D&D 5E Why Don't We Simplify 5e?

Argyle King

Legend
No, it's really not. Like really, really not "harder and more complex" for the GM to run a game like that. It's infinitely easier. I do that kind of minimalistic gaming regularly. It's far more of a chore to worry about the complexity of the system as written than to make a call and/or declare a DC and push forward. If the GM and players know the world well, you can get a game up and running inside of five minutes (including character creation). If you're worrying about game books and mechanics, it'll take you longer than that just to talk about which game system to play.

It is simplifying because instead of wondering what the rule book says about physics and how the game differs from physics, you can start with everyone's rough idea of cause and effect and just get on with it. It's only things that change physics that take a moment longer to suss out. If you can't agree, pick some dice and make an opposed roll. Whoever wins is right and that's how it plays out. And you move on. Remembering all the ways the game mechanics break physics is a lot more of a mental load.

ETA: If you roleplay your character as person living in a real-to-them world, the game mechanics don't matter. So you don't need to worry about them. Not only do you not need to know them, you mostly don't need to have any. If knowing the game mechanics will change the decisions you make for your character, that's metagaming, and playing to the rules of the game rather than playing a person living in a real-to-them world.

I think it can be a barrier to play a character living in a real-to-them world if there's a lot of ambiguity concerning how that world works.

I agree with that approach to playing a character. Though, personally, I find that having some general understanding of how the world works helps in that endeavor more-so than it hurts.

A lot of the issues I have when trying to teach D&D to newer players is that how D&D says something works sometimes greatly differs from how they would imagine or intuit that a situation would play out.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think it can be a barrier to play a character living in a real-to-them world if there's a lot of ambiguity concerning how that world works.
Which is why having a solid understanding of how the world works first is so important. D&D is its own genre. It’s not really emulated in anything else but D&D. But when you grab a group of friends who are Avatar fans, Star Wars fans, or Star Trek fans and sit down to play in those worlds you can be up and running in minutes.
I agree with that approach to playing a character. Though, personally, I find that having some general understanding of how the world works helps in that endeavor more-so than it hurts.
Right. No one’s saying the player can’t or shouldn’t know how the world works. Dig into the setting to understand how the world works. The mechanics should support and emulate the world. If they don’t they’re badly designed rules and should be tossed. Default to everyone’s basic understanding of the real world and change things from there. This causes a lot of confusion for D&D players because to a large degree, with D&D the mechanics are the world.
A lot of the issues I have when trying to teach D&D to newer players is that how D&D says something works sometimes greatly differs from how they would imagine or intuit that a situation would play out.
Exactly. It’s a big problem. Which is why you should ditch those bits of the D&D rules and go with the players’ understanding of the real world first, then add in the fantastic elements on top of that.

You get a lot more understanding and engagement a lot faster when the players grok the world. The world is vastly more important than the rules. If you talk to a non-player and say D&D they might vaguely know what that is or what an RPG is. But they will draw a blank on the world and how it works. If you say Lord of the Rings, they’ll most likely know exactly what you mean. Then you’ll have to spend a heap of time explaining all the ways D&D is not LotR.

New players are hit with both barrels because they don’t know how the world works or how the game works. The mechanics don’t emulate a recognizable world to most. Even fantasy fans can have a hard time with the D&Disms.

But if you start with a world they know and understand and/or one that works mostly like the one they’re most familiar with, then they don’t have anywhere near as much confusion. You don’t have to say “you can try anything” as many times. Or remind them that the answer isn’t on the character sheet or in the rule book. The answer is what makes sense for your character in that world. Not what the rules tell you your character can do. D&D has built itself into this unique thing, so much so it required a lot of explaining. Which is sometimes good and sometimes bad...especially bad with onboarding new players.
 
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Argyle King

Legend
Which is why having a solid understanding of how the world works first is so important. D&D is its own genre. It’s not really emulated in anything else but D&D. But when you grab a group of friends who are Avatar fans, Star Wars fans, or Star Trek fans and sit down to play in those worlds you can be up and running in minutes.

Right. No one’s saying the player can’t or shouldn’t know how the world works. Dig into the setting to understand how the world works. The mechanics should support and emulate the world. If they don’t they’re badly designed rules and should be tossed. Default to everyone’s basic understanding of the real world and change things from there. This causes a lot of confusion for D&D players because to a large degree, with D&D the mechanics are the world.

Exactly. It’s a big problem. Which is why you should ditch those bits of the D&D rules and go with the players’ understanding of the real world first, then add in the fantastic elements on top of that.

You get a lot more understanding and engagement a lot faster when the players grok the world. The world is vastly more important than the rules. If you talk to a non-player and say D&D they might vaguely know what that is or what an RPG is. But they will draw a blank on the world and how it works. If you say Lord of the Rings, they’ll most likely know exactly what you mean. Then you’ll have to spend a heap of time explaining all the ways D&D is not LotR.

New players are hit with both barrels because they don’t know how the world works or how the game works. The mechanics don’t emulate a recognizable world to most. Even fantasy fans can have a hard time with the D&Disms.

But if you start with a world they know and understand and/or one that works mostly like the one they’re most familiar with, then they don’t have anywhere near as much confusion. You don’t have to say “you can try anything” as many times. Or remind them that the answer isn’t on the character sheet or in the rule book. The answer is what makes sense for your character in that world. Not what the rules tell you your character can do. D&D has built itself into this unique thing, so much so it required a lot of explaining. Which is sometimes good and sometimes bad...especially bad with onboarding new players.

I agree with most of this.

I had misunderstood your previous post.
 

ART!

Legend
I think not expecting people who are trained (possibly self-trained) in trad games to have an issue with the constraints assumed on the GM in most incarnations of PbtA is a pretty big reach though (I won't speak of Blades in the Dark because I'm not familiar with it). In many respects they're much less top down and GM-authority than most trad games.
[raises hand]

I have lots of experience running D&D and D&D-ish games, and struggled so hard with Masks (which I will point out is an amazing system at doing what it sets out to do. I love it.) that I had to give up after several sessions. The storytelling approaches are very different, and basically a lot of my instincts were useless and even an active hindrance.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
The fact they didn't in the cases you saw is not an indicator that a routine rank and file D&D GM would not run into big expectation problems with them.

Neither is your opinion that they will.


Eh. I think the fine line of demarkation a lot of people draw there is illusory. You might be able to easily tell at one extreme or the other, but there are plenty of games that meet in the middle to some degree at least.

I think that it is rather straightforward to parse them. We obviously disagree.

We are talking about the edge cases anyway.

A former D&D GM is far more likely to try one of the many other RPG's that has a similar play paradigm to what they are already doing.

i.e. Long standing D&D alternates: CoC, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Vampire, WHFRP, current version of Star Wars, etc. (Free League and 2d20 games are getting noteworthy now as well due to the IP they have.)
 

Neither is your opinion that they will.

We've had at least one poster indicate it did for him, so I'd say my view is at least as valid as yours

I think that it is rather straightforward to parse them. We obviously disagree.

We are talking about the edge cases anyway.

A former D&D GM is far more likely to try one of the many other RPG's that has a similar play paradigm to what they are already doing.

That doesn't necessarily follow. Often people moving away from D&D are trying to get away from elements of it, so they're going to look for things that look pretty different. If they just want a different genre, its pretty much possible to find a D&D based game for almost any genre now.

i.e. Long standing D&D alternates: CoC, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Vampire, WHFRP, current version of Star Wars, etc. (Free League and 2d20 games are getting noteworthy now as well due to the IP they have.)

I think I'd argue that in and of themselves even though they are technically trad games, at least two of those (CoC and Vampire) have traits that are going to require someone to get part way out of the D&D mindset to engage with them (you can very much argue that SR and Cyberpunk just have reskinned the typical D&D adventure in different contexts for what they usually do).

And that's not even getting into how some of D&D's mechanical assumptions if internalized will bite you pretty hard with a number of those games.
 

jgsugden

Legend
If you think rules are the problem, I challenge you to go play some version of Dread with friends. It is as rule light as you get with a built in luck element.

Here is my modified version of it that I play via Zoom with my friends.

Everyone gets a Jenga tower and sets it up on camera.

Then, a GM tells the players a premise. My last premise was that one of the PCs was headed off to a Cabin in the Woods to spend a weekend with their relative, a famous archaeologist. They were going to bring some friends for the weekend. However, the archaeologist relative was supposed to call them and let them know what groceries to bring and has not called them. If you get an Evil Dead vibe - that is intentional.

The GM then asks the players to make up a character that they'll describe in about 30 seconds (an elevator pitch). In my example above, one player was to build that PC, and the other players would build PCs that either join that PC on the trip, or are already near the cabin. One player ran the relative's boyfriend, another ran the boyfriend's little brother, another ran a convict from a nearby prison that escaped into the woods, and the last wanted to run the relative that was already at the cabin.

The GM then begins the story and folds in the characters, quickly. The GM gives the PCs threatening situations that they need to survive. Every time they do something, the DM will ask them to pull a number of Jenga pieces and put them on the top of their tower. The number they will pull is a reflection of the difficulty of what they attempt to do. If a tower collapses, it is a disaster for the PC (usually death). If it doesn't, they succeed. For example, the PCs might need to jump start a car. That requires one pull. If the tower falls, the PC is electrocuted when the malevolent spirit of the Cabin in the Woods, moves the cable.

To keep players in the game, once their tower fails they reconstruct it. Whenever a living player pulls a piece, they also pull a piece. If their tower falls, it is a disaster for the survivors as well (but usually not death - just added complications). Every 10th piece they pull allows them to introduce something into the story that benefits the survivors. In that story, the young brother had died when a tree monster attacked him and his tower fell, but when he pulled his tenth piece he decided that his brother had his pocket knife, which allowed the brother to remove a door.

The game ends when the PCs meet some pre-established criteria, or when the group is all dead.

Everything in this game is GM adjudication except the tower pulling. It is a lot of fun. The GM is improvising constantly because the GM doesn't even know what the PCs are going to be playing. This style of game is a great exercise for players that focus on the rules or depend upon rules for their fun.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
We've had at least one poster indicate it did for him, so I'd say my view is at least as valid as yours

Opinions will vary.


Often people moving away from D&D are trying to get away from elements of it, so they're going to look for things that look pretty different. If they just want a different genre, its pretty much possible to find a D&D based game for almost any genre now.

IMHO mostly they'll try something they have heard about from someone they know who has been into RPG's for a lot longer. So the odds are in favor of one of the legacy alternates I mentioned.

Of course there are always exceptions.


I think I'd argue that in and of themselves even though they are technically trad games, at least two of those (CoC and Vampire) have traits that are going to require someone to get part way out of the D&D mindset to engage with them (you can very much argue that SR and Cyberpunk just have reskinned the typical D&D adventure in different contexts for what they usually do).

Unless one's thinking it totally ossified, I just do not see the issue.

It is simple a matter of understanding the mechanical differences in the new rule set. CoC, Vampire, SR, and Cyberpunk are all straight forward RPG rule sets.


And that's not even getting into how some of D&D's mechanical assumptions if internalized will bite you pretty hard with a number of those games.

If, and, or but... One could come up with infinite scenario's.

If one's thinking of what is an RPG is so straightjacketed by D&D's mechanical rules, then I will take with a grain of salt any claim that they would be a good GM to play under at all.
 
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Opinions will vary.

Obviously.


IMHO mostly they'll try something they have heard about from someone they know who has been into RPG's for a lot longer. So the odds are in favor of one of the legacy alternates I mentioned.

The problem with that is in some areas, someone has to try first, and they're heavily dominated by D&D so there's not necessarily anyone who knows more than they do (which can create some problems if you want to try something new, don't want to GM, and aren't willing to play virtually, but that's the same as its ever been).

Of course there are always exceptions.

I'm simply unconvinced in a lot of cases this is the default, especially these days when its easy to learn about games no one has played locally.

Unless one's thinking it totally ossified, I just do not see the issue.

Neither do I, but I think more people drop well and deeply into a rut than I suspect you do.

It is simple a matter of understanding the mechanical differences in the new rule set. CoC, Vampire, SR, and Cyberpunk are all straight forward RPG rule sets.

Its not about the rules (though going from the particulars of D&D which have a notable degree of stylization present in few other games that are not derivatives from those is not, I think, as trivial for many people as you're suggesting), but learning that you just can't run CoC or Vampire in the same mindset as D&D and have it go well (as I noted, you probably can do that to some extent with SR or Cyberpunk)

If, and, or but... One could come up with infinite scenario's.

If one's thinking of what is an RPG is so straightjacketed by D&D's mechanical rules, then I will take with a grain of salt any claim that they would be a good GM to play under at all.

You might be right, but I've seen enough of it (and people transitioning specifically talking about their problems with it) over the years to stand by my position that its extremely common.

(Its not just limited to D&D either; people used to one particular game both in system and the type of things you do in it will often have trouble going to the next one unless they do it early. Its just that the nature of the beast means a very large percentage of people who have that situation are going to come form D&D just because of the reality of where people tend to enter the hobby).
 

ART!

Legend
You can do short and snappy spell descriptions that are much more precise that Thom's example, though. This is the full description of Sleep in 5 Torches Deep:

"2HD/level worth of targets in 30’ fall asleep. Attack. 8 hrs"

All the spells are like that, and it means all 60 spells in the core rulebook fit on two pages.
1000 times this.

Complete-sentence prose is nice and all, but there's a lot to be said for defining some terms and structure, and then just rattling off the essentials.
 
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Jaeger

That someone better
Neither do I, but I think more people drop well and deeply into a rut than I suspect you do.

I would say ultimately unquantifiable, but entirely possible. I'm not omniscient.


Its not about the rules (though going from the particulars of D&D which have a notable degree of stylization present in few other games that are not derivatives from those is not, I think, as trivial for many people as you're suggesting), but learning that you just can't run CoC or Vampire in the same mindset as D&D and have it go well (as I noted, you probably can do that to some extent with SR or Cyberpunk)

I have seen players struggle with adjusting their "D&D mindset" when transitioning to other RPGs to be more of an actual issue..

I think this has a lot to do with the GM's spending more time with the rules before play starts, so they have had more time to absorb the differences and 'mentally switch gears' as it were. Whereas the players have to do so mostly during play after getting a short rules rundown.


You might be right, but I've seen enough of it (and people transitioning specifically talking about their problems with it) over the years to stand by my position that its extremely common.

(Its not just limited to D&D either; people used to one particular game both in system and the type of things you do in it will often have trouble going to the next one unless they do it early. Its just that the nature of the beast means a very large percentage of people who have that situation are going to come form D&D just because of the reality of where people tend to enter the hobby).

I think our different experiences in the hobby have largely shaped our views.

For me the big transitioning issues on the GM side you cite have been essentially non-existent from what I have seen.

From my experience what I have seen to be an extremely common attitude is that a very large percent of D&D groups utterly refuse to even consider playing a different RPG at all.

IMHO this is the crux of our disagreement.

i.e. I have read several posts on this forum of GM's with players that take several minutes to decide what to do on their turn in combat as a normal occurrence. Every round!

As a GM and Player that would drive me Insane! It is a play experience that is completely outside my frame of reference. Yet I have seen it mentioned often enough by different posters that it must be a thing for some groups.

Thank goodness I've never had to deal with anything like that!
 
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Jaeger

That someone better
1000 times this.

Complete-sentence prose is nice and all, but there's a lot to be said for defining some terms and structure, and then just rattling off the essentials.

Yessssss...

This is something 5e (And a several other RPG's) are really bad at.

I get that writing in so-called "conversational language" seems to be de rigueur these days...

But it can be a downright counter-productive way of presenting a useable rules set.

For behold, if thine customers cannot findeth an answer from on high quickly during a session because thine rule is buried in a wall of conversational text. Then verily, thou art doing it wrong.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yessssss...

This is something 5e (And a several other RPG's) are really bad at.

I get that writing in so-called "conversational language" seems to be de rigueur these days...

But it can be a downright counter-productive way of presenting a useable rules set.

For behold, if thine customers cannot findeth an answer from on high quickly during a session because thine rule is buried in a wall of conversational text. Then verily, thou art doing it wrong.
But that also pushes DMs to just make it up, which is a goal of the edition. Rulings not rules, etc. So they're kinda doing it right, form their stated goals. It's still maddening for people who want more than "go away kid, you bother me" from the game's designers.
 

Jaeger

That someone better
But that also pushes DMs to just make it up, which is a goal of the edition. Rulings not rules, etc. So they're kinda doing it right, form their stated goals. It's still maddening for people who want more than "go away kid, you bother me" from the game's designers.

Lazy writing IMHO. 5e relies far too much on its network effect to smooth over its rough edges.

"Rulings not rules", does not preclude having the rules part clear and easily accessible within the actual 'rule book'!

A GM will have to make rulings even with something crunchier like 3e, and they don't stop at the lighter end with B/X or its clones like OSE (Old School Essentials).

But even with a lighter game a GM can't remember everything, so having a organized and easily referenced rule book is nothing to be sneezed at. In fact one of the chief virtues of buying OSE as opposed to finding a copy of original B/X is its superior organization.

When those rules are written in a ambiguous conversational fashion and you are only inconsistently able to reference them in a timely manner at the table during play - then one can expect GM rulings based on that house of cards to share the same traits. Garbage in, garbage out.

The rules provide the framework on which the GM makes their rulings.

With an accessible and tightly written rules to use as a framework, it is more likely that a prospective GM's rulings will be made in a more clear and consistent manner.

Quality in, quality out...
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Lazy writing IMHO. 5e relies far too much on its network effect to smooth over its rough edges.

"Rulings not rules", does not preclude having the rules part clear and easily accessible within the actual 'rule book'!

A GM will have to make rulings even with something crunchier like 3e, and they don't stop at the lighter end with B/X or its clones like OSE (Old School Essentials).

But even with a lighter game a GM can't remember everything, so having a organized and easily referenced rule book is nothing to be sneezed at. In fact one of the chief virtues of buying OSE as opposed to finding a copy of original B/X is its superior organization.

When those rules are written in a ambiguous conversational fashion and you are only inconsistently able to reference them in a timely manner at the table during play - then one can expect GM rulings based on that house of cards to share the same traits. Garbage in, garbage out.

The rules provide the framework on which the GM makes their rulings.

With an accessible and tightly written rules to use as a framework, it is more likely that a prospective GM's rulings will be made in a more clear and consistent manner.

Quality in, quality out...
Preaching to the choir, mate.
 

I would say ultimately unquantifiable, but entirely possible. I'm not omniscient.

Same. I can only judge by my general and specific experiences with people here, but there's absolutely room for me to be wrong here.


I have seen players struggle with adjusting their "D&D mindset" when transitioning to other RPGs to be more of an actual issue..

I think this has a lot to do with the GM's spending more time with the rules before play starts, so they have had more time to absorb the differences and 'mentally switch gears' as it were. Whereas the players have to do so mostly during play after getting a short rules rundown.

Possible, but I've seen enough GMs who think they can just forge ahead with what they're used to to be cynical, especially if they've been with a single game for a long time without exposure to others. I suspect a GM who ran D&D for a few months, then tried to run one of the other games you reference would adapt far better than one who'd been in a D&D hothouse (and they aren't rare) for several years and then tried to switch streams.

And I'm not sure its actually worse for players, though it may be for ones with low rules-engagement in the first place.

I think our different experiences in the hobby have largely shaped our views.

For me the big transitioning issues on the GM side you cite have been essentially non-existent from what I have seen.

Can't but shrug here.

From my experience what I have seen to be an extremely common attitude is that a very large percent of D&D groups utterly refuse to even consider playing a different RPG at all.

No, that's part of the same picture. Its really, really easy to drop into D&D and never leave. That's because if your original D&D group disintegrates, if there's any gaming population nearby at all, chances are there's more D&D games.

But its also why gaming monocultures are more likely with D&D than with anything else, so if someone is going to hop out of a game they've only played, its pretty likely to be D&D because of the numbers game. While its not impossible to find people who've only played, say, Mage, the number of people who that applies to compared to the number who've only played D&D is tiny; even people who may not have played D&D are probably more likely to have played a couple of different non-D&D games (though you might have people who've only played Storyteller, say, even if they've played multiple versions of it, but that's likely the only case where you'll hit a situation like that; I suspect the number of people who've played multiple games but all variations on Modiphus' house system is, shall we say, not large).

So the most likely game people will have heavily imprinted on when finally trying a new one is D&D. And there are all kinds of ways that can set expectations that do not apply (as I said, someone hopping from D&D to Shadowrun can probably conceptually adapt (both are heavily based around penetrating enemy areas and getting a particular result with violence on the whole, even if they're used for other purposes on occasion) but would run into much bigger problems in a typical Call of Cthuhlu campaign (or almost any horror game other than some very heavily action-horror focused ones). The mechanics might be a different story (just in another thread I've seen people seriously bothered by games where successfully hitting a target doesn't necessarily translate into successfully damaging them for example) but those are separate axes.

IMHO this is the crux of our disagreement.

i.e. I have read several posts on this forum of GM's with players that take several minutes to decide what to do on their turn in combat as a normal occurrence. Every round!

As a GM and Player that would drive me Insane! It is a play experience that is completely outside my frame of reference. Yet I have seen it mentioned often enough by different posters that it must be a thing for some groups.

Thank goodness I've never had to deal with anything like that!

There can be two different causes for that, and both occur often enough for it not to be particularly rare.

1. Decision paralysis. Some people have trouble deciding, well, anything with any consequences. Its true in their regular lives, there's no reason its going to suddenly not be true in a game even if the stakes are lower.

2. Scar tissue. People who've played with GMs who either were prone to gotchas, or were just very hard edged (or even some systems that can be that way) can develop a tendency to be very cautious and reevaluate constantly. Ideally, they should be doing this while other people are taking their turns, but, well, surprise, people don't always do things in an ideal way.

I've probably had at least four or five players over the years like that, and only rarely haven't had at least one in a group (of course some of this is while I've had many players over the years--between one campaign or another I'd say 20-30--some have been constants for, in a few cases, decades).
 

Yessssss...

This is something 5e (And a several other RPG's) are really bad at.

I get that writing in so-called "conversational language" seems to be de rigueur these days...

But it can be a downright counter-productive way of presenting a useable rules set.

For behold, if thine customers cannot findeth an answer from on high quickly during a session because thine rule is buried in a wall of conversational text. Then verily, thou art doing it wrong.

Its a catch-22. Write your text, even the clearly technical parts like spell descriptions in terse and technical terms only, and people get worked up about how off-putting and curt it is. Write it more conversationally and people talk about it being bloated.
 

Is there a way to eliminate complexity without eliminating choices? Aren't the choices where much of the complexity resides?
I personally would like to see David Black (creator of The Black Hack) or Hankerin Ferinale (creator of the Index Card RPG) do a Kickstarter for a conversion of the entire contents of the 3.5E, PF1E SRD, 5E SRD, and PF2SRD into their system. Seriously.

Keeping the system simple, but have all the races, classes, gear, spells, monsters available as choices. The ultimate interface of simple (streamlined play) and "complex" (diverse choices).

I think whichever of the high quality "simple D&D" RPGs does this first, could make a huge impact -- like the impact Pathfinder 1E made vs. D&D 4E. Nowadays lots of people want simple play but with all the character features. This could really be D&D 5.75.
 
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Of course that assumes all of those things could be converted into a simpler system and still maintain their distinction. I am, shall we say, dubious.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Of course that assumes all of those things could be converted into a simpler system and still maintain their distinction. I am, shall we say, dubious.

I think that's a valid concern. BUT I do think 5e, particularly the DMG, could be MUCH better organized and explained.

The system isn't THAT complicated but you wouldn't know it by the way the DMG is organized! If you don't know what you're looking for, good luck finding it!

Better organization, better examples of the play loop and overall better presentation in the DMG would essentially simplify the game by showing it's not as complicated as it appears.
 
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