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D&D General What makes D&D feel like D&D? (conclusions and follow-up questions)

JEB

Hero
Following on from this poll... here are the results out of 132 responses, ranked in tiers (with my thoughts):

Very important to D&D's feel (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%]

These seem to be the game features that the overwhelming majority of respondents consider important to D&D being D&D. In short, D&D needs to be a level-based game with characters defined by their ability scores and distinctive character classes. Hit points are also very important (presumably as opposed to other ways of measuring health). A version of D&D that drops these elements, or radically changed how they worked, would likely lose a lot of fans.

Important to D&D's feel (60% to 80%):
Armor Class [73.5%]
Using multiple types of dice [70.5%]
Saving throws [66.7%]

These aren't quite as widely agreed upon as the above, but still have pretty strong support among the respondents. I suspect you could change the particulars of how these work, but eliminating them entirely would be frowned upon by a majority of fans.

Debatable importance (40% to 60%):
Distinct character races/lineages [58.3%]
Experience points [50.8%]
Lists of specific spells [49.2%]
Alignment [45.5%]

Here's where things start to get interesting. Only a narrow majority thinks that character races and XP are important to D&D's feel - a lot of respondents could apparently live without them. I'm not sure what that means for character races - in fact, I'd really like to investigate that question further - but I'm betting a lot of respondents use milestone leveling rather than XP? Meanwhile, slightly less than half like having specific spells - again, curious what alternatives people have in mind - and alignment.

These seem like things that D&D could drop or significantly change and still have that D&D feel overall... but doing so would be a turn-off for a significant portion of the player base. So these are elements Wizards should keep around, likely... but there may be some negotiating room as to how important they are, and how they're executed.

Less important to D&D's feel (20% to 40%):
Lists of specific magic items [39.4%]
Initiative [36.4%]
Hit dice [24.2%]
Lists of specific equipment [24.2%]

Now we're into elements that aren't seen as important to D&D by the majority of respondents, though they still have some support. I assume being this low means one of two things:

a) Elements that could be changed or removed from the game. Certainly you could lose specific magic items, and especially equipment, and express them in some generic way (an upgrade of the various packs, perhaps?). Removing initiative prompts the question of how turns would be decided instead, though. Hit dice, of course, are kind of a remnant at this point anyway. (I separated hit dice from hit points on purpose, apparently correctly.)

b) Elements that aren't seen as particularly distinct from other RPGs, i.e. things that other RPGs have as well. That would be an odd fit for hit dice, but the others I can certainly see (especially initiative).

I'd be curious about clarifications on this point from anyone who responded. But my guess is that D&D could live without these elements, and it wouldn't be a deal-breaker for most fans... though it would be sad for a significant minority, and the replacements had better be good enough to make it worthwhile.

Not important to D&D's feel (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%]

Since many of these are NOT in other games besides D&D, so I have to assume this tier largely represents the true expendables. A version of D&D could quite probably drop all of these and replace them with something else, or at least radically alter them, and most fans would still be content with the game. Not coincidentally, these are mostly more recent innovations from 3E or later, so they lack the tenure of many other features... though there are exceptions, of course.

A few other specific comments:
  • Deities are only important to less than 20% of respondents. That asks for more questions.
  • Great Wheel is significantly more popular than World Axis, but neither is important to a majority of fans for D&D's feel. That suggests to me that the cosmology/lore changes were probably not the major factor in 4E's troubles; more likely changes to other, higher-ranking elements.
  • 5E's flagship mechanics, advantage/disadvantage and backgrounds, don't rank highly in "feel". (I am aware that technically both had ancestors before 5E.)

But the above are just my thoughts. What are yours?

If you voted in the poll, you are also invited to elaborate. However, I will repeat from the last thread: please do not criticize the preferences of others. Just let everyone say their piece without judgment.

EDIT: I posted this as a "question" and can't seem to change it to a generic post. The votes on the right therefore don't matter. Carry on.
 
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I believe that is tangential to ASIs relating mechanically to feats. The root cause is allowing the sum of attributes to randomly vary to a mechanically impactful extent between player-characters. Solve that root cause, and the supposed problem evaporates. Points-buy, standard array, and deck-based solutions are all available as remedies.
Decoupling feats from ASIs is another solution. As is reducing the importance of ability modifiers (which would be going back to older versions' use of ability scores).

And while it wasn't on the poll, the option of rolling for stats is a pretty central trope to DnD. It's a big part of the feel of DnD, even for people who don't actually roll for stats.
 

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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Decoupling feats from ASIs is another solution. As is reducing the importance of ability modifiers (which would be going back to older versions' use of ability scores).
For me that is not a solution. That is because what is objected to is an inequality, and the inequality is fundamentally not addressed by the decoupling.

And while it wasn't on the poll, the option of rolling for stats is a pretty central trope to DnD. It's a big part of the feel of DnD, even for people who don't actually roll for stats.
There are many things I like about rolling stats, yet I believe as a mechanic it has had its day: better tech has superseded it.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
For me that is not a solution. That is because what is objected to is an inequality, and the inequality is fundamentally not addressed by the decoupling.
The inequality is reduced if the importance of ability modifiers (or root stats) is reduced.
There are many things I like about rolling stats, yet I believe as a mechanic it has had its day: better tech has superseded it.
Different tech. Not necessarily better.
 


Isn't it funny.

Ask people what they think needs to be in D&D, and you get this. (It is, of course, a non-random, non-representative sample, but it is all we have for discussion at the moment. I get how little we can generalize from this. Don't @ me on that front.)

But so goddamn many people kept on about how 4e somehow "wasn't" D&D despite having literally all of the things a majority want, and even most of the things that aren't popular with a majority.

It would seem that there's more layers to the "silent majority" defense: that there may be a silent majority which is accepting of pretty much anything D&D does, as long as it's a level-and-class-based, HP-counting game with AC, saving throws, and polyhedral dice. In which case, ALL the arguments about design, even the ones that played a huge role in creating 5e, may be completely unrelated to whether the general gaming public likes the game or not. At which point, we may validly wonder whether there are non-game-design elements, like the state of the economy or the aesthetic presentation, which have more of an effect on whether a game is well-received than what it actually contains, mechanically.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Isn't it funny.

Ask people what they think needs to be in D&D, and you get this. (It is, of course, a non-random, non-representative sample, but it is all we have for discussion at the moment. I get how little we can generalize from this. Don't @ me on that front.)

But so goddamn many people kept on about how 4e somehow "wasn't" D&D despite having literally all of the things a majority want, and even most of the things that aren't popular with a majority.

It would seem that there's more layers to the "silent majority" defense: that there may be a silent majority which is accepting of pretty much anything D&D does, as long as it's a level-and-class-based, HP-counting game with AC, saving throws, and polyhedral dice. In which case, ALL the arguments about design, even the ones that played a huge role in creating 5e, may be completely unrelated to whether the general gaming public likes the game or not. At which point, we may validly wonder whether there are non-game-design elements, like the state of the economy or the aesthetic presentation, which have more of an effect on whether a game is well-received than what it actually contains, mechanically.

4E is easy to account for. It was the class design and playstyle that upset people. WotC figured that out with 5E.

Probably want to keep roll for stars as an option it's kind if a big deal for some people. I can go either way on it but don't want it removed. Smaller group roll, larger group point buy or default array.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Isn't it funny.

Ask people what they think needs to be in D&D, and you get this. (It is, of course, a non-random, non-representative sample, but it is all we have for discussion at the moment. I get how little we can generalize from this. Don't @ me on that front.)

But so goddamn many people kept on about how 4e somehow "wasn't" D&D despite having literally all of the things a majority want, and even most of the things that aren't popular with a majority.

It would seem that there's more layers to the "silent majority" defense: that there may be a silent majority which is accepting of pretty much anything D&D does, as long as it's a level-and-class-based, HP-counting game with AC, saving throws, and polyhedral dice. In which case, ALL the arguments about design, even the ones that played a huge role in creating 5e, may be completely unrelated to whether the general gaming public likes the game or not. At which point, we may validly wonder whether there are non-game-design elements, like the state of the economy or the aesthetic presentation, which have more of an effect on whether a game is well-received than what it actually contains, mechanically.
Aesthetic presentation certainly makes a difference, as does how it's promoted etc.; and in the latter I don't think it's controversial to say WotC shot themselves in the foot at launch and never truly recovered.

That, and one notable difference between 4e and any other edition was that, while yes there were still different classes, the mechanical differences between those classes had been significantly reduced in order to fit into the AEDU chassis, which - along with some ability to choose out-of-class options - tended to blur the lines somewhat. As classes have been noted as highly important in both the "feel" and "keep" polls, clearly they're something the designers need to get right.

5e still has the out-of-class-options clutter but split out the base class mechanics enough to once again make the classes feel distinct from each other.
 

pemerton

Legend
one notable difference between 4e and any other edition was that, while yes there were still different classes, the mechanical differences between those classes had been significantly reduced in order to fit into the AEDU chassis

<snip>

5e still has the out-of-class-options clutter but split out the base class mechanics enough to once again make the classes feel distinct from each other.
I always find it odd that for so many D&D players what makes the classes "feel distinct" isn't anything about the fiction, but rather purely mechanical phenomenon like dice rolled and recovery schedules.
 

I always find it odd that for so many D&D players what makes the classes "feel distinct" isn't anything about the fiction, but rather purely mechanical phenomenon like dice rolled and recovery schedules.
Mechanics matter. If I'm rolling the same dice against the same DC for the same results, it's harder to feel like I'm doing two different things.
 


Why would the results be the same if the fiction is different?
Often the fictional results are the same as well: the creature is damaged. Just with fire instead of steel, but the fictional result is effectively the same.

Adding food coloring can make a food different, in real way (presentation matters), but this only works to a point. After a while, you realize all the colors taste the same.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I always find it odd that for so many D&D players what makes the classes "feel distinct" isn't anything about the fiction, but rather purely mechanical phenomenon like dice rolled and recovery schedules.
Other than hit points, which are recovered the same by all classes, Fighters and Thieves/Rogues in other editions didn't have a recovery schedule. This is a rather large difference, and relevant both mechanically and fictionally.
 

pemerton

Legend
Other than hit points, which are recovered the same by all classes, Fighters and Thieves/Rogues in other editions didn't have a recovery schedule. This is a rather large difference, and relevant both mechanically and fictionally.
There is a recovery schedule for picking locks and removing traps.

There is an action economy in combat, and higher level fighters improve this.
 

pemerton

Legend
Often the fictional results are the same as well: the creature is damaged. Just with fire instead of steel, but the fictional result is effectively the same.

Adding food coloring can make a food different, in real way (presentation matters), but this only works to a point. After a while, you realize all the colors taste the same.
If the fiction in the game does not extend beyond creature dead then I can see why mechanical variations might be a source of interest in play.
 

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