Errata, or House Rules?

I’ve been writing a lot about 4th edition D&D lately. It’s odd because I’ve taken a break from 4e and I’ve been spending my time with Shadowrun, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay… the Black Industries edition, not this new one… it’s really bad. My reinvigorated interest in 4e stems from 2 sources, Martial Power 2 and the March errata/updates. A lot of people have been talking about the March updates, they like ’em, they hate ’em, they think Wizards got wrong. Well, for every gamer there’s an opinion. My own two cents is that they got it right. And I’ve mentioned in other places, I think the devotion to updates they are showing is excellent. 4e is a complex game, and the designers are working hard. Is it perfect? No. Do we have any right to expect it to be? I would say, No.

All this talk about errata, and updates, and my last post about the game math really had me thinking though. Since I feel pretty comfortable with the balance of 4e based on my math, I got to thinking about one major issue which has been bugging me. The majority of oddities that I was able to identify in my trip through the 4e monsters came from solos created before the adjustments made in MM2. The Ancient Red Dragon for soldiers and the younger black dragons pushing up the ACs for Lurkers in the paragon tier both seem to be candidates for, well, updates. I would go so far as to say, if the designers had simply updated the Monster Manual solos to be more in line with their design goals after MM2, the Expertise feats would be obsolete.

**For those of you wondering why I am so obsessed with the Expertise feats, it’s because they represent a change in design which will effect every product going forward from PH2 on. The March updates already significantly changed several feats to be more in line with Expertise, made some feats obsolete, and forced those of us not using Expertise to have to work harder to keep our game working correctly. When the feats aren’t needed in the game, but put in as a response to a vocal minority of optimizers whining on the boards, that bothers me. (Mini-rant over)**

Recently, I also read a blog by another writer about his stumbling across an old copy of Fantasy Wargaming. This was a very old game from the early 80s. I have a game like that called Arcanum, which was done by Bard Games and is from that same era of gaming. I went and pulled it out again, and as I flipped it open, out fell a tattered page of notebook paper, covered in the handwriting of my much younger self, detailing my changes to the combat system so that the game worked as well at high levels as it did at low. It seems, upon reflection, that it became far too easy to hit at high levels when playing Arcanum. Back then, Bard Games did not have the internet (or probably the budget) to make massive 88 page errata documents to update their game. In the end, we did it by house-rules.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back then, my problem was how easy it became to hit at high level in a D&D clone from a bygone era of gaming. Now, with the 4e evolution of gaming sitting heavy on my mind, I find myself still concerned with the same things. As one poster over on the D&D forums put it, “we want to be hitting MORE at high levels instead of the same amount we were at low.” That’s great, but if you want to hit 75% or more of the time, why even bother rolling the dice? The 50% mark feels pretty good as a baseline to me, especially when you consider the wealth of other options that make hitting even more likely. So, Arcanum to 4e, I’m still here, still gaming, and still house-ruling my systems, errata or not.


One response

  1. I think errata is necessary to having a balanced, healthy gaming system. I think my only problem is that there is no good way to update the players on the changed rules. Right now Wizards’ uses an unwieldy pdf document, and if the change is big enough (like the sneaking rules) will print it in a subsequent book. Remaking the books are impractical, and would cause there to be dozens of different versions running around (and really, who would re-buy them?).

    However, I think the errata problem could give Wizards’ a way to have their electronic market off the ground. If they sold updating versions of their rule books, I think they could give their users a valid reason to buy their electronic books. They could highlight the affected sections and show the previous versions, so players would see what has changed. They have shown that they have a system to push out updates for products – look at the character builder.

    I do know that there are many obstacles to this idea though: the pdf format would not be able to be used – it would have to be a dedicated app and Wizards’ would push to. This would cause issues with portability. But I think the biggest issue is the fact that there are no devices out right now that compare to a physical book. The Kindle is in black and white, laptops are cumbersome, iPods/smart phones are too small, etc. Something similar to the upcoming (overrated) iPad could work, but it is too expensive to be practical for the normal user.

    Anyways, it’s all a moot point anyways, since Wizard’s has stop selling their products electronically. However, I think if there is a company that could do it right, they could finally make the electronic market work.

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