5E, Friday, Fundamental Disagreement…

…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.

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15 responses

  1. Well, it just goes to show – you demonstrate an inherent bias clearly indicated by your statement that “I assume that his games are not simply tactical wargames with minis.”

    There is nothing wrong with /combat/ being a tactical wargame with minis, and clearly that is what he enjoys. Obviously (or he wouldn’t be into RPGs) he is also interested in what happens between combats, and this is probably not helped by using a grid.

    In combat (which is THE subject of discuccion), it is perfectly valid (without anyone having to boil anyone’s blood) to be more interested in what happens, rather than some story or other. The story will be the result and embellishment of what happens (as written by the victors) – and to those of us who are interested in the mechanics of what happens, sppears to us to be simply the effect of which the battle was the cause.

    1. I’ve never been very secretive of my biases in gaming preferences… :)

      What I was responding to was the assertion that doing it gridless was inherently worse and that a lack of mechanical complexity somehow equates to a game being boring.

      But I also see combat as only a function of the larger game/system/story and whether it is emphasized or not in a system (it is in D&D, not so much in some other games) it is only a part of the overarching events of a session and I (as a preference) want it to be much more seamless with the rest of the action of a session rather than gamey and pulling me “out” of the session to effectively play a minis game in the middle of my RP.

      I made the comment you pulled out very clearly to demonstrate exactly what you then put in your second paragraph — that he probably does care about “story” and that combat is a part of the story — and if he likes tactical combat, that’s great. But tactical combat is not inherently or objectively “better” than combat without a grid. That was my point. If I made it poorly I apologize. I know players who play RPGs though who are, in fact, only interested in the combat so it’s tough to say for sure that being an RPGer means caring much about what happens between the combats. I assumed he did because he’s the type of RPGer who cares enough to blog about it.

      And that’s really the point. Combat is only one part of the session/game and I prefer it to be a part of the shared storytelling experience in a much less specific way than Mr. Lizard. That’s okay (for both of us) and the only part of his comments that boiled me a little (and I calmed down — no strokes here) was the idea that simple = boring. I see the location of the complexity differently than he does. And I see the complexity appearing in “story” terms rather than “mechanics” terms. And that makes a difference in combat (the subject of the discussion).

  2. […] just read a blog post where the Rhetorical Gamer rants about another blog post in which the Lizard’s Game and Geekery site posted about a WotC […]

  3. Well, hopefully, I won’t suffer the same comment loss as you. Hmm. Maybe I should type this in OneNote instead and then copy it here….

    In addition to the things you mention about the grid (eliminates argument, etc), I find it makes things more immersive, adds much more to a feel of “We’re really here, this is what we’re seeing”, and not just because there’s miniatures, which, 99% of the time, don’t at all match what’s actually there — they’re just markers, and that’s all they need to be, since we do have imaginations. A squiggly black line is dense undergrowth, a bunch of wobbly concentric circles is a pool of acid, and the beholder is actually a humanoid crystal golem, because all I need is something that shows the space. Because all the players, and the DM, are seeing the same objects, and their relationships, it becomes, at least to me, much easier to see the world and its possibilities — to see that you can run to HERE but not THERE, to see that you can aim a fireball to get him and him, OR him and him, but not all of them, to see where the orcs foolishly left a gap that you can charge through to get to their shaman. To use that last example — in a gridless system, where positioning is vague, you have to ask “Can I get past the orcs’ front line?”. The DM is then forced to make a decision not based on looking down at the world and seeing where the orcs are, but, ultimately, has to decide if he WANTS the player to be able to do this — if he likes the idea or not. No matter how you slice it, since the tightness or looseness of the orc’s line, in a gridless system, is basically in a state of quantum indeterminacy, the decision comes down to if the DM likes the idea or not. (Well, I guess he could always say, “1-3 yes, 4-6 no”, but how often is that really the best choice?)

    This gets back to the other thing you mentioned, telling a story vs. discovering it. You’re quite right that it’s impossible to have a fun game without some context, and I certainly do try to have interesting goals, obstacles, and situations, with NPCs that have pasts, desires, and personalities. Likewise, it’s often the case that players can easily spot the “preferred” path, and my experience, as a player and a DM, is that a completely open field is as unfun and paralyzing as a strict railroad from Encounter A to Encounter B. I find that my adventures follow a pattern of compression to a point, beginning with a situation that is relatively broad, and then narrowing down as players make choices that lead to a particular conclusion, with the other options either simply not happening, or, in some cases, continuing on, in the background, without the players involvement. (i.e, I establish in my notes that NPC A is going to launch an attack on Point B at the end of the week; if the players are involved with NPC C all week, this means NPC A’s attack goes off as he planned. The world keeps moving if the players are watching or not.)

    What I mean by “discovering the story” is that I try to create situations, and to guess *likely* PC responses, but I also try to keep open that they may do something utterly unexpected (and my world needs to be rich enough to handle it; I should have a good sense of how people will react to this), or that they’ll try the expected in an unexpected way, or that the dice may roll very well or very poorly. I don’t have “The PCs will go here, kill the dragon, and rescue the princess.” That’s “telling a story”. I have “The PCs will hear about the dragon that kidnapped the princess.” They may go after her; they may lose to the dragon, or bargain with the dragon, or kidnap a better princess and offer her for trade. Or ignore the dragon entirely. Or something else. They may come up with a plan that gives them easy victory, or they may roll poorly and die horribly, so the next game picks up after the enraged dragon has wrecked the town.

    As much as is possible, I try to be a Deist god. I try to set the world in motion and then see what happens. It’s hardly an absolute, because I can’t build a complete world simulation. I have to force events to occur that the players can react to. My ideal, met with variable success, is to let the consequences of those reactions play out with as little interference as possible. Thus, getting back to the original point, the more defined the world is, the more my decision making, as a DM, is shifted to the level of “What actions do the NPCs take?” as opposed to “What actions CAN the NPCs take?”. With a grid, and detailed tactical rules, I do not need to decide if the ogre can whack the wizard with his club before the wizard can finish casting; I can see “The ogre is here, he has reach 2, the wizard is within reach, but if the ogre attacks, he provokes from the fighter. Hmm. The ogre’s down to hardly any hit points, but he’s smart enough to know wizards are dangerous, he’ll risk the attack.” Perhaps more importantly, when the wizard chose to cast the spell, he could see he was at risk of being attacked, and he also could see the fighter was in position to threaten the ogre; he made the decision to cast based on the same data I was using to decide if the ogre would try to interrupt him. Certainly, this could be handled by him asking me, “Can the ogre reach me? Can the fighter interrupt him?”, but it’s a lot more tedious, in my opinion, to have to ask this every time — and it’s easy to FORGET to ask, or to rely on your own internal mental map of the situation so you don’t think it’s necessary to ask. Especially when, in the real world, people tend to act quickly:”I cast the spell!” “OK, the ogre tries to interrupt you, I roll a critical!” “Wait, I thought I wasn’t in range of the ogre!” “No, you were, because you used that touch spell on the fighter, remember?” “Yeah, but I thought the ogre was further away and I was behind the fighter and out of range.” Now, it’s quite probable the hypothetical player is being perfectly honest and didn’t think he was at risk, because his mental map and the DMs mental map differed, but there’s always going to be the hint of a shadow of doubt that this ‘difference’ occurred after the critical was rolled, not before. Why have the taint?

    “The room is forty feet by thirty feet” is better than “It’s a large room.”

    To address our other point of disagreement: It’s not so much “k3wl p0w3rz”, to me, as representing any important traits mechanically. Orcs are disorganized, chaotic, and unlikely to listen to reason? Then I like to see that they’ve got low Wisdom, and feats or something else that models “hits hard, doesn’t care if they get hit back”. Hobgoblins are disciplined? Then give them abilities, feats, powers, whatever, that let them fight efficiently in formation, or something that reflects their nature in the game world, above and beyond how you choose to play them. You, as the DM, can say, “Orcs are fierce in battle when they’re winning, and turn coward if it looks like they’re losing.”, and then make decisions on a moment-to-moment basis to reflect that. I prefer to go one step further, and say, “Orcs gain a +4 to all saves on fear, and to their resistance to Intimidate checks, until they see their leader die or lose half their comrades, then they lose all bonuses, and must make a Will save each time one dies or the rest flee.” (Or any mechanics, I’m obviously just using generic examples.) For hobgoblins, I like to have “Hobgoblins admire martial strength, and despise cowards. They are also quick to take offense and would rather die than endure an insult; if the PCs seem well-armed, fit, and dangerous, they’ll get a +2 on Diplomacy checks if they’re respectful without being groveling.” Likewise, I enjoy statting out axmen, archers, shamans, etc, for various NPC groups, varying them from the basic template by giving them different skills, feats, or stat arrangements. An orc archer should be an orc who does longbow damage instead of longsword damage; he should have a higher dex than the average orc, and have Precise Shot instead of Power Attack (or whatever other mechanic says “I shoot a bow better than I swing a sword.”) Likewise, if a race culturally favors certain weapons or tactics, their abilities, default skills, yadda yadda, should make this make sense, either as cause (“Orcs are naturally strong (+2 Strength), they use two handed weapons to maximize their strength”) or effect (“Orcs prefer two handed weapons because orcs like big swords, thus, orc warriors build up powerful muscles (+2 Strength), as the weaklings don’t survive training.”).

    The cost of all this variability, of course, is the need to track more details and have greater precision. That archer might have some abilities that only work if he’s within 30 feet of an enemy, for instance, so it’s really important to know if a given target is 30 feet away, or 35. “Nearby” and “Not nearby” doesn’t cut it, for me.

    Lastly, let me emphasize I do agree with you on one very important point: There isn’t a “wrong way” to play, unless you’re playing FATAL, which is just wrong. I understand and respect that where I have nerdgasms over twenty pages of different weapons with trivial mechanical differences, other people are horrified and don’t understand what’s wrong with “longsword”, “shortsword”, “dagger”, done. Some of the writing I’m proudest of is my work for the Dying Earth RPG, which is as rules-lite as you can get.

    Short of releasing one skinny “Basic Core Rules” paperback and one massive “Advanced Core Rules” hardcover at the same time (and maybe that’s their plan…), I cannot see how 5e is going to appeal to both of us. Either I’ll end up having to wait for the “advanced rules” to be published, or you’ll be paying money for hundreds of pages of such rules you’ll ignore.

    1. First, let me say, wow! Thank you for the thorough comment — that’s awesome.

      Second, you worked on Dying Earth RPG? That’s one of the coolest things… I… well, I really like that game a lot. I’m a little awestruck right now. You just win. Seriously, that’s a great game and whatever work you did on it, know that I really appreciate it.

      I suppose that my problem with the grid is that my experiences are the EXACT opposite of yours. Whenever I’ve played a game with a grid it immediately becomes less immersive, slows to a crawl, and the players start turning into folk that take twenty minutes (yes, I’m exaggerating but only a little) to decide on every move because they’ll sit there and count squares and trace lines of sight, and waffle over where to end a move… and basically we’re just playing a board game for a while. I’d rather cut out my eyes than do that. Whereas in all of my play without a grid, I’ve seen that people are much more willing to roll with it, ask intelligent questions, and generally be more excited and active.

      Beside which, it has always bothered me a little that my wizard can look at the board and know precisely where to drop a fireball with no risk to his teammates because he’s just that good at eyeballing distances and diameters while in the middle of a chaotic combat. That type of thing really bugs me as a player and a DM.

      I’m definitely a “longsword, shortsword, dagger” kind of guy. I don’t need an elaborate weapon section and I don’t need a lot of mechanical details to create distinction for me. Like you example with the Orcs and Hobgoblins… I don’t need mechanics to distinguish them for me, a few lines of fluff about how they fight is good enough for me. I prefer the systems abstract over detailed.

      The big thing (to me) is the perception that players and DMs are adversarial. Or more important to your point, that the orc line (good example) exists in this state of “what the DM wants it to be” without a grid. That really doesn’t have to be the case. I liked the point you made in your original post — when the fighter replies, “I’m fourth level!” I use that kind of thing in my games a lot. If the magic-user who knows nothing about fighting asks about weaknesses in the orc formation I’m probably not going to let him have much — he wouldn’t know, but when the 6th level warlord asks, “I look at the orc line and see that they’ve left an opening on the right, I tell the barbarian to charge in there…” I let him do that (and smile about it) — because he’s a war-leader and a tactician. His character knows that kind of stuff. For me it’s a much better game if we as a group have a generative partnership. I think you feel the same way (judging from your comments… we both just see the best path to getting there very differently.

  4. To defend Mr. Lizard’s post for a minute, this example isn’t very far fetched for me. I’ve had a number of player’s in the past who pitch a fit if their snowflake is scratched and think the world is out to get them because the goblins are firing arrows at the guy tossing out fireballs like candy. In Lizard’s example the DM certainly isn’t helping, but that sigh may be because he’s used to players always trying to run roughshod using backsies and last minutes changes to create artificial advantages. It sucks, it sucks to hear, sucks to watch and sucks to experience so I can see why he deems a grid necessary. Of course, some player’s are a better sport about it than others but these situations do exist and not necessarily on account of an antagonistic DM.

    The crazy thing is, I stopping using Grid’s altogether due to time constraints. Since then I’ve made do with rough sketches I haven’t had any complaints. In fact a few of the players have become more than happy to use “Theater of the Mind”. As a wonderful side effect they actually ask and care about the environment and fine details. I wish I could explain it, but, I’ve got nothing. Maybe it has to do with the simpler rules system and lack of Attack’s of Opportunity or Interrupt abilities. Maybe it’s cyclical initiative. Whatever, the reason I for one I’m happy I don’t feel the need to dredge out a grid or tiles for every encounter.

    “it’s with a perception that only mechanical elements add complexity.”
    A very valid point. It’s something I didn’t fully realize until I started running minimalist games.

    As a final side note, theater of the mind works best when at the end of each person’s turn there’s a quick recap regarding everyone’s placement. To do otherwise will inevitably lead to situations where people act on miscommunicated information.

    1. That’s not a bad idea… it doesn’t take much extra responsibility for each player/the GM to make a few clarifying statements to keep everyone on the same page. But yeah, as you mention — I find that without the grid players tend to just act more intelligently, ask better questions, and be more involved.

  5. I use a grid for the reasons that Lizard mentions early in his response–because it helps us agree on what we see so that we can agree on the possibillities more clearly. However, I prefer systems with negotiated rules (that’s why I play WFRP3e and BW) because I want important moments to be a joint decision between me and my players about what makes for the most interesting NARRATIVE rather than an arbitrary decision of chance. I love how both WFRP and BW allow players to have a say in what a given success or failure means or does. There are times when I’ll let a die roll negate their anticipated action or reaction so that the PCs get a sense of chaos/fear/lack of control, but in general I’d always, ALWAYS prefer to move away from the RAW towards a story outcome that thrills the group rather than go ahead and insist that the player fails to take down the big baddie because he had shiny armor on during a Tuesday after 4pm and the monster had a +5 to attack because of he had only gently webbed feet (see Appendix C.) IMHO, simpler rules make you more likely to return to design principles when it’s time to negotiate an outcome rather than getting caught up in several books of supplements to find an authoritative, correct answer.

    I admit that allowing a lot of negotiation leaves a lot of room for abuse on both sides. That’s why I pick my players very, very carefully. :) I also realize that I’m in the minority for this stye of play; so many RPers prefer cut-and-dried ‘answers’ about the outcome of fights fights, so I think Lizard’s style appeals to far more people than mine.

  6. Don’t count us out. I think there are plenty of us left who prefer a more negotiated style of play. And I think it’s fair to say that we have plenty of great games to play — not all modern games evolved to need a grid. There are plenty — like Warhammer Fantasy that are more freeform (though I’m not a fan of the 3rd edition, personally). Just curious — what is the BW you mention?

    Allowing a lot of negotiation can open up a game to abuse… but systems with a lot of fiddly geegaws like 3.5/4E are also open to ridiculous examples of rules abuse and character optimization that can make the game just as unfun. It really does come down to preference…

  7. Gridless combat requires several skills on the part of the GM and the players. The GM takes the starting point and converts it into words. Each player converts that into an interior spatial reference. Then they communicate back based on that interior reference and the GM has to interpret it. And back and forth. At some point you have error correction. Groups that play together for a long time develop their own shorthand and conventions. In my case, I’m a bit ADHD, so my mind will race along faster than my mouth and I’ll forget an important detail. Combine that with a player that has a problem visualizing

    In our groups, seeing the layout often inspires a more dynamic combat. People move, and they use the terrain. So do the bad guys. When we use the grid people seem to think more tactically and get more involved. It also goes about as fast because people don’t need to spend time asking questions to clarify basic placement, or fix problems when people’s maps get off of one another.

    And finally, my wizard takes offense at your example. In addition to studying the arcane arts, he is a student of history and warfare. He runs tactical simulations of historical battles in his mind for relaxation. Knowing tactics and observing the locations of people is essential to the proper use of battlefield magic.

    P.S. BW is probably Burning Wheel.

  8. :) I never set out to say that Mr.Lizard was ever wrong for the way he chooses to play or prefers to play. The only reason I wrote this post was to provide a counterpoint to the idea that the grid is “always” better because players can’t agree enough to run a battle without minis and maps. If the gridded, tactical combat stylings work for you and are your preferred style, go for it.

    As to the other part of your comment — it opens up a whole new conversation about character vs. player skill, what your wizard actually knows, simulationist play, skill systems, and all kinds of stuff only peripherally related to the topic at hand.

    Just to touch on it… let’s assume that your wizard does indeed do those things you mentioned and also that we want a very mechanically defined game as Mr. Lizard proposes. If you are using the grid, why does the absent-minded or functionally insane wizard who doesn’t do the things your wizard does get the same benefit of being able to see the exact dimensions of his spells? If you claim that you are a student of history, tactics, and complex math (to place your spells perfectly), then do you require skills checks to access that knowledge or do you simply have it all the time? If you do require skill checks then if you fail does that mean your wizard can’t place the spell where they want to?

    I mean, I realize that you were probably just kidding around and that your wizard (haha) isn’t actually offended… but it returns to the question of simulation vs. abstract. Simulation can always require another layer to keep the simulation elements functioning properly and where do you draw the line? I mean, can you simply create a wizard and state — I study tactics and historical battles in my spare time? Do you need numbers for it? If you do need numbers how do those numbers interact with the system? To me (and yes, I know this is just me) that kind of simulation gets old really quickly.

    I don’t want a game that is purely in the DMs hands with no value to the PCs at all. I’m also not fond of games that cater overmuch to the players (as RedHobbit points out above) but I’ve never found purely mechanical solutions to be all that useful — or rather — they often require me to give up more than I get back in return.

    1. For me, the vagaries of the die rolls take care of whether my placement is precise or not. In 4e, my attack roll per target can have the effect of “you didn’t quite centre that one right” as well as “he dove to the floor as you burst went off”. As you say (I think) – having to determine on each casting whether one has placement correct can get old very fast, and adds little to the game.

      I do like being able to plan my turn in advance, knowing (without interrupting the DM) whether I can slip around to flank an enemy, or whether the ground looks tricky to move at full speed etc. If there is no map, I have to ask – so either I ask on my turn (and cannot easily plan ahead), or I interrupt while someone else is having their turn.

      Of course, if most of a games rules are centred around combat, players and GMs will gravitate towards combat. However, I would venture to say that most people will dispense with combat last, if they had to pare down an RPG to a minimum.

      For people who care less about combat than other parts of the game, they probably should not use a grid, and probably should not be playing a combat-tactics heavy variant of D&D either (nothing from 3.0 onwards).

    2. A lot of parts of RPG’s can be done off the cuff. You can do a negotiation without picking up a single die if you want. And if it goes badly, the characters usually survive. Combat isn’t like that. Since characters can die, people want it to be fair. Not neccesarily balanced, but the players want to know the rough odds going in. That’s why combat rules aren’t easily taken out of games.

  9. You make a good point about paring down an RPG to the basics. I fell into this trap myself when I was working on my first “scratch built” RPG. That somehow combat was an essential element that had to be prioritized.

    Your comment also loops back around very nicely (thank you) to Mr.Lizard’s post. D&DNext is going to have a hard time with it’s stated design goals because of the nature of disagreements about what makes for good combat in an RPG. D&D 4e pretty much required the grid and heavy tactical play. It was a less attractive choice (therefore) for players who did not want heavy tactical play. But D&DNext needs to figure these people out without also running off the 4E people. Awkward.

  10. I am in full agreement wrt. doubting whether 5e will meet its stated design goals. Sure, battle tactics and grids can (both together) be options, but many gaming groups are themselves split on whether they prefer combat heavy.

    Perhaps this debate is really the same one about devices, or software – we buy based on feature count, and then complain about the complexity and bugginess of it.

    When things were primitive, either our minds fill in the gaps in whatever manner pleased us, or we filled in the gaps with our own rules. Now we have clever rules that spell out all the details, yet they can seem to rob us of “off the wall” choices by virtue of appearing complete, whereas a major virtue of pen and paper RPGs is supposed to be that they offer unlimited choice.

    Ultimately, we want a bit of both – a detailed rules scheme that gives us enough of a common understanding for us to choose our actions in a way that does not break the game (or the suspension of disbelief), but enough wiggle room that people can choose to do (reasonable) things and have reasonable rules/rulings for their outcome.

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