D&D (2024) What could One D&D do to push the game more toward story?

damiller

Adventurer
I will say, that in service of a
1. A DM's Guide that is an actual guide, with the first half devoted to teaching DM's how to better incorporate story, offering a variety of styles through short adventure modules.

2. Make combat suck less and take half as long.
What I've done is take a note from Nights Black Agents: I make combats player facing which means for 5e that they are now just skill rolls. I often use armor class as the dc. if they are successful the enemy is beaten. If they fail. We then may enter regular combat. I do this for games where i want to deemphasize 5e combat, and I always make note of it in my recruitment posts.

If I don't want to make the combat a full 5e, I'll use a skill challenge of sorts. Really i look at the situation and the buy in from the players. And then use the level of resolution I want even in 5e. It has at least 3 levels: 1 roll, series of rolls, or combat. I just use them when I want and for what I want. (Though I wouldn't use the combat rules to work through a climbing cavern walls.)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
What exactly do all of you mean when you use the terms "story", "character development/growth" and "roleplaying"? I ask because you use these terms very differently than I do, and I don't even use "character development/growth" in the context of RPGs.

To me a story is what you get after having played D&D (or any other RPG). It's your flawed memory of what happened while you were playing, it's talking about something that happened in the game, possibly years after the event in question.

Character development... well, the closest I can get to understanding how this is supposed to be relevant to an RPG rather than a novel, movie, TV show, or stageplay, is that the player's goals in-game change over time, not necessarily because they have achieved their goals, but because they have found new goals, or other goals have become more important. And this really isn't something I would typically be concerned about in an RPG. Let the players do what interests them.

Roleplaying is playing your character. Your character is a set of (preferably randomly generated) ability scores, followed by the player's choice of class, alignment, and race, acquired magic items, spells and special abilities, fueled by the player's goals, ambitions, and the past events of the campaign, all within the context of the setting. How you choose to actually communicate this role doesn't matter to me very much. If you want to do a silly voice, go ahead. If you want to speak in-character, go ahead. If you want to simply state what your character does or attempts, go ahead. If you want to switch between these options at times, go ahead. More generally, as long as it doesn't interfere with playing the game and isn't an attempt to cheat or tactlessly second guess the DM's rulings, go right ahead.
I come from a D&D background and I tend to use story where the focus is on the player characters as protagonists/heroes engaging with the NPCs and events presented by the DM (sort of like Critical Role).
As distinct to flavours of D&D that focus on the environment as challenge or exploration and story( if any ) is a emergent property of that.

I would then view "Character Development/Growth" in part by the levelling process but also by engagement by the DM in the characters backstory or other elements expressed along the way.
"Roleplay" I would regard as anything that characters do including exercise of skills by die rolling.

There are other games that focus of the development of the fiction scene by scene, that I think of a narrative but some refer as story. I know less about them. At some point I must make the effort to look up play examples on the internet.
 

So our game is completely sandbox despite the two overarching APs, which both can be deserted and indeed had been suggested to them within the fiction which would see the characters pursuing one of the character's goals (find out about his parents disappearance and the mysterious artefact which they entrusted to him and his sister).
If anyone makes the BIFTs secondary elements - it would be the players themselves. Not me.

One of the characters is exploring a crisis of faith through the AP storyline, questioning his own judgement and the sometimes lack of insight/direction given to him by his deity (as the character sees it). This saw the him have an in depth conversation with a fellow cleric colleague NPC (roleplayed out). The player also deemed that his character, given his state, would likely not pray...etc (he wanted to purposefully limit his resources) and instead use our homebrew mechanic where powers/spells could still be used but that it would spend the character's HD and eventually lead to exhaustion should he continue.
These last two is what earned the PC the Inspiration. I do not know if I would consider that simply colour.

Another character, having become gradually disillusioned via the in-game fiction and having lost fellow party members, has become more accepting of some previously considered unethical or immoral choices, especially if making those choices are likely to expedite him or the party achieving their goals. He has made alliances with questionable factions/persons, even secretly made a deal with a devil. His roleplaying of a social scene with a mayor connected with the Zhentarim is what earned him the Inspiration.

Our academic, pragmatic and non-religious arcanist had a theological/philosophical conversation (roleplayed out) with the abovementioned cleric NPC, where each character was challenging each other's beliefs. I awarded Inspiration for this.

Like I said my system of tacking it on as a requirement in order to increase one's level means I will likely see more of this kind of character exploration. It may be a secondary element for now (player's choice) but I'm expecting it to become more relevant and more interesting for the players where they begin pursuing their personal goals over any "environmental antagonist"

My plan is for them to conclude the APs soon - since that is what they want, pursue their personal goals all within Tier 3 before I introduce them to the last module (Tier 4) I have planned for this campaign.

EDIT: The way I see it, this method I'm using may also be a nice bridge to more narrative styled games for our table going into the future.
I would say we do somewhat different things. You talk of 'your plan for them', and I would posit that there is a range here which extends from my situation with HoML (my 4e hack) where the players make the plans, deciding what quests to go on, what quests may even be possible to go on, and how this relates to their characters, through the gamut of situation where the GM picks up more and more of that 'directing/planning' function, through prep or definitive statements about setting/environment/situation, through hard sandboxes where the players are picking one amongst a set of relatively preset options, and then on down into AP/module type play where there is a defined path or arc which has to be played out (or else things derail). Obviously you can pick and choose stuff from modules potentially in more or less sandboxy ways (and some modules, like the older TSR ones are very location-based and thus can work as sites within a bigger sandbox).

So, the difficulty I've seen with the kind of 'middle path' ways of doing things there is its pretty hard to architect a game that way. I mean, maybe it is possible, something like Torch Bearer is indicative of those possibilities, but its tricky. PbtA games' ability to do kind of the extreme story now end of the range is pretty straightforward, if you play how it says to play in Dungeon World you will get a game focused on the things the PCs do, and discover who they are pretty reliably. I'm 100% sure you can do what you do, someplace in the middle, but I have yet to see a game successfully spell out that formula, because it HEAVILY relies on "GMing by feel." I mean, BIFT/Inspiration type stuff provides signposts. I think there's some sentiment for trying to explain it in the 5e DMG, but 4e for instance is more successful (and not entirely) in explaining its story game approach IMHO, and enabling it, than 5e is in explaining something like what you are doing. I guess we will see what '6e' does, I'm not sure "Better BIFTS" will take it far though.
 

OK, What is HoML? I am not really familiar with story/narrative games. Not because I do not want to try them but I do lack opportunity. I keep meaning to look up some lets plays on YouTube but have not got around to it yet.

I used the label "Trad" because people have been trying to do this in D&D for 40 year or may be more and particularly post Hickman.
And I am not sure what your point is other then full bore story games have better tools than D&D.

Ok, I accept that but can any of these tools be added to the current structure of D&D and what would that look like? That is the theme of this discussion, after all.
HoML, or Heroes of Myth & Legend is just my 4e-esque even more story game, game.

And yes, trad or neo trad or whatever labels people use, things have been attempted since the days of 2e. It hasn't been a great deal of success, IMHO. 2e, for example, goes on and on about telling stories, but it fails architecturally in the most basic sense. That is, a story is about characters, but the players who play the characters have no power over the story at all! The GM authors an adventure/path/environment and the players have literally, classically, no say whatsoever about its content or how it works. They may influence the story, certainly, but only by essentially choosing between preexisting options, a menu presented by the GM, who thus owns the principle component of the story, the overall plot and subject matter. This is all pretty well-trodden game-analytical territory by this point.

In terms of adding stuff, well, why not? '6e' could say "When a situation arises where there is a conflict, doubt exists as to the outcome of an action, and the resolution of the conflict may be effected by the action, then the GM calls for a check. The player describes the action, and what a successful result will entail, that is the intent of the action. The player may describe any particular outcome in keeping with the fictional action and situation. If the check fails, the GM will describe the outcome, which may entail failure to achieve the character's intent, and/or consequences, complications, loss of resources, etc."

I don't see why a (obviously more polished version) of the above couldn't replace the existing descriptions of the 5e check process, what it does, and how it works, etc. Now, as a player, I am able to have significant input into how the situations unfold and what they are about. I'd also add other things of course, like a stricture that scenes need to address something relevant to player character goals/motivations/backstory/etc. Maybe include a kind of distinction between scenes that are 'part of the action' and ones that are more 'story development' (IE the stuff you do in town, research projects, whatever). The game could give the GM the authority to state the situation in each scene, but the players would choose, as they do now, the sort of directions they wish to go in, particularly in the 'development' kind of mode, where they are likely to say "OK, the wizard goes to the library to research a spell to make him smell like elderberries" and that essentially defines the possible scene frames the GM can use (IE at the library, on the way to the library, etc.).
 

I would say we do somewhat different things. You talk of 'your plan for them', (snip)
Plan for them in a more charitably honest sense
There was a thread not too long ago that dealt with advice for high level campaigning.
One of the pieces of advice was to make sure you deal with all personal/background quests by tier 3.
I took that to heart, I do want to conclude with their character's dilemmas, quests, wants, desires - I do not want to leave them hanging while they jump into another AP/module.

and I would posit that there is a range here which extends from my situation with HoML (my 4e hack) where the players make the plans, deciding what quests to go on, what quests may even be possible to go on, and how this relates to their characters, through the gamut of situation where the GM picks up more and more of that 'directing/planning' function, through prep or definitive statements about setting/environment/situation, through hard sandboxes where the players are picking one amongst a set of relatively preset options, and then on down into AP/module type play where there is a defined path or arc which has to be played out (or else things derail). Obviously you can pick and choose stuff from modules potentially in more or less sandboxy ways (and some modules, like the older TSR ones are very location-based and thus can work as sites within a bigger sandbox).

So, the difficulty I've seen with the kind of 'middle path' ways of doing things there is its pretty hard to architect a game that way. I mean, maybe it is possible, something like Torch Bearer is indicative of those possibilities, but its tricky. PbtA games' ability to do kind of the extreme story now end of the range is pretty straightforward, if you play how it says to play in Dungeon World you will get a game focused on the things the PCs do, and discover who they are pretty reliably. I'm 100% sure you can do what you do, someplace in the middle, but I have yet to see a game successfully spell out that formula, because it HEAVILY relies on "GMing by feel."
I find GMing by feet intimidating, hence me not wanting to dive straight into PbtA.

I mean, BIFT/Inspiration type stuff provides signposts.
Nicely put.

I think there's some sentiment for trying to explain it in the 5e DMG, but 4e for instance is more successful (and not entirely) in explaining its story game approach IMHO, and enabling it, than 5e is in explaining something like what you are doing. I guess we will see what '6e' does, I'm not sure "Better BIFTS" will take it far though.
I'm not sure I agree with you regarding 4e. What narrative element do you believe existed within 4e? I mean the path write-ups and the powers were wonderfully described and in-sync but is that all you are referring to? I get the feeling that you're implying there is more.
As for 6e, I'm not expecting much in the way or BIFTs but I will admit it would be poor form of WotC if in a decade they have not evolved the system into something more substantial.
 

Plan for them in a more charitably honest sense
There was a thread not too long ago that dealt with advice for high level campaigning.
One of the pieces of advice was to make sure you deal with all personal/background quests by tier 3.
I took that to heart, I do want to conclude with their character's dilemmas, quests, wants, desires - I do not want to leave them hanging while they jump into another AP/module.
Well, I personally just don't even use any sort of published material, beyond perhaps inspiration for a location, NPC, or possibly a threat. Like when I had this party that was around mid-heroic the players seemed to want to go rove around the setting and there was an elf ranger with some background issues about elves, who had been established to be in a certain area. So I had the lord they happened to be dealing with mention that he was having some sort of problem with his northern lumber operation and maybe elves were the problem.

I figured the rest of the party might not be super interested in the elf angle, but some of them had been delving into ancient history, so I invented a thing for them to have fun with, The Vuul. This was just a type of threat that I invented from a note that there were once ancient shape shifters living in this region. So, what happened to them? Oh, they were banished to the Shadowfell and became shadow shape shifters, etc. I made up a bunch of stat-block conversions, including a big bad boss Vuul (IIRC it was a conversion of a White Dragon). Things simply went from there, I framed a scene at a wood cutter's cabin that the party ran across as they moved into the area, and a totally crazy battle happened (with the ranger leaping around the inside of a large cabin trying to avoid the Vuul who replaced the woodcutter's family while sticking them with arrows, he learned just how stupid powerful his character really was in that one). After that was a very famous 'sawmill battle' with the big bad, etc. I admit, I set up the sawmill part ahead of time, but I wasn't building up a plot. I mean, the Vuul DID have a plan, and the PCs did decide to thwart it, but nothing was completely dictated. Heck, they could have sided with the Vuul potentially! I mean, the Vuul were kicking the arses of some elves that the PCs didn't like much...

I find GMing by feet intimidating, hence me not wanting to dive straight into PbtA.
Well, I think Dungeon World is a pretty good solid game. You might try playing with some people that are experienced in running it to get a feel for the 'classic' style of DW play, but you could probably run it. You simply have to set aside notions of 'knowing how it is done' and taking the DW rules at face value. As they say, most of what DW asks you to do as a GM is actually just the same stuff all GM's do anyway.

Mostly I recommend when running one of these types of games for the first time, go gonzo. 4e is a great game this way, my GMing of 4e is 100% off the wall bonkers crazy. The world is a crazy magical fantastical and in no way mundane place. Same with Dungeon World, the world is a fantastic place, RUN WITH IT.
Nicely put.


I'm not sure I agree with you regarding 4e. What narrative element do you believe existed within 4e? I mean the path write-ups and the powers were wonderfully described and in-sync but is that all you are referring to? I get the feeling that you're implying there is more.
As for 6e, I'm not expecting much in the way or BIFTs but I will admit it would be poor form of WotC if in a decade they have not evolved the system into something more substantial.
4e has a rich set of plot hooking elements. It features an entire cosmological backstory of a vast struggle between order (the Gods) and chaos (the Primordials) which richly informs all else. It presents the players with a SERIES of defining decisions on character build, theme, paragon path, and then epic destiny, which are deeply tied to character goals, plot, and meta plot (not to mention class, which is of course the overarching choice). Even feats, powers, and magic items can be pretty defining. You are also offered additional tools like Artifacts, which are specifically designed for this sort of building up stories on the fly.

But more even than that there are specific architectural elements. Quests are often constructed by the players, and have a potentially strong influence on the shape of play. Keywords allow things to be tied together very succinctly and integrated with rules for both skill challenges and Page 42 style extemporization. A GM and players with even modest creativity and a willingness to take the mechanics as merely one possible interpretation of underlying fiction can easily do things that @pemerton for instance seems to have regularly done in his games, like players declaring actions where they did things like sacrifice or risk the sacrifice of items or even character abilities in order to achieve specific effects, generalization of the idea of rituals as "if you are smart enough, powerful enough, and take some time you can do some pretty 'big stuff'" etc.

The strongly encounter-centered architecture of 4e is also rather ripe for story now style scene framing exercises. In fact I abandoned ALMOST all prep during my years of tenure as a 4e GM, merely writing up outlines of possible threats and scenarios, and generating some stat blocks here and there ahead of time (or often just writing up lists of ones that could be used or reflavored if I needed X, Y, or Z).
 

When I ran 5e as an interim GM for a long term game (intermittently from level 9 through 20), I pretty much exclusively had to rely upon my own experience of running Story Now games because the game doesn't help you here. Things that I did:

* Clarified stakes-setting before action resolution.

* Made all DCs table-facing while employing Success w/ Cost (242) but extending that range from 1-2 to failure by 4 or less. I'm then treating them like the 7-9 result in Apocalypse World or Twists in Mouse Guard.

* Ran Social Interaction in a table-facing manner and as-is because, as-is, its a solid puzzle game that was clearly inspired by Apocalypse World's social loop. Run as-is and in a table-facing manner, it works perfectly well enough for a Story Now social conflict engine predicated upon NPC dramatic need vs PC dramatic need.

* Short Rests were automatic unless there is some clear pressing issue in the shared imagined space.

* Long Rests were difficult to achieve with clarified procedural requirements to achieve them (again, go back to stakes-setting and clarity).

* Always honored PC Background Traits such that reliably change the fiction in the ways outlined on the ability.


The whole of this would allow just enough structure to create a sort of "Very Poor Man's Dungeon World" experience with action resolution being somewhat AW Moves-like + kinda snowballing action resolution + GM Threats vs PC dramatic needs. The myriad ways One D&D would need to shore this up would be:

* Make all of the above clarified in text and provide robust GM guidance (technical, principled explanations) for it. All of it (including table-facing DC generation like in Burning Wheel where there is a base Obstacle Rating and Factors which add up).

* Nerf the hell out of spellcasting/spellcasters (the apex prowess and how prolific spells and rituals are) AND make all cast spells require a spellcasting check whereby failure by 4 or less = Success w/ a thematic Twist (like the noncombat action resolution mechanics) based on the spell school or spell being cast. Overpowered spellcasting is such a brutal problem for no-prep, Story Now play. This MUST be resolved and resolved in a compelling way.

* Abstract Coin and mundane Gear and make them both matter to action resolution in a table-facing way. Give players the capacity to interact meaningfully and consequentially with decision-points and dictate the trajectory of the fiction and the gamestate with Coin and Gear.

* Simplify xp profoundly with very small xp numbers needed to advance and make the process communal and table-facing. Make BIFTs work like Beliefs in Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard/Torchbearer. Make action declarations that aggressively pursue these things during play and earn 1 xp for each at End of Session (up to 4; 1 for each). Make action declarations that exhibits serious internal conflict that manifests as external complication and Disadvantage on an attendant move, and get 1 Inspiration for each (up to 4; 1 for each) at End of Session.

* Make a very clear and expansive group of Consequences that GMs can use (like PBtA moves or BW/MG/TB Twists) on a Failure by 4 or less; Disadvantage, Prone, Exhaustion, Proficiency Tool, Armor and Weapon and Spellcasting Implement complications, Environmental Hazards including Hit Die loss or some kind of Vulnerability, Action Economy issues, NPC Reaction Adjustment, Hit Point damage, Ability Score damage ULR (Until Long Rest).

* Make very clear and codified procedures for triggering Long Rest (given how the massive gamestate and fiction impacts this has upon play).

* Create a very clear, thematic, codified, table-handling-time-friendly, rest of the game engine-integrated Conflict Resolution scheme to handle Journey, Pursue or Drive-Off, Supernatural (Banish or Bind Entity/Open & Close Gate/Etc) conflicts.

++++++++++++

What I'm outlining above is a very loose kind of Burning Wheel/Apocalypse World approach that 5e could emulate to a fair enough degree with a lot of designer/developer will (because boy will there be pushback!), technical prowess, and iterative stress-testing.
 

Ran Social Interaction in a table-facing manner and as-is because, as-is, its a solid puzzle game that was clearly inspired by Apocalypse World's social loop. Run as-is and in a table-facing manner, it works perfectly well enough for a Story Now social conflict engine predicated upon NPC dramatic need vs PC dramatic need.
Well.... KINDA. I am sure it DID work fine for you, as I know you also used the other techniques you listed. I only say this to reinforce to readers, it can work as a story now loop IF you clearly set stakes, allow for success with complication, let the players specific declare intent, etc. I agree, this is probably the closest piece of 5e to something like a story game, but as written and if run with the standard 'trad' techniques, the GM entirely dominates the discussion, as they set all the parameters.
 

* Nerf the hell out of spellcasting/spellcasters (the apex prowess and how prolific spells and rituals are) AND make all cast spells require a spellcasting check whereby failure by 4 or less = Success w/ a thematic Twist (like the noncombat action resolution mechanics) based on the spell school or spell being cast. Overpowered spellcasting is such a brutal problem for no-prep, Story Now play. This MUST be resolved and resolved in a compelling way.
Bring parity, not only in terms of parity of some kind of 'abstract power' but in terms of the REAL power, which is plot power, overwhelmingly important in story play. So, its fine if a 'wizard spell' can charm someone, but the scale and consequences of that in mechanical game play terms needs to be rather similar to "and I talked him into it (maybe expending some resource on par with burning a spell slot)" otherwise wizardry still dominates the plot (which it does currently in 5e unequivocally).

I get the "but then magic isn't special" thing, but there are other ways to achieve that. Like, the whole world is magical, so magical effects are possible with any power source. Watch a few Chinese fantasy TV shows, you will immediately begin to understand. So, I have a bit of hesitancy with the "nerf it down" thing, I don't really want nerfed magic, I just want every PC archetype to participate in the good stuff.

So, universally IME, the story game core design concept is always a universal adjudicator. In PbtA everything is a move, and moves follow a set of universal adjudication rules. In FitD games you have ability rolls and fortune/resistance rolls, that covers ALL adjudication of uncertainty, and clocks do the rest of the mechanical work in various forms, essentially. All these games have the same thing in common, first you have core adjudication, everything flows through it, no exceptions! Then various specific character abilities and such adhere to that structure and potentially modify or elaborate it, or at least put fictional position regulation onto it.

I guess what I COULD see would be a 'wizard' where their stuff is always fictionally effective, but there's a high risk associated with most of it. So, yes, you can 'blast everything with a fireball', but you'll pay for that, dearly! Of course you can also have 'cantrips' to color more ordinary stuff as spell casting.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
One of the characters is exploring a crisis of faith...

Another character, having become gradually disillusioned...

Our academic, pragmatic and non-religious arcanist had a theological/philosophical conversation (roleplayed out) with the abovementioned cleric NPC, where each character was challenging each other's beliefs. I awarded Inspiration for this.
These are all rather depressing. Our games and character motivations tend to be more positive, with motivations revolving around making friends and discovering different aspects of the world. Our motivations don't generate much drama. Yes, there is conflict because the world can be adversarial and sometimes the PCs make mistakes, but in general this does not involve PC motivations - it is more action than drama. I wonder if this is why we're less into mechanics for role-play. If your motivation is to make friends and you play along these lines, you will rarely be compelled (in the FATE meaning). If a fight happens, its unlikely to be because of you. If your motivation is chastity and you role-play this, you will rarely be compelled because you avoid situations where this would be an option, tough you might have to react to seduction. I wonder if this might be why we never really felt a need for mechanics to enforce role-playing? Enforcement might be more relevant if you pick negative motivations?

And yes, this makes our games more like children's TV and less noir, but that is our taste.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top