Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 7:01 PM
Note: This was originally a forum post, at Garthanos's suggestion, I decided to put it up here. If you'd like to see it in context, it's here.
Disclaimer, I'm one guy. I'm not the elected speaker for my side or anything fancy like that, and I'll probably miss something. Anyone else who hates the 5MWD, feel free to chime in.
First, we need to look at what the 5MWD is. This would seem straightforward, and no one really stops to explain it anymore, not beyond a sentence or two. They probably should, though, because there are two distinct problems that are both referred to as the 5MWD. They're not dissimilar, and they tend to both occur during a good example of the 5MWD, but they are distinct.
The first problem is when the party is pressured to stop and rest before the dungeon is complete, often resulting in running back to town or making a camp in a defensible position. This is an issue because it's just so narratively jarring. Camping in a dungeon isn't really a part of the thematic sort of stories that D&D is built from. The only story I can really think of where this happens at all is LotR, when they camp in Moria, and in Moria, they don't rest because they fought too many orcs, they rest because it takes days to get from one end of that hellhole to the other. In fact, when the heat starts to come down on the party, holing up is the last thing on their minds. But the mechanics of D&D don't really encourage this sort of story. In D&D, whenever you can get away with sleeping for a few hours, it's best to do it. Sleeping restores your resources, and the amount of resources you have remaining has a pretty large impact on your chances of survival. In D&D, reasons to press on instead of sleeping if you can must come entirely from the DM and/or the players. If you don't keep on top of providing them, you end up playing Dungeon Camper, and Dungeon Camper is a weird game that no one actually likes, they just put up with it because the alternative is probable character death.
The second problem is balance. When you have some classes using daily abilities and some using at-will or encounter abilities, you have to have a certain amount of encounters in the day in order to keep them roughly in line with each other. Too many encounters and the casters can't pull their weight, too few and they get overwhelming. This is a problem for two main reasons. First is that the party mechanically benefits from going under this number. The fighters and rogues don't get any worse, but the wizard and cleric get better. It's in the party's interest to rest early if they can get away with it, as I mentioned before, so this puts the DM on constant Rest Police Duty. The second is that building for a set number of encounters per day, consistently, is a major restraint on the types of adventures you can have.
These things are called the 5-minute workday. Sometimes they're called the 10 minute workday, or the 15 minute workday. The exact number of minutes doesn't matter. It's named for the observation that even if it takes some time at the table, for the characters, combat goes really quick, just a few seconds to a minute tops. A party that enters the dungeon at 8am can find themselves used up for the day by 8:15 or 8:30.
Now, if you don't experience these issues yourself, and you're just hearing about them for the first time, I'm sure you're just chomping at the bit with all the advice I'd need to banish these problems forever. But it won't be anything I haven't heard before. I'll go over some of the more common "fixes" and tell you why the issue isn't resolved for everyone forever.
One we get a lot is "The world doesn't stand still while players rest, not in my campaign!", as though the rest of us have never actually considered the difference between a campaign world and a battlemat. For bonus points, some people like to tout this old Gygax quote, "You cannot have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept." Usually the point this is getting at is that there's a lot of things in the world that can interrupt characters from sleeping, and that adversaries will not necessarily just let this camping happen. This usually seems to assume two things that aren't necessarily going to be true, though. First is that "the enemies" are going to be able to do something to stop the players, and the second is that they will. Now, when you're fighting intelligent humanoids, this is generally going to be true. I'd be surprised if a squad of hobgoblins didn't toss some grapping hooks into the players makeshift barrier and pull it down. But some foes lack either the ability or the will to break up a camp. Zombies might want to get the players, but a decent barricade, as from furniture piled against a door, can hold them off. Even if they could get through eventually, having someone on watch ensures that the PCs will have enough warning to get up and be ready. Wild animals, like wolves, aren't going to have the will. They might want to eat the PCs, but real predators aren't stupid or suidicial. A pack of wolves isn't going to attack a group of people who have a sentry and a fire. They might stalk around and wait to catch someone when he goes to take a leak, but they aren't going to rush the camp. That's just too much risk for a meal, unless the PCs are the only other living things in the whole wood. But hey, all I have to do, as the DM, is stick to only ever pitting the PCs against intelligent, humanoid foes, right? I mean, Indiana Jones sucked, who'd ever get excited about exploring an abandoned temple, for something as lame as treasure, right?
The next piece of advice we get a lot is, as you might expect, also time-related. It usually comes like this, "Well, I guess they can rest if they want...if they want the goblins to kill all the hostages!" You can substitute whatever other sort of quest failure you'd like to, the intent is the same. The idea is that if the PCs are kept on a strict schedule, with clear consequences for dallying, then they'll keep the proper pace. And they will, it's true. All I'd have to do is make sure that every mission is on a strict time crunch. 5MWD aren't about taking huge amounts of time, so it does have to be a strict crunch. The 5MWD doesn't turn a 1 day dungeon into a 5 year dungeon, it turns a 1 day dungeon into a 2 or 3 day dungeon, on average. So deadlines like "Better get the Amulet of Blah back here by the end of the month!" are meaningless. We need to stick to "And if you don't find the Snowlight Flower by midnight tomorrow night, the Prince will die!" Now, I'd like to stress that there's nothing wrong with this sort of adventure. Hell, they can be a lot of fun! But they aren't the only type of adventure I ever want to run, and if they are, the deadlines start to feel contrived and lose their urgency. The first prince you have to save by midnight is fun, but the seventh time in a row that you hear, "We have to do X, and fast!" you start to feel like you're in a rerun of the Justice League cartoon.
The final piece of advice I'll cover in this post is a lot like the first and second, but it's dirtier, so I'm making it separate. This is when people say that you should invent circumstances to screw over characters that try to rest before you want them to. This is the type where the zombies suddenly have a Graveborn commander that wasn't in the cards before and helps them tear the barricade down. It's the type where the orc bandits that no one knew were there rape and pillage the village while the players were away, because they took an extra day. In other words, this advice is that if you don't have something prepared to force players to dance to your tune, make it up. I hate this advice, though I've recieved it many times. I hate it because what it amounts to is saying that I should just use in-game circumstances to punish players who don't play how I want them to play, usually continuing the abuse until the players will jump before I crack the whip. Control over their own characters is the only real sort of control the players have in D&D, and if I make that control illusory, I might as well just play with myself. At least that way I don't see a jerk when I look in the mirror.
So, to sum up my advice rebuttals, they all absolutely work. If I'm willing to restrict my adventures to a narrow subset of possible adventures, spend a lot of extra time and energy coming up with reasons not to rest, and browbeat my players until they fear my iron fist. At the end of the day, once I've done all that, my reward is a system that needs me to stick to a set amount of encounters per day to have a semblance of balance. And then I get to preserve a system that encourages cowardice instead of bold action, and that uses wildly differing resource recharge systems. The problem here is that I don't like the former and the latter holds no special value to me. So, if I go through a bunch of crap, I can get a turd and a lemon. Wooooo....
I'd rather have a system where if going on is not encouraged, at least going back is not over-rewarded. Going on should be dangerous, but not because while the encounter wouldn't be too bad if we're rested, we're already beat up. Going ahead should be dangerous on its own, whether you've had a good night's sleep or not. I'd rather have a system where I don't have to ensure X encounters or rounds or whatevers per day or adventure or whatever to ensure balance. Personally, I don't tend to have more than 1 or 2 combats in the works per day, when I DM. They're important when they happen, but they aren't constant. I want that to work. And if I decide that we should have more, I want that to work, too.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010, 1:37 AM
Well, the time has come. I'm taking up the DM mantle again. I've stuck to playing for a long time now. You see, I've never been a confident DM. I stress out a lot. I worry about whether I did the right thing, placed the right monsters, made the right calls. But I've been playing with the good people at the PbP Haven lately. Honestly, I've taken more than my fair share of slots. So I'm giving something back. A campaign, specifically. I plan to incorporate the things I've learned since last time into making a memorable campaign.
Besides, with a PbP format, I can take a few minutes to consider those tough calls.
Dear "What's a Dm to do?" forum, get ready. I'll need you.
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Monday, October 11, 2010, 6:17 PM
Looking down at the strange tracks, I knew trouble was afoot. I was pretty sure they were monster tracks, but I was having a hard time identifying them. The DC must have gone up. I looked up at old man Magorium's shop. Someone had broken in last night. Someone with hard to identify tracks. I decided to talk to old man Magorium himself, to see if he could identify the culprits.
"It was orcs!" He shouted, "They was tall, and orclike, but they wasn't orcs, if you catch my drift..."
"Well, see, they was orcs, but they wasn't orcs! They was...incompatible." he ranted.
"Mr Magorium, did the intruders steal anything? Did they hurt you?" I asked.
"One of 'em bit me! But they didn't take nuffin. Just stomped around and bit me, and left!" He pointed to a fresh bandage on his arm. I looked around some mroe, and began to notice that a lot of old man Magorium's magic item inventory was missing.
"Mr Magorium, are you sure they didn't take anything? A lot of your stock seems to be gone."
"What? Oh, I got rid of that stuff. Had to, you see. That stuff was Uncommon, and some of it was even Rare! I couldn't keep it in here. I put them all in old ruins and forgotten tombs, where they belong!"
I could see that old man Magorium was beginning to go senile, so I made a mental note to tell his kids to put him in a home, and got back to orc tracking. It was long, hard, dirty work, but I found their lair. There were only three of them, perhaps because I was alone and more would have made an unbalanced encounter. As it stood, it still looked like level+3 to me. I shuddered, and drew my Greatsword. I charged in, laying about them with Come and Get It. Two of them went down easy. They must have been minions. The leader still stood though, and he bit me hard on the shoulder. Something was wrong. His damage was way too high! The pain filled me with rage, and I hit it with my sword. I hit it so hard, and with so much rage, that I found myself adding my DEX mod to damage. It hit with my sword again, and again, and again, hitting it with my sword until it lay dead at my feet. Only when the bloodrage passed did I begin to realize what had happened. I fell to my knees and wept. My powers were all gone. I had become, no, we all had become...Essentialized.
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Saturday, October 9, 2010, 1:48 AM
First off, what do I mean by the Gap between optimized and sub-optimal characters? I mean the difference in mechanical power between characters who are built to have lots of it, and those for whom power was a secondary consideration, if it was a consideration at all. When I say sub-optimal, I don't mean a character made specifically to be bad, just a character made by someone who's read the Player's Handbook, taken its suggestions as a rough guideline and chosen the options that seemed cool. When I say optimized, I don't necessarily mean those characters created to get every last drop of DPR(I don't really view such characters to be optimized, as they often have glaring holes in other areas, such as their defenses. Also, the extreme builds get errata'd every now and then, and I'm not one for keeping on it), I mean characters who are built to get as much mechanical benefit as possible with each choice made, be it feats, powers or what have you.
The gap is smaller in 4e than it was in 3.5. All one has to do is look at the Druid-zilla to see this is true. I created a Druid-zilla in 3.5 entirely by accident. It was my first character. I picked druid for conceptual reasons(i.e. I thought it would be cool to be the Wrath of Nature Incarnate). At first the class didn't seem out of balance. My wolf companion was nearly essential to our survival, as we had a small party, but I didn't immediately recognize this as being my power, per se. It didn't feel like I was the life of the party, it felt like I had brought a friend who was. Then came Wild Shape. My first thought was "Can I become a tiger?!" The answer was, "No, not until level 8. But you can be a leopard until then." And a leopard I was, for 5 hours a day. During those 5 hours I was roughly as effective a melee combatant as the party paladin, but I had to change back to cast spells, so it worked out, kinda. Then came level 6, and the Natural Spell feat. The Natural Spell feat let me cast spells while in Wild Shape. I thought it was the cat's meow(or the Leopard's Meow, in this case). I mean, pretty soon I was a Leopard most of the day, while keeping all of my normal spells! I was a Druid and a Fighter all at once! Somewhere around here is where the paladin's access to level 1 and 2 spells just wasn't making up for the craziness I had achieved. By level 8, when I could officially become a tiger and be one 24/7, the game fell apart, due mainly to the crazy power level of my druid. Even my less-than-well-informed attempts at making a powerful character outstripped our unoptimzed paladin.
Now consider my current 4e game. In this game, I play a paladin. It's an optimized paladin, practically a steel wall held together by faith. He's got the party's highest HP and is tied for highest AC and attack bonus. He has a strong secondary role of Leader. I do not say this to brag, but to explain. Also in our party is a Cleric. He is a very sub-optimal character. He has feats to be more damaging and more durable. Not enough to increase his damage much or to really noticeably increase his survivability. His powers are geared toward HP restoration and damage, and some of them are just bad. In other words, he tries to do everything, and ends up sucking at most of it. But he is still a highly valuable member of the party. No one else is as good as he is at healing. Not my Leader-secondary paladin, not even our other Leader, a Runepriest. In every battle, this cleric goes out, he deals damage, he takes hits, he sets up flanking, he hands out bonuses, and he lets us spend surges with a lot of bonus HP. When the player, and by extension the cleric, has to miss a session, his loss is like a gaping hole in our party. No amount of optimizing on the part of any other player can make him obsolete.
So, in my personal experience, there is a smaller gap between an optimized and a sub-optimal character. How does this affect play? Well, for one, I feel free to optimize to my heart's content. I'm an optimizer, it's a thing I do...if I can do it without ruining someone else's fun. In 3.5, that just wasn't realistically possible. If one person didn't optimize and didn't pick a spellcaster, I had to hold back. Now, I'm sure at least one person who reads this will think to themselves, "Oh no! you had to play a halfway balanced character? How horrible for you, you power gaming scumbag!" but odds are you wouldn't be too happy about peer pressure dictating your character creation, either. So a power gamer can now power game without ruining anyone else's day. The gap has shrunken, and it is wonderful, because it means more players of disparate playstyles can coexist peacefully at the same table.
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