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D&D General What feels like D&D vs. what D&D should keep

JEB

Hero
Comparing the "feel" poll with the "keep" poll (elements in different tiers between the polls in bold):

What makes D&D feel like D&D?What elements does D&D need to keep?
Very important (80% and up)Ability scores (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha) [87.1%]
Distinct character classes [87.1%]
Levels [87.1%]
Hit points [81.8%]
Distinct character classes [95.4%]
Levels [93.1%]
Ability scores (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha) [88.5%]
Hit points [86.9%]
Using multiple types of dice [84.6%]
Important (60% to 80%)Armor Class [73.5%]
Using multiple types of dice [70.5%]
Saving throws [66.7%]
Armor Class [80.0%]
Saving throws [76.9%]
Distinct character races/lineages [74.6%]
Lists of specific spells [70.0%]
Initiative [66.9%]
Debatable (40% to 60%)Distinct character races/lineages [58.3%]
Experience points [50.8%]
Lists of specific spells [49.2%]
Alignment [45.5%]
Lists of specific magic items [57.7%]
Advantage/disadvantage [49.2%]
Damage types [48.5%]
Multiclassing [45.4%]
Proficiencies [45.4%]
Lists of specific equipment [45.4%]
Conditions [43.8%]
Creature types [43.8%]

Experience points [43.1%]
Feats [42.3%]
Less important (20% to 40%)Lists of specific magic items [39.4%]
Initiative [36.4%]

Hit dice [24.2%]
Lists of specific equipment [24.2%]
Hit dice [40.0%]
Backgrounds [37.7%]
Alignment [34.6%]
Surprise [30.8%]
Deities [30.0%]
Not important (20% and below)Creature types [17.4%]
Deities [16.7%]

Great Wheel cosmology [15.9%]
Multiclassing [15.9%]
Feats [10.6%]
Proficiencies [10.6%]
Damage types [9.1%]
Surprise [5.3%]
Advantage/disadvantage [4.5%]
Conditions [4.5%]

Challenge ratings [3.8%]
World Axis cosmology [3.0%]
Backgrounds [2.3%]
Great Wheel cosmology [20.0%]
Challenge ratings [20.0%]
World Axis cosmology [8.5%]

Thoughts:
  • It seems pretty clear that a D&D that doesn't have levels, classes, ability scores, or hit points is going to be a hard sell to most players (or at least the ones here). Top tier on both "feel" and "keep". Armor Class and multiple types of dice both seem pretty strongly indicated as well.
  • As is obvious, there are an awful lot of things that ranked low on the "feel" poll and much higher on the "keep" poll. Clearly an element doesn't have to be something that feels distinctly D&D to be worth keeping. In fact, nearly everything moved upward in the rankings to some degree when the question changed.
  • On the other hand, alignment conspicuously moved down a tier. A little less than half agree it's a distinctly D&D element, but only about a third actively want to keep it, the rest could live without it.
  • I'm curious what it means that character races aren't part of D&D's "feel" to a little less than half of folks, but a clear majority want to keep them anyway.
  • There seem to be ambiguous feelings about XP.
  • Sorry, World Axis fans, but this doesn't bode well for a comeback. (Not that Great Wheel fans have a lot more to brag about.)
 
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DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
  • On the other hand, alignment conspicuously moved down a tier. A little less than half agree it's a distinctly D&D element, but only about a third actively want to keep it, the rest could live without it.

An element can be both a uniquely definining trait of a property, and something that keeps that property from being what it's trying to be. D&D's Alignment system, like D&D's multiverse cosmology and theology, is a very specific design decision that people have taken as given for decades pretty much entirely because they used it in D&D-- and it really, really, does not fit the majority of D&D settings or fantasy settings that people want to use with D&D.

I'm not shy about my belief that alignment should be dropped in the next version of D&D, that it should have been dropped in the last four versions of D&D-- like other Gygaxian malignancies that were excised between 1e and 2e-- but, more than that, I want people to understand and acknowledge that alignment isn't the only moral system, that it isn't any moral system, and that it's only necessary and/or beneficial in settings that are designed to focus on it.

  • I'm curious what it means that character races aren't part of D&D's "feel" to a little less than half of folks, but a clear majority want to keep them anyway.

I'm genuinely surprised, because I expected that "character races" would have been a top-tier answer on both polls-- with all of the heated argument taking place demonstrating that the problem is there's no consensus on what form they should take in the next D&D.

  • Sorry, World Axis fans, but this doesn't bode well for a comeback. (Not that Great Wheel fans have a lot more to brag about.)

I sure would love if the Great Wheel made a grand and glorious comeback... as the Planescape Campaign Setting, and did not otherwise impose itself upon Faerun or Eberron, or gods forbid, the new Magic settings with their own multiversal cosmology.

I would be interested to see a version of the World Axis tightly wrapped around a setting that's meant to really delve into it.

You know, The Afterlife doesn't need to be a defining feature of any fantasy world, even if people do frequently come back from it.
 

Minigiant

Legend
As is obvious, there are an awful lot of things that ranked low on the "feel" poll and much higher on the "keep" poll. Clearly an element doesn't have to be something that feels distinctly D&D to be worth keeping. In fact, nearly everything moved upward in the rankings to some degree when the question changed

I think a lot of them are things people either want as official options or changes drastically mechanic. Keeping something you don't like suggests implementation disagreement.

So example


I'm curious what it means that character races aren't part of D&D's "feel" to a little less than half of folks, but a clear majority want to keep them anyway.
Races. I never like how D&D does races and still don't. Combine that with races being mechanical or narratively weak in some editions, some might not feel races but want to keep them.
 

I think the difference in the two posts show that a lot of things you people saying you should "keep", you could actually get away with chopping without big problems.

Experience points are interesting because I think a decade ago or so people would clearly have been in favour of them, but now so many people just don't use them, using other advancement methods (often basically amounting to "you level up when the DM says you do"), and XP doesn't offer much positive to the game that can't be added in a less annoying way via other methods.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm genuinely surprised, because I expected that "character races" would have been a top-tier answer on both polls-- with all of the heated argument taking place demonstrating that the problem is there's no consensus on what form they should take in the next D&D.
Allow me to chuck in a few possible reasons for that, as pure speculation:

Some people might like the idea of some different races/species being playable as PCs but - like me - think the last few editions have gone way overboard with it, turning too many once-"monster" creatures into playables.

Others might see the ongoing weakening of species-based mechanics as an irreversible and-or welcome trend and are just moving on with a shrug.

Still others might all along have seen different species as nothing more than Humans-with-extras and thus wouldn't care much if they went away.
 

JEB

Hero
I think there's definitely room for some interesting questions about how folks treat character races in their D&D games, and how they want the game to treat them, based on the mixed poll results so far. Assuming one can figure out how to ask those questions in just the right way...
 

Democratus

Adventurer
In the first D&D I played there weren't different races. It was just the core classes, all assumed to be human. Later Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings were added as classes.

The idea seemed to be that only humans varied in their pursuits, while other races were much more uniform - at least the ones who went adventuring.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm curious what it means that character races aren't part of D&D's "feel" to a little less than half of folks, but a clear majority want to keep them anyway.
My hypothesis would be that it ranked low on feel because it’s not unique to D&D. Lots of sci-fi and fantasy RPG have character races or something similar, so it doesn’t really feel specifically D&D. On the other hand, they’re still a popular feature to have, despite not being particular to D&D.
 


Dausuul

Legend
I think a lot of them are things people either want as official options or changes drastically mechanic. Keeping something you don't like suggests implementation disagreement.
"I want to keep this thing, but I don't think it 'feels like D&D'" suggests a perfectly good, functional mechanic that simply is not a distinctive feature of D&D.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
I've sort of come to a conclusion regarding why races are kind of lower ranking for a lot of people. And one of the reasons I think is that the different races are not mechanically different enough to warrant how much people latch onto them.

What I mean by that is this... the game mechanical differences between two entirely different species is like five things. Between let's say elves and humans... the elves overall can perceive things as a group slightly better than humans as a group can... they are trained as a group in a few weapons that humans as a group are not... they collectively as a group can hide in the woods better than humans can... and they are resistant to charms and magical sleep and don't sleep like humans do. That's what the game has decided are ALL the differences between elves and humans. Five dinky things, some of which are things that elves just do slightly better.

But then... you take a look at the differences between two JOBS that humans have, and the game mechanical differences can number into the HUNDREDS. Two different humans can have two different jobs-- like say, a Fighter and a Sorcerer-- and there are 20 freaking LEVELS of mechanical difference between the two. And when you look at it through that lens... you REALLY know what the game finds important.

The differences between jobs is infinitely more important to D&D that the difference between entire species. And it's because of this that I think the different races really aren't important. The game rules certainly don't treat them as important, because if they did, you'd get more than just five game mechanics to distinguish them. And I think this is why the opinions on things like racial ability bonuses affect people in two completely different ways:

- For some people... with races only getting five difference between each other, they don't want to lose racial ability score bonuses because there are already so little differences that taking away another one is making a bad problem even worse.

- For other people... if you add up the entirety of a character sheet's mechanics that are giving us a picture of this character... changing one mechanic out of say the 85(?) mechanics the PC has is no big deal. The racial mechanics are so inconsequential to the overall total character sheet that changing one of them (in an effort to promote more of an acceptance of racial equality) isn't a problem.

Now for me, here's my truth... to me it is logically unsound that two different species have so few mechanical differences compared to two different jobs. To me, that's just dumb. It'd be like asking someone to compare and contrast all the differences between a human being and an ostrich and getting a list of six items, whereas asking for a difference between a mailman and a social worker gives you a list of several hundred. It makes no sense--

--other than the game mechanics are there PURELY for game use only and not for any sort of anthropological study. And if that's the case... then trying to align game mechanics to any sort of "reality" or anthropological study is foolish. Game mechanics are here for the game, and that's all. They make the board game work as a board game. But they do little to nothing in portraying any sort of actual reality. And which is why removing or changing a mechanic that is meant to represent something in-game doesn't bother me one lick.

Why do I not care that a goliath and a halfling can both have the same Strength score in D&D? Because "Strength score" in D&D portrays no actual real-world thing. It is a made up game mechanic used purely for playing the game that we have overlayed a pseudo-real world idea of what it represents to make it seem important. But D&D "Strength score" means nothing and represents nothing. It has no real-world application. It is one single number attempting to represent every single thing a body can do... body mass, muscle, leverage, tension, etc. etc. can do-- across dozens and dozens of different species and creatures. It's meaningless.

...except inasmuch as some people actually do denote some sort of truth from it even though they really shouldn't. And thus the makers of D&D have to decide whose false truths are more important and they'll change the rules to make those people happy. The other folks whose truths are not as important? Sorry.
 
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Funny, to me, D&D is the only place I would expect to see such a menagerie.

I think my impression of what D&D is comes from those old Infinity Engine computer games, so when the whole party is animals, it's more like...I dunno. A computer game I wouldn't play to begin with. I'm just not a big fan of anthropomorphic animals.
 

I think the difference in the two posts show that a lot of things you people saying you should "keep", you could actually get away with chopping without big problems.

I'd also point out that some of the things people feel are "not important" are really quite critical. Challenge ratings, for example, was voted one of the least popular answers. It may not be the type of thing that is obvious to most players, but the game really does require some mechanic to tell DMs what level party is approximately equivalent for which monsters in the MM. It doesn't need to be the exact system we have now (people will always complain about how the guidelines don't match their party), but with the sheer breadth of challenges in the baseline game, you need to give the DMs guidance somehow.

And let's not forget the commercial side of things, too. Feats and multiclassing are very low on the list. But we also know from multiple insiders that feats and prestige classes are basically what sold books in the 3.xE era. People can say they're not important to the game they play, sure, but they're also the things that kept the lights on and kept the published materials flowing.

I guess my conclusion here is that what people feel, what they want, and what they need are very different things.
 

The specific combo of things like color-coded dragonborn, tiefling, warforged, etc, in a party make a game feel like DnD simply because elves and dwarves are so ubiquitously generic to fantasy. Any old franchise is going to have an all human party, with a dude with pointed ears and a guy with a beard. Only DnD has the party with the blue dragonborn and the duergar in a group.
 

Greg K

Hero
With regards to the importance of non-human races as player characters, they are not important to me, but having them- especially the Tolkein races and gnomes- as an option is (to me) part of D&D. Then again, parties with non-human PCs (especially, multiple non-human PCs) has never been a big part of the D&D experience for me. Excluding both a game using the Dragonlance module and my, briefly run, half-elf character, at best, I have encountered exactly 10 non-human PCs in my first 30 years of D&D gaming (including our experiments with D&D fantasy using Hero, GURPS, and Rolemaster). This is both as a player and DM. Also, I have never encountered more than 1 non-human PC in a game at at time (again, excluding the Dragonlance game which lasted only a few sessions).

The first non-human PC I encountered was a half-elf magic-user/thief played by a friend in 1980. I didn't see another non-human PC until 1983 and 1984 when my brother played a half-ogre fighter and a friend played a gnome illusionist who spoke like Yoda (they were in separate campaigns run by me).

In 1985, I also was in a game with one dwarf, a half-elf, and a kender as pcs while at university However, the DM was running the first Dragonlance module with the pre-gen characters. Following that game, it would be another seven years or so, before I saw another nonhuman PC. The first was a gnome necromancer in 1992 or 1993 followed by a dwarf fighter a year or two later (both were campaigns run by myself).

Finally, between the late 90's and 2007*, I had seen 1 lizardman (Barbarian), 1 dwarf (fighter), 1 halfling (Barbarian), 1 half-elf (sorcerer), and 1 elf (rogue) as PCs and and each was in a separate campaign (the lizardman, dwarf, and elf were in campaigns run by me).

* After 2007, my gaming has focused, primarily, on superhero rpgs with some sessions of modern Men In Black/ Freaky LInks/Special Unit 2 inspired gaming using Savage Worlds, and experimentation with a few other non-fantasy game systems.
 

Minigiant

Legend
"I want to keep this thing, but I don't think it 'feels like D&D'" suggests a perfectly good, functional mechanic that simply is not a distinctive feature of D&D.

To me it feels like the opposite.

Fels more like "I like this thing but the way D&D does this thing doesn't feel like D&D"

Aka D&D does D&D races wrong.

I would be shocked if D&D could come out with no races without a major backlash.
 

grimslade

Doddering Old Git
I think the custom lineage system will replace the concept of races in the next iteration of D&D. This will be the bridge to allow settings like Dark Sun to exist without stepping on the core races and classes needing to be in everything system. The setting will define what 'races' are in the world.
Alignment is a definitive portion of D&D. It is one of the most recognizable D&D things out there. It just serves no purpose in-game or it serves conflicting purposes. It is weird that something so iconic is so expendable, but there it is.
Really as long as the game has hp, ac, and six attributes while deciding the outcome using polyhedral dice. It will be D&D enough.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd also point out that some of the things people feel are "not important" are really quite critical. Challenge ratings, for example, was voted one of the least popular answers. It may not be the type of thing that is obvious to most players, but the game really does require some mechanic to tell DMs what level party is approximately equivalent for which monsters in the MM. It doesn't need to be the exact system we have now (people will always complain about how the guidelines don't match their party), but with the sheer breadth of challenges in the baseline game, you need to give the DMs guidance somehow.
Guidance, yes. But in vague and general terms only, leaving it up to each DM to trial-and-error it for one's particular group-playstyle-tastes-etc.; along with guidance in the DMG as to what that trial-and-error process will probably look like and some tips on avoiding some of the more egregious errors.

1e's idea of "monster levels" - even that was a bit too codifed and thus didn't work as well as I think it was intended to (other than providing great lists for randomly-summoned monsters!), though the variability within a given monster level did force DMs into the trial-and-error process they should have been doing anyway. 3e doubled down with the CR-EL idea, in fairness a logical reaction to its steepening of the power curve. 5e, with its flatter power curve, can probably afford to back way off on this without losing much.
And let's not forget the commercial side of things, too. Feats and multiclassing are very low on the list. But we also know from multiple insiders that feats and prestige classes are basically what sold books in the 3.xE era. People can say they're not important to the game they play, sure, but they're also the things that kept the lights on and kept the published materials flowing.
There's a difference between what consumers feel/want and what commercial interests want/need; and given that we collectively skew hard into the consumer group, that's the voice that's going to be heard.

Which is fine with me.
 

ART!

Hero
It will be interesting to see how "feels like" and "should keep" changes in the next 5 years (with movies and tv shows hitting pop culture) to 20 years (as us old-school grognards fade away).
 

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