A thing about "D&D is mainly good for combat, you can tell because of what it has rules for" is that if you released an indie game that had all the non-combat parts of D&D it would be more rules-heavy than a lot of non-combat indie games are.
Anyway, D&D rules aren't 90% combat. They're 90% character options. The PHB is about 300 pages and about 30 of those pages deal with rules for gameplay. The rest are "Here is a thing your character might do/be."
And by and large, the reason I'm into D&D and the reason I like to get new people into D&D is that I vibe with "Here are a bunch of modular, prefab character options you can snap together like interlocking plastic building blocks" more than more abstract character creation stuff.
I agree that if you want to do something that's very genre-specific for a genre that isn't swords-and-sorcery action-adventure, you might be better off investigating purpose-specific systems than using D&D's ability checks and minimalist skill system to run it.
And I agree that if you want to avoid telling something that is, in addition to whatever else it might be, very specifically A D&D Story then you're better off using something that's not D&D or one of its close Descendants & Derivatives.
But at its outset and in its two most recent editions, D&D has been a rules-lite, improv-heavy system for character interactions, socialization, investigation, exploration, etc., stapled to a crunchy tactical combat system. And it's pretty good at doing that!
Why would you play a game like that?

Well, a lot of people like rules-lite, improv heavy storytelling-based systems for all the stuff "D&D doesn't do".

And a lot of people like crunchy tactical combat.
And? Precise mechanical balance only matters if the game is being run and played a very specific way. As you point out, it's not a good game for running in a way that demands precise mechanical balance from all combinations of options. So I don't.

You can't create a "non-viable" character in D&D any more than you can create an "optimal" one, which is to say these labels are meaningless unless you first answer the question: viable or optimal for what purpose?
If I make a Warlock who doesn't have eldritch blast and hex and focuses instead on the more flavorful utility options open to the class, a lot of people would say this character is sub-optimal and possibly non-viable.
A lot of the same people would insist that eldritch blast and hex should be class features, not spells, because the game "expects" or "demands' that you have them. Some would even say that the rest of the class is bloated cruft that could be chopped off without hurting anything.
And you'll get very similar reactions if you describe a Paladin character concept that is not built around turning spell slots into nova damage spikes via the Divine Smite feature and smite-themed spells.
And if you're making a character based on how well they could jump into a pick-up/league play game and perform Damage As Expected on a round-by-round basis, or you're planning for a table where the DM is going to be running standardized encounters for a standardized party...
...then yes, you can wind up with a character who will be an unfun load in combat as everybody else knows what they're doing each round and you're trying to figure out if your best option is doing 1d4-1 damage with your dagger or taking the Dodge action.
Buuuuuuuut if you're playing a home game with a trusted group of friends why wouldn't you spend time talking about what you want your character to be/do and why wouldn't the game runner plan and run encounters *for that character* rather than a Platonic Frictionless Warlock?
At least one of the 4E devs said something publicly along the lines of their goal for balance being "everybody has something to do in combat" rather than "everybody performs identically well all the time in combat", which struck me as reasonable.
Especially since their idea of "has something to do in combat" appeared to be multifaceted: everybody has a chance to do damage every round (progress towards victory in a HP battle), everybody has obvious options in most rounds, and everybody has cool stuff they can do.
As I recall they took a lot of flak for this on the subject of their first version of an Assassin character, which was not just a stealthy killer for hire but like a darkness-powered Mortal Kombat-y fantasy warrior character.
And it's been too long for me to remember arguments I never cared about, but the metagame held that this Assassin was mechanically inferior to other characters in the highly mobile damage-dealer role.

And that this was something WOTC absolutely needed to fix.
My point of view was that D&D is not a competitive online game with rankings and leaderboards, but a (theoretically and ideally) fun game where you pretend to be elves and stuff with your friends.
And if the Rogue has an advantage of dealing x% more damage the Assassin before running out of HP, either because of superior damage or superior defense... oh well?
If someone is picking options based on that metric, their choice is clear and there is no problem.

And if someone is picking options based on whether they think the Assassin's stuff sounds cooler than the Rogue stuff (or vice-versa), their choice is clear and there is no problem
But people in the WOTC forums of that time regarded it as dereliction of duty for the devs to say "The Assassin works as written, it's playable as written, it's fun as written. There's nothing there we feel the need to fix."
And when later variations of the 4E product line introduced new character classes called Assassin that were more in line mechanically with existing options, a lot of those people took it as validation that they had been right.
But the original shadow Assassin still existed and was playable. The new one, which was less shadow-magic oriented, was simply another option alongside it.

And one that was less interesting to me.
Because the shadow-based magical attacks and utility powers were interesting! They opened up new design territory for character concepts and characterization! And that's the main thing I looked for in a 4E expansion.
If you're going to have prefab, snap-together, mix-and-match character creation options that have mechanical crunch associated with them, there is a *very* narrow range of differences you can have among them while keeping precise mechanical balance.
And to the extent that 4E tried to strike a baseline level of mechanical balance, the cry was "All characters are the same, so it doesn't matter if you say it's a wizard with a magic missile or a ranger with a bow, they're mechanically too similar now."
And to the extent that they made sure each character class and character option was somehow unique, the cry was, "This is unbalanced and broken, some of the options are strictly better than others, which means you're basically *required* to take them..."
And maybe it was mostly different people making each of those complaints, but that still demonstrates the importance of having a vision for your project to guide your design decisions, including when it comes to listening to feedback.
And I would rather have a game with a wide range of character options that are small, packages of discrete, concrete crunch that can snap together any way I like even at the cost of some mechanical balance than balance at the cost of deeper/broader character customization.

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More from @AlexandraErin

Feb 21
Along the lines of the sentiment in this tweet: one thing about the Critical Role cartoon is it illustrates how much more interesting magic tends to be in the stories that inspired or were inspired by D&D than in actual D&D.
Like, a lot of the magic use in Legend of Vox Machina has a direct line of inspiration from spells that exist in the D&D rules, and a general trope of being able to exhaust one's magic if overused correlates in a vague way with the game's expendable spell slots.
But the magic does not behave like D&D magic, even D&D magic with an inventive player and generously flexible DM. Because D&D's magic obeys rules designed with specific gameplay purposes in mind, and LoVM's magic obeys rules designed with storytelling purposes in mind.
Read 11 tweets
Feb 20
Counterpoint: You will never have a "full understanding" of anything, much less something as broad, amorphous, and multifaceted as a genre.

Prioritizing what aspects of what parts of the genre you will seek to understand is also your finite coin to spend however you like.
Also, classics are classics for several reasons, only one of which is, sometimes, "This is pretty good."

A far more prevalent reason that classics are classics is generations of dingdongs going, "You gotta to read this. You just gotta."

And several of the reasons are racism.
Read 14 tweets
Feb 18
Literally eating berries and cream like a little lad for breakfast today.
We're paring down frozen stuff from the freezer for a much-needed defrost and there were some ancient frozen mixed berries in there.

I started making panna cotta as my new pandemic skill and I had planned on topping some with jam for a Valentine's dessert...
...but panna cotta isn't terribly firm and the likely difficulty of spreading jam across the top of the custard without just wrecking it had me thinking about other alternatives, and I remembered we had frozen berries from Whenever in the deep freeze.
Read 8 tweets
Feb 13
The Ted Talk in the second episode of Inventing Anna is such a perfect parody of a Ted Talk because it sounds exactly like a real Ted Talk. In this tweet, I will
My version of "don't watch dinosaur movies with paleontologists" is "don't watch movies with scenes taking place in Omaha malls or cultural attractions".

I don't know where those zoo exteriors were shot for the Berkshire Hathaway party scene, but I know where it wasn't shot.
As a general rule, I think big-city people who watch a movie and go, "Shyeah, they expect us to believe she took the chartreuse line at KT-tirst street and somehow got off across town at the Spromg Street station in time to catch the zeppelin? As if." are insufferable.
Read 4 tweets
Feb 12
A thing about NFTs is that whenever someone says they can be used to purchase something (event tickets, digital music, in-game assets) in a form that allows the purchaser to re-sell them... the reason you can't do those things already is a policy choice, not a technical limit.
Any company that is willing to use NFTs to sell you things that you own in a way that is transferable could have done so without NFTs.

What NFTs actually add on a technical level isn't the ability to be sold, but the ability to be stolen.
Whatever digital good the NFT represents is still stored in a central location. Access to the digital good is still mediated by a single central authority. But their willingness to equate ownership with a cryptographic token that exists outside their control makes it stealable.
Read 10 tweets
Feb 12
If you want special treatment from people who do customer service type work, the real trick is to be polite in a way that doesn't take up their time or energy.
Not asking for much and being a good customer > telling people you're not asking for much and insisting that you're a good customer.
If you do ask for something and they don't/can't do it, the best move is to make it clear that the query is over so that they aren't on the defensive for the rest of the interaction. "Cool, just checking." or whatever fits tonally, then move to the next thing.
Read 5 tweets

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