To Seasoned/Long-time DnD 5e & Pathfinder 2e players. Could someone simplify the “Major Differences” in style, system, players?

I know this is abit of a “wide net” question. I am currently switching over to 5e from years of activity (after 4e was released) from 3.5e.

I joined AL locally when I was getting back into DnD (5e now) but I am…. Slightly disappointed.

The mechanics seem secondary while the role-playing seems primary.

I’ve spent the last 13 years or so away from TT-RPG

I desire highly mechanical play with other players that are also “rules to their letter experts,” not self-styled “RP-actors”.

Is Pathfinder 2e the D&D akin system, currently is popular enough to find players, that fits my wants?

I have played D&D:Basic, Advanced, 2e, 3.5e, 4e (twice), 5e (about 10 times)

I have not played any version of Pathfinder

How do I make a creature feel impressive without scaring my players away?

At the end of the homebrew campaign I’m running, I plan to have the characters face off against a big, scary monster. It’s designed to be (almost) impervious to regular weapon attacks, but there will be various ways to either avoid or negate its attacks and ‘defeat’ it without killing it.

Through various choices made in the adventure so far, the party is actually well on their way to having it in fact be friendly towards them when they encounter it, though it will be dominated and/or controlled by the real enemies into trying to attack the party.

My party has proven to be relatively cautious so far. I would like to describe the creature as large and imposing, with very powerful attacks that would normally reduce anyone caught in them to very small pieces.

I’m afraid that when I describe the creature as super-powerful, my players will decide it is obviously way out of their league and (sensibly) refuse to engage. On the other hand, if I describe the creature as too wounded and weakened, it will not feel like the impressive, nail-biting end-of-adventure encounter I hope to give my players.

The players have discovered so far that the creature is a red dragon, though they don’t know its age. They also know that it’s being held against its will, though I don’t think they realize yet how much it hates its captors.

In past encounters, they have reacted to various descriptions of enemies with realistic responses:

  • Their first combat encounter, described as a small handful of goblins and gnolls eating dinner and unaware of the party, had the party sneak into position, then attack with overwhelming force.
  • Their third combat encounter, where they thought that a horde of vicious beasts was about to descend on their position, had them retreat and take up defensive positions. (There was only a small horde of confused, weak, hungry creatures, but they didn’t have that information.)

How do I make it clear that, while dangerous, the encounter is well within their means to deal with?

Note: we’re using D&D 5E, though I imagine this question could be applied across various systems.

How should I choose a 5e adventure for a group of new players?

I’m thinking about taking a turn as DM after one of my current games wraps up next week. When we start, the various players will have had 0-4 sessions of experience with 5e, though some have played other RPGs. We’d probably play every other week over the summer, so about 8 weeks, but with the potential for most players to continue into the new year.

With where I’m at right now, I’d rather use a published adventure so I can focus on running the game over writing it. The one my FLGS has on the shelf is Curse of Strahd, but I’ve heard (vaguely) that it may not be the best for new or almost-new players. However, I don’t have much to go on when looking for alternatives, though I know I want something with atmosphere, descriptive adjectives, and alternatives to violence, not just a list of encounters with monster statistics and traps. Ideally something like 25% of dilemmas and questions require some creativity and roleplaying, not just a big stick, while 25% require violence and the remainder could be either depending on how the PC’s act.

Question: How should I go about choosing an adventure for a group of new players? What qualities should I look for, and how can I tell if a published adventure has them? Should I restrict myself to official WotC adventures on the presumption that they have the best writing and playtesting, or is there a way to identify third-party adventures with a similar (or higher) level of polish and quality?

(Once I actually have the adventure in front of me, I have sufficient experience running other games, playing 5e, and poring over the rules that I’m pretty confident about everything else. For example I’m happy to improvise, and if necessary give story XP, if the PCs go off script and bypass an encounter that I was counting on to prepare them for the next one, so I’m not expecting the writers to have thought of everything.)

Note: If this goes well I’m likely to do it again, so in the spirit of the Stack I’m asking how to fish, i.e. tools or heuristics to help identify what I want from what’s out there.

Seeking GM advice, tricking players into helping the villian

I’m looking for a little help and guidance as I’m trying to plan out my first attempt at gm’ing.

My basic idea for a plot:
The new adventuring group in a Tabaxi town are hired by the towns mayor to solve various ill’s befalling the place. I’m planning on starting them off at LV1 and using his quests to build the players up to about 4-5.

The thing is, I want the mayor to secretly trying to destroy his own town as sacrifice to his evil deity (in order to receive a blessing and become a Rakshasa).

What sort of quests could I give to the players intermingled with ordinary quests that would eventually lead to plague, famine, invasions and various calamities that would ultimately end the town?

How to guide my players into realizing they have multiple options available for an encounter?

For my next session with my PCs, I’m planning to have them witness an attack on an NPC that’s intended to hook them the adventure. The plan is for the party to encounter his daughter, who also has a target painted on her back. I want the players to be making choices throughout the adventure, whether to fight back during an encounter, or to hide, or to flee.

These players are new to RPGs, so I want make sure that they realize that attacking isn’t their only option. So far all we have run is a run of the mill dungeon run.

The initial encounter should guide the player’s expectations. I don’t want trying to rescue the man to seem like the only option but I don’t want it to seem like it’s not an option. How do I help my players realize that they have more than a single option available to them?

To what extent should DMs let players modify their racial traits?

I’m working on a party and one of my players wants to be a tiefling with an air genasi mother and a tiefling father. They want to Look like a tiefling but have the race bonuses of an air genasi.

In addition to this, this player wants to have ‘wings’ that are purely for the aesthetic but move when they cast Levitate. This is understandable and I think it’s a great concept, with the addition to other additional information they cobbled together to make the reasoning behind their unique circumstances (which will take way too long to list) that I think will fit in with my campaign…but a large majority of the other party members are now wanting to do something akin to the tiefling/genasi player.

It goes from simple stuff like a human who’s eyes glow red because they have some ancestor that had some orc blood in them to some wild explanations like “my mother’s father’s wife was a Dragonborn and my dad’s great great grandfather was a rock gnome so I want to be able to spit fire AND have the ability to tinker tiny contraptions!” (yes, this is an actual example from a player)

I think the tiefling/genasi is alright and letting someone add rock gnome’s tinkering abilities to a character who’s race and class doesn’t qualify for it seems harmless but I have no idea how destructive it might be in the endgame.

The question is: To what extent should I allow my players to modify their races’ stats? I don’t want to have too many confusing stat changes and I don’t want to seclude everyone from concept ideas that they like but I’m willing to cut it if it’s unacceptable. Any advice is highly appreciated.

Note: None of them are sorcerers and they’re starting at level 2 Edit: The issue I’m more conflicted with are the players who want to mix and match race mechanics.

How do you help players not focus on the rules?

Background – My Group’s Gaming Style

When I GM, I run games loosely from a rules standpoint, and do not feel bound to adhere to what the rulebook says when it doesn’t make sense in a given situation. I adapt things to fit the game-world reality over the written rule and use my judgment as the final authority for in-game events.

This is how all the groups I’ve been in “back in the day” played. The OSR guys have codified this approach more recently as “rulings, not rules” – back when I was playing in the 1e/2e days that was just the way things were, and people who insisted on the “rules as written” were stigmatized as “rules lawyers”. Nowadays, this is more common and “the rulebook is the final authority” is accepted behavior in many gaming groups. That’s fine for them, but is explicitly not for me and my group. If our style is not for you, move on to another question please; I’m not interested in whether you think this approach is right or not. It works for the groups I play in. I am interested, however, in how to help new players who aren’t used to this mode of play become comfortable with it.

We have an existing large gaming group playing a variety of existing game systems. We’ve run long campaigns in Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Alternity, Mutants & Masterminds, GURPS, Silhouette, nWoD, and shorter games in Dresden Files, Feng Shui, Unknown Armies, Godlike, Adventure!, and many more. At the table, players own rulebooks and roll their own dice. I am not looking to retool the group or choose a new system or make major changes to our order of operations. Things are working well for us and we are having fulfilling gaming experiences.

This is not a discussion about D&D or any game in particular, it’s about a type of mindset brought to any game. We rotate game systems and are not a “D&D group.” I have seen people used to a Rules Are God approach apply it to Savage Worlds, for example. Let me use an example from one of our Savage Worlds campaigns. One player had a big brute of a character, and we were in some building with ninjas or something attacking us from the rafters. The brute couldn’t hit them, so he wanted to bash the rafters, knocking them off balance – a Strength Trick. And it made sense in the situation. However, the rulebook only allows for Agility and Smarts Tricks, so the GM objected to the action on those grounds. This example shows that regardless of how big or small the ruleset is, it can be approached as “guidelines” or “the law”.

This mindset, or its opposite, can be maintained across game systems – again, it was largely the default metaphor back when all there was were ‘trad games.’ I understand some people may not believe that, but for purposes of this question, you have to take it as a given that we are able to successfully play all kinds of games without valuing the rulebook over the GM/game world reality.

The Question – Player Onboarding

We get new players from time to time, and sometimes their previous gaming experience is so steeped in 3e/4e D&D or similar games to the point where they just instinctively go to the rules over rulings. They want to spend ten minutes looking something up rather than just running with it, or are surprised when I say something can’t happen, or look at another player who tried something not defined in the rules and succeeded like they’re cheating or something. They want to build whatever options they can buy the book for into their character and are sad when I restrict them. I want to help these fragile souls adapt to our gaming style.

Assuming we don’t think that they are just so incompatible with our playstyle that we wouldn’t invite them in the first place, how do we help a willing new player become comfortable with our more freewheeling approach to the game? Naturally we inform new players of our approach, but group and individual approaches are poorly defined things, it’s not as easy as matching our label to their label and voila, they slot in to our style perfectly. When anyone joins any group, there is a certain amount of adaptation that happens implicitly and explicitly. We want to facilitate the culture change process a new player may be going through.

To state it another way, if you are more comfortable with Threefold Model terminology, I am looking to onboard willing new players coming from a past gamist-heavy experience to a game based more on a simulationist mindset (with a side dish of Rule 0 and immersion). Even willing players can have a hard time overcoming their baggage from previous gaming experiences, as our experiences form some of our default expectations in ways so subtle we are not always cognizant of them. What are techniques we/they can use to help shift gears?

I’d rather not change our play dynamic wholesale, like “take the books away from everyone.”

Please read this question carefully before responding. “Don’t do that,” “Don’t get players that aren’t exactly like that,” “Change your rule system, you have to play indie games,” “GM fiat is evil,” “You can’t play a game like D&D that way,” “The threefold model is a scam,” “My GM touched me in a bad way once,” etc. are not answers to my question. The question is: I have a group that plays a variety of games and generally doesn’t value strict rule adherence. Assuming someone wants to uptake this different playstyle, what can we do to help them do that?

How to let my players fail their rolls intentionally, but covertly?

I’m experimenting with some pen-and-paper role-playing involving characters with hidden agendas. To foster a proper sense of paranoia, I want these hidden agendas to be unknown to not only the other PCs, but the other players, too. A PC’s hidden agenda is known only to the GM and their player.

One of ways the secret agenda can manifest in the game is through the PCs intentionally failing tasks that would contradict their hidden agenda. For example, an undercover agent in a terrorist organization could try to aim their shots wide of the intended target, pretending to just have a bad day with their aim. Mistakes happen!

I want a rolling system that allows my players to intentionally make “unfortunate” mistakes without automatically implicating them of such treachery to the others. Here’s a list of criteria I’d like the system to fulfill:

  • As little overhead over normal rolling as possible: no pen and paper public key crypto!
  • The system must keep intentional failures indistinguishable from unintentional ones, at least between the non-GM players. Relying on suspicious gestures like note-passing or secret signals should preferably be avoided.
  • In particular, there mustn’t be a way for a player to prove that their roll was honest, lest the players decide to require such proof from everyone after each roll.
  • Preferably, the system makes it possible for a player to cheat downwards only – failure can be arranged, but success still requires luck with the dice!
  • Preferably the players roll their own dice – it’s not a huge deal, but getting to roll has a certain feel to it!

Does anyone have a system they have used or seen used that works given these criteria?

Note: Methods using cards and other randomization devices are also acceptable in lieu of dice, as long as the method proposed meets the standards outlined above.