D&D 5E [+] What can D&D 5E learn from board games?


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While 5e is significantly better than 3.X (3.0, 3.5, and PF1e), that is somewhat like saying that the top of Mount Everest is significantly more survivable than the vacuum of space. The statement is completely true--not even just technically true--but "more survivable" and "not dangerous to survival" are not the same thing.

So, while I fully grant that 5e has come down from the bonkers extremes of the past, I still find that it gives much too much to some and basically nothing to others. Keep in mind, part of my reasoning there is that I consider common, shared baselines to not count for or against either side. That is, for example, every character gets four skill proficiencies as an absolute baseline, so "you can contribute through skill checks" is irrelevant--everyone can do that, that's background radiation. Bards and Rogues get more skills and a wider selection, so that does count to some extent (albeit, IMO, relatively weakly.) Now, if skills were as broad and flexible as they were in 4e, this might be a different story, but I fear 5e has mostly hewed to the narrow methods of 3.X and previous editions.


Well, the issue is that the system itself was the degenerate case. It didn't even have to be Druid, though that class was the one most prone to it (literally just taking one PHB feat was enough to make the Druid the second- or third-most powerful class in the whole game, and even without Natural Spell, Druids were still crazy strong.)

Again, the issue (for me) is not solely "the Druid can fix everything, and is choosing to fix everything, so no one else has anything meaningful to do." Instead, it is that a Druid simply trying to play well--not even trying to do amazing!--CAN at any point do that. Meaning, the only reason I get to contribute anything meaningful is because said Druid is choosing not to do everything. Hence why I said it feels patronizing, and why I referenced Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit, which you should totally watch if you haven't. Five minutes of pretty good humor, almost Pythonesque.

If you have even a moderately well-built Wizard or Cleric in the party, they can do just as well, just in their own way. That's why we have "God Wizard" builds (which, while the guide is written tongue-in-cheek, really do present allowing others to do things as a gracious act, since it would be quicker and simpler to do it yourself if you really wanted to.) That's why we have "CoDzilla" (Cleric or Druid zilla.) Given you're unfamiliar with the Angel Summoner reference, you're probably unfamiliar with those terms as well. Point being, some classes were just head and shoulders above everyone else; for them, optimizing simply made them grossly overpowered as opposed to slightly overpowered, while for classes like Monk, Fighter, and Paladin, optimization was necessary just to pull your own weight.


And I responded with an example of someone who not only could try to do it all, but who really could say, "Anything you can do, I can do better." Instead, they graciously allow me to do it myself, even though my efforts will be inferior to theirs. That bothers me almost as much as the person who hogs the spotlight. And no amount of niceties on the part of the player can fix this--it is literally baked directly into their choice of playing one of those "tier 1" classes. (Archivist, Artificer, and Spell-to-Power Erudite were the other three classic "tier 1" classes, though the Artificer required rather more optimization than the others of its tier.)

5e, as stated, is much better about this than 3e was. I'll never deny this. But I still find that the high-tier classes (primarily Wizard, Bard, and Cleric) leave the low-tier classes (Rogue, Fighter, Monk) in the dust for nearly every contribution they could make, unless of course the latter choose spellcasting subclasses. And then there's the poor Ranger, that not even spellcasting compensates for. Non-spellcasters (and Rangers) are simply, consistently, permanently at a disadvantage compared to spellcasters, and non-spellcasting solutions are essentially always inferior to spellcasting solutions for the vast majority of problems a party can face. Why bother bringing a Fighter when a Paladin is just as good for combat and brings a bunch of extra flexibility too?

I don't like playing a game and feeling like a second-class citizen solely because I feel like playing a monk this campaign.

I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience with 5e. The experience at my table has been quite different. Of course, that’s just my perspective and, clearly, YMMV.

In any case, back to the OP:

Most board games typically have rules that define a goal or goals. I see that as analogous to various hooks a DM lays out for the players. Just as the rules of a board game explicitly lay out the goal(s) for the players, a DM should do the same with regards to hooks. And just as players in a board game will try to achieve the goal(s) set out in the rules, players in 5e should do the DM a solid by biting on said hooks that have been presented.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Speed of play is important in driving engagement. Board Games that feature simultaneous play and simultaneous decision making go faster and leave less time for players to become disengaged.

I try to limit this by having multiple players that seem unlikely to interact with each other go at the same time, and rolling for monsters while a player is deciding what to do so that I can just unfold the monster turns, unless the PCs interact in a way that alters what would happen, once the player is done. However, the rules set does not make it easy - and could make it easier. We see it in Baldur's Gate 3 with simultaneous play, but it could be better.

For example, player 1 is a fighter and is engaged with a high hp enemy. When it is his turn, I'll ask him what he is going to do and he says, "I'm attacking it." I say, "OK - roll. Player 2, what are you doing?" Player 2 says casting a fireball. While they get out their dice, roll them, count it up, and announce what the damage is, I'm rolling the attack rolls of the big monster the first PC is unlikely to kill and the two archers unlikely to be caught in the fireball. Then I roll the saves for the fireball and I announce the scene from over those turns - often slightly nonsequentially - to tell a story of what took place. I get two player and my NPC rolling and decision making done all at the same time, reducing the time it takes to one third or one half what it would have taken.

To that end, I'd revise the initiative rules to have characters going in groupings rather than by tracking it down to the indiciatual pip level so that you can have more players making decisions at the same time. I'd have us roll initiative at the same time, but then have all PCs that roll 20 or above go first, then all monsters that go 20+ go next, then all PCs that roll 13 to 19 go next, then monsters in that range, then PCs 7 to 12, monsters 7 to 12, PCs 1 to 6, monsters 1 to 6, PCs 0 or below, then monsters 0 or below. Players can decide their order within these ranges, and the DM can decide the monster order within these ranges. That would allow us, with a little practice, to do more simultaneous calculations and decision making, and speed up the game. As you might ask: spells that last 1 round would end at the end of your next grouping.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
All of those spells should be cut or made wildly suboptimal. (The changes to knock this edition are a good start.)

A spellcaster doing what another character should do as a class feature should always be the inferior choice.
I agree. And they were. In that one edition we don’t talk about. In every other edition it’s a feature, not a bug that the wizard is (and casters in general are) the king of the hill.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I agree. And they were. In that one edition we don’t talk about. In every other edition it’s a feature, not a bug that the wizard is (and casters in general are) the king of the hill.
Yep. Because magic has to be powerful! If magic isn't the most powerful solution to a problem, it isn't magic anymore, it's...apparently something else. Either that, or the comparably-powerful non-magic solution must in fact BE magic, because nothing can eclipse magic's power.

And so we run the same course, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over....
 

Aldarc

Legend
Turn orders, gameplay loops, and play procedures should be clear, explicit, and easy to understand.

Some TTRPGs, ranging from narrative games (e.g., PbtA, Burning Wheel, Blades in the Dark, etc.) to B/X inspired OSR games (e.g., OSE, Shadowdark, etc.), understand this idea well. I feel that others are more vague about it, and here I would include 5e D&D.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The thing I keep bouncing off of is all the components of boardgames. The cards, chits, tokens, folding boards, spinners, etc.

I don't want an RPG to require any of those things. If they're optional play aides, fine. But if some rule or option is printed on a card instead of in the book...nope. This is something I'm leery of with Critical Role's Daggerheart. Everything I've seen looks cool, except that it heavily uses cards...at least for the demos we've seen. I don't want to have to buy booster packs to play a tabletop RPG. "Oh. Lucky. You got a paladin. They're super rare!" Nope.

Then I think about all the stuff that's so similar that's already in most RPGs. Maps, mats, minis, tokens, condition markers, see-through stands for flyers, clear plastic minis for invisible creatures, spell cards, magic item cards, etc...but none of that is required to play.
 

JiffyPopTart

Bree-Yark
Go back to just spelunking dungeons. Seriously, kinda. Board games are very focused. You can't do "anything". You are constrained. And that constraint leads to easy of learning (sometimes) and play. What it does though is limit replayability. That isn't necessarily a problem, i mean HOW many times have people STARTED to play monopoly - probably billions. Its just that the typical concept of a TTRPG is that of an openeness that a boardgame cannot give you. In fact I think I thought I saw a quote by Gygax somewhere to the effect of "RPGs are board games without boards".

I hope it doesn't sound at all like I hate this idea, I love the idea of making TTRPGs MORE accessible.
With respect ....using Monopoly and what it offers as an example of what boardgames in general have to offer ...you might not be very familiar with modern boardgaming.

How about we start by making combats in 5e actually interesting from a gamist standpoint? When my DnD character learns a new power I know exactly how it's going to work and when to use it. When my Gloomhaven character learns a new power it takes multiple sessions untilnive sstered it and the different subtle ways it not only interacts with my other powers, but also how it does with all the other players powers as well.
 

damiller

Adventurer
With respect ....using Monopoly and what it offers as an example of what boardgames in general have to offer ...you might not be very familiar with modern boardgaming.

How about we start by making combats in 5e actually interesting from a gamist standpoint? When my DnD character learns a new power I know exactly how it's going to work and when to use it. When my Gloomhaven character learns a new power it takes multiple sessions untilnive sstered it and the different subtle ways it not only interacts with my other powers, but also how it does with all the other players powers as well.
With respect...i don't think you really understood my argument.

Boardgames do not have tactical infinity. The choices are constrained by the game itself severely. Thats what makes them relatively easy to play compared to RPGs. Because in an RPG you technically can do anything. THAT cannot be said of a board game.

So my argument was thus: a designer who wants to lean on the experience of boardgames to develop an rpg is going to have to figure out how to balance those two. Like how do you teach someone about tactical infinity, and yet not constrain that? If that can be done, then I think that would be really cool. And I don't see many RPGs that teach how to make infinite choices. maybe its a pipe dream, and if so, then RPGs will have a barrier to entry that boardgames do not.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I've asserted a few times that the only fundamental design difference between board games and TTRPGs are the victory conditions and end states. In a board game, the design accounts for an acknowledged goal from the outset, and the conditions and/or time at which the game will end and victory will be evaluated are known from the outset. Players in TTRPG are empowered to keep selecting new victory conditions and the games are expected to generate sensible rules for their evaluation dynamically.

"Only" is obviously working very hard here, because that has huge design repercussions, but the fundamental techniques remain the same. You can do more with a TTRPG to differentiate it further, but I don't think you have to. All of the story/narrative elements can live comfortably inside that repeated reevaluation of goals, and while it is notably important to some users that the game be dynamically designed to include new actions and subsystems as it progresses, I don't think it's necessary.
 

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