Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The D&D Guidebook, 3rd Edition Part 3: Styles of Play


There is an old argument against the Dungeons & Dragons that goes like this: "D&D is a game built around the idea that the players should largely engage in combative behavior without worrying about the 'story' of the session or campaign. The game emphasizes combat by rewarding players only for killing monsters and looting treasure, and not for accomplishing important moments for the character in the context of the game's larger story. Therefore it is not a game that anyone concerned with the idea that the world is more meaningful than the next walking experience point waiting to be felled should spend any time playing."

When 3e was published the argument became louder with many of its proponents posting on a wide array of forums decrying the way that this newly popular version of the game was being played. Too often, for them it seems, D&D players were gleefully killing Orcs, Dragons, and Trolls and too rarely talking about how the death of the Duke's daughter affected their character's emotional well-being. The 'murder-hobos' were decried for their lack of imagination and 3e was pointed to as the source of this murderous non-sense. "The game," they reasoned, "did not reward true creativity and only indulged in the baser instincts of its players - never challenging their moral understanding of the world."

They are, of course, full of shit.


D&D is a robust game that allows for a wide array of play styles from the aggressive play of the most notorious, bloodthirsty player to the deeply immersive explorations of what it means for a character to navigate the political intrigues of the free cities of Dyvers and Greyhawk. D&D is a game that reflects the play style of the group playing the game - Dungeon Master and players alike. If your group is looking to go from dungeon crawl to dungeon crawl spending as little time playing out their characters' time away from that exploration than that's something that D&D can provide you through monstrous encounters, deadly traps, and vile malefactors in every wild space of the campaign world. By the same token if the group wants to spend weeks dallying with Dukes and petty nobles of various houses, exploring the political intrigues associated with them and pitting each against the other for the players' benefit, than D&D, and especially 3e, can accomplish that with ease.

While Dungeons & Dragons is a game that can provide players with an experience that focuses on either end of the spectrum (murderous vagrants or political dilettantes), it works best somewhere between each spectrum. In the Dungeon Master's Guide it was put this way:
". . . Most campaigns are going to fall between these two extremes. There's plenty of action, but there's a storyline and interaction as characters too. Players will develop their characters, but they'll be eager to get into a fight as well. Provide a nice mixture of roleplaying encounters and combat encounters. Even in a dungeon you can present NPCs that aren't meant to be fought but rather helped out, negotiated with, or just talked to . . ." (Cook, 8)
Reading that paragraph again for the first time in a few years I find myself remembering how I was sitting at my desk plotting out Duke Niles's motivations when I picked up the DMG and read that paragraph. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and suddenly I stopped worrying about every possible plot hook and instead concerned myself with focusing on what my players wanted when they played. I started listening to what they were talking about - the next fight, what would happen to the little girl if they didn't figure out what was going on, whether they could stop everything from collapsing in on itself and save the world - and began attempting to provide them with an opportunity to find out.

In the eleven years I've been running D&D since I've had games that ran the gamut from deeply immersive experiences to murderous rampages where no ogre was left alive and the game has always provided me with a framework to experience the game we had been looking to play (which isn't to say that I've never played other games or that they didn't provide me enjoyable experiences as well). During the majority of that time I've played a lot of 3e and enjoyed the hell out of it; which is why I decided to start this series for the D&D Guidebook with 3e.



Works Cited

Cook, Monte. Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, Core Rulebook II. Wizards of the Coast. USA, 2000. PRINT. pg. 8


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11 comments:

  1. That lame argument is, and has always been bullshit, promoted by people too lazy to learn how the game is actually played or by those who know better but are liars. You may have started with 3e Charles, but this is something that has not changed in the nearly 40 years that I've been playing.

    Examine any version of the rules starting with the original folded & stapled pamphlets and yes, you will find that experience is given for defeating monsters and recovering treasure. But it is also awarded for solving puzzles, avoiding or disarming tricks & traps, using class abilities, role-playing, completing adventures or achieving goals, and a wealth of other things.

    You will also find that defeating doesn't necessarily mean killing. It is also pointed out that you can also gain experience for defeating monsters by outwitting them, knocking them out, capturing and ransoming them, stealing necessary items from them, and sometimes even by bargaining with them.

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  2. I would suggest that there is actually something to the "D&D is too focused on combat" argument, only to a point though. Later editions (even the current one) largely reward combat, and combat is generally the most mechanically complex and rules rich area of play. With this it seems like fighting everything and everyone is rewarded - the players get advancement and to roll a bunch of dice.

    Yet the earliest editions recognized that there was something really neat about non-combat play: exploration, role play, moral decisions and faction politics - hence to mitigate the appeal of combat they made it unpredictable, risky and relatively unrewarding. A monster is best as a hazard between players and XP giving treasure - not a source of XP, and advancement (winning?) alone.

    At least that's my take and a sense that the oldest styles of play were almost a reaction to the combat focus of war gaming. Not to say your argument above isn't correct, it's just that many editions of D&D really do encourage combat by making it fun, survivable and rewarding. I prefer to leave it at fun and see where the players go.

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    1. I would be willing to argue that newer editions of the game (at least from 3e forward) put at least the same level of emphasis on non-combat situations but that there is a mechanical difference in how that is expressed.

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  3. Of course combat is generally the most mechanically complex and rules rich area of play. How could it be otherwise? Consider the absurdity of an extensive set of rules meticulously regulating the way that you must role-play your character.

    It would be the death of imagination to provide more than the most basic guidelines and a sprinkling of play examples for most of what D&D is about.

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    1. tom said:" Consider the absurdity of an extensive set of rules meticulously regulating the way that you must role-play your character.

      "It would be the death of imagination to provide more than the most basic guidelines and a sprinkling of play examples for most of what D&D is about."

      Absolutely correct.

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  4. The ability of RPG's to support different playing styles is not only a part of what makes them successful I would argue that flexibility is the major reason RPG's have lasted all these years.
    Everyone can play the game they want, the rules are there to be tinkered with.

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  5. Tom: There's no practical reason why combat couldn't be more loosely defined and resolution of social interactions more tightly defined. Note the key there: resolution, not regulation of how you must role-play.

    Talk it out, use common sense, and roll some dice when there's disagreement or uncertainty can work just as well for combat as it does for social interaction.

    Choose a tool (seduction, intimidation, logic, etc.) choose a goal (information, support, negation, etc.) determine modifiers based on these and "environmental" factors, roll, and then describe the outcome based on that roll can work as well for social interaction as it does for combat.

    That might not feel like D&D to a lot of people, but that's more about preconceptions and expectations.

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    1. Matthew said: "There's no practical reason why combat couldn't be more loosely defined and resolution of social interactions more tightly defined. Note the key there: resolution, not regulation of how you must role-play."

      The more rules you place on how someone interacts in a game the less flexibility that you leave them to become inventive and attempt new things - and I say that as a 3e die hard.

      Matthew said: "Choose a tool (seduction, intimidation, logic, etc.) choose a goal (information, support, negation, etc.) determine modifiers based on these and "environmental" factors, roll, and then describe the outcome based on that roll can work as well for social interaction as it does for combat.

      That might not feel like D&D to a lot of people . . ."

      That's because it's not D&D, it's Torchbearer and Burning Wheel. Fun games, but not D&D.

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    2. That's what i'm talking about - preconceptions and expectations.

      I can house-rule the shit out of D&D combat, ramping up or dialing down complexity and people will generally accept it as D&D. They will see new rules as offering more combat options rather than further restricting their flexibility and creativity.

      But social stuff clearly provokes a different reaction.

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