What is the essence of D&D

Monayuris

Explorer
@Campbell
I agree with your assessment. Combat in the classic games was only a part of the game experience, it wasn't even really the primary focus. Those who criticize older editions for being boring in combat are missing the point. For those games, most of the mechanical weight is expressed in exploration. Hence the detailed and rich mechanical support for exploration that exists in classic D&D that is missing in more modern versions.

The focus of the game has shifted.

I also think as the game has changed, the influence of mechanics has become more prevalent. Maybe something similar to the popularity of Eurogames.

There appears to be a demand that the mechanical actions executed by a player to create a result in the game be more interesting, varied, and novel.

Hence the claims that the fighter is boring (just dice rolling) and the wizard is interesting (the menu of rules mechanics they can implement in the game from their spells).

In classic editions of D&D, the mechanic is simple and basic. How a player creates a result in the game is a function of creative and imaginative interpretation and a simple mechanic is implemented when needed. This is using your imagination to interact and interpret a shared space with a mechanic to guide these interpretations.

Modern D&D seems to favor the development of execution steps that create more tangible rules results that can be leveraged and manipulated to achieve a result. The act of doing so is the fundamental experience in the game. This is like using your imagination to build something out of Legos and unleashing it on the world.

This isn't meant to state that this is less imaginative, it is just meant to state that there is demand for more of the player's agency in the game to come from executing specific mechanics and less from interpretation.

Player agency in classic D&D comes from making choices based on information presented in a shared narrative space. Player agency in modern D&D is being able to execute and manipulate rules mechanics to achieve a desired result.

Some people prefer one over the other. Neither approach is objectively wrong or bad.
 
I think the desire for more interesting martial classes comes from a fundamental change in the way modern role playing games treat combat. In the classic game the focus was on the adventuring decisions and violent conflicts were something to be quickly resolved so you could get back to the adventuring.
IDK where this vision of the past comes from. My experience in the 80s with D&D was a bit of Basic (c1980) and a lot of AD&D. Combat got lots of column-inches of rules & charts that applied to everyone. Magic got a /lot/ of column-inches of spells and more spells and even more spells and items and rules and more rules and exceptions to rules. Monsters got multiple book dedicated to them, and their stat blocks were heavily focused on combat stats. "Exploration" got Thief special abilities, and more than a few column inches of DM advice, example gotchyas, and double talk, but really not much in actual rules or resolution systems or what I'd guess we'd call, today, "player agency" or engagement.

OK, maybe I can guess where it came from: The players (probably mostly one or two players) spend hours describing the characters picking their way through a dungeon, probing with 10' poles and listening at doors, and whatnot. And that is punctuated by traps, puzzles, tricks, and combats. The only one of those that likely involved everyone at the table were the combats. The bulk of the game was not combat, the exciting bits were not all combats - the exciting bits that engaged the whole table, though: combat.

Modern role playing games treat combat as an action scene, meant to be captivating in its own right. It is supposed to feel dramatic and dynamic. Round by round actions are supposed to be tense and impacting. It tells a story.
I guess modern games started in the early 80s, they just didn't necessarily include every D&D group.

With more spell slots, spells that are easier to cast, spells that have a much higher chance to make an impact, and spell mechanics that are just plain more dynamic it had never been more fun to play a spell caster. Meanwhile martial characters got locked into place if they wanted to use all of their attacks, lost a lot of power compared to monsters, and longer combats meant you felt like you were not getting the same game play fun as players of spell casters.
OK, you're clearly describing 3.x/d20, there.

For me personally something else happened. I had played other role playing games! Games like Vampire, Werewolf, Feng Shui, and Legend of the Five Rings. These games had more interesting fighter types to play. Then about half way into our run playing 3rd Edition something happened. It's name was Exalted and for all its flaws fighter types were just as interesting and dynamic to play as any other type of character. When we went back to playing Dungeons and Dragons I could not play a fighter anymore. I opted to play clerics and psychic warriors instead.
OK. That's interesting. I recall Exalted being held up to ridicule, and thrown out as an example of the extreme worst things an RPG could possibly devolve into. I've never so much as glanced at it, myself.


From another thread, but more relevant here:
That is of no relevance, since 4e threw out the feeling of a D&D Wizard with the bathwater. It's like playing a different game.
A 5E spellcaster still feels like a D&D spellcaster - your spells have a sometimes dramatic impact.
And no, 5E Wizards feel nothing like 4E, while feeling very much like 3E Wizards,
5E is 3E done right, especially in the area of spells and LFQW! :)
In the sense that 5e re-captured the Essence of D&D by restoring LFQW, with many, high-impact/versatility spells contrasted against martial beatsticks' grinding DPR, but didn't make it as extreme and obvious as 3e did, with CoDzilla &co.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
OK, maybe I can guess where it came from: The players (probably mostly one or two players) spend hours describing the characters picking their way through a dungeon, probing with 10' poles and listening at doors, and whatnot. And that is punctuated by traps, puzzles, tricks, and combats.
Yellow note pads with pages of procedural methods for going through doors and the like... to show your "skill" at the game. And NEVER using thief abilities.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
"Exploration" got Thief special abilities, and more than a few column inches of DM advice, example gotchyas, and double talk, but really not much in actual rules or resolution systems or what I'd guess we'd call, today, "player agency" or engagement.
Casters spells had things for interacting with exploration too...
 
Casters spells had things for interacting with exploration too...
Well, yeah, /of course/. And, you were often exploring quite magical things. In Search of the Unknown, for instance, featured identical rooms that teleported you, all unknowning, between them, just to mess up your precious map, and magical pools that did different things to you.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
IDK where this vision of the past comes from. My experience in the 80s with D&D ...
Allow me to repeat the indisputable "Tony Vargas Postulate" aka "The Indubitable Law of Weapon v. AC Adjustments."

If you assert disbelief in the way OD&D or AD&D was played due to your playing experience, you will quickly realize that your playing experience is not universal.


Given that this property of the internet, enworld, logic, and maths is named after you, Tony, I am shocked that you forgot it! It would be like me saying, "Um, so, I never understood why someone wouldn't like a particular class. Seems really far-fetched!"



.....anyway, the point is that many people did not need or use the specific combat resolution systems for the majority of play, because they weren't engaged in combat. YMMV, mine didn't.
 
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If you assert disbelief in the way OD&D or AD&D was played due to your playing experience, you will quickly realize that your playing experience is not universal.
Yeah, I was prefacing my maunderings with the context of my personal experience /for precisely that reason/. I only read one of the three surprisingly different versions of basic that were out in the fad years, and then dived into AD&D. So my impression is mostly of AD&D...

There's two very different things that get discussed in going on about the olden days, and their not teased out nearly as much as they should be. One is how people played the game, which varied widely and included how DMs changed/added/removed/ignored/misread rules, and the other is the content of the game - which varied a little over time, and with the 'two-pronged approach.'

We can compare anecdotes forever, they're different for each of us. But, the content of a given book from a given time, that's a thing we can all look at.

.....anyway, the point is that many people did not need or use the specific combat resolution systems for the majority of play, because they weren't engaged in combat.
An interesting thing about that is that RPGs in general, and D&D in particular, had reps as 'violent' combat-oriented games, because so much of their systems were devoted to combat. So play consisting of mostly non-combat, was also play that largely /didn't involve the content of the actual game/.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
We can compare anecdotes forever, they're different for each of us. But, the content of a given book from a given time, that's a thing we can all look at.
Okay. Your "content of the book" was kind of anecdotal, too. Let's crack open an Efreeti DMG!

Let's see ... first 15 pages are aging, disease, non-professional skill, explaining ability scores and so on.

Then we have from 15-27 about races and classes and lycanthropy and alignments.

Then 27-28 is ARMOR! Finally. Okay, really not so much about combat as encumbrance and stuff, but STILL!

Then how to keep track of time, how you get spells and stuff, more explanations about spells (mostly out-of-combat) all sorts of miscillaneous stuff (MY FAVORITE SECTION IS UNDERWATER ADVENTURE! but don't sleep on the ultravision).

Okay, we have COMBAT starting on 61. Except it's not all combat- it's also got, you know, intoxication. But that gets complicated, so let's say that ALL OF IT is combat. From 61-83.

And then ... not combat. Again. For LOTS OF PAGES.

Look, I'm not trying to be a dink (really). But there is SO MUCH OUT THERE in the old stuff that isn't combat. Really. And that's before getting into the supplements and the best ways to advance (money!).

I'm not saying that there isn't some hobo-murder, or even a lot of hobo-murder, but trying to understand what the game "is" by counting up pages is a fool's errand.

"Hey, everyone, I looked at AD&D, and I determined that it's really an IKEA! Because ... there's a lot of tables."


You're welcome. Catch me at the Poconos next week!
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Yeah, I was prefacing my maunderings with the context of my personal experience /for precisely that reason/. I only read one of the three surprisingly different versions of basic that were out in the fad years, and then dived into AD&D. So my impression is mostly of AD&D...

There's two very different things that get discussed in going on about the olden days, and their not teased out nearly as much as they should be. One is how people played the game, which varied widely and included how DMs changed/added/removed/ignored/misread rules, and the other is the content of the game - which varied a little over time, and with the 'two-pronged approach.'

We can compare anecdotes forever, they're different for each of us. But, the content of a given book from a given time, that's a thing we can all look at.
I was going to make a comment similar to this. I have had this experience.

I learned to play by myself, with the Mentzer Red Box in 83. I was 10 years old at the time. I joined with other kids who also learned it the same way in the school yard in elementary school. We moved on to AD&D, but never really used everything in those books.

Having rediscovered my love of the classic D&D editions, I've re-read those Basic rules as an adult. I found there is a vast difference between the rules as written and the game play as intended vs. the way we played it as kids.

When I rediscovered old school D&D, I delved into the rules as an adult and I also sought references and advice from those who played it originally or learned from those who have. I sought opportunities to play the game with people who were experienced with it as adults.

This effort and experience has created an appreciation for the depth of the classic game that may be missed by those who have not put in such effort.
 
I was going to make a comment similar to this. I have had this experience.
I learned to play by myself, with the Mentzer Red Box in 83. I was 10 years old at the time. I joined with other kids who also learned it the same way in the school yard in elementary school. We moved on to AD&D, but never really used everything in those books.
I always have to look up which basic set is which. At 13 I played the Holmes, I guess - blue cover, mentioned AD&D a few times - Basic Set with my friends for a while, we did not 'get it,' and they lost interest faster than I did. So I dived into AD&D (read cover to cover, repeatedly), and, with considerable effort to overcome innate shyness, started playing it at the local hobby shop, primarily with adults, because that's who was playing, then it was home games and conventions, and I was, for lack of a better term, mentored in how to be a DM by a remarkable young lady only 4 years my senior, who, at the time, with the technicality of minor/adult between us, seemed a huge difference.

When I rediscovered old school D&D, I delved into the rules as an adult and I also sought references and advice from those who played it originally or learned from those who have. I sought opportunities to play the game with people who were experienced with it as adults.
This effort and experience has created an appreciation for the depth of the classic game that may be missed by those who have not put in such effort.
I never left the hobby, I drifted from D&D in the mid 90s, to return with 3.0, but AD&D remained my favorite ed - and burned into my little brain where a good high school education should have been.

Even similar experiences can be quite different.

Look, I'm not trying to be a dink (really). But there is SO MUCH OUT THERE in the old stuff that isn't combat. Really.
There is so much of anything Gygax wrote that was just... verbiage. ;) I mean, I think I can be long-winded and wall-of-text in a forum context, but...

...what have you got for resolving a 'social scene?' Reaction adjustments for CHA & Race? Exploration? A few roll 1 on a d6 this or % for that thief skill, and a lot of cool ideas on how to befuddle your players, ruin their maps, and screw with their characters... and who does engage with the DM to resolve those scenes? Much as in 3e or 5e today, it's one player. In AD&D, he's even given a label the "Caller."

So why do we hear these varied impressions of D&D, that it was a wargame, all about combat, that it was exploration and combat was just something to get through quickly, that it was all about the RP and the character? Well, the nice way to put it is every DM ran it differently, everyone's experience was different.

But, I'm starting to suspect a component of it is /which/ kind of player were you, playing which kind of character?

"Hey, everyone, I looked at AD&D, and I determined that it's really an IKEA! Because ... there's a lot of tables."
You're welcome. Catch me at the Poconos next week!
Most worthwhile thing you've said in a reply to me in a while, it feels like.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
All good ;)

But remember the best way to get awesome at fighting remained never ever fight ;)
I'd say that it allowed for a much more ambiguous game, and did not lend itself, necessarily, to a straight-up heroic narrative.

Which is a nice way of saying that you should never get you speedometer confused with a clock, because if you do, the faster you go, the later you think you are.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My experience with most versions of D&D* is that the amount of time spent in combat varies widely by group. I just had a game the other day where most of the day was just social and exploration based.

I remember in OD&D just doing dungeon crawls where a lot of time was spent figuring out how to kill things the most efficiently.

It seems to be more influence by style and preferences of the group than the version of the game. Except for the version that shall not be named, of course.

*I'll just leave it at most versions because if I get any more specific the whole thing will get derailed again about whether or not a certain unnamed version was "real" D&D
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Release your game shortly after a hugely un-popular war and write the rules so that fighting bad guys didnt work too well probably not a conscious thing.
Hmmm. That's a theory!

I'd have to think about that for a while.
 
Release your game shortly after a hugely un-popular war and write the rules so that fighting bad guys didnt work too well probably not a conscious thing.
That's a new twist on "Fantasy Vietnam."

...y'know, it was pointed out to me by an even-older-timer that, initially, 0D&D gave pretty juicy exp for killing monsters, but that it was significantly reduced, and emphasis switched to treasure-hunting, with Greyhawk Supplement I.
 

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