What Is The Essence of D&D?

The Shadow

Villager
It's become abundantly obvious that people have widely divergent ideas about what D&D fundamentally 'is', what is at its core. What is the common thread that binds together 1e, 2e, 3e, and presumably 4e, even though they are four very distinct games in both fluff and crunch?

For me I think it's a few things:

Classes. D&D is a game where you know what your character fundamentally 'is'. The rise of flexible multiclassing has altered that feel a fair bit, but it's still there.

Levels. D&D is a game where the good stuff comes in measured doses. Addictive, really. :)

Fantasy. It is a fantasy game, and a peculiar style of fantasy too. Not easy to classify, but you know it when you see it. That peculiar style can be a real detriment at times, though. D&D is often not very good for doing classic fantasy settings in.

Archetypes. I cannot imagine any incarnation of D&D that doesn't have the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue.

Dungeon crawling. While it may not be the focus of a campaign, D&D definitely involves kicking in doors and taking names.

Personally, I'm willing to compromise quite a bit on the exact style of fantasy. It would be nice to be able to embody some different fantastic assumptions at times. And the details of dragon scale color and alignment? Chuck 'em, as far as I'm concerned. They aren't the essence.
 

Lonely Tylenol

Villager
The Shadow said:
Whoops. Apologies to all concerned.
Aww, now I feel bad. I don't mean to shut down your thread. I think that perhaps the recycling of thread ideas has taken on a bit more churn since the 4th edition thing has got more people thinking about meta topics.

Also: killing people and taking their stuff. If it doesn't have murder and theft, it's not D&D.
 

KarinsDad

Villager
Dr. Awkward said:
Also: killing people and taking their stuff. If it doesn't have murder and theft, it's not D&D.
You forgot breaking into their homes (err, lairs).

Paladin fare the world around. Breaking and entering, followed by murder (preferably by hacking to bits, but burning to a crisp is fun to watch too), followed by theft. Those Paladins are so darn good. They hardly ever rape anyone. Ditto for most of those Rangers.
 

Mephistopheles

Villager
KarinsDad said:
You forgot breaking into their homes (err, lairs).

Paladin fare the world around. Breaking and entering, followed by murder (preferably by hacking to bits, but burning to a crisp is fun to watch too), followed by theft. Those Paladins are so darn good. They hardly ever rape anyone. Ditto for most of those Rangers.
Reminds me of one of my players who ran a paladin who once took a preventive approach to saving innocent townsfolk from an imminent evil: kill 'em before the bad guys can get to them. He concluded that the evil had already corrupted them when the townsfolk started barricading themselves in their houses to keep him out. His faith did not falter. He proceeded to kick their doors down and put the now obviously tainted souls of the townsfolk out of their misery.

In case you're wondering, yes, he took their stuff, but only because the proceeds of crime should be confiscated and donated to the church.

It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it.
 
If you only compare the editions to one another, they look pretty different, but if you compare them to other frpgs such as RoleMaster, Pendragon, Amber or GURPS, they look a lot more similar.

All have classes and levels, alignment, hit points, armour class, d20 to hit, saving throws, Vancian magic (in the sense of spells per X period of time rather than mana points) and a plethora of monsters and magic items.
 
Last edited:
Note sig.

But I think Doug has hit on the key mechanical things that make D&D D&D, with the most important being clear niches with abilities bundled by class and level, and abstract simplified combat characterized by HP and AC.
 

shilsen

Villager
Mouseferatu said:
To crush your NPCs. To see them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of the DM.

(What? Someone was going to say it...)
You spelt "PCs" as "NPCs". And "players" as "DM." Sheesh - game writers nowadays!
 
There was a poll about this a few days ago called 'which sacred cow is the most sacred' or something like that. Most people voted classes.
But there was a vocal group of us who said dungeons (followed by dragons) were the most core thing to d&d.
 

TerraDave

5ever
There are two polls. This was the MUST poll:

http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=205162&page=2

I did the poll in part to highlight that D&D constits of a lot more then the very particular mechanics or story elements that people (including myself) obsess on.

Here is the "top 40" chosen by those who bothered to answer (% is fraction who say it must be in game):

1) d20s 90.85%
2) Spells 90.14%
3) Dungeon adventuring 88.73%
4) Levels (for class/character) 87.32%
5) dragons 86.62%
6) RACES 85.56%
7) Magic Items 85.21%
8) human 85.21%
9) MONSTERS 85.21%
10) CLASSES 83.80%
11) Wilderness adventuring 80.99%
12) elf 80.99%
13) dwarf 80.99%
14) fighter 79.58%
15) goblins (and kin) 79.58%
16) wizard/magic-user 78.87%
17) orcs 78.17%
18) rogue/thief 77.46%
19) giants 77.46%
20) Six abilities 77.11%
21) eXPerience points 77.11%
22) d4s, d6s, d8s, d10s, d12s, d00s 76.41%
23) City adventuring 76.06%
24) HP 75.70%
25) cleric 75.70%
26) trolls 75.35%
27) Gems and Gold 74.30%
28) demons and devils 72.89%
29) evil humans 70.77%
30) kobolds 69.72%
31) elementals (and kin) 69.72%
32) beholders 69.37%
33) mind-flayers 67.25%
34) AC (damage avoidance) 66.55%
35) griffons and minators (and so on) 65.49%
36) halfling 63.73%
37) Multi-Classing 63.38%
38) Saving Throws 61.27%
39) fey 58.80%
40) 20 or more kinds of weapons 57.04%
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
I really liked the essence of 1e AD&D, it was kind of woody and rather comforting. 3e had more of a petrochemical essence that I didn't like very much.

I'm hoping 4e will return to the essence of 1e.

Oh, you didn't mean that kind of essence...
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Actually, to give a serious answer, I don't know what I'd call the essence of D&D. I'm not a huge fan of classes, levels or archetypes, so I'd happily see them removed. I despise dungeoncrawls, and while I can stomach them to a limited degree in play, I never run them.

I'm left with D&D is a fantasy roleplaying game. Since there are many other fantasy games too, I know that's not terribly helpful in distinguishing how D&D is different from, say, Runequest, or Savage Worlds, or what have you. Then again, as a person who's not terribly interested in system differentiation, and who has very pronounced opinions about tone and feel, honestly maybe I don't care if I'm playing D&D or some other game as long as it's got what I want. I think it's fair to say that I'd play more non-D&D than D&D if I could get my group to agree with me there, though.
 
Given a little bit of spin (like what "cleric" means), I'm in complete agreement with the top 40, and in pretty much the right order, too.

It amuses me that d20s, dragons, and magic items are more important to the game than humans, though.
 

Lonely Tylenol

Villager
Hobo said:
Actually, to give a serious answer, I don't know what I'd call the essence of D&D. I'm not a huge fan of classes, levels or archetypes, so I'd happily see them removed. I despise dungeoncrawls, and while I can stomach them to a limited degree in play, I never run them.

I'm left with D&D is a fantasy roleplaying game. Since there are many other fantasy games too, I know that's not terribly helpful in distinguishing how D&D is different from, say, Runequest, or Savage Worlds, or what have you. Then again, as a person who's not terribly interested in system differentiation, and who has very pronounced opinions about tone and feel, honestly maybe I don't care if I'm playing D&D or some other game as long as it's got what I want. I think it's fair to say that I'd play more non-D&D than D&D if I could get my group to agree with me there, though.
Well, given that you show an interest in playing more games that aren't D&D, could it be that you have correctly summed up the essence of D&D in your first paragraph, and have decided that you just aren't fond of it?
 

Rechan

Villager
I'm curious too.

I glanced at the "OMG They're changing the Devil" and I saw several instances of "This just isn't D&D". How does the relationship of Demons/Devils "What D&D is"?

Does this mean that D&D "isn't D&D" even if it still has classes/levels/HP/AC/dragons/dungeons/roll a d20?
 

Advertisement

Top