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View Full Version : Contrary to Popular Belief, You Can Win D&D



Dan_Hemmens
2007-04-18, 10:02 AM
This was originally going to go as a reply on the "Why I'll never win D&D" thread, but I think it's actually a side-issue, so I'm giving it its own thread.

People constantly say "you can't win D&D, you can't win a roleplaying game, it's all about having fun and playing your character."

This is, of course, true, but only in the trivial equal to zero sense. D&D does not have an explicit, defined victory condition. That doesn't mean that every possible outcome in the game is equally desirable.

When you roll a die in D&D, you almost always want to get a 20 (or whatever the maximum number showing on that die is). You want maximum hitpoints at level up, you want maximum damage on your attacks, you want to succeed at all your skill rolls. Everything that happens in the game is, moment-to-moment, a question of winning or losing. Nobody casts Finger of Death on a monster and hopes that they pass their saving throw. Nobody rolls their attack saying "c'mon natural 1".


Success or failure, victory or defeat, reward or punishment. Succeeding at in-character actions is what D&D is all about, it's the only way a player can actually engage with the game.

Suggesting otherwise is like suggesting that you can't win Chess, because what it's really about is challenging your strategic abilities, and you get to do that either way.

Tellah
2007-04-18, 10:06 AM
People say you can't win D&D because it has no defined victory conditions, not because it's only about having fun. I can succeed at lifting weights, for instance, but I don't win lifting weights unless I add in a victory condition--the Mr. Olympia competition, for instance.

Tor the Fallen
2007-04-18, 10:08 AM
I know.
Why don't you get an old keyboard you don't use any more, write "Win Button" on the space bar, and hammer it for a while.
Then pin a ribbon to your chest, pronounce yourself the winner, and play monopoly.

Dan_Hemmens
2007-04-18, 10:09 AM
People say you can't win D&D because it has no defined victory conditions, not because it's only about having fun. I can succeed at lifting weights, for instance, but I don't win lifting weights unless I add in a victory condition--the Mr. Olympia competition, for instance.

And that's rather my point. It does have defined victory conditions, just not *absolute* victory conditions.

Interestingly, I'd also point out that lifting weights is a function of carrying capacity, so actually you *can't* succeed or fail at it.

Dan_Hemmens
2007-04-18, 10:10 AM
I know.
Why don't you get an old keyboard you don't use any more, write "Win Button" on the space bar, and hammer it for a while.
Then pin a ribbon to your chest, pronounce yourself the winner, and play monopoly.

Pardon? I'm genuinely not sure what you're saying here.

squishycube
2007-04-18, 10:12 AM
Your post seems to imply that thinking otherwise is foolish (the chess example), even though you don't say it literally. I can tell you from experience that this will get you infractions from the moderators.

Many players don't play to maximize results, they play for the experience, the story, the engagement and not for getting to level 20.

I agree it is possible to win D&D, you win together with your group and DM by having fun.

My way of having fun is by creating characters who have their strong and weak points and see how they interact with the world and the other players and then see how they develop these points.

Your way of having fun seems primarily to see your character succeed, to have it defeat difficult challenges.

These are both viable ways of having fun, and both make you 'win' D&D.

EDIT:

Pardon? I'm genuinely not sure what you're saying here.
I think I do, I think his point is quite similar to mine:
I think he is saying that Dan is slapping his personal view of a winning condition on D&D and then proclaims himself the winner.

Tellah
2007-04-18, 10:14 AM
It does have defined victory conditions, just not *absolute* victory conditions.

The word "win" entails absolute victory, though. Without an absolute victory condition, one cannot win.


Interestingly, I'd also point out that lifting weights is a function of carrying capacity, so actually you *can't* succeed or fail at it.

Really? I succeed at lifting weights three times a week. I didn't mean it in the D&D sense, I meant that, in real life, lifting weights is another activity without a victory condition.

Ranis
2007-04-18, 10:24 AM
www.dictionary.com's definition of Win:


win1 won, winĚning, noun
–verb (used without object)
1. to finish first in a race, contest, or the like.
2. to succeed by striving or effort: He applied for a scholarship and won
3. to gain the victory; overcome an adversary: The home team won.
–verb (used with object)
4. to succeed in reaching (a place, condition, etc.), esp. by great effort: They won the shore through a violent storm.
5. to get by effort, as through labor, competition, or conquest: He won his post after years of striving.
6. to gain (a prize, fame, etc.).
7. to be successful in (a game, battle, etc.).
8. to make (one's way), as by effort or ability.
9. to attain or reach (a point, goal, etc.).
10. to gain (favor, love, consent, etc.), as by qualities or influence.
11. to gain the favor, regard, or adherence of.
12. to gain the consent or support of; persuade (often fol. by over): The speech won them over to our side.
13. to persuade to marry; gain in marriage.
14. British Mining.
a. to obtain (ore, coal, etc.).
b. to prepare (a vein, bed, mine, etc.) for working, by means of shafts or the like.
–noun
15. a victory, as in a game or horse race.
16. the position of the competitor who comes in first in a horse race, harness race, etc. Compare place (def. 27b), show (def. 27).
—Verb phrase
17. win out, to win or succeed, esp. over great odds; triumph: His finer nature finally won out.

So, I totally and 100% agree with Tellah.

Indon
2007-04-18, 11:10 AM
I don't know about the rest of you, but I win so hard at D&D that by the RAW, I am illegal, and my DM's have to houserule me into their campaigns.

Joking aside, what if my objective is to, say, play a tragic hero and die a martyr for my cause? Then I might not want to roll 20's on everything; I can't exactly die a hero if I one-shot everything, after all. So in that case I win by _not_ winning, at least by anothers' measurement.

D&D can be won, not because it is a system without victory conditions but because it is a system with arbitrary victory conditions. You win D&D when you want to win D&D.

Dan_Hemmens
2007-04-18, 12:22 PM
Your post seems to imply that thinking otherwise is foolish (the chess example), even though you don't say it literally. I can tell you from experience that this will get you infractions from the moderators.

It's certainly not my intent to imply that thinking otherwise is foolish: the chess example is just an analogy to underline a point.


Many players don't play to maximize results, they play for the experience, the story, the engagement and not for getting to level 20.

You're confusing *why* people play a game with the actual *conditions* under which the game is played.

I fence twice a week, and I do it because I'm interested in seventeenth century swordsmanship, I need the exercise, and I enjoy the challenge of learning a martial art.

That doesn't change the fact that if somebody stabs me up in an assault, they have beaten me.


I agree it is possible to win D&D, you win together with your group and DM by having fun.

You miss my point. I'm saying rather the opposite, I'm saying that D&D actually *does* have an implicit victory condition, which is loosely defined as "kill the monsters and get their gold."


My way of having fun is by creating characters who have their strong and weak points and see how they interact with the world and the other players and then see how they develop these points.

However you can only do that if your character doesn't get killed in the third encounter.


Your way of having fun seems primarily to see your character succeed, to have it defeat difficult challenges.

Actually, I primarily GM.

But the point isn't how people have fun, the point is the way the game is actually structured.


These are both viable ways of having fun, and both make you 'win' D&D.

And again, my point isn't about having fun, it's about the victory conditions implicit in the game, the assumptions the game makes about your character goals.

Nowhere, in any D&D source material will you find a Prestige class which - for example - reduces your character's Base Attack Bonus, in order to represent the character embracing the path of peace. Nowhere will you find a class that gets 9th level spellcasting at level 1, allowing you to play a jaded wizard who is slowly learning to overcome his reliance on magic.

Poison_Fish
2007-04-18, 01:36 PM
Hmm.. in this case, I'd differentiate what 'success' and 'winning' actually is.

I'm going to agree with Tellah's understanding of what winning is. It's an absolute, like winning a basketball game. Now, you could say "I won that round of throwing the ball/fighting the monster by connecting my sword to it's face", but that's only a small fraction of the events that make up the whole of the game.

Success, as viewed by me, is succeeding a contested roll, it's smaller scale.

Winning I view on a much greater scale. I can say I won a combat, but to say I won a roleplaying game is a lot harder for me to state.

But, by common definition of either word, they are synonymous with each other. So, you certainly can say you won D&D, but I wouldn't use the same language you are using. You call it winning D&D, I call it winning just one roll, not the entirety of D&D or any other roleplaying game out there.

Diggorian
2007-04-18, 02:53 PM
Dan, you're describing winning in a D&D game, which is ofcourse possible and frequent. A troll wants to kill you, but you survive. You beat -- won agaisnt -- that troll.

You cant win D&D. I recall reading this in one of the Core books, but cant find it. Still, logically, D&D cant be one.

greenknight
2007-04-18, 06:23 PM
The word "win" entails absolute victory, though. Without an absolute victory condition, one cannot win.

A "win" does mean a victory, but winning once doesn't mean you win all the time. For example, someone might win a 100 metre sprint today. A week later, against those same people, that same person might not win.

Furthermore, different people might set different victory conditions. The usual condition is to come in first in some kind of competition. However, a particular person might set a "win" condition as merely achieving a particular goal. Using the running example from above, this person might consider a win to be a personal best time, and might "lose" even if he or she comes first in the race, or might "win" even if he or she comes last.

So how does that apply to D&D? Well, it all depends on the victory condition. If the victory condition is to have fun during the game session, then everyone who had fun in that game session did indeed "Win D&D" - regardless of what happened to their characters. If the goal is to defeat every foe encountered during the session, then everyone who achieves that has gained a win. Or if the goal is to succeed in a particular quest, then the "win" is achieved when that happens.

So yes, I agree with the OP. You can "win" D&D, if you set the right victory conditions and achieve them. What I disagree with is this statement:


Succeeding at in-character actions is what D&D is all about, it's the only way a player can actually engage with the game.

That's one way a player can engage with the game, but it's certainly not the only way, nor is it the only way to "win" D&D.

Demented
2007-04-18, 06:38 PM
Just arguing semantics...

You cannot win at D&D.
As Diggorian said, you can IN D&D, by whatever competition you set.
You can also win D&D... If, and only if, one wins D&D books as a prize. "Woohoo, I won Forgotten Realms!"

In the same way, you cannot win at Life.
You can, however, win IN life.
Winning life, I suppose, is not currently achievable. Even theoretically, you can at most win MORE life. Unless you're dead and somebody resurrects you, in which case you probably have won life.

Also...
You cannot win at food.
You cannot really win IN food either.
You can most definitely win food. Or more food, at any rate.

So, the quiz questions...
Can you win at the Olympics?
Can you win the Olympics?
Can you win at Olympics?
Can you win Olympics?

Bonus question: Can you win Olympians?
Edit:
Bonus BONUS question: Can you fail at life?

Lemur
2007-04-18, 06:47 PM
I still maintain, as I did in the other thread, that you win D&D with a vast assortment of painfully stupid catchprases and one-liners.

Epiphanis
2007-04-18, 07:31 PM
You can win at D&D when all your base are belong to us!

Well, I suppose that players can define their own victory conditions, meet them, and call it a win. Just like in real life. Does it really matter?

Although I don't subscribe to this point of view myself, I don't have a problem with individual players wanting to define D&D as 'winnable,' as long as the DM doesn't. A DM who does this will almost certainly be thinking linearly about his scenarios.

the_tick_rules
2007-04-18, 08:22 PM
I won D&D once, it's a secret on how though.

PnP Fan
2007-04-18, 08:53 PM
Typically the phrase "you can't win D&D" is used to describe the interaction between players and DM, to create a non-competetive atmosphere. The goal for the Players is "to have fun", and is rightfully the defining element of an RPG. I understand what you mean by preferred outcome though. The problem with the term "winning D&D" is that it implies a competition, which shouldn't exist at your table. If it does, then their may be personal issues which need to be resolved. The closest thing to competition that should exist at the table is between the players and the "circumstance" (social interaction, combat, dungeon puzzle, whatever), which is really more like solving a complicated puzzle that has variable components (dice) than an adversarial relationship with someone. Typically when adversarial or competitive relationships begin to form within a group, it's either because the DM is mistreating his players, or one or more players are behaving like jack---es.
Even certain desired outcomes are negotiable. I know several folks who don't look at character death as a negative outcome. They look at it as an opportunity to play a new character.

Arbitrarity
2007-04-18, 09:12 PM
You can't win at life either.

Unless it's Life :P.

karmuno
2007-04-18, 09:42 PM
Just arguing semantics...

You cannot win at D&D.
As Diggorian said, you can IN D&D, by whatever competition you set.
You can also win D&D... If, and only if, one wins D&D books as a prize. "Woohoo, I won Forgotten Realms!"

In the same way, you cannot win at Life.
You can, however, win IN life.
Winning life, I suppose, is not currently achievable. Even theoretically, you can at most win MORE life. Unless you're dead and somebody resurrects you, in which case you probably have won life.

Also...
You cannot win at food.
You cannot really win IN food either.
You can most definitely win food. Or more food, at any rate.

So, the quiz questions...
Can you win at the Olympics?
Can you win the Olympics?
Can you win at Olympics?
Can you win Olympics?

Bonus question: Can you win Olympians?
Edit:
Bonus BONUS question: Can you fail at life?

I may be crazy, but I just read this post in the voice of the narrator from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (in my mind that is). I should really cut back a little.

Aquillion
2007-04-18, 09:59 PM
I beat D&D. The end guy was hard.

...more seriously, though, why are we having this conversation? "Win at D&D" has always just been a snarky zing. The real question is whether you can succeed or fail in a game of D&D, and that is generally answered in the affirmative. At the end of almost any session or campaign, you can look back and make a general judgement of whether or not the PCs have succeeded or failed at what they were attempting--sometimes it's a bit blurry and hard to tell, but most of the time, to be honest, it's blindingly obvious.

D&D is designed to be a sequence of challenges which the party uses their collective resources to overcome. While you could theoretically do something else with the rules, I would say that that the basic system of overcoming challenges is so deeply engrained in the system that when you eliminate that it becomes a stretch to say you're still playing D&D.

Matthew
2007-04-18, 10:54 PM
Typically the phrase "you can't win D&D" is used to describe the interaction between players and DM, to create a non-competetive atmosphere. The goal for the Players is "to have fun", and is rightfully the defining element of an RPG. I understand what you mean by preferred outcome though. The problem with the term "winning D&D" is that it implies a competition, which shouldn't exist at your table. If it does, then their may be personal issues which need to be resolved. The closest thing to competition that should exist at the table is between the players and the "circumstance" (social interaction, combat, dungeon puzzle, whatever), which is really more like solving a complicated puzzle that has variable components (dice) than an adversarial relationship with someone. Typically when adversarial or competitive relationships begin to form within a group, it's either because the DM is mistreating his players, or one or more players are behaving like jack---es.
Even certain desired outcomes are negotiable. I know several folks who don't look at character death as a negative outcome. They look at it as an opportunity to play a new character.
Exactly. In general, the Player Characters are expected to win and that outcome is desirable (though losing can be fun and instructive). This does not translate into the Players defeating the Dungeon Master or one another or vice versa, which is the meaning of 'you don't or can't win D&D'.

Viscount Einstrauss
2007-04-18, 10:59 PM
I set my own victory conditions when I start a game. If I obtain them, then I "win" that campaign. But I wouldn't go so far as to say I win D&D, and it's really just all in my head.

What are these victory conditions? They usually involve becoming a powerful ruler or god or something. As I'm sure you can imagine, I don't get to win often.

jameswilliamogle
2007-04-19, 10:34 AM
I define winning as living, gettin loot, and getting XP. If I did that, I won. Every session, all the time, unless I die and can't be raised.

You don't need to be optimized for that, either: you just have to know your limitations (and know them well).

The nice thing is that you don't have to define winning in dnd that way.

LG, XE, and MoH mods have pretty well-defined victory conditions, by that definition: you simply complete all the tasks given for the most access / favors / XP possible, and each mod has a set limit on what you could get.

Closet_Skeleton
2007-04-19, 10:47 AM
You can't win DnD. It's a hopeless escalation of power levels and more and more treasure until eventually you get a TPK.

Usually by a low CR monster with a devastating combination of special abilities.

the_tick_rules
2007-04-19, 10:48 AM
how about making your dm shout "i give up" would that count?

Dan_Hemmens
2007-04-19, 10:50 AM
Dan, you're describing winning in a D&D game, which is ofcourse possible and frequent. A troll wants to kill you, but you survive. You beat -- won agaisnt -- that troll.

Exactly so.

The point is that the troll has a victory condition. If you kill the troll, you win, if the troll kills you, you lose even if you had a good time doing it.

Rasumichin
2007-04-19, 04:49 PM
I beat D&D. The end guy was hard.

...more seriously, though, why are we having this conversation? "Win at D&D" has always just been a snarky zing. The real question is whether you can succeed or fail in a game of D&D, and that is generally answered in the affirmative. At the end of almost any session or campaign, you can look back and make a general judgement of whether or not the PCs have succeeded or failed at what they were attempting--sometimes it's a bit blurry and hard to tell, but most of the time, to be honest, it's blindingly obvious.

D&D is designed to be a sequence of challenges which the party uses their collective resources to overcome. While you could theoretically do something else with the rules, I would say that that the basic system of overcoming challenges is so deeply engrained in the system that when you eliminate that it becomes a stretch to say you're still playing D&D.

I completely second that.
Furthermore, depriving D&D of its challenge-oriented aspects would diminish one of, if not the, key achievements of 3.x : actually comming up with a rules design optimized for providing fair competition for the players.

Or probably i'm just thinking that because, due to my socialisation, i'm mostly familliar with rpgs riddled with completely broken mechanics.:smalleek:

Seffbasilisk
2007-04-19, 05:26 PM
Exactly so.

The point is that the troll has a victory condition. If you kill the troll, you win, if the troll kills you, you lose even if you had a good time doing it.

No. Because if you had fun while fighting the troll, even if your character died, you still won.

It's a game. The purpose is to have fun. You could set down players, start them at ECL 40 and give them superweapons, and they could not have fun. If so, then they lost. The amount of destruction they wreaked wouldn't matter, because if they didn't have fun, they lost.

At ECL 10, If the barbarian dies verses the Hill Giant, but had an epic battle, and had fun doing so, then he 'won'.

If a rogue provokes 6 Attacks of Opportunity, and gets shredded by a hydra, but manages to close and lock the door before collapsing into a puddle of guts and shredded meat, he could be counted as winning, but not if he didn't enjoy it.

The entire point is to play the character, and have fun. Eventually, all characters die. It's an inevitable point. So death =/= loss. Unless you say everyone loses at life. It's the experiance, and what you take away from it that determines whether or not you're a 'winner'.

So can you win D&D by game mechanics? No. Can you 'win'? Yes. Everyone who enjoys it 'wins' by playing.

PnP Fan
2007-04-19, 06:23 PM
It's a game. The purpose is to have fun. You could set down players, start them at ECL 40 and give them superweapons, and they could not have fun. If so, then they lost. The amount of destruction they wreaked wouldn't matter, because if they didn't have fun, they lost.


I know of a campaign that is working out almost exactly like this. The players are all ubermensch'ed out with game breaking abilities, the bad guys have suitable counter abilities. More powerful than you can possibly imagine, Darth (seriously, stuff that isn't even part of the natural game mechanic at all). And when some of my friends tell me about the game, there is this sense of frustration and irritation that is soooo dissapointing to hear. They are "losing D&D", even though they are surviving encounters. If the actual people involved weren't good friends across the DM screen, I know of two players (at least) who would have left and found something else to do with their evenings. Thankfully this campaign is nearly up, as the GM is almost as frustrated as the players are. In a few months this will all be forgotten, I hope. *sigh*

Aquillion
2007-04-19, 06:32 PM
No. Because if you had fun while fighting the troll, even if your character died, you still won.Out of curiousity, do you feel the same way about chess?

Because, yeah, sure, after a fashion it's like our kindergarten teachers told us: As long as you have fun, everyone is a winner. But, in another, more accurate fashion, the people who grab the treasure and save the day are the winners, not the ones who get killed and eaten by the troll.

Diggorian
2007-04-19, 06:36 PM
The point is that the troll has a victory condition. If you kill the troll, you win, if the troll kills you, you lose even if you had a good time doing it.

So your main point is that having fun isnt "winning D&D"? I can agree with that.

If 'winning' or 'losing' D&D is a colloquialism for having or not having fun with D&D, then this term can be found true -- although semantically illogical.

Live long, and prosper ... in D&D :smallwink:

Seffbasilisk
2007-04-19, 06:46 PM
Out of curiousity, do you feel the same way about chess?

Because, yeah, sure, after a fashion it's like our kindergarten teachers told us: As long as you have fun, everyone is a winner. But, in another, more accurate fashion, the people who grab the treasure and save the day are the winners, not the ones who get killed and eaten by the troll.

Chess isn't a game. Chess is a mental battle played out through physical actions and governed by the rules of the game. Yet, still, if I play a good enough chess game, I can feel as if I've won.

I remember a stalemate that took two hours to get to. I remember a checkmate that came in four moves. The stalemate was more fun.

Yahzi
2007-04-19, 07:06 PM
Of course it's possible to win D&D. You win when you make the GM cry, fold up his screen, and never run again.

I did it at 11th lvl. Can anybody beat that? :lol:

Roethke
2007-04-19, 07:34 PM
Of course it's possible to win D&D. You win when you make the GM cry, fold up his screen, and never run again.

I did it at 11th lvl. Can anybody beat that? :lol:

Did you get actual tears? Because without tears, I think I'd have to judge it a draw. After, the DM could have folded up his screen and stalked off in anger, rather than defeat. But if there were tears, then, pretty much, it's defeat.

Indon
2007-04-19, 07:45 PM
Out of curiousity, do you feel the same way about chess?

Because, yeah, sure, after a fashion it's like our kindergarten teachers told us: As long as you have fun, everyone is a winner. But, in another, more accurate fashion, the people who grab the treasure and save the day are the winners, not the ones who get killed and eaten by the troll.

Chess is a game with a mechanics-related objective; to threaten the opponents' King piece in a way that the player can not counter on their next immediate move.

D&D has no mechanics-related objective. Beating the troll and getting the treasure might make the _character_ feel good, but you are under no obligation to live vicariously though your characters. You could have tons of fun in D&D by just lining up characters for the gullets of various hostile creatures, if you were so inclined.

Generic PC
2007-04-19, 11:47 PM
I would say, that winning DND is not unlike saying to yourself, I want to roll a 20, then when the dice comes up a 1, you say i wanted that to happen. Basically, Winning DND constitutes whatever you want, and if you or anyone else cant prove that you didnt want that outcome, then you can say that you actually did, and won DND, but most people would call this cheating themselves, and avoid it. I know i would, buts Min/Maxers and people who hate to be wrong? i wouldnt know, as i avoid being someone like that.

Woot Spitum
2007-04-20, 10:23 AM
You win D&D when you do exactly what the DM wanted you to do. You lose D&D when you never do what the DM wants you to do.:smallbiggrin:

In all seriousness, I don't think that having fun means you win D&D. I can have fun playing basketball whether I win or lose, because I enjoy playing basketball. Would I have more fun if I won than if I had lost? Probably. But do I lose basketball if I don't have fun playing it? No.

Of course, with 17 definitions, there is plenty of room for saying that D&D both can and cannot be won, depending on the context and what definition you pick. So it's a little subjective.