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


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Thomas Shey

Legend
If it feels the same to you, that's all that matters. It felt the same to me, and to others.

D&D spells always felt just like a mage was hauling around a set of immaterial handgrenades with different function too, but that still didn't mean it was true. If someone is going to make a broad statement they can either make it clear that was just how it came across to them or expect to get called on it.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Do you have an example? I'm genuinely curious. I find Skill Challenges, the regular one- or few-roll uses of skills, and the existing rules for traps, combat, and terrain, plus Page 42's improvisation guides, to be sufficiently comprehensive that I genuinely don't really know what you would need.

The one that comes to mind was the math-patch feats. There were also a few other feats that were just bad (and we didn't want to leave laying around as traps). I seem to also recall there was some stuff wrong with some of the Heroes of Shadow material, but I don't recall we ever got around to fixing it before that campaign ended.

Yes. "Tweaking" or "adjusting to taste" is not, at all, the kind of thing that was originally described. The thing originally described was literally reviewing the entire system "from top to bottom" and changing lots of things. Not just a tweak here or a change in perspective there, but a literal "debugging" of the ENTIRE SYSTEM.

Well, a "lot" of things is probably an overstatement unless a system is seriously problematic but you still want to use it for some reason (perhaps because everything else you can think of for a given campaign would require at least as much work), but I'm not convinced "top to bottom" is. Until you have a good gestalt of the system as a whole (which I'd read that as being what you need to look at in that phrase) you're either going to think things are problems that aren't, or not see problems where they are until you trip over them in play.

The systems I favor do not need to be debugged, because they already have been debugged. It might be the case--as you yourself have just said--that there are simply things the metaphorical "software" was never programmed to handle in the first place. But "tweaks" and addressing something the rules are silent on is not the same as "debugging" a whole system "from top to bottom."

See my comment above.

Irrelevant! It is possible to say they are the same in some way, thus they are the same, through and through, no exceptions.

Well, I expressed my opinion about that sort of hyperbole in my prior post.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
What "needs" fixing is, IME, often based on taste. In fact, everything we "fixed" in 4e and 5e was simply our taste. There was truly no need for us to fix either game.

I'm afraid I don't buy that, at least as a generalization (I did see the "often"). I think there's usually a significant difference between things that produce a playstyle you don't want or don't serve the setting you're trying to use it in, and ones that actively cause problems in play (and that probably didn't get noticed simply because no one pushed on them and/or made a big enough deal about them for the designers to decide to address them).
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
It's actually really funny really. Most games don't bother. It doesn't matter what character you play in most games - everyone at the table uses the same mechanics 99% of the time. Whether it's a trad game like GURPS or some hippy dippy pass the story stick Indie game. But, for some bizarre reason, mostly because, I think, of tradition, there is a subset of D&D gamers who insist that every player at the table has to learn a whole set of new rules every time they change characters.

D&D was the king of special-casing from pretty much day one. If you think its bad now, go back and find a copy of AD&D1e sometime (and OD&D was better only in having less bits, to the degree that was "better").

No thanks. Give me streamlined and simple and I'll handle the other stuff.

Well, I have to note that simplicity below a certain level is not a virtue when you come at an RPG as also a game; OD&D was simple but if you cared about the gameplay element, it was also often dull as dishwater unless you were there to "play the GM."
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
D&D spells always felt just like a mage was hauling around a set of immaterial handgrenades with different function too, but that still didn't mean it was true. If someone is going to make a broad statement they can either make it clear that was just how it came across to them or expect to get called on it.
Ok. That's how it comes across to me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The systems I favor do not need to be debugged, because they already have been debugged.
Or have had their bugs baked in so deeply they've become integral parts of the system...and yet are still bugs.

An example applicable to all three of 3e, 4e, and 5e: the shoehorning of what should be discrete sub-systems into universal mechanics.
It might be the case--as you yourself have just said--that there are simply things the metaphorical "software" was never programmed to handle in the first place.
Which, in the case of a big-tent RPG system, is itself a rather significant bug.
But "tweaks" and addressing something the rules are silent on is not the same as "debugging" a whole system "from top to bottom."
If I read through a paper with an eye to editing it and only end up making a very few changes, I've still given it the same depth of read as if I'd changed or rewritten whole passages of it.
Irrelevant! It is possible to say they are the same in some way, thus they are the same, through and through, no exceptions.
Either there's a typo here or this just doesn't make sense.

Chocolate ice cream and strawberry ice cream are not the same through and through, even though they are the same in some ways e.g. they are both ice cream, both frozen, etc.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To me, it all comes down to priorities. My highest priority for D&DOne is ease of use at the table. Given the choice between fantastic ideas that are really cool and interesting and super immersive and something that I can use intuitively and not have to faff around with the rule books too often, well, ease of use wins hands down every time.

I have no problem making my game interesting. Making the game interesting is what a DM is supposed to do. That's your job. That's the biggest part of being a DM, or it should be - making sure that the game is interesting. I can handle that bit. Neat ideas, cool adventures, interesting scenarios? Yup, I can do that. Or, at the very least, I can steal ideas from people who are far more creative that I am and run those. :D

But remember fifteen different subsystems that all do the same thing at the end of the day? Nope, not interested. Give me one rule that works most of the time and I'll muddle through on the times that it doesn't.

The idea that in game uniqueness is created by mechanical distinction is something I rejected a long time ago.

It's actually really funny really. Most games don't bother. It doesn't matter what character you play in most games - everyone at the table uses the same mechanics 99% of the time. Whether it's a trad game like GURPS or some hippy dippy pass the story stick Indie game. But, for some bizarre reason, mostly because, I think, of tradition, there is a subset of D&D gamers who insist that every player at the table has to learn a whole set of new rules every time they change characters.

No thanks. Give me streamlined and simple and I'll handle the other stuff.
Where I say give me mechanics that do the specific things that need doing in that instance, and if it ends up being complex (particularly on the DM-side) then so be it.

As a player, sure, I want it simple. Mechanics get in the way of roleplaying.

But as a DM, I want it as complex as it needs to be to give granularity in resolution and at least vaguely wave at reflecting reality - or at least being able to reflect the in-game reality - halfway consistently. Therefore, I-as-DM expect to be laregly dealing with those complexities so the players don't have to bother with them as much.

What gets sacrificed, every time, on the twin altars of simplicity and speed are granularity and detail; and while it's also certainly possible to go too far in the other direction and end up with a game that loses itself in details, 4e and 5e in their rush to simplify have IMO lost a lot - as in, far too much - of what makes play interesting.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Only if you assume every big-tent RPG system is of necessity designed to handle everything.
IMO that assumption is so obvious it shouldn't need stating; as if an RPG system isn't designed to at least try to handle - maybe not everything, but a very great variety of things including almost every playstyle - it's not big-tent, and trying to present/market it as if it was is disingenuous at best.

That's IMO a mistake both 3e and 4e made in their marketing: they were promoted as big-tent games but each had trouble supporting quite a few playstyles while not-so-subtly promoting others, and by design were hard to kitbash. Contrast this with 0e, 1e, and to a much lesser extent 5e; where they instead just give us the system and let each table make what they would of it both style-wise and rules-wise.
 

The one that comes to mind was the math-patch feats. There were also a few other feats that were just bad (and we didn't want to leave laying around as traps). I seem to also recall there was some stuff wrong with some of the Heroes of Shadow material, but I don't recall we ever got around to fixing it before that campaign ended.
I would consider that stuff needing spot-fixes at best, rather than part of (again, as described) a "review...of the entire system top to bottom," which Lanefan has doubled down on that meaning exactly what it sounds like, calling it a "comprehensive review" and specifically expecting some things in a "needs-a-complete-rebuild" category.

The "math-fix" feats are an area I think most players just had a different understanding of how things were supposed to work. The designers wanted fights to get (mathematically) harder at high levels, so players would have to make use of their more-powerful abilities and synergistic effects in order to rise to the challenge. IOW, the designers were specifically trying to avert the "treadmill" effect in a very mild way. Instead, people reamed them for it, so they relented in the only way that could preserve their original intent while letting people address it if they wanted to.

Most feats weren't that bad--nothing nearly as bad as Pathfinder's Death or Glory, for example, and AFAIK nothing hitting the lows that 3.5e did--though I grant that there were some that just weren't really worth it 99% of the time. I don't, personally, consider that a breakdown of the system. There should be some value in learning what are good feats and what are mediocre feats, but there shouldn't be gaps like the difference between 3.5e Natural Spell and 3.5e Toughness.

Well, a "lot" of things is probably an overstatement unless a system is seriously problematic but you still want to use it for some reason (perhaps because everything else you can think of for a given campaign would require at least as much work), but I'm not convinced "top to bottom" is. Until you have a good gestalt of the system as a whole (which I'd read that as being what you need to look at in that phrase) you're either going to think things are problems that aren't, or not see problems where they are until you trip over them in play.
So you need to have a totally comprehensive, encyclopedic knowledge of everything contained in the entire game before you even begin preparing to play? That's patently ridiculous. More importantly, it will guarantee the eventual death of the TTRPG hobby. Ain't nobody got time for that.

See my comment above.
Ditto.

Well, I expressed my opinion about that sort of hyperbole in my prior post.
It was satire.

Or have had their bugs baked in so deeply they've become integral parts of the system...and yet are still bugs.
Er...nope. I've never once encountered a "bug" in 13A or DW. 4e had a few, mostly because it was rushed out the door (it seriously needed another 6-12 months in the oven.) But almost all of those were addressed within the first year, and addressed extremely well.

An example applicable to all three of 3e, 4e, and 5e: the shoehorning of what should be discrete sub-systems into universal mechanics.
Discrete subsystems are a bad solution to most things. They should be avoided unless they are absolutely necessary, because they add complexity without guaranteeing any more depth or richness to the experience. Players appreciate complexity which leads to depth and richness. They do not appreciate complexity that adds nothing other than complexity. That's the reason TTRPGs in general have abandoned the absolute nightmare tangle of overlapping, contradictory, esoteric subsystems of early D&D.

Do you have a practical example of something that you think would be significantly improved by being a discrete subsystem? Again, I'm not saying it's impossible for discrete subsystems to be of value. They're just an unwise design choice unless you're very confident that you get back more than you're metaphorically paying for them.

Which, in the case of a big-tent RPG system, is itself a rather significant bug.
As Thomas Shey said above, "big-tent" and "universal" are not the same. The former is welcoming a variety of players within whatever areas the tent covers. The latter is offering to support all possible things one might want to do with it.

The fact that many D&D fans think the Monk should not exist at all, while others love it and want to keep it, proves that it is not possible for D&D to be simultaneously universal and big-tent. It must either become exclusionary, or tell folks who are exclusionary "sorry, you aren't going to be able to tell people who like that stuff to go play some other game and leave your precious D&D alone."

As a major fan of things like dragonborn and Warlords, I can tell you right now, there's a very vocal group who would be pleased as punch if

If I read through a paper with an eye to editing it and only end up making a very few changes, I've still given it the same depth of read as if I'd changed or rewritten whole passages of it.
But that's not what you're talking about. You're talking about reading a literal textbook--because that's what the DMG is!--and comprehensively knowing literally every single thing in it, down to the smallest detail, and then comprehensively reviewing every single one of those details, somehow testing them without playing them, adjusting them (and testing those adjustments, again somehow without playing them), before you allow yourself to prepare even a single campaign.

That is completely ridiculous.

Either there's a typo here or this just doesn't make sense.

Chocolate ice cream and strawberry ice cream are not the same through and through, even though they are the same in some ways e.g. they are both ice cream, both frozen, etc.
It was satire.

People keep asserting that, simply because there is a common format, all 4e classes must be perfectly identical in every meaningful respect. Thus, because they can be said to be "the same" in one specific way (they use a common format for "powers"), they must be "the same" in all ways. I was highlighting how ridiculous that claim is if you take even a moment to analyze it, as you have just done.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've seen streamlined and simple the way D&D wants to do it (by having like one mechanic) though. No thanks.

Logical application of subsystems (as opposed to D&D's way of adding a sub system for every new concept)
Except, that often is the logical application of sub-systems - as each distinct need arises, a distinct sub-system is created to handle it. Otherwise, I agree with the above.
and lots and lots of keywording is the way I like it.
Keywording makes me think too much of M:tG and its tome-like rulebook; and while it works for M:tG where there's only so much text space on each card, in an RPG (where text space shouldn't be much of an issue) IME things too often ends up pigeonholed into keywords that would be better left as unique.

That, and once there's more than a few dozen keywords* you then have to remember them all and exactly what they mean and-or represent. I'd rather things be spelled out each time they're relevant, on the design/authorial assumption that what you're reading right now (e.g. a monster stat-block, a spell write-up, etc.) should be the only place you need to look to get all the info you need about that thing, without having to refer to somewhere else.

* - and-or abbreviations; some are common enough to be baked-in e.g. HD for hit dice or HP for hit points, but use too many of these and it can get confusing in a hurry.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Most feats weren't that bad--nothing nearly as bad as Pathfinder's Death or Glory, for example, and AFAIK nothing hitting the lows that 3.5e did--though I grant that there were some that just weren't really worth it 99% of the time. I don't, personally, consider that a breakdown of the system. There should be some value in learning what are good feats and what are mediocre feats, but there shouldn't be gaps like the difference between 3.5e Natural Spell and 3.5e Toughness.

So you need to have a totally comprehensive, encyclopedic knowledge of everything contained in the entire game before you even begin preparing to play?
Your first paragraph above makes the case perfectly for why the answer to the second shouuld be - as far as practical - yes.

Gaps like the difference between Natural Spell and Toughness are exactly the sort of thing that, ideally, you pick up on and fix before they ever hit the table. Or, second-best, you pick up on and fix the first time either one enters play.
That's patently ridiculous. More importantly, it will guarantee the eventual death of the TTRPG hobby. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Almost 50 years in and the hobby's still chugging right along; and IMO this system-review piece has been a soft requirement since day one.

IMO most if not all of the complaints about any system stem from the DM or GM not going over it first and instead blindly trusting the designers to have got it right. And sometimes they do get it right, but you won't know that until you're alreayd playing; and if they got it wrong, by then it's too late.
It was satire.
Ah. Went right over my head.
Discrete subsystems are a bad solution to most things. They should be avoided unless they are absolutely necessary, because they add complexity without guaranteeing any more depth or richness to the experience. Players appreciate complexity which leads to depth and richness. They do not appreciate complexity that adds nothing other than complexity. That's the reason TTRPGs in general have abandoned the absolute nightmare tangle of overlapping, contradictory, esoteric subsystems of early D&D.

Do you have a practical example of something that you think would be significantly improved by being a discrete subsystem? Again, I'm not saying it's impossible for discrete subsystems to be of value. They're just an unwise design choice unless you're very confident that you get back more than you're metaphorically paying for them.
From 1e/OSR - roll-under-stat as a type of check, particularly for non-physical things e.g. remembering something or persuading someone.

Benefits: greater granularity; every stat point becomes meaningful (not just the even numbers), any character can do it; and - meta - it keeps things interesting as rolling high isn't always beneficial.

Drawback: doesn't work in systems like 3e where stats higher than 20 are fairly common.

Incorrectly seen as drawback: disunification of rolling mechanics.
As Thomas Shey said above, "big-tent" and "universal" are not the same. The former is welcoming a variety of players within whatever areas the tent covers.
That definition can apply to every RPG ever written. :) The only variables are how big a variety of players and how big is the tent's coverage area.
The latter is offering to support all possible things one might want to do with it.
Yes, and IMO D&D ought to aim for this goal at least in a broad sense: instead of promoting a playstyle, be playstyle-neutral and support everyone.
The fact that many D&D fans think the Monk should not exist at all, while others love it and want to keep it, proves that it is not possible for D&D to be simultaneously universal and big-tent. It must either become exclusionary, or tell folks who are exclusionary "sorry, you aren't going to be able to tell people who like that stuff to go play some other game and leave your precious D&D alone."

As a major fan of things like dragonborn and Warlords, I can tell you right now, there's a very vocal group who would be pleased as punch if
That's the problem with a big-tent system - it does include all those things, even though some might not like those inclusions.

I mean, while you like dragonborn and warlords I've no use for either; but we should both still be able to reside in the same tent.

The best word in the designer's lexicon is "optional". :)
But that's not what you're talking about. You're talking about reading a literal textbook--because that's what the DMG is!--and comprehensively knowing literally every single thing in it, down to the smallest detail, and then comprehensively reviewing every single one of those details, somehow testing them without playing them, adjusting them (and testing those adjustments, again somehow without playing them), before you allow yourself to prepare even a single campaign.
Down to the smallest detail, that's overkill. Knowing it well enough to at least be able to red-flag possible headaches in play (or, if simple, fix them up front), yes; and that includes red-flagging and-or fixing things that might not work for your specific table.

And (I hope) obviously, I'm speaking to and about experienced DMs here. New DMs often have little choice but to go with what's in the books until they learn what works for them and what doesn't.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That cute little pamphlet with everything else written on the cards themselves?
That cute little pamphlet - is that a thing again? (last time I bought cards was 10+ years ago and they'd stopped including those pamphlets) Also doesn't help if you're playing with older cards, or cards from a set that had its own unique keywords.

The "keywords" section in the tournament rules is, last I looked, rather lengthy... :)
 

And (I hope) obviously, I'm speaking to and about experienced DMs here. New DMs often have little choice but to go with what's in the books until they learn what works for them and what doesn't.
I am...extremely frustrated upon reading these two sentences.

Because literally the entire time, I have been advocating that the books should be written for the newbie DMs who need to rely on the books. That the debugging should be done in advance so that these newbie DMs can figure things out faster, catch up to their experienced peers, and produce better, fuller, richer experiences. That the experienced DMs can contribute their acquired knowledge, distill down as much of it as is practical, and put it into the books in concise, effective, solution-focused ways.

To only now, after several pages of back-and-forth, say that you're speaking about experienced DMs...it's just...why would you lead us on this massive wild goose chase when I have been explicit, repeatedly, about this being "let's help the new folks who need it"?

You don't write the instruction manuals for old hands. You write them for the fresh-faced neophytes! That's what an instruction manual is for! “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I am...extremely frustrated upon reading these two sentences.

Because literally the entire time, I have been advocating that the books should be written for the newbie DMs who need to rely on the books. That the debugging should be done in advance so that these newbie DMs can figure things out faster, catch up to their experienced peers, and produce better, fuller, richer experiences. That the experienced DMs can contribute their acquired knowledge, distill down as much of it as is practical, and put it into the books in concise, effective, solution-focused ways.
And that's great. The books should be written for the new DMs, no argument there. And yes, preferably without bugs. :)

But once a DM has becme experienced and wants to tailor the system to suit her desires and-or those of the table, doesn't it make sense that, if-when adopting a new system or edition, that tailoring be done ahead of time?
You don't write the instruction manuals for old hands. You write them for the fresh-faced neophytes! That's what an instruction manual is for!
Perhaps so; but you're still writing the system for everyone, new and old.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
Not necessarily true: preventative medicine is just as useful - if not more so - than curative. :)
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
That cute little pamphlet - is that a thing again? (last time I bought cards was 10+ years ago and they'd stopped including those pamphlets) Also doesn't help if you're playing with older cards, or cards from a set that had its own unique keywords.

The "keywords" section in the tournament rules is, last I looked, rather lengthy... :)
I came back to the game after ~10 years and the only thing I noticed is Double Strike and also that they gave names to things like what we called 'the Serra Angel Ability', 'the poisonous creature ability that isn't poison counters'. The set keywords are either, again, on the cards or on a little card that comes in the booster pack. The boosters also come with tokens and proxies now.
 

That cute little pamphlet - is that a thing again? (last time I bought cards was 10+ years ago and they'd stopped including those pamphlets) Also doesn't help if you're playing with older cards, or cards from a set that had its own unique keywords.

The "keywords" section in the tournament rules is, last I looked, rather lengthy... :)
It is very unlikely that D&D--which grows and changes far more slowly than MTG ever thought of doing--would ever reach that point. MTG retains cards first printed in 1993. The game is pushing 30 years old at this point. No edition of D&D has ever run longer than--what, 10, 11 years? 15 tops? And 5e is already gearing up to make sure that trend continues.

So, while I recognize that excessive use of keywords is certainly a problem, you'd need to actually demonstrate that it would be excessive. Just making a comparison to another game that also uses keywords is rather poor evidence that all games which use keywords always become that bad or worse.

For example, based on what data I can get regarding 4e (which is reasonably comprehensive, but I don't have the patience to do a perfectly thorough search), there are exactly 42 keywords for powers in 4e. The majority of these keywords are simply descriptive, e.g. things like power source (Divine, Martial, Arcane, etc.), damage type (Fire, Force, Cold, etc.), the tools you use (Weapon vs Implement), or the kind of effect applied (Fear, Healing, Illusion, etc.) About a third are class- or source-specific (e.g. Spirit for Shamans, Channel Divinity for Divine classes, Beast Form for Druids, Augmentable for non-Monk Psionic classes.) So, even with a pile of class-specific keywords that will only need to be known by players playing those specific classes...we have roughly half the keywords present in MTG (which, as far as I can tell, has about 95 keywords, though a small number of those have been permanently retired, two or three from what I'm seeing.)

And that's great. The books should be written for the new DMs, no argument there. And yes, preferably without bugs. :)

But once a DM has becme experienced and wants to tailor the system to suit her desires and-or those of the table, doesn't it make sense that, if-when adopting a new system or edition, that tailoring be done ahead of time?

Perhaps so; but you're still writing the system for everyone, new and old.
Okay...but...the new people are the ones with the greatest need, and the ones who are most likely to be lost if that need fails to be met. Old hands can often care for themselves, which is pretty much literally what your argument is built upon (that old hands not only can but should become amateur designers every single time they want to run a new system), and, perhaps more importantly from a business standpoint, old hands are "hooked," whereas neophytes need a reason to stick around in order to become old hands.

Hence, while I agree that the book should be designed with a consideration for everyone likely to use it, it is (almost always) the neophytes who should be prioritized whenever one cannot choose to equally focus on both. That doesn't mean throwing the old hands to the wolves; their interests cannot be neglected. But if you genuinely have to choose between making it easier, smoother, and more convenient to get into the game and run it as a t0t4l n00b, vs making it easier, smoother, and more convenient to get into the game and run it as a l33t ub3r h4xx0r, and cannot help both no matter how much effort you put into it, then 99% of the time the correct choice is the former.

That is not how the 5e DMG is written. Emphatically not. Even in places where it doesn't need to choose between supporting one or the other, it favors the old hands over the neophytes.

Not necessarily true: preventative medicine is just as useful - if not more so - than curative. :)
...it's a Bible quote. And preventative medicine is not needed--that doesn't mean it's not good, useful, wise, etc. It's just not needed. There are a great many things in life that are not needed yet are extremely important. I think most of us would agree TTRPGs are among those things!
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
IMO that assumption is so obvious it shouldn't need stating; as if an RPG system isn't designed to at least try to handle - maybe not everything, but a very great variety of things including almost every playstyle - it's not big-tent, and trying to present/market it as if it was is disingenuous at best.

That's a much narrower statement than your original. I'm also of the opinion that its delusional to think any game system really handles all styles competently without either house ruling or extensive optional rules; some styles are mutually exclusive.
 

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