Dragon 398 - Unearthed Arcana: Gamblers' Games

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DnDi_Large.pngDragon 398
Unearthed Arcana: Gamblers' Games

By Steve Winter

Gambling is a career for some people, a mania for others, and an exciting pastime for many.

Talk about this article here.

SO 8 hours online and no one has said a thing.  Is the article just that uninteresting?
SO 8 hours online and no one has said a thing.  Is the article just that uninteresting?



The bit about using a die other than a d20 for opposed checks at lower levels reminded me of a suggestion from 2E's "Creative Campaigning."

Does that count?
I generally like Unearthed Arcana articles, but usually because they involve adding something new to the game. This is much more along the lines of simply introducing advise on how to run a certain type of scenario.

Now, that isn't a bad thing! If I really need to figure out a way to have a PC place chess with an opponent, now I have an easy way to do so. And having an easy reference to lots of relatively simply gambling games can give some useful options for bored PCs in a tavern or the like.

My main issue with the article, of course, is that it is yet another DM article showing up in Dragon. The vast majority of the time, if these games are being introduced, it will be by the DM. The sidebar on various ways to build these into adventures is neat, but again demonstrates this isn't really player material. Which even WotC seems to acknowledge: the blurb for the article itself mentions it as Dungeon content (This month, Dungeon makes a concerted effort to lure characters into games of chance.) Which makes me suspect it got shifted to Dragon simply as more filler in the absence of actual player content.

But all the usual complaining aside, I did like the article. I don't know if I will use it in any of my games, but like most Unearthed Arcana material, it will definitely be kept ready as a reference if needed.

Liked the article, although I am not sure why it is Unearthed Arcana. There is nothing new or optional in it except for the suggested change of dice type in case of opposed checks.
Liked the article, although I am not sure why it is Unearthed Arcana. There is nothing new or optional in it except for the suggested change of dice type in case of opposed checks.



I suspect so that if a player walks up to a DM, and says, "Hey, I'm going to challenge High Mage Winslow to a game of Chess", and the DM agrees, and when the DM breaks out the chess board, the player shakes his head and pulls out this article and says they will be playing it via a series of bluff/insight/etc checks... the DM can say "no" and make it an actual chess game. Or use their own rules for it. Or whatever.

Not that they couldn't do so without the UA tag, but this way it doesn't quite set up a player's expectation that this is how such games have to be played.
I suspect so that if a player walks up to a DM, and says, "Hey, I'm going to challenge High Mage Winslow to a game of Chess", and the DM agrees, and when the DM breaks out the chess board, the player shakes his head and pulls out this article and says they will be playing it via a series of bluff/insight/etc checks... the DM can say "no" and make it an actual chess game. Or use their own rules for it. Or whatever.

Not that they couldn't do so without the UA tag, but this way it doesn't quite set up a player's expectation that this is how such games have to be played.

The scary thing is that you might be right. There probably players out there who think this way ;) (Just as that there are DMs out there foolish enough to indeed play an actual game of chess in such a situation ;))

The UA tag can serve different purposes. One is exactly what Mr. Myth points out--to make it clear that this is optional material and to avoid the fallacy of "It's in Dragon; Dragon is published by WotC; ergo, the DM can't say no." As ridiculous as that sounds to some people, it happens a lot, especially among younger groups. Another is to make it clear that this material will not be incorporated into the online tools. Usually, that's because there's no way to do so--the tools aren't designed to accommodate this type of content. You'd think that would be obvious in most cases, but just like the first instance, making assumptions will cause a problem somewhere. Sometimes it's because the material is inherently unbalanced, but that's what makes it interesting. 

As to whether an article belongs in Dragon vs. Dungeon, there's not always a sharp dividing line. Some articles fall clearly on one side or the other. Discussion of monsters = Dungeon. Discussion of a paragon path = Dragon. Discussion of gambling = ?. The yardstick we apply is, if this were in a rulebook, would it be in the PHB or the DMG? This article is about something the characters do. Characters probably would know how these games and contests operate before they start, so players ought to know the rules, too. In that regard, gambling is no different from the rules for fighting or climbing or using an encounter power. It's an optional rule, not a campaign secret, and that makes it player material. 

Steve

If your only tool is a warhammer, every problem looks like a gnoll.

Hooray for the return of the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide Appendix F: Gambling!

But how come no return of Zowie Slots?
As to whether an article belongs in Dragon vs. Dungeon, there's not always a sharp dividing line. Some articles fall clearly on one side or the other. Discussion of monsters = Dungeon. Discussion of a paragon path = Dragon. Discussion of gambling = ?. The yardstick we apply is, if this were in a rulebook, would it be in the PHB or the DMG? This article is about something the characters do. Characters probably would know how these games and contests operate before they start, so players ought to know the rules, too. In that regard, gambling is no different from the rules for fighting or climbing or using an encounter power. It's an optional rule, not a campaign secret, and that makes it player material. 



I can certainly see the logic, but... not sure I'm sold on it. The PHB might present the rules for various wilderness skills - but the DMG actually provides more complete details on how to handle wilderness exploration and travelling.

I don't think these rules should be deprived of players by any means, but it certainly doesn't seem aimed at them, I suppose is what I'm saying.
I still feel that this fails the PHB test for Dragon articles.

It reads as an optional encounter or encounter type.  That is the domain of the DM.  While players can certainly ask to do things, it feels much more natural to present the DM with the list of things to do.
I don't think these rules should be deprived of players by any means, but it certainly doesn't seem aimed at them, I suppose is what I'm saying.


And that's where the colors blend into gray. One of the questions we ask when deciding Dragon vs. Dungeon is, "Is there any reason to keep this out of the players' hands?" If the answer is no, then it automatically tilts toward Dragon. We couldn't think of any non-trivial reason why the gambling material should be kept away from players, but there were many reasons why players would appreciate having it.

Steve

If your only tool is a warhammer, every problem looks like a gnoll.

Mr. Winters, I just want to say that I think this is a great article. Whenever they get the chance, my players enjoy gambling in character but I'm always at a loss for new and creative ways to do it. There's only so many games of poker you can play. Thanks for the ideas, I'll be putting them to use next week when my campaign gets back to town. I'm going to start with Escalade and probably try out Primero if time permits. I'm also going to try out the cheating rules and then use the adventure hook about the NPC who tries to blackmail them. I'll post next week on how they turned out.

With regards to the ongoing debate, I'm going to side with the idea that this belongs in Dragon. Here's my take on it: Dragon should contain articles on info that the PC's would/should know whereas Dungeon should contain the info that PC's should only find out through the course of the adventure. I want my players to know the rules for the games before they play them. In game terms, the PC's would certainly know the rules to these games.

Good article, thanks.
Eeeenteresting. This may save my Innfighting and Three Dragon Ante sets some wear and tear at the table....
Hmm.  An article I might actually make some use of ... I approve.  Too many divine articles lately.  This is much more useful!
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
And that's where the colors blend into gray. One of the questions we ask when deciding Dragon vs. Dungeon is, "Is there any reason to keep this out of the players' hands?" If the answer is no, then it automatically tilts toward Dragon. We couldn't think of any non-trivial reason why the gambling material should be kept away from players, but there were many reasons why players would appreciate having it.


It seems to me that there's no non-trivial reason to have articles divided into two different 'magazines' at all. There's really no such thing as 'player content' and 'DM content', or at least there's no way to actually enforce that division. As a DM, I can't forbid a player who has paid exactly the same subscription fee as I have from reading an article labelled as 'Dungeon' content, just beacuse I might one day want to use something from that article in a campaign I'm running. I would never presume to even ask my players not to read material that they have paid for. It would be like asking them not to read a particular novel (that they have already bought) because I want to use its plot and characters as the basis for my next campaign.

If I want to surprise my players or look like I've come up with something completely new, it's my responsibility as DM to either come up with my own material or to adapt published material sufficiently that it isn't predictable even to someone who has read the article (or novel, or watched the movie, or whatever) that it was adapted from. Or to make it fun enough that the players don't mind knowing what's likely to happen next. Or to add a new plot twist not present in the original ("Surprise! Kalarel is really a double-agent and is actually working for the Raven Queen!")

So it seems downright ludicrous to me that people are arguing over which side of an entirely fictitious line a particular article ends up on. If it were up to me, there would be no 'Dungeon' and 'Dragon', just "these are all DDi articles: read the ones you're personally interested in".

"My flying carpet is full of elves."

I don't think these rules should be deprived of players by any means, but it certainly doesn't seem aimed at them, I suppose is what I'm saying.


And that's where the colors blend into gray. One of the questions we ask when deciding Dragon vs. Dungeon is, "Is there any reason to keep this out of the players' hands?" If the answer is no, then it automatically tilts toward Dragon. We couldn't think of any non-trivial reason why the gambling material should be kept away from players, but there were many reasons why players would appreciate having it.



I can see that logic - and, as Style75 notes, some players would specifically want to know this information. There is still a reason not to simply put another remotely player appropriate into Dragon, and that is mainly that doing so deprives the players of more focused content they might actually want.

I'm not as concerned with borderline articles like this, since I think it can be appropriate for the occasional such article to end up in Dragon. But when the majority are ending up along those lines, it is of more concern - or something like today's Nerathi Legends. 100% a backdrop article, presenting a full-fledged city, the structure and core NPCs of the city, and details on exploring the city or ideas for adventures there.

Could players make use of that info? Sure, I suppose. But it is clearly more fitting as a DM article - yet we have it showing up in Dragon, and thus potentially reducing the amount of actual player content that there will be.
So it seems downright ludicrous to me that people are arguing over which side of an entirely fictitious line a particular article ends up on. If it were up to me, there would be no 'Dungeon' and 'Dragon', just "these are all DDi articles: read the ones you're personally interested in".



Just to be clear, here, I don't particularly care about the titles. The question for me is whether the content is useful for a player (for inspiring characters, presenting new options, or giving advice or ideas for playing the game) or more useful for a DM (for presenting new monsters and adventures, new settings, locations and NPCs, or new rules or advice they can draw upon as resources).

In the past, we tended to get a relatively even split - especially once they officially focused Dungeon as being DM content and Dragon as being player content. My concern is that the DM content is creeping back into Dragon, and with the reduced size of the magazines, that means the remaining player content is even further diminished.

Now, if they want to change the nature of the magazines, and remove the player content from Dragon, that is certainly a decision they can make. I'd just want to have them actually acknowledge that as the case - as it is, right now, the website describes Dragon as the following: "Dragon Magazine is the ultimate monthly player resource. Each issue brings you new material and expanded content to help make your characters more fun and compelling, including new character options, new powers, new feats, new magic items, new paragon paths, epic destinies, and more."

That isn't what we are getting. If that is just a fluke of several months, that's one thing. If it is an actual new direction for the magazine, though, I really wish they would say so, and let customers make informed decisions about whether they want to keep subscribing or not!