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    d20 Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition weekly since its release, and many of the other editions before as well. It's a fun game. I like it. This post will mainly focus on this edition.

    In the past 3 years or so I've been branching off and investigating other games, mostly as a Game Master. Blades in the Dark, Vampire (and White Wolf in general), Monster of the Week, Burning Wheel, Mythras, etc etc.

    While playing these other games, something that struck me about my personal GM style and preferences as a player is that I like these games a lot more than 5e, and I think I've finally figured out what it is. D&D has lost some interesting "meta-play" as it has evolved through the editions. My general gameplay experiences for the earlier editions have been:

    AD&D/2nd
    • Struggle to survive to level 2 (5 if you're a wizard)
    • Pinch every penny and outwit monsters to avoid fights
    • (Eventually) Command an army and use it to wipe out all those pesky orcs who killed your wizard buddy at level 4

    3rd
    • Survive until your build comes online
    • Pinch every penny to keep up with the expected Wealth By Level table to be appropriately scaled for encounters
    • (Eventually) Do the build equivalent of dividing by zero to acquire infinite power and kill all the gods (who have stats)

    4th
    • Survive. Easily. Never die
    • Be perfectly balanced for every 4 hour whiffle bat fight
    • (Eventually) Have big numbers on character sheet, which are countered by monster numbers that grow at exactly the same rate

    5th
    • Survive to level 5 to get fun stuff
    • Fight monsters for fun, loot is just an extra bonus
    • (Eventually) Fight monsters but they're wearing fancy hats that make them CR 8 instead of CR 1/2


    A particular point that sticks out to me is that there is a slow movement away from Combat As War to Combat As Sport. Guidelines for what gave an exciting fight were just that: guidelines. A level 1 Thief can't kill a dragon by stabbing it in its sleep, but given enough time to rouse the local militia and the installation of ballistae, an open air fight would be winnable. This same scenario can absolutely be done in 5e or even 4e, but there's a problem with being able to show players that this is an option, and it has to do with what you are simply given.

    A level 6 Fighting Man had good numbers, but without the weight of a good magic item or army, they were just some dude. A level 6 Fighter in 5e, by virtue of simply attaining that level, has several wordy features that allow them to interact with combat in interesting ways (spells, maneuvers, feats etc). I think this is a good thing, since now leveling up is actually interesting, but this means players are indirectly incentivized differently. What becomes exciting is not interacting with the world or exploration to find hidden magic or secrets, but the mere act of leveling up itself. After all, you can see all of the cool features ahead of time, and anticipation is a powerful motivator.

    This creates a strange scenario when DM's choose to use milestone leveling: you must complete story beats in order to get your level. Which feels odd when the mechanics of the game used to require you to create a story to overcome difficulty at all!



    This attitude comes to bear with the way characters can allow themselves to develop given hardship in a game. Losing max HP from a Wraith in 5e is an inconvenience, but not something a character will have to think about in 24 hours. Earlier editions were rife with permanent attribute loss, HP max drain, and even losing entire levels. While a bit of a headache mechanics-wise (having to recalculate your entire character sheet with a -1 has funded the eraser industry for decades now), these permanent losses allowed a chance to realize that maybe a character was just more than their numbers? A war veteran with a bum leg can still marshal an army, a thief with one hand can still lead an underground crime ring.

    With 5e, any permanent loss is just not done. It hurts as both a player and as a DM since now your future encounters will be unbalanced. How can you correctly account for the Cleric missing 20 HP? What fraction of a CR knockoff is that worth? This also applies to withholding levels from specific players (not that this was ever really that fun).

    Players should (rightfully) expect to gain levels as they progress through a world and story. But when all of the toys you get to interact with a game come from leveling up, you can forget that this is a roleplaying game. The expectation and assurance of power through levels creates a different attitude and psychological incentive to play.


    "Let's rally the militia to kill the dragon" becomes "Let's come back when we're a higher level". Budding DM advice is about balancing encounters, not how to craft a story where some bumbling level 1's sneak into a dragon's hoard. And I think something is lost there.


    This isn't to say that it's impossible in 5e: just, there is no mechanical incentive. Perhaps I'm just being a grognard.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    I think I understand the concept you're talking about, and the appeal of it, but I disagree with several of the specifics.

    3E - While magic items are quite nice, if a class requires "penny pinching" WBL to be effective, it's not a very good class. Casters can do fine with less.

    4E - I didn't find survival to really be easier. I played with a GM who ran things "tough" (not unpleasantly so, but you had to keep alert and death was entirely possible) in 3E, then switched to 4E, and the difficulty remained much the same. While you can't die as quickly, a fight slowly but surely turning against you can be just as fatal, and successful retreat is not always an option.

    5E - Gold may be just for fun, but magic items have as significant an impact as 3E.

    And as for the dragon scenario, "come back at higher level" has always been an option - for things that aren't time-sensitive. If anything, the "get the militia to help" option is more likely to be taken in 5E, since the flatter power curve means quantity has an easier time beating quality.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Look its just a different style. some want progression to a leader, others want a progression to a singular all killing badass. apparently more people find the all killing badass fantasy more interesting, or perhaps don't like the idea of having to manage an organization with the responsibilities that it implies (bureaucracy, keeping members in line with the rules, having to convince a bunch of villagers to overcome their fear to kill the dragon together and they totally won't all die in flames and so on) or simply not wanting to share the credit and loot of a dragon with an entire militia who may want a cut for risking their lives, while if you kill the dragon yourselves? much more impressive and worthy of a story.

    like it can still lead to roleplaying its just less "this is probably how it would really happen, this world is one where getting other people to die for you and fighting unfairly as possible is what wins, any bards tale are made up to make it sound you contributed more than you did and the people who helped you get screwed over because they're your minions" and more "this is a world of heroism and adventure, and these are larger than life people capable of greater feats than most! come hear of their deeds and how the selflessly defeated a dragon so you didn't have to!" and the bard tales are actually true.
    I'm also on discord as "raziere". Hate is a chain, free yourself.



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    I ran a 5th edition campaign for six months last year, and it was the best campaign I've ever been in by a good margin. I had a lot of fun playing with the players, but I really didn't enjoy running 5th edition.
    The main reason was that all character classes are overloaded with special abilities. Running various D&D systems over the years, I've long settled into an approach to aim for characters to gain new levels roughly every fourth or fifth time we play. With 5th edition, this turned out to be way too fast. Characters get new abilities that look really fun on paper faster than they get opportunity to use them. My players were really laid back overall, but still they seemed to be really looking forward to make use of the new abilities they just picked for their characters, and I tried to accommodate them and provide opportunities where those abilities could be used in fun and meaningful ways. And with the vast majority of abilities being combat abilities, this led to me feeling that I had to throw much more fights at them than I wanted to. And that resulted in few of the fights having any actual meaningful substance to them. I still managed to bring the game to a proper conclusion (yay! when does that ever happen?), but creating the content for 4th and 5th level really was a chore and I absolutely was not looking forward to do more of that when the players have even more abilities. I feel the group could have continued playing for much longer and everyone enjoyed the setting. But I really didn't want to continue running this system that gets in my way because of its basic underlying principles.

    In hindsight, I might be able to make 5th edition work by maybe aiming for characters to get a new level every 8 or 10 times we play, but I don't think that's something 5th edition players would want from their games.
    I fully embraced Basic Fantasy, which does what I want much better, and everyone knows what to expect of it.
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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Now I'm fairly vocal on here about not liking D&D. I've got many fastest systems I'd rather room, mostly with a lower power curve which makes things like convincing a few farmer's sons to sign up with you. But I'll agree with the idea that D&D moving away from such things isn't bad, it's just a different style.

    My favourite classes have ties to the setting, a Cleric has some kind of relationship to the established religions, a Wizard learnt their magic from somebody, but a clear of Fighter tells me nothing. Oh sure, you swing a spear really good, but it tells me less about you than class: Ratcatcher (who's probably lower class, knows how to lay traps but only has experience with smaller animals, and possibly has trained dogs to serve as ratters).

    I just find it easier to go deeper into the setting when my character is already connected some way. Are my qualifications recognised here? Hey, I used to drive cattle to market, do I know cowboy slang? I'm planning to start a mercenary company, can I ask other members of the army unit I served with to join?

    To me that's much more interesting than abilities. What was fun and the last Wizard-I played was not casting spells, but conducting magical research and conferring with other wizards wherever we were in the same camp.
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    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    d6 Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    This is exactly the kind of discussion I hoped I would create, great words everyone!


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    Quote Originally Posted by icefractal View Post
    I think I understand the concept you're talking about, and the appeal of it, but I disagree with several of the specifics.

    3E - While magic items are quite nice, if a class requires "penny pinching" WBL to be effective, it's not a very good class. Casters can do fine with less.

    4E - I didn't find survival to really be easier. I played with a GM who ran things "tough" (not unpleasantly so, but you had to keep alert and death was entirely possible) in 3E, then switched to 4E, and the difficulty remained much the same. While you can't die as quickly, a fight slowly but surely turning against you can be just as fatal, and successful retreat is not always an option.

    5E - Gold may be just for fun, but magic items have as significant an impact as 3E.

    And as for the dragon scenario, "come back at higher level" has always been an option - for things that aren't time-sensitive. If anything, the "get the militia to help" option is more likely to be taken in 5E, since the flatter power curve means quantity has an easier time beating quality.


    I agree, 3e's WBL is more important for martials, I mainly included that bullet point to compare to how AD&D treats money. The idea that there can actually be a "balanced" encounter when a party contains both a Cleric and Fighter is rather silly.

    My 4e example is likely marred by personal anecdote, good point. Our party had ample Leaders, so spending healing surges in combat was done all the time.

    5e magic items are just as impactful, (perhaps even more with bounded accuracy) but they're not a baseline assumption like they are for other editions. I'm tentatively not including them when discussing 5e in general.


    The dragon scenario can absolutely be done in any system, it just seems that many players I've ran the game for are more reluctant to do go with the militia scenario. Leveling up is generally much easier than questing to rally all the local towns. Of course, if what I say is true, then this can be solved by leveling up less often, as Yora speaks of.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    Look its just a different style. some want progression to a leader, others want a progression to a singular all killing badass. apparently more people find the all killing badass fantasy more interesting, or perhaps don't like the idea of having to manage an organization with the responsibilities that it implies (bureaucracy, keeping members in line with the rules, having to convince a bunch of villagers to overcome their fear to kill the dragon together and they totally won't all die in flames and so on) or simply not wanting to share the credit and loot of a dragon with an entire militia who may want a cut for risking their lives, while if you kill the dragon yourselves? much more impressive and worthy of a story.

    like it can still lead to roleplaying its just less "this is probably how it would really happen, this world is one where getting other people to die for you and fighting unfairly as possible is what wins, any bards tale are made up to make it sound you contributed more than you did and the people who helped you get screwed over because they're your minions" and more "this is a world of heroism and adventure, and these are larger than life people capable of greater feats than most! come hear of their deeds and how the selflessly defeated a dragon so you didn't have to!" and the bard tales are actually true.


    I agree, it's a stylistic preference. The small woes I wave before you are ones that are, I think, borne of the fact 5e is so popular: many folks who just start the hobby want heroics, but others aren't so keen, so there's an odd compromise that occurs. Wanting to play a goofy and irresponsible drunken dwarf is not an unrealistic expectation for your average game (or so the marketing goes anyways), but there are certain narrative disconnects that arise. Abilities are gained automatically on level up, with no pretext or requirements (with the exception of the training/downtime optional rules in the DMG).

    Since not every PC is a hyper motivated savant, divinely blessed, drawing on ancient power of ancestors, demons etc etc (whatever justifies sudden increases in ability or power), it seems nearly mandatory to enforce a certain abstraction with the player abilities and actual roleplay.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    I ran a 5th edition campaign for six months last year, and it was the best campaign I've ever been in by a good margin. I had a lot of fun playing with the players, but I really didn't enjoy running 5th edition.
    The main reason was that all character classes are overloaded with special abilities. Running various D&D systems over the years, I've long settled into an approach to aim for characters to gain new levels roughly every fourth or fifth time we play. With 5th edition, this turned out to be way too fast. Characters get new abilities that look really fun on paper faster than they get opportunity to use them. My players were really laid back overall, but still they seemed to be really looking forward to make use of the new abilities they just picked for their characters, and I tried to accommodate them and provide opportunities where those abilities could be used in fun and meaningful ways. And with the vast majority of abilities being combat abilities, this led to me feeling that I had to throw much more fights at them than I wanted to. And that resulted in few of the fights having any actual meaningful substance to them. I still managed to bring the game to a proper conclusion (yay! when does that ever happen?), but creating the content for 4th and 5th level really was a chore and I absolutely was not looking forward to do more of that when the players have even more abilities. I feel the group could have continued playing for much longer and everyone enjoyed the setting. But I really didn't want to continue running this system that gets in my way because of its basic underlying principles.

    In hindsight, I might be able to make 5th edition work by maybe aiming for characters to get a new level every 8 or 10 times we play, but I don't think that's something 5th edition players would want from their games.
    I fully embraced Basic Fantasy, which does what I want much better, and everyone knows what to expect of it.


    I think Yora's words show the effects of this mechanical abstraction well. With so many abilities only being usable in fights, it creates an incentive to fight where there otherwise wouldn't be one. When all of your abilities are variants of a hammer, it's easy to think of every dragon as a nail. Good job creating a meaningful conclusion! That can be difficult to do in systems we're not comfortable with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    Now I'm fairly vocal on here about not liking D&D. I've got many fastest systems I'd rather room, mostly with a lower power curve which makes things like convincing a few farmer's sons to sign up with you. But I'll agree with the idea that D&D moving away from such things isn't bad, it's just a different style.

    My favourite classes have ties to the setting, a Cleric has some kind of relationship to the established religions, a Wizard learnt their magic from somebody, but a clear of Fighter tells me nothing. Oh sure, you swing a spear really good, but it tells me less about you than class: Ratcatcher (who's probably lower class, knows how to lay traps but only has experience with smaller animals, and possibly has trained dogs to serve as ratters).

    I just find it easier to go deeper into the setting when my character is already connected some way. Are my qualifications recognised here? Hey, I used to drive cattle to market, do I know cowboy slang? I'm planning to start a mercenary company, can I ask other members of the army unit I served with to join?

    To me that's much more interesting than abilities. What was fun and the last Wizard-I played was not casting spells, but conducting magical research and conferring with other wizards wherever we were in the same camp.


    Definitely a stylistic preference for sure. It's important to note that while it is possible to do something in many different systems, some more clearly support that actions with rules or flavor. Requiring players to be invested in the world as part of their character's entire life (rather than just a single line of text in the "Bond" section of the character sheet) is, for me, extremely important to building and running a satisfying game. A wizard that learns Fireball as a result of reaching 5th level is always going to feel less impressive to me than one that has to spend almost all of their gold and 2 months copying it from a stolen rival's notes.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    I don't know if the genre shift is real or it only applies to some groups, as we all live in the bubble of our personal experience.
    But i don't see the different editions having much to do with it.
    In fact, the later editions have more ways to interact mechanically outside of combat. 2e didn't have anything there.

    So, if this change is real (and, at least as far as my table is concerned, it is not), it stems from expectations more than anything else
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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Quote Originally Posted by Glömmerska View Post
    I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition weekly since its release, and many of the other editions before as well. It's a fun game. I like it. This post will mainly focus on this edition.
    Disclaimer: I'm not familiar with 5th, only vaguely with 4th. Played some OSR, some old school D&D and two sessions of 3.5e (GMed another two). Most of my statements below will be valid only in context of my experience in this forum. And most importantly: I'm not beating down the system, it's more about my thoughts. So if it sounds like I'm against D&D, it's not the intent.

    That said, I think you stated several interesting points, but there is still some unexplored ground. Namely: character generation.

    Well, no. Character building. The planning and creation of a character over 20 levels has become a game on its own, and often it beats actually playing the game (especially in PbP where the game moves slower).

    Heck, there are some people that enter every recruiting, generate a full character and ghost the rest of the game (or post 2-3 times and leave), because the chargen gives them the game they want.

    If I had to guess what caused this, I'd say the incentive of leveling up is almost nonexistent in standard PbP game (which can crash anytime and takes a while), that most people just want to start on higher level. Ideally gestalt. Because there's just so much shiny moving stuff, that the fun some people have at character generation beats the enjoyment that comes from actually playing a character (because with so many moving parts, the GM has to be almost a savant and the player has to invest time and effort into the game).

    Now table play may be significantly different, but as people progress in their life, their priorities change and often you will find there is less time for games - so they have to manage the time at table. Efficient adventuring. No added ballast. Also, the "boring parts" need to go. Random encounters - the major motivation to eliminate the 5 minute adventuring day - were one of the first things that went out of the window, because it slowed down the game story progression.

    So when you combine the lack of time to go the "zero to hero" route with the desire to - as Lord Raziere correctly stated - become an all-slaying badass (which sounds great although I am the proponent of "hero is not braver, he is just brave long enough" approach and I find the idea of a high level character slapping Cthulhu immersion-breaking) and - taking into account human psyche - distill the old school RPGs with modern PC game approach, you get a series of skinner boxes disguised as combat-as-sport.

    Of course, this is just on a paper: players and GMs around the world will add roleplay and their own expectations to the game, and will work for the game to resemble a roleplaying game more than a dungeon-monster-killing-simulator. And there is some movement towards non-combat gameplay - which was nonexistant in first editions as they were dungeon-exploring simulators with the RPG part left completely on the GM & players. So there is some progress - but not when you consider the systems you mentioned above - which have generally good mechanics also for the non-combat and even RP parts.

    Also: the nostalgia for the old-school will be there always. Why? Pink glasses of memory optimism +5 aside, players who played the OSR will miss the emergent gameplay. The PCs become heroes of the world by their deeds instead of PC become heroes of the story by simply being heroes. I know, not all games follow this approach, and there are games that have mechanics for storytelling (e.g. "this is you arc, if you follow you get XP-equivalent").

    Now nothing of this is not bad in itself - as this basically works to give you the coolest possible game you can get for your money - and it can be definitely enjoyable, playable and entertaining (after all, it's designed to be so).

    It's just as Yora's closing thought: you pick a game that suits your game group/idea/players/whatever and stick to it. Because it's about your enjoyment.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Instead of having an adventure, from which a cool unexpected story may rise, you had a story, with an adventure built and designed to enable the story, but also ensure (or close to ensure) it happens.

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    Quote Originally Posted by King of Nowhere View Post
    I don't know if the genre shift is real or it only applies to some groups, as we all live in the bubble of our personal experience.
    But i don't see the different editions having much to do with it.
    In fact, the later editions have more ways to interact mechanically outside of combat. 2e didn't have anything there.
    Plenty of people have argued (and based on my own experience it seems very convincing) that having a diplomacy skill that comes down to "1d20+Cha" against an NPC's "1d20+Wis" or something like that makes it very tempting to use as a crutch in the heat of the moment.
    Without such a skill in place, convincing an NPC has to be done by making arguments that the GM thinks would sway the NPC. If you have a skill to decide it with a roll, there is always the temptation to rush it and just hope the die lands on a high enough number, instead of the players being forced to really think about their arguments and what might be the motivations and priorities of the NPC.
    Even if you don't think it encourages being lazy in social interactions, it still provides an easy way to avoid such interactions unless people make the concious decision to give it more attention. And then a really good argument and an NPC who really benefits from the proposal can still be derailed by a random die landing on a 2. To avoid that, the GM hss to ignore the rule or overrule the die roll. Or give a bonus to the roll that makes failure impossible.

    In my experience, having skills for social interactions does not promote or enable interesting interactions, but rather interferes with them.

    Quote Originally Posted by lacco36 View Post
    Also: the nostalgia for the old-school will be there always. Why? Pink glasses of memory optimism +5 aside, players who played the OSR will miss the emergent gameplay. The PCs become heroes of the world by their deeds instead of PC become heroes of the story by simply being heroes. I know, not all games follow this approach, and there are games that have mechanics for storytelling (e.g. "this is you arc, if you follow you get XP-equivalent").
    It's only nostalgia if you loved it long ago. I've heard from plenty of other people who only heard of Basic/Expert a few years ago, sometimes after decades of experience with never editions, and who still consider it a vastly better game.
    That's not nostalgia. That's evaluating it as a superior game on its own intrinsic merrits.
    I think B/X is amazing while AD&D is a burning train wreck. Until six years ago, I had the same lack of experience with both of them. If anything, I would have some nostalgia for AD&D, because that's where all the cool monsters are from that I know from Forgotten Realms. But I really don't like that game.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    In my experience, having skills for social interactions does not promote or enable interesting interactions, but rather interferes with them.
    Just for my interest: what are your experiences with Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    It's only nostalgia if you loved it long ago. I've heard from plenty of other people who only heard of Basic/Expert a few years ago, sometimes after decades of experience with never editions, and who still consider it a vastly better game.
    That's not nostalgia. That's evaluating it as a superior game on its own intrinsic merrits.
    I think B/X is amazing while AD&D is a burning train wreck. Until six years ago, I had the same lack of experience with both of them. If anything, I would have some nostalgia for AD&D, because that's where all the cool monsters are from that I know from Forgotten Realms. But I really don't like that game.
    I agree. I am one of those people who would definitely agree that B/X does its job well. And maybe the reason is it actually specifies its job and does it instead of trying to cover too much land. It does not try to cover courtly intrigue as your place as adventurer is not at a court - but in a damp, dark, deadly dungeon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Instead of having an adventure, from which a cool unexpected story may rise, you had a story, with an adventure built and designed to enable the story, but also ensure (or close to ensure) it happens.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    In my experience, having skills for social interactions does not promote or enable interesting interactions, but rather interferes with them.
    The way i personally found to be working best is playing out, letting arguments and intentions decide difficulty, then roll (if not automatic succeddd/failure). I would not want to give up skills, there should be mechanical advantages for professonal negotiators/narrators. But the really complicated social rule systems tend to be increadibly unwieldy or hard to fit the situation at hand while simple rolls that do not take arguments/the situation into account tend to produce too many nonsense results.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Social skills are a tool, and like any tool they can be used well or poorly. When used well high social skills supplement a player's ability to come up with good points by bringing character skill into the equation, you say what you say and the dice say how you say it. Or alternatively you can roll the skill and then roleplay, but it's never the way I've done it.

    Done poorly social skills are 'I seduce the dragon, I got a 26'.Which is fine for small things, if you buy a round of drinks for the bar I'll let your small talk be handled by a roll instead of forcing you to roleplay it, the issue only comes in when dealing with important negotiations, such as i0s the dragon going to trust that they've just happened to put their lair in your path and if they just let you continue with the dungeon then you won't take anything from their horde.

    Full blown social combat systems on the other hand are mostly useful when trying to convince a third party, such as in Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits (and that is probably my favourite game I've never played).
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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    From what I’m gathering here it seems like your main gripe is that 5e has been forced into a narrow design presentation wherein there is an assumed, standardized method of producing and consuming the entertainment. To you it feels like a blocky sculpture you need to assemble after purchase, something people get because they desire the advertised outcome. Meanwhile a(n older) LEGO kit or an Erector Set displays one final product on the box art, but you’ve got a few drastic variants hinted at inside and you won’t have much trouble fitting various pieces together because they weren’t all designed to be dependent on specific neighbors like a jigsaw puzzle.
    Martials’ concepts don’t evolve past the mundane
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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Since the discussion stems partially from personal experience, excuse me for first detailing mine, and then addressing the main issues and possibly some other points in the discussion:
    I am 41, and played from about 8 years old with a break of about a decade in the middle. In my youth I started with the B/X (Red box, and those that followed), moved to 3.5 (missed 3.0), a bit of 4e (disliked it), a lot of PF1, and lately a bit of 5e. I also played shadowrun, some Fate, read an dabbled in design, and so on...

    I think, that the shifts in experience between editions, mainly from AD&D and before, to 3.0/3.5 and afterwards, stems mainly from a major change in the nature of the game- It went from an exploration adventure game, to a roleplaying game.

    I'll try and explain:
    Gygax didn't envision or design D&D as a roleplaying game. There was an interview with him (another poster alerted me to it and linked to it a long time ago, but unfortunately I don't rememember) where Gygax commentd that if he wanted to roleplay, he'd join a theater group. So no, in it's origins and first versions, D&D was not about roleplay, but much more about the exploration, survival, success and loot, than it was about a story. The flavor part was mostly to get the party into the region/ dungeon of exploration, but there was no (or very little) expectation of a story there. No, the story, and potential heroism, emerged from the party's actual adventuring, and was not scripted.

    In AD&D, the shift towards roleplay and adding narrative and story to the structure and adventures started appearing, but they grew in force mostly in 3.5e. The PCs were no longer just shmucks who decided to try and live a dangerous life with the hope of surviving it and gaining riches. No, when roleplay took a more prominet role, they PCs were EXPECTED to become (or start as) heroes, and that expectation was ingrained in the design. Adventures shifted from mainly exploration to mainly following the story, and overcoming the challenges in it. Dungeons often became shorter, more linear, and with an objective that usually put exploration far below. With roleplay becoming more important, alignments took more central role, also social skill, and other roleplay associated skills. Charisma has become more and more important, as well as social rules (evennif done badly) since that was D&D's attrmtpt at social stuff (when in earlier editions it was usually assumed to be dumped, cause... who are you going to talk to in a dungeon?)

    And... it made a lousy story if a hero just died to a sudden trap, a rampaging random encounter, or something not "story fitting"... various ways to reduce risk/ the chance of death/ the chance of something really bad happening, because the stort might get stuck...

    Or in short- Instead of having an adventure, from which a cool unexpected story may rise, you had a story, with an adventure built and designed to enable the story, but also ensure (Or cloe to ensure) it happens.

    I remember a few years ago I joined a PBP game, and my charscter happened to die in the first few battles (which were a sort of introduction). I was fine with it, being an old timer and loving the risk, and prefering to "earn" and achieve success through my own choices, but... both the DM and the other players were upset by this. The players accused (!) The DM of bad gaming tact (or whatever), and "how can a character die so early?" and the DM discussed with me of various ways to get my 1 level character back to life, including godly intervention ("Your characters are special, even though you don't know it yet") or devil bargaining ("You will play a great role in things to come, and we demand a favor of you"). I really didn't understand the fuss and commotion about it at first- It was a 1st level character! He went into a potentially deadly fight, and it just became that. THESE. THINGS. HAPPEN. But to no avail. I left the group due to them all pressuring me to accept one of the DMs proposals, because it upaet them all so much... To me- the charater was dead. Reviving it didn't add to the story, it just cheapened it.

    But... both (or more) of these opinions and preferences are fine. Older editions often created areas for vast exploration, from which stories and heroes might emerge, accepting the cost of death, bad things happening, randomness and an unbalanced world and challanges. Newer editions create stories that the adventures serve and enable, promising a more assured and (possibly?) better structured narrative, for the price of reducing randomness, player agency (which of course became a hoy topic), exploration, innovation, and effort.

    Older editions presnted you with a situation, but no obvious set solution. That was for you to figure out, that became your adventure. While newer editions presented you with a structured story, a "Follow the dots", and if you overcome the challenges of the obstacle course, you had your adventure.

    And before I get crucified, just 2 more notes/ clarifications:
    1. Both play styles are FINE! It all depend on the prefetences of the group. If we use the "8 aesthetics of gaming" as a sort of reference (If you don't know the term, look it up and read. It helps making a lot of sense and think more clearly about games), older editions style appeals heavily into "exploration & challenge" aesthetics, while newer editions more to "Narrative". The "Fantasy" aesthetics can be said to apply to both, though I think more to newer editions (with fovus on roleplay), and the "Experssion" aesthetic also to both, but more to older editions (with their nonscripted adventures which allowed for more place for innovation, and the tighter structure of newer editions).

    2. Some of what I wrote were exaggerationa and vast incusions. Of course in older editiona you sometimes had more liner and roleplay focused adventures, and in newer editions very wide and open ended exploration based adventures. But on the whole, the general themes stand, and the exceptions are... well... exceptions.

    Also, just a side note about social skills:
    I too, in the past, disliked social skills greatly, for the same reasons Yora described. But I also understood their importance, in 2 categories: First, they gave a way to adjuciate social matters which were not highly in favor of a specific outcome (When a dillema remained after all arguments/ threats/ deceptions and so have been made). Secondly, they described the PCs talent and skill, which may differ from the player. (We all met the socially inept player playing a suabe and highly sociable character).

    So, today, when I DM, I use a mix of rulings inspired by the Angry DM's interACTION article, (including it's prior about how and when even to roll dice, which is very basic, but nit discussed in D&D and many other RPG books!), Rich Burlew's diplomacy rules (check on the old files. I think the second post of "this old rule"), Fate aspects (to note the MAIN things that matter in the scene) and sometimesx a variation of 4e skill challenges (mostly a way to track successes and failure). So far, it worked just beautifully! The players (and PCs), can't "just role", but it's not just a a matter of persuading the DM. Arguments and social maneuvering which habe concrete mechanical affect, while also giving place to the character's talent and skills.

    Well, this was long... many of my posts end up this way. I hope it contributes to the discussion in some way!

    Good thread! :)
    Last edited by Kol Korran; 2021-05-17 at 09:15 AM.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Quote Originally Posted by Xervous View Post
    From what I’m gathering here it seems like your main gripe is that 5e has been forced into a narrow design presentation wherein there is an assumed, standardized method of producing and consuming the entertainment. To you it feels like a blocky sculpture you need to assemble after purchase, something people get because they desire the advertised outcome. Meanwhile a(n older) LEGO kit or an Erector Set displays one final product on the box art, but you’ve got a few drastic variants hinted at inside and you won’t have much trouble fitting various pieces together because they weren’t all designed to be dependent on specific neighbors like a jigsaw puzzle.
    That's why I like Duplo more than Lego.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Instead of having an adventure, from which a cool unexpected story may rise, you had a story, with an adventure built and designed to enable the story, but also ensure (Or close to ensure) it happens.
    This is a great summary of the change.

    Any objections for me to snipping this and quoting this into my signature?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    I remember a few years ago I joined a PBP game, and my charscter happened to die in the first few battles (which were a sort of introduction). I was fine with it, being an old timer and loving the risk, and prefering to "earn" and achieve success through my own choices, but... both the DM and the other players were upset by this. The players accused (!) The DM of bad gaming tact (or whatever), and "how can a character die so early?" and the DM discussed with me of various ways to get my 1 level character back to life, including godly intervention ("Your characters are special, even though you don't know it yet") or devil bargaining ("You will play a great role in things to come, and we demand a favor of you"). I really didn't understand the fuss and commotion about it at first- It was a 1st level character! He went into a potentially deadly fight, and it just became that. THESE. THINGS. HAPPEN. But to no avail. I left the group due to them all pressuring me to accept one of the DMs proposals, because it upaet them all so much... To me- the charater was dead. Reviving it didn't add to the story, it just cheapened it.
    I was once told - by a player - that if the character died, they would not roll another and continue because the story was over.

    That was bizarre for me. Especially when the game was specified as high lethality (you can minimize the chances and avoid dying, but if you do several bad choices and dice roll the wrong way, you're gone) and much of the expected heroism is facing death in battle. But still - not as bizarre as your experience.

    I think this will be a part of my next session 0: how to deal with death in game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    And before I get crucified
    Isn't there a rule for that? Like "no crucifiction in the playground"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    Full blown social combat systems on the other hand are mostly useful when trying to convince a third party, such as in Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits (and that is probably my favourite game I've never played).
    I finally got to GM it last year just before a lockdown! Oh, what a happy walrus was I then.

    And it worked. It worked great. The two debate scenes I had in the two day game were tense, forced players to focus, gave the sideliners things to contribute with... it worked.

    I actually made a dungeon with How to Host a Dungeon and the group started in the vault with the Sword (based on the Sword adventure) and then they had to find and fight their way out. The dungeon stuff was great, but the two debates... yeah. Worth it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kol Korran View Post
    Instead of having an adventure, from which a cool unexpected story may rise, you had a story, with an adventure built and designed to enable the story, but also ensure (or close to ensure) it happens.

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Quote Originally Posted by lacco36 View Post
    ...
    This is a great summary of the change.

    Any objections for me to snipping this and quoting this into my signature?
    Sure you can quote me. Thanks for the compliment!

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    Default Re: Expectations of Power and the Disappearance of the Emergent Hero

    Quote Originally Posted by Glömmerska View Post
    A particular point that sticks out to me is that there is a slow movement away from Combat As War to Combat As Sport. Guidelines for what gave an exciting fight were just that: guidelines. A level 1 Thief can't kill a dragon by stabbing it in its sleep, but given enough time to rouse the local militia and the installation of ballistae, an open air fight would be winnable. This same scenario can absolutely be done in 5e or even 4e, but there's a problem with being able to show players that this is an option, and it has to do with what you are simply given.

    A level 6 Fighting Man had good numbers, but without the weight of a good magic item or army, they were just some dude.
    I'm going to disagree with you hard here, partly because I cut my RP teeth on WFRP and GURPS. A D&D character has never been anything other than a larger than life character and the oD&D L1 fighter was an explicit veteran. My rule of thumb is that anyone who can take maximum damage from an orc with an axe with no long lasting consequences or anyone who can summon fire from their hands is not an ordinary person. Which in 2e was just a first level fighter who rolled well on their hit points.

    And "Combat as war" has never been a thing in D&D. Combat as War vs Combat as Sport has always been a bunch of paintball fans sneering at a group playing laser tag on the grounds that paintball is more realistic than laser tag. The big issue is that you never feel your wounds and they are (in any edition) pretty easy to heal. At 1hp you are every bit as capable and competent on all your rolls as at full hit points. Meanwhile in many other systems you have a death spiral where your wounds actually produce penalties and get in your way while broken limbs can be a thing - the hits have more consequence than paintballs. But D&D does not and has never done this because it wants combat to be a fun sport, whether paintball or laser tag. And lingering wounds and losing competence aren't - which is why they were restricted to certain rare but feared forms of undead.

    This creates a strange scenario when DM's choose to use milestone leveling: you must complete story beats in order to get your level. Which feels odd when the mechanics of the game used to require you to create a story to overcome difficulty at all!
    As someone who's combined old school dungeon crawling with milestones my levelling up rules have involved "You get a new level when you make it to a new level of the dungeon and make it back". This has allowed escort missions to level up replacement PCs - and with one group has lead to a ridiculous and highly entertaining scheme involving abseiling.

    But I'm not surprised you're looking away from D&D for things it barely did and now really doesn't.
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