber-alles - can sometimes turn a good DM into a bad one if the DM insists on following those rules to a T even though doing so makes no sense in the fiction.

My go-to example is that two allies in a combat can't move together from point A to point B, as WotC-era rules state a) a character can only move on its turn and b) turns cannot be simultaneous. Pre-WotC D&D, however, had no problem with this; as simultaniety of actions was accepted and allowed.

Yeah, I gave my example of hiding above. Guard A can see you and since hidden is now a condition, it doesn't matter if guard A can warn his buddy or not - according to a strict reading of the rules every enemy in the vicinity now knows.

I don't want D&D to be a board game with "I win" buttons if the PC is specialize in something, whether that's hiding or being persuasive. In addition the more you lock down the rules the more people will think they are 100% limited to the rules and will never attempt anything outside the lines. If someone comes up with a cool idea I may not always let it happen. Sometimes it's just cool and inventive and we go with it, other times it's "You can't do that but you can ...". The game loses something when you lose that.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't understand how that would be beneficial. What is gained by allowing this?
Seriously?

A character covering a wounded companion with a shield while they both move from one point of safety to another?

Two characters joining hands to run through an area of fog or darkness and not lose each other en route?

Two (or more!) characters attempting to maintain a shield wall while charging or advancing - or retreating?

These aren't beneficial?

And that's just movement. Add in other aspects of combat and simultaniety allows two foes to take each other out, an age-old trope which currently cannot happen: IMO a glaring flaw. It also adds greatly to the fog-of-war side of things, where stuff is happening fast and not everybody can react in time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Where do you get that from? Everything I've seen from his thread quotes to the 1e books themselves indicates that he wanted DMs to run the game how they wanted and the rules be damned if they get in the way.
He's conflicted on this. In some places he says what you note above, in others he exhorts that only the rules as written be used and that they should not be deviated from.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Where do you get that from? Everything I've seen from his thread quotes to the 1e books themselves indicates that he wanted DMs to run the game how they wanted and the rules be damned if they get in the way.
Yes, Gygax swung back and forth. Rule books are get to know system, then change what you want. But in Dragon, Gygax called for more conformity, so players could move their characters to different tables. He feuded with the "California Group" (and some others) for not playing D&D right, and therefore not actually playing D&D. On the other hand, he could be super lax about the rules himself.

My point is simply, that at times, Gygax was trying to unify the rules. 2e is admittedly worse with its dire warnings of Change things at your own Risk in introduction. 😊
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
There will always be mother may I issue because the DM is the one establishing the environment. More rules have never improved bad DMs.
As others have said, and as I tried (but failed) to express in my "Rules aren't important" thread, more rules just get in the way of good referees and their players. Players mistakenly think that more rules means more player empowerment and less referee empowerment. It's a false dichotomy. As long as there's a referee they have effectively infinite power. No rules will ever curtail that short of reducing the referee to a slow computer executing code for the players' enjoyment.
More to the point, IME more rules - and the accompanying attitude of rules-uber-alles - can sometimes turn a good DM into a bad one if the DM insists on following those rules to a T even though doing so makes no sense in the fiction.
To me, that attitude turns everyone into a bad participant. It's the fiction that matters, the rules are (at best) rough guidelines to get the players into the fiction.
My go-to example is that two allies in a combat can't move together from point A to point B, as WotC-era rules state a) a character can only move on its turn and b) turns cannot be simultaneous. Pre-WotC D&D, however, had no problem with this; as simultaniety of actions was accepted and allowed.
I still prefer the old days where we had phases. Everyone moves, everyone fires missiles, everyone melees, etc.
And that's just movement. Add in other aspects of combat and simultaniety allows two foes to take each other out, an age-old trope which currently cannot happen: IMO a glaring flaw. It also adds greatly to the fog-of-war side of things, where stuff is happening fast and not everybody can react in time.
Exactly. The abstract nature of the rules actively gets in the way of immersion and any sense of even basic verisimilitude.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yes, Gygax swung back and forth. Rule books are get to know system, then change what you want. But in Dragon, Gygax called for more conformity, so players could move their characters to different tables. He feuded with the "California Group" (and some others) for not playing D&D right, and therefore not actually playing D&D. On the other hand, he could be super lax about the rules himself.

My point is simply, that at times, Gygax was trying to unify the rules. 2e is admittedly worse with its dire warnings of Change things at your own Risk in introduction. 😊
Sounds to me like he was very chaotically aligned! :p
 



As others have said, and as I tried (but failed) to express in my "Rules aren't important" thread, more rules just get in the way of good referees and their players. Players mistakenly think that more rules means more player empowerment and less referee empowerment. It's a false dichotomy. As long as there's a referee they have effectively infinite power. No rules will ever curtail that short of reducing the referee to a slow computer executing code for the players' enjoyment

I would say that's a bit of a simplification, for several reasons. Firstly, if you don't have an existing rule for something, you have to move your GM from the role of "referee" to "designer" on the fly, which can be pretty difficult. Most people can't actually calculate the probabilities they've just decided on when they set a given DC, much less when they set three of them in row. A designer has the luxury of not actually playing the game in the moment they're creating rules for it, and can run annoying regressions or repeated tests to tune a mechanic to achieve a particular outcome. A GM can actively be more empowered to model a situation as they want to by using a clear and well-designed ruleset vs. having to figure out how to do so on the fly by designing the rules themselves. We wouldn't have stories about accidental TPKs or overtuned homebrew magic items if that weren't the case.

Secondly, you can draw a line between the GM's role as the creator of a fictional world and as the resolution mechanism for that setting. It's not a popular viewpoint, but I would prefer my role as the GM involve exactly no mechanical design work, and a lot more work populating NPCs and setting elements. "Power" can be restricted to just laying out a fictional world, and not determining the rules of engagement with that world. I can decide there's a castle, it's made of stone, figure out the guard rotations, and then not have to make any decisions about what happens when my players start trying to tunnel through the walls if the system has sufficient rules for perception and object destruction.

The joy of discovery in such a system is mutual, because I don't actually know what the mechanics will output after I and the players have finished feeding them actions, and the players get to interact meaningfully with challenge, because they can know how those rules of engagement work and evaluate a better or worse set of actions to achieve their goals. However, it is a prerequisite to get those particular flavors of fun that the rules be thorough and defined preemptively, or I'm back to designer in the moment.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
I think when WoTC gets more specific on certain rules, they’re going for more rules clarity. It seems like a reasonable goal for 1D&D, greater official clarity for so they have to answer less questions, AL is standardized, and VTT integration or whatever virtualization they’re working on has a rock solid base. There is an official D&D, and they want to solidify it.

Not, let’s be clear, to limit your play, but so you are aware of what the base is, and how you’re deviating from it.

OP waxed nostalgic about conflicting rules, and lack of access to rules in early D&D as a source of, if not exactly inspiration, maybe chaos, that made people play in creative and new ways. Sure, but we can never recreate the isolation that existed then. Isolation really is what inspired inventiveness, excepting pedantic edge cases, rules clarification is readily available now.

I feel like WoTC is very committed to rule zero, and that with an internet full of jackasses, specificity on the base rules is how you allow free deviation.
 

Clint_L

Hero
I agree. I started playing in 1979 and 5e feels the closest D&D has gotten to the spirit of the game as we tried to play it. It was glaringly obvious back then that it was full of illogical inconsistencies and that was mostly a pain in the butt rather than a source of inspiration. And I am far from a rules stickler. I don't see the next PHB clarifying inconsistencies as having anything to do with people feeling free to play the game as they wish. You still have the freedom to make any ruling you like for your own table. This game will always be far, far bigger than RAW; all they are is a guideline, a starting point.
 

Seriously?

A character covering a wounded companion with a shield while they both move from one point of safety to another?
There are no existing rules for covering an ally with a shield as it is, so you would already be in improvisational territory to begin with.

Two characters joining hands to run through an area of fog or darkness and not lose each other en route?
Why would you do this in combat? Outside of combat, there is no need, and in combat, I genuinely don't see the benefit.

Two (or more!) characters attempting to maintain a shield wall while charging or advancing - or retreating?
This would be a form of mass combat, no? Two people do not a shield wall make, and the phalanx-or-larger types of combat are simply not within the remit of standard D&D combat rules; it would be mind-numbingly tedious to play through every single soldier in a unit (most likely a century, hence centurion) using the usual combat rules designed to give life to each individual character.

These aren't beneficial?

And that's just movement. Add in other aspects of combat and simultaniety allows two foes to take each other out, an age-old trope which currently cannot happen: IMO a glaring flaw. It also adds greatly to the fog-of-war side of things, where stuff is happening fast and not everybody can react in time.
You may as well just come out and say it: Initiative is and was always an artificial, unrealistic tool designed to make things play smoothly even though it (by definition) prevents IRL physically-possible behaviors. Much like having a single value for AC for the entire body, or using a binary hit/miss structure for determining damage dealt. Your problem is not that the rule exists; it is that you know that the abstraction is (necessarily) incomplete. But, again, I don't see how these edge cases are actually that meaningful for most groups in most cases.

None of the above is new. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this problem with initiative has been present for as long as there has been a game called D&D.

Indeed, the AD&D initiative rules (and possibly those if OD&D as well) were so baroque, specifically in an effort to make them comprehensive and having (as the kids say) "a rule for everything," that they actually were pretty much playable even for the man who designed them. Initiative is, was, and always will be an abstraction with benefits (simplicity, ease of use, reliability) and detriments (failure to account for edge cases, woefully bad performance for large groups treated as individuals, vulnerability to being cheesed.) Games are a lossy compression method.

Edit: Further, I reject your previous assertion that more rules without qualifications causes bad DMing. More poorly-made rules, yes, absolutely. More unexplained rules, certainly. More rules made without utility, no question.

But rules which serve a clearly-defined and useful purpose, which are rigorously tested to ensure they perform their intended function, and which are clearly and concisely explained? I don't see how those could ever support bad DMing other than intentional bad-faith actors. The "eliminate all rules and just play Let's Pretend" crowd has been up to this point so insistent that we ignore or discount bad-faith DMs when it comes to abusing the absence of rules, something I and others have consistently been willing to grant. Surely, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Why would you do this in combat? Outside of combat, there is no need, and in combat, I genuinely don't see the benefit.
I'm not really getting involved with the main discussion between you two, but on this I can think of several reasons why two PCs might be running through a very thick fog outside of combat and need to hold hands so as not to lose one another.
 

I'm not really getting involved with the main discussion between you two, but on this I can think of several reasons why two PCs might be running through a very thick fog outside of combat and need to hold hands so as not to lose one another.
No, you misunderstand my meaning.

In combat, you have the limit of initiative, which does not have the capacity to handle truly simultaneous actions.

Out of combat, you have no reason to use initiative in most cases, so there is no problem.

The issue only arises in combat, and that specific situation (running during combat while trying to stay close in a space so dark you can't see 10 feet in front of you?) reads as so contrived I don't really take it seriously as a relevant concern.
 

I would say that's a bit of a simplification, for several reasons. Firstly, if you don't have an existing rule for something, you have to move your GM from the role of "referee" to "designer" on the fly, which can be pretty difficult. Most people can't actually calculate the probabilities they've just decided on when they set a given DC, much less when they set three of them in row. A designer has the luxury of not actually playing the game in the moment they're creating rules for it, and can run annoying regressions or repeated tests to tune a mechanic to achieve a particular outcome. A GM can actively be more empowered to model a situation as they want to by using a clear and well-designed ruleset vs. having to figure out how to do so on the fly by designing the rules themselves. We wouldn't have stories about

I think one thing we all have to keep in mind here is this is largely going to come down to taste and preference. I've been in the hobby long enough to know plenty of people who feel the way you do, but also plenty who feel the opposite, and bridging that divide is always going to be a challenge for a game like D&D.

I will say as I have gotten older, open and lighter is my preference. I just find games run better when rules are easier to adapt to a wide variety or situations, when rules are not so involved or there aren't so many that you either need to look them up or master them, and that flavor and imagination take primacy over the letter of the law.

On the issue of GMs as designers, here I think people who prefer systems that rely more on rulings by the GM, don't see rulings as design. True a GM might not know the probabilities off hand, but like anything else in the game, they will develop an intuition over time as they make more and more rulings. And the game can help with this by making sure the tools it provides for rulings and the GM advice, helps. On the other end, if you have a more involved rules system, that still requires work by the GM, and by the players, because it takes more system mastery to command the game. I don't think there is a right or wrong here. There is a reason you have a variety of RPGs out there that span the spectrum on this. I know I presently prefer lighter more rulings over rules games, but I have at different times been at different places on that spectrum in my preference.

The real question is what D&D needs. One thing I am quite sure of, discussions like these probably won't be a huge factor for WOTC's decision, no matter how compelling any of our arguments are. I think in the 2000s they paid more attention to forum discussions, but now I think they are much more interested in wide scale playtest feedback by not just players who spend a lot of time online. I don't play 5E, so I don't really have a dog in the direction it goes. I do think one thing that was a big draw for a lot of people with 5E, was it was more palatable to the crowd who wanted something where rules were more open (that is at least what people I know who play it tell me when I ask why they like it). I'm sure there are many other factors that contributed to its popularity though. I just know I hear from many who disliked either 3E or 4E who came back to D&D with 5E. I myself was a fan of 3E, but drifted away from WOTC D&D during 4E, and never felt the need to come back when 5 was released because I had found so many alternative editions in the OSR that fit my taste better.
 

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