Friday, April 27, 2012, 10:13 AM
After the last announcement, I was wondering on what we should expect from this first draft of the game. Not much is the general answer. But what, exactly, should we notice, what parts can we safely assume will get better, what kind of feedback should we provide to the developers? Here's what I came up with.
PART ONE: the core mechanics
The criteria I will be using when examining the core mechanics are two.
First, the modularity. How much easy does it seem to change them up a bit? How much do they support the modularity of D&D Next? How many bad mechanics do I see as hardwired into the system?
Second, the quality of the base mechanisms. How easy is it to use those mechanics in actual gameplay? How fast does the resolution phase go? How broad are the possibilities supported by these mechanics? How significantly do these mechanics support gameplay? Does the game feel too artificial to play? Does it feel organic?
I hope the base mechanics satisfy both of those criterias. The first one is the most important: if I see anything hardwired into the system in a way which is not easily alterable I will be dissatisfied and will report it to the developers coupled with ideas to streamline the issue further and offer support for different modular approaches.
PART TWO: the encounter creation
The encounter creation part is one of the most interesting ones. I recently came to the conclusion that encounter creation is the selling point for 4E for me, and that I won't be going back to anything which has inferior encounter creation mechanics.
The criteria I will be using are the following.
First, how easy is it to gauge the effectiveness of a party? Do you need to take into consideration more things than just level? How heavy a role does party composition play on designing encounters? How heavy a role does the build of the characters play on designing encounters? Do I need to worry about spells voiding the challenge? Do I need to worry about fighters obliterating creatures that are supposed to prove a challenge? This is heavily tied to balance in the system, of course, although it is not the only thing balance provides.
Second, how flexible are the encounter creation rules on the length of a day? Can I safely create a single encounter for the day, while providing a challenge and avoiding TPK risks? Can I safely create a day with more than ten encounters, without really breaking apart the system?
Third, how easy is it to create new monsters? How much time do I need to spend to create a new unique monster? How easily can I reflavor or adapt other monsters? Are the monsters you can adapt or create balanced?
Fourth, how enjoyable are the encounters I can create? Does the effort I put into encounter creation mean that my players enjoy their time more? Is everything I do largely irrelevant towards the actual gameplay?
Fifth, are there rules for creating encounters that are not combat encounters? If that is the case, how good are those rules? Do they provide a good flexible framework for the encounters? Do they get in the way of the fun too often? Do they provide a balanced form of resolution, with easily defined difficulty?
The feedback to provide here is crucial. If they screw up the first part, there is a high chance the whole edition won't cut it for me, so I will notify the developers immediately. I will notify any possible improvement for the rest of the goals, in the form of modules and rules ideas: I don't expect to see them all accomplished of course, but I will see what there is, and outline possible solutions for what is not there.
PART THREE: character creation
Very important part, I will use two criteria to evaluate it.
First, does the game provide character creation rules that generate balanced characters? Are some options clearly superior to others? If so, how many balanced options are there? What causes the imbalance? Are the character balanced across the pillars, or are they balanced in each pillar individually? Are there obvious loopholes or bad mechanics?
Second, does the game provide enough options to represent various character concepts? How many concepts can I represent? What crucial concepts are currently lacking?
The first criteria is going to be the one where they hear the most feedback for sure. I hope they will take it to heart. I will try my best to propose possible fixes and ideas to balance the various options: the more balance there is, the more variety can be achieved inside the system. Obvious gamebreakers are going to be pointed out almost immediately, but even minor things can be important to revitalize some mechanical areas of the game which need a bit more love and balance.
The second, on the other hand, will be difficult with only four classes. I will do my best to point out what concepts can't currently be represented with the rules so that the designers can spot the obvious design space the four core classes leave to be expanded upon.
Thursday, February 9, 2012, 11:19 AM
In the past few days, some discussions roared on the boards about reflavoring, flavor and mechanics and similar questions. I have seen in the discussion many points in common with all the fundamental divides of the edition warring, and in the following article I will give an explanation of the issue (by my point of view) and some thoughts about the solutions.
First, a disclaimer: I am a narrativist at heart, and I will probably be unable to give the simulationists' part of the problem the fairest of shares. However, I will try to be as unbiased as possible and present both sides of the problem, and if you want to help me round the most rough parts, please feel free to correct me in the comments below.
WHAT ARE NARRATIVISM AND SIMULATIONISM
I use narrativism and simulationism as two names to indicate the two principal ways to run a roleplaying game. There are other ways, I'm sure, but these two are probably the most important ones. It should be clear that nobody is a perfect simulationist nor a perfect narrativist: all narrativists agree that a certain degree of simulationism is required and all simulationists agree that a certain degree of narrativism is accepted. However, in every important and meaningful debate at the two opposite sides of the argument you will find simulationists and narrativists.
Narrativists are those who play a roleplaying game to tell a story about a group of protagonists.
Narrativists are those who think the gaming system is a tool to narrate a better story. They are those who think the rules should do their job and get out of the way. They often don't like realism, as it has little place in the narration of a fantasy tale. They love to have the ability to tell the story they like best, with mechanics supporting conflict resolution and definitely not flavor. They like being able to reflavor a class, a spell, a power, a monster to something else, as they see fit.
They believe rules should get out of the way of the story. They often don't like meaningless character death, as it impairs their ability to create a coherent and cooperative story. They think the Dungeon Master's role is first and foremost to "say yes", allowing his players to be free to create the most wonderful of stories. They do not like to force or exclude characters concepts, they like to be able to run their world freely and without many rules or game assumptions.
They believe game balance is important, as everybody should be able to contribute equally to the story being narrated. They hate to see some capacity (be it healing, out of combat spells, in combat effectiveness, social ability or whatever) to be exclusive to certain classes or character concepts, and like to run a game where everybody is able to participate in every situation. They often (but not always) do not like Vancian casting as it has many issues that limit this ability for either non-Vancian classes, or Vancian classes, depending on the balance.
Simulationists are those who play a roleplaying game to tell a story about a group of characters.
As you can see, the definition is almost the same, yet so much depends on that lone word. By being a story about characters, and not protagonists, the expected world is not centered on the players: it has a history, a setting, rules and laws that are not bound to the players. They exist on their own, creating a wonderful and coherent gaming world that the characters (being characters of that world) can live in.
Simulationists are those who think the gaming system is the expression of the fantasy world they are playing in. They are those who think the rules should be thought in a way that represents the flavor of the gaming world. They do not care (or at least not particularly) about balance, as that is secondary to giving rules that represent the game world. They think the first aspect of a gaming system is its internal consistence, its sense of realism, its flavor. They love to have a system that represents, with its rules, the exact capacities and abilities of their character. They hate reflavoring, as that is stripping the rules from their flavor and renders the flavor itself meaningless; it creates a dissonance, a separation of the mechanics and flavor.
They resent a gamist approach to the health system, preferring a grittier and more consistent approach. They hate martial healing, as it is a clear disconnection of hit points from actual health. They believe the job of the Dungeon Master is to "say no": no you can't just do whatever you want in the game, you need to abide to the rules and make checks, no you can't just ignore the flavor, if you are a paladin you are a paladin and if you are casting a magic missle you can't be casting a meteor swarm instead. They hate to see character concepts that do not mix well with the expected reality of the gaming world. They love to see classes that do what you would expect them to do, even if it means giving up a bit of balance in the process. Realism trumps balance, coherence inside the system trumps the gamist need to have equal plot power in all situations. They often believe Vancian casting is very flavorful, traditional, and an essential part of D&D.
WHY THE DISPARITY? WHO IS RIGHT?
Nobody is "right", and the disparity is created by the difference in play style. What one group loves is bad to the next, and vice versa. This is a profund disparity that is, unfortunately (or fortunately?), unavoidable: we are different people and we like different things. There is no one correct way to play, and there is no wrong way to play. I have my preferences, and so do you, and you wouldn't nor shouldn't let anyone tell you that you are wrong for those. You may be puzzled by others' preferences yourself - I know I certainly am sometimes - but that's not a good reason to think those people are wrong. They are right, in their way. Of course, I would never play with a simulationist, and a simulationist would never play with me. But that's fine: neither would have fun if we did.
SO WHAT'S THE CATCH?
The catch is, each of the two groups wants different things from their gaming system. Each of the two groups have different opinions on what makes a system better than another. If you read the above paragraphs, some things will surely ring a bell: Vancian casting, Health system, DM empowerment, reflavoring, class design, balance... Those are the most heated debates, and rightfully so. They are the debates that represent this fundamental disparity of expectations from the gaming system.
Edition wars, at their fundamental level, are based on this disparity. When people argue about what they expect in D&D Next, they argue about whether or not it will be or support a more simulationist or narrativist gameplay. They fear the choice might fall on the opposite side of the argument, they fear that their preferred gamestyle won't be supported, and they fear that a good opportunity for improvement will be wasted for nothing. It's natural. I fear that too.
It is also completely impossible to have the same game support both game styles. You can probably figure out why: they are polar opposites. You can't possibly imagine a system that supports both to a decent level, at least not any complicate system like D&D is supposed to be (although I'm pretty sure you can run a freeform for both sides).
NOT EVERYTHING IS LOST
I have the firm belief that an edition of D&D that supports both styles is possible. I don't know whether D&D Next will do that, but I believe it is possible. The bad news is, it will be two different games under the same banner.
You can't possibly expect the same system to support both sides, of course, but that's not necessary. You can have two different systems keyed off the same basic concepts and Core mechanics. The Core mechanics they showed us about D&D Next are solid and supposedly well rounded: they work for both sides equally well. They just lack any meaningful contribution to either side of the argument.
If you want to really have an edition for every group, an edition that can work for both narrativists and simulationists, you will need to produce a double game. Now, modularity in and of itself has its issues, but it is not necessarily bad if it produces a better game for us both. We just need to accept that there will be options that you don't like, and those will be the options other people love. You need to accept that there will be a part of the system that is cut for someone else entirely. If you in turn have a better system than any you ever had before, I'm pretty sure you won't mind. At least I know I wouldn't.
If you want to help create a D&D Next that is for everybody, truly for everybody, you need to make sure this becomes true. Truth is, if we end up having only one system it will probably not be entirely the way you like it. The few lucky fellas that will have their perfect system might be the other ones. You can count on WotC to provide you your perfect system, sure. But what if WotC doesn't? What if they present you a system that has parts of what you like and parts of what you don't like?
We have a chance, now more than ever, to make sure the final product satisfies everyone. If you try to press your opinion over that of others, you may end up destroying that opportunity and having a system that is not like what you want. We need to grow out of the useless edition warring, embrace the diversity that we have, and face together this new edition, not to "have it our way", but to make sure we all have a better product.
How can you do that? It's simple. Whenever you encounter a situation in which you notice a divide, a fundamental one, based on preferences, rather than trying to make a point and prove that your way of doing things is correct, or showcasing why your way of doing things is better, be productive and try to envision a solution for the other side of the argument. Try to offer a way to satisfy both you and the other side, offer a possible solution for their side, explain what are the essential needs that your side of the argument has and what needs to be done in a rulebook to cover them. If the others do the same, maybe we can reach an agreement, and a better understanding of each other. If on the other hand we keep fighting like we're enemies instead of fellow gamers, we will end up with a product that doesn't satisfy neither of us.
Be productive. Try to offer a solution to the other side. If you can't find a middle ground, find a way to split the two ideas into different modules. Find out what needs to be in the core both parts share in order for the modular options to work. Be positive.
Sunday, February 5, 2012, 2:11 AM
I was thinking about monster creation and came up with something I thought I would share with you. I think it would satisfy every DM out there.
My ideal D&D Next Monster Manual would contain the following sections, in order:
The first section of the book is dedicated to monster building rules. These rules guide you in two distinct creation processes: the quick way, and the advanced way.
The first would be one page of rules, with a table to get all the proper numbers based on levels (like, level 1-5 is: 20-45 hp, 12-16 AC, 10-13 other defenses, low damage 1d6, high damage 3d10+5, skill modifier is: +4). This creates a one-line stat block for your monster, much like old OD&D monsters, that is perfect for quick fights, skirmishes, unimportant monsters or random dudes the party fights and the DM doesn't have already.
The second one is much like 4E's monster creation: it gives you balancing tools and numbers for creating the monsters, the rules to create elite monsters, boss monsters (better rules than 4E's on this one, please) and similar. It's still easy to use and pretty fast, but the rules give you much more detail and the stat block that comes out is more like half a page of statistics. This makes for more intresting and longer fights, but not necessarily slower combat (I mean, the turns go pretty quickly, the combat is a bit longer and the rules allow you to create a bit more tactics and cinematic fights).
Generic Monsters & Powers by Theme
This is something I would love to have. A little section right after monster creation rules, with 20-30 pages at most, of fluff-less, generic monsters stat blocks. Then a lengthy section full of powers, categorized by "theme".
The idea is to have a repertoire of templates to use in conjunction with the following chapter to create a new monster on the fly with extreme ease and speed. A computer application would make this 100% better too.
For example: you need to improvise an underwater fight with a giant shark? No problem. Grab the "Aquatic Monster" generic monster template (the Elite version since you don't want this to be too easy), add a few "Bloodlust" powers and you're done.
Rolling with your characters you have decided the ogre is actually a Phrenic psionic abomination that gains power through pain? No problem! Take the "Brute" or "Giant" generic monster template (Normal version), add powers from the "Psionic" theme, add powers from the "Pain related" theme and you have the ogre; then take the "Humanoid" generic monster (Minion version), add powers from the "Servant" theme and you have your thralls.
Want to create a memorable Lightning Wizard Lich? Take the Undead generic monster (Boss version), add powers from "Lich" theme, "Archmage" theme, "Lightning" theme.
The second part of the book is devoted to statting out all the classic D&D monsters using the above rules and providing examples for the DMs and quick challenges for those who don't want to mess their head with monster building. Further manuals would include a lot of new mosters with cool stuff.
Any given monster would have the following format:
QUICK STAT BLOCK
Lengthy description, culture, habitat, psychology, ecology and whatnot
ADVANCED STAT BLOCK
Thursday, February 2, 2012, 5:26 AM
There's a lot of edition warring going on in the boards, everybody wants their game's best parts to be included in D&D Next and they don't want to see the parts of the older or newer games that they hate so much. In the past two days I think I reached a really positive conclusion about D&D Next, and that conclusion is: it is possible. It's possible that every approach is represented inside a single Player's Handbook, and it is possible that everyone gains a bit from using this system instead of their favourite one.
I invite everybody, from OD&D grognards to 4E fanatics, to read the ideas below and see if they can recreate a gaming system that suits them. At the end of the rules you will find a quick recap of possible "packages". Please provide feedback and underline whatever elements you think are missing for the game to be acceptable to you.
This is the core of the game. Simple rules, quick character creation, quick narrative-based combat with no Attacks of Opportunity, little movement and fast resolution. No skills, only ability checks with some conditional bonuses based on class, race and theme. Hit points are inconsequential and there is no penalty for being wounded. Warlords can heal. No feats, characters gain flat "experience bonuses" to initiative, attack rolls, saves and AC at certain levels instead. Vancian Spellcasting for Wizard, Druid and Cleric, with open ended spells (such as Charm Person, Contact Other Planes, Knock, Fly...) but no really broken spells (spells like Wish, Portal, Shapechange, Shivering Touch are not in the preliminary spell lists).
THE HEALTH SYSTEMS:
A section of the book contains three modules for Health management. One introduces Reserves, which represent a limit on the amount of healing and damage a character can take in a given situation/day. One introduces Wounds, which have long-lasting consequences, penalties and are difficult to heal. One changes healing, restricting the healing powers of Warlords and limiting true healing to magic.
THE MAGIC SYSTEMS:
A section of the book contains two modules for rewriting the magic systems. One module gives a list of the old spells from 3.5 and older editions which can be easily added to the spellcasting classes, encompassing most if not all the colorful spells of previous editions. One module takes out Vancian Spellcasting altogether and provides an alternative system which is not based on daily powers, works well in a combat environment, and gives a reasonable list of Rituals which replicate the effects of some of the "open-ended" spells.
At the end of the section, there is a chapter detailing the developer's thoughts and concerns, pointing out the most dubious parts of their systems and providing good advice for a DM who stumbles on a broken part and wishes to salvage his game, pointing at different solutions or modules.
A section of the book contains four modules. One module has a skill list with a limited amount of skills, mostly grouped together. One module has a skill list with a huge number of skills, including Profession, Perform and the like. One module has a training system for skills that gives a quick and easy approach to the skills. One module has a rank system which increases granularity and personalization options.
At the end of the section, there is a chapter detailing how skills can be used by some groups to represent the different capacities of each character (including many spells), and giving a fair amount of examples.
Races have rich descriptions of the psychology, culture and physical qualities of their members. They then have two different stat blocks: one is called "Mild Races" and gives small bonuses and minor changes; one is called "Major Races" and has racial penalties, racial bonuses and powerful racial abilities. At the end of the section, an optional module called "Customizable Races" gives a list of racial traits, each with a cost, and allows players or DMs who wish to customize their races or the approach to races rules to do so. It also gives a few "Racial Templates" like "the Tough", "the Small", "the Construct" and so on, which can be easily refluffed to fit the DM's gaming world.
Classes have rich descriptions and flavorful basic abilities, with an easy and balanced progression. There is a chapter for each class with a swap system which gives the opportunity to trade in bonuses or abilities from the standard progression for versatility and more options, to a varying and perfectly customizable degree. Martial classes have a sub-module that enables daily manoeuvres. All trade options are roughly balanced.
There is a second, smaller chapter at the end of every class that details the developer's work on the class, gives insight on which abilities are borderline balanced, which abilities may cause problems in a game if unrestricted, gives advice on how to reduce the effectiveness of a certain class in those borderline situations (for instance, if playing an adventure with a lot of rests between fights, advice on how to limit the Wizard's daily spells effectiveness or similar).
There is also a sidebar that gives suggestions on how to reflavor a class, focusing on the main mechanical features and giving those who are willing to refluff some good examples of how refluffing can easily represent a character concept.
There is a module with all kinds of feats, which give new intresting options to characters. Many feats are tagged with an indication to a particular module: it means those feats are relative to that module.
There is a sub-module which includes multiclassing feats and details how multiclassing through feats works.
There are two optional multiclassing modules: one with the rule for 3.X level-by-level multiclassing and one with the rules for hybridizing two classes starting from level 1, gaining part of the abilities of both.
There is a module for tactical, grid-based combat, which can be used by everyone with little effort, detailing advanced combat options and tactics, including Attacks of Opportunity. The system works on the same base as the narrative combat, but includes many movement-related rules and resembles the tactical 4E-style fight.
The Monster Manual details every monster in the following way: a quick and dirty recap of its stats (one, two lines for every monster, occupying the same space as a Warhammer stat block just below the monster's name) that can be used standalone for fast and simple combats; a lengthy description of the monster with lots of flavor, detailing habitat, culture, psychology, subspecies, everything; and finally some 4E-like stat blocks with advanced rules for that monster, different kinds of monsters and species.
There is a module at the end of the book that details how to introduce a monstrous character in a game, giving stats to a good variety of monstrous races and detailing the general rules for homebrewing a new race, starting with the monster's description.
There is a section at the beginning of the Monster Manual that details the rules for creating monsters, gives some Generic Monsters (like Generic Brute and Generic Artillery) explaining how these monsters can be refluffed to provide quick and dirty challenges for the heroes, and a huge amount of powers, traits, attacks and spells, divided by theme, which can be easily added on a level-appropriate monster to give it some options which fit the DM's concept.
The following are examples of how this game can play at different tables. I'm not thoroughly convinced they can pull it off at the same table but it should work at different tables.
+ Consistent core mechanics
+ Tactical combat
+ Quicker combat and the possibility to run gridless skirmishes on the fly
+ No Vancian casting
+ Reserves (Healing Surges) and quick healing
+ 4E-like skills
+ Transparent development process
+ No racial penalties
+ No crazy multiclassing
+ Even easier monster creation and refluffing
+ Vancian casting with all the 3.X spells you want to include
+ 3.X skills, including background skills like Armorsmithing.
+ Freeform multiclassing level-by-level
+ Loads of flavor on classes, races and monsters
+ No Martial dailies
+ No Martial healing
+ Open ended abilities
+ No gaming jargon in the rules
AD&D or earlier version:
+ Fast combat
+ Monsters in one line
+ Lasting injuries and wounds
+ Magical healing or long rest periods
+ Basic or even no skills
+ No feats
+ Fast character creation
+ Multiclassing by hybridizing two classes
+ Vancian casting without 3.X crazyness