…in a good way.
If you have never read it, a place I like to frequent is Lizard’s Gaming and Geekery site. I find that he and I have very little in common with how we perceive our shared hobby (disagreeing pretty fundamentally, actually) but I really enjoy reading what he writes. One, I find his writing to be honest and without pretense — a really good thing. Two, I find it refreshing to read an enjoyable blog that reminds me every couple of days that other people play games radically differently. It helps with perspective.
I’ll freely admit that when I read his latest entry I really couldn’t help myself from writing a wickedly long comment… which was then eaten by a Captcha error*. So I decided that I’d turn the post into a post of my own and link his blog here. This is not the initial response I wrote and probably will not be as articulate as when it was fresh in my mind but I decided to go ahead with it because it addresses some of those fundamental differences — and some of those are important to me.
First — Mr.Lizard’s post: Comments on 5e, the grid.
Then, my attempt to rearticulate my original thoughts.
This bugs me, on a couple of levels – but I’ll try to go in order. The grid can be as much of a problem as it is a boon – depends on the group and playstyle. It is not objectively better than non-grid. The example provided is certainly making a solid case for the grid but it is a loaded example. I’ve only been gaming for 28 years, so he’s got a little on me in experience, but my own years spent in-front-of and behind the screen have led me to a different conclusion altogether… because my gridless combats were never this bad.
I’d mention – even though this is clearly just an example pulled out of the air to match the example in the original WotC post – it’s easy for me to see why the players are frustrated in this scene. From almost the beginning (the second DM comment) the players are getting the impression that the DM is annoyed at them and annoyed at their actions (“DM: Sigh, fine.”). The players are defensive because they are on the defensive – the DM puts them there.
But here’s the thing – I get it. The grid makes position easier, eliminates arguments, and makes everyone feel safe. Ugh. That’s why we’ve developed language as thinking beings. Lizard goes on to mention a refutation to my point – that these arguments don’t always develop due to “immaturity, munchkinism, or competitiveness.” That’s perfectly valid – but if we are communicating at the table then it’s worth actually communicating. If two people disagree where the rogue was standing – so what? Sometimes the player might need to give a little, sometimes the DM – that’s fine, as long as both parties are willing to bend when a disagreement pops up. Again, with the posted example of how it “goes in the REAL world” I’d probably treat this group dynamic very differently at my table.
Which brings up his point about “telling a story” vs. “finding out what happens.” Now, I don’t want to be the guy who says, ‘you play wrong’ but I wondered to myself when I read this statement – why does what happens matter? Why do you need to find out what happens except in the context of a story? I assume that his games are not simply tactical wargames with minis. So the action is part of a larger sequence and scope. I suppose that I assume (again with the assuming) that these two things are not mutually exclusive in either of our games – I just don’t see the need for complex maps and grids and he does when it comes to figuring stuff out.
That said, he gets to the part that really drives me crazy next. This was the part where I had the moment of impotent nerd rage, calmed down, and tried to write something sane. It’s a hot-button issue for me (right up there with people who make snide remarks about Lawful Good being Lawful Stupid and saying that “good-guy” campaigns suck).
Simple is not boring.
Let me quote from the original post here:
Now, you might reply, “Well, that’s what happens when you’ve got all those rules and conditions and powers. Keep things simple!” Just one problem — simple is boring. Calling one sack of hit point an “orc” and another sack of hit points with exactly the same combat abilities, except one spot higher on the attack chart, a “hobgoblin” is boring, boring, boring. I like my monsters and NPCs to have the same array of potential abilities as the PCs.
Argh. Simple is not boring. I’ll say it again, Simple is not boring. But it’s a definite difference in perspective on where the complexity is to be found. See here’s my take on that paragraph. I don’t think of monsters as sacks of hit points. A hobgoblin and an orc are very different even if they both only have 1HD (or 1+1). Even if they are both just bipeds with longswords and bad attitudes they are very different. I see the complexity entering the equation when I consider how I’d play these two enemies. The hobgoblins are lawful evil, militaristic, smart. They’ll use tactics, maybe overwhelm the fighter or surround him to keep the wizard from dropping a fireball on his friend. Or they might retreat and throw spears at the wizard first. Or they might even be willing to talk. The orcs? Not so much. They’re probably going to attack. They’re probably not as organized. They’re probably going to fight whoever is in front of them and not have much in the way of unit-level-tactics. Heck, they might even vie against one another for greater glory causing even more problems for their group. The point (I’m being wordy) is that the problem here is not with the two types of monsters not have “kewl” powers, it’s with a perception that only mechanical elements add complexity.
As to the comment about “pixelbitching.” Well, I’ve said it many times. I’ll say it again. If you are playing with a DM where the game is “guess what’s in my head” then bring that up. Establish a baseline of communication about the game. If the DM is unwilling to do this then he’s probably a poor DM. Communication is always key in these games.
Now, I do agree with the idea that 5E is probably not going to be a game that achieves the stated design goal of “one D&D to rule them all.” This example with the grid is the perfect example of how incompatible the two approaches can be. I just feel like some of these things are worth bringing up. Simple is not Boring!
Thanks for staying with me – and be sure to check out Lizard’s Gaming Blog.
PS – just in case, I really want to be clear. I disagree with Mr. Lizard in pretty fundamental ways. We might have trouble gaming together based on our expectations of “fun” play. But there was no sarcasm when I said that I enjoy reading his blog and his take on things. I like reading about gamers who do it really differently (even if I write long responses…) and I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to think about the hobby I love. So this is not a down on him. No sarcasm. It’s a big disclaimer but this is the internet and it doesn’t take much to get people upset so I wanted to be clear.