Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Syllogistic Approach to Game Choice

One of the most annoying forms the discourse around  Dungeons & Dragons takes is the discussion as to whether or not there's a right way to play the game.

(I mean, there are some more annoying forms of discourse, but I would rather not engage with them.)

There are a few people, some of whom I played or conversed with who have a clear ideas of what constitutes the right way to play D&D. And they are connected to some guys who are very happy to harp on it ad nauseam at the top of their lungs. And the funny thing is they have great arguments that no one wants to hear because of how they are presented.

I've played D&D number of ways. In fact I've gone through phases that correspond to each of the six cultures of play recently identified by The Retired Adventurer, which is a compelling article. And here's the thing, they each yield radically different results, and have radically different experiences from one another.

None of these are the right or wrong way, but there are wrong ways to play if you are looking for a particular experiences. For example, if you want a campaign that lasts a very long time, do you need to consider having robust Dominion rules.

If you want a campaign where players treat combat as a dangerous last resort, using rules from morale and keeping combat lethal well offering XP for other ways of overcoming obstacles is critical. If, on the other hand, you want Dungeons & Dragons to work like a place of healing, you are a far better off using a more modern edition or combat is relatively easy and victories are designed as a form of catharsis.

I highly suggest that when we talk about D&D and other TTRPGs we keep it to a syllogistic model. That is to say, we need to point out that "If you want X-Play experience, then you need to use Y sorts of rules and foster Z at your table."

I am going to put some examples down here of various tools and the results they yield.

  • If you want players not to kill everything in sight and have more strategy than combat, it is best to keep hit point totals low and use a combination of morale and NPC reactions so that not every monster is spoiling for a fight and many will surrender. And you need to reward experience for creatures that surrender, negotiate, or that players trick, outwit or navigate around stealthily.

  • If you want player characters to become invested in the world, it pays to have henchmen and hiring rules, and use domain level play to give players a goal to aspire to.

  • If you want players to feel like their actions have consequences, use the system like the fronts in Dungeon World or faction affiliation scores so that you have a clear idea of the larger ripples of the PCs actions on the campaign, and can express them clearly.

  • If you want a story where players play a character based on their emotions and sentiment, use a system that includes personality traits for descriptions of a character's emotional needs that provide some kind of bonus or penalty for them.

  • If you want a game that tells a specific sort of story, and pushes hard for genre emulation, building mechanics but they roll for final outcome like Reflections: the Game of Dueling Samurai, Fiasco, or (S)Lay with Me.

  • If your goal is to have a narrative that is satisfying for all players, use a system that allows them to seize GM Fiat, such as inspiration in D&D5e, the face dice in Fate Core, or the intrusion system in The Cypher System.

  •  If you want a game that is relatively low on combat, and high on social interaction, it can also pay to have a social combat system of some sort.

  • If you want a system that is heavy on back biting and sabotage where the players play against each other, use one where characters have some kind of extra lives, the ability to come back from the dead, for blindingly fast and simple character generation processes like PARANOIA or Knave. Or ones where characters have very little mechanical representation at all like Fiasco.

  • If you are looking for a game that is heavy on sexuality or romance, consider a game that uses rules that empower the character for romantic contact be that Alpha Blue or Blue Rose.(How do you define"romance?)

  • I you want a game where players do not feel constrained by character generation rules and are not heavily focused on character customization, use one where gear has more of an impact than statistics on character outcomes, such as Index Card RPG or Knave.

At the end of the day, I do believe some play experiences will be more exciting, more challenging, and more satisfying in the long term than others, and that is what I want from a game. Thus, I am going to get more enjoyment out of Gygax's style of AD&D than I will out of Fate CORE.

But there are days where I feel like an alien being. I hardly expect the unmutated humans to like what I do  if we want to persuade people to try things like 1:1 time in D&D, we have to explain what we get out of the game 


  1. Playing with so many kids, and non-gamer parents, we do adventure of the week episodes. There's an over arching world and Big Bad and all of that, but it's very important that each week presents an obstacle to overcome (like a baddy to destroy, a thing to steal, etc...) and that mission/quest is doable in under 90 minutes. See Star Trek for this type of game loop.

    You can use lots of rules for that, but a simplified D&D/OSR style game is best so far. It has to take maybe 5 mins to grok what's going on, because there are players coming in and out.

    So 5th can be a little daunting with all the powers and such. Something more like The Black Hack is best. Also Knave, ICRPG, Mazerats, Searchers, know, the usual rule sets I flog in these comments so often. Lol.

    It's also down to the style you DM it. How you prep it, keep it moving, rules you hand waive away. Things like doing all the math for everyone so as not to get them bogged down in the details. In some games, and with some gamers, they love those nitty gritty details, but a fast adventure of the week isnt' really the time and place for that sort of thing.

    Starting in media res is also a technique almost required for this sort of thing, just like a Star Trek episode. The 15 second quick recap and set up was also mastered in those 2 parter ST episodes. Last week you stole a crystal skull, since then you've rested in the inn, right now you are being besieged by skeletons. What do you do?

    1. Yes! Exactly! The style, structure, and the engine that you are using HAVE to be tailored to your group's needs. A library club needs fast, furious, episodic fun with light rules.

      You can't run a sprawling Pathfinder epic for that.

      A crystal skull that brings an undead curse is too cool not to steal, by the way

    2. Lol. Yeah, when I can, the thing they did last time affects the world and what will happen this time. So there's at least some continuity.

      Like, first session, they killed a bandit on the road. They turned him to stone, then bashed him to pieces. So later, when thinking of a new session, of course I decided that bandit was the son of The Necrodancer. She uses dance magic to summon the dead. She resurrected her son as a patchwork Frankenstein homunculus, and vows revenge. She and her son show up from time to time.

      With a rotating cast of characters, I give the group a name, so baddies can swear revenge against the group and not so much individuals. So Hood River Adventure Company has a semi continuous narrative even if the characters bounce in and out.

      We haven't played in months though. School, holidays, etc...:-(

    3. Hah! That is glorious! My players usually leave petrified villains intact and sink them in a marsh or midden. Next time they smash one I will throw something like that at them.

    4. Dude the best was when they asked how she resurrected a pile of rocks. My quick thinking, "You know those magic acorns only last a half hour, right? So she came upon a pile of flesh, not rocks."

      They used the Willow Offgood (Ofgud) magic acorns, which I gave to the Druid as starting equipment. Lol.

    5. Crap that reminds me. I need to put the rumor/hint into my rotation: "Ofgud's acorns can also reverse stoning."

  2. One of the dads LOVES finding clues. But he's an illiterate caveman, so, you know, that's fun. :-)