It's been awhile since I've done a blog post, and that's partly because of my new born and partly because I'm trying to decide what to blog about next. I've been distracted by my "real" life lately and haven't spent the time I would normally spend thinking about D&D. I do however have some random thoughts to share.
As long as there are dice in D&D there will be some randomness, but I'm talking about things like random tables and mechanics with variable outcomes. Think spells whose outcome changes based on your roll or some other factor. I just got my early PDF copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (I pre-ordered) and it does scratch my itch for randomness, but I'm hoping that at least some makes it into D&D Next.
Basically, I like being surprised both as a player and a DM. While all the CR and XP pool schemes of 3rd and 4th Ed are great for helping novice DMs build balanced encounters out of the box instead of using the trial-and-error method I grew up with a string of such encounters just leaves me cold. There's no mystery for the DM. Sure your players could come up with something totally off the wall and I love that, but still I feel like the game could use some randomness. I like rolling on a table and getting the totally unexpected. Also, as a DM I feel like I can't possibly think of everything so it's nice to have decisions made for you at random plus it helps sometimes if bad stuff that happens to the party is the fault of the dice and not your decision making.
Robert Schwalb's "Beyond Class and Race"
Totally digging this. I thought this all sounded pretty good and was very pleased with what I read. I can live with Themes and Backgrounds as character elements and I might even want to use them. More importantly I wouldn't mind DMing a game in which they were used. So kudos to Mr. Schwalb.
Bruce Cordell's "Crypt of the Ninja Queen"
My thoughts on the "One Hour Adventure" are that we've had them for a very long time we just used to call them "Side Treks". They appeared in Dungeon all the time and while some barely constituted an encounter some were more or less small adventures you could do in about an hour or so depending on how much movie quoting and general F-ing around your group did. I'm okay with this being the base line, and for those bitching about it it's just that - a baseline. It's a place to start thinking about the math of an adventure, of the unseen bits that rest beneath the surface of an adventure's fluff. Take the "15 minute workday". I played D&D for years without thinking about how the Wizard's spell slots effected the way the group went about adventuring. Then someone on the internet or wherever must have broken down the math and took a good look at how those systems effect play and bang - suddenly the words "15 minute workday" have meaning. It's like that only starting at the very base level of game design and you really do have to start somewhere. Like 4E's XP encounter design system, once you know that X amount of XP at 1st level is a balanced encounter creating a harder encounter becomes easy to figure out or creating an easier encounter becomes easy to figure out. Once WoTC understands what it takes to make a good, short, one-hour adventure flow the way they want it to making a longer adventure should be no problem.
On a side note, I understand the people who want to play for 6-8 hours straight. I WAS that guy 10 years ago. Now I have a wife and a new born and a house and two cars, and some cats, and well you get the picture. We can't even seem to get through a boardgame if it takes more than an hour much less 6 hours. Ultimately, I think the appropriate length for a game is the same as it always has been - however long you want it to be. But if as a designer you want to examine how all the subsystems that make up a game effect "running time" then you need to start with some time limit goal in mind otherwise you get the "15 minute workday" which I'm sure was unintentional.