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What is the essence of D&D

Wolfpack48

Explorer
Killing monsters and taking their stuff. Oh, and traps, and weird uses of magic. And leveling, and getting your stronghold. And henchmen. And worrying about dying, because you very possibly could die. Permanently.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
And worrying about dying, because you very possibly could die. Permanently.
I thought it was a game... no larping with real weapons

Note even those who designed the game skipped several levels because being a minion class character and dying to a random arrow was not really the point (hence gygaxian diatribe about critical hits being bad). Everything is a question of degree though. - how very possibly is very possibly AND when you have raise dead a possibility even at moderate levels how permanent do you really mean?
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Most importantly I think, it's about pretending to be Elves and Dwarves, Fighters and Wizards, Dragonborn and Warforged, Warlocks and Rogues, and dealing with their problems for a few hours every week during which you don't have to worry about your own, probably much less fun, certainly less interesting, problems.
That part is not something one can argue with me thinks ;)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Note even those who designed the game skipped several levels
Yes, I'd noticed. How boring.

because being a minion class character and dying to a random arrow was not really the point (hence gygaxian diatribe about critical hits being bad).
Dying to a random arrow is just part of the luck of the draw. The achievement lies, in part, in surviving that phase and moving on to the next as you get a few levels under your belt. 4e, much to its discredit*, skips over this early phase entirely.

* - except in the eyes of those who start their games in other editions at 3rd level or 5th level or whatever, which to me is just as bad.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
* - except in the eyes of those who start their games in other editions at 3rd level or 5th level or whatever, which to me is just as bad.
Game designers themselves disagree but you can like what you like to me it says that is not the essence of the game but merely a flavor, like pepper or something.
 
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So I had a comment a while back discussing how the greatest strength of D&D, the very reason why D&D is the "Big Tent" RPG, is because it is a continuing dialogue between the past and the future; that "D&D" (construed as the various editions of D&D, the various OSR clones of D&D, and even PF) share a commonality and a continuity, as well as a scale, that other RPGs lack. Here's the original comment I made-
Y'all know I'm cynical. So, y'know what's coming...

Other RPGs lack name recognition and fad status from the 80s satanic panic. Many of them do have communities, continuity, and scale - and scope. Long histories, adaptation to many genres, sold in multiple countries, etc. They just aren't household names.

D&D is not a big tent RPG, at all. It's the only visible tent for those ducking into the hobby for the first time. But the scope of games you can run with it, compared to RPGs less baroque, broken, or hobbled by tradition? Really pretty narrow. So, especially early on, when unaware of alternatives, enthusiasts would just re-write it like crazy into whatever they wanted, but still call it D&D.

Now, 5e was conceived as a 'big tent' /for existing fans of D&D/. That's where 'Big Tent' became a D&D buzzword.

You can have people discussing 5e, but bringing in perspectives from the 70s, and from just having picked up the game. You can have people trying to bend it to a "old school OD&D feel" or to a more "3e" or "4e" feel. People discussing their preferences not just in terms of, say, Greyhawk v. Forgotten Realms, but 3e Greyhawk v. Grey Box Forgotten Realms.
Yes, D&D has a long history. So do Traveler and RuneQuest/BRP. It's not the length of the history.

But to have all of this, to have these continuing conversation, you can't have a discontinuity. There has to be some common thread that makes D&D, D&D.
Well, there's the name. Name recognition and history are a huge part of what makes D&D relevant in the hobby. OK, they're basically all of what makes it relevant. Plus they make up for all the things that /should/ have made it irrelevant decades ago.

And we have had some HUGE discontinuities. Like the Edition War. So whatever commonality it is, it skipped over one edition....

So:

And what is that? What is that essence of "D&D"?
...
What do you think is absolutely core to D&D?
Magic.

The Primacy of Magic.

In the form of both Casters and Magic Items.

I mean, there's many details that have gotten calcified in the D&D experience - hit points, AC, saves, class, level, etc, etc, but most of them get compromised or tweaked at some point without causing the game to 'not be D&D' anymore.

AC went from matrix to THACO, to DC, and inverted, all without not being D&D, for instance. Hit points have inflated and deflated, been defined different ways, etc. We've had classes come and go, change radically, level differently, MC very differently, bleed into races, etc.

But, the only time D&D was JUST NOT D&D, was when casters were roughly balanced with non-casters, and magic items were little more than fungible baseline gear and fashion accessories.

But I know a lot of people that felt that the edition just didn't "feel" like D&D. It had a lot of things in common with D&D. The basic structure was there, so why did it feel different?
Balance. Specifically, class balance, though encounter balance was also a factor. Especially the way caster classes balanced with non-casters, and the way magic items (and rituals) were indexed to wealth/level that made them just another build resource, and not nearly the most important/powerful one.

Different classes just "feel" different. A paladin plays different than a rogue, a wizard has different concerns than a fighter. That wasn't true in 4E, with everyone having the same basic structure.
This is one of those odd misconception that reminds me that we have to accept what others 'feel' as their own personal experience, no matter how at odds with certain of the facts they may seem.

Objectively, classes in 4e had similar structures in terms of number of powers, very different characteristics in play based on role and features, and very different flavor & breadth based on Source (and powers used a consistent/set of rules & keywords while giving the players freedom to define their flavor). Focus on one, ignore the others, and we get the cosmetic aspect of one of the core rifts of the edition war: 4e detractors feeling that the classes were 'samey,' 4e fans, in stark contrast, feeling that they're /finally/ getting to play something closer to the full range of characters from genre.

But, the root is that core of D&D: the Magic.
Magic in 4e - magic items and class 'Sources' other than martial - had greater breadth of effects, very different flavor, but weren't flat-out more powerful. You could quite literally remove magic from the game with little issue. Martial classes only, inherent bonuses on - the game would progress about as normal (for any other party that lacked a controller, that is, so a bit rougher when outnumbered, for instance).
That's the not-D&D part.

Related to that, you can have characters that feel special but not supernatural. A champion fighter is just a guy that wades into combat and swings a weapon.
Nothing about the champion seems remotely special. Seriously. Absolutely everything in D&D with hands (and a few things without, I suspect) can wade into combat swinging a weapon.
It may not be very realistic, but it's one of the classes that you could throw into a movie set in the real world and it wouldn't look too out of place.
That, you could say about the BM - or the 4e Warlord, or any other 4e martial class... or the 3e or earlier fighters, rogues, & thieves/assassins, to a point.
D&D characters tend to be overly-specialized for typical protagonists, in particular, protagonists tend to be charismatic, perceptive, and clever in ways 6-stat, STR-or-DEX-primary/DEX-and/or-CON-secondary D&D classes can rarely manage.

So while 4E had the sheen and look of D&D, it was a different game and just didn't scratch the same itch for a lot of people.
Very true. But, really, it went beyond just not scratching an itch, or it'd've just been a matter of go rub up against PF or Hackmaster or whatever, and :::ahhhhh…::: ...we're good.

4e was actively infuriating. It wasn't just a D&D some D&Ders didn't care for, it was one they couldn't /tolerate/. It would not be exaggerating much to say that it was viewed as an existential threat.

Because the Magic wasn't there.

When it came time to put the magic back, with 5e, it was up-front about it:
5e Basic pdf said:
The Wonders of Magic
Few D&D adventures end without something magical
happening. Whether helpful or harmful, magic appears
frequently in the life of an adventurer, and it is the focus
of chapters 10 and 11.
In the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, practitioners
of magic are rare, set apart from the masses of people
by their extraordinary talent. Common folk might see
evidence of magic on a regular basis, but it’s usually
minor—a fantastic monster, a visibly answered prayer,
a wizard walking through the streets with an animated
shield guardian as a bodyguard.
For adventurers, though, magic is key to their survival.
Without the healing magic of clerics and paladins, adventurers
would quickly succumb to their wounds. Without
the uplifting magical support of bards and clerics, warriors
might be overwhelmed by powerful foes. Without
the sheer magical power and versatility of wizards and
druids, every threat would be magnified tenfold.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Hey everyone!

Y'all can discuss whatever you want, but just as a reminder, this is supposed to be about the commonality in all D&D.

You know, the things that bring us together. Not ... the other stuff. :)
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Hey everyone!

Y'all can discuss whatever you want, but just as a reminder, this is supposed to be about the commonality in all D&D.

You know, the things that bring us together. Not ... the other stuff. :)
You are bound to have them saying 4e lacked the essence... Not sure how you could not expect that to happen.

To me 4e delivered on so many of the promises of 1e and 2e.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
You are bound to have them saying 4e lacked the essence... Not sure how you could not expect that to happen.
Well, sometimes it's like Charlie Brown and the football.

I assume, because we are all honorable gamers, that the topic won't come up this time.

And then I'm flat on my back, staring at the sky.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Me: Utterly unabashed about it... indeed.

The Wonders of Magic
Few D&D adventures end without something magical
happening. Whether helpful or harmful, magic appears
frequently in the life of an adventurer, and it is the focus
of chapters 10 and 11.

Me:So far so good.... and then

In the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, practitioners
of magic are rare, set apart from the masses of people
by their extraordinary talent.

Me: Pretty sure every heroic archetype should be extraordinary
and as for rarity... the adversaries in the monster manual
do not need to be "A Fighter" ... they are a human soldier or
the orcish warrior.

Common folk might see evidence of magic on a regular basis, but it’s usually
minor—a fantastic monster, a visibly answered prayer,
a wizard walking through the streets with an animated
shield guardian as a bodyguard.

Me: No problem really...

Me: But then we have reinforced dependence and superiority on a stick

For adventurers, though, magic is key to their survival.
Without the healing magic of clerics and paladins, adventurers
would quickly succumb to their wounds. Without
the uplifting magical support of bards and clerics, warriors
might be overwhelmed by powerful foes.
Without
the sheer magical power and versatility of wizards and
druids, every threat would be magnified tenfold.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Well, sometimes it's like Charlie Brown and the football.

I assume, because we are all honorable gamers, that the topic won't come up this time.

And then I'm flat on my back, staring at the sky.
lowkey13 the Charlie Brown of posters...
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
and magic items were little more than fungible baseline gear and fashion accessories.
I'm not going to get into the 4e debate, but I thought this line was interesting.

I've thought a lot about why magic items are so awesome, and why (if they're so awesome) I don't like magic shops and DDAL treasure points. (Or their equivalent in other games, including in video games.)

What I think is going on, at least in my own little brain, is that the abilities (or power) you get from "found" magic items is inherently different from abilities/power you get as part of standard game progression. It feels like "bonus" power, beyond what you are supposed to have at whatever level you are.

I'm not saying it very eloquently, but does that make sense?

So it wouldn't have to be magic items. It could be that as a quest reward a powerful NPC grants you some ability. That, to me, would feel as special and cool as a magic item. And I think it's for the same reason: it makes my character just a little bit better than the baseline for the game.

Of course, variable rewards have all kinds of troublesome impact on supposedly fair and balanced games (e.g., DDAL). But those aren't design goals I care about a whole lot.
 
Hey everyone!
Y'all can discuss whatever you want, but just as a reminder, this is supposed to be about the commonality in all D&D.
You know, the things that bring us together. Not ... the other stuff. :)
Yeah, I acknowledged, up-front, that I was going to be cynical about it. But, I'm afraid that - thanks to the rejection of the 4e outlier - their just isn't any such commonality. At least, not a meaningful one, not the "continuity" you posited.

You are bound to have them saying 4e lacked the essence... Not sure how you could not expect that to happen.
Really, the litmus test for something being the Core & Essence of D&D prettymuch /has/ to be that it be somehow absent from - or, at the very least, severely lacking in - 4e.

Class/Level? Hps? Killing things & taking their stuff?
Can't be the core of D&D, because 4e had 'em, and it just wasn't D&D.

For that matter, whatever it is, it prettymuch /has/ to be in PF1, because it /was/ D&D, just w/o the trade dress.

So all those settings and copyrightable/trademarkable proper nouns and other IP?
Not it.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Does that mean 'Garthanos' is some language's translation of 'Lucy'?

;)
I am not the one pulling the ball LOL but I admit predicting the issue and watching quietly while he ran up to take the shot.

It could be a greekification of Garth which means guard to protect or maybe garden?
but its actually a greekification of Garthan means straight/true one in a homebrew dragon language.
 
I thought this line was interesting.
I've thought a lot about why magic items are so awesome, and why (if they're so awesome) I don't like magic shops and DDAL treasure points. (Or their equivalent in other games, including in video games.)
What I think is going on, at least in my own little brain, is that the abilities (or power) you get from "found" magic items is inherently different from abilities/power you get as part of standard game progression. It feels like "bonus" power, beyond what you are supposed to have at whatever level you are.
I'm not saying it very eloquently, but does that make sense?
Yes. Perfect sense.
As MM put it when introducing 5e, "magic items make you just better."

But, 3.x/PF had wealth/level & make/buy and still retained the core & essence of really being D&D. The difference was that those made/bought, part of level progression, magic items were still /very important & powerful/, not fungible, not just accessories that do something cool-but-not-that-important.

So it wouldn't have to be magic items. It could be that as a quest reward a powerful NPC grants you some ability. That, to me, would feel as special and cool as a magic item. And I think it's for the same reason: it makes my character just a little bit better than the baseline for the game.
As long as it's some /magical/ ability, sure. ;)
Classic D&D had many examples (albeit, mostly in modules, not rulebooks) of arbitrary magical abilities granted by interacting with the environment ("I drink from the glowing pool!") or getting a whammy put on you by some uber-being (god or devil or high-level wizard or whatever) for good, ill, or some combination.

Of course, variable rewards have all kinds of troublesome impact on supposedly fair and balanced games (e.g., DDAL). But those aren't design goals I care about a whole lot.
Indeed, unfair & imbalanced /is/ arguably a necessary part of the essence of D&D, of Magic being Really Magical, because fair & balanced-with-the-mundane just ain't magical.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Hey everyone!

Y'all can discuss whatever you want, but just as a reminder, this is supposed to be about the commonality in all D&D.

You know, the things that bring us together. Not ... the other stuff. :)
Eh. If someone was very specific about the essence of D&D - specific enough that some editions had it and others didn't - it could certainly cut out other editions. Just because you're seeing some answers you don't like doesn't mean people aren't sincerely answering the question.
 

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