Is D&D Built For Team Play?

I think a hard and fast “yes or no” to this question is the wrong answer. If you limit yourself to yes or no then the answer is an objective, yes. Yes, the game is built to be played by a team of players who use a team of characters to collaboratively achieve their goals.

There are plenty of rules in D&D 5E that support team play. In fact, there are thousands of examples. A lot of those rules are situated in the character builds section, not necessarily the core rules. For example, one of the 5E barbarian rage options provides all allies advantage on attacks to a target if the barbarian is adjacent to the target. The barbarian gets nothing from that ability. Only his allies benefit for it, making it an option that supports team play. D&D 5E is littered with options like this that support the team. They may not be situated inside the core rules, like the Aid ability, but they are there and should not be overlooked.

That said, I think some of you are tripping yourselves up when you compare D&D to other games (using the Savage Worlds example) and saying, “Well, that has more obvious rules elements that support a team dynamic. So that is a team game and this is not.” I think you’ve accidentally mentally cut yourself off at the knees so let me give you some things to consider.

The answer to the question should not be a hard yes or no. The more interesting consideration is “To what degree is a D&D built for team play?” Because from a game design perspective, there is a spectrum of options that support team play. So just because Savage Worlds is more oriented towards team play doesn’t mean D&D is not oriented towards team play. It’s just oriented in that direction to a lesser degree.

What you should look at is a spectrum from “solo game” to “100% team-oriented play”. D&D can be played solo but I think it works better when a group is playing and supporting each other, making use of those options. When comparing two games, I agree Savage Worlds is definitely closer to 100% team-oriented play end of the spectrum than D&D is but that doesn’t mean D&D isn’t a game about team play at all.

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Not that anyones viewpoint is wrong, as stated this is far more complex than yes or no, but I feel game vs rules has been mashed here.

I think we all agree D&D, because it is an RPG, promotes cooperative play… but as a rule set?

I would argue that the rules lend players to take solo focused play styles. Other rulesets do a better job at promoting cooperative and collaborative play.

I have stated above why I feel this to be the case.

What I will state again though is D&D is a solid game that provides all the things people who love it need for their games. Though I still maintain it is the players that make it collaborative, not the ruleset itself. :wink:

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Quick note, while pondering on this topic further I was reading my response and I am not happy with the language I used, specifically indicating there was a “wrong answer.” All points of view are valid and no one is wrong or right in a discussion like this. Not sure why I used that phrasing and I hope I didn’t put anyone off by it.

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Na mate. I think you were spot on. This topic coming down to yes or no would be an incorrect outcome.

It was stated earlier that this community rocks because we can all have our opinions and not be shot down for them.

Debate over counter points of views is good. In many instances a consensus is not the goal, just the reflection of what a counter viewpoint means to our specific situations.

Take this topic. My viewpoint is based on my experiences with D&D 5e, coupled with my experiences with other systems, coupled with my work. On the surface I could argue that I am coming from a “learned” position. Truth is, I am one person who looks at gaming from a very subjective lens.

This does not mean my opinion is invalid, but it in no way makes me right. I like this forum because I can present my thoughts, have them viewed from another perspective, and then I can reflect on what these new perspectives mean to my thoughts on gaming.

If I came on here and started touting that my understanding is the right way and other viewpoints are not valid, than not only am I not understanding what this forum and community is about, but I will learn nothing new. (And would end up damaging this community.)

@Akodoken this is a safe community to have your say in. Your post required no clarification regarding language that I could see and, at least to me, was most welcome.

To me this forum is not about proving a point is correct. This forum is about challenging concepts and seeing where that takes each of us on our own gaming journeys.

On another post @LaramieWall made a joke about having a life goal to provide me with valuable information for my work. The truth is, he already has. Every post I have read of his has made me reflect on what I hold to be “correct” in my understanding of gaming.

He, and others, have changed my understanding of gaming and value concepts around gaming. Not necessarily because he presented something completely new, but because his insight challenged my set beliefs, inspired me to evaluate them, and change some or all of them (whole or in part) to make my gaming experience better for me and my tables.

That is what makes this forum great in IMHO. :slight_smile:

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I appreciate your feedback and everyone’s insights. This community is definitely proving to be as high quality as the podcast that drew me here. :slight_smile:

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Team Play Mechanics in D&D 5e

I still hold that being a great WHATEVER class player makes for strong team play, so I’m taking a few hours to sort through the PHB for specific mechanics that have a player make a choice to support the team/party instead of taking the most powerful self-centric action. [Since my goals are always aligned with the team goals, I still see this as
a false distinction.]

  • PHB: Actions
    • Help action
    • Spending Inspiration on Other
    • Give item to other (i.e. potion)
    • Stabilize
    • Group Checks
  • PHB: Feats
    • Defensive Duelist
    • Healer
    • Inspiring Leader
  • PHB: Class Features (grant advantage to others)
    • Intimidating Presence
    • Bardic Inspiration/Font of Inspiration/Superior Inspiration/Combat Inspiration
    • Song of Rest
    • Countercharm
    • Disciple of Life
    • Channel Divinity: Preserve Life
    • Blessed Healer
    • Supreme Healing
    • Improved Warding Flare
    • Protection
    • Commander’s Strike
    • Goading Attack
    • Maneuvering Attack
    • Menacing Attack
    • Rally
    • Trip Attack
    • Stunning Strike
    • Open Hand Technique
    • Fist of Unbroken Air
    • Rush of the Gale Spirits
    • Water Whip
    • Lay on Hands
    • Aura of Protection
    • Aura of Courage
    • Cleansing Touch
    • Holy Nimbus
    • Nature’s Wrath
    • Aura of Warding
    • Abjure Enemy
    • Sneak Attack (when ally adjacent)
    • Careful Spell
    • Bend Luck
    • Beguiling Defenses
    • Chains of Carceri
    • Gaze of Two Minds
    • Projected Ward
    • Benign Transposition
    • Hypnotic Gaze
    • Instinctive Charm
    • Alter Memories
  • PHB: Magic Spells
    • Heal Team Members
      • [Mass] Cure Wounds
      • Beacon of Hope
      • Death Ward
      • Gentle Repose/Spare the Dying
      • Aura of Vitality
      • [Mass] Healing Word
      • Prayer of Healing
      • [Mass] Heal
      • Heroes’ Feast
      • Heroism
      • Goodberry
      • Leser/Greater Restoration/Remove Curse
      • Leomund’s Tiny Hut/Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion
      • Longstrider
      • Mage Armor
      • Power Word Heal
      • Prayer of Healing
      • Revivify/Regenerate/Reincarnate/Resurrection
    • Buff/Support Team Members
      • Aide
      • Bless
      • Detect/Dispel Evil/Good/Magic/Poison/Disease
      • Guidance/Resistance
      • Enhance Ability
      • Spider Climb
      • Fly
      • Warding Bond
      • Shield of Faith
      • Create Food and Water
      • Freedom of Movement
      • Gaseous Form
      • Haste
      • Identify
      • Mind Blank
      • Nondetection
      • Protection from Good/Evil/Poison/Energy
      • Rary’s Telepathic Bond
      • Sanctuary
      • Seeming
      • Sequester
      • Telepathy
      • Tenser’s Floating Disk
      • Transport via Plants
      • Water Breathing/Walk
      • Wind Walk
      • Word of Recall
    • Control Battlefield (Many are Concentration)
      • Aura of Life
      • Aura of Purity
      • Antilife Shell
      • Antimagic Field
      • Blade Barrier
      • Calm Emotions
      • Command/Charm/Hold/Dominate Person/Creatures
      • Cloud of Daggers
      • CloudKill
      • Compulsion
      • Confusion
      • Entangle
      • Enthrall
      • Faerie Fire
      • Fear
      • Globe of Invulnerability
      • Hallow
      • Holy Aura
      • Hypnotic Pattern
      • Magic Circle
      • Mass Suggestion
      • Otto’s Irresistible Dance
      • Prismatic Wall
      • Reverse Gravity
      • Silence
      • Sleep
      • Slow
      • Wall of XXXX
      • Weird
      • Zone of Truth

…and that is just the PHB!

Therefore, D&D 5e strongly supports team play. Q.E.D.

[Mic Drop]


NOTE: Your list might vary. Though it chafes me to not include features and spells that do the most harm (HP) to a group of the team’s opponents, I will leave those off the list to make my point; Clearly, Destroy Undead and Fireball help the team by destroying a group of enemies, but some seem to say that these are “selfish” non-team play…

I did include a lot of things that inflict status effects on one or more targets, which I’d argue is team-play because each other player-character will get at least one action and bonus action with which to capitalize on the status condition.

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Does it still count as team work if you have an NPC cleric and some NPC fighters so your wizard can play solo? We had the most success replacing clerics with potions and a staff of cute light wounds, and wizards with a couple wands.

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The question on the table was “Is D&D Built For Team Play?” - it is right at the top of your screen now.

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I was just thinking, the niche protection of classes means everyone has their own way to contribute, but it is not necessary to have people playing those classes. Clerics and thieves have never been popular at my tables, they just get substituted by gear. Henchmen fighter can take hits. You don’t need a team of people if you just have something else fill those niche roles. I think other games pull more for multiple humans in the way they are played.

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@OldSchoolDM

It could be argued that out of that list, only the first five things you listed count as the rule system promoting collaborative play.

Everything else listed are character choices that individuals pick “if” they feel they want their character to be supportive of the group.

It could also be argued that many of those choices will be overlooked by the majority of players because it makes their character less capable as an individual.

While the data from the above web site is three years old, on face value it could be argued that the top four chosen classes are “self” focused classes.

Now I admit I am drawing a long bow here and the data can be extrapolated in any number of ways. This for instance does not indicate what version of these class were chosen.

On face value however, you could argue that self focused classes are more popular than traditional support classes in D&D 5e. This could indicate that the ruleset helps facilitate self focused play.

Added, is the fact that 5e is way more about the power of the character as it advances vs gaining items like in AD&D, and a case could be mounted that AD&D, even without skills and feats etc. as a ruleset promotes collaborative play far more than 5e. AD&D is a brutal system compared to 5e and that promoted the need to work together to survive.

Now I freely admit that I have no data for class distribution in AD&D, so this is an incomplete comparison.

I can’t help but feel that because the classes in 5e have the ability to be more all rounders, or take abilities / skills that in past versions was not allowed, the ruleset seems to not promote collaborative play because It is far easier to be self sufficient.

Now you could easily argue that Savage Worlds does the same thing. Characters can hybrid and cross traditional boundaries with ease. However, the mechanics behind overcoming adversity and challenge are designed to stack bonuses in your favour as you play.

The best and most productive way the ruleset makes this happen is by characters collaborating at tasks and leveraging strength in numbers.

It goes further by having mechanics that allow creative use of almost any skill that feels applicable, making support characters more valuable in all situations … Just by collaborating.

This is not an argument for Savage Worlds vs D&D 5e as a better system, this is just an example of how another ruleset promotes collaborative play better than 5e.

D&D 5e is a great game. People play it collaboratively in most instances. However, it can be argued the rules themselves are focused on individual character first, party second. Other systems have shown to have the focus the other way around, and that would seem to indicate that D&D 5e, as a rule set (not a game) does not promote collaborative play.

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What? No. How dissmissive of you. :frowning:

Everything I listed is a rule supporting team play.

This absolutist language is my problem. I find it intentionally provacative and misleading.

I’ve provided concrete detailed evidence to the contrary, which you have dismissed out of hand.

Clearly you think some games are better for what you call team play, and that may will be true. But that isn’t the question at the head/start of this thread.

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I wasn’t trying to be dismissive I promise.

I feel my responses are directly answering the initial question, but I have no more agenda in the topic beyond exploring the concept, not trying to prove the point one way or the other.

I am certainly not trying to discount you or your perspective.

I’ll bow out of futher debate on this one as I don’t want to upset anyone.

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This is one thing I really enjoy at my job. I’ve been here for about 15 years. Sure, I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. But there are regular times I’m hands down the dumbest person in the room. And those moments are GREAT. I acknowledge I likely have little to contribute (though I will speak up if I feel the need) and can simply be present and learn.

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@Pure_Mongrel - No need to bow out, mate. Yer good :slight_smile:

One of the things that makes RPGs interesting, and difficult to discuss sometimes, is the subtleties around the writing and design. Example:

What I think @OldSchoolDM is talking about with a plethora of “team goodies and rules” may not have purely game mechanical status to enforce team play. By that I mean there is no overt mechanic in 5e that says “If you cast a spell/provide help/do other team focused stuff you and/or your team get X bonus/reward/etc.” The benefit of acting as a team and for the team is implied in the cool bonuses and team impacting goodies that Old School calls out (great list by the way).

HOWEVER - the implied impact built into, for example, healing spells that help the whole team, help actions that allow the team to accomplish something, and so on would tell me that while the designers didn’t specifically build in a Mechanical Benefit to enforce and encourage players to choose to do/use these team impacting things, the simple existence of these things means that thinking/acting for the benefit of the team is an important feature to the game.

If it did have Mechanical Tools built into the system that specifically said/enforced “Whenever your PC acts in a Team Focused way by using X, Y, Z, etc. you and/or your Team are granted a bonus of…” it would be overtly stated and not “only” implied. Strongly implied, IMO.

Some games are VERY specific in these definitions and mechanics. Dungeon World’s Bonds are mechanically enforced where as 5e’s are more guidelines. Other systems are, IMO, more like Toolboxes. Lots of options that are trying to support all sorts of play styles (selfish, team, dark/gritty, high adventure, gothic, etc) and GM and Player intentions so they don’t want to be overly prescriptive. This, again IMO, leads to language that implies/shows us that a Team focus is totally available in a game, and gives us some tools, skills, feats, spells, etc. that can be used to provide that play experience if that’s what you want.

You can also play 5e with a pack of selfish bastard PCs who are at each other’s throats, in a PvP environment and there is no mechanical penalty/punishment (strong words there I know, but it’s all I can think of right now) in the system that tells you overtly that “Hey! This isn’t how this game is designed!” You’re totally free to do that. Heck, you can have part of a group be selfish bastard(s) and the other team focused and still play the game without running into a built in mechanical issue.

Just some thoughts on my part. I’m not 100% convinced on all points/thoughts here, but it’s where my head is at right now.

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I saw Brett replying, so I held off on my thoughts. I’m glad I did, because he nailed it.

I continue to struggle with this topic, and I think now I know why. There seem to be unconsidered assumptions in the topic title.

Why are we even asking if D&D is built for team play? Is team play the design intention? Is D&D supposed to be like football or baseball, with “players” inhabiting a role and avoiding “errors?” Are players allowed to play “poorly,” i.e., “I’m not going to catch that fly ball, instead I’m going to trip up the runner, I hope the umpire doesn’t see me”? Is D&D like a board game for 1-4 players in which the structure of the rules themselves compel the players to work together against the design of the game?

I believe that D&D was conceived as a simulation of reality. As such, we have to examine our worldviews. Are humans a collective organism? Well, yes. Are they also individuals? Well, yes. It may be that, in real life, I follow scripts (rules) that enforce team play (there is no “I” in team), but mostly I believe the illusion (?) that I have choice in the matter, that I am free to do what I want, even if what I want is to be selfish and harmful to the community.

I believe that, as a simulation of “reality,” D&D adopts this latter, individualistic view. What is a real-world analogue for the alternative? I can’t imagine it. A company? One still chooses to stay at one’s post and do one’s job, right? Is totalitarian socialism the real life equivalent of team play, one in which players are punished for not doing their part? Or is it like (now imagined again) Star Trek’s Borg, wherein one has no real choice? One is just part of the program?

A last option, which I see brought up here: incentivizing team play. But I’ve seen some of those incentives, as brought up by @OldSchoolDM, dismissed because players still are allowed to play as individuals, if they so choose. :man_shrugging:

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One of the hardest things about a written discussion is the loss of tone and body language.

This must certainly muddy the waters.

On the surface a discussion about a collaborative story telling game having rules that may promote solo focus seems contradictory.

Worse still, it sounds like an attack on a system that many people love.

This was not my intent, and while again I can’t speak for @Warden, it is not what I saw in Tod’s original post.

To me this was a debate about covention (common held beliefs about D&D 5e) vs the letter of the law (what rules as written may actually promote).

D&D5e is a great game. It brings people together and is the catalyst for cooperative and collaborative play.

But is it our understanding of what RPGs are as a concept that promotes the collaboration in D&D 5e, or do the current rules promote that collaboration?

When I examine D&D 5e only from the rules as written design I feel a case, that the ruleset itself can promote choices in players where self choices are more preferable to group focused choices, can be made.

I don’t see this as a “is D&D 5e a bad system?” discussion, or because other rulesets seem to promote collaborative play better than 5e that this is a “are other games better than 5e?” discussion.

What interests me about this topic is how us older players see D&D5e, based on decades of table focused convention vs how new players, who don’t have older players to influence their perception, may view D&D 5e based on just what the rules provide.

Through that lens, is there an argument that the current ruleset actually promotes lone wolf focused characters / play?

If this was a discussion about how well does Savage Worlds, as a rule set, define the players character, I would be arguing that due to its generic focus, the rules do not promote well defined characters. Much debate could be had on this around edges, hindrances, how dice define attributes and skills, etc., but I would hold 5e up as an example of a ruleset that does it better.

No ruleset is perfect and, I would argue, it is how we are introduced to a game, and by whom, that influences our perception of a game far more than the rules themselves.

By debating Tod’s original premise, I see an exploration of our hobby as a whole. 5e is as much a reflection of a new generation of players as it is a nod to its past.

But what about the future?

As we older players pass on to the Great Green Griffin Inn in the sky, our influence and conventions about role playing will fade. Discussions like this might help shape D&D 6th, 7th … 10th ed so that the things we old guard hold dear in RPGs will live on.

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The in-game result ( in my view) of this sort of non-cooperative play at least is that the players get their asses handed to them by encounters they should be able to handle.

Perhaps not a TPK - but half the party unconscious (or down to 1 hp), everyone yelling at the barbarian who once again charged off into the middle of a horde of foes, negating the wizard’s option of throwing a fireball… again. (Just an example I made up on the spot - not a specific thing that happened over and over and over and over and over…)

I find that low levels are not dangerous because the PC’s are weak - it’s because players want to “show off” or are so focused on their own character that they forget that they are part of a team.

The session that a group starts to synergize is the day you have to up your game as a DM to start properly challenging the group - It’s my favorite thing to watch happen - and I always make a point of calling it out to the table.

@Pure_Mongrel - even if we all disagree with each other what I love about this forum is how passionate everyone is about a better game experience. Even though I am in the “of course it encourages team play” I want to hear what you and everyone else has to say - even if my opinion doesn’t change, I’m gaining valuable insights and viewpoints.

Brent and Sean have created something here that I view as a haven from the crapstorm of 2020.
I respect you not wanting to upset or argue with anyone here, but please don’t go silent.

Rory

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Sorry, I should have been clearer.

I have no intention of bowing out of the forum. I should have said I was bowing out of this discussion as my presentations were diving deeper than this discussion potentially wanted and I did not want my eagerness to explore to come off as a need to win the discussion.

There is a point where the “dive” strays far from the original premise. I was endanger of doing that I feel, and creating tension in the process.

I hate absolutes. For me, once you hit that point, all learning and creativity stops.

My comments were coming across as absolutes unintentionally and that is a sign for me to step down from my soap box. :wink:

I don’t take this as a negative. A forum of virtual friends, but physical strangers, can only do so much. I would rather be able to discuss other topics as friends than drive this one forward and potentially present myself in the wrong light.

What @OldSchoolDM presented was a very compelling argument. My counter was an attempt to dive deeper, not discredit. I have much to learn from Randy and I would hate for him or anyone to feel that I was implying their thoughts and values are invalid.

Better to shake hands then shake fists. :smiley:

I have not put the box away, and I look forward to future debates of explanation. :wink:

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Excellent!
:grinning:

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I think you hit the nail on the head with these comments and I truly appreciate the self-reflection.

Please; Feel free to “fork” the discussion into other threads. Personally, I’d read everything in a constructive, non-comparative, thread about encouraging team/cooperative play in game mechanics both in-general and for 5eD&D specifically.

Some of the other possible threads already outlined in the last few posts might be meaningful to other folks here as well. I’ll only pop my head up if I think I have something to share.

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