Is D&D Built For Team Play?

4e was definitely far more collaborative because of the roles, power options, etc. You could build it into your character as much or as little as you wanted.

4e does bring up the biggest issue lying at the bottom of this pool of water. It was considered an unpopular edition because it made some drastic changes that didn’t feel like D&D or tried too hard to make an MMO, however you wish to look at it. The changes were too much from some of its original mechanical principles. In that way, it may be impossible to successfully incorporate these kinds of changes to D&D because, when it comes down to it, the audience determines if it’s a good Edition based on its familiarity to previous ones while changing just enough to make it unique and yet similar.

3e was able to do it when they converted D&D from THAC0 to d20+skill rolls. But they had to keep other things very close to home, hence why we have Difficulty Class to work with Armor Class because that name change alone could have been too much of a change. It’s a very delicate balancing act.

So back to the initial conversation…

Do you think you could take your character and do just as well alone if the dungeon was custom made for only one PC? Or would you be weaker because you depend on your allies to do as good as you do?

I bring all this up because I’m fascinated with the application and interpretation of mechanics, which is not always the same. It’s like how we all missed that Monopoly was designed as a game to warn us about capitalism but was packaged to embrace it. Hence my theory that D&D isn’t built to encourage collaborative actions but it’s played this way.

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D&D is built to sell books. :wink:

Any game not on is meant to sell books. Editions are like movie sequels - you’d think they’d be a sure thing but some of them were just awful. It’s a careful balancing act. I have so many changes I want to make to one of my first games that it doesn’t even feel right to call it a new edition; it feels more like a new game.

Converting D&D to a mechanically collaborative version really just comes down to class ability redesigns. Otherwise you risk too many core changes to the original material that it breaks a kind of suspension of reality we have about our favourite games. Changing the classes, however, is as old as the hobby itself.

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Yeah, that’s why I was saying I think it would be kind of interesting to give classes a few bonus actions that enhance other party members in a way that is thematic for that class, and see how that second tier of interaction would change the playstyle.


I don’t think a solo D&D romp would work, for one basic reason in 5e. While 5e isn’t as lethal for characters as 1st or even 2nd edition, being alone and dropping to zero means you are likely to die, even if the thing you were fighting is almost finished off.

Having even one companion that can cover your back and stabilize you when you drop to zero dramatically increases survivability.

Of course, level of lethality and the idea that your primary fail state is dying is another legacy of D&D’s past. There is, for example, “concession” conditions you can take to take you out of the fight without killing you, like fate or the AGE variant used in The Expanse.

I would actually really like a condition system that allowed for penalties that don’t amount to a death spiral, that would give an alternate, story based resolution for defeat. It would be interesting to design a “concession condition” that actually made it easier to flee danger, but harder to engage in fights, so the mechanics match the mood.

But I’m drifting a bit off topic at this point.

It may be worth noting that Gygax liked books like Howard’s Conan and Leiber’s Fafhrd and Mouser, which were large parties working together, but featured one or two heroes. The size of D&D parties seems to be more a byproduct of the idea of “naming” the individual members of a small skirmish unit from a war game.


Another reminder of a system I use that I find heavily encourages team play in my groups:

I still don’t get why some folks here might say this would encourage so-called Selfish Play… But, in practice it has encouraged team decisions about what rolls are most important to the group in real time.

I don’t play other RPGs, and so don’t have a comparitive frame of reference by using other games’ rules. And I won’t participate in a XYZ is better than D&D fight.

When I say I think D&D’s rules encourage team play, that’s because this has always been my experience since 1977. Mechanics, GM advice, house rules, and training up players over time.

I’m not saying that there aren’t selfish ways to play! Just that, in my games, that isn’t conducive to ongoing participation in my game. Mechanics have very little to do with it. :slight_smile:

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We actually have something like that coming out in our next issue of The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game: The Zine. A few story-based options for avoiding death. If you’re not a backer, I can try and remember to send you a copy.

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I like your token system @OldSchoolDM and have heard a few DMs using something like this, particularly rewarding players for helping clean & set up. The teacher’s pet award, as a friend calls it.

My intent is not to rip into anyone’s happy fun time, far from it. I still have a love for D&D, even if I have a hard time with it from a design standpoint. I publish a zine that merges 5e with indie game mechanics and ideas and have always dabbled with D&D third-party supplements for almost 15 years, even in the 4e days where the GSL pushed away many other publishers. Hell, I was even lucky enough to have an article published in Dragon Magazine back in 2001. D&D has been a massive influence in my design principles and philosophy… but it does come with an origin story.

Back in 2010, I was involved in a nasty car accident and was in a wheelchair for a few months. Because of where I lived compared to the other players in my D&D game (about an hour away), the DM of my group at the time set me up so I could play online with the rest of the group while they played at the table. It was exactly like that old web comic, whatever that was called.

The thing about that group is that there were 8 players. On average, I had a 45-minute wait between turns. And with so many people talking, no one could ever hear anything I said unless everyone was quiet. All those side conversations cut out my sound because that’s just how video chats work. So I would sit there and listen to the game for 45 minutes at a time without being able to contribute to any conversations with friends. This allowed me to experience the game without the fun aspects of it and that lead to questions on mechanics and the overall core loop of the game. Those questions are very much like the ones I ask now.

I asked the question about team-based mechanics in D&D because I wanted to see if I was missing something in my theory. Hence why I put it here, a forum that has pro-D&D roots but there’s also some experience with other games. If I ask the same question on another forum with indie game fans who happen to have played D&D, I get a lot more agreements than here. It’s like asking if veggie burgers are better than meat burgers by going to a vegan forum versus a non-vegan forum - the answers are going to be different but very revealing.

For what it’s worth, I was lost early in this conversation because of what I see now as a semantic misunderstanding. “Mechanics for collaborative tactical resolutions” strike me as much, much different than “Team play.”

Also, I recognize that most modern discussions of D&D are going to be filtered through a 5e lens (of which I have only passing familiarity), but my experience of Oe, I believe, bears out what many are saying here: players (and player characters) have to work together. How this works out mechanically, if at all and not just narratively, is determined by the game group. Can any single one of those characters survive a traditional (dungeon?) adventure? Absolutely not. Can an adventure be constructed around the competencies of a single character? Well, sure, but this doesn’t mean that the adventure therefore will remotely feel like “traditional” D&D.

While approaching rpg design, the lens I use with the most frequency is emulation. To me, D&D is very much it’s own thing, a potpourri and synthesis of all the fantasy elements that Arneson and Gygax liked. Modern games typically have very different intentions. It seems like you’re experimenting with design. But I wonder why D&D is your subject.

But, I AM a backer!

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Revisiting some thoughts here, but I was just thinking about the “time between player turns” idea. One thing I really hated in 3.5 was the “immediate” action, because we had players that would take a bunch of spells that used the immediate action, and essentially break into another player’s turn.

That said, if there were a way to “invite” another player into your turn, so that it’s not someone invasively taking the table spotlight away from you, that might be a nice compromise in that instance.

Also, I really hated immediate actions. Like, order of resolution stack of blue cards in Magic the Gathering hated it.

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When I think of specialization and team orientation in accomplishing goals, I think of things like the military. I found this after a search:

“As the Army entered combat operations in Vietnam, the squads were built around two fire teams and a squad leader. Each fire team in the squad was made up of a fire team leader, an automatic rifleman with an M60, an assistant gunner, and a grenadier armed with an M79 Grenade Launcher. The balance of the squad was made up of three riflemen who, depending on the mission, could be attached to either of the two fire teams. A typical configuration consisted of two riflemen attached to Alpha fire team and the third attached to Bravo fire team.”

I keep thinking about this. For D&D, isn’t it true that if you improve your class-specific abilities (a so-called selfish action) doesn’t that, in a perfect design, improve your potential as a better team member (overcoming team obstacles)?

“Team Play vs. Cooperative Play” is still a difference without distinction for me.

I’m all for discussing mechanics for encouraging the development/recognition of each other’s potential. Thats things like my ±1 tokens…

Instead of more semantic has/has-not or better/worse statements, please share specific mechanics you’ve found useful, how they might be adapted to other games (like D&D), and what benefits/costs they introduce.

After all, my ±1 are derived from just such discussion of other token-systems. :slight_smile:


I’m still here.

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If you’re really interested in cooperative game design, please consider this book. Full disclosure: I read and commented on early drafts of this book, am mentioned briefly, and had several discussions with the authors about D&D and certain other co-op games specifically during its early formulation.

The book scope was reduced to be only boardgames over the years, so some of the case studies were excerpted - specifically D&D, but that was republished on the book’s blog:

It contains this excerpt: “It’s tempting to say that there are no limitations on the cooperation in D&D , as it feels like you can cooperate as much as you want. The truth is that cooperation is built so deeply into the rules of D&D that the limitations on the cooperation have become entirely natural. However, they’re there — such as the amount of time it takes to exchange equipment or the restrictions on whether you can cast a spell on yourself or a fellow. What you won’t find in D&D are obviously artificial limitations on cooperation: the ability of the game to make all of its limitations feel natural is one of the best elements of its cooperative design.”

More fodder for discussion. :slight_smile:


I am looking forward to reading that book! Thanks for sharing.

I think what is being missed from Todd’s original assertion is not “if” games like D&D are collaborative in nature (this is not being argued), but if the underlying rules themselves, that the game leverages its foundation on, actually help or hinder cooperative play.

I can’t speak for Todd, but I would argue that the ruleset itself does lend itself to suit selfish play over cooperative play in individuals.

Now understand that I use 5e primarily in my work as a focal point to teach individuals how to navigate collaborative activities. This may sound like I am contradicting myself, but experience has shown me that I must use D&D in my work because of it’s brand awareness and its popularity (thereby making it easier for people to find groups in the community).

It would not be my game of choice however as a teaching tool, because I and my staff actually have to “fight” the system when guiding participants in character creation and in game play.

The mechanics, being a “leverage the rules to make a powerful character in combat” ruleset provides little to no reward for a player that wants to make a support or team focused character. In fact, I would argue it penalises players who want that. (Just look at how many people thumb their nose at the cleric class which still can’t shake the stigma it garnered from early editions).

Collaborative play is part of role-playing, but cooperative play can be derailed by rulesets that promote individual strength over party support.

So from the outset, D&D puts the player in the mindset of “my character” before party role.

Other games mechanically reward cooperative play on top of the collaborative play inherent in RPGs and there by promote party support over “my character”.

I can highlight this by how much work my team has to do to help shift mindsets when participants graduate to level two programs. We use Savage Worlds in level 2 for the express purpose of teaching cooperative play, and we spend a lot energy pointing out how character creation and ruleset play differs from D&D and why.

Can cooperative play be done in D&D? No question… yes. But is that reliant on the playing group or the rules? My answer, based on my experience, is that the ruleset itself does little to promote cooperative play and I would argue rewards non-cooprative play even though the game is collaborative.

In a nutshell… it facilitates “Lone wolf” and discourages “party first” character creation / playstyles. (IMHO… for whatever that is worth :wink: )

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So I’ve brought this up in a couple other forums or forum-like spaces. Based on this feedback here and on those other spaces, it does appear there is co-op/team/group play built into the game… but not overtly.

Yeah, system mastery. Knowing what works for you, your fellow party members, your DM, all of that. I wasn’t inclined to take it at face value because so many of the options (feats, spells, classes, etc) were so plentiful that most of these options started feeling like anything and everything was thrown out there. It felt like saying the previous two edition spent 5 years apiece perfecting the game, which means they didn’t get it right the first time.

It wasn’t until someone pointed out that 5e took so long to start providing character options because they nailed down the best system mastery options from the start. And while I’m not 100% sold on the idea that it creates good co-op right out of the box, I believe 5e may have a stronger case than 3e or 4e.

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I’m still not sold on the opinion they don’t encourage team play. In my experience, a group of “lone wolves” fail, usually quickly and messily. I feel that many of the posts above would also believe that no team sport is team based, as players also have individual stats and are working toward their own raise on their next contract.


(While I don’t agree, I’m super excited this community can have this conversation as friends. Our disagreements prove that we all have the strength to listen to other opinions and consider them for their own merit.)



(And that was all I was going to type but you need a minimum 10 characters to make a post. That’s the minimum barrier to conscious, intelligent thought, folks. 10 characters. Wow.)


Damn, this is a solid thread here. I’m still working my way through it and every time I’m about to respond with a, “Yeah, but…” or a “I agree mostly…” one of you already made my point for me in the next post :slight_smile: