Jeff’s Gameblog has a great post up today about dissociated mechanics… he links to another post from his so feel free to run off and read – I’ll wait.
I was really appreciative of the comments section of this post. The replies open a nice window into some of the thinking people have about dissociated mechanics from several angles. I also like that Jeff* is so open about his own DM’s (heh) in his post – and the possibility that thinking about these mechanics might be a little off.
I tend to agree with him that our thinking is a little off, that D&D 4e is not the sole (or even just worst) culprit, and that to a certain extent these mechanics are manageable and even okay.
He mentions all those hip indie games that use lots of DMs. It’s true – and it’s why whenever I tell strangers that I’m more into character and story than rules they always suggest some game to me that I have to explain why I don’t play – usually, some form of DM. And I love the breakdown in the post about how mechanics should map to intent and action at the table in a fairly straightforward way. It’s a good way to think about it. And when games over-mechanize certain interactions; that’s the same problem.
For me, the problem with dissociated mechanics is not really that they might not map directly from game rule to action at the table (sometimes they do – or can – as several people find perfect justifications for healing surges**). The problem for me is when I’m forced to think more about the game mechanic than I am about the action at the table it’s mapping too. And a rule can be well-written and smooth in function but I’m still thinking about the game action more than the action of my character. All the dice trading that goes on in games like the new Marvel Supers game and 7th Sea are perfect examples of this. When I’m passing around dice and figuring out complicated pools, and expending resources, I’m thinking more about the “way the game plays” than “what my character is doing.” In many ways, D&D 4E is not actually the worst offender in this category. (It occurs to me that maybe I don’t really understand the “community” definition of dissociated mechanics… this is what I think of when I hear the term.)
Some of this happening is inevitable and totally okay. Heck, we are playing games, sometimes you have to think about the “game” part. But minimizing the bits that make me “play a game” is really important to me when I’m on either side of the screen (and perhaps more important to me as a DM). There are games that hit that sweet spot well (for me) and games that don’t (for me). Other people’s tolerances/preferences are elsewhere. That’s cool.
It’s funny, I was just discussing this with a gaming buddy the other day and then it pops up again.
Anyway, this was just my two cents, inspired-by-someone-else weekend post. And a way of linking to other great posts.
Thanks for reading.
* I call Jeff by name up there, which feels weird to me, I don’t know the guy – but since his blog title includes his name, it’s hard to find ways around that… and it’s consistently one of my favorite reads.
** So here’s my idea for healing (surge-style) in D&D. Healing surges can make sense both in a narrative and player’s-mind way of thinking. Watch any professional wrestling match and you’ll see what I mean. Right? But here’s what I’d do. I’d give one surge (literally a Second Wind) a day. One. And it doesn’t give you back part of your hits points – it gives back all of your hit points. Full.
If your DM only runs one combat a day, well, then you’re a superhero. Good for you. If your DM works on the 4E model of small fights leading up to a boss fight then you might be full and good to go for the boss – but maybe, for example, the wizard got unlucky in a previous fight, got surrounded by some sneaky guys or took a few crits from archers and suddenly, he needed his second wind before the boss fight… Adds a level of scare to that fight, of tension, without making everything impossible. And, well, sometimes you still get to be a superhero.
And death is not at -40 hp, or negative level + CON or any of that… It’s at 0. So you get your second wind and that’s it. Otherwise, you in trouble.
This is of course, not perfect, but it’s more in tune with what I see in “fiction” and what I’d like to model in a D&D game.