Posted by : David Guyll May 06, 2014

Before I get into the whole Mike wanting to convince us that 5th Edition has any uniquely positive traits thing, I want to address his statement that "plenty of games call themselves RPGs that don't require or even particularly encourage roleplaying". I understand why Mike might feel this way, because what he—and I am sure many, many others—narrowly interprets as roleplaying is in fact not the universal definition.

With that out of the way Dungeons & Dragons has puttered along for decades without any hard rules forcing—or even really encouraging—his particular brand of social roleplaying, and I do not even think it has exactly suffered from it. But that is all about to change, because 5th Edition will feature...some social role-playing guidelines with no mechanical impact?

The meat of the article showcases examples from one of the backgrounds, which "probably won't exactly match what you see in the final game" (because I guess they are still tweaking them?), and are intended to "highlight the unique traits that make D&D different from other types of games".

First off, being able to add a personality to a character, establish goals, etc is not anything new for Dungeons & Dragons. At the absolute latest it is in 4th Edition's Player's Handbook (pages 23-24, with a sidebar on alignment versus personality on page 19), but I am guessing it is somewhere in 3rd Edition, and I assume that the topic has been addressed in Dragon magazine on more than a few occasions. The only difference with this is that it looks like they are going to devote a more substantial chunk of page count to it, which is kind of step forward.

Second, this does absolutely nothing to "highlight unique traits". If you have never read or played FATE, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World, and who knows how many other games out there, then yeah, it might seem pretty unique. Actually, those games also provide a mechanical incentive for playing your character as established—tagging/compelling aspects, XP for alignment/bond resolution, etc—so I guess the lack of that might make Dungeons & Dragons unique, just not in a good way.

On that note, I also think that some of the traits are too extreme. Like, "I always try to help those in need, no matter the cost" (which seems to clash with Mike's statement that these will "have only as much effect on how you play your character as you want them to"), or "I quote (or misquote) sacred texts or proverbs in almost every situation" (which sounds like it could get annoying). This is where an incentive could come into play: you do not require the players to do something, but give them a reward when they do.

For example in Dungeon World you would not "always have to help those in need", but if you did you would gain 1 XP, while in FATE if you have an aspect of Helping Those in Need, you could spend a Fate point to either gain a bonus on a skill roll or re-roll all of the dice, as long as the check was applicable to the situation.

Again, to be fair, I still think this is a step forward, albeit a small one. Assuming there is a section on writing your own stuff (like how FATE and Dungeon World tells you how to write good aspects and bonds respectively), I think it would also benefit from being required, having an incentive, and less "always/must" examples.

{ 16 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. FWIW, if you watch any of the more recent Actual Play videos of the staff playing (which I'm not saying you or anyone should do), it appears that you can get advantage on related checks for playing to your Traits/Ideals/Flaws/Bonds.

    Maybe something like the "incentivizing" dynamic you're talking about.

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    1. R-really? Why didn't Mike, you know, MENTION that? -.-

      I stopped watching the videos and listening to the podcasts a long time ago; I can really only muster up enough care to push out a weekly article addressing whatever passes for innovation over at WotC.

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  2. I think the random traits are really just a voluntary system for players who have trouble coming up with a character concept. So I think it's fine that it has no mechanical impact on the game. I just think it's also not that novel of a feature either.

    Sadly I've seen people in the playtest community talking about making these rolls mandatory. Why? Because the D&D Next Playtest Community is where reasonable ideas go to be maimed and mangled instead of actually evaluated for what they are.

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  3. Unfortunately, I agree on both accounts. I wonder what the game would have looked like if they only went with in-house playtesting.

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  4. As an aside, I lost interest in 5th edition the minute they said it was to be an open playtest. I know a lot of gamers think that the only way to produce something great is to get "everyone's" input but in my experience all you ever end up with is a watered-down product that tries too hard to be everything for everyone.

    I already feel like there isn't any "passion" for the product on the part of the "designers", and who can blame them. They aren't really designing "thier" product. I don't want a game being engineered to appeal to me. I want to see a game designed by people the way they want to play, and then I'll decide if that works for me.

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    1. In my opinion open playtesting has its value. The tricky part is interpreting all the feedback you get through playtesting and then deciding what really works for what you are aiming for and what doesn't. I think the designers lost track of what they were aiming for originally, now it seems they just want to make a product that sells enough to keep the brand alive.

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    2. I expected the game to start out as "classic" D&D, with all the pointless shit like Hit Dice and saving throws, but thought that once feedback started pouring in it would grow and blossom into something great. Not 4th Edition, and certainly not the older editions, but something...different, and good.

      Like, maybe the mechanics would be different, and XP would be different, and even stats could be different (instead of for no discernible reason being a number that only exists to inform you of an entirely unrelated modifier). I would be fine with that, because D&D did not start getting serious until 4th Edition landed and they ditched save-or-die effects, nonsense pseudo-Vancian magic (mostly), and even Hit Dice.

      Instead we get this bat-shit chimera of legacy mechanics that only exist because I guess they are "supposed" to. D&D needs to stick to its roots, no matter how much it messes with game balance, story pacing, adventure design, and everything else.

      It is a lukewarm game that does nothing well. If it were a person, it would be an old, frightened, crazy, rightest of the right-wind conservatives.

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    3. I felt really cynical when I bitterly said that it was a bad idea, back when open development was announced. I kinda wish I would have been proven wrong as it would have certainly helped me draw a positive outlook from there on out because - hey, I was wrong with D&D Next!

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    4. I honestly thought that it would help. I kept hearing people going on about how something "designed-by-committee" would end up being at best lukewarm, but figured that as time went on the game would get better.

      Oh well.

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  6. I really liked this post, so I added to my Best Reads of the Week series. I hope you don't mind.

    http://dyverscampaign.blogspot.com/2014/05/best-reads-of-week-may-3-9.html

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  7. Everytime I read a post here I save one more laugh for the future. The future in which either in this same blog or another, David Guyll will love D&D Next! :D

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    1. @Archaon: Don't count on it: I have already played plenty of 5th Edition, 3rd Edition, and 2nd Edition. I only enjoyed 2nd and 3rd Edition because for me those games existed in a vacuum (2nd Edition more-so than 3rd), meaning that were no other fantasy games that I was aware of at the time.

      That has not been the case for a long while, so if Mike and Co think that they win gamers like me over by pulling a Paizo--cobbling together a Frankenstein-ruleset, plaster some art over it, and sell me something that an indie-developer could both crank out faster AND better--then, well, sorry, but not really.

      As much as I think Numenera is overrated, Monte was able to crap that out in what, a year? And he was not even largely recycling an existing system, nor did he have a couple design teams at his disposal.

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    2. Numenera is a good example of a system created by a couple of designers with a specific vision. What I like about Numenera is that it was designed with intention, some may like it, others less so, but either way it feels like the game Monte Cook intended to make. 5th edition has one, and only one design goal, make everyone happy. If you've ever been part of a project where that was the goal you know how it turns out, lukewarm, watered-down and instead of being everything to everyone it turns out to be just meh.

      That being said I think the game still will be a success all things considered. Ultimately a game designed "by the people for the people" will become a lot of peoples' third-string game, the one you play when your group can't agree on a better game.

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  8. @John: I agree that it will likely be considered a financial success, and I am sure that plenty of the grogs will view it as a success for the OSR.

    Ironically if for some reason my group could not decide on a RPG, we would just go with a board game (just picked up Descent) or Dungeon World (which is both easier to setup and run, and better designed than 5E).

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