Sunday, July 22, 2012, 2:17 PM
“You stride forth from the blood-soaked battlefield, bruised and beaten, but unlike all others involved, alive. The balefire and steel that slew hundreds of others, friend and foe alike, you shrugged off, a true champion. Scores of lesser men fell beneath your blade, ending with the general of the enemy. A worthy foe, if there was such a thing for you. Victorious but, thanks to your lord’s death on the field, unemployed, you resolve to cure the world of its problems the way you know best to: by the blade.”
“You marched to war as one of your lord’s men at arms, for the only thought more frightening than fighting the enemy was what should happen if they won. Battle came, and you stood, and you cut, time and time again, finding combat beside your brothers in arms more natural than you had imagined. The war was long and sometimes terrifying, but finally friend and foe alike were worn down. Released from service, you were free to go home… but that was not what you were to do. You had found your calling: to fight against the evils of the world.”
Which of these best describes to you how a 1st level Fighter with the Soldier background might enter the adventuring profession? If you answered the first, you might be a fan of being a hero, while if you answered second, you might prefer becoming a hero instead. This is one of those essential disconnects between various factions in the D&D fan base, whether a character should begin the game with potential, or fully realized.
The Argument for Being a Hero
Nobody wants to be weak or ineffectual. Part of the point of a fantasy role-playing game is indulging in the larger than life experience offered by the possession of superhuman strength and competence or supernatural powers.
Furthermore, as the players are the ones with agency in the game, they should be empowered from the start to alter the world. The adventurer is ultimately supposed to be a hero (or villain, or scoundrel), and deferring this essential core of experience is pure folly.
We do not set out to be apprentices, squires, or footpads – beholden to higher powers, unable to determine our own fates. We wish to be instead archmages, knights, and kings of thieves. This is the enjoyable state – even though challenge surely remains, we are transcendent, beyond hand-to-mouth existence, beyond the realm of common mortals. Start at the top of the heap, and progress upwards to the heavens.
The Argument for Becoming a Hero
Dungeons and Dragons is two things. First, it’s a fantasy storytelling experience and second, a game. The rules govern the action of the game, and must support the nature of a fantasy story.
One common and compelling story is the typical peasant hero. Begin as nothing, and eventually save the world. To rise from the lowest depths to the tallest heights is an exhilarating experience that must necessarily be supported. To fail to allow for this classic, resonant experience can be considered a failing of D&D Next.
We do not wish to begin with great power already at our fingertips. It is the getting, and not the having, that provides the greatest entertainment. That which is not gained through some manner of struggle is not satisfying to have. If great power is handed to the player at the beginning, the great power becomes taken for granted. It loses its wonder, loses its value, and ultimately it matters little how much greater than the average man we are, for we will never really become greater than ourselves.
Both of these play styles are important and relevant. Both must be supported, but how. My answer is robust rules for starting above 1st level. Essentially, it’s easier to scale a character up from 1st than scale them down, so 1st level must represent the absolute lowest/weakest point for character progression possible. Those that wish to be heroes from the start, then, should be supported in starting at a level above first.
With good, solid rules for character creation at a few other levels than 1st, if not any given level, there is no reason to increase the power of 1st level. You might say that this is a concession to one side – the becoming a hero side—but the thing is that the being a hero side can still play the game they want if starting at 1st represents becoming a hero. The same is not true for the Becoming side if heroism is assumed at level 1.
Friday, May 11, 2012, 11:51 AM
Okay, I was hoping this image would speak for itself, but since I happily dance the border between serious commentary and humor, I had better explain. I created this little grid when thinking about who or what your real model for a class is, while there were arguments going on about what is or isn't an appropiate or representable concept. This was all for amusement, but I figured I might as well share it, and my reasoning behind it.
1e-3e: Yeager (Nodwick). Not a complicated fellow. Kills things with swords, likes booze, doesn't have or seem to need extravagent powers. This is pretty much what the fighting man is and wants to be all the way until 4th edition.
3.5: Nodwick (Nodwick). Of the core four, Fighters really did get shafted that badly in the mad expansion of 3.5.
4e: Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy 7). Let's compare Cloud and Yeager. Cloud is younger and slighter of build, but weilds a much bigger sword. While Yeager had his basic attack, Cloud (Even barring Materia) has some special attacks that range from the entertaining (Braver) to the ludicris (Meteorain, Omnislash). A lot of people are going to find Cloud a step up, but he's one of two entries here don't think I'd enjoy playing in D&D (Granted, that's more because he's Cloud than because of his powers...)
Hopes for Next: Ike (Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance). Ike is a bit more of a classic fantasy swordsman than Cloud is, but he's still an interesting and dynamic character, and he is at least capable of fetting a variety of combat skills (Like everybody else in the system, granted). He's even got his own kinda odd super-move, Aether. Maybe I should have picked Mia?
1e: Piffany (Nodwick). Through at least most of 1e, clerics of specific Mythoi didn't exist. Additionally, the expected role of the cleric has historically been to dispense magical healing. Duct tape FTW! (Also, de-naughtifying undead is handy...)
2e-3e: Jozan, Iconic Cleric of Pelor (3e). Priests of specific Mythoi were big starting in 2e. Jozan, 3rd's Iconic, is basically a slight update on your generic band-aid cleric. He's got armor and a mace, and now follows one god (in his case, one who grants him more tools as an undead-remover and bandaid box)
3.5: God (Sistine Chapel Ceiling). Yeah, if played effectivley, Clerics were just that broken. (This is the other entry I wouldn't enjoy playing)
4e: Generic Cleric. Just a bit of an update on Jozan really. We now have glowing maces, and perhaps a little more ability to bring the divine pain rather than sit back and heal.
Hopes for Next: Piffany again, but for somewhat different reasons. The lack of armor is a big one -- though the design goals say I won't get my wish here, I'd like to see clerics cede the "Armored Holy Warrior" turf fully to the Paladins.
1e-2e: Generic Thief. Before 3rd edition, the class WAS 'Thief'. A sneaky footpad ready to bag the loot was prety much expected. I have a lot of good things to say about earlier editions, but bredth of expectations isn't exactly one of them.
3e-3.5: Lidda, Iconic Rogue (3e). Am I cheating by using the edition's own Iconic to stand in for it? I don't think so. Lidda is somewhat representitive of the switchover from Thief to Rogue. She seems like she's prepared for dungeonerring as well as breaking and entering, not just highway robbery. Her portrayl is much more neutral than that of Mr. Generic. Rogues sifted into one of the tiers that played nice in 3.5, thus there was no need for a tier joke here
4e: Thief (8-Bit Theater). I admit, I'm mostly making fun of one particular epic destiny that lets you steal things that don't even exist.
Hopes for Next: Carmen Sandiego (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?). Let's face it, Carmen is prety much the role model for any theiving type. A lot of her heists get as impossible as Thief's, I admit. Mostly I put her here because a thief-type rogue is going to be going for her level anyway.
1e: Merlin (The Sword in the Stone): Big grey beard, pointy hat, questionable powerset -- this is where Wizards started. I could have used Artax from Nodwick here, but I think I've used more than my share of Nodwick characters.
2e: Gandalf the Grey (The Lord of the Rings): The evolution of the wizard begins with a significantly less questionable powerset. The expectations are much the same.
3e: Gandalf the White (The Lord of the Rings): The power and versitility of the wizard increases, and he starts to shed the old wizard look and feel (here starting with the pointy hat). Superficially, he's the same, but there's been a large step up
3.5: Jace Beleren (Magic: The Gathering): I picked Jace for a few reasons. First, one of his card forms is infamously broken. Second, this particular image expresses that decently, holding the world in his hand. Third, while the power of the Wizard has indeed been changing, its the look and feel that really takes a turn -- the old Gandalf type is gone, replaced by a young, vital figure who wouldn't be caught dead in a pointy hat.
4e: Mako (The Legend of Korra): In 4e, the versitility of Wizards dropped off dramatically, while hard usage limits went the way of the dinosaur with the introduction of core at-wills (Rather than reserve feats or hard-won SLAs). The average wizard can now sling fire all day long, but can't innatley do many of the things that wizards were once capable of (Some are in rituals, some aren't). Also, the art/flavor trend towards young heroes continues.
Hopes for Next: Schmendrick (The Last Unicorn). I'd rather go the other way. Schmendrick's magic is (often) big and flashy, but is marked by its unreliability. Rather than magic being clean, reliable, and weak/narrow, I would prefer it to be strange, unreliable, and potentially strong. And hey, the pointy hat is back!
Tuesday, March 13, 2012, 7:54 PM
Things tend to come in threes – by now we’ve all heard of the three pillars about which D&D Next is to be built, and last time I talked about Three Pillars of Art and Flavor
. This time, I’m going to talk about the third three: the Three Attitudes of Gaming.
In some way, these are the “Timmy, Johnny, and Spike” of the D&D design world: we find ourselves aligning with one or more of the three, and our stance colors our beliefs about what is and what is not good design.
Simulationism may be mapped, somewhat, to the Pillar of Exploration. The Simulationist wishes to enter the fantasy world of the game, and does so by the reality of the world presented in the rules. The Simulationist desires the oft-mocked rules like encumbrance and aging because they ‘enhance versimilitude’ and generally prefers if the logical consequences of an action can be spelled out and accurately modeled by the rules as they are presented.
The Simulationist, on the other archetypes: “Neither of them truly understands what it means to be making a fantasy universe: the Narritivist disregards its logic when it collides with his plot, and the Gamist would gladly throw that logic away if it did not suit the experience at the table. My path is harder, but it’s more rewarding”
In some ways, Simulationism has been set as the opponent of Narritivism, but I find that dichotomy to be incomplete, for there are matters on which the Simulationist and the Narritivist may agree.
Narritivism may be mapped, somewhat, to the Pillar of Interaction. The Narritivist wishes to tell a fantasy story, weave together plot and character and doesn’t care much for the rules so long as they allow him to do so. The Narritivist desires some measure of control over the direction and flow of the plot, and generally prefers if the rolls of the dice can be mitigated should they conflict with that plot.
The Narritivist, on the other archetypes: “They’re letting things get in the way of the real role-playing experience: the Gamist neglects the plot, and the Simulationist would throw it out completely if it didn’t fit his ‘logic’. My path is more interactive for everyone at the table.”
Gamism may be mapped, somewhat, to the Pillar of Combat. The Gamist wishes to play a game, to be entertained by its mechanics and how they unfold upon the table. The Gamist desires balance and fun above all else, and generally prefers to be declaring actions and rolling the dice. The gamist likes abstraction, and dislikes things that get between him and his game.
The Gamist, on the other archetypes: “They’re forgetting the G in RPG: The Simulationist would turn out something totally unplayable left to his own devices, and the Narritivist wouldn’t even use rules! My path is the one that results in fun.”
Overlap is, of course, common: most of us have at least a drop of each of the three in us, though we may swing hard to one corner. I consider myself a Simulationist first, a Narritivist second, and a Gamist third. I’d like a playable, balanced game, of course: it’s better than not. However, I take considerations from the other two archetypes as paramount, and say “balance around this!”
Monday, February 27, 2012, 1:21 PM
A lot of talk has been made about the three pillars of Dungeons and Dragons gameplay: Combat, Socialization, and Exploration. A lot has also been made about D&D 5th edition (I'd really like it to not be called "next") having to 'feel like D&D'
Well, a lot of feel is in the flavor and the art. What themes does it evoke? Thinking about that myself, I came up with my own Three Pillars. I'm mostly going to address them from the standpoint of monster design, but I feel they apply to how much of the game is addressed: the three gameplay pillars inform, for instance, what content is in an adventure. I would think pillars of flavor would inform how that is fluffed.
Pillar #1: "Cool"
I could have also called this pillar "Badassery" or "Metal". Cool is, at its essence, the distillation of tropes that resonate with the modern mind. Cool is the Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot
. Cool is monsters made of fangs and spikes and other scary-looking bits. Cool is the part of the game where where the rock music plays and you stand up and shout "Look at me! I'm AWESOME!" Eberron basically runs on Cool. Cool is exemplified by the "Dungeon Punk" look and feel pushed in the latter half of 3.5 and a good deal of 4th.
Cool is not the only pillar because Cool works best as an admixture. Cool cares not for your logic! Cool cares not for sitting still! It's a very active element in the makeup of flavor, but one that is often somewhat... topheavy. Ready to collapse under its own weight.
In some ways, Cool equates to the pillar of Combat: Fighting and winning, both in spectacular ways, are Cool.
Cool is important because it calls you to do
. Cool represents engagement with the game on an active level. Cool calls you to cheer and shout. On the other hand, Cool should not be taken alone becaust it represents a somewhat hollow experience. With nothing to make you really feel, the shouting and "awesomeness" may soon wear thin
Pillar #2: "Classic"
Classic is, at its essence, that which calls to the past. Most people come into D&D through other fantasy. Classic maintains continuity with the stories we read or see, and the "main stream" of fantasy media. Classic is Tolkien, Lovecraft, Vance, and even Fairy Tales. Classic is orcs and goblins, dragons and balrogs. Classic is the part of the game where you think back on everything that's brought you here and remember what you've loved before. Most of the older campaign settings, like Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, have a large dose of Classic in them. Classic is exemplified by its source material
Classic is not the only pillar because it serves as a framework. D&D has to expand beyond classic, and grow outward from it. Classic alone is stagnant and unchanging, beloved perhaps but also bereft of what makes D&D a living game rather than a story one reads about.
In some ways, Classic could be equated to the Socialization pillar: "Role Playing", or telling the story, delves into Classic to a great degree.
Classic is important because it calls you to think
. Classic represents an engaement with the game on a cerebral level. On the other hand, Classic should not be taken alone because it represents a fundamentally passive experience. Classic is either there or it isn't. Like bedrock, you'd really like it if Classic were present, but there's not much you can do without somethign else layered over it.
Pillar #3: Whimsy
Whimsy is, at its essence, that which is strange and imaginitive. We have, I think, been unkind to poor Whimsy in recent years. Whimsy is monsters whose looks and nature are at odds. Whimsy is the part of the game where you contact the raw strangeness of your inner child's imagination. Whimsy exists in the stranger corners of most campaign settings. Whimsy is exemplified by maligned flumphs and beloved Displacer Beasts alike.
Whimsy is not the only pillar because whimsy lacks substance. A dream world may seem very nice, and even possess internal logic, but iltimatley all that's there is a sort of fluff, that is easily dispersed and blown away. Whimsy, unsupported, is as fragile as a soap bubble.
In some way, Whimsy could be related to the gameplay pillar Exploration. Devling into a new world of the unknown, seeking and finding, calls to Whimsy and the Whimsical.
Whimsy is important because it calls you to feel. Whimsy represents an engagement with the game derived from free imagination and emotion. On the other hand, Whimsy should not be taken alone because it represents unconciousness. Thought, the concious mind, is needed to keep a game alive and going, and that is not what whimsy calls to. Whimsy is content to gaze upon the clouds in the sky and name their shapes with names not before spoken.
Where Cool and Classic Meet: The IllithidSpoiler:
Illithids are one of those monsters that rank high on the "cool" scale -- they eat your BRAINS, man! They're scary blighters that are alien and revolting in as many (awesomly) horrible ways as you can put together. But, they're also informed by one of the Classics to which D&D pays homage -- HP Lovecraft. The squid-faced humanoid belongs squarely with Cthulhu and his Star Spawn, and the Far Realms that are usually said to have a hand in the birthing of the Illithids are where D&D has placed its Lovecraftian horrors.
Where Classic and Whimsy Meet: Fairy TalesSpoiler:
Fairy Tales are some of the most classical classics. Being traditional in nature, they are older than Tolkien, and I would say, tend to inform modern, western fantasy to a degree surpassed only by Tolkien's Middle Earth. Perhaps I am wrong in that regard, but they are certainly there. And, unlike much other classic fantasy, Fairy Tales call to the ears of the inner child at least as much as they do to the cerebral adult. Perhaps it is a matter of nostalgia, or the way these traditional stories have been treated in the modern world: Most of us encounter them quite early, probably long before we encounter anything else that would be labled as "fantasy". This puts is in the mindset for whimsy.
Where Whimsy and Cool meet: The BeholderSpoiler:
Many attempts have been made to de-whimsy-fy the Beholder, but... It's a beachball covered in eyes. It's not the most whimsical design out there, but while it does have a mouth of pointy teeth, said mouth is practically useless. Looking at it, it's hard to imagine that the beholder is a prototypically scary, and thus cool monster. I mean, next you're going to be telling me that salt and pepper shakers are terrifying!Oh right... they are.
Much like the above, beholders have the ultimate "cool monster" attitude: they hate you. They hate every living thing that's not themselves, and that's probably covering up a healthy dose of self-loathing. The funny thing is, for all their mad xenophobia, beholders are consistantly an incredably varried species, not just in their own looks but in the fact that they've got a slew of beholderkin going on! That's... strange and interesting, which brings us back to a little taste of whimsy.