What D&D gets right is that a dungeon is fundamentally simple game space with varied but relatively limited exploration options. A GM needs a map hidden from the players and a collection of dangers and monsters. Players have characters in the dungeon. There are a bunch of rules but fundamentally they can be simplified (as desired by the group) down to: roll a d20, the higher the better.
That’s a focus on one particular “dungeon crawl” type of roleplaying, but even for that particular type of play the important question is this: is it the best tool for the job?
D&D doesn’t get a lot right.
For D&D gaming, I’ve got three tools in my toolbox:
- Dungeon Crawl Classics for weird dungeons, killing things, and strange tables. Emphasis on nostalgia play.
- Torchbearer for detail-oriented, procedural dungeon crawling. Emphasis on a modern game design take on nostalgia play.
- Dungeon World for dungeons that are more a sketch than a detailed map and with a mechanical emphasis on interesting roleplay opportunities.
The “job” depends on what the group wants to experience.
Makes sense to me.
I’ve seen a few arguments and I agree with many of them, but I think some of the discussion re. various flaws and balance issues misses the most basic question. For those who want to make a case for Dungeons and Dragons (whatever edition it is you want to defend) as a tabletop roleplaying game:
What kind of experience is it that D&D, at a basic mechanical level, is good at creating relative to other RPGs?
I get that there can be reasons to stick with a system that’s merely good enough as opposed to good; factors like playerbase and amount of preexisting content do matter. But you really haven’t answered the basic critique of D&D espoused by many in this thread unless you actually answer the core question above.
Honestly? Nothing in particular. There’s no type of game short of a loot grinder where D&D’s actual core mechanics excel.
That’s my view as well, though even for a “loot grinder” I think D&D might not have that strong of a case to be made for it; I haven’t tried the others okeefe suggests above, but they likely do a better job covering many of those bases.
That said, the question I asked isn’t really directed at people who already agree with the Scrym stance on D&D.
I wonder if the entire thing with D&D isn’t that there’s a situation where the mechanics Excel, but it’s become a thing unto itself that shifts and evolved along the rest of the industry.
It has to bear enough of a relationship to the previous generation to be familiar, comfortable. That’s a place I think 5e excelled, it has enough touchstones to earlier editions I enjoyed, the customized nature of the kits and the more simplified mechanical system that 3e tried to create.
Dungeons and Dragons is the best system to play a game of dungeons and dragons. It’s not as much a loot grinder as 3e was, you can skip magic items in a lot of places. It’s there to help shepherd you from a farm hand to killing the queen of evil dragons to save the world. It’s designed to embrace the wild strange world that’s grown up around it.
The design limits are flatter than some other systems, but they’re broader. A mysterious shadow mage and a elven noble warrior mage?
D&D is the kitchen sink. You can make crazy in other systems, Fate, etc., but that’s pulling ingredients from the pantry and cooking from scratch. Dungeons and dragons is seeing what you have in the fridge and cooking.
In my understanding big appeal in D&D for many is the character building, picking a correct combination of feats, skills, spells and such to be effective in variety (of mostly combat) situations and utilizing those tools in game in different situations with some creativity.
OK; I’ll roll with that for a while. If I accept your premise that continuity with past D&D games is a core restriction, then maybe you could say 5e does a pretty good job within that space. Maybe there’s limits to how good you can make a D&D game without most of the playerbase complaining that it just “isn’t D&D”.
If so, then one might consider D&D an analogy for C++ among programming languages. The design decisions behind it make no sense at all until you realise that the entire fucking language is a matter of historical contingency and path dependency; in that context it’s honestly surprising the strides that have been made with C++11 and C++17.
Yet, as with D&D, it’s so easy to envisage better if you step outside those historical strictures and look at the broader design space.
See, if the case for D&D boils down to continuity with the past, then there’s a fundamental issue: why should new players, who don’t have any attachment to D&D past, be exposed to D&D present? Why should the chains of history be imposed on them?
because DnD is the only ttrpg that advertises, it’s the only one with a global community. You can go online or to a flgs and find 1000% more people ready and waiting to play DnD than any other ttrpg on the market. Until ttrpgs as a collective game type become popular enough that there is a gigantic platform/distributor (drivethrurpg isn’t there yet) you’re not going to see a pop culture shift from “let’s play DnD” to “let’s play a roleplaying game”
They shouldn’t. And I’m not talking about imposing the chains, but we’re not talking about people diving into the hobby ex nihlo, they have a tendency to jump in where they have interest. But the player base is also recruitment.
For many this is true. They treat it like building a broken character in a Bethesda RPG, which if that is your goal can be super fun, but brings us around once again to one player’s goals vs other players’ goals vs GM goals and how those things are reconciled.
On those notes, one thing I think I like about the “D&D” style games and their kitchen sink approach is that… at least in certain eras… it had some variety in it. When you try to solve the entire game with a universal system, well, that’s what you have. It wasn’t balanced or even well handled, but I thought that in for-example 3.5 they had your core classes, your psionic classes, and eventually those book of nine swords martial classes, and they were all kinda entirely different systems unto themselves. I guess any sufficiently large game probably has that, world of darkness maybe - but I havn’t played a ton of that? Anyway, they could all coexist within one game or you could go hard into any single one of those systems and have a fundamentally different arc to the game.
And none of that was necessarily that well done, and it definitely all had problems. One I recall was just such a minor thing as the 3e oriental adventures book introducing a skill that could give you more damage on attacks under very specific circumstances, and you could play a whole game around that idea… or not. You could play so psionics heavy and have that whole other battle mechanic with psionic duels be a thing… or not. Most of it was all mechanically and balance-wise trash, but there’s still something fun about playing with crappy cardboard boxes as-it-were.
World of Darkness is very expansive but also an unwieldy clusterfuck. You know how Rym and Scott talk about how DnD isn’t an RPG because most of the game rules address fighting? WoD is the opposite of that, to the point where I feel about it as a game the way Rym and Scott feel about DnD but in the other direction; too much of the game is social and not enough is action oriented.
That’s really wierd because I remember when I last played WoD looking at the list of feats or whatever were it’s equals and it was mostly combat related stuff or boring “+x to skillcheck in spesific situation” with few rare things outside of that being also boring like “extra languages”.
The so called ‘storyteller’ system is just basic traditional rpg.
About the only two systems that have a solid footprint in stores is D&D and Path/Starfinder. The reason for that is they have a system in place where people can sign up for a quick game at the local store or convention and try the game out. I keep hoping FFGs Genesys would try something similar, but their community is only focused on the competitive games.
Have any of y’all played a so-called “megagame”? It’s a bit like the polar opposite of an MMORPG in that it is M, M and RPG, but not O.
I played this one on Sunday:
and it was pretty insane. Extremely hectic and quite stressful, but very much worthwhile.
Major highlights included (spoilers?):
- The Chinese team was kinda belligerent and insane; at one point they got pissed off at the UN so they nuked the UN office in Geneva, and afterwards kept making offers to nuke other peoples’ enemies for them.
- One of the alien teams sent a message that they wanted humans to make peace amongst ourselves, which got somewhat misinterpreted to have an implied “or else”; because of this the UK made up a fake story that the Chinese had been mind-controlled by aliens in order to let them off the hook.
- The peace-wanting aliens successfully spread a grassroots religion worshipping the “Ancient One”, a “vengeful god” that devours all those who do not worship it. Apparently it converted a bunch of people from major religions; major updates were made to religious texts by religious leaders including (notably) the Pope who stood up at the front of the room and declared that God and the Ancient One were one and the same.
- In the end, the humans united to fight against the Ancient One. All player-controlled countries sent massive armies to fight off the ancient one, with Godzilla as the vanguard.
If you want to see some of the other highlights you can also scroll through the Twitter feeds that were set up for the two press teams to use:
Here’s a playthrough of “Watch The Skies” (a different megagame) documented by Shut Up & Sit Down:
I played a megagame very similar to Watch the Skies at Pax Unplugged 2018 and was pretty underwhelmed. Similarly there was gameplay representing different competitions between nation states, but the game runner who seemed pretty harried did not actually introduce the story twist for the scenario because certain tables seemed to have gotten really into roleplaying their parts and he let it run as-is. I got assigned to a bidding game for resources that was very uninteresting and my wife was doing a card-minigame representing trade deals which also was not too interesting and our country was not one of the 3-4 that got super hype into it so it just was lackluster overall.
Its a shame because I think the concept is interesting and I love boardgames that act as pseudo simulations (Fog of Love, the upcomging SHASN kickstarter looks interesting for similar reasons). I would probably try again but only if run by a different group/people because I really didn’t feel like the separate ticket I paid for to play was really worth the 12 dollars per person.
In my experience, massive games usually break down for a lot of the same reasons Pokemon GO breaks down.
You can’t make any mechanics particularly complex or compelling without drastically reducing the potential player base. Any one player’s actions can’t be particularly effective or destabilizing, so it’s hard to feel like, as a player, you even need to be there. The games requires a lot of busywork to keep all of the players engaged. There is a huge reliance on players expressing enthusiasm and caring about the outcome of the game.