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

Oofta

Legend
There is always going to be a balancing act between rules lite and rules heavy. The thing is that the previous two editions went the route of more and more rules. But all it did was add a layer of finicky rules, the DM still controlled the narrative and game as much as they wanted.

Giving the players detailed rules constricts PCs just as much or more than the DM. Bob can look at the influence chart and say "Hah! I got a 20 on my influence check and now the ogre has to let us pass!" but it doesn't really mean anything. The DM that doesn't want the players to get by the ogre with an influence check they will just make up some risk or sacrifice for the ogre that means the influence check doesn't work. Meanwhile if the players didn't have that chart in front of them maybe they would have tried tricking or bribing the ogre. In my experiences with this over the years having one specific route to achieving a goal spelled out tends to limit the imagination of people when it comes to problem solving.

In addition, D&D at various points has tried to steer everyone to play a very specific way, the way it was "supposed to be played". IMHO it's always been a mistake. I think one of the strengths of D&D is that people have always had the option to make the game what they want. If the developers think PCs should be able to hide quite often, there should be a section in the DMG talking about it and telling the DM what the intent of the designers is and the logic behind it. Then the DM can look at that advice and learn from it instead of trying to force it on them because that never works.

Last, but not least, I really don't understand how this shifts power in any way or somehow makes good DMs out of bad ones. Inexperienced DMs need advice and guidance, not more rules lawyers.
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
I mean....I don't see how there's any way they could be anything but objectively incorrect.

"Rulings" are ad hoc, contextual rules. I mean, it's literally in the name--the act of making a rule. Making rules, in TTRPGs, is called "design."

But all it did was add a layer of finicky rules, the DM still controlled the narrative and game as much as they wanted.
Recognizing the request for greater respect: I am deeply frustrated when you say things like this. This is not the only thing it did. It did a lot of things. This was one possible result.

Another result--one with quite a substantial cultural demonstration--is a massive increase in shared vocabulary. Consider, for instance, the TVTropes page, "Took a Level in Badass." This is, very directly, drawing on 3e vocabulary, the idea that one can "take a level" in a particular class. Prior to 3e, at least to the best of my knowledge, there was no such thing as à la carte multiclassing. Certainly that way of phrasing--to "take a level in" something--was specific to 3e. There are various other ways in which the standardization and systematization of 3e made a permanent and, I would argue, positive impact on not just D&D, not just TTRPGs, but nerdy culture in general.

Continually demonizing things as this pernicious obsession with legislating table morality is not productive, and portraying anything that doesn't conform to your tastes as a dead-end, destructive waste needlessly raises the temperature of the conversation.

Last, but not least, I really don't understand how this shifts power in any way or somehow makes good DMs out of bad ones. Inexperienced DMs need advice and guidance, not more rules lawyers.
As I've said repeatedly, and as I believe literally everyone here agrees: it doesn't. No one is making that argument, and it is not hard to see why, given it is so trivially wrong. Please consider other interpretations of the things being said, ones which do not hinge upon this obviously foolish goal. For example:
We can do better. No, rules cannot make good faith actors out of bad ones. But by putting the effort into rules design, we can make better results more likely, forestall common problems before they even happen, and significantly reduce the experiential burden required to learn to use the rules well.
Improving our rules design does not mean making it impossible for people to do bad things or behave poorly. It means finding places where we can close the experiential gap better than we have in the past. It means critically examining whether the rules actually achieve the goals for which they were intended, and if they do not do so, to repair them, or replace them with ones that work better. No rule is perfect, but we can still do better. Advice can only go so far; actually improving the tools themselves is of greater impact. To turn an old phrase, no amount of advice, no matter how superlative, can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
 

Oofta

Legend
I mean....I don't see how there's any way they could be anything but objectively incorrect.

"Rulings" are ad hoc, contextual rules. I mean, it's literally in the name--the act of making a rule. Making rules, in TTRPGs, is called "design."


Recognizing the request for greater respect: I am deeply frustrated when you say things like this. This is not the only thing it did. It did a lot of things. This was one possible result.

Another result--one with quite a substantial cultural demonstration--is a massive increase in shared vocabulary. Consider, for instance, the TVTropes page, "Took a Level in Badass." This is, very directly, drawing on 3e vocabulary, the idea that one can "take a level" in a particular class. Prior to 3e, at least to the best of my knowledge, there was no such thing as à la carte multiclassing. Certainly that way of phrasing--to "take a level in" something--was specific to 3e. There are various other ways in which the standardization and systematization of 3e made a permanent and, I would argue, positive impact on not just D&D, not just TTRPGs, but nerdy culture in general.

Continually demonizing things as this pernicious obsession with legislating table morality is not productive, and portraying anything that doesn't conform to your tastes as a dead-end, destructive waste needlessly raises the temperature of the conversation.


As I've said repeatedly, and as I believe literally everyone here agrees: it doesn't. No one is making that argument, and it is not hard to see why, given it is so trivially wrong. Please consider other interpretations of the things being said, ones which do not hinge upon this obviously foolish goal. For example:

Improving our rules design does not mean making it impossible for people to do bad things or behave poorly. It means finding places where we can close the experiential gap better than we have in the past. It means critically examining whether the rules actually achieve the goals for which they were intended, and if they do not do so, to repair them, or replace them with ones that work better. No rule is perfect, but we can still do better. Advice can only go so far; actually improving the tools themselves is of greater impact. To turn an old phrase, no amount of advice, no matter how superlative, can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
We just disagree.

Give me one scenario where more rules make a difference and I can explain why it does not. I'm not demonizing anything, I just have a preference which differs from yours: more rules lead to rules lawyers arguing their narrow case and reduced player's imaginations. I've played every edition, pretty much for the length of their release, you're allowed to have a different opinion than mine but if you think more rules makes the game better show how.

We're not going to agree, but instead of just throwing assumptions and assertions around if we talk about real concrete scenarios there's a possible conversation to be had.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
We're not going to agree, but instead of just throwing assumptions and assertions around if we talk about real concrete scenarios there's a possible conversation to be had.
I'm not sure how it is possible to do so, considering we have never played together nor is there much chance we would ever do so. Anything we discuss will be abstracted from its specific details--the players, at the very least, will be abstract. Could you give an example of something that would meet this "concrete scenarios" requirement?
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Pre-WotC D&D, however, had no problem with this; as simultaniety of actions was accepted and allowed.
IF you were using side-based initiative. 2e had an option for individual initiative a lot of tables used.
But ultimately the issue of adjudicating a simultaneous action is something DMs have always been able to do if it made sense and even WotC editions had ways to make it easier. 3e allowed players to delay so they could go at the same point in the initiative list. And though 5e doesn't include delay as an option, holding your action to do things when another player's turn comes up is in the rules.
And, let's be honest, in both of those cases, it would be some pretty big DM asshattery to rigidly require the players to do things in a sequentially segmented way.
 
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I mean....I don't see how there's any way they could be anything but objectively incorrect.

"Rulings" are ad hoc, contextual rules. I mean, it's literally in the name--the act of making a rule. Making rules, in TTRPGs, is called "design."

This strikes me as a very black and white framing of the issue. It is not the same as rules design in my experience. A ruling could be inventing a rule whole cloth or it could simply be deciding which existing mechanic in a game to apply to a given situation and how to apply it. Deciding to call for three Dexterity rolls in a row for a success is, I would say, a pretty effortless decision, especially once you get used to the idea. That may involve some elements of design (for example if you make it more involved to suit the situation and say something like the first success will get you X, the second Y and the third X+Y (and in this instance Y and X could be relatively simple things like bonuses to damage). They don't have to involve that, but they can. And in those instances, that isn't the same as building a system from the ground. Generally what people want in a system favoring rulings is the ability to drawn existing mechanics in the game creatively so that whatever it is the players are specifically saying they want to do, can be modeled. That is one of the big advantages of taking a more open, light and rulings over rules approach. Doesn't mean every GM will like it. Doesn't mean it is the way D&D should or shouldn't be. But I think fans of this approach don't really see themselves as being called upon to do the work of the designer (as sometimes this approach is criticized as).
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
This strikes me as a very black and white framing of the issue. It is not the same as rules design in my experience. A ruling could be inventing a rule whole cloth or it could simply be deciding which existing mechanic in a game to apply to a given situation and how to apply it. Deciding to call for three Dexterity rolls in a row for a success is, I would say, a pretty effortless decision, especially once you get used to the idea. That may involve some elements of design (for example if you make it more involved to suit the situation and say something like the first success will get you X, the second Y and the third X+Y (and in this instance Y and X could be relatively simple things like bonuses to damage). They don't have to involve that, but they can. And in those instances, that isn't the same as building a system from the ground. Generally what people want in a system favoring rulings is the ability to drawn existing mechanics in the game creatively so that whatever it is the players are specifically saying they want to do, can be modeled. That is one of the big advantages of taking a more open, light and rulings over rules approach. Doesn't mean every GM will like it. Doesn't mean it is the way D&D should or shouldn't be. But I think fans of this approach don't really see themselves as being called upon to do the work of the designer (as sometimes this approach is criticized as).
I don't see it as "black and white." I see it as recognizing the fundamental commonality between all the things you've described here. All of them are design. Some of them are smaller. Some of them are larger. That doesn't change whether they are design.

I never made any mention of "building a system from the ground." Something being "design" doesn't require that in the least. Especially because, in a very real sense, D&D hasn't been designed that way in decades, possibly not since 1e and certainly not since 2e. No heartbreaker has ever been designed "from the ground up," for example; by definition they ride on the coattails of some other game or games. Doesn't make them any less efforts of design.

By expecting the DM to be doing this all the time, though, one is asking for an entire additional weight on top of the world-creating, the procedure-enacting, and the opposition-leading. Whether it is a thousand small rulings over six months or a whole subsystem over six months, it's still a continuous effort of design. Indeed, in some senses, the former is more of a burden than the latter; if developing large, chunky rules, one has time to pause, reevaluate, and revise. There is no such thing for the vast majority of "rulings" made in games. Any deleterious consequences they have are just...there, forever, because it's too much effort to go back and fix them. Per most advocates of this kind of thing, this should be happening near-constantly, at the very least several times every session. That's just too much stuff to go back and address for where it might have gone wrong or why--and, indeed, where it might have gone right and why, so that those successes can be replicated and (hopefully) expanded further.
 

Continually demonizing things as this pernicious obsession with legislating table morality is not productive, and portraying anything that doesn't conform to your tastes as a dead-end, destructive waste needlessly raises the temperature of the conversation.

I don't think there is anything pernicious or bad, or less fun about more narrow rules, heavier rules sets, rulesets that are more constraining for the GM when it comes to formulating judgements, etc. Nor do I think rules lawyering is bad on its own (I think we sometime poke fun at different play styles but all play styles can look funny from certain vantage points, our own included). I actually quite liked 3E for example, and would consider that to be an edition that was heavily invested in delineating rules down to pretty extreme edge cases. It was also an edition that saw a culture shift towards players rather than the GM. And it was a golden age of rules lawyering (someone being a rules lawyer was an asset in that edition because system mastery was so important). I've moved away from that style, but I still like 3E for certain kinds of campaigns. To me this stuff really is just about taste and preferences. Sometimes preference that an individual has, but often someone can have different preferences over time or mood (there are days I want a more comprehensive rules system and days I don't: sometimes you just feel like playing a crunch heavy game). So I don't see this as something where there are sides that need to be in opposition to one another. I think where the contention will fall is on where D&D should go in this respect. But ultimately it will go where it goes and there isn't much I can say or do about that, so it isn't any skin off my back.
 

I don't see it as "black and white." I see it as recognizing the fundamental commonality between all the things you've described here. All of them are design. Some of them are smaller. Some of them are larger. That doesn't change whether they are design.

I never made any mention of "building a system from the ground." Something being "design" doesn't require that in the least. Especially because, in a very real sense, D&D hasn't been designed that way in decades, possibly not since 1e and certainly not since 2e. No heartbreaker has ever been designed "from the ground up," for example; by definition they ride on the coattails of some other game or games. Doesn't make them any less efforts of design.

By expecting the DM to be doing this all the time, though, one is asking for an entire additional weight on top of the world-creating, the procedure-enacting, and the opposition-leading. Whether it is a thousand small rulings over six months or a whole subsystem over six months, it's still a continuous effort of design. Indeed, in some senses, the former is more of a burden than the latter; if developing large, chunky rules, one has time to pause, reevaluate, and revise. There is no such thing for the vast majority of "rulings" made in games. Any deleterious consequences they have are just...there, forever, because it's too much effort to go back and fix them. Per most advocates of this kind of thing, this should be happening near-constantly, at the very least several times every session. That's just too much stuff to go back and address for where it might have gone wrong or why--and, indeed, where it might have gone right and why, so that those successes can be replicated and (hopefully) expanded further.

I think we are not going to agree on the objectivity or subjectivity of the term, which is fine. Again, if you feel it is too much of a burden, and if you feel it is too much like doing design work, fair enough. That is a totally valid reaction to a system. But people are here who prefer rulings approaches and are telling you they don't find it burdensome and they don't see it as anything like design, or being asked to do the designers work. I certainly don't.

I think what you are looking for in mechanics is a consistency (correct me if I am wrong as I may not understand your meaning), and rulings aren't really about mechanical consistency or probability consistency. They are about equipping the GM to fluidly respond in each specific moment, to the things the players are specifically asking to do, and to use the mechanics creatively so that they can bring the game to life. For me that means, I am not especially precious about whether this ruling or that ruling chart equally over time (i.e. if I make four different rulings about cats biting a person, I am less concerned about consistency over time of mechanics or probabilities than I am if it felt right for that moment). This may be too much handwaving for you, which is fair. Like I said, I don't think this is the one true objective style to play. It is just a style, and an approach to design, with its upsides and downsides. Ultimately though it is the one that produces better play for me as a GM and Player most of the time.
 

Making rulings within the context of a rules lite system is a lot less of a cognitive load for me than running a more codified, rules heavy game. The DM 'support' that I'm looking for in a game is a very simple framework that allows for relatively easy ad hoc rulings. If I have to look anything up during a game or keep track of player information to make sure the game is running correctly, I get tired quickly. Interesting questing beast video today about this topic.
 

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