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Context

A player amidst one of the groups decided to try his hand at DM'ing for the first time. It's going relatively well despite teething trouble (primarily from a mismatch of expected ideas after forgoing a session 0 against multiple people suggesting it).

Skip forward a few sessions and level 5 where the first encounter happens where the player group outnumbers the monster group, and a pair of martials decide to try flanking, an optional rule that's used as standard in that group. This did not go down well with the DM who was ruffled at the attempt and stated rather firmly that we should not presume optional rules are in play. He said this on a table that people had been using without asking, with the DM stating that they were in fact "expected optional rules"; ASI-Feat choice, Cleaving, and Multiclassing.

This is a fair ruling; but his response got me curious.

Question

As a result of this, I became curious if there had been an official poll (or some other measure) of popularity of optional rule usage? I have no intent of using this against the DM (nor is it likely he will see anything based on this), and it is solely for my own knowledge.

In my searches I only found ones for house-rules, which I am not interested in including as that's a different kettle of fish.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll leave this as a comment since it doesn't answer the question itself : even if such an official poll existed, your original problem (as I understand it, being a mismatch of expectations between the DM and their group, due to a lack of communication) wouldn't be solved by using this data. For your specific problem, your best bet is to sit down, discuss it with your group and set down what goes and doesn't go going forward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 10:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The best this data would do is create more animosity between the DM and you, since it could feel like you're making efforts in proving his way of DMing is wrong. Which is likely not what you meant by that, but the point being it wouldn't help make things better for your group overall. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 10:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu I'm aware of the cause and have already once again tried setting up a session 0 (Once again refused), this question is mostly to sate my own curiosity rather than anything else, and any answer will likely never been seen (as I won't show them, and I doubt they browse here). I have no horse in this race as a person who likes fireballs far to much. Though it may also effect what I include in my future games \$\endgroup\$
    – Cassie
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Focusing your question on the social conflict at the table would make a much better question for the stack. As written, I’m not sure it’s a great fit for the site, as Molot’s answer below explains that leveraging this data to pressure the DM is a really bad idea. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I'm aware of all the pitfalls that happened in the situation, and "how do get someone to do a session 0 against their wishes" isn't my question. The entire first section is essentially scene setting, and essentially irrelevant. I just legitimately hadn't considered that someone would want an answer for this out of some form of spite like the current answer presumes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cassie
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 12:27

4 Answers 4

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Unfortunately, there isn't

There aren't any unofficial, or official, metrics on the optional rules that different tables use across the world.

As for your situation, I don't think that getting this information will be helpful or useful, even if it was available. While having it would be interesting, it doesn't really move the needle for a table's choices if they were to disagree.

If you don't enjoy playing with the rules your DM and table play with, and the DM is unwilling to change, then it's up to you to decide if the fun you're having (or not having) is worth your time at that table.

On data

Data is a tricky thing, there's a lot of 'data' out there. But there is a difference between good data and bad data. This is akin to the stack's theory of pearls, not sand. Bad data is the sand - there's a lot out there, and it's our job to find the good data within - the pearls.

We must be careful with what we present as good data here, because others may not be as aware - just look at the rise of misinformation around the world. Judging good and bad is hard, but it's a judgement we should set aside time to make before posting - it'll improve the experience and information for everyone that visits.

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The poll you are looking for is irrelevant.

Let's be blunt. Your group tried to peer pressure your DM to allow this optional rule by trying to use it without asking. Maybe that wasn't your intention, but that's how it looks when I try to visualize the situation from the DM point of view.
It didn't work out.
So now you want to try to peer pressure him again, this time expanding the range of peers to "the most of the community". In my years of DMing and playing (since 3.0 came out) conversation and discussion with DM sometimes gave players what they want.

Attempts to force DM after a firm no, on the other hand, practically always ended up with this person not DMing for that group anymore. In case of first time DMs, some of them, one or two I kept contact with, never DMed again, to my knowledge.

So what should you do?

Exactly what your DM told you. Never assume that optional rule is in play unless you talked about it in advance. And, I'll add, with first time Dungeon Master it is making everyone's life easier to agree that no optional rule is in play at all.
Second best was having a DM screen extension with agreed on optional and house rules on both sides, so everyone is on the same page.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. "But other people do it" isn't a good reason to include any optional feature, and may even be a reason the DM has decided to exclude some feature. I've run a game with no feats, and it really does make encounter design and execution tighter when you don't have the extra mechanics and power boosts provided by the combat oriented feats. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cassie You might be able to assure us that you would not use it as such at this table, but that doesn't cover the other players at the table, nor does it cover anyone at other tables, and it sadly would not be the first time someone's tried to use RPG.se in such a fashion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StopBeingEvil I've had a couple of "running into myself in the wild" moments. I was DMing a Roll20 game once and made a ruling, and one the players linked in the chat one of my own answers where I ruled otherwise, not knowing that I had written that answer. So that was awkward. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov That's hilarious. 🤣 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov: [cue GIF of 2 Spider-Men pointing at each other] \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 23:29
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I'll be a bit of a contrarian; While I agree that trying to pressure a DM on which optional rules to allow, or any other ruling, is undesirable and often counterproductive, I am not enthused with the idea of a secret set of "expected optional rules".

Without explicitly knowing flanking is active, I would not expect the DM to use it against me, and as a DM, I would not expect players to try to use it. It's a bit like traps in a dungeon, except it's traps in the rules system, which is supposed to be the firm foundation upon which tales are built.

You are supposed to be having fun, and perceived traps make things less fun, for both you and your DM - you expected flanking to work and it didn't, and they didn't expect their monsters to be flanked, lessening their perceived Challenge. Don't pressure, and don't nag, and instead try to work together to make the new DM feel secure and supported in their rulings.

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There is a Reddit survey for flanking

I do agree with the frame challenge answer, that optional rules are entirely the decision of the DM, and I am not aware of a general survey polling all the optional rules. But to satisfy at least your curiosity of how common flanking is, there is this survey which was run on Reddit (r/DnD) in December 2021, asking if people used flanking or not:

enter image description here

DnD 5e, flanking or no? Votes
Yes flanking 2.2k
No flanking 930
Depends on the campaign 714
I don't know what this question means 279
I like voting 573

The amount of people who voted here is pretty impressive, at over 4,500. However, this only is a small sample of the overall player population.

The newer reports of the Roll20 user statistics do not list player numbers any more, but this report from 2017 lists about 45,000 5e players that played in the first quarter. (Overall, the site reports to have over 5 million users, and the estimated number of overall D&D players in 2017 was about 14 million).

So clearly, the number of people voting in this poll, while impressive, is only a small share of the overall player population, and the kinds of people that frequent messaging boards may be a biased section of the overall population, that is more into D&D and complicated rules extensions than the overall player. So unfortunately, the kind of insight you can gain from such a survey is likely more limited that it will appear on first sight.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My favorite answer was "I Like Voting" 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ From a polling sense 4500 is actually a large enough sample that you would be able to draw meaningful conclusions. The important point is that this Reddit poll is not a random sample of the D&D playing population, it's a sample of people who frequent that subreddit. As a result it's not useful to draw conclusions for the whole population of D&D games. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 8:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro also 800 of those responses aren’t actually part of the sample. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 9:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov indeed, that is another problem with this particular survey, but not as fatal as the non-random nature of the selection. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 14:13

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