D&D 5E The Decrease in Desire for Magic in D&D

I think that one of the draws of fantasy games is often the more simplistic and child-like depiction of good vs evil, wherein good guys beat up bad guys because that's what good guys do.

Obviously, in the real world things aren't so simple. To even know where to begin we often have to examine the philosophical or religious lens through which an individual views the world. Something that is good from one perspective may be evil from the perspective of a different moral framework.

Is barging into the warren of a bunch of goblins who were minding their own business, slaughtering them, and taking their stuff, the act of someone good? From a real world perspective it's extremely colonialist, and that's arguably the most positive thing I can say about it. But from a simpler perspective they were "bad guys" who were going to commit evil at some point and therefore stopping them is a good act. Even if, here in the real world, we recognize that as overly simplistic.

At my table we're all adults who know better, but for a few hours a week we like to forget about the complexities of the real world and return to a more simplistic and child-like view of what good is. So we don't generally worry about that stuff. There's nothing wrong with a little escapism.

The point being that good, particularly in the context of a fantasy game, is relative. And that good characters can absolutely shoot first and ask questions later, depending on the style of game you're playing.
I'll grant you much of this. Yet, I would also say that it is still possible to do better without having to make everything Super Complicated And Nuanced.

It's part of why, in my home game, I chose to go along with the Zakhara concept that nearly all sapient beings are welcome in society. I haven't actually had goblins (or gnomes, or a handful of other options) show up in-game yet. But there have been ogre caravanserai owners, minotaur vendors of fine dishware (😉), orc librarians, etc.

When people are bad? They're bandits and outlaws, just as you would if every sapient being were human. You don't have to make a big production of it. Just show what bad stuff they've done. If the players want to run it as a "justice for wrongs done" thing, they can--that's up to them. (Though they might want to think about what message that sends.)

And if you want enemies that can just be KOS zero thought required, well, that's not that hard. Vampires and ghuls make a great "sapient but evil" option, where killing the literal undead is straight-up a kindness to the poor soul trapped so. Mind flayers are another great choice, as are things like invading alien beings or Far Realm entities (or just stuff cribbed from Eberron, if you like; those guys are nasty.) Liches. Slavers actively abusing and/or killing their slaves. Etc. There are plenty of things you can do that are really obviously not okay, without having any amount of "hey...is it okay that we're just killing these goblins simply because they're goblins...who were living on this land...?"
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I'll grant you much of this. Yet, I would also say that it is still possible to do better without having to make everything Super Complicated And Nuanced.

It's part of why, in my home game, I chose to go along with the Zakhara concept that nearly all sapient beings are welcome in society. I haven't actually had goblins (or gnomes, or a handful of other options) show up in-game yet. But there have been ogre caravanserai owners, minotaur vendors of fine dishware (😉), orc librarians, etc.

When people are bad? They're bandits and outlaws, just as you would if every sapient being were human. You don't have to make a big production of it. Just show what bad stuff they've done. If the players want to run it as a "justice for wrongs done" thing, they can--that's up to them. (Though they might want to think about what message that sends.)

And if you want enemies that can just be KOS zero thought required, well, that's not that hard. Vampires and ghuls make a great "sapient but evil" option, where killing the literal undead is straight-up a kindness to the poor soul trapped so. Mind flayers are another great choice, as are things like invading alien beings or Far Realm entities (or just stuff cribbed from Eberron, if you like; those guys are nasty.) Liches. Slavers actively abusing and/or killing their slaves. Etc. There are plenty of things you can do that are really obviously not okay, without having any amount of "hey...is it okay that we're just killing these goblins simply because they're goblins...who were living on this land...?"
Oh yeah, I generally agree. That's been a thing in my game for years. My cities tend to be melting pots. If a troll shows up in town looking for work, folks might give him the side eye, but they're generally going to accept him as long as he doesn't start running around eating people.

Sure, but if we're getting into it what's the burden of proof? If we're in a forest where goblins are known to rob and kill travelers, is it okay for us to kill the goblins in the warren? Or do we need some kind of evidence that these goblins have resorted to banditry?

Generally speaking, I'm going to leave that sort of thing up to the players. If they decide to take out the "evil" goblins without sufficient evidence, I'm certainly not going to tell them to replace their character's good alignment with evil. Even if, from a morally nuanced perspective, there's a perfectly reasonable argument for exactly that. They're having fun and blowing off steam. (As much as I love that show) we aren't playing The Good Place RPG.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I'll grant you much of this. Yet, I would also say that it is still possible to do better without having to make everything Super Complicated And Nuanced.

It's part of why, in my home game, I chose to go along with the Zakhara concept that nearly all sapient beings are welcome in society. I haven't actually had goblins (or gnomes, or a handful of other options) show up in-game yet. But there have been ogre caravanserai owners, minotaur vendors of fine dishware (😉), orc librarians, etc.

When people are bad? They're bandits and outlaws, just as you would if every sapient being were human. You don't have to make a big production of it. Just show what bad stuff they've done. If the players want to run it as a "justice for wrongs done" thing, they can--that's up to them. (Though they might want to think about what message that sends.)

And if you want enemies that can just be KOS zero thought required, well, that's not that hard. Vampires and ghuls make a great "sapient but evil" option, where killing the literal undead is straight-up a kindness to the poor soul trapped so. Mind flayers are another great choice, as are things like invading alien beings or Far Realm entities (or just stuff cribbed from Eberron, if you like; those guys are nasty.) Liches. Slavers actively abusing and/or killing their slaves. Etc. There are plenty of things you can do that are really obviously not okay, without having any amount of "hey...is it okay that we're just killing these goblins simply because they're goblins...who were living on this land...?"
Glen Cook's city of Tun Faire in his Garrett series of books has all the different species living as neighbors (with some of the real world factionalism and "people" acting like IRL people).
 



Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
From a "realism" perspective sure, but from a "fun" perspective, yuck.

Death spirals unevenly target certain styles of play. If they (death spirals) are implemented, those will be avoided. Which again, is fine from a "realism" perspective but awful from a "fun" perspective for anyone who likes those styles.

They also unevenly target certain characters. Those melee guys really can’t catch a break.

Real world federal studies from the late nineties I have seen actually say that death spirals are not actually realistic ... continuing to fight at around 95 percent then dropping after the fight is realistic... as is going from near 100 to out of it.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
From a "realism" perspective sure, but from a "fun" perspective, yuck.

Death spirals unevenly target certain styles of play. If they (death spirals) are implemented, those will be avoided. Which again, is fine from a "realism" perspective but awful from a "fun" perspective for anyone who likes those styles.
If death spirals deter the low-to-no-risk combat-as-sport style of play I'm all for them.

And to answer @Fanaelialae 's point: as a player I too like switching my brain off sometimes and just beating up on some bad guys...but I'm also willing not only to recognize but to sometimes even lean into the idea that our PCs are every bit as "bad guy" as the opposition, and sometimes worse. We're just better at being bad. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Right, melee martials already have it pretty tough. Implementing death spirals would make that infinitely worse and would drive away most players from choosing one.
Why, though? If the DM is doing a decent job of placing all the PCs in roughly-equal danger* via ranged attacks, AoE spells, ambushes, open-field combats where there is no front line, and sneaks getting behind the party's front line, the martials shouldn't suffer any more (or any less) than anyone else.

But if the DM only ever attacks the front-liners and never gets the back-liners' uniforms dirty, then yes; the tanks would get even more hosed than is already the case in such a game.

* - on average. Any individual battle could, of course, easily see one or two characters in grave danger while the others never take a scratch; be it due to luck of the draw, good (or bad!) planning, or the in-game situation at the time.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Why, though? If the DM is doing a decent job of placing all the PCs in roughly-equal danger* via ranged attacks, AoE spells, ambushes, open-field combats where there is no front line, and sneaks getting behind the party's front line, the martials shouldn't suffer any more (or any less) than anyone else.

But if the DM only ever attacks the front-liners and never gets the back-liners' uniforms dirty, then yes; the tanks would get even more hosed than is already the case in such a game.

* - on average. Any individual battle could, of course, easily see one or two characters in grave danger while the others never take a scratch; be it due to luck of the draw, good (or bad!) planning, or the in-game situation at the time.
So here is where I need to remind you that some DM's aren't that experienced, they select monsters out of the book without making sure there is a mix of threats, or they use published adventures, which don't often mix up threats like that either.

While an experienced DM might be able to ensure that death spiral mechanics threaten everyone equally, that's not going to happen at many tables, especially in public play.

So any such mechanics would have to be optional, as many groups aren't going to realize the ramifications until everyone stops playing melee characters entirely...or stop using them...or switch to some other game.

And since that would effect WotC's bottom line, well, you can see how that would go.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
From my experience, magic in dnd lacks that spark, because there is no cost to the character to achieve the desired results (spell slots are not a risk or a cost, they are a managed resource).

In shadowrun and other games, mages can choose to burn more energy on a spell at the risk of overloading or passing out. As a player in these games, I witnessed SR mage players get very excited when they are assessing the risk of burning out. Its a trade off for more power, something dnd doesn't do well.

Dnd mages in 5e get their spells without any hindrances to direct power (spell components don't count, because I have never ever seen them tracked or mentioned in a game in person). If mages had more risk to casting spells (or any risk at all really), they would likely be more excited when they see the results of their efforts.

Risk brings excitement, instant gratification leaves players feeling something is lacking.

Yeah you had to earn magic back then, with 5e its everywhere. I guess in the rapid modern world getting stuff now is what younglings want / need.
I'm not sure trying to de-magic 5e would work. Despite being a fan of 5th, 1st, basic, TOR, MERP and Decipher LOTR......something just didn't work for me with AIME. The books had excellent re-sale value though so wasn't that much of a waste!
...

It does seem like there are just not enough players out there who find limits of any kind fun, and so the issue will continue to snowball.

There are some very interesting youtube videos and articles out there about game design from a video game perspective.

Do a search with the phrases:

Players will optimize the fun out of a game
How Game Designers Protect Players From Themselves


All of WotC's D&D survey's have been very player facing...

The reason why I think that these video game design issues are relevant to RPG's despite the media being different, is that I think that if WotC keeps the player facing survey model to shape their design direction: D&D will gradually succumb to this effect over time.

In my opinion, the signs of this are already there when you compare to how things were done to restrain PC power levels in past editions.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
There are some very interesting youtube videos and articles out there about game design from a video game perspective.

Do a search with the phrases:

Players will optimize the fun out of a game
How Game Designers Protect Players From Themselves


All of WotC's D&D survey's have been very player facing...

The reason why I think that these video game design issues are relevant to RPG's despite the media being different, is that I think that if WotC keeps the player facing survey model to shape their design direction: D&D will gradually succumb to this effect over time.

In my opinion, the signs of this are already there when you compare to how things were done to restrain PC power levels in past editions.
The problem is TSR and WOTC didn't design fun within the limits. And they let the problem go too long.

One example of how limits were designed to be fun is Class/Faction based Card Games. In Class/Faction based CCGs, each class/faction is given clear strengths and weaknesses and isn't allowed to overcome limits. Whenever a class/faction overcomes a limit, the community riots.

The issue with D&D's magic is that the strengths and weaknesses of each type of magic and each magic using class is not blatantly defined, not stuck to, and fraankly uneven. No shock magic doesn't feel special if no one asks "what can't an X do?".
 

gorice

Adventurer
If death spirals deter the low-to-no-risk combat-as-sport style of play I'm all for them.

And to answer @Fanaelialae 's point: as a player I too like switching my brain off sometimes and just beating up on some bad guys...but I'm also willing not only to recognize but to sometimes even lean into the idea that our PCs are every bit as "bad guy" as the opposition, and sometimes worse. We're just better at being bad. :)
I think you can have your cake and eat it by having lasting effects that are a long-term problem but not a short-term one. So, maybe the fighter can have a big heap of HP and doesn't suffer for losing them, but recovery takes a long time or involves some other difficulty.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
The problem is TSR and WOTC didn't design fun within the limits. And they let the problem go too long.

One example of how limits were designed to be fun is Class/Faction based Card Games. In Class/Faction based CCGs, each class/faction is given clear strengths and weaknesses and isn't allowed to overcome limits. Whenever a class/faction overcomes a limit, the community riots.

The issue with D&D's magic is that the strengths and weaknesses of each type of magic and each magic using class is not blatantly defined, not stuck to, and fraankly uneven.
No shock magic doesn't feel special if no one asks "what can't an X do?".

Agreed. The solution to something being "unfun" seems to always be to remove any limitations rather than to properly understand why a given mechanic isn't working as expected.

And WotC has the opposite problem of PvP Class/Faction based CCGs - whenever anyone has ever hinted at imposing limits of any kind on D&D casters: The "community" riots...

In my opinion; This is due to the fact that casters/PC's in general rarely get a taste of their own medicine in the default WotC "balanced encounter" play mode.

As a result with the player facing surveys the natural response is to encourage the designers to give PC's "MOAR POWERZ!", because when you ask "Is this fun?" in your surveys anything player facing that increases PC power levels will always be met with a resounding "Yes!", because most of the people replying to these surveys are players not GM's.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Agreed. The solution to something being "unfun" seems to always be to remove any limitations rather than to properly understand why a given mechanic isn't working as expected.

And WotC has the opposite problem of PvP Class/Faction based CCGs - whenever anyone has ever hinted at imposing limits of any kind on D&D casters: The "community" riots...

In my opinion; This is due to the fact that casters/PC's in general rarely get a taste of their own medicine in the default WotC "balanced encounter" play mode.

As a result with the player facing surveys the natural response is to encourage the designers to give PC's "MOAR POWERZ!", because when you ask "Is this fun?" in your surveys anything player facing that increases PC power levels will always be met with a resounding "Yes!", because most of the people replying to these surveys are players not GM's.
Well that's because WOTC and TSR both never commits to the limits and often does the limits wrong.

For example, when specialist wizards had to give up 2 schools to specialize and get one bonus spell slot per level... 2 things happened...
  1. WOTC created spells of one school that mimiced other schools.
  2. Players picked general wizards because the benefits of specialists weren't enough
What should have been done is lower the base slots per day by 1 and raise the specialist spell per day by 2 or 3. And not have as many school copying spells.

This is why the 5e Wizard subclasses are boring. The base wizard should only learn 1 spell per level but learn addition spells based on subclass.

It's weird when the arcane tricksters and eldritch knights have more thematic spell loadouts than sorcerers, wizards, bards, druids, and warlocks.
 

Undrave

Hero
Fighting should be the last resort, not the first one, particularly for any PCs that want to call themselves Good.
Death spiral games are one the whole a completely different paradigm to modern D&D, and while some people would like it, I don't know if it wouldn't be too much of a departure for the majority.
Now that would be one hell of a shot - not only hit the target but hit it a century back or foward in time. :)
Ooops
 

Undrave

Hero
Fighting should be the last resort, not the first one, particularly for any PCs that want to call themselves Good.
They should stop making the fight part of the game so much FUN then. And also not have about two entire classes who are useless when there's no fighting going on (Barbarian and Fighter)... otherwise I'm gonna keep wanting to play that part of the game.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
They should stop making the fight part of the game so much FUN then. And also not have about two entire classes who are useless when there's no fighting going on (Barbarian and Fighter)... otherwise I'm gonna keep wanting to play that part of the game.
When there's no fighting going on, a Fighter is only as useless as its player allows it to be. There's always a way for Fighters to stick their oars in to other situations unless they simply can't get to said situations due to lack of, say, flight.

Barbarians' options are more limited, to be sure; but I've never really liked the class o'ermuch anyway and wouldn't cry were it to disappear. Ideally, Barbarian should be a cultural background rather than a class.
 


Undrave

Hero
When there's no fighting going on, a Fighter is only as useless as its player allows it to be. There's always a way for Fighters to stick their oars in to other situations unless they simply can't get to said situations due to lack of, say, flight.
They can by virtue of being PCs but almost nothing about their ability to do stuff outside of combat has anything to do with their Fighteriness.

They could be two background stapled onto PC stats and it wouldn't really change much to their out-of-combat contribution.

And it doesn't change the fact that the fighting part of the game is pretty darn fun. People are gonna want to take part in the fun part of the game.
 

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