The many types of Sandboxes and Open-World Campaigns

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yeah, sorry. I found the comparison exasperating. There’s a different dynamic between video games and tabletop RPGs. The latter isn’t dependent on an upstream developer to provide content or constrained to do just a prescribed list of things. It would be terrible to put the kind of grinding players tend to optimize around in MMOs into a tabletop RPG.
It's not just about grinding. But that's part of it. I think the comparison is nearly perfect. Gamers are gamers. It doesn't matter what game they play or what platform it's on. Tabletop RPGs or MMOs. Most gamers are still out to win, and almost laser focused on finding the shortest, most efficient path to win.

And grinding is in D&D. Look at XP for monsters and all the small, pointless, and barely resource draining fights packed into most dungeons and adventures. That's pure grinding. The CR system and the adventuring day and the balance of player resources. The devs designed the game around the assumption that parties would have between 6-8 medium combat encounters per day...and balanced PC resources for that. Actually hitting that mark is grinding.

And there's the thousand "little" ways players push for efficiency. The five-minute workday. Focusing fire...but screaming if they're targeted by focused fire. Focusing on the enemy leaders and casters...but screaming if their leaders or casters are focused on. The way combat almost always devolves into static, unmoving blocks of PCs and monsters. The way descriptions in combat almost always fade into a dry recitation of numbers. Players trying to just call out a skill and make a check instead of describing what they're doing in the fiction. If forced to take some kind of flaw, find the one that is least likely to ever come up. If it's a point-buy system, find the flaw with the biggest yield of points that will have the least impact on play. On and on. Some of these the tabletop RPG community recognizes as problematic, others are seen as simply smart. And DM's who push back labeled bad.

It's also why most actual play streams generally make terrible viewing and gamers generally make for terrible storytellers. Good stories are about emotion and drama, gamers tend to be laser-focused on winning and efficiency. All the things that make for good drama are dismissed out of hand as "stupid" by most gamers. Which is why the best and most popular actual play streams and podcasts are by professional storytellers who happen to be gamers. And there are no "gamer first" streams or podcasts that are widely popular.

You also see this in gamer analysis of other media. Like, "Why didn't they use the eagles to fly the ring to Mount Doom?" Because the point is the emotional and drama-filled story that results from them not using the eagles. The point isn't the quickest, most efficient path to victory. Like optimizers seemingly not grokking why someone wouldn't optimize.
Unless you’re doing open table or public play, surely you’re able to filter players over time until you end up with a group that aligns with what you want to do?
As one data point, I present my current 5E West Marches game. I've had 43 players in that game over its short life (almost nine months now). The current active roster is 16. Of those 43, 2 have not tried to game the system. Neither of which are currently active because life got in the way. Most of the rest who quit, the other 25, are no longer playing because of various problems such as egregious metagaming, rage quitting when caught cheating (where did that extra 500gp come from?), one rage quit because I wasn't giving them enough XP (at the time they had the most XP in the game), one rage quit over my mentioning the centaur climbing problem, another rage quit because the mold earth cantrip wasn't full-on earth bending, one rage quit because they took one damage (literally one point of damage), etc.
I’ve built and played optimized characters. It’s pretty fun. I would guess many of the people you decry are also having fun. That’s why I don’t care all that much about optimized characters. The players are still usually engaging with the rest of the game, especially since mine aren’t just about overcoming mechanical challenges, so it only becomes a problem in certain cases (e.g., when one specialist is way better than another at the same thing, which is highly system-dependent).
The problem is it puts the DM and the rest of the group in a bind. Either the DM lets the optimized characters just stomp everything, rendering the game non-challenging and no fun (literally optimizing the fun out of the game), or the DM ups the difficulty of the game to match the optimized characters...which will then slaughter the non-optimized characters. So the players who don't want to optimize are either forced to optimize, lose dozens of characters in a horror-show of a game, or quit. Or the DM has to some how have two sets of monsters running constantly, one set for the optimized and one set for the non-optimized...keep them straight and never let them cross over lest there be another slaughter. How about ask the players to not optimize? Sure. You're then labeled a bad DM because all playstyles and preferences are valid. Or so I've been told.
Games are about something. In mine, the players pick what they want to do for the campaign (“loot the fallen capital” in my current game), and then we play to find out what happens. That’s the premise. I expect players to engage with what the game is about and not be disruptive to that end.
Sure. I expect much the same. I'm perpetually disappointed though. When starting my West Marches game I was very upfront that it was going to be old-school with food and water tracking, light sources, variant encumbrance, wilderness survival, exploration focused, etc. Really wanted to play up the old-school feel and make it grounded in the world and make resource management an important part of the game. So...of course...about 75% of the initial character concepts were Outlanders for the free food and water, druids with goodberry, rangers who never get lost, every caster with light, most picked races with darkvision and/or powerful build...completely obviating the entire stated focus of the game. I said "I want these things to matter" to which the players collectively said "nah." But importantly, they didn't opt not to play...they opted to play, but opted to render the focus of the game moot. So I had to ban things and house rule stuff to reiterate that no, really, this stuff is going to matter. And the players that stuck around complain about that to this day.
I played in a group that had a player who was notorious for being disruptive. After he got his character exiled in the first hour of play in L5R, they told a story of how he got the party TPK’d after offending a bunch of NPCs. Why would you invite back a player who disrupts and destroys games habitually?

I’ve been playing only a couple of decades, but my experience has been that the number of really problematic players has been in the low single digits. Not questioning your experience, just saying how mine differs.
Sure. I think there's a level of disruption that's missed here. There's a spectrum between shows up five-minutes late and knifes the DM. I have no patience for people who are properly disruptive or destroy games. I'd rather not play than babysit adults. But players can still be disruptive without destroying games. Going against the premise of the game, insisting on playing the odd-man-out, loner edgelords, passive characters, roleplay terrorists, on and on. I deal with the minorly disruptive players because, in my experience, that's just gamers being gamers. Exhausting though it is. Which is not helped at all by the broader community having this toxic positivity of everything's okay and DMs who don't put up with disruptive behavior are bad. If I only got to play with people who weren't disruptive at all, I'd never get to play.
That sucks.
Pretty much.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
It's not just about grinding. But that's part of it. I think the comparison is nearly perfect. Gamers are gamers. It doesn't matter what game they play or what platform it's on. Tabletop RPGs or MMOs. Most gamers are still out to win, and almost laser focused on finding the shortest, most efficient path to win.
Well, yeah. Winning is fun. I just don’t see the same dynamic. His two big examples were the PvP honor grind, which was terrible regardless, and the raiding scene. The thing I remember from raiding in WoW is a lot of people were really into “the meta”, but they sucked at the game. It was a shibboleth. They would have been much better off learning not to be bad. I swear, our MT gemmed avoidance in early Mists of Pandaria because that was the meta at the time, but he died all the freaking time. If he had used hybrid gems (health/avoidance), he wouldn’t have died, and we would have made better progress, but that wasn’t optimal. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ But I digress.

The closest analogue I see in the tabletop RPG space is 3e optimization culture. I had a player like that once. He was very concerned about whether things were optimal or how people were being “punished” because of some tortured logic. I think he was trying to go for a telekinesis build where he got to launch a bunch of large objects. I doubt it would have really mattered if he hadn’t rage quit towards the end of book 1 of Kingmaker. It seems 5e has a similar culture, but I think there’s also a lot of people into customization for OC purposes (and why it seems like the anniversary edition is getting feat chains and background feats to help people give mechanical teeth to their concepts). I’m less familiar with 5e optimization culture, but my impression from running the game is the tools it gives you are nearly useless regardless.

And grinding is in D&D. Look at XP for monsters and all the small, pointless, and barely resource draining fights packed into most dungeons and adventures. That's pure grinding. The CR system and the adventuring day and the balance of player resources. The devs designed the game around the assumption that parties would have between 6-8 medium combat encounters per day...and balanced PC resources for that. Actually hitting that mark is grinding.
Isn’t one solution not to worry? It’s a sandbox, so it should make sense that things aren’t necessarily balanced against the PCs’ capabilities. It doesn’t matter how optimized a character is if they’re faced a problem that can’t be killed to death.

And there's the thousand "little" ways players push for efficiency. The five-minute workday. Focusing fire...but screaming if they're targeted by focused fire. Focusing on the enemy leaders and casters...but screaming if their leaders or casters are focused on. The way combat almost always devolves into static, unmoving blocks of PCs and monsters. The way descriptions in combat almost always fade into a dry recitation of numbers. Players trying to just call out a skill and make a check instead of describing what they're doing in the fiction. If forced to take some kind of flaw, find the one that is least likely to ever come up. If it's a point-buy system, find the flaw with the biggest yield of points that will have the least impact on play. On and on. Some of these the tabletop RPG community recognizes as problematic, others are seen as simply smart. And DM's who push back labeled bad.
This sounds like having wildly divergent priorities and expectations clashing at the table. The audience for 5e is so incredibly broad and with so many different priorities. I don’t know what would be a good approach for filtering for those with a compatible subset of priorities. (I also expect a lot of people who would be more inclined to what you are doing are looking for OSR games rather than trying to do it in 5e, so they select themselves out of the pool.)

It's also why most actual play streams generally make terrible viewing and gamers generally make for terrible storytellers. Good stories are about emotion and drama, gamers tend to be laser-focused on winning and efficiency. All the things that make for good drama are dismissed out of hand as "stupid" by most gamers. Which is why the best and most popular actual play streams and podcasts are by professional storytellers who happen to be gamers. And there are no "gamer first" streams or podcasts that are widely popular.
To be fair, D&D doesn’t do much to enable dramatic games. It requires a concerned effort by the entire group to make it happen. There are other games that do a better job of that (though maybe not so much if one wants to play through a curated story rather than to discover it through play).

You also see this in gamer analysis of other media. Like, "Why didn't they use the eagles to fly the ring to Mount Doom?" Because the point is the emotional and drama-filled story that results from them not using the eagles. The point isn't the quickest, most efficient path to victory. Like optimizers seemingly not grokking why someone wouldn't optimize.
Is that gamer analysis or geek analysis? Seems like more of the latter to me.

As one data point, I present my current 5E West Marches game. I've had 43 players in that game over its short life (almost nine months now). The current active roster is 16. Of those 43, 2 have not tried to game the system. Neither of which are currently active because life got in the way. Most of the rest who quit, the other 25, are no longer playing because of various problems such as egregious metagaming, rage quitting when caught cheating (where did that extra 500gp come from?), one rage quit because I wasn't giving them enough XP (at the time they had the most XP in the game), one rage quit over my mentioning the centaur climbing problem, another rage quit because the mold earth cantrip wasn't full-on earth bending, one rage quit because they took one damage (literally one point of damage), etc.
Yeah, that sucks. I don’t think those are all optimizers causing problems (I would bet some are OC players who don’t like constraints on their concepts), but there are also some pretty bad players. I would consider the last three examples as the kind of players I wouldn’t want.

The problem is it puts the DM and the rest of the group in a bind. Either the DM lets the optimized characters just stomp everything, rendering the game non-challenging and no fun (literally optimizing the fun out of the game), or the DM ups the difficulty of the game to match the optimized characters...which will then slaughter the non-optimized characters. So the players who don't want to optimize are either forced to optimize, lose dozens of characters in a horror-show of a game, or quit. Or the DM has to some how have two sets of monsters running constantly, one set for the optimized and one set for the non-optimized...keep them straight and never let them cross over lest there be another slaughter. How about ask the players to not optimize?
Sure, it can reach a point where it’s disruptive. My threshold for that is pretty high, but I also don’t put a lot of focus on combat.

Sure. You're then labeled a bad DM because all playstyles and preferences are valid. Or so I've been told.
I think that can be true, but it is also true that they don’t all mix at the same table. There are a number of playstyles that will not have fun at my table, and I am unapologetic about that.

Sure. I expect much the same. I'm perpetually disappointed though. When starting my West Marches game I was very upfront that it was going to be old-school with food and water tracking, light sources, variant encumbrance, wilderness survival, exploration focused, etc. Really wanted to play up the old-school feel and make it grounded in the world and make resource management an important part of the game. So...of course...about 75% of the initial character concepts were Outlanders for the free food and water, druids with goodberry, rangers who never get lost, every caster with light, most picked races with darkvision and/or powerful build...completely obviating the entire stated focus of the game. I said "I want these things to matter" to which the players collectively said "nah." But importantly, they didn't opt not to play...they opted to play, but opted to render the focus of the game moot. So I had to ban things and house rule stuff to reiterate that no, really, this stuff is going to matter. And the players that stuck around complain about that to this day.
These are all reasons why I would not use 5e for that kind of game. There’s a lot of stuff built into the system that negates exploration-based gameplay. One can try to fix it, but then you have to convince people looking for a 5e game to play 5e-but-different.

Sure. I think there's a level of disruption that's missed here. There's a spectrum between shows up five-minutes late and knifes the DM. I have no patience for people who are properly disruptive or destroy games. I'd rather not play than babysit adults. But players can still be disruptive without destroying games. Going against the premise of the game, insisting on playing the odd-man-out, loner edgelords, passive characters, roleplay terrorists, on and on. I deal with the minorly disruptive players because, in my experience, that's just gamers being gamers. Exhausting though it is. Which is not helped at all by the broader community having this toxic positivity of everything's okay and DMs who don't put up with disruptive behavior are bad. If I only got to play with people who weren't disruptive at all, I'd never get to play.
I think people are entitled to run the games they want to run, but why run a game where a lot of people you’re going to be running for will want something different from it than what you’re offering?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Well, yeah. Winning is fun.
But that's the thing. The players can't "win" D&D. So trying to is a waste of time. The characters can succeed or fail at given tasks. But the closest thing to a "win" condition D&D has is playing the game. But that's a whole other can of worms we don't need to get into.
I just don’t see the same dynamic. His two big examples were the PvP honor grind, which was terrible regardless, and the raiding scene. The thing I remember from raiding in WoW is a lot of people were really into “the meta”, but they sucked at the game. It was a shibboleth. They would have been much better off learning not to be bad. I swear, our MT gemmed avoidance in early Mists of Pandaria because that was the meta at the time, but he died all the freaking time. If he had used hybrid gems (health/avoidance), he wouldn’t have died, and we would have made better progress, but that wasn’t optimal. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ But I digress.
Sometimes the number crunchers are wrong. There's also a difference between what a spreadsheet spits out and how things actually work in practice. This is also the danger of D&D players simply copying & pasting someone else's build. The person who built it understands the whys and hows of it working...the person copying it...not so much.
The closest analogue I see in the tabletop RPG space is 3e optimization culture. I had a player like that once. He was very concerned about whether things were optimal or how people were being “punished” because of some tortured logic. I think he was trying to go for a telekinesis build where he got to launch a bunch of large objects. I doubt it would have really mattered if he hadn’t rage quit towards the end of book 1 of Kingmaker. It seems 5e has a similar culture, but I think there’s also a lot of people into customization for OC purposes (and why it seems like the anniversary edition is getting feat chains and background feats to help people give mechanical teeth to their concepts). I’m less familiar with 5e optimization culture, but my impression from running the game is the tools it gives you are nearly useless regardless.
Mostly because everything that even resembled a challenge, hindrance, or inconvenience was removed or obviated. The default monster vs player set up with CR is laughable. Optimization in 5E is basically a waste of time. The default is so far below easy mode that there's no reason to bother. But they still do.
Isn’t one solution not to worry? It’s a sandbox, so it should make sense that things aren’t necessarily balanced against the PCs’ capabilities. It doesn’t matter how optimized a character is if they’re faced a problem that can’t be killed to death.
To me there's no point to playing the game unless it's challenging. I push for things to be unbalanced and challenging. Which leads back into what I posted that you quoted. Things will be wildly above their pay grade, wildly below their pay grade, and everything in between. But, importantly, if some PCs are optimized and some aren't...the non-optimizing players will lose PCs at a much greater rate, forcing them to 1) optimize, 2) put up with constantly resetting PCs, or; 3) quit. It also leads to the optimized characters lasting longer, gathering lots more XP and loot and being wildly ahead of the curve in the long run. I'd rather not have that problem. The easiest solution is not not allow optimization. And to be clear, optimization to me is not about wanting a high stat in your main class ability score. Optimization is things like the coffee-lock or infinite damage builds or other nonsense. You want great weapon master and sentinel, sure. You want to be good with a bow, sure. You want infinite spells, nah.
This sounds like having wildly divergent priorities and expectations clashing at the table. The audience for 5e is so incredibly broad and with so many different priorities. I don’t know what would be a good approach for filtering for those with a compatible subset of priorities. (I also expect a lot of people who would be more inclined to what you are doing are looking for OSR games rather than trying to do it in 5e, so they select themselves out of the pool.)
Generally when you announce you're going to run a game in a certain style, only those actually interested in that game played in that style voice interest. For some reason, the 5E players I've dealt with are more interested in getting to play something...anything...5E than whatever the specifics of the game I want to run. It's bizarre and maddening, but I see no way to avoid it. Besides not running games.
To be fair, D&D doesn’t do much to enable dramatic games. It requires a concerned effort by the entire group to make it happen. There are other games that do a better job of that (though maybe not so much if one wants to play through a curated story rather than to discover it through play).
Absolutely agreed. Anyone wanting to play an RPG that more emulates story and drama would be far better suited playing something like Fate. But, D&D is the RPG...so here we are.
Is that gamer analysis or geek analysis? Seems like more of the latter to me.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Apparently Tolkien's response to either was: "Shut up."
I think that can be true, but it is also true that they don’t all mix at the same table. There are a number of playstyles that will not have fun at my table, and I am unapologetic about that.
I'm the same. But instead of players listening when I say "this is the style of game I'm going to run" I get dozens of players who are somehow shocked and surprised by that fact, you know, despite me being upfront about it, then they complain that I'm running that style of game.
These are all reasons why I would not use 5e for that kind of game. There’s a lot of stuff built into the system that negates exploration-based gameplay. One can try to fix it, but then you have to convince people looking for a 5e game to play 5e-but-different.
It's a numbers game. There are so many 5E players that the subset willing to put up with "5E-but-different" is still far greater than the entire player base of most other games.
I think people are entitled to run the games they want to run, but why run a game where a lot of people you’re going to be running for will want something different from it than what you’re offering?
Why join a game as a player when the DM has said explicitly that the game is going to be run in a style you don't enjoy...only to complain about it once the game actually starts? I mean, sure. If you're desperate to play, then play...but importantly don't then complain about it.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
But that's the thing. The players can't "win" D&D. So trying to is a waste of time. The characters can succeed or fail at given tasks. But the closest thing to a "win" condition D&D has is playing the game. But that's a whole other can of worms we don't need to get into.

Sometimes the number crunchers are wrong. There's also a difference between what a spreadsheet spits out and how things actually work in practice. This is also the danger of D&D players simply copying & pasting someone else's build. The person who built it understands the whys and hows of it working...the person copying it...not so much.

Mostly because everything that even resembled a challenge, hindrance, or inconvenience was removed or obviated. The default monster vs player set up with CR is laughable. Optimization in 5E is basically a waste of time. The default is so far below easy mode that there's no reason to bother. But they still do.

To me there's no point to playing the game unless it's challenging. I push for things to be unbalanced and challenging. Which leads back into what I posted that you quoted. Things will be wildly above their pay grade, wildly below their pay grade, and everything in between. But, importantly, if some PCs are optimized and some aren't...the non-optimizing players will lose PCs at a much greater rate, forcing them to 1) optimize, 2) put up with constantly resetting PCs, or; 3) quit. It also leads to the optimized characters lasting longer, gathering lots more XP and loot and being wildly ahead of the curve in the long run. I'd rather not have that problem. The easiest solution is not not allow optimization. And to be clear, optimization to me is not about wanting a high stat in your main class ability score. Optimization is things like the coffee-lock or infinite damage builds or other nonsense. You want great weapon master and sentinel, sure. You want to be good with a bow, sure. You want infinite spells, nah.

Generally when you announce you're going to run a game in a certain style, only those actually interested in that game played in that style voice interest. For some reason, the 5E players I've dealt with are more interested in getting to play something...anything...5E than whatever the specifics of the game I want to run. It's bizarre and maddening, but I see no way to avoid it. Besides not running games.

Absolutely agreed. Anyone wanting to play an RPG that more emulates story and drama would be far better suited playing something like Fate. But, D&D is the RPG...so here we are.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Apparently Tolkien's response to either was: "Shut up."

I'm the same. But instead of players listening when I say "this is the style of game I'm going to run" I get dozens of players who are somehow shocked and surprised by that fact, you know, despite me being upfront about it, then they complain that I'm running that style of game.

It's a numbers game. There are so many 5E players that the subset willing to put up with "5E-but-different" is still far greater than the entire player base of most other games.

Why join a game as a player when the DM has said explicitly that the game is going to be run in a style you don't enjoy...only to complain about it once the game actually starts? I mean, sure. If you're desperate to play, then play...but importantly don't then complain about it.
Not going to go point by point because I don’t think we’re going to agree on some of the details or remedies. 5e was my first attempt at doing my exploration-driven campaign. It didn’t last long. I then tried Pathfinder 2e, which lasted about a year. I’m now on a homebrew system that is derived from Old-School Essentials. I’m just not willing to deal with a system that works against my purpose. However, I’m not doing an open table. My group is small but stable, and they’re willing to keep their GM happy. If I were doing an open table, I’d probably still want to do OSE even though it limits my audience. I wouldn’t want to deal the issues you describe or have to do the filtering it would take to get a group of players who were on board and enthusiastic about it.

I do agree it makes no sense that players would join a game advertising a particular experience and then expect something else. Maybe they think they might like it, but their habits are too ingrained. It could also be possible they’re used to mechanics lack teeth, so if you say you are going to do an open world game, they assume it will be more or less like the traditional adventures they’ve done with a slightly different theme. Or if reddit is to be believed, there are more OC players than games available, and they just want to play the character they created. Sucks if you want to do something else. 🫤
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Not going to go point by point because I don’t think we’re going to agree on some of the details or remedies. 5e was my first attempt at doing my exploration-driven campaign. It didn’t last long. I then tried Pathfinder 2e, which lasted about a year. I’m now on a homebrew system that is derived from Old-School Essentials. I’m just not willing to deal with a system that works against my purpose. However, I’m not doing an open table. My group is small but stable, and they’re willing to keep their GM happy.
That's cool. Glad that's working out for you.
I do agree it makes no sense that players would join a game advertising a particular experience and then expect something else. Maybe they think they might like it, but their habits are too ingrained. It could also be possible they’re used to mechanics lack teeth, so if you say you are going to do an open world game, they assume it will be more or less like the traditional adventures they’ve done with a slightly different theme. Or if reddit is to be believed, there are more OC players than games available, and they just want to play the character they created. Sucks if you want to do something else. 🫤
I tried to account for that by having the players submit several character concepts and having rolled stats. Apparently that wasn't enough. Shrug
 


Reynard

Legend
The GM shouldn't have to motivate players in a strict West Marches game. The players are supposed to be deciding when to meet and who goes where.
I think the "strict West Marches game" is probably the least common style of game, even if lots of people kind of think they want to aspire to it (but probably don't in reality because it is A LOT of work). In a typical open world sandbox game, the way the system incentivizes action is going to matter.
 

niklinna

Legend
I'm not necessarily advocating for any particular source of XP -- fights, treasure, quest completion -- because the things you reward are going to depend on the things you want the game to be about. And I don't even inherently dislike milestone XP. I just don't think milestone XP works for sandbox games.
Ironsworn looks like it would handle that pretty well. The whole driving engine is PCs swearing vows and getting XP only when they fulfill them.
 

Reynard

Legend
Ironsworn looks like it would handle that pretty well. The whole driving engine is PCs swearing vows and getting XP only when they fulfill them.
That's interesting. Like if the adventure started off with a local begging the heroes for help because their brother was missing, and the PC says, "I swear I will bring him back safely," and goes through the whole adventure only to have the brother die on the way back to town, what happens?
 

niklinna

Legend
That's interesting. Like if the adventure started off with a local begging the heroes for help because their brother was missing, and the PC says, "I swear I will bring him back safely," and goes through the whole adventure only to have the brother die on the way back to town, what happens?
You fail to fulfill your vow and get no XP. It's a harsh world! Note that it's possible to bring him back alive and healthy and still fail the dice roll to finish your quest, in which case something new comes up that you have to deal with. (You as the player get to make that up, or you can ask the GM to do it.)
 

Reynard

Legend
You fail to fulfill your vow and get no XP. It's a harsh world! Note that it's possible to bring him back alive and healthy and still fail the dice roll to finish your quest, in which case something new comes up that you have to deal with. (You as the player get to make that up, or you can ask the GM to do it.)
I like it! Failure as a possible outcome (but isn't a play ender) adds stakes to the game, IMO.
 

payn

Legend
That's interesting. Like if the adventure started off with a local begging the heroes for help because their brother was missing, and the PC says, "I swear I will bring him back safely," and goes through the whole adventure only to have the brother die on the way back to town, what happens?
The PCs still went on the adventure. They likely did social/exploration/combat things even though they failed in the ultimate goal. They still learned/experienced things. That shouldn't result in no XP/reward.
I like it! Failure as a possible outcome (but isn't a play ender) adds stakes to the game, IMO.
These things can haunt the PCs. Perhaps they just lost goodwill with the town? They no longer have the support they were hoping for the next bigger adventure? Perhaps, nothing immediately, but eventually, this beggar returns at the least opportune time for the PCs to complicate future adventures?

I know players don't like failing, but it can have interesting impact on the campaign and PC stories. Part of the fun for the GM is deciding what comes out of that success/failure (from the setting perspective) for the players.
 

Reynard

Legend
The PCs still went on the adventure. They likely did social/exploration/combat things even though they failed in the ultimate goal. They still learned/experienced things. That shouldn't result in no XP/reward.
I think it is an interesting thing for players to set their own stakes and if they fail in that regard, they lose on the XP they "bet" for the task.
These things can haunt the PCs. Perhaps they just lost goodwill with the town? They no longer have the support they were hoping for the next bigger adventure? Perhaps, nothing immediately, but eventually, this beggar returns at the least opportune time for the PCs to complicate future adventures?

I know players don't like failing, but it can have interesting impact on the campaign and PC stories. Part of the fun for the GM is deciding what comes out of that success/failure (from the setting perspective) for the players.
I could not agree more. Setbacks are what make for interesting stories (and just to be clear, I mean emergent stories, not preplanned ones, in the context of RPGs). I do find that many players have trouble rolling with losses, though.
 

niklinna

Legend
The PCs still went on the adventure. They likely did social/exploration/combat things even though they failed in the ultimate goal. They still learned/experienced things. That shouldn't result in no XP/reward.
I'm just describing how the rulebook does. It would be easy to hack it for a lower XP reward. But, there's already provision for lesser XP on a weak hit. The odds of an outright failure on the dice roll when you complete the objectives are low, but they aren't zero. Plus, when you fail in that way, the quest rank gets bumped a notch so when you do finally finish it, you get more XP for the trouble.

For the situation where the brother actually dies, well, that's the end of that particular vow (and likely the beginning of another, to get vengeance or something). But again you could hack that to award some XP.

These things can haunt the PCs. Perhaps they just lost goodwill with the town? They no longer have the support they were hoping for the next bigger adventure? Perhaps, nothing immediately, but eventually, this beggar returns at the least opportune time for the PCs to complicate future adventures?
Oh yeah, Ironsworn has all that.

I know players don't like failing, but it can have interesting impact on the campaign and PC stories. Part of the fun for the GM is deciding what comes out of that success/failure (from the setting perspective) for the players.
Ironsworn being inspired by Apocalypse World, failure generally does make things more interesting!
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
By the by, Ironsworn supports GM-less co-op and solo play, and it's free, so you can check out how that all works without having to scrape a group together.
I spotted that. The way it’s handled seems a bit complicated according to the text, but it’s a great idea. I suspect adapting the concept to other games would be fairly simple.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Heart: The City Beneath has a pretty great system for advancement. Each PC has a Calling, which is the reason they’ve become a delver. Each Calling has a list of Beats, divided by tier (minor, major, or zenith). These are goals or events of some sort that the player should try to achieve.

Each session, the player picks two Beats to try and complete. When they complete one, they get a new ability corresponding to the level of the Beat (minor, major, or zenith). The difficulty or impact of achieving a Beat varies by its tier. Zenith abilities are difficult to achieve and essentially spell the end for the character.

The Beats work well because they give the player specific goals to shoot for, and also because they give the GM ideas of what to include in play. It’s a great system that really helps to drive play.
 

aramis erak

Legend
But that's the thing. The players can't "win" D&D. So trying to is a waste of time. The characters can succeed or fail at given tasks. But the closest thing to a "win" condition D&D has is playing the game. But that's a whole other can of worms we don't need to get into.
Thats quite untrue. The defined "victory condition" in rules is a good time was had for all.

Many competitive types set goals that they consider a win. They can have a personal victory that isn't shared, and often isn't even communicated to the other participants.

One of the more common ones across several versions is character optimization; it goes back to mid AD&D1E, as the number of meaningful choices in character generation and advancement rose, most notably with the addition of more weapon proficiency spend options, and the OA/WSG/DSG introduced Non-Weapon proficiencies. AD&D 2E added a lot more options. it's been with ever since. It got pretty bad with the rise of array as the dominant method for attribute generation.

And, of course, modules provide an implicit win condition, whether they mention it or not: complete the module.
 

Yora

Legend
I got a specific question about a problem I am currently facing.

I am once again feeling inclined to actually run a real campaign using the Forgotten Realms region book Unapproachable East, which has patiently been staring at me from the shelf for the last 19 years!
As I imagine the region, it has landscape and culture influences from the Eurasian Steppe around the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, with the Carpathian and Caucasus Mountains. That means plenty of grassland and scattered forests of small pines and birches. Two thousand years ago, most of the region was part of the Narfell Empire that summoned and controlled many powerful demons, and some smaller sections belong to the Raumathar Empire ruled by evil sorcerers. Eventually the two wiped each other out with their dark magic, the surviving Nars becoming horse nomads and new people slowly moving into the area. It specifically states that Nar citadels where usually small bulky keeps on the surface with massive underground tunnels beneath them and that there are still many demons trapped inside the subterranean ruins. I also see this is a great region to have lots of old burrial mounds haunted by the wights of ancient sorcerers. So plenty of opportunity to open up ancient ruins not disturbed for over a thousand years with all kinds of horrors and treasure's inside them. There's also Nar and Rashemi barbarian tribes, and Red Wizards of Thay and Witches of Rashemen to interact and tangle with. This actually makes me think of some Conan and especially Elric stories, and while Forgotten Realms has developed somewhat of a deserved reputation of pastoral quaintness, I think this region could be quite well suited for a more pulpy savage take on Faerûn.

Actually, I want to to The 13th Warrior as a whole campaign. :p

For reasons of convenience, I am leaning towards taking 5th edition out for another spin for such a campaign. People know that one well, and with Forgotten Realms I'm not feeling a particular need to make it an oldschool hexcrawl experience or anything of this kind. This is a setting build around settlements and NPC factions, and so I feel it should be played with plenty of town adventures and dealing with important people.
However, I really don't want to do the whole Quest-Giver-of-the-Week thing ever again. I'm done with writing stories about villains that need to be stopped for the players. I still want it to be a much more open ended thing where the players have a 1000x1000 miles area to romp around in. And I don't have any clue how to start.

What I have decided on is that there will be large numbers of low level warriors around in most settlements, as it's just not the barbarian way to hide in your hut and hope for heroes to arrive when you get raided by goblins or starving wolves stroll through the streets. That kind of stuff they can deal with themselves. On the other end, I think wizard should be both very rare but very prominent. When every single wizard is a big deal, it might work out to have magic be both special and powerful without actually having large quantities of magic in the campaign.

But the big question is how to give the campaign a structure. Telling the players they have a million square miles to do what they want and there's a some 20 prepared dungeons in it won't work. I guess they could still be treasure hunters, looking for old Narfell dungeons whose locations are known to local villages, but that nobody has ever dared going far into. Even when your village does have a 3rd level barbarian and six 2nd level fighters, that doesn't mean they can simply stroll in and claim all the treasures for themselves. But would that be enough? I think people interested in a 5th edition campaign in an established setting might be hoping for a bit more than that.
 

payn

Legend
I got a specific question about a problem I am currently facing.

I am once again feeling inclined to actually run a real campaign using the Forgotten Realms region book Unapproachable East, which has patiently been staring at me from the shelf for the last 19 years!
As I imagine the region, it has landscape and culture influences from the Eurasian Steppe around the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, with the Carpathian and Caucasus Mountains. That means plenty of grassland and scattered forests of small pines and birches. Two thousand years ago, most of the region was part of the Narfell Empire that summoned and controlled many powerful demons, and some smaller sections belong to the Raumathar Empire ruled by evil sorcerers. Eventually the two wiped each other out with their dark magic, the surviving Nars becoming horse nomads and new people slowly moving into the area. It specifically states that Nar citadels where usually small bulky keeps on the surface with massive underground tunnels beneath them and that there are still many demons trapped inside the subterranean ruins. I also see this is a great region to have lots of old burrial mounds haunted by the wights of ancient sorcerers. So plenty of opportunity to open up ancient ruins not disturbed for over a thousand years with all kinds of horrors and treasure's inside them. There's also Nar and Rashemi barbarian tribes, and Red Wizards of Thay and Witches of Rashemen to interact and tangle with. This actually makes me think of some Conan and especially Elric stories, and while Forgotten Realms has developed somewhat of a deserved reputation of pastoral quaintness, I think this region could be quite well suited for a more pulpy savage take on Faerûn.

Actually, I want to to The 13th Warrior as a whole campaign. :p

For reasons of convenience, I am leaning towards taking 5th edition out for another spin for such a campaign. People know that one well, and with Forgotten Realms I'm not feeling a particular need to make it an oldschool hexcrawl experience or anything of this kind. This is a setting build around settlements and NPC factions, and so I feel it should be played with plenty of town adventures and dealing with important people.
However, I really don't want to do the whole Quest-Giver-of-the-Week thing ever again. I'm done with writing stories about villains that need to be stopped for the players. I still want it to be a much more open ended thing where the players have a 1000x1000 miles area to romp around in. And I don't have any clue how to start.

What I have decided on is that there will be large numbers of low level warriors around in most settlements, as it's just not the barbarian way to hide in your hut and hope for heroes to arrive when you get raided by goblins or starving wolves stroll through the streets. That kind of stuff they can deal with themselves. On the other end, I think wizard should be both very rare but very prominent. When every single wizard is a big deal, it might work out to have magic be both special and powerful without actually having large quantities of magic in the campaign.

But the big question is how to give the campaign a structure. Telling the players they have a million square miles to do what they want and there's a some 20 prepared dungeons in it won't work. I guess they could still be treasure hunters, looking for old Narfell dungeons whose locations are known to local villages, but that nobody has ever dared going far into. Even when your village does have a 3rd level barbarian and six 2nd level fighters, that doesn't mean they can simply stroll in and claim all the treasures for themselves. But would that be enough? I think people interested in a 5th edition campaign in an established setting might be hoping for a bit more than that.
Magic is rare and powerful you say? Maybe, there is lost archaic knowledge sitting out in the wilds to be found. Lost to time, or defended by powerful guardians? It's both treasure hunting and exploration along with power seeking.
 

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