Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Three "F's - How to measure D&D

First of all I think it is important for me to state how I personally measure what I think makes a rule or a system good or not. Well, to be honest I just go with gut feeling and experience, but if I am going to be writing about this, I should try to come up with some explanation of what is important to me.

The Three "F"s : Fun, Fair and Fantastic

Dungeons & Dragons is fun. If we didn't think this we wouldn't be here. But that does not mean that everything about it is fun. Something can be fun overall, but have aspects that are painful and awkward. When I am looking at a particular aspect of D&D, I am trying to judge for myself whether it adds to, or diminishes, the fun.

Fairness has never been something D&D has worried about, even when it really should have. The attitude for most of it's history has been that you do not need to be fair because it is a cooperative game. I couldn't disagree more. Everyone at the table should be able to contribute to the story, and not feel like they are the assistants to someone else.

Fantastic, as in "being a thing of fantasy". Realism is all well and good, but D&D is not a realistic game. Rarely has it claimed to be realistic, but often it has attempted to be realistic. People use different terms without, in my opinion, really considering what they are trying to say.

I will go into more detail about this.

Realistic: This is trying to make something as accurate as possible to how things work in the real world. D&D isn't this sort of game.

Believable: This is trying to make something feel like it makes sense within the defined setting. It is the word bandied around by a lot of people who know that D&D isn't realistic, but they want to keep it as close as possible. This is a fine attitude to have, but too often it will come at the expense of either the Fun or the Fair.

This is why I went for "Fantastic", if I was to be honest to myself the word I should be aiming to use is verisimilitude, but it's a pain to say and it confuses people. So I decided to settle for Fantastic.

When a Wizard uses his magic to drag the hippogryph out of the sky, that isn't realistic, it's Fantasy. When a Fighter jumps onto the dragon's neck in order to bury his axe into it's skull, that isn't believable, it's Fantasy. I want to feel like the actions taken by the characters and creatures in my D&D game to feel like they are part of a fantasy world not just with their special powers, but in the way they act, the way they think, and the way they talk. To them, it is realistic, because that is the world they live in, and that world is Fantastic.

You want there to be some form of internal consistency to the story, especially if you want it to be Fun and Fair. Just because something doesn't make sense from a realistic point of view doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to bring the Fantasy, but you don't want to take it too far. Verisimilitude is what we are aiming for, but Fantastic works if you think about it from the perspective of adding to the Fantasy.

I expect this is the concept I will have to spend the longest explaining when I use it, but I hope people understand what I am trying to say.

So this is my starting point for looking at the aspects of different versions of D&D and other RPGs, including D&D Next. Fun, Fair and Fantastic. If something contributes to those, then it is probably something I will be supportive of. If something works to the detriment of those, then it will have a much harder time justifying itself.

So when someone, including myself, tries to claim something is better or worse, they better be prepared to explain their thoughts from these perspectives. How does it add to the Fun? How is it Fair? How does it contribute to the Fantasy?

If you don't want D&D to be Fun, Fair or Fantastic, I am not sure why you are playing, or why others would want to play with you.


  1. Nice site design, btw - rarely see something so elegant.

    On the "Fun" criteria - it's a word I've banned people using in game design meetings here, because it's essentially entirely subjective. As a result, it never helps you get closer to a definition of your games principles or goals, because it can mean just about anything to anyone.

    For example, I know people who enjoy finding every single collectible in a game, and others (like myself) who don't care. If you get the two of them in a design meeting, they'll both defend that their position is more "fun" than the other - and get nowhere.

    So, you could easily decide that quick, cinematic combat is "fun" and thereby declare that anything that slows that down (like, using minatures) isn't. If the goal here is to break down what makes D&D work for you (which is a good goal) then Fantastic and Fair tell us a lot - Fun doesn't, unless you break down a little more what makes something fun for you, specifically.

    For me personally, I'm pretty much a story guy - so I like a non-obtrusive system that quickly resolves combats with a good bit of drama thrown in. It helps a lot to have interesting abilities to spice up that combat, that are usable in cinematic/strong narrative fashion. Given we're talking about D&D, progression, levelling up, and a good dose of heroics help to fill out the mix.

    1. Can't take credit for site design. Created site on iPad from Library and just chose the one thing I could from mobile browser. Changed to the one I like more, hopefully it works.

      I hadn't thought about the "Fun" issue the way you have listed it, and I imagine that knowledge was hard earned. There are a couple of responses I feel I need to make though.

      First, this is an opinion blog. So that comes into play. I have played D&D with a lot of different styles, and with a lot of different people, so I have a good idea what can be Fun sometimes and not others. I can only go by experience, but you are right, I can't say what is Fun for everyone.

      Second, what I am talking about mostly at this stage is the rules and the way they play out. Not including story, not including narrative style, but just how they play out and what effect they have on gameplay. Even then, different people want different things, but like art, I generally know it when I see it.

      As an extreme, but factual, example: One person made the following suggestion for the Base Combat System for D&D Next.

      When making an attack, roll a die to see where the opponent opens themselves up for attack, that is where you will be attacking. Look at the opponent's armour table to see what sort of armour they are wearing on that part of their body. Then roll to see if you hit. If you hit check to see if there is any resistance to damage on that piece of armour and reduce damage accordingly. Then check to see if there are any distributive damage effects to that part of the body, being hit in the upper arm will effect the lower arm for example. Determine the damage spread and apply damage to the appropriate parts of the body. Too much damage to certain parts of the body will result in penalties to certain skills, attacks, etc. Then deduct the total damage that was applied from the opponents hit point total.

      I can say fairly flat out, for most people, this is Not Fun!

      When it comes to encounter design, story development, background, description, etc; I agree it is a lot harder to indicate what someone will think is Fun. Yet when it comes to rules systems and mechanics, it's easier.

      You are not wrong. But I will continue to express my opinion, and try to be open to criticism on this aspect.