What is the essence of D&D

Zardnaar

Hero
His claim was wizard, though, not "someone." If we're talking "someone," then a 20th level barbarian with a 24 strength can go 72 feet.

I've personally never seen a wizard PC with a 20 strength and I've been playing regularly since 1983. And in a wide variety of settings with a large variety of people. I'm sure it happens, but it can't be common enough to leave the range of "technically correct."
Eldritch Knight would be way more likely.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
Interesting topic for a thread. I read quite of bit of this thread. I've been busy but I wish I had the time to respond sooner. Just seems like this thread has generated a lot of pointless bickering and edition warring.

To me, this primacy of magic thing is a red herring. It has absolutely nothing to do the essence of D&D. It is more of an implementation concern and not really about the essence of the game.

To me, the essence of D&D is the following:

  1. You the player get to explore a fantastic world filled with dungeons, ruins, monsters and magic. Your character is an avatar/playing piece that allows you to insert yourself into this world.
  2. Your character has abilities that help define its role and how you contribute in the game. Classes provide strong archetypes for what you do in the world. The character class becomes a lens through which you see and interact with the fantastic world. Playing different character classes changes the lens and allows you to experience the game in myriad different ways.
  3. The game is a cooperative event where you get to share an experience with other people and contribute to the success of the group.
  4. The player at the table holds the power in a game, not the character. Character capability and player capability are two completely unrelated concepts. The character is just a playing piece for the player to exert their agency on the game.


If you asked me to describe a rules element that dictates the essence of D&D, I'd have to decline. Its not about the rules, its about the approach and the experience at the table as you play it.

I've played and run pretty much every edition of D&D ever released. I've enjoyed playing them all. I have my preferences and I try really hard not to talk in absolutes (I don't always succeed at this).

It is kind of frustrating to hear terms like "not D&D" or "its just a video game" or "only played because of nostalgia" or "it's just old and busted rules" for different versions of the game. I honestly don't care who plays what edition. I like the editions I like and I'm glad others like the editions they like.

I really don't think the implementation really matters with regard to the essence of the game.
Nostalgia is just a back handed way of saying your game is inferior.
 
Nostalgia is just a back handed way of saying your game is inferior.
Nostalgia is a forehanded way of saying it's OK to get old - and that you kids'll never get it, until it's too late.

However, your game (whatever it is? Whist*, perhaps?) probably is inferior, or you wouldn't be so concerned about it being called 'nostalgic.'

;P
To me, the essence of D&D is the following:

  1. You the player get to explore a fantastic world filled with dungeons, ruins, monsters and magic. Your character is an avatar/playing piece that allows you to insert yourself into this world.
  2. Your character has abilities that help define its role and how you contribute in the game. Classes provide strong archetypes for what you do in the world. The character class becomes a lens through which you see and interact with the fantastic world. Playing different character classes changes the lens and allows you to experience the game in myriad different ways.
  3. The game is a cooperative event where you get to share an experience with other people and contribute to the success of the group.
  4. The player at the table holds the power in a game, not the character. Character capability and player capability are two completely unrelated concepts. The character is just a playing piece for the player to exert their agency on the game.

I've played and run pretty much every edition of D&D ever released. I've enjoyed playing them all. I have my preferences and I try really hard not to talk in absolutes (I don't always succeed at this).
Well, every edition of D&D certainly hits your points 1-4 with no problem (though point 4 in different ways, some of which seem to provoke some mutual antagonism - cf 'skilled play' vs 'metagaming' or CaW/CaS)

But, 3 & 4 could apply to basically any RPG, 1 to most any FRPG, and 2 to any class-based RPG (which, admittedly, are mostly imitators of D&D so could be credibly going for it's 'essence.')

You've got a very wide net out, there, is all.







* it's a joke, see, cause that'd make you like 200
 
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So maybe the Essence of D&D is less about the mechanism (magic, supernatural, heroic, etc.) that explains the fiction, and more about who determines outcomes, the DM or the rules. When you start codifying outcomes (also called "player empowerment", maybe?) it ends up looking like the elevation of the mundane compared to the magical.
That sounded like a good candidate to me, too. Only issue is that 3.x/PF was every bit as player-empowering (more often, and more condescendingly, "Player Entitlement") as 4e, and the D&D/not-D&D split was between 'em.
Also, depending on how an individual DM tended to rule, hard mechanics for a mundane/extraordinary task might look like the elevation of the mundane (if the DM was being very realistic/conservative) or, just as easily, like nerfing the non-magical heroes (if the DM was running a more wild/wahoo/Wuxia kinda campaign).
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
That sounded like a good candidate to me, too. Only issue is that 3.x/PF was every bit as player-empowering (more often, and more condescendingly, "Player Entitlement") as 4e, and the D&D/not-D&D split was between 'em.
Then I think we are on to something because I didn’t like 3.x, either.

Also, depending on how an individual DM tended to rule, hard mechanics for a mundane/extraordinary task might look like the elevation of the mundane (if the DM was being very realistic/conservative) or, just as easily, like nerfing the non-magical heroes (if the DM was running a more wild/wahoo/Wuxia kinda campaign).
Sounds like a feature, not a bug.
 
Then I think we are on to something because I didn’t like 3.x, either.
Not shocked. ;)
There's a clear demarcation between TSR eds & 5e, which are very DM-centric, and the other WotC eds, which were very player-centric. There's other ways you can slice the D&D cannon, too. 2e & 4e were more story-oriented than other editions, for instance. 2e-through-5e provided for more character customization. 1e, B/X & 3e could be particularly deadly, etc... None of those really point to the difference in question being relevant to the essence of D&D, though, as you've got some clearly Really-D&D eds on both sides of each dividing line.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Jump allows you to jump TRIPLE your normal distance. Granted, you'd need a STR of 20 to make 60 feet, but, 45 feet is easily doable.
And you'd need to be a wood elf. Jumping that distance costs 60 feet of movement and also requires a 10-foot running start, so 70 feet total.

I'm helping!

Howzabout you actually answer the question - what would the DC be for a rogue to jump triple his normal jumping distance?
It's a leading and nonsensical question. We're looking at what a rogue can do "all day" versus what a wizard can do by expending daily resources. Whatever a rogue can do all day is his normal jumping distance. And this has nothing to do with "fantastic" versus "realistic" expectations. If this were a wuxia game and the rogue's normal jumping distance were 60 feet, the jump spell would still triple that. Would you then be asking snidely what the rogue has to do to jump 180 feet?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's a leading and nonsensical question. We're looking at what a rogue can do "all day" versus what a wizard can do by expending daily resources. Whatever a rogue can do all day is his normal jumping distance. And this has nothing to do with "fantastic" versus "realistic" expectations. If this were a wuxia game and the rogue's normal jumping distance were 60 feet, the jump spell would still triple that. Would you then be asking snidely what the rogue has to do to jump 180 feet?
Or change Rogue/Thief to Monk.

Now we have a class that can (in all editions) do some pretty crazy jumping, running, and so forth; and (in most editions) keep doing it for as long as desired.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In the context of playing the game what a character can do all day hardly matters. What matters is what you can do when it matters in the critical moments.

In a game with significant attrition that can be when a Wizard is out of spells. I think when you reach a certain level it is probably fair for a rogue to be able to do more than what a Wizard can accomplish with a first level spell because those resources are not so relevant to play.
 

Greg K

Adventurer
What is the essence of D&D? For myself, I know if when looking upon the core rules (making the essence subjective like art or porn). In my opinion, what I find as the essence can be expanded upon and stretched in supplementary settings and remain acceptable as D&D, but lose the essence of D&D if done in the core rules. Al Qadim, Dark Sun, Ravenloft are, for instance, some of my favorite D&D settings. Planescape, Spelljammer, and Eberron, are legitmate D&D settings despite my dislike of them. Yet, a version of D&D building the core rules of an edition around any of these settings would lose the essence of D&D for me.
Despite my preference for many of the underlying mechanics of 3e, 4e, and 5e in comparison to TSR D&D, the fantasy that WOTC put on top of those mechanics lost the essence of D&D for me- even when considering that 3e used "Greyhawk" as its core setting and 5e uses the Realms (Then again, the essence of both settings to me was lost back in the 2e era).
 
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I think I may have gotten a little too complicated and over-analytical with the Primacy of Magic...
Made less "magical" perhaps, but not made any less important or pervasive. Thus, in this way 4e is still very much magic-prime D&D.
Important & pervasive, in this context, are opposed. Magic was less important in 4e, because there were fewer absolutely vital things (like restoring hps in combat) that /only/ magic could do, and because one of the two traditional source of magic, items, was not just reduced in power, but made so ubiquitous and fungible that they became unimportant (and that can probably go for rituals, too, which became much more adventure-enabling, to the point that the DM would provide a ritual the party 'needed' to continue the adventure.)

All more or less true; albeit with 4e's reduction of capabilities of pre-existing caster classes somewhat cancelled out by its making caster or caster-like classes a much higher perecntage of the total.
Relative to the prior ed PH1, with 11 character classes, 7 of them with spellcasting ability (64%), 8 (73%) if you include any (SU)supernatural powers, at all, the 4e PH1 had 8 classes, 4 of them with spellcasting and/or supernatural abilities, 4 without. 50/50. Now, if you include supplements, 3.5 added the Scout & Knight as non-supernatural, and myriad supernatural classes (not to mention PrCs), while 4e added /only/ supernatural classes, and mostly just subclasses in Essentials, so it would've gotten there eventually.
Frankly, though, ubiquity is the enemy or importance, so it'd've gone even worse for 4e if it had gone all-supernatural.

This runs face-first into your caveat above: it applies to just about the entirety of the medieval-ish fantasy genre, not just D&D.
Not true, until relatively recently, with the advent of Urban Fantasy & Harry Potter and the like, fantasy generally included both some magic (mostly in the hands of villains), usually without specific n/day requirements and not too varied a portfolio for any single practitioner, and extraordinary (superhuman, unrealistic) feats for the (typically martial) hero. The cliché Conan pastiche with the barbarian fighting atop a pile of slain foes, for instance, completely implausible both in terms of getting the bodies piled up & fighting atop such an unstable surface, and in terms of somehow persuading enemies to climb said pile only to be added to it.

Also, (other than 4e which has restrictions on uses of some non or quasi magical powers) a Thief can do fantastic-grade jumps or falls all day while a wizard can only do it up to the number of spells she has memorized that provide the ability.
That's a partial articulation of the Primacy of Magic, yes. Magic faces at least some notional limitations (fewer with each passing edition, it seems), in return for being more potent when it really counts, making it more important than always-available mundane alternatives.

With at-wills in 4e and cantrips in 5e, casters are now also unlimited; and that balance mechanism - such as it was - is no more.
In 4e, of course, that balance-of-imbalances mechanism was unnecessary, AEDU meant every PC had a comparable number/power of limited & at-will resources. Which was a huge part of the problem.
In 5e, the balance-of-imbalances formula remains, just with casters thanks to at-will cantrips, having a higher at-will baseline, and, purportedly solves for 6-8 encounters & 2-3 short rests between long rests. That said, at-will cantrips are mildly contrary to the Primacy of Magic, because they may be viewed as insufficiently superior to mundane alternatives (they don't run out of ammo and have a greater range of effects & damage types, but their actual DPR is less).

Sad but true; though I don't recall 4e significantly altering this trend any.
It quite reversed the trend of adding 'more magical goodies' to each class. It stripped the Ranger of his magical goodies, entirely, spread the Druids goodies over three sub-classes, introduced a new class with none, gave none to the Fighter & Rogue, and bumped full-casters down from dozens of spells/day with either the ability to change those spell up every day, or great control over how often they could re-cast a give spell, to 4/day & 4/encounter, each exactly once. In opposition to that, Barbarians became Primal. That's about it.

I'm not disagreeing at all that magic is A major essence of D&D. It's only when you appear to suggest that magic is THE major essence of D&D that I look askance.
"A Major Essence of D&D" works. I'd imagine D&D with no magic, and all, would be NOT-D&D, for instance. So it'd be fair to say the Primacy of Magic could be necessary but not sufficient, to make something D&D. You could paste D&D on the cover of Ars Magica, for instance, and, great game, all-in when it comes to the Primacy of Magic that it may be, I suspect it wouldn't pass for D&D.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Wow, 7 straight posts directly addressing me and NOT ONE actually answering my question.

And I get accused of bad faith?
 

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