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

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The ironic thing about the bolded above, is that when you listen to interviews/watch game play with "game designers" whether RPG or TT, what you invariably see (in my experience) is that these "designers" who want you to "play a certain way", DON'T actually play that particular way at their own tables. They pick and choose rule applications, make rulings on the spot, change things up to suit their campaign, etc. They also tend to get quite a bit of stuff wrong. However, the RULES they put out to the rest of us say "play this way".
I'm going to challenge that notion.

The 5e PHB before it talks to the players about anything concrete, tells the players to talk to the DM to find out what house rules the DM has put into place. The idea that the DM would change rules is so fundamental and important that it's one of the first things that they tell the players to find out.

The 5e DMG in about a half dozen places in the DMG stresses to the DM that the DM is in charge of the rule, not the other way around. If they really wanted us to "play this way," they would not have put that into the DMG at all. Instead they are stressing to the DM that he make the game his own and not be beholden to the rules. They further emphasize this by putting almost all of the optional and alternate rules into the DM's Workshop, indicating that changing the rules is something for the DM to work on AND give advice on creating house rules.

They give us a game that can be played as is, but they are not saying that we should "play this way."
 

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I don't use rules to dictate what happens. I use rules to adjudicate propositions. If players propose to me something that isn't covered by the rules, I'm not going to say, "The rules don't cover that so you can't do that." I'm going to say, "Let me try to find a solution within the framework provided by the rules that adjudicates what you just proposed."

Whether rules light, heavy, rulings or RAW, this is quite essential to enjoyable play to me. If the GM can't go beyond what is written down I find I feel very constrained as a player.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Indeed, but a DM is well within rights to say "Dumb or not, that's the rule. You wanna change it? Talk to WotC."

It's a hazard when playing with a Lawful Neutral DM. :)
That's why the rule set needs to include explicit text for bitter pills needed for the health of the game that the gm can ignore modify or use as is & why it creates problems when leaning too heavily on mother may I mechanics
 

Clint_L

Hero
If anything, the rules are becoming more consistent but less prescriptive. Look at the rules for race and class, for example - they increasingly emphasize DM and player agency. Back in the day, if you wanted to be a paladin you had to be human, lawful good, have a 17 charisma, and probably be male, because females had their strength capped. Elves were all good, Half-orcs all evil. And so on. That was way more about trying to tell me how to run my table than anything in 5e.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
I'm going to challenge that notion.

The 5e PHB before it talks to the players about anything concrete, tells the players to talk to the DM to find out what house rules the DM has put into place. The idea that the DM would change rules is so fundamental and important that it's one of the first things that they tell the players to find out.

The 5e DMG in about a half dozen places in the DMG stresses to the DM that the DM is in charge of the rule, not the other way around. If they really wanted us to "play this way," they would not have put that into the DMG at all. Instead they are stressing to the DM that he make the game his own and not be beholden to the rules. They further emphasize this by putting almost all of the optional and alternate rules into the DM's Workshop, indicating that changing the rules is something for the DM to work on AND give advice on creating house rules.

They give us a game that can be played as is, but they are not saying that we should "play this way."
Poor wording on my part. But in my opinion, 5e is moving toward “this is how you play”. Sure, check with your DM about any house rules, but be sure to be ready to accuse them of limiting you as a player. Be sure to check with your DM about what species you can play, but be sure to be ready to call them a bad DM for not allowing you to use whatever suits your fancy. Sure, check with your DM, but not about how rules are adjudicated, we’re going to begin to move those away from “Dm adjudication” to “player facing, the rule does this. Just roll.”

The notion that DM’s changing rules is “fundamental and important”, based on what I read here on ENworld, is slowly being whittled away. And that also appears to be the direction OneDnD is going too.
 

The notion that DM’s changing rules is “fundamental and important”, based on what I read here on ENworld, is slowly being whittled away. And that also appears to be the direction OneDnD is going too.

My impression is this has waxed and waned quite a bit over the years. I don't think D&D is likely to hit any kind of end point in that respect. You can see huge differences around this issue from all the WOTC editions: 3rd, 4th, 5th and now One.
 

Clint_L

Hero
Poor wording on my part. But in my opinion, 5e is moving toward “this is how you play”. Sure, check with your DM about any house rules, but be sure to be ready to accuse them of limiting you as a player. Be sure to check with your DM about what species you can play, but be sure to be ready to call them a bad DM for not allowing you to use whatever suits your fancy. Sure, check with your DM, but not about how rules are adjudicated, we’re going to begin to move those away from “Dm adjudication” to “player facing, the rule does this. Just roll.”

The notion that DM’s changing rules is “fundamental and important”, based on what I read here on ENworld, is slowly being whittled away. And that also appears to be the direction OneDnD is going too.
The actually reads like your objection is not that the rules are telling the players how to play, but that you perceive yourself as being less in charge of how others should play. And then you offer a caricature of the 5e table that doesn't look like anything I've ever seen happen. If those kinds of conflicts are happening at your table, then maybe it's a you problem.
 

Oofta

Legend
The actually reads like your objection is not that the rules are telling the players how to play, but that you perceive yourself as being less in charge of how others should play. And then you offer a caricature of the 5e table that doesn't look like anything I've ever seen happen. If those kinds of conflicts are happening at your table, then maybe it's a you problem.

I can see why it seems to be moving that way with the playtest. For hiding, the only decision the DM makes is whether there's line of sight, whether the PC has cover or obscurement. Nothing else matters, make a DC 15 check and you're hidden. Want to influence someone? Doesn't matter if they're hostile, if your influence check is high enough they'll help anyway!

It's not going to change how I run my game because those rules feel far too rigid and uncompromising while simultaneously being less fun for the players as well as I explained above. There is no issue with the supposed issue of "Mother May I" in the games I've played, sometimes players ask for clarification but no amount of rules will ever change that. Yet in the interview reducing MMI (Mother May) I was stated as a goal. I disagree that MMI is an issue, at least it's not one I've ever seen in a game I've been a player, but because it's a perceived issue they're going overboard. IMHO, of course.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Agreed, but only with a certain sort of Lawful Neutral DM.

I don't use rules to dictate what happens. I use rules to adjudicate propositions. If players propose to me something that isn't covered by the rules, I'm not going to say, "The rules don't cover that so you can't do that."
Except "the rules don't cover that so you can't do that" was exactly the 3e mindset; and my example comes from a 3e game. 5e at least opened up the rulings-not-rules avenue, but some of that 3e mindset still exists among people who started in that era.
 


Except "the rules don't cover that so you can't do that" was exactly the 3e mindset; and my example comes from a 3e game. 5e at least opened up the rulings-not-rules avenue, but some of that 3e mindset still exists among people who started in that era.
3e play was much more about players invoking specific rules to do exactly what they wanted. For example, it was a tactic in scenarios not bound by time or noise to tunnel through walls after a certain level. This was not an emergent property of players asking DMs routinely if they could break the dungeon wall, it was instead a function of those players noting the price for an adamantine dagger and the rules for object hardness.

You're inverting the relationship. A subset of 3e players, particularly those who started with that game, read the books as a toolbox, and then applied those tools to their problems, instead of declaring actions and then checking the rules to see if that was allowed.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
3e play was much more about players invoking specific rules to do exactly what they wanted. For example, it was a tactic in scenarios not bound by time or noise to tunnel through walls after a certain level. This was not an emergent property of players asking DMs routinely if they could break the dungeon wall, it was instead a function of those players noting the price for an adamantine dagger and the rules for object hardness.

You're inverting the relationship. A subset of 3e players, particularly those who started with that game, read the books as a toolbox, and then applied those tools to their problems, instead of declaring actions and then checking the rules to see if that was allowed.
No, it's more than that.

Before 3e the general sense - as reflected in the books and philosophy of 0e-1e-2e - was one of "You can (try to) do something in character unless a rule says you can't." With 3e, due I think to a great deal of influence from hard-coded games like M:tG, the underlying sense became much more "You cannot (try to) do something in character unless a rule says you can." This mindset, not at all coincidentally, also makes digitizing D&D much easier as it's far easier to program something that is closed-ended than it is something open-ended.

Overall, this was perhaps the biggest single change between TSR D&D and WotC D&D.
 

A single table/game can easily go without rules, but if you scale up, rules become more neccesery. What if you ran games for five hundred people? Five thousand?

And sometimes rules were written in blood. Those are the rules you need to be most careful about ignoring.
 

Hussar

Legend
I do think there is a big element here that gets missed in these discussions about standardizing rules.

In 1981-1983, the overwhelming majority of play would be with people you knew. This was largely before the days of the FLGS (at least outside of major cities), and public play spaces were virtually unheard of. Yes, there was organized play, and convention play, but, again, that was very much the outlier. Most people didn't go to conventions and couldn't play with strangers.

Fast forward to today. Playing with strangers is a couple of button clicks away if you want to play online. Or, by and large, most places have a public play space somewhere within a reasonable distance. It's not unheard of now for people to belong to multiple play groups simultaneously, whereas, in the 80's, that just wasn't likely to happen.

I think that fact, more than anything else, has an enormous impact on the shift towards standardizing rules. 4e was designed the way it was because it used the RPGA as a model for how play would be presumed. You were supposed to be playing with strangers- even if that never actually came true.

But now? Now there are very, very large communities of players who only interact with other players during game time. They aren't friends in the conventional sense of someone you hang out with all the time. They are people you game with. Which tends to make groups very fluid as well. So, it does make a lot of sense to nail down some of the more commonly accessed rules, just to preclude all the, to use the term, Mother-May-I issues that come from playing with strangers.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Except "the rules don't cover that so you can't do that" was exactly the 3e mindset; and my example comes from a 3e game. 5e at least opened up the rulings-not-rules avenue, but some of that 3e mindset still exists among people who started in that era.
I disagree. The scenario @Pedantic describes in post #91 is not something I ever saw or recall hearing of but the "books as a toolbox" went both ways & the system did make efforts towards a goal of providing the GM flexible tools they can pull from the toolbox when some unique edge case came about.

Someone mentioned An Alice covers Bob with her shield while holding hands in fog scenario earlier (I think), 3.x did have a simple set of rules for that in the form of dm's best friend & bonus types. The shield might be a circumstance bonus while the hand holding might be a luck or morale bonus for a simple & straightforward +2/-2 & since it's a one off it might not even matter what kind of bonus it was since both of those were unusual bonus types with one almost always being the result of some circumstance created or imposed by narrative & descriptive elements like the ones Alice is engaging in. That simple framework even extends further while remaining reasonable even when one or both of those plus 2's could become a minus 2 if some other situation came up like a dex save for a fireball being more difficult while golding hands in a fog cloud.

No, it's more than that.

Before 3e the general sense - as reflected in the books and philosophy of 0e-1e-2e - was one of "You can (try to) do something in character unless a rule says you can't." With 3e, due I think to a great deal of influence from hard-coded games like M:tG, the underlying sense became much more "You cannot (try to) do something in character unless a rule says you can." This mindset, not at all coincidentally, also makes digitizing D&D much easier as it's far easier to program something that is closed-ended than it is something open-ended.

Overall, this was perhaps the biggest single change between TSR D&D and WotC D&D.

There was definitely some degree of that if you limit the comparison exclusively to those two editions & don't include 5e. 5e manages to have a lot of cases with the worst of both in the wrong places. Take the skills... Sure they are more streamlined than 3.x, but those skills are codified enough & trivially enough to minmax spreadsheet style to make the older "well Bob you are $class so it does/doesn't make sense for you to be good at that" without being codified enough to get any of the benefits that 3.x's more detailed & class fitting skills provided. Heck, wasn't there a thread that went on for tens of pages a couple months ago simply about if it's reasonable for the GM to expect a player to describe how they perform an action beyond things like "I use $skill" or require an action to do that rather than doing it as part of some other action?
 

Clint_L

Hero
I can see why it seems to be moving that way with the playtest. For hiding, the only decision the DM makes is whether there's line of sight, whether the PC has cover or obscurement. Nothing else matters, make a DC 15 check and you're hidden. Want to influence someone? Doesn't matter if they're hostile, if your influence check is high enough they'll help anyway!
That's not anywhere in the rules. The DM always has the option to add modifiers or change the rules as desired. Always has done, always will. Why are we taking about these issues like context doesn't matter? Any DM worth their salt is going to say, "That guard is hostile towards you, given that you are currently running from the bank she was guarding while carrying a laden bag with a giant dollar sign on it. Look, give me a persuasion check [I assume that's what you meant by influence?] and maybe if you roll a natural 20 you can convince her not to believe her lying eyes, but otherwise roll initiative."

Edit: actually, before we even get to any dice rolls, the first thing I am going to ask the player is, "Oh yeah? How are you trying to persuade her?" and if they don't have something good, I'm not even going to bother letting them roll in that situation. But if they come up with something brilliant/entertaining, well then maybe the DC won't be nearly as hard. Ability checks are not magic, they are supposed to reflect moments of inflection in the story where different FEASIBLE outcomes could occur. If you run your table like you are a mindless automaton, incapable of making judgment calls based on the situation at hand, then that's on you. But no one ever actually runs their table like that, so I think we are just arguing about pointless hypotheticals.
 
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Oofta

Legend
That's not anywhere in the rules. The DM always has the option to add modifiers or change the rules as desired. Always has done, always will. Why are we taking about these issues like context doesn't matter? Any DM worth their salt is going to say, "That guard is hostile towards you, given that you are currently running from the bank she was guarding while carrying a laden bag with a giant dollar sign on it. Look, give me a persuasion check [I assume that's what you meant by influence?] and maybe if you roll a natural 20 you can convince her not to believe her lying eyes, but otherwise roll initiative."
I'm talking about the playtest for the 2024 edition in case it wasn't clear. There's an "influence" action and a given set of responses. For a creature indifferent to the PCs an influence of 10 The creature does as asked, as long as no risks or sacrifices are involved. With a 20 The creature accepts a minor risk or sacrifice to do as asked.

So by straight RAW, played by the proposed rule you can get anyone not actively hostile to you to do what you ask, even if there's some risk. If the creature is actually hostile but doesn't attack on sight the DM may just say "no" but with a 20 influence check you can get them to cooperate "as long as no risks or sacrifices are involved."

So if there's an enemy force occupying my city, the PC can ask "pretty please let us in to the headquarters" and if I roll high enough (or roll average but have high bonuses) I get in. With the caveat that the DM can always say no of course. I think a lot of DMs, especially new DMs, would feel uncomfortable saying no.

These static numbers make no sense to me, higher level PCs that focus on this stuff will pretty much always succeed unless there's some other rule they haven't revealed yet. I think it's the wrong direction to take the game.
 

These static numbers make no sense to me, higher level PCs that focus on this stuff will pretty much always succeed unless there's some other rule they haven't revealed yet. I think it's the wrong direction to take the game.
I don't disagree with any of that analysis, I just don't think it follows that because this isn't a particularly good design for this rule, we should not write rules.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Except "the rules don't cover that so you can't do that" was exactly the 3e mindset; and my example comes from a 3e game. 5e at least opened up the rulings-not-rules avenue, but some of that 3e mindset still exists among people who started in that era.

Again, there is no such thing as a "1e mindset" or a "3e mindset". There is only what you experienced in that era at tables you sat at. How you think about playing the game is more important than the rules, and the 3e rules allows for rule zero and DM authority. Equally there were just as many hidebound or unimaginative DMs back in the 1e era that would say no to anything for which there was not a rule.
 

I'm talking about the playtest for the 2024 edition in case it wasn't clear. There's an "influence" action and a given set of responses. For a creature indifferent to the PCs an influence of 10 The creature does as asked, as long as no risks or sacrifices are involved. With a 20 The creature accepts a minor risk or sacrifice to do as asked.

So by straight RAW, played by the proposed rule you can get anyone not actively hostile to you to do what you ask, even if there's some risk. If the creature is actually hostile but doesn't attack on sight the DM may just say "no" but with a 20 influence check you can get them to cooperate "as long as no risks or sacrifices are involved."

So if there's an enemy force occupying my city, the PC can ask "pretty please let us in to the headquarters" and if I roll high enough (or roll average but have high bonuses) I get in. With the caveat that the DM can always say no of course. I think a lot of DMs, especially new DMs, would feel uncomfortable saying no.

These static numbers make no sense to me, higher level PCs that focus on this stuff will pretty much always succeed unless there's some other rule they haven't revealed yet. I think it's the wrong direction to take the game.
"No risk or sacifice" is the key part here. I would rule that a guard allowing invaders to just walk by would be a risk of some sort. Or would just be automatically hostile. If the PC had a good plan or appoarch, I would allow a roll.

But honestly, are people here willing to provide a substitute to rules? Would you volunteer for a DM hotline? Run a D&D court? Do ten games a week. Do DM advice panels at conventions?
 

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