Mastery of the Rules, pt 2: The Little Things

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One of the designers had a good point- there is too much of a gap between knowing how to play and mastering the rules. This is true in terms of both building characters and the more obscure points of in-game play.

We've had some discussion of complex and relatively obscure things like the grapple rules, turn undead, etc, as well as simpler things that are often misunderstood like exactly what a diplomacy check or Summon Monster can do.

The other thread was about building characters. This one is about all of the little things, as mentioned above.

I have found that these tend to stick out like barbs from an otherwise smooth surface. They look like extraneous things tacked onto the rules, and not a part of them. Grapple is kinda like an opposed skill check, but not quite. Turn Undead doesn't work like anything else in the rules. After all the Clerics I've played, I still don't have it memorized. Nor do I remember exactly how to do a Bull Rush or Trample.

All of this makes it a little harder to play, but alot harder to run a game. A player doesn't necessarilly need to know them, but the DM does. I know I've had trouble with this sort of thing. I'm looking forward to a game that's easier to run, so I can handle the rules with more confidence and speed. Then, I can concentrate on my combats and plots.
On a related note, I would also like simpler (and easier to read) stat blocks for monsters. I hate hunting through 500 words of small type to find a monster's grapple check or special attacks.
On a related note, I would also like simpler (and easier to read) stat blocks for monsters. I hate hunting through 500 words of small type to find a monster's grapple check or special attacks.

Consistency in the game world allows for simpler modelling. Acid has this effect unless it is from an ooze in which case it does this is an example of poor modelling. Build the base set of effects and then when designing a secondary item such as a creature use those effects.

The world holds together better and the players have a much easier time building an intuitive sense of how thigs work.
On a related note, I would also like simpler (and easier to read) stat blocks for monsters. I hate hunting through 500 words of small type to find a monster's grapple check or special attacks.

Agreed and after using the new Star Wars rules for the last few months I hope 4E stat blocks have a similar format. The 3.5 blocks are a nightmare.
Hanging out frequently at the CO boards goes a long way towards helping in your mastery of the rules...:D
On a related note, I would also like simpler (and easier to read) stat blocks for monsters. I hate hunting through 500 words of small type to find a monster's grapple check or special attacks.

Yeah definitely shortening and condensing stat blocks would be a very good thing.

Hopefully tjhe fact that they're arbitrarily determining monster stats instead of using a formula will help, since they can cut out most of the substats that don't matter anyway.
I have found that these tend to stick out like barbs from an otherwise smooth surface. They look like extraneous things tacked onto the rules, and not a part of them. Grapple is kinda like an opposed skill check, but not quite. Turn Undead doesn't work like anything else in the rules. After all the Clerics I've played, I still don't have it memorized. Nor do I remember exactly how to do a Bull Rush or Trample.

All of this makes it a little harder to play, but alot harder to run a game. A player doesn't necessarilly need to know them, but the DM does. I know I've had trouble with this sort of thing. I'm looking forward to a game that's easier to run, so I can handle the rules with more confidence and speed. Then, I can concentrate on my combats and plots.

Another good post in this "series" of threads.

I had a terrible experience with DMing a Swimming/drowning encounter. Those rules are real messed up, let me tell you.

I think the system relies too much on "roll d20, add modifier, check against DC." Sometimes, you know how to frickin swim. So just swim, dammit. Instead of "oh, I was swimming just fine six seconds ago, but now, I'm drowning! Oh wait, this round I'm swimming again. I better not roll poorly three rounds in a row or I drown!"
Another good post in this "series" of threads.

I had a terrible experience with DMing a Swimming/drowning encounter. Those rules are real messed up, let me tell you.

I think the system relies too much on "roll d20, add modifier, check against DC." Sometimes, you know how to frickin swim. So just swim, dammit. Instead of "oh, I was swimming just fine six seconds ago, but now, I'm drowning! Oh wait, this round I'm swimming again. I better not roll poorly three rounds in a row or I drown!"

That reminds me of a lot videogames where players can't swim at all... You die when you fall in the water. You can kill enemies with abilities that no human could accomplish, but you can't swim? That's bogus. I can understand swimming poorly(maybe you never learned any formal techniques and you're just doggy-paddling), but simply sinking to the bottom is ridiculous in most situations(a storm or some such event might make sense).
I noticed something about Turn Undead. The designers have mentioned "arcane strikes", "wand attacks" and I believe, "holy symbol attacks". This could be the way that they finally integrate Turn Undead into the rules instead of having it hanging off of them awkwardly.
Addendum to swimming, depth effects. 1D6 per minute Crushing damage for every 100' you are swimming under the surface? A Necklace of Adaptability allows you to breath underwater but says nothing about protecting you from the crushing depth.
Heck, even polymorphed into a fish or shark the rules would have you crushed if you swim down too far.
That's a rule many DMs seem to ignore, but it's right there in the DMG pp304.

Other "add-ons" I have noticed
Caltrops: What action does it take to spread caltrops? Why an attack roll? I would probably make it a DC 10 reflex save to pass through the area at half speed without stepping on one, DC 20 at full speed, DC 30 if running.
Web: In previous editions the "flammable" webs from the spell could flash fry someone if you use burning hands on the web. It basically spread the burning hands damage throughout the web area and removed the web, now burning hands only clears a 5' section?
Spot checks: -1 per 10 feet? I could understand having -1 per 10' in low light conditions (dawn, dusk), and -1 per 5' in fog/dark, but strait up -1 per 10 feet? What if the thing you are trying to spot is a fire? Would you still get a -1 per 10 feet if you are 50 feet away from a burning building or forest fire?

It's the little things, those little bits of information that get stuck in obscure places, or are easily overlooked until something specific comes up that can, occasionally, make you wonder.
One way of addressing rule design is to keep in mind that the basic rule for a certain thing like Grapple or Turn Undead essentially has the purpose of outlining a certain probability distribution.

At its core, it may not really matter what the exact shape of the probability is, especially if the rule covers a win/lose situation (such as in an attack roll, or turn undead check).

This idea could be used to double-check rules before finalizing them. They could have noticed that what really matters when someone is trying to Grapple an enemy is whether the attempts succeeds or not. It's a win/lose situation. Then why do we have to roll 3-4 dice to determine the result?

Of course, very soon (for many reasons, from adding a little bit of variation or realism, to allowing for characters to specialize in some tactic) the rules want to go a little beyond the basic. At that point, however, there is very often no fundamental need for introducing more rolls. Bonuses and penalties, properly designed, can achieve the desired effect which is very simply an increased/decreased success chance.
So maybe the Choker simply rolls against your Reflex Defense, and if it succeeds, then it starts the grapple. After that, there's the matter of what to do once you're in the grapple.

I guess Reflex Defense will replace touch AC too?
Soon it will all be "Toon" simple... Roll 1d6. If it's 4,5,6, you succeed.
Soon it will all be "Toon" simple... Roll 1d6. If it's 4,5,6, you succeed.

Heh, there are already games that are like that.

Simplicity doesn't necessarily mean that though. Simplicity doesn't necessarily mean less numbers, just less sets of numbers or mechanics.

A lot of the rules need to be more intuitive. You shouldn't need 2-3 or more copies of your character sheet in order to know what your stats are in every different scenario because they shouldn't be radically different.

As for the current grapple rules, if you get a high Str, and get the associated feats, the grappling rules are positively silly. They are completely counter to other combat mechanics, which is what makes them bad. They aren't too complex, they are hard to remember for a lot of people because they are really the only thing like them in the game. Grappling doesn't represent combat mechanically in 3.5.

It is a prime example of non-intuitive mechanics that make the game less simple by having to know a completely different combat system that isn't at all related to conventional combat in any way.
One of the designers had a good point- there is too much of a gap between knowing how to play and mastering the rules. This is true in terms of both building characters and the more obscure points of in-game play.

I agree that knowing enough to create a character or fundamentally play and actually grasping/mastering the rules are far different. You can (more or less) teach someone to play D&D 3.5 in a manner of minutes -- you roll dice and add modifiers, the higher the better... you get two small actions in a given round in combat... everything else is exceptions or expansions on these basic principles.

In order to "flatten" the learning curve - that line between familiarity and expertise - there are several things that could be done.

1) Limit (or ideally eliminate) special exceptions. Grapple and Turn Undead are the poster children for this. Would it be so terrible (or alter the gameplay experience dramatically) if they were resolved similar to skill checks, or possibly Turn Undead resolved like a spell effect?

2) Create core, fundamental principles in the game design, and make sure they are repeated throughout the rules. Not necessarily just regurgitating them, but showcase how different elements or encounters leverage these basic rules and principles -- show faith and confidence in these core rules so that GMs and players can see that they "work" for a variety of situations.

3) Tied to #2 above - Provide examples of leveraging the core principle. Clearly show how this works with different situations. Not only does this strengthen understanding of the basic rules, but provides GMs with the confidence to handle perhaps the most challenging GM job -- adjudicating situations not covered by the basic rules. If a player wants to accomplish something outside the RAW (rules as written) having a clearly established baseline mechanic provides GMs with a powerful tool to resolve the situation using commonly understood and accepted practices.

4) Tie expansion/new content back to basic principles. New classes, feats and features are cool and fun and interesting to incorporate. But often, we find that there are "clusters" of abilities (be they feats, spells, etc) that break the core rules significantly enough that they warrant wholly new explanations and treatment - so someone who doesn't have the specialized, customized content can't adjudicate these easily with the tools they have at their disposal.

Quick examples. You're the GM and have players interested in playing a Totemist (from Magic of Incarnum), a Warlock (Complete Mage? or was it CA?) and a Sorcerer who wants to leverage a Dragonpact (Dragon Magic). All of these are great character options and ideas, but require research and understanding of principles completely outside the core rules and concepts -- invocations, essentia/soulmelds, dragonpacts. Great stuff, but filled with special exceptions. This requires extra work by the players AND the GM. The GM's got enough to deal with to run and manage the game, so introducing new concepts/classes/features should be as smooth and simple as possible.

5) Provide more GM tools/tips. Tied to #4... Make more content -- player aids, class packs, feature cards (like the maneuvers from Book of Nine Swords) and the like available for Download. The more information you can put into the GMs hands to lighten their load, the better equipped the GM is to manage their group. The easier that is for the GM, the more involved and entertaining RPGing with your buddies becomes. The more fun it is, the more likely people are to continue playing, purchase accessories, modules, miniatures, etc.

...

Ok, that went on a bit longer than I originally thought - but that's all the stuff off the top of my head... .
4) Tie expansion/new content back to basic principles. New classes, feats and features are cool and fun and interesting to incorporate. But often, we find that there are "clusters" of abilities (be they feats, spells, etc) that break the core rules significantly enough that they warrant wholly new explanations and treatment - so someone who doesn't have the specialized, customized content can't adjudicate these easily with the tools they have at their disposal.

But the point is that they are very different from the basic rules. That's why they existed. Tome of Magic, Tome of Battle, Magic of Incarnum, Psionics, they're all created to give a variant system for your game. If these products were very similar to the basic rules, they would lose their purpose: to add something different.
But the point is that they are very different from the basic rules. That's why they existed. Tome of Magic, Tome of Battle, Magic of Incarnum, Psionics, they're all created to give a variant system for your game. If these products were very similar to the basic rules, they would lose their purpose: to add something different.

You are 100% correct -- however, wholly new/different content is often at odds with rules mastery and comprehension.

Tying these two together, I hope there are more "GM-friendly" downloads with perhaps overviews or summaries of new features and content. One of the big problems I have now is if one of my players wants to use new content (and I encourage them to do so) I need to know as much -- if not more -- about it as they do. That adds a layer of complexity, that's all.
Adding a whole new magic system like Incarnum is best done IMO with a separate book. That way they can develop the concept fully without taking space in core, give players more time to digest the material separately, and give the DM the option of including it or not.

That's how they're handling Psionics, so I'll bet that's how they handle alternate magics as well.
I love the flavor of different types of magic or psionics or wierd races and classes. But I do not like having to have 4 books open in order to play.
And leveling gets icky too.

Much less the poor DM.
Addendum to swimming, depth effects. 1D6 per minute Crushing damage for every 100' you are swimming under the surface? A Necklace of Adaptability allows you to breath underwater but says nothing about protecting you from the crushing depth.
Heck, even polymorphed into a fish or shark the rules would have you crushed if you swim down too far.
That's a rule many DMs seem to ignore, but it's right there in the DMG pp304.

Personally I would continue to ignore such rules...that isn't even based on fact. Contrary to popular belief, the human body is not "crushed" when deep underwater. As you go deeper, your body equalizes its internal pressure with the external water pressure. I'm sure there's a point at which the pressure might crush some of the physical structures in your body (like bones), but that's going to be *really* deep. This is all assuming you are breathing compressed air. The problem is at about 130 feet you start getting nitrogen narcosis unless you're using a special air-mix. And, of course, you can get the bends (nitrogen bubbles in the blood) if you surface to quickly. So, assuming through some magic you could breath underwater without the above risks, 100' is nothing (I've dived to about 90 feet, and it doesn't feel any different than 30 feet, except that you go through air a lot faster). Heck, I doubt a 1000' would do you much harm from "crushing" (though in real-life you would have issues with what I discussed above).

Now, were you in a submarine of some sort that was maintaining an internal atmospheric pressure of the surface level, you can be crushed at depths. This is because you are *not* equalizing the internal pressure with the external pressure, so the hull of the submersible must be able to withstand the pressure difference. This can be quite extreme at depths.

So, short story long, it's a dumb rule, don't follow it.
Another good post in this "series" of threads.

I had a terrible experience with DMing a Swimming/drowning encounter. Those rules are real messed up, let me tell you.

I think the system relies too much on "roll d20, add modifier, check against DC." Sometimes, you know how to frickin swim. So just swim, dammit. Instead of "oh, I was swimming just fine six seconds ago, but now, I'm drowning! Oh wait, this round I'm swimming again. I better not roll poorly three rounds in a row or I drown!"

Actually, most cases where people have this complaint are handled very well by the Take 10 rule. But it seems like more people than not either refuse to use that rule, for various bad reasons, or grossly misunderstand it. I'm not sure what can be done about this, but I'm pretty sure it relates to this thread somehow.
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
1) Limit (or ideally eliminate) special exceptions. Grapple and Turn Undead are the poster children for this. Would it be so terrible (or alter the gameplay experience dramatically) if they were resolved similar to skill checks, or possibly Turn Undead resolved like a spell effect?

I'd go one further, it should just be a spell effect. There's no reason other than sacred-cow status from previous editions why turning undead should be a weird special case unto itself rather than just worked into the magic system.
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
I'd go one further, it should just be a spell effect. There's no reason other than sacred-cow status from previous editions why turning undead should be a weird special case unto itself rather than just worked into the magic system.

I like Complete Divine's Alternate turning: damage instead of turn or destroy mechanic.
"If you can't believe in yourself, believe in me who believes in you." and "Go beyond the impossible, and kick reason to the curb" Kamina, from Gurren Lagann
I like Complete Divine's Alternate turning: damage instead of turn or destroy mechanic.

I... dislike it less than the standard system. But either way (especially yours), there is little or no reason not to just make it a spell.
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
In the description of the Improve precise shot feats it says : whae atacking a graping oponent at range you automaticaly hit .

So when when the monster with tentacle in its mouth (can' remember the name) tried to eat a pc's brain by grapling .... all my arrows automaticaly hit their target.


This is an example of those smal thing maybe incomplete or unclear. Only later on we discovered that i wouls have had a 50/50 chance to hit my friend due to the grapling situation. Ahhhhhh
In the description of the Improve precise shot feats it says : whae atacking a graping oponent at range you automaticaly hit .

So when when the monster with tentacle in its mouth (can' remember the name) tried to eat a pc's brain by grapling .... all my arrows automaticaly hit their target.


This is an example of those smal thing maybe incomplete or unclear. Only later on we discovered that i wouls have had a 50/50 chance to hit my friend due to the grapling situation. Ahhhhhh

This could have been solved by reading the entire Feat description. Check the "normal" section. (Having said that, you're right that this could have been worded better, but not about just how hard it is to correct the initial misunderstanding.)
Jeff Heikkinen DCI Rules Advisor since Dec 25, 2011
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