Do We Really Need More Rules: Modes of Play in D&D

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Suddenly, I find myself with a lot of things on my plate. My biggest Pat supporters know that I’ve spent the better part of a month figuring out and setting up a campaign that allows up to a few dozen people to enjoy a regular, monthly gaming experience with an ongoing story and a shared world. And, of course, there’s that damned Megadungeon thing I need to get back off the ground because people won’t leave me the f$&% alone about it. I’ve started two new series. One about hacking rules and creating content and one about campaigns and settings. Because I’m damned good at STARTING new series. I’ve still got to design two different short adventures for two different articles, one about running games for newbies and one about designing adventures. And now, thanks to people on the internet and an episode of the GM Word of the Week, I’m now being begged to develop a crafting and alchemy system for D&D. And because no one thinks it’s possible to make a good one – and even I admitted it would be a lot of f$&%ing work – I want to take it on solely because people think I can’t do it. I just can’t refuse dare.

But, here’s the thing: I can’t control my f$&%ing brain. I wish I could, but I can’t. And stuff gets lodged in there and then I have to write about it. And what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – and this relates to the Megadungeon AND to writing adventures AND to rules hacking – is modes of play. Now, like so many terms, I don’t know if I heard that somewhere or I invented it or whatever. Who gives a s$&%. I’ll just define it now. A mode of play is a distinct sort of gameplay that exists within a game. For example, in D&D, you have combat. Combat is a mode of play. And you have social interaction. Social interaction is a mode of play. Modes of play are defined by goals and options. A combat is a conflict that is resolved by violence. Your goal is to resolve the conflict by using force while also preventing the enemy by resolving the conflict the way they want. In other words – defeat the enemy and don’t get defeated. Of course, goals and methods of defeat vary. Your goal might be to hold territory, pass through a defended area, or avoid being murdered. And the methods might include killing every damned thing, routing, or just holding out.

Now, social interaction is a mode of play that involves resolving a conflict using verbal interaction. Goals and methods vary, of course, giving rise to persuasion, deception, interrogation, threats, bargaining, and so on.

Why am I thinking about this s$&%? Well, because I play a lot of video games. And many good video games have very distinct modes of play, but the best ones seamlessly switch between one and another. During my Doom streams – and, honestly, Doom is what started this whole reflection – I commented on how the game switches between “combat mode” mode and “exploration mode” through the simple expedient of level design. I’ve talked in the past about how Minecraft switches from “survival” to “exploration” to “user-defined goal” modes as you play it. Batman: Arkham Asylum switched between “stealth mode” and “combat mode,” both of which were so well-defined that they were practically two different games but both of which were so seamlessly integrated that they never felt like two different games. I could go on.

What does any of this have to do with D&D? Well, most video games with distinct modes of play use all sorts of mechanical tools to swap between modes of play and to make those modes of play feel good. Doom’s exploration wouldn’t be fun without weapon upgrade points and hidden collectibles and it wouldn’t be possible to go hunting for those if the games levels were linear. Moreover, if the game didn’t separate itself into combat encounters and the parts between combat encounters, players would be too frantic to go searching around for stuff. For stealth to be fun, players need to be able to take their time and plan and observe. They need to be able to hide and remain undetected for as long as they need to. And there need to be consequences for failing the stealth. So, Batman’s stealth sections take place in complicated rooms with lots of safe places to hide in, especially overhead spaces. The guards patrol, they talk to each other, they react to the environment in observable ways, and the guards have guns that will wreck Batman’s s$&% in a couple of shots. Contrast that with the combat sections where the spaces are mostly open and the thugs are armed with melee weapons.

Now, here’s the thing. D&D has a very simple core mechanic that allows GMs to resolve any type of action players can imagine. Roll an ability check, add skill points or proficiency bonuses, add or subtract modifiers, and compare it to either a fixed DC or some opponent’s skill. And TECHNICALLY, D&D includes infinite modes of play. You can do stealth, survival, social interaction, exploration, mass combat, anything. IN THEORY.

And that IN THEORY part is what is suddenly getting to me. See, I’ve never had trouble coming up with ways to run stealth scenes or survival scenes or social interaction scenes or travel or exploration or whatever. And I’ve always done it using the tools in the system. OR SO I THOUGHT. Because, when I went back and looked at the way I’ve answered people’s questions in the past about things like survival or exploration OR the way I’ve written about topics like social interaction, I’ve realized that I develop other tools on the fly. But I also realized I’ve been filling in some of the blanks in D&D.

Look, here’s the deal: this article is ultimately one of those articles that belongs firmly in the Random Bulls$&% category. I know what I’m setting up. It’ll relate to a lot of different things I’m going to do in the next two months on this site, but it’s really just stream-of-consciousness bulls$&%. I’m just squeezing my brain grapes out onto the site and hoping someone wants to drink the raw pulpy juice rather than waiting for me to make wine out of. And the dead giveaway is the fact that there is no Long, Rambling Introduction™. It seemed like there was, but the first paragraph was already on topic and the introduction isn’t ending. I’d apologize, but you’re free to read it or to not read it, so f$&% apologizes. I owe you nothing. That’s your prerogative. I think this s$&% is interesting as hell. Maybe you don’t.

Anyway, before this ends up just being a wall of text, let me define a topic and slap some headers down. The topic is Modes of Play and the weakness of D&D as a jack-of-all-trades game.

Modes of Play in D&D

Okay, look, we’ve defined modes of play. Sort of. Let’s just call them distinct chunks of gameplay in which the players are pursuing particular types of goals in particular ways. So, what are the D&D modes of play? Does it even have modes of play? And there are two answers. People like me who LIKE D&D will say it has infinity modes of play. The basic engine allows for any sort of resolution at all. Other people, particularly people who DISLIKE D&D, insist it has one mode of play “combat.”

Here’s the thing. Objectively speaking, putting aside love or hatred for the game, both answers are right. And that is the greatest strength and greatest weakness of D&D.

Why Combat is King and Why People Don’t Like That

First, both sides agree that combat is a mode of play. And that makes sense. Because layered over the top of the basic rules, there’s a combat engine. There’s a set of rules that come into play when the game enters a combat. Those rules provide structure to the combat round, measure progress toward goals, and define the resolutions for actions unique to combat, and they set limits. In addition, they provide control over difficulty settings.

I’ve pointed out in the past that D&D doesn’t NEED combat rules. You can run a combat totally narratively. Dungeon World provides a great example of what D&D would look like without a combat engine. It still works, still has combat, but it doesn’t have much in the way of special rules for combat.

So, why DOES D&D have combat rules? What good do those extra rules do? I’ve always said extra complexity must be in aid of SOMETHING – and I wish more amateur game designers understood that. What is the extra complexity doing? Well, it makes it easier to design and run a combat, right? In fact, it does more than that. It automates a lot of the running of combat. GMs can create and run combats by following a very simple procedure: pick monsters of the right challenge numbers, roll initiative, here’s a bunch of predefined actions and how to resolve them, and so on.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Ostensibly, that allows GMs to focus less on the rules themselves and more on just playing the opposition. That is to say, a GM can simply play the monsters as if the monsters were trying to win the fight. If the fight is built fairly, the GM can actually PLAY AGAINST the players as if he were BEING the monsters. The game handles almost everything. And frankly, that is why I love combat in D&D. Because the ONLY THING I really need to do once the combat is designed is lose myself in the monsters and try to kill the PCs.

And yet, there’s a lot of GMs who hate combat in D&D. I know GMs who aren’t really INTO the tactical game, so they don’t get into the fun of trying to kill the PCs. Other GMs insist that trying to win fights is ETHICALLY WRONG – which is total bulls$&% because the system WANTS YOU TO DO THAT – so they can’t get into that fun. And when they aren’t enjoying the “play as the monsters” aspect, all they see is executing predefined rules and bookkeeping. The rules really do handle most of the fight. So, the GM who isn’t enjoying the game of the fight is just following predefined steps and bookkeeping.

And, to be fair, following predefined steps and keeping records is not why most GMs get into GMing. I get that. I do feel like some of those GMs should lighten up and bit and PLAY THE COMBAT GAME because they might discover they like it. But that’s neither here nor there.

Here’s the point, though: combat is a distinct mode of play in D&D with its own set of rules. And those rules make it really easy to design combats and run combats. And they also make it easy to record and share combats. If I want to include a combat scene in a published adventure, all I have to do is say “okay, here’s a map of the room, some notes about the terrain, and some stat blocks for the monsters. Run the combat.” What I don’t have to do is explain HOW to run a combat. That’s part of the basic game.

Other Modes of Play in D&D

And now, here’s where we get into the reason why some people say D&D can be anything and other people say that D&D can only be combat. Until you dig into option rules in the DMG, D&D doesn’t really include specific rules or systems for modes of play outside of combat. When you enter a stealth scene or a survival scene or an exploration scene or an interaction scene, there’s no special overlay of rules that do what the combat rules do. There’s no in-built predefined actions and resolutions, no defined structural tools or progress indicators, no difficulty sliders or knobs. There’s just action resolution.

Now, to be fair, D&D has, in the past flirted with offering different modes of play. There are some anemic survival and exploration rules scattered throughout the editions and some esoteric optional rules like chase scenes and s$%& like that, but they are meager, easily overlooked, and rarely fully developed.

Does that mean that D&D doesn’t offer other modes of play? Of course not. The action resolution is very robust and open-ended enough to allow for any mode of play the GM cares to include. And that is what some gamers love about D&D. It IS truly a jack-of-all-trades.

But it isn’t as simple as that. The lack of structural rules for different modes of play have a few consequences.

First, let’s admit this: any mode of play will flow better when it has specific mechanics rather than universal mechanics. Combat in D&D feels deeper and more involved than combat in Dungeon World. So, if you LIKE combat, you’ll enjoy D&D combat more than Dungeon World combat. On average. And that’s because combat has rules specifically designed to make the game feel like combat and flow like combat. If you want to get picky, D&D combat is a specific type of tactical combat. It’s wargamey combat more than action combat. But that aside. Let’s just agree that specific rules provide more depth than general rules.

Second, without a predefined set of rules for a particular mode of play, if I want to run a scene with that mode of play, I – the GM – am going to have to do more work. Without predefined bits of rules to fall back on to help me run the scene, I’m going to be left making more judgement calls. I’ll have to adjudicate the outcomes and consequences of every individual action on a case by case basis, pace the scene, and determine progress. Wherever the general rules of D&D are insufficient for the needs of the scene, I have to make judgment calls. That means, as the GM, I have a lot more cognitive load.

Because of those first two consequences, GMs who want to include strong gameplay experiences need to be good at designing or modifying mechanics. Either they have to do so ahead of time and design the scene accordingly. Or they have to be good at designing mechanics on the fly. Either way, it can put a heavy strain on less experienced GMs.

Third, game designers – people who design content for publication – are also under a lot of pressure. When you publish a module, you’re expected to fully arm the GM to run the game you wrote. And that means that if you want to include a robust stealth section, say, or an exploration section, you need to fill in the blanks around D&D’s basic action resolution system. And moreover, you need to spell all that crap out for the GM. It isn’t as simple as drawing a map, putting down some stat blocks, and saying “now fight.”

Ultimately, what it comes down to is that D&D has two in-built modes of play: combat and everything else. One of them is easy to design, build, communicate, and run and one requires a lot of work.

An Aside: Social Interaction

As an aside, I just want to throw this out there. I personally – AND CORRECTLY – feel D&D has THREE in-built modes of play. Those are combat, social interaction, and everything else. Now, I will admit the social interaction system isn’t particularly ROBUST or IMPRESSIVE. It isn’t as well-developed as combat, but it is distinct from “everything else.” And here’s why.

D&D, by its nature, is a game of verbal interaction. Players sit around a table pretending to be characters. And the GM sits there pretending to be the rest of the world. When you sit people down and say “pretend to this be person” and then you say “you can only play by talking,” it is very natural for MANY (but not all) of them to fall into the pattern of speaking as their character. To observe this, run a game for complete newbies and then start talking to them in character. They will tend to follow along. Or at least describe their character’s responses. Also, observe kids playing with dolls.

Social interaction is central to the human experience. We’re wired for it. And if you give us the opportunity to do it, we will. Social interaction is a mode of play for all RPGs.

That said, D&D doesn’t do much to expand on that. In fact, D&D does some weird things to get in the way. But that’s a whole other article about why Charisma and social interaction skills generally make the D&D worse.

Minecraft Houses and Little Big Planet

What’s the result of all this crap? The fact that D&D has two defined modes of play, one easy to deal with and one hard to deal with? Let me talk about some more video games. You know I can’t f$&%ing STOP talking about video games.

First, let’s look at Minecraft. Minecraft is a big, open sandbox filled with Legos. Ignoring the survival and combat aspects and all that bulls$&% with NetherNetherLand and the Ending Dragon. Basically, in Minecraft, you can pick up blocks made of wood, dirt, stone, brick, glass, and so on. And you can put those blocks on other blocks. But there’s also a whole set of other things you can pick up and put down: Redstone. Redstone is this weird sort of resource that basically allows you design electronic circuits. You can use it to make a door open with the press of a button. Or you can use it to design an automated farming machine. Or a clock. Or a calculator. Or a goddamned computer. Seriously, people on the Internet have figured out a way to use the circuit-building tools in Minecraft to build functional computers and play Tetris and Pokémon INSIDE Minecraft.

So, what do most people do in Minecraft? What are most people showing off in their videos? They build houses. Or castles. Or towers. Or palaces. Or lairs. Or dungeons. Whatever. They build s$&%. They stack blocks on blocks and build s$&%. Very, very few people are putting in the massive time and effort to build functional electronic farm-harvesting machines and calculators. Because one is easy and obvious and one is complicated and obtuse.

Little Big Planet is a series of platforming games in which a sickeningly adorable person made of craft supplies runs and jumps its way across a world made of craft supplies narrated by Stephen Fry. And it includes a robust suite of level editing tools that let you create your own games inside Little Big Planet. And the tutorials are also narrated by Stephen Fry. Except the third one which cut out a lot of the Stephen Fry and consequently, it sucks so much. Using the level editor, it is possible to build all sorts of games. You can build scrolling shooters and air hockey games and Tetris and racing games and all sorts of things. But most of the custom levels out there are simple platforming levels. Run and jump. Why? Because platformers are easy and obvious and anything else is complicated and obtuse.

Most people will default to what is easy because extending a system requires creativity, ingenuity, and effort. Combat in D&D is easy. It’s obvious. Anyone can make a combat following simple rules. Anyone can run a combat. And any designer can include combat in their adventures in a simple format everyone understands. Everything else is complicated.

And THAT is why D&D is either “anything” or “only combat.” And ironically, I have this distinct feeling – and I’m ALWAYS right – that if D&D didn’t include a robust combat engine, people would be far more likely to see D&D as a game that does anything rather than a game that does nothing.

Does D&D NEED More Modes of Play?

So, now we come to the million-dollar question: does D&D need more modes of play? And by that, I mean, should there be rules to divvy up the “everything else” into other types of play? Now, I USED TO believe the answer was no. D&D is robust and powerful enough to do anything. It doesn’t need to be bogged down with more rules.

But several things have happened. First, I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about different modes of play in video games that I would enjoy in D&D. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to pull them off in D&D. And it suddenly occurred to me that that’s kind of f$&%ed up. Because things like “stealth” and “scavenger hunt” and “investigation” aren’t outlandish ideas for D&D. In fact, they are exactly the sort of things that SHOULD fit in the game easily. And yet, it’s kind of hard to fit some of this crap in. In a way that feels good. And I can wing it. I have wung it. I’ve run some damned good stealth and scavenger hunt and investigation scenes.

But…

When I look back at what I’ve done and when I look back at the crap I’ve written about on this very site, I realize I’ve been building specific mechanics for specific modes of play for years. I can rattle off a bunch of articles that are basically just me inventing subsystems for the game. Remember when I wrote about Social Interaction encounters? Abstract Dungeoneering? Or that Wilderness Exploration crap? Yeah, that’s all me inventing structural rules for specific modes of play.

So clearly, I THINK they are worth doing because I’m always f$&%ing doing them.

But that’s not all. When I look at the positive responses I get for my articles, I get a lot of applause for those articles. People love my subsystems. In fact, I seem to have a gift for it. I would call this a humble brag, but humility is for losers who aren’t good at things. This is just a brag. I’m good at inventing systems. Maybe I should write a goddamned RPG.

But beyond even that, when you look at the sort of things people are asking for, especially GMs, people seem to be begging for more modes of play. I look at my own massive pile of Ask Angry questions and see it all the time. But I also watch what people keep asking Wizards and Paizo for. They want crafting systems. They want mass combat systems. And they want better chase and evasion rules. There’s a demand for it. I keep seeing people asking for it.

But, there’s a danger in doing all of this.

Subsystem Overload

It is possible to take the idea of specific rules for Modes of Play TOO FAR. You can build a game that is just a collection of minigames and subsystems. And those sorts of games aren’t always a lot of fun. Sure, some people like them. I LIKE them. But it is very hard to get other people to like them. I’m thinking, for example, of Hackmaster 5th Edition. It’s a neat, mechanically rigorous game that does a lot of interesting things and has the best goddamned production values – and Monster Manual – I’ve ever seen in any RPG ever. But it is also a collection of mechanically complex subsystems, inexpertly stitched together. But then, AD&D and AD&D 2E were collections of subsystems inexpertly stitched together too. And it is trying to emulate that crap that we were smart enough to outgrow.

Any Mode of Play system should serve as an extension of the underlying rules. A specific application of already existing rules. Modes of Play shouldn’t include too many new and unique concepts. The combat system in D&D is resolved primarily using the core mechanic of the game. It adds initiative and a turn structure, defines some special actions, and that’s pretty much it. And even the combat is pushing it in terms of complexity.

Modes of Play aren’t also necessary for every goddamned thing. Everything doesn’t need a subsystem. If something isn’t going to come up frequently, it doesn’t need a system. That said, if systems are presented the right way, you can get away with adding more than you need. If GMs understand that the systems themselves are just extensions of the basic rules that serve as tools and they can be ignored easily enough and the action resolution system can handle them, then a robust list of Modes of Play allow GMs to pick and choose. They can simply ignore the Stealth system. Or the Investigation system. Or whatever. The game still plays well. Those are just overlays. Extensions. Like mods in World of Warcraft.

And honestly, this was what I HOPED D&D 5E would deliver. Remember all that talk about modular design? About engaging with the parts you wanted and making the game as simple or as complex as you want? What the hell happened to that?

Step One: A More Robust Toolkit

This WHOLE pontification grew out of a couple of a few simple things I wanted to do in D&D. As I mentioned, this is all just because I play video games and think things like “wow, this s$&% is fun, how can I get the same fun into D&D?” Crafting? Stealth? Scavenger hunting? Survival? All that crap. I KNOW I can get it all in because I’m in the “D&D is a simple, robust toolkit that can do ANYTHING.”

Except…

Except…

I’m kind of forced to admit it’s not quite robust enough. The core mechanic has a few weird little holes. Skills have a few odd problems. In trying to do something I thought should be simple, I encountered a few weaknesses. They are tiny things, but they are glaring things.

Ultimately, what happened was this: I was going to write an article about better ways to handle finding hidden things, searching for things, scavenger hunts, secret doors, that sort of crap. But as I started working on that, I realized I needed to start extending the core mechanic and add a little bit of versatility. So, I figured I’d handle that first. And trying to introduce that and WHY I was dealing with skills and ability checks again when I had already done so much to explain it all led to a Long, Rambling Introduction™ that went on too long and became too rambling. Because it became absorbed with the question of “does D&D really need this s$&% and is it all worth it?”

And the answer is yes. So, on Friday, we’re going to be looking back at the D&D Core Mechanic and at action resolution in general. We’re going to codify some s$&% I once called “rules of thumb” and “advice.” And we’re going to spit-shine and expand the whole thing. The changes will be subtle and simple, but they will be versatile enough for us to start to f$&% around and add some Modes of Play.

And now I have, like, four topics to rotate between every f$&%ing month. That should keep me going for a while. Until I have another brain aneurism and add a fifth topic.

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56 thoughts on “Do We Really Need More Rules: Modes of Play in D&D

  1. Good stuff as usual Angry.

    I tried adding a crafting system to my game but I’m pretty sure it sucks, I’ll look forward to the future articles where you make systems that don’t suck.

  2. That actually is genius, though I am not surprise, as it coming from Angry; extract the game’s subsystems, present them as complete, but optional, elements within the DMG with some tips for combining the, and then let the DM add them to their campaign like lego. You want an old school dungeon crawl? Take the Combat, Exploration, and Trap system, and overlay them on top of the base game, but you can ignore the Crafting and Political subsystems.

  3. I’m excited with this series… And I’m very curious about how you’ll expand D&D core mechanic.

    Congrats for the article, very good!

  4. Don’t have an aneurism. Please.

    I agree with your premise about D&D, and how it compares to other games. Often, I have described D&D as a tactical combat game with an RPG game added on top of it, while some other games (like Tunnels & Trolls) are RPG games with a combat mechanic.

    I wouldn’t be playing D&D now if it weren’t for the fact that the groups I’m running insisted on it. Call me weak for giving in to them, but I’m running two groups in the same setting, and this coming weekend, I’ll be running two D&D 5e sessions at Who’s Yer Con. ( http://whosyergamers.org/index.php )

    That aside. my feeling about creating subsystems in D&D is this: Don’t. Every time we’ve tried to add some sort of new mechanic, it fails. We run it for a week or two and, as a group, we let it die a quiet, meaningless death.

    Here’s the rub: The resolution system in D&D is remarkably adaptable to just about anything you want to do. Everything follows the same core mechanic, with only a few minor variations: Roll a d20, add appropriate modifiers, try to match or beat a target number. The key variation is whether the target number is a static DC, or if it’s a dynamic opposed check. Combat is built around this mechanic, the saving rolls use this mechanic, skill checks use this mechanic. From the player-perspective, it could be argued, that the only die ever needed is a single d20… Except that for combat, you need different dice for damage rolls.

    For everything else, the DM has a wide variety of tools, rules, and charts to consult. Need a random encounter? There’s a chart. Need a personality for an NPC? There’s a chart. If there isn’t a chart in one of the resource books, you can probably find one online. I’ve made a bunch of my own because I find the published ones lack the specific flavor that I want to present in my games. (Doesn’t mean I’ve borrowed from them extensively!)

    I look forward to seeing how you’ll resolve this idea of sub-systems, mini-games, and, as you refer to them, “modes.”

    Speaking of Alchemy. Sorry, I haven’t listened to your podcast (nor any of them, for that matter. Some of those that have been transcribed I’ve read, but that’s it.) However, before your post about alchemy, it came up in one of my groups. The party had a book written in Infernal that contained some potion recipes. Then they found a candle that when burning, allowed a reader to comprehend the language, so they quickly transcribed the text into common and set about making these potions. Damn players! On the fly, I had to come up with ingredient lists and processes. I fell back on what I was familiar with; I crossbred Runescape (very lame potions system) and Elder Scrolls (not as lame, but flawed in a lot of other ways).

    What I did was compile a list of potions, including all the 5e home-brew potions, as well as many of my own design (some based upon spells in the spellbook). This list contains about 115 mostly unique potions. Then I went and created a list of ingredients, categorized as Solvents, Reagents, Excipients, and Stimulants. (I draw a little on my rudimentary pharmacological knowledge, since I work at a company that compiles and sells pharmaceutical data.) For each ingredient, I listed the types of stuff it might be good for. Fiendish Blood, for example, would be good for potions that resist necrotic damage or protection from good.

    The next step I went through and assigned to each potion a solvent, at least 3 ingredients, and as many excipients and stimulants that I deemed appropriate. This took quite a bit of time because I had to ensure that no two potions had the exact same ingredient list, and I wanted to be sure that the more powerful potions consisted of at least one, if not more than one, hard-to-obtain ingredient. After all, dragons don’t typically sell their blood to traveling merchants so potions can later be made.

    The next step, which I completed this morning, was determining the tools of the trade and the various processes integral to alchemy. I found a few useful online sites that helped me with this.

    The next step, which I’ll probably start later today, is to go through each potion and establish the concoction steps. I haven’t quite decided how to do this yet, but I’m generally pretty good at figuring out things like this. At this point, I’m not 100% sure this step is even necessary. The only factors I think I need is how long it takes to brew a potion, how difficult it is to get right, and what happens if they screw it up.

    The final step is to review and audit all the potions to make sure they are reasonably balanced and logical within the constraints of the game. My goal is to have this done before the next game session tomorrow evening.

    This is all heavy work for me to develop this data, but for my players, there’s no real change to the game: If their characters obtain the necessary ingredients and tools (convenient that 5e has an “Alchemy kit”), all they need to do is spend the in-game time and make a simple roll on an appropriate skill.

    If anyone is interested, I’ll gladly stick my data on my forum website (click my name to get there), but if you’re going to use it, I want your feedback and suggestions. I readily admit that I’m far from perfect and I haven’t thought of everything.

      • I had one, but nobody ever visited it. I have a forum, and the only active users are my players because we keep track of our schedule and discuss our games on it.

        Thanks for the encouragement, though!

      • Wasn’t sure if that was High Praise (you should write a blog) or Mild Irritation (get off my blog).

        Cool system though.
        I’ve put a lot of thought into crafting systems myself over the years, and for my current game one of my players really wanted to play a Rogue who crafts potions and poisons.
        So we knuckled down and worked it through, but eventually we abandoned the idea of specific ingredients because we decided they’d be a pain to keep track of and the gathering rules had to be simple enough to not disrupt the rest of the group (especially since he wanted to enlist the Ranger’s help foraging for ingredients).
        Instead, I’ve just been generous with downtime and drastically sped up the crafting rules from the book.

        It doesn’t have much depth, but it suits my current group well.
        Future groups might want something more complex, at which point I intend to be ready for them.

          • True, but is that a good thing?
            I was just about to post further elaboration on mine, but now I’m not so sure if I should.

        • Ah, screw it, I’ll post it anyway.
          We’re practically a scientific community here, with educated minds (educated by reading your articles) collected in group discussions.

          Anyway.

          It should be noted that I greatly value low-effort versatility in everything I do, and that a system without specific ingredients can craft anything with a price tag.
          Everything in D&D has a price tag.
          Even magic items.
          Notably spell scrolls.

          It was as simple as comparing potions to scrolls, and now I have hundreds of potions available to craft because I have the entire spell list to choose from.

    • At the risk of replying too many times to the same tangent, I figure I should probably address the actual content in the first half of your comment. 🙂

      Anyway, regarding your concern that subsystems feel like extras;
      From what I gathered from reading the article, I got the impression that Angry prefers subsystems to essentially just be consistent rulings.

      By that I mean, when the rules leave ambiguity about what to do, you have to make a ruling.
      Make a ruling consistently enough, and you have a rudimentary subsystem.

      When you say that subsystems will often be dropped and forgotten, I wouldn’t expect that to happen with the sort of thing I thought Angry was describing, because removing that kind of subsystem would require replacing it with a different ruling.

      For example, if your player wanted to craft something in their downtime, because crafting is explicitly mentioned in the handbook as a possible downtime activity, then at the very least you would have to make a ruling on which items can and can’t be crafted using their chosen tool proficiency.
      If you consistently provide the same ruling to anyone who tries to craft using that tool proficiency, then in a sense you have created a crafting subsystem.
      It’s simple, but you made it, using the existing rules as a guide.

      I could be wrong, but I believe this is what Angry means when he says:
      “Any Mode of Play system should serve as an extension of the underlying rules. A specific application of already existing rules.”

      You’re not creating new rules, you’re just consistently ruling exactly how the existing rules apply to a specific situation, just like how combat is a specific situation that requires consistent rulings on which proficiencies apply to what is essentially the existing ability check system, and against what DC.

  5. Hah. I was amused, because I got as far as “Some people say D&D has infinite modes of play and some say it has one” and went “Nooo, it has two: Combat, and everything else.” So I guess we agree there, even if it took me way less time to get there. 😉

    I’m not super sure I agree that specific rules are always more interesting than general rules though – bad or disjointed specific rules can easily be less fun and interesting than a well implemented general rules system. Blades in the Dark provides a very solid general rules core that contains a lot of useful pieces that avoid the kinds of hacking you have to do with D&D skills, because it already has a lot of the bits that are missing – like the ability to give “hitpoints” to almost any kind of task via progress clocks. But it also has a lot of guidelines for how to assemble the general rules into specific systems.

    As an aside though: I don’t think mass combat rules are something that are readily added to most RPGs, because most RPGs are focused on character actions, and character actions actually aren’t very important or interesting in mass combat.

    • No. It didn’t take you less time to get there. I got there quick. But I was trying to explain it to everyone else. You weren’t. Because I’m a goddamned saint and you’re selfish and keep s$&% to yourself.

    • I think most mass combat rules flop because they aren’t designed with the idea of where the characters fit in. There’s three scales of combat. The first is the personal, where the party’s actions and those of their opponents dominate the fight. That’s what normal combat is for. Then there’s the scale where the party can have an impact, but they need to act in a more narrative sense. Then there’s the scale at which they can no longer impact the course of the battle. Generally what I’ve seen conflates the latter two cases or just is a war game bolted on awkwardly that doesn’t start from the premise of engaging the whole party.

      From there, the last case is the simpler one. The party has goals orthogonal to the battle, and it’s basically terrain. If you’ve got combat rules and some sort of overland travel through enemy terrain rules (such as angry wrote a while back), this works quite well. I’ve done it. (also angry those overland travel rules are really good).

      The middle case is its own thing though. At the end of the day it’s a bookkeeping system for a larger battle between multiple units designed to make communicating opportunities for the party to put a finger on the scales cleaner and easier. I’m writing something in that family and it’s promising but I need more thought.

      Also, angry, I’m working on a ruleset and so far the idea of modular systems that you engage with when needed is a really good one that’s working well.

    • See, I think mass combat should be completely doable. Sure, single person actions rarely matter in large-scale, but the players are epic heros who are clearly the exception!

      I’ve actually been thinking about mass combat the last few days while listening to the history of Rome podcast. I know RPGs grew out of tactical combat games, so they should be fertile ground to add in a system for that.

      The method I’ve been thinking of is to use whole squads as a single unit on the battlefield. E.g., one or more units of pikemen, plus a couple units of cavalry for the flanks make up a basic army. It’s combat, just on a larger scale but still with only a few units on the field. Hell, all you really need are some monster-type stats, but there are some base abilities needed first, similar to swarms.

      Epic heros should be capable of turning the tide of battle.

    • See I think many people should just take inspiration from Mass Combat scenes in Films and how there isn’t any. Oh LOTR likes to fool you into thinking there is mass combat scenes but when you actually look at it its just the individual characters doing there own combat within the larger combat, and the situations are just based on the larger battle.

      So for example Helms Deep is Argorn trying to stop the bomber and failing, then its about falling back because of that, then sneaking around and then inspiring the leader to carry on the fight. The movie is not really about the nameless dudes fighting nameless Orks but it adds it for colour just so we know an epic battle is happening

  6. ‘up to a few dozen people to enjoy a regular, monthly gaming experience with an ongoing story and a shared world’

    I’m not a patron, but I’m still very interested in that, as I run a West Marches style campaign, aiming for a similar end-result. Do you think you could do an article on the experience of setting up that campaign?

    • I should probably wait a few weeks. Right now, that article would be a string of profanities. And also the game is only just starting now so there’s a chance it won’t actually work.

      • For what it’s worth, I’d be pretty interested in the article as well, for more or less the same reason. Assuming it works, etc.

        • In all seriousness, I’m willing to talk about it once I know it works. I don’t like sharing stuff I haven’t at least tested a little. And it’s literally only starting this month.

        • Speak for yourself Sligo.
          I think I can confidently speak for the rest of us when I say that, yes, we’d read Angry’s string of profanities article in its entirety. Somehow Angry would be able to make it interesting.

          In fact I dare him to prove me wrong.

  7. >“does D&D really need this s$&% and is it all worth it?”
    >And the answer is yes

    Honestly not where I thought you’d end up based on the title. Exciting!

    • That’s because we’re used to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, and Angry broke it! Although it can be argued that this headline didn’t end with a question mark… Exciting indeed!

  8. I’m very much looking forward to this series. I’ve been toying with skill-based subsystems for resource development and intrigue on a macro level for high level play (when you own a castle and manor and want to know what effect your neighbour’s raiding and political and economic intrigues have upon your estate and position).

    The transition between adventuring and ruling, and making one a real alternative to the other, has been giving me problems. Mainly the issue is in-game time – the macro game necessarily plays out over months or years, and given that characters who are adventuring hard can level every few days, they can top out before the macro game even gets going even if they only adventure on the weekends. Since this is similar to the “adventuring downtime” transition, I am hoping Angry will address it.

    Otherwise, I guess I have an “Ask Angry” question.

  9. And the secret to a mini-game that is worth the complexity and one that’s not is delivering a different fantasy for each one. Like a different power fantasy, I mean. The stealth fantasy is very different from the tactical combat fantasy, and both are different from the political manipulator fantasy, which is itself at least subtly different from the leadership fantasy. You can create generalized system mechanics (like, I dunno, roll X successes before Y failures) that will tell you when you’ve won or lost at anything, but they won’t feel like different activities just because you’re plugging in sentences that describe Persuasion rolls instead of Athletics rolls.

    Take stealth, for instance. What makes stealth fun? What really feels like you succeeded at being stealthy as opposed to just describing stealth rolls until you win out of attrition? Let’s look at stealth video games: what do good stealth video games enable you to do that keeps people asking for more MGS? And Angry already talked about it: it allows you to overcome a foe (or group of foes) that would overwhelm you if challenged directly through 1) navigating the terrain to remain hidden, 2) patiently observing the enemy’s movement, and then 3) timing an attack just right to fit into that movement. That’s the stealth fantasy: clever navigation, and then figuring out the movement puzzle and exploiting it. Now, in video games this is all done in real-time. In D&D, it will have to be turn-based. Translating that stealth fantasy–overcome a stronger foe through superior movement skill and terrain exploitation–into tabletop is a real design challenge. But any stealth system that doesn’t leave you feeling like a ninja, and instead just gives you Stealth Points that guards’ perception checks hack away at just like HP and damage, will bring no new experience for all the added complexity. Oh, and since D&D is a group game, make it work for groups, too. No biggie.

    And thus also for social. What is the power fantasy of “winning” a social encounter? That’s a little harder, since there’s a range of options: the cunning political manipulator, the inspiring leader, the seducer, etc. All of these have slightly different feels to them, but they’re all about inducing someone else’s action by amplifying or minimizing an idea or feeling in their mind to overcome some initial reluctance. You’ve got to create a model for this which players can interact with. For that reason, I am watching the indie video game Sacred Fire (now on kickstarter) very closely, which bills itself as a psychological RPG, where even in combat you are manipulating the internal mix of your enemy’s emotions, e.g. trying to make him angry so his defenses are sloppier. D&D doesn’t need to go that far, but for a social sub-system that’s worth it’s complexity, it might be a good place to start for finding a model for that “social manipulator” fantasy.

  10. Made my players read your ‘social interACTION’ article and all of a sudden they wanted to do social encounters. Because they knew what the rules were and how they could do them.

    We’re the DM’s, we get the final say. So it’s all very well for us to say ‘oh but you can craft’ or ‘oh but you can talk to people’. But without a visable framework to build around then it’s easy for them to get lost.

    • Rules as a means to empower players by explicitly telling them something is an option is something that’s generally sold short and it’s a shame.

      • I’m not sure; It’s a pretty prevalent concept in small press developer circles – you define what players do by what tools you give them. If there’s a list of skills and it contains “Song”, “Awe”, “Inspire” and “Riddle” you get a very different game than one that has a list of skills that contains “Handle Animal”,”Use Rope” and “Intimidate”.

  11. I think a big difference between physical combat and many other modes of play is that in combat, each character can typically contribute something. Even a generally weak combatant can typically dish out some damage or aid/boost/buff an ally. In other modes, character that are not the BEST at that task are often a drag (e.g. the boisterous barbarian at the masked ball, the plate armored fighter scaling the wall to sneak into the ninja camp, etc.)

    In addition to making that mode of play (social, stealth, etc.) interesting by identifying resources and decision options, I think the rules for these modes of play need to consider how an entire party (and all the players) engages in this mode.

    • But that’s because the game is designed to allow all characters to contribute to combat–it’s a built in assumption about the party. In the real world, there’s plenty of people who would be a detriment in a gunfight or a street brawl.
      It makes just as much sense to assume that all characters can contribute in some way to most other modes, too. The Barbarian entertains the guests at the ball with his outlandish garb and exotic stories; the knight acts as a distraction or a spotter for the rogue when sneaking into the camp.

  12. This might be a bit off topic here, but it is an article about subsystems so maybe not. Where would be the best place to post a custom subsystem/ruleset if I want to get feedback fro improving it?
    (Specifically it’s a home brewed magic system that doesn’t use spells. Not sure if it will work at all, but it’s fun to make so whatever)

  13. I have to say that your insight and in-depth looks at all aspects of D&D, have made me hooked on your articles. Even your ‘random shit’ has thought provoking information that helps me either improve my games, develop my own modes of play (something I realized after this article), straight up plagiarizing yours, or just thought exercises that stimulate my brain. I’ve built a half dozen forms that I use for NPC creation, exploration and travel, designing encounters and inter-actions, etc. Which have streamlined my prep, and made my sessions all the more epic. So thank you for your continued presence and efforts. I wish you the best of luck with everything and look forward to your next article(s)

  14. So I would argue a few things, good combat actually takes ages to do. One of the reasons why I burnt out was because I was like spending hours and hours trying to prep good combat because yeah you could just throw a bunch of enemies and run it but that combat literally would be boring and crap for both players and me the GM. I would also argue that maybe why some GMs get turned off by D&D is because of that fact?

    Also the XP system in the rules deliberately gives you XP just for combat(Oh it says its for encounters but we all know the only encounter it ever considers an actual encounter is combat) which is also one reason why D&D seems to just focus on combat as well. If you reward players for stabbing things they will stab a thing.

    So you may be able to make these subsystems but I do think fundamentally you have to hack the XP system and this is something that I haven’t found a good way to do yet. I haven’t found a useful way to hack the XP system and no milestoning is not something I want to do.

    • Yes, the D&D xp system is awful. There’s no good way to do a structured xp system however without someone losing out. I have tried around 5 different methods for doing so. I have tried the exact rules for xp, I have tried milestones, I have tried every X many sessions, and many things in-between. I have doled out xp for good roleplay or for great feats during combat, and with most systems, somebody is left out. It really all depends on your preferences and your players.

      The cleanest system I have come up with is awarding levels every X many sessions. It might be 2, 4, or even 6 depending on how long you plan on making your campaign. I even award levels to players who have missed sessions because in other campaigns I have had players with crappy work schedules and they have felt punished by being behind in levels and I just think that’s a mean thing to do. Don’t get too focused on the xp, it’s an arbitrary thing, fun is what is most important!

  15. As someone who has enjoyed your subsystems, I’m wondering what the consequences of multiple modes of play is. The current classes give players a pile of abilities that primarily deal with combat, which focuses their abilities on a single thing. Inside combat, everyone should have a role and feel like they’re contributing to the team. Outside combat, they rely on other characters to fill in their skill gaps. How does this work with multiple modes of play?

    As a teamwork game, I would feel like every character, like combat, would have to have mechanical investment in the mode of play. The difficulty for the party would always be dependent on the lowest skilled character in the party, potentially making things too difficult for some characters and overly difficult for others. Otherwise, one or two characters gets to play a mini-game while the others wait, which means I’d have to switch modes of play very often to keep the players engaged. I’m not arguing against the inclusion, because I like the idea of deeper gameplay experiences, I’m just curious how having various subsystems would affect the mechanical building of characters.

  16. How about this thought experiment. Say you have three different people in charge of an RPG adventure:
    1) The game designer who writes the RPG rules system
    2) The author who writes the adventure (and setting if required)
    3) The GM who runs the adventure
    One of the people is a genius at all the jobs, one of them is average at all of them and one of them does the very, very bare minimum required. You get to decide who does which job.

    In particular, in the bare minimum RPG rules the GM has to just decide what the outcome of a PC action are without any guidelines or dice systems (maybe, at most, the GM can decide to flip a coin if she chooses?). The bare minimum author writes down a couple of words like: “A vampire threatens a village, the major is secretly in league with the vampire.” The bare minimum GM runs the adventure exactly as written by the author, nothing extra, no improvisation.

    How would you assign the jobs if the adventure was
    a) very combat heavy
    b) a mystery investigation
    c) very social interaction heavy
    d) something else you can think of

    Here are my thoughts:

    As Angry pointed out if you have a well-thought out combat system, you can probably get away with an author that just picks some monsters from the book or a GM that just plays the combats as if they were a player trying to win.
    In a mystery type scenario, if you had a very well written adventure with well thought-out clues and structure, you could probably get away with an RPG system that has almost no rules.
    In a social interaction scene you might want the best GM but you could again do with very few rules and probably very few instructions from the author.

    Conclusions:

    It makes sense for games to put a lot of rules into the combat system and fewer rules elsewhere. It’s also really hard to design game rules to solve problems that are actually “further down” the chain with the adventure design or the GM. Those solutions are hacks creating their own problems.
    For example, the problem might be poorly designed mystery adventures which lead to dead ends and confused players not knowing what they are meant to do. The “solution” would be investigation rules that allow the players to roll some dice or spend some resources or something to automatically get hints or automatically get to the next scene. That’s better than the adventure stopping, but now those rules might get in the way of running a well-designed true mystery adventure, since they reduce it to a dice and resource game. Similar things could be said about social interactions and skills.

    Reading my own post, it sounds like I’m down on designing rules for additional modes of play, and I am not. I am excited what Angry will come up with. Certain modes of play (chase scenes, overland travel and others) could really do with more structure and excellent rules for modes of play might exist even if I cannot imagine them without seeing them first.

    • See, the only problem I can see with the thought experiment, at least on my end, is that I would have the same outcome every time.

      Good System Designer
      Bare Minimum Author
      Genius GM

      The reasoning for this is simple. Without a good system, you have a fiasco. (In some cases we can go ahead and capitalize that to Fiasco, but I digre…. god damn it Casey. I even read it that way.)

      An amazing GM only needs the slightest amount of guidance from an author. Hell, I am betting upon reading your example people were cooking up stories.

      The author, sadly, is the least of my concerns. Yes, a poor gm could feasibly run a game, but with no variation, you have a book. With no system, you have a choose your own adventure book.

      Players need to enjoy the game.
      Players need to have competence, or something similar behind the screen.
      Story, whilst a major reason as to why we play, can still be provided via the GM.

      Sadly to all the aspiring authors out there, you are the weakest link of this chain.

      But lets face it, you are still kind of important. Until people realize that GM home-brews are usually better due to familiarity with their own creations.

      • I agree that good GMs (or even just GMs willing to put the work in) are the rarest of the three resources and that’s what this hobby needs most urgently. In particular, a great GM can usually just choose a decent system and, as you point out, write their own material.

        But that’s not what this thought experiment is about. When the GM expands on the sparse work of the author, either before the game or during it, the GM becomes an author. So the author’s work is still important, it’s just being done by the GM. In the same way that the GM becomes a rules designer when leaving out, interpreting, changing or adding rules. For the sake of this experiment, the GM isn’t really allowed to do any of this.

        Yes, that doesn’t work entirely. The GM always has to be a bit of an author at some point when inventing some world or story detail that wasn’t covered and a bit of a rules designer when interpreting how the rules should be applied. But at least let’s say that the GM in this experiment is not allowed to do any author or rule design work before the game sessions.

        Your priorities would work really well for a range of adventures types, but I don’t think they are ideal for all. I come back to the mystery scenario as an example of something that is impossible to do well without good advanced planning/writing, as you need to know how the pieces will fit together from the start.

  17. Very exciting article, Angry. I recently ran a session in which the players were crew on board a ship during a storm and had to do various nautical things to keep the ship together. I sort of used the “skill challenge” idea from 4E (despite having only read about it and never played 4E) and I sort of used your earlier guidelines about adding a little structure to the core machanic (tracking success on a scale of 1 to 10). And it fucking sucked. It was the most boring twenty minutes I’ve ever spent at the RPG table, and the players seemed to feel the same (to be fair I didn’t ask them – I probably should but I was too embarrassed). Modes of play seems like a concept D&D could really benefit from.

  18. Great article. I’m looking forward to the next ones. Especially the one about why charisma makes everything worse. I suppose it is going to be in the interaction subsystem.

    Speaking about subsystems, I feel like the designers did something odd with the core rules. If I was to make a comparison, I’d say they had multiple holes to fill in (I’m looking at you, crafting system; but also gathering, chase, escaping a fight, anything for what they have none or to few rules). But build something good enough to fit these holes was too much troublesome, so they decided to just fill the holes with cement so no one would trip on them and break the game. Thus we have an unusable crafting system, no system to flee from fights, and so on. But also it’s actually pretty hard to fix them because of the cement. For example, how to build a mechanic for fleeing from combat without messing with the combat engine? How do you build a crafting system when the game seems to be explicit against it? Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to bring the whole system down and rebuild all from scratch…

  19. Hey, Angry. I enjoy reading your articles because you sound like a very good GM. I GM’s 3 years of D&D 3.5 and came to hate it on an existential level. So I set out to design a system that fit into how I wanted to GM and how my players wanted to play. Amidst this, WoTC launched 5. It answered so many issues I had but I still felt it lacking. I used some of it for inspiration and developed a brand new system that was an amalgamation of what I learned from 3.5 and 5, plus what kind of games I wanted to run.

    Fast forward to now. I have this system and I am in the process of developing a few sub-systems myself for things that players want. They are not perfect but are better than what D&D has done for me. I look forward to seeing you develop these systems and write them up for us to see how they compare. You seem to be a much more practiced GM than I. Good stuff!

  20. One set of rules I’ve felt were missing were a system for chases. Given rules as written, you can’t react to an enemy disengaging and bolting for the door, in such a way as to dash ahead and block the exit. And there’s no real way to outrun someone with the same or higher base movement speed.

    • I had an idea a while ago that I have yet to try out.

      Basically, I would expand on 5e’s “Hold Action” rules, and say that any Actions/Movement/etc that go unused on a turn, are automatically “Held” as “unspecified” (and yes, I do allow Held Bonus Actions, even though the rules don’t).

      Then, at any point before your next turn, you can spend your unused Actions/Movement/etc immediately as a Reaction, just as if you’d “Held” it for that exact purpose.

      (In a sense, you can specify your Held Action as “The unspecified remainder of my turn”, with the Trigger being “Whenever I feel like”)

      If timing is important (for example, if you want to interrupt someone else’s turn and bar the door BEFORE they escape through it), then I might require an opposed Dex check to see who goes first.
      (Abilities that affect Initiative checks might also affect this check)

      I also considered a possible benefit to specifying your Held Action in advance could be that it waives the Reaction cost and doesn’t require the Dex check to interrupt.

      As I said, I have yet to try out this idea, so I don’t have any experience of how well it might work in play.
      Feel free to try it out and let me know. 🙂

  21. So this article has been by down time project for like a year now. My goal was to either make a real DMG and tweaked character sheets or, failing that, release moduales with built like board games that function within the base rules of D&D and exemplify a mode of play. I would also provide tips for GMs to mod the module to meet there needs. I think you could do this and I would buy it.

  22. I liked the description of how your brain works. Mine works the same way, although you seem to have managed to be more productive with it. 🙂

  23. If I split my gaming experience into modes I get
    – Combat
    – character building (rules&story)
    – Discovery (dungeon crawl, City exploration)
    – riddle solving
    – talking to npcs
    – shopping

    When I think about the demanded mop you mentioned, most have a focus problem:
    Craft is usually a single person, stealth is usually a single person, mass combat is either clashing with single combat or players don’t play their characters anymore (seldom do my PCs become generals, but often the players want to play the army).

    DnD makes the decision: everything that is mostly done by one dude is just quick resolution​. Combat is team play thus: can take longer.

    • I agree that the biggest problem with many tasks is that usually only one player is trying to do it while everyone else waits around.
      Most attempts at subsystems don’t even attempt to acknowledge this, but even if they did I’m not sure there’s much they could do about it.
      If one player wants to do something but the others don’t, choosing which system you use doesn’t make much difference, except for how much time it takes up at the table.

      This is why it is preferable (but not always feasible) to do downtime activities outside of game time.
      Fortunately for myself, the only player I have that currently seems at all interested in downtime is my housemate, so we have plenty of time between sessions to do whatever. 🙂

      (By the way, this is why I believe that gathering crafting materials should always be quick and simple, because that usually can’t be put off until after the session.)

      One idea I’ve been toying with is that during the game the players can acquire Downtime as a resource (e.g. “Travelling to that destination takes 5 days, you receive 5 days of Downtime), and then after the session they can spend that Downtime to say whatever it was they did during that time.
      This is similar to how the Adventurer’s League handles it, but slightly less abstracted.

      (Warning; Downtime systems do not work unless there is a time pressure on the campaign, otherwise the players can spend in-game years before you can say “I craft a suit of Full Plate Armour”. I believe this is the reason it seems so impossible to actually turn a profit using any of the 5e Downtime options RAW.)

      • Interesting idea about the downtime resource. Especially when your system says that leveling takes time.

        However I think acknowledging the 1player+gm reality is needed to build a functioning subsystem. Especially for the systems like sneak, scout, social interaction. They usually have an impact right now.

        If all players have downtime at the same time it might even be possible to develop a turn based system for crafting etc.

        But sneaking? Do it quick and you don’t have awesome sneak. Do it awesome and everyone else has to wait. Shift between the thief and the rest of the party and stuff gets really complicated to handle. *Sigh*

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