Rules vs. Immersion, Assistance, Aurania and More From the Comment Section

When I launched DMDavid.com, I considered disabling the comments. I worried that the comment section would fill will stupid and insulting responses. I’ve heard that can happen on the Internet. Still, I left comments on, and they proved one of most rewarding parts of writing this blog. My readers made smart and insightful replies. Sometimes commenters who disagreed with my posts swayed my opinions. Often I learned.

I used to join the discussions more than I do now. I used to make time to write a post, warm up by replying to a few comments, and then run short of time. My posting schedule lapsed, and I felt disappointed. Still, I want to reply. So today, I try a solution. The post features replies to some recent reader comments. It won’t lure casual readers from Facebook with a provocative headline, but perhaps loyal readers will enjoy it. I’ve subscribed to magazines where I most enjoyed the letters section and the editor’s replies. I hope to capture some of that.

Tell me, would you like to see future dips into the comments section?

Rob Paul Davis wrote:

I do require a roll for Assists. Succeed, and the player gets a +2 on the roll, fail and it’s a -2.

When new fifth-edition players learn the rules for advantage and disadvantage, they tend to assume that cover imposes disadvantage. The advantage/disadvantage rule’s elegance leads to that assumption, and that reveals the brilliance of the rule. But the designers wanted degrees of cover and wanted cover to stack with advantage and disadvantage, so cover imposes a -2/-5 penalty.

I wonder if a similar approach would improve assistance. After all, experienced players tend to assist frequently, and that makes other advantages disappear. Most situations merit a +2 bonus, while extraordinary aid could gain a +5 bonus.

alphastream wrote:

For assisting, I often find players will test out a DM the first time. With a new table I’ll usually look for them to give me a reason for why they are offering help. If it’s just another set of eyes, I’ll say that in this situation additional persons won’t provide advantage. After that, it’s easier to involve them and not have it become an assumption. And, I think that the more players assume it will usually be just an individual, the more that individuals are getting the spotlight. Otherwise, it can feel like everyone is always jumping on top of the person who proposed doing something and taking away the spotlight. A common example is where someone says, “does this look magical,” and another player yells, “I’ll make an Arcana check.” That’s a prime case where I’ll say to the second person, “Hold on, the first player is already doing that.” Over time, the table learns that they don’t have to jump onto someone else’s idea… they will get their own time to shine later if they stay engaged.

Assisting and especially checks that anyone can attempt all tend to take attention from players who deserve it. We’ve all seen a high roll let a character, say, with an 8 intelligence steal the spotlight from the party’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. Players who invest in talents deserve to flaunt them, but when everyone rolls, a lucky result tends to win. I always work to find reasons to limit checks to fewer players. As you suggest, players eventually learn not to jump in.

Something I’ll often do when a second player wants to help is ask them how they are doing so, and then have both players roll. I’ll take the highest die roll, but the primary player is making the check – basically rolling with advantage but the helping player is rolling the second die. It lets more people roll and gives that feeling of helping.

Brilliant! Many times, I’ve seen long-time players rise to assist, start to roll, and then realize that unlike in past editions, assistance requires no roll. The helper visibly deflates. People like to roll. Letting the helper roll the advantage die turns the help into a tangible deed.

Daniel Boggs wrote:

Rules are Boring.

When I run games for my home group or at conventions I try to build an atmosphere of suspense and exploration, and avoid talking numbers and rules except when needed. Usually that means the only time numbers are discussed are in combat, usually the player telling me the result of a roll or a particular stat on their sheet. The advice I try to follow – and I can think of no better guide – is that given by Jaquays in her Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide, especially chapter 3, Pacing and Theatrics.

This comment led me to take the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide from my shelf. The book features cover-to-cover DM advice co-authored by Jennell Jaquays. To lure buyers, TSR felt willing to give the guide a misleading title, and still somehow settled on something stuffy and dull. The title never convinced me to read the book. Don’t judge me until you read all your game books. Now, I’ve decided to read the guide ASAP.

As for rules and immersion, see the next comment.

Ilbranteloth wrote:

All too often I find an experienced player joining my campaign “playing to the rules.’ That is, they expect the rules to tell them what they can do, and don’t consider that there are lots of other options. The new players, though, aren’t constrained by that. And most of the time I find that it’s the new players that “teach” the experienced players that I don’t limit you to what the rules say you “can do.”

Some of the joy of playing with newer Dungeons & Dragons players comes from seeing them engage the game world without thinking of rules. All of us old grognards need to foster that approach. Your style encourages immersion and freedom.

Every interview with a D&D personality seems to start with, “How did you start playing?” Almost always, the person tells of being handed a character sheet and dropping in a game with no knowledge of the rules. They can hardly follow the game, but they still have the time of their lives. Part of the D&D’s magic is that you can play it—and love it—without knowing any rules. The dungeon master describes a situation, and you just imagine what your character would do. If a goblin attacks, just say, “I hit him with my axe.” You can immerse yourself in your character without thinking of the rules.

I found lots to like in fourth sedation, but to me, the edition faltered when it required mastery of the rules to play a character. See Immersive vs. Gamey in D&D Next, the score is 1-1.

That said, the game’s numbers help communicate the game world to the players. Knowing the rules lets players understand the likely outcomes of their actions, and that helps players act with confidence.

alphastream wrote:

We can see many players trying to gain advantage (not sneak attack) on every single attack even though they have emerged from hiding to attack. That confusion extends even to many of the game’s designers when you ask them about it!

Correct me if I’m wrong about this: The fifth-edition designers judged that hiding, and then popping up to attack from range qualifies as attacking while hidden. This gains advantage. The attack reveals the rogue, but rogues can drop down and hide again for their next turn. Meanwhile, moving from hiding to make a melee attack reveals the rogue, foiling the advantage of hiding.

How much do the designers love ranged attackers? Attacking from range offers an intrinsic advantage. Plus, the game grants benefits to ranged attackers, and then offers feats that erase any disadvantages. Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert would be strong without erasing cover and penalties for ranged attacks from melee. Don’t get me started.

Daniel Boggs traced the the thief class to it’s origin:

Just as an FYI, Switzer didn’t invent the class. it was actually Daniel Wagner, who played in the same group as Switzer. Wagner is one of the authors of The Manual of Aurania. There’s a pretty in depth discussion on the topic with Mr. Wagner here: http://odd74.proboards.com/thread/9279/manual-aurania

In 1976, a game group attached to Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica gathered new monsters, treasures, races, and classes from their Aurania campaign into a booklet they sold for 3 dollars. The book probably rates as the first unofficial, published supplement for D&D. The manual’s introduction states that “several ideas” from Aurania “were outright stolen and soon appeared in published form.” When Switzer shared Daniel Wagner’s thief idea, Gary Gygax still held to the wargaming culture where everyone in a tiny community shared ideas and no one made more than lunch money. Gary first presented the thief in an amateur zine and there he tried to give credit. Between 1974 and 1976, the estimated value of the thief idea climbed.

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11 Responses to Rules vs. Immersion, Assistance, Aurania and More From the Comment Section

  1. BackInAction says:

    “fourth sedation” — on purpose?

  2. Mark says:

    Great! Thanks for sharing from your comments section! It has always interesting to me how thoughtful you are about this game and seeing more players’ very thoughtful comments only makes for more interesting reading. I say yes to the periodic Comments-as-posts.

  3. alphastream says:

    “Correct me if I’m wrong about this: The fifth-edition designers judged that hiding, and then popping up to attack from range qualifies as attacking while hidden. This gains advantage.”

    A common comment by the designers is “I would allow it in my game.” Great, but let’s talk about the question of what the rules say! 🙂 Hide is normally an action, but a bonus action for rogues due to their Cunning Action ability. Hiding says, “You can’t hide from a creature that can see you” and “In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. Under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted.”

    Under “Cover” we have “A target can benefit from cover only when an attack or other effect originates on the opposite side of the cover.” To not be seen, you need to have Total Cover. A tree trunk and even an arrow slit are given as examples of 3/4 Cover.

    So, you can’t hide if you can be seen. Hiding requires total cover. You no longer benefit from cover if you leave it. Monsters, unless distracted, see you when you leave hiding. It’s just like 4E worked. It’s the exact same requirement. If you break cover, you are immediately visible and are not hidden. What 4E gave us was various powers and other means to break cover and still have that be part of the attack. Deft Strike, a rogue at-will attack power, is a great example. The same attack action allowed you to move as part of the attack, which preserved hiding (and this was clarified in the FAQ). Without such a capability, or something like invisibility, hiding while attacking isn’t possible. Something that can work is total obscurement/concealment, where the PC can still see through something (perhaps due to Darkvision or magic, or heavy foliage) while remaining hidden.

    Players and DMs sometimes like the “popping out” idea, and I get it. However, that’s basically what you get when you have half-cover, or even that arrow slit idea. They are visible. They aren’t hidden unless the target is somehow distracted.

    It can be interesting to look at the level 10 Ranger ability, Hide in Plain Sight. The ranger can take 1 minute to cover themselves in dirt and leaves, press themselves against a solid surface, and if they don’t move, gain a +10 to Dexterity (Stealth) so long as they don’t move or take actions! If they move or take an action, they aren’t hidden and need to spend another minute to hide again! I think that says a fair bit about hiding, though I acknowledge that rules implementation always varies across designers.

    • Ilbranteloth says:

      First, this is a great blog post today. While I tend to read all of the comments anyway, it’s nice to pull them together like this.

      Now onto the popping out idea.

      First, one thing that most people miss is that there’s a difference between being hidden and being unseen. The problem is that the word Hide covers both circumstances (they probably should have been conditions).

      Being hidden doesn’t really provide you any mechanical benefit. The other creatures simply don’t know where you are.

      Being unseen, however, grants advantage on your attack.

      A carry over from earlier editions is that it requires total cover to attempt to hide. That is not true. The rules are quite different than 3e and 4e.

      Sage advice for the lightfoot halfling and wood elf traits states: “Normally you can’t attempt to hide if you’re in full view.” That’s very different than saying you need “total cover” to attempt to hide. I could swear I saw a better clarification in the official Sage Advice, but I can’t seem to find it now.

      While in a combat people are keeping an eye out for danger around the battlefield, they are most focused on the creature in front of them trying to skewer them on a pointy stick.

      Going back to the PHB quotes “you can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly” and “it usually sees you.” The errata an current printings clarify that the DM determines when you can hide.

      So to me there’s a difference between “can see you clearly” as in “it’s possible to see you clearly” and “can see you clearly” as in “DOES see you clearly” and that “it usually sees you” acknowledges that. But to me it’s never really about parsing the text of the rules. It’s looking at the rules with a bit of common sense as well.

      Consider this common scene: Two guards are chatting, and the party attempts to sneak behind them. They have to move across open terrain, and hope that they don’t alert the guards who would then turn and see them.

      You’re in full view. You CAN be seen clearly, but until they DO see you, you aren’t.

      Would you consider this common trope not possible?

      I’m a fan of of giving the players an opportunity rather than just saying no when they are trying something that I consider reasonable in real life. If you’ve ever seen the video where you’re supposed to count how many people are passing a basketball, then you know that it’s all to easy for us to miss what’s right in front of our face.

      Even if the target knows where you’re hiding and you’re going to pop out to attack, they don’t know exactly when. Depending on circumstances, I’ll often give advantage to their passive Perception check, but if you’re successful in your Stealth check, then you can make your attack with advantage. Then, of course, you’re seen and must make another Stealth check.

      On the other hand, if the target readies an attack for when you pop out, then I generally rule that they have advantage on their attack, since they were unseen to you as well.

      The biggest thing, though, is that it’s a question of circumstances, and those are constantly in flux. So it’s not necessarily something that will work every time.

      To me it’s a lot like playing Whack-a-Mole. Except you’re trying to guess/react to the mole that pops out to try to kill you, at the same time you’re trying to prevent somebody else from killing you too.

      Interestingly, I see a string of Sage Advice questions that you asked specifically, and Jeremy’s had two answers for you:

      Alphastream
      @Alphastream
      Issue that came up most often at Winter Fantasy was rogues wanting to always hide around corner, next end move out and attack hidden. https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/834842113158246400

      Jeremy Crawford
      @JeremyECrawford
      That’s a legitimate use of Cunning Action.

      …and…

      Alphastream
      @Alphastream
      Replying to @JeremyECrawford
      I am curious: when the rogue starts round hidden behind wall, moves out, attacks… is she hidden during the attack? Or, broke cover and no?

      Jeremy Crawford
      @JeremyECrawford
      Are you referring to an attack from behind cover, or are you referring to a rogue who moves X ft. in the open and then attacks?
      6:58 PM – Feb 23, 2017
      1 1 Reply Retweets likes
      Twitter Ads info and privacy

      Alphastream
      @Alphastream
      Replying to @JeremyECrawford
      Later. Rogue starts hidden, moves out to see foe, attacks. Players like to argue they are still hidden on attack.
      7:03 PM – Feb 23, 2017
      2 2 Replies Retweets likes
      Twitter Ads info and privacy

      Jeremy Crawford
      @JeremyECrawford
      You can attack while hidden and gain the benefit. But if you run out into the open and then attack, you’re not hidden when you attack. #DnD https://twitter.com/Alphastream/status/834916654005940224

      These confirm what many of us are saying. If you are simply “popping out” from behind the cover, you might be able to remain hidden/unseen and gain the benefit, as he noted in the first answer.

      However, if you move x feet to make the attack, then you are not, because the act of movement (moving x feet, not 0 feet) breaks the connection between being unseen and the attack.

      All of this goes back to the statement that the “DM determines the appropriate conditions” for hiding. I think that overall it’s much more important to be consistent, and that the table understands what your rulings are likely to be. I get that this isn’t ideal for organized play, but it seems that WotC doesn’t want to firm up these rules any more, an approach I applaud.

      • alphastream says:

        I hear what you are saying. What happens at some tables is awesome: The player comes up with something clever, gains advantage for that round, we are good. Two party members approach guards with a distraction, while the rogue sneaks up and steals the keys. Great fun, and I believe this is what Jeremy and Mike are thinking about when they are answering questions on Twitter. It’s the kind of play you can see at their games.

        What happens at some other tables is the player expects to gain combat advantage each and every round of every combat ever. So long as there is something behind which they can hide (the door, a pillar, a crate), they want to be able to “pop out” and shoot, Cunning Action to hide. Every round. I don’t believe that is intended by the rules, even with the vague errata. 5E’s general intention is that gaining advantage should cost an action. We can see various cases (such as the ranger) where being able to gain advantage through hiding is not easy and can’t be soon repeated. It makes sense. A rogue should get Sneak Attack on most rounds, but rolling with advantage is an absurd benefit to have constantly on.

        If your tables have no problem, cool. Judging a lot of different tables, I meet players who truly expect advantage each and every round. I’m very much a pro-player DM, but I don’t find the rules support that, don’t find it balanced, and don’t find it fun for most tables.

        • Ilbranteloth says:

          That’s why there’s a DM to make adjudications.

          Don’t get me wrong, I feel your pain.

          The first time you pop out, you’re probably good. The second time you’ll have disadvantage (or the target(s) will have advantage). The third time, you might find that several targets have readied actions to target you, or they’ve moved in position to attack you directly.

          The game is (once again) dependent on the DM not only adjudicating what’s possible, but reacting to the PCs appropriately.

          That’s why I prefer rules that require more adjudication, rather than ones (like the optional flanking one), that give advantage every time you use it.

          There are some factors that come into play here. First, if you’re playing with minis, counting squares and such (especially with players who have played 3.5e or 4e), they expect that the board is a reflection of “realiity” and that in these positions they should have advantage. They need to understand that it’s not a board game nor a miniatures wargame. The minis and battlemat are a tool to help keep everybody on the same page regarding the action, but the reality is that things are in perpetual motion and it’s a relative, not precise tool.

          If they want to play that type of game, of course, then adjudicate the rules in that manner (and looking back to the 4e rules is particularly helpful here).

          Second, we have to acknowledge the trend among a portion of the D&D community that doesn’t want the DM to have the ability to make such adjudications. As I’ve noted in other comments and posts elsewhere, the game isn’t designed like a board game, or most other games for that matter, where you learn the rules and follow the rules. Sure, you can play it that way, but I think you’re missing a big part of an RPG if you do that. The rules are there to help the DM determine whether you’re successful, but you can do literally anything within the laws of nature within the setting.

          Related to this is the idea that the DM playing the world (and particularly the monsters and villains) intelligently, with the intent to kill is not: 1) playing against the Players, and 2) not desirable.

          Again, to differentiate the game from something like video games – the monsters aren’t pre-programmed sprites on a screen that have a fixed number of reactions. There’s a living, breathing person making decisions for those creatures, and those creatures are fighting for their very survival. And this is where the popping out tactic is countered. It’s OK for the DM (recommended actually) to have the monsters target an obvious threat to their very survival. You’re not singling out the player/character, you’re making an obvious tactical move that would be exactly what the players would do. And you’ll know that pretty quickly because you’ll also remember (right?) as a DM to use the same tactics (popping out) against them.

          People complain that ranged fighting is too good, and that it downplays the melee combatants. Well, I do agree with some of the complaints about ranged weapons (albeit for different reasons). But, in real life, combatants use ranged weapons for as long as possible in a combat. There shouldn’t be any characters with only melee options. All of the PCs should be using ranged weapons, behind cover if possible, and moving to melee only when there isn’t a better option. It’s dangerous up there. Even if it takes a few extra rounds because your tank isn’t dealing out massive damage. Again, don’t play to the rules, play to the characters, in their world, with actual fears, desire to stay alive, desire to avoid actually being skewered by a sword, etc.

          A hint – in my campaign it’s much easier to find ways to impose disadvantage than to gain advantage. More importantly, anybody that has a measurable advantage (that is, has gained advantage on their attacks), becomes a primary target.

          You note that the rules generally require you to take an action to gain advantage. Hiding so you can pop out does take an action.

          Think of it this way. If the fighter decides not to attack this round, and instead uses their action to hide, so they can pop out the next round and attack with advantage, would you (or most people) have an issue with that? I don’t think so, since you’d only be attacking every other round, I don’t think the discussion would come up at all.

          But since a rogue can use their cunning action to do the same thing, and potentially gain advantage every round, it’s a problem. But it’s the same exact interaction with the rules. Active Stealth against passive Perception. If you succeed, and don’t move before your next attack, you have advantage. From there it’s a matter of taking the circumstances under consideration, which is primarily the reactions of the other combatants to do something to take the advantage away.

          And yes, I think it is intended by the rules. Exactly the same way that the designers expect that the rogue will be able to use Sneak Attack every round. That’s by design. The skirmish/sniper thing is part of the rogue’s schtick. That’s part of why might have taken the class, and it’s not the DM’s job (by rule) to take that away. It is the DM’s job to make sure that the monsters take it away, though, and there’s a big, big difference.

        • simontmn says:

          “A rogue should get Sneak Attack on most rounds, but rolling with advantage is an absurd benefit to have constantly on.”

          Not really, no. Advantage is not as good as having 2 attacks, which a level 5+ martial type PC gets automatically.

    • simontmn says:

      “In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you”

      The problem with this statement is that it is rules text masquerading as a statement about reality. In reality of course combat usually results in tunnel vision, a laser focus on the immediate threat, the exact opposite of “creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around”.

      “Under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted.”

      This then implies that it’s only the APPROACHING (melee) not the POPPING OUT (missile) that results in creature “usually” noticing you.

      My view is that the rules (a) are ambiguous and (b) do not reflect reality, they’re even less realistic than the 3e-4e flanking rules. So I go to considering play balance. IME the PHB Rogue class tends to be a bit weak in play, and so allowing them to Bonus Action Sneak for advantage on their next attack is a good idea, it helps rebalance them. If they weren’t hiding with the bonus action they’d likely be making an off hand attack anyway, which has almost the exact same result in terms of DPR.

  4. alphastream says:

    Much more important than rules is to take my hat off to you and the community you build here. It’s really impressive that your posts create such great discussion. I think it really speaks to your writing approach. Thanks for showing the way! I’m trying to learn from it!

  5. My contra to hidden attacks is that, unless you’re not ‘known’ to enemies, odds are a dude is going to be on-guard and ready when he goes around a corner he saw you flee past. He might even circle the corner as far as he can.
    Although once you get into those kinda details you poke the curtains too hard and risk having the wizard become exposed.

  6. I’m all about comment section wrap-ups. The AV Club does it all the time and it’s one of the features that gives the site a “community” feel.

    As far as helping/assisting is concerned, I started giving preference to PCs that have proficiency in the relevant skill, especially magic oriented stuff. It makes sense when you think about it: having a group of people crowd around you going “let me take a look!” rarely results in an actual advantage in solving a problem unless someone ACTUALLY knows what’s going on.

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