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5E Why are vague rules praised?

Saelorn

Adventurer
What is certain is that the designers did not want this edition to be a product that was more simulation than game, and I applaud that mission.
I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but I will say that vague rules can often make for a better simulation than concrete ones.

Using stealth as an example, the existing rules are that the DM tells you whether it's possible to hide, based on all the factors they understand about the scenario. If we wanted to model that with concrete rules, we'd have to introduce things like facing (which would be a pain); and even if we did implement facing (in four or six directions), no amount of granularity would ever encompass all of the relevant factors to the same degree as the DM's adjudication.

A big problem with a lot of highly-granular systems is that they introduce rules which cause worse problems than the ones they solve. TV Tropes refers to this as "Misaimed Realism", and gives an example of Opportunity Attacks in 3E. It makes sense that you can't just run past someone with a sword who wants to stop you, but over-codification of the rules ended up with the famous Bag of Rats. If the burden was instead on the DM, to adjudicate whether or not an opportunity attack was appropriate at the moment, then that never would have happened.

Edit: Argh. I just noticed that I was responding to a post from five years ago. I kinda wish that these threads could be color-coded by year :-/
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
So, I'm having a little trouble fully grokking this; do you have a specific example of what you're getting at?


EDIT- I saw you wrote 4e essentials; is this what you consider rules light, yet crunchy?
FATE is probably the closest I can think. There are four basic actions that can cover everything you want to accomplish in the game. You can add layers of additional complexity that add options to the four basic actions, but one player using them and another not actually doesn't change the flow the game.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
FATE is probably the closest I can think. There are four basic actions that can cover everything you want to accomplish in the game. You can add layers of additional complexity that add options to the four basic actions, but one player using them and another not actually doesn't change the flow the game.
I am familiar with FATE; I wouldn't think that would be a go-to example of something that is crunch heavy or appealing to people who enjoy tons of player-facing rules and options (player crunch).
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I am familiar with FATE; I wouldn't think that would be a go-to example of something that is crunch heavy or appealing to people who enjoy tons of player-facing rules and options (player crunch).
Depends, you can have a ton of player facing rules. Dresden File RPG for example has a pile of them, but they all use the basic resolution system and four actions model.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Depends, you can have a ton of player facing rules. Dresden File RPG for example has a pile of them, but they all use the basic resolution system and four actions model.
Okay, but is this the same, in your opinion, as "player crunch" and meaningful and differentiated player options?

I am not making a value judgment one way or the other, by the way. Just trying to understand. For example, if someone says that 3e (to use an example) has a lot of "player crunch" I understand what that means. If someone says that 4e (for example) has more differentiated player options for martial characters, I can understand the reference.

...but I am not fully comprehending this.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So, I'm having a little trouble fully grokking this; do you have a specific example of what you're getting at?


EDIT- I saw you wrote 4e essentials; is this what you consider rules light, yet crunchy?
I don’t consider 4e essentials to quite hit the mark for me, but it begins to approach the balance I would like to see. If you took 5e’s core system, including the smaller number of more impactful (and completely optional) feats, with Essentials’ approach to classes and powers, you’d have something much closer to what I’d like.

The big things I look for in a system are:
  • A robust, easy to use, unified mechanic for action resolution. 5e nails this pretty much perfectly for me.
  • A good number of decision points in building and leveling up a character. For me, 5e hits that mark at 1st level, but falls short past that for pretty much every class besides Warlock. This is where I think 4e did very well, save the microfeats. (And it’s been said before, but the 5e Warlock does a very good impression of a 4e class).
  • A good number of tactical decisions to make from turn to turn. Admittedly this is partly the DM’s responsiblity. 5e can be pretty tactically interesting with a creative DM. 4e had plenty of this, but it was ultimately a little too tactically complex. I think Essentials found the sweet spot here.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I don’t consider 4e essentials to quite hit the mark for me, but it begins to approach the balance I would like to see. If you took 5e’s core system, including the smaller number of more impactful (and completely optional) feats, with Essentials’ approach to classes and powers, you’d have something much closer to what I’d like.

The big things I look for in a system are:
  • A robust, easy to use, unified mechanic for action resolution. 5e nails this pretty much perfectly for me.
  • A good number of decision points in building and leveling up a character. For me, 5e hits that mark at 1st level, but falls short past that for pretty much every class besides Warlock. This is where I think 4e did very well, save the microfeats. (And it’s been said before, but the 5e Warlock does a very good impression of a 4e class).
  • A good number of tactical decisions to make from turn to turn. Admittedly this is partly the DM’s responsiblity. 5e can be pretty tactically interesting with a creative DM. 4e had plenty of this, but it was ultimately a little too tactically complex. I think Essentials found the sweet spot here.
I'm just a bit confused and perhaps not following the tangent (in which case just ignore me) but what does any of this have to do with the rules being vague?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm just a bit confused and perhaps not following the tangent (in which case just ignore me) but what does any of this have to do with the rules being vague?
Not a lot, really. Someone earlier commented that they like rules light systems, but they also like those rules to be clear. I voiced my agreement with that sentiment, and added as an aside that I also like a good amount of crunch in my games, which seems a little at odds with my preference for rules-light systems, but I think is an achievable balance to strike. Since then I’ve just been answering questions about what “rules light with a good amount of crunch” looks like in response to being asked directly. It’s a pretty tenuous tangent, but when people ask me direct questions I don’t like to leave them hanging.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Gaah. This is one of my pet peeves.

D&D is a creative and open-ended game. In principle, it doesn't need any rules at all. You could just play "let's pretend." But in practice, the rules serve three useful functions:
  • Handle common scenarios for the DM. There are a lot of questions that come up over and over in D&D. I swing a sword at the monster: Do I hit it? If so, do I kill it? The rules provide a structure to answer these common questions, rather than the DM having to make it up on the fly all the time.
  • Give players a sense of what is possible. As a wizard player, if I have polymorph prepared and a 4th-level slot open, I know that I can try to turn an enemy into a frog. If I don't, I can't. I do not have to consult the DM to know this. That saves time for both of us.
  • Head off gameplay "crashes." Improvising on the fly can lead to unexpected problems that interfere with fun - anything from a player getting sidelined for most of a session, to players feeling like third wheels because their contributions aren't useful, to a TPK. A skilled and experienced DM can see these problems coming and head them off, but not all DMs have that level of skill. A good ruleset reduces the likelihood of such "crashes." (Bad rulesets can make them more likely, but that's another topic.)
On the other hand, each rule also comes with a cost. It takes up space in the book, it takes time to learn it and time to apply it, it adds to the cognitive load of playing the game. If the benefits do not justify the cost, the rule should be axed and the subject left to DM discretion. (That was one of the key lessons of 3E.)

An ambiguous rule carries the same costs as any other rule, but the benefits are reduced or nonexistent. It offers less support for the DM, since the DM has to figure out how to interpret the rule. It does not help players know what is possible, since they have to consult the DM to find out. It is less reliable in heading off crashes, since different interpretations will result in different levels of "crash-proofing."

There's a false dichotomy I see a lot between "rules-heavy system with clear rules" and "rules-light system with ambiguous rules." Those are not the only two options. You can have a rules-light system with clear rules. You can have a rules-heavy system with ambiguous rules. There are merits to both light and heavy, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no merit to ambiguous.

If the designers are going to put a rule in the rulebook, they should be crystal clear about its intended function. If they intend to support multiple versions of the rule, then present them explicitly as options and specify which one is the default assumption. As DM, I am perfectly free to house-rule whatever I don't like. Ambiguity does not give me any options I didn't already have. What it does give me is headaches.
 
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Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Okay, but is this the same, in your opinion, as "player crunch" and meaningful and differentiated player options?

I am not making a value judgment one way or the other, by the way. Just trying to understand. For example, if someone says that 3e (to use an example) has a lot of "player crunch" I understand what that means. If someone says that 4e (for example) has more differentiated player options for martial characters, I can understand the reference.

...but I am not fully comprehending this.
I think the crunch options are ways to mechanically differentiate your character from mine. 4E has bunch of rules, but there are only so many ways to make my character different then yours. 3E has a bunch of rules, and a whole pile of ways to make my character different than yours. I would say both 3E and 4E offer lots of player facing crunchy bits, I think 3E has more to work with I that regard. Not to suggest either better than the other.

FATE doesn't generally have a bunch of bits hard coded into the base rules, since it really is more a toolset than rules. But it provides lots, and lots of options for how to integrate different levels of mechanical variance between characters. Again, if you look at Dresden Files RPG (not the FAE version so much) it has bunch of variance in the mechanical complexity of different characters.

On topic: I find 5E isn't actually that vague as far as rules go. There are questions people have because they're working on the assumption that literally reading rules covers every possible case they can think of. Which of course they don't, the rules cover pretty broadly and with a high level of abstraction common scenarios the designers could think of. Beyond that you apply Advantage/Disadvantage as the DM if you think rolling is even necessary.

I think the issue is that there's a disconnect between the ways some rules apply and others don't in 5E. Some are very precise, most combat rules for example, other are less so like the rules for Stealth. But most aren't actually vague in that they can be interpreted multiple ways that are completely different. The Stealth rules are actually very clear, but they don't cover every possible situation.
 

Mistwell

Hero
I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, but I will say that vague rules can often make for a better simulation than concrete ones.

Using stealth as an example, the existing rules are that the DM tells you whether it's possible to hide, based on all the factors they understand about the scenario. If we wanted to model that with concrete rules, we'd have to introduce things like facing (which would be a pain); and even if we did implement facing (in four or six directions), no amount of granularity would ever encompass all of the relevant factors to the same degree as the DM's adjudication.

A big problem with a lot of highly-granular systems is that they introduce rules which cause worse problems than the ones they solve. TV Tropes refers to this as "Misaimed Realism", and gives an example of Opportunity Attacks in 3E. It makes sense that you can't just run past someone with a sword who wants to stop you, but over-codification of the rules ended up with the famous Bag of Rats. If the burden was instead on the DM, to adjudicate whether or not an opportunity attack was appropriate at the moment, then that never would have happened.

Edit: Argh. I just noticed that I was responding to a post from five years ago. I kinda wish that these threads could be color-coded by year :-/
I agree. Monte Cook once wrote, “Empowering DMs from the start facilitates simulation. No set of rules can cover every situation, and the DM can address fine details in a way no rulebook can.”
 

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