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Everything Is Ruined 5.0
January 9, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe


 
I Was Right!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:18 AM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


"As you may have read in the New York Times, it’s an exciting time for Dungeons & Dragons" is an amazing opening sentence.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2012 [16 favorites]


Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:25 AM on January 9, 2012


Combat is settled through pogs.
posted by Legomancer at 7:25 AM on January 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire.

They're bringing back the blue and red books? It all went to hell after those.
posted by mph at 7:26 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


For pity's sake, it's not a video game. It doesn't need upgrades. The whole point of pen and paper is that you don't have to buy a new version every year when your video card abruptly becomes as valuable as a tortilla chip.

4th was a sufficient departure from 3rd that it was interesting and valuable to have both systems extant, but I can't see any way that they've improved on gaming "technology" sufficiently in the past half-dozen years to justify this in the slightest.
posted by Scattercat at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, didn't I just finish buying all of 4 for my husband? I have to start AGAIN? I don't even PLAY! (But I do schedule my cooking experiments for when he plays, because it turns out gaming groups will eat pretty much anything.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on January 9, 2012 [37 favorites]


They should probably just adopt Dungeon World as the fifth edition.

One of the issues with D&D is that many of its core features are things that computers do better than people, and thus computer games provide more satisfying experiences on those fronts. Newer RPG's focus on bringing out the parts of the roleplaying experience that really are unique to a group of people: improvisation and collaborative storytelling.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:30 AM on January 9, 2012


You know what I get a kick out of? Literally dusting off my old copies of my AD&D 1st edition rulebooks, and running a campaign through dungeon modules produced during the late 70s and early 80s.

It lends an air of archaic wizardry and depth that can't be garnered from buying a brand new book from a hobby store.

Now, if only someone would build a store where, in order to get the "new" material for a game, you had to wander a vault and sift through old scrolls....
posted by thanotopsis at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


mph: "In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire.

They're bringing back the blue and red books? It all went to hell after those.
"

You mean, "after Chainmail."
posted by Chrysostom at 7:32 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I have to brag about this:

Last night we rolled new characters for our weekly 3.5 game. Thanks to the entrance of my friend's wife into the mix, we are all, for the first time in our lives, playing a game with the full compliment of classes (except barbarian.) Everyone is very excited about this development.
posted by griphus at 7:34 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's the matter, WOTC? Revenue stream dying down?
posted by rmd1023 at 7:34 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tomb of Horrors: Tomb Harder.

I feel a great need.
posted by delfin at 7:34 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


You mean, "after Chainmail."

Oh, great. I've awoken one of the Old Ones.
posted by mph at 7:36 AM on January 9, 2012 [29 favorites]


2ND EDITION 4 LYFE
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:37 AM on January 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


As with any general-interest article on a geeky pastime, the NYT piece is weirdly off-kilter in some ways. This sentence caught my eye:

Miniature war games like Warhammer or Wizards of the Coast’s own trading-card game Magic: The Gathering have also diluted Dungeons & Dragons’ dominance.


This is oddly misleading: it was Wizard's of the Coast's own trading card game Magic: The Gathering that poured so much filthy lucre into WOTC's coffers it could buy D&D from TSR. There is something pleasingly ironic in the notion that the card game that allowed Wizards to acquire the most recognizable RPG ever is now hurting sales of that same RPG.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:37 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


4th was a sufficient departure from 3rd that it was interesting and valuable to have both systems extant, but I can't see any way that they've improved on gaming "technology" sufficiently in the past half-dozen years to justify this in the slightest.

4th was interesting and not nearly as bad as advertised, but it wasn't D&D. They should have just developed a Pathfinder-like project on their own and run the two lines simultaneously. One line for combat-heavy games with a WoW-like flavor, and another line for more traditional role-playing, with more lateral thinking problems and fuller role-playing.

Put at the front of each book a long proviso about how D&D will always be evolving and how there will never be a perfect integration of each rulebook into previous or subsequent iterations, so just use your common sense and the online fan community to guide your attempts to translate 2E material into 3.5E or whatever.

Also, they should re-release some of the older material, with updated play notes and advice on how to run campaigns. It'd be an easy way for WOTC to pick up some couch-change on old material which would otherwise just collect dust in a proverbial warehouse. For example, remember that old Champions of Mystara box set, the one with all the airships, the one designed for non-Advanced D&D? No? Well, too bad, it kinda ruled. Re-release the book portion and have DMs/players share stories of how they've integrated that universe into other campaigns.

They're bringing back the blue and red books? It all went to hell after those.

Hey now. Some of those books kicked ass. The Complete Book of Villains is an awesome writing guide in general, let alone for D&D.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


They should just put self-destruct timers in every rule book so gamers will be forced to buy new ones every year or so. That way WotC can get their revenue without the grief of having to come up with new product.
posted by Think_Long at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I see two possible ways forward for D&D:

-- two steps back: make 5e just like Pathfinder, because that system really is pretty damned good.

-- just do all the software stuff that was promised with 4e edition in the first place.


And honestly, I really would like to see some proper turn-based, tactics-oriented CRPGs based on 3.5e (or Pathfinder) or 4e the way the SSI "gold box" games were for 2e. I've gotten to the point where my gaming with other people consists either of getting creamed in Team Fortress 2, or playing Trivial Pursuit or Rummikub or Settlers or Carcasonne or Apples to Apples.
posted by Foosnark at 7:39 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


For pity's sake, it's not a video game. It doesn't need upgrades.

I think the development of D&D has moved away from being upgrades. Classic D&D to AD&D to 2nd Ed were upgrades, but starting with 3rd Edition, it felt like that editions of the game were not being released to upgrade the game, but instead to keep it current with what people expect from the genre/setting, thus 4th Ed looking more like something out of WoW than from a True First box.

More versions than upgrades, each one a time capsule.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:40 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


This sentence caught my eye...

Yeah, that's was really odd. I've never known people to abandon tabletop RPG for CCG (or the other way around.) I can see teenagers who can't afford to be into both, but I doubt that's the primary market for either one of those games anymore.

Also, the latest M:TG expansion is a gothic horror set based on Ravenloft, so there's some awesome synergy going on there.
posted by griphus at 7:41 AM on January 9, 2012


If D&D 4e succeeded in one thing, it was in convincing my regular group to further branch out to other systems. Of course, none of those other systems are made by WotC, which probably wasn't their intent, but 4e was a phenomenal flop for us as far as enjoyment goes.

We always played some other stuff, sure, but D&D was the mainstay. Now, it has been replaced by Pathfinder for almost everything we used to use 3.x for, and we mix in a bunch of other options for particular games.

It's kind of amazing to me just how quickly 40 years of mind-share could be swept away by poor product decisions, but there it is.
posted by tocts at 7:43 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


WTF, Kare you Firefox?

I'm gonna start making up rumoured changesjust to fuck with people.

Class and Level structure has been altered to bring it more in line with WoW.
posted by Artw at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


2ND EDITION 4 LYFE

Am I alone in hating THAC0? Maybe it's because it came out in my "I hate math soooo much" middle-school years, but that shit just bugged me.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:47 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't really played since 2nd Edition, though I did dabble in a weekend group that played 3.5, I think. It was confusing to me, and worse, dull. Probably due to a mediocre DM more than the game mechanics.

Seems to me, if I'm sitting here blue-skying it, that D&D needs to get rid of the table, or at least obviate the need for one. Players should be able to gather and play online as easily as off - more easily, really. Let's have a system where dungeon layouts and other terrains are created and displayed on our screens: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Let's have character sheets stored in the cloud. Let's use video chat to talk to one another. Let's get rid of the clutter and let's build a flexible rule set that can be modified and agreed to by players and DMs online and off.

I should be able to run a D&D game from my kitchen table and include not only the players at my house but also people out there on the web.

D&D works best when people collaborate to build a story and a world, so let's make it as easy as possible for them to do so from anywhere.

(Cue someone telling me this product already exists.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


zombieflanders: "Am I alone in hating THAC0? Maybe it's because it came out in my "I hate math soooo much" middle-school years, but that shit just bugged me."

THAC0 was really supposed to be a simplifying thing, so you wouldn't have to refer to tables. Some people found it hard to deal with, though.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2012


We always played some other stuff, sure, but D&D was the mainstay. Now, it has been replaced by Pathfinder for almost everything we used to use 3.x for, and we mix in a bunch of other options for particular games.

I've seen the same thing with groups in my area, most of the groups that were into 3.5 gave 4e a shot and didn't like it, kept playing 3.5 for a while and eventually moved on to Pathfinder. It might be partially because these days there are so many alternative systems out there so it's harder for one company to completely control the market, but 4e really put off a huge number of core D&D fans.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:51 AM on January 9, 2012


As someone who has never played D&D (or any other pen-and-paper RPG), but occasionally considers trying it, a bunch of competing editions puts me off. It's already a hobby that requires quite a bit in the way of supplies (and friends), without having to choose between three competing versions.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one really minded THAC0 at the time as it was an improvement over how 1st edition handled things, but almost everyone rags on THAC0 in hindsight, if only because we can see now how it efficiently streamlined an absolultely idiotic process. It's pretty much the definition of polishing a turd.

"Hey guys, instead of looking up those tiresome attack matricies, I have a way where you can efficiently calculate this moronic scale in your head!"

"Why not just do away with it altogether and simply have high = good?"

"What are you, some kind of communist?"
posted by Palindromedary at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


i love D&D but all the best campaigns I've been in used palladium combat rules anyway.

4e truly is annoyingly full of WOW type additions too. My sister is just starting to get into it and told me her character had powers and feats and Paths and shit and I almost took her head off/ruined the game for her forever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


From my perspective starting thin the early 80s, there was a line from the original Chainmail/Blackmoor D&D, AD&D, 2nd Edition. These were all recognizably the same game. Things started to go off the rails with the 3rd edition. The 3rd edition was much better balanced and easy to play game, for certain, but it lacked a certain... essence, for lack of a better word. The reversal of THAC0, feats, all of that seemed to fundamentally alter the game.

It turned out it was all about the tables, dammit.

Fourth edition took it even further, with intrinsic powers and the like. I've never played fourth, but a brief scan of the rules left me with the impression of it was the product of uncontrolled breeding with a White Wolf/Rein˙Hagen game.
posted by bonehead at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2012


This is a hell of a quote in the NYT article: "If all you’re looking for is fulfillment of your wish to be an idealized projection of yourself who gains in wealth and power by overcoming monsters, there are lots of ways to do that nowadays".

I'm baffled by all the discussion of rules. I thought the rule systems were the thing that got in the way of the, you know, role playing. (Also I used to own a White Box. So nyah nyah.)
posted by Nelson at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2012


Nelson, you sound like a Vampire Masquerade player. THE RULES ARE IMPORTANT OK
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought the rule systems were the thing that got in the way of the, you know, role playing.

Hail fellow FUDGE player!
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's the matter, WOTC? Revenue stream dying down?

Yeah, that passing fad called Magic the Gathering sure failed to take off. What a flash in the pan. Hopefully D&D rights the ship.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The main purpose of the rules is to allow a DM to kill off or otherwise annoy a player without being held personally responsible.
posted by theodolite at 8:01 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


ROLL STATS ROLL LISTEN ROLL SPOT ROLL REFLEX ROLL STATS
posted by griphus at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


just do all the software stuff that was promised with 4e edition in the first place.

I DMed a campaign a few years ago, and it was extremely frustrating to rely on a patchwork of shareware solutions. I spent way too long generating maps from scratch in Photoshop - I would have forked over some money to have a program do it more quickly and more professionally. WOTC should have a one stop shop for map creation, campaign management, dice-rolling, etc.

WOTC needs to produce elegant, efficient, easily-modded campaign-running software, especially one meant to be run on a tablet. Imagine a tablet app which allowed the DM to have their own private notes, while also streaming what is meant to be public to a hooked-up flatscreen. It'd be neat! Neat, I tell you!

I feel like WOTC/TSR has tried several times to go for the online market, but it never really felt like playing to D&D's strengths. The ability to have streamlined online play would also be cool, but a huge part of the fun of D&D is the fact that it is in person. There's no reason not to exploit technology which could take care of the clumsier parts of in-person play, while also preserving the people-around-a-table-having-fun aspect.

2ND EDITION 4 LYFE

Agreed. For me, 2E best nailed the D&D vibe. Huge universe of mystery and danger. And the supplements! IMHO, it had by far the best campaigns and supplements. Dark Sun! Greyhawk! Planescape!

Am I alone in hating THAC0? Maybe it's because it came out in my "I hate math soooo much" middle-school years, but that shit just bugged me.

THAC0 appears to have been designed to secure a "least intuitive idea ever" trophy, but once you figured it out, it worked and worked well.

3E should have just changed THAC0 to something more sensible-sounding and otherwise have been a mild nip and tuck. I never really played 3E, but I got the sense that it was overly complicated and had too many gratuitous changes. Maybe a 3E/3.5E defender could set me straight.

What I do know is that 4E wasn't so so bad. I still prefer 2E overall, but 4E's simplicity helped keep the newbies in the group, so that's something. There wasn't anything in the rules to stop you from running a non-WoW campaign, and even if you did want to break some rules, it wasn't like WOTC was going to break down my door for having nine alignments in my game.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pathfinder really is a very, very good upgrade of 3.5.

4E is not nearly as bad as people made it out to be, and there was a little bit of novel cleverness there. One of the biggest problems with 4E, though, is the lack of distinction between classes at high level.

See, there's always been this problem in D&D that is often called "Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard." 4E attempts to mitigate this by limiting the number of abilities possessed by each player, and by making action types a bit more universal. The problem, though, is that at high levels the things a fighter can do are basically the exact same as what a wizard can do. There's no sense of playing a unique archtype, and all the players just become a grab back of the exact same abilities.
posted by absalom at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh: I run three online games and play in another. I've had a ton of success using Fantasy Grounds over the past few years, while my friend (the other GM) is a fan of d20pro.
posted by absalom at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


One thing I liked about 4th, and this is one of those things that made the game feel rather UnD&Dish, was the inclusion of special abilities for all classes. Maybe it's because I tended to play fighters and thieves back in the day, but I remember the boredom of "Well, I guess I take another swing at the Death Knight" in the light of other players casting big spells or knocking out encounter-changing abilities. Now in 4th, the martial character have special abilities of their own that compare to the more fantastic classes. Yay!

But I wonder if the cost for giving fighters and rangers more stuff to do in a fight was one of the essentials of D&D: the variety. In order to keep the more magical classes on part with the mundane, the variety of spells once available to the magic-user was diminished. Hell, it was made almost fighter-like in the assumption that each caster would use their most basic ability over and over. "I cast magic missile" became the wizard's "Well, I guess I take another swing at the Death Knight." With the loss of that variety came a loss of the need to look up tables and charts and spell effects, to pour over rules passages and passionately argue some obscure bit of editing in your favor. So ala Syndrome from The Incredibles, everyone was made special, meaning nobody was.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Maybe a 3E/3.5E defender could set me straight.

I'm not sure what you find complex about it. There's the base AC, armor, DEX and any racial, class or magical AC bonuses. Then there's Touch AC which discounts the armor (because it's just a touch, not penetration) and flat-footed AC which discounts the DEX (because it's a surprise attack that the opponent can't react to fast enough.)
posted by griphus at 8:11 AM on January 9, 2012


Fourth edition took it even further, with intrinsic powers and the like. I've never played fourth, but a brief scan of the rules left me with the impression of it was the product of uncontrolled breeding with a White Wolf/Rein˙Hagen game.

4e is nothing like White Wolf games, primarily because 99% of the rules and special abilities of the characters relate to combat only. White Wolf generally devote two thirds of the stats of a character to social traits and heavily emphasize role playing, whereas in 4e there is an extremely simplified "skill challenge" system that determines social interactions and other non-combat events that determine the outcome with a few skill checks. The overall feeling I got from 4e was that it was a series of relatively boring and long tactical combat battles punctuated by arbitrary on-rails non-combat scenes.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:11 AM on January 9, 2012




For pity's sake, it's not a video game. It doesn't need upgrades. The whole point of pen and paper is that you don't have to buy a new version every year when your video card abruptly becomes as valuable as a tortilla chip.


I was thinking that too. I learned on some ratty Basic manuals that my dad had in an old box of crap. They had no covers and were torn and stained, and worked perfectly. I followed the upgrade cycle for a while, and then eventually stopped playing.

Even back then, they were desperate to bury everyone in supplemental guides and extra books. Now it feels like every couple years there's a new edition. I don't doubt that the rules are getting smoother and better, but the question stands:

Would I have had more fun with this edition? It's hard to imagine.

It's always struck me that the desperation to sell more books and update update update seems more like a symptom of capitalism's grow or die principle than an earnest desire to improve the experience.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:16 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: (Cue someone telling me this product already exists.)

This exists, more or less. Character sheets could be shared through WOTC's website (if you shared a login) or Google Docs. Whiteboard clients like GameTable let the group make maps and notes together—I remember one (can't recall the name) that let the DM upload an image, designate parts of the image as walls vs floor, etc., designate which tokens represented players/enemies and who had torches, and it would automatically calculate line of sight and would dynamically show which areas were visible and which were out of sight or in shadow. Programs like this (as well as dice servers) enable shared rolling. Skype, Vent, and the like enable live chat.

I've played more tabletop RPGs online in the last year than I have around an actual table, both because it allows for more flexible, often asynchronous play, and because it actually makes for a more enjoyable experience.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's always struck me that the desperation to sell more books and update update update seems more like a symptom of capitalism's grow or die principle than an earnest desire to improve the experience.

This is why new features are far more common than bug fixes.
posted by eriko at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the main complexities in 3rd, and one of the things that made it a different experience from 2nd was the combat mechanics. Pre-3rd, you rolled initiative and that was pretty much it. Third and later introduced moves/actions, zones of control and, most confusingly, attacks of opportunity. I know it's sensible and balanced, but it was a lot more complicated than the roll for initiative, roll to hit, roll to damage, that 2nd and earlier was.
posted by bonehead at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2012


I used to dislike 4e greatly, then I got into a game run by a very good GM who turned my opinion of it right around on its head. The combat system may be full of WOW-like mechanics, but it's also a fairly well balanced system with a lot of interesting mechanical effects and a good focus on teamwork. The fact that 4e doesn't provide much in the way of setting was actually a bonus - it meant the system could be easily reskinned and put into whatever world we wanted to play it in, with only minor fudging. Since then I've played 4e Mecha, 4e Medieval, 4e Modern, and 4e Victorian Hammer Horror. I think the basic 4e gamebook is bad because it's basically missing any semblance of setting, but the system is sound.

as long as you throw out the concept of skill challenges immediately and use them as good old spot checks

The same GM also introduced me to maptools, and how to make frameworks that allow you to model your character and set up each of your powers as clicky buttons to make battles run significantly faster, and compared to 3e we can pretty much fly through battles.

The problem, though, is that at high levels the things a fighter can do are basically the exact same as what a wizard can do.

I disagree - there's a clear distinction between being a striker class and being a controller or a warlord class. A striker wizard might be functionally very similar to a striker melee character, I admit, but few strikers are going to spend their time managing monsters and blocking them off from attacking the rest of the party, or concentrating on boosting their other party members, or &c.
posted by stelas at 8:19 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


THAC0 appears to have been designed to secure a "least intuitive idea ever" trophy, but once you figured it out, it worked and worked well.

I hear THAC0 will be on stage this year to present The Stack with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee: "It's always struck me that the desperation to sell more books and update update update seems more like a symptom of capitalism's grow or die principle than an earnest desire to improve the experience."

I think there are elements of both, particularly in the earlier days, when it was more hobbyist-driven. Does anyone remember the "Who Dies?" articles in Dragon Magazine, talking about changes for 2E? Zeb Cook and company really seemed to have a sincere desire to fix what they saw as broken things in 1E.

That said, companies want to make money, and their employees like continued paid employment. New, shiny stuff is a way to do that.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2012


@robocop is bleeding
Wait. You think the stack is unintuitive? Did you not play pre-6th Edition Magic?
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've had a weekly D&D game going for at least the past 10 years. I've played 5-6 3rd edition campaigns, including writing adventures and judging at the highest levels of a Living campaign. I've played 3-4 4th edition campaigns, also judging at a tournament level at GenCon. Currently my home group is playing our first Pathfinder campaign.

I am ready for 5th edition. Maybe I'm overplaying or overthinking the game, but all of the previous editions have had problems that eventually overshadowed the good parts.

4th edition never managed to have very good skill mechanics, and while I vaguely liked the concept of skill challenges, they were never satisfying from either a narrative or gameplay perspective. What a "feat" was supposed to do seemed to shift with every additional book, and was again never really in a satisfactory place. And, although I expect every edition will have this problems, although the game started out at a high power level, power creep as additional books came out was inevitable.

Pathfinder has great writing, and now that I'm hiatus from writing my own campaigns, that's the main selling point. Other than that it just serves to illustrate why almost every major change in 4th edition was made. I could go through pages of "what's wrong with Pathfinder", from multiple attacks per round, to touch AC to save-or-die, but really they're all pretty minor compared to the major thing. Too much cross-referencing. Every action (aside from the fighter's "I power attack") turns into a game of rulebook research. Enemies have types and keywords that give them random immunities. They have lists of feats without telling me how they work. And of course they have massive lists of spells that I have to look up and take notes about before I can really use the monster. Back in the day I had most of this stuff for 3.5 in my mindspace, but as I've tried to wind down my preparation time to what is a more realistic level for my life right now I find that I end up looking most of this stuff up at the table instead of actually playing.

Anyway, edition war over. The king is dead, long live the king.
posted by benimoto at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Did you not play pre-6th Edition Magic?

I did. Explaining the stack to someone who was playing MtG for the first time had many similarities to explaining THAC0 to someone for the first time. Confusing at first, but makes sense in the long run.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2012


But I wonder if the cost for giving fighters and rangers more stuff to do in a fight was one of the essentials of D&D: the variety.

D&D 4e managed to do two things that on the surface seem contradictory: they made all the classes the same, and yet they made all the classes different.

They made all the classes the same, precisely as you've said. They basically boiled down every single class to having one thing they do all the time, a couple things they do once per encounter, and a couple things they do once per day. If is an extremely same-y setup which removes a lot of what distinguished characters in 3.x. You no longer really have those interesting balances between people with a lot of little tricks, vs people with only a couple big tricks. (This is even true of equipment, since you can only activate a limited number of magical items per day, regardless of how many you have -- so, gone is the possibility of being a jack-of-all-trades / utility character via either character design or equipment)

At the same time, they made all the classes different, by splitting everyone into their own silo. In 3.x, you had, at a high level, 3 different interlocking systems: physical combat, magic, and skills. All classes had different balances between those three (and each of those systems had variations within). This meant that, while each class was unique, they all shared quite a lot of common ground. Fighters and Rogues both attack they same way, it's just that Fighters get more health and more feats to pick up combat tricks, while Rogues get some of their own little class-based tricks, etc. Wizards and Sorcerers share the same spell list, by and large, though they get access to certain spell levels at different points (and have different mixes of spells known vs. spells-per-day). The point is, the mechanics are generally the same.

This is not the case for 4e. Pretty much every character has their own set of abilities that nobody else has. There is damn near zero overlap. Even in the case of basic attacks, nobody does the same thing. And, as you gain levels, the choices you get are completely specific to your class.

I know I am not the first to say it, but what they did with 4e was effectively make everyone a caster with a custom spell list that nobody else shares. A 4e fighter is just a guy casting spells that happen to use his strength. There's almost no reason anyone would ever use a basic attack (and in fact, it's sort of weird such a thing is even still in the game, given how out of place it is in the design ethos of 4e). Skills have been made significantly less interesting and far more limiting. Etc, etc. (I could rant on, given time).

The end result is a game where none of the classes feel particularly distinct, but at the same time every class requires an awful lot of knowledge particular to only that class. For me (and the people I play with), that setup was not really a winning combination.
posted by tocts at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hey, now. Arguing over the resolution order of the instant, enchantment, summon and sorcery simultaneously put into play prepared a generation of young people for law school.
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


As someone who gave up D&D (one game in 3rd ed; I hated it) years ago in favor of namby-pamby rules-light stuff, I'm finding that the nostalgia the NYT article evoked is wrecking itself on the cold hard shore of actual play experience described in this thread. I am sad.
posted by immlass at 8:32 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


hear THAC0 will be on stage this year to present The Stack with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

The best part of that article is that every card mentioned is followed by a link to buy it. Why yes, reading this has made me want to spend a nickel on Giant Growth, thank you for helping, article!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:33 AM on January 9, 2012


I started with D&D when the first boxed set came out in the late 70s. Played through the early 80s until college ('85) using the Advanced rules. We also played Runequest, Gamma World, Traveller, and Top Secret. Continued reading The Dragon in college. Not much until my daughters got old enough to play.

In the last few years we've played occasionally with other families using the 4th edition rules.

I thought the new edition was easier to understand for young, new players, easier to DM, and quicker to get through combat. Overall, I think 4th Edition was a vast improvement, only lacking a software assist to keep track of things.

The only thing the 4th edition missed was the ability to go to the same otaku depths of bonus whoring as previous editions.

IMHO, the most important part of D&D is not the exact rules, it's being able to role play and not get caught up in number crunching.
posted by Argyle at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A 4e fighter is just a guy casting spells that happen to use his strength.

It's worth noting that one of the things 4e did absolutely right is that they gave front-liners the ability to actually be front liners. A fighter is a guy casting spells that happen to use his strength, but a couple of those spells are usually 'stay here' and 'if you don't choose to attack me, I'm going to punish you somehow'.

Compare that to 3rd ed, where every battle was 'gank the mage, then everyone else' and no-one had even the faintest mechanical way to really prevent it.
posted by stelas at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


immlass, I think you're missing the point in that the people who have the deepest and most well-researched gripes with the rules are the same people who spent hours upon hours and days upon days enjoying themselves while poring over the rulebooks and playing hours-long sessions. It's akin to people who have seen a movie fifty times probably have more complaints about it than people who have only seen it once. Yes, there's a lot of problems, but it's still fun enough to have devoted that much time to it. People who really don't like it, like you, just give up right off the bat. Unless you're playing with a bunch of asshole rules-lawyers, debating over the rules is part of the fun. Especially when you go "oh fuck it" and make your own house rules, to boot.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


first one was just fine, thank you.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Compare that to 3rd ed, where every battle was 'gank the mage, then everyone else' and no-one had even the faintest mechanical way to really prevent it.

I would argue that attacks of opportunity and line-of-sight are a perfectly reasonable mechanical ways to prevent that. Having to run past a front-line fighter (who gets a free swing at you), and then getting charged by that fighter / flanked by people closing in on you / etc is not a good idea in 3e.

I would also argue that Pathfinder has done a better job of this still. You can pretty much build a character that does nothing but stop people from moving around if you want (by using AoOs plus feats to basically stun them in place, etc).

I'm not saying that nothing in 4e was of any interest, but I don't think the crowd control options they gave the front-line combat classes were notable compared to the negatives.
posted by tocts at 8:43 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the NY Times article: “Imagine trying to organize a basketball team, if the point guard adheres to modern league rules, but the center only knows how to play ancient Mayan handball.”

I'll take the Mayan on my team. It's always better to have someone around that's ready to literally carve a man's heart out of his chest and eat it right there on the floor.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


3rd's designers were sort of caught out by the rise of MMORPGs. I remember listening to one of the employees at my local gamestore who was talking about how clerics would use Bull's Strength and a pretty much always-on buff. The designers didn't mean for it to be used like that, but players who had become used to online games' cooldown and buff cycles recognized it and exploited it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really, really like 4th Ed. All the criticisms I've heard of it "not being D&D" show a real lack of imagination. What makes something D&D or "not D&D" are what the players bring to the table. So they changed the rules to make combat easier and to give fighters & other non-magic users more variety. That's bad how?

All the settings stuff and RP is what the players bring to the table. Sure, I preferred the old '80s style artwork, but that doesn't make or break a game for me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


From my perspective starting thin the early 80s, there was a line from the original Chainmail/Blackmoor D&D, AD&D, 2nd Edition. These were all recognizably the same game. Things started to go off the rails with the 3rd edition.

Ha! Newcomer! Things started going downhill when we got dice made from plastic that didn't degrade as you watched!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would argue that attacks of opportunity and line-of-sight are a perfectly reasonable mechanical ways to prevent that. Having to run past a front-line fighter (who gets a free swing at you), and then getting charged by that fighter / flanked by people closing in on you / etc is not a good idea in 3e.

True, except I never really saw anyone actually bother to properly track attacks of opportunity or keep track of the amount of sheer space the characters had to move around in. Or they'd take Tumble and basically ignore AoOs entirely.

(I don't know Pathfinder well at all but I do understand it basically fixed a lot of the original 3/3.5 issues I had.)
posted by stelas at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


You do a lot of acid, GenjiandProust, back in the red box days?
posted by griphus at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think you're missing the point in that the people who have the deepest and most well-researched gripes with the rules are the same people who spent hours upon hours and days upon days enjoying themselves while poring over the rulebooks and playing hours-long sessions.

Yeah, but I did that in my teens and 20s and early 30s with D&D and Champions in the great blue book edition, and now I want to roleplay without all the damn Papers & Paychecks stuff that's handled better by a computer. The things I had the least patience for when I moved on to ADRPG and PBEM and indie gaming are exactly the things people are emphasizing here. I don't begrudge other people their fun, but if that's where people are getting their joy out of the game, I think I'll go back to what I know is working for me and lay off fantasizing about rulesets that really didn't.
posted by immlass at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2012


i love D&D but all the best campaigns I've been in used palladium combat rules anyway.

Only if the dragons do megadamage.

Thanks for the info on Pathfinder, I'll have to look into it. But call me when the two best games ever are back in circulation.
posted by waraw at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2012


Also: last year I was substituting for a PE class. Most students were just sitting on the bleachers doing homework (or whatever) while some others played basketball. Nothing organized. No lesson plans from the teacher, so I figured a free period in PE wasn't too bad.

I saw some students with yellow legal pads and hardcover books. I said to myself, "Hey, I know that layout. I know that typeset." I walked over to the students (who suddenly looked very shy), and I asked, "Is that 2nd Ed. D&D?"

They blinked at one another and said, "Um, yeah."

"2nd Ed."

"Yes."

"Seriously?" I asked.

Finally, one of them got it. "3rd Ed.'s too much like a board game, and 4th is like paper WoW--"

I roared, "YOU'RE NOT OLD ENOUGH TO GIVE ME THAT KIND OF CRAP!"

(And then I found kids playing Yu Gi Oh. Seriously. Frickin' Yu Gi Oh. I told them to buy some Magic cards and some self-respect.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2012 [26 favorites]


The only real problem I have with 4E is the lack of extra detail meant for world-building flavor. 2E was rife with useless spells and weird tangents. Reading the 2E manual was a pleasure unto itself.

4E's manuals are extremely efficient and well-designed - meant to be actually useful, to be sure, but also meant to hook in newcomers. The only problem is, many of those would-be newcomers are exactly those kind of lunatics who, like myself, don't mind sitting down with a dense compendium of invented facts. Many of those would-be newcomers have been tragically denied the frisson of realizing, for example, that hook horrors do not simply inflict 1-8/1-8/2-12 damage, but also that they lack gratitude, and indeed have no word for it in their primitive clicking language.

So when you start off with 4E, you get a well-designed system for what it is, but it lacks that extra edge of madness-approaching-art which had turned Dungeons and Dragons into a cultural touchstone for so long.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2012 [23 favorites]


I didn't like 4E's perceived emphasis on standardized, rigid combat -- very obviously influenced by MMOs -- that seemed to limit creativity.

We had a house rule called the Hero Point, where players could spend a "hero point" to do something extraordinary, recognizing that our players are heroes and should be able to pull off the occasional James Bond/Indiana Jones/Han Solo moment of amazement. You earned hero points for innovative thinking and problem-solving (determined democratically) and spent them when you needed to ("Hmm, if I can shoot this arrow just so, I can knock over that rock, which will cause that avalanche, which will kill these three trolls.") Hero Points were very rare, but very fun.

4E just raised so many questions about how they could be used. "Well, wait. It's not fair for you to shoot the avalanche arrow now, because that would mean ..." or "You can't earn a Hero Point for that now, because that would mean..." Han Solo doesn't have to move X number of squares, you dig? Han Solo just does.

That said ... the idea that a first-level Wizard had an offensive at-will power was a long time coming.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:02 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel kind of bad I have no idea what any of you are talking about.
I better leave the thread before I end up spending the next 6 months obsessivly learning everything about d&d
posted by Ad hominem at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2012


You do a lot of acid, GenjiandProust, back in the red box days?

Red box? Red box!? We are talking Kid, I predate Dragon Magazine! Heck, I predate Metamorphosis Alpha! I think Blackmoor might have just come out when I started playing D&D....

At any rate, the dice that came with that first three-book set were so cheaply produced that they wore the corners off pretty much during the first game session, no drugs required?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:06 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Dark Heresy is the only thing I'll play nowadays. Basically you play dystopian far future secret policemen investigating occult X-Files style nonsense and occasionally failing a Fear check and having to be knocked unconscious with a lasrifle butt before you go Hulkamania on your teammates.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:08 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell me about the fighting-men, Genji. Tell me about the fighting-men.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


And oh, the tables! Ten pages of critical hit results, differentiated by bodily region hit and type of weapon (rending, energy, explosive, penetrating) doing the damage! Oh no, my foot went flying 2d10 metres across the room and kicked the xenoterrorist in his alien dick!
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only real problem I have with 4E is the lack of extra detail meant for world-building flavor. 2E was rife with useless spells and weird tangents. Reading the 2E manual was a pleasure unto itself.

As I said above, I've never played D&D, but I have spent a lot of time reading the 2E manuals my roommates has. As a newcomer to actual play, if I started playing 4th Edition would probably be best for me, but those old manuals are beautiful and very entertaining as books, even without the game.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2012


Does anyone remember the "Who Dies?" articles in Dragon Magazine, talking about changes for 2E?

No, but I'm reading them now.
posted by distressingly thick sheets at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2012


What makes something D&D or "not D&D" are what the players bring to the table

Yes. Since 4th edition came out, what I bring to the table is a copy of the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition.

Seriously though, mechanics have flavour, and D&D isn't the only game in town. If you want something to feel like D&D, why try to do that with a system that fights you? If you don't care about the D&D feel, I've got a stack of GP the says you can find a better system to get what it is you DO want.

Seriously, fuck WotC, fucking 5th edition bullshit.
posted by howfar at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I didn't like 4E's perceived emphasis on standardized, rigid combat -- very obviously influenced by MMOs -- that seemed to limit creativity.

With experience, it's mostly what you make of it. Throw away the flavour text for every power, then just make it up yourself based on the world you're playing in, and remember that none of your powers even have to work the same way twice. Maybe the fighter's hamstringing that guy to make him stay where he is, or maybe he's tossing a net on him, or maybe he's using his Gamma Ray Powers to solidify the rock around his feet, or maybe he's just piledrivering him as the camera pans up to the skies and hits a lens flare just so.

It gets easier as you level, though - I've never felt that early level 4e is very interesting with only four powers to your name, so our games usually start at least at 5th level.
posted by stelas at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, they should re-release some of the older material, with updated play notes and advice on how to run campaigns.

This. Good gravy, this.

What people don't necessarily need is a rule for how to do every gad-blamed thing under the sun. A halfway competent DM can find a way of handling anything you throw at him. Literally. I once had to help a DM figure out how to resolve my throwing a magical rowboat. He had intended it as a convenient, easily carried life raft. I promptly realized it violated conservation of mass and energy. So when the DM had me fight an invisible opponent, I pitched the miniature form where I thought he was, only to use the magic words to "expand" it in mid-air. Wanted to be sure that either I hit the guy or he was somewhere else. Ain't no "rule" gonna tell you how to play that one, you just have to analogize to other rules and go with it.

No, what people need, by and large, is creative content. Campaigns. We basically get how to run campaigns, and good DMs can improvise or play around with a loose enough plot to keep things off rails. But most of us don't have the time or talent to create campaigns. Rather than inventing all new content for 4e (or, heaven help us, 5e), WotC could probably make a mint just updating their existing content to work with the new rules.

And rather than successive "editions," they could have different games entirely. This line is for the stat-tweakers, this one for the run-'n-gunners, that one for the hardcore RPers, and the other for people who just want to run a quick, one-shot game. So you could have the same basic book published for four or so different games.

It's already starting to take that form. Pathfinder/3.5e and 4e are markedly different games. At one point I was involved in a 3.5e and two 4e games, and they just worked differently.
posted by valkyryn at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've never felt that early level 4e is very interesting with only four powers to your name, so our games usually start at least at 5th level.

Given that fixing this "sweet-spot" problem was a stated 4e design objective, this is hardly a good omen for the ability of WotC to produce a decent 5th edition.
posted by howfar at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2012


That said ... the idea that a first-level Wizard had an offensive at-will power was a long time coming.

Very true. We used to joke that after a 1st level wizard used up his handful of useful spells, the best thing for the party would be for him to die. (And then, hopefully, we'd find a new wizard chained up in whatever dungeon we happened to be crawling through, one who thankfully still had his spells memorized ...)

Still, this was something you could fix with a pretty simple house rule. I've seen it done a few times, whether it be a feat or a special ability that improves with level, but basically just something that allows a wizard to toss some non-trivial-but-not-awesome damage out without expending precious spell slots.

Ten pages of critical hit results, differentiated by bodily region hit and type of weapon (rending, energy, explosive, penetrating) doing the damage!

Oh god, yes. Dark Heresy is fun for a lot of reasons, but those critical hit tables are a joy to behold. Nothing like player characters losing fingers or taking negatives to rolls due to being covered in the horrific arterial spray from the guy whose head they just blew off. One of the secondary books for DH added more tables, and I would buy a whole other book of just those tables if it existed.
posted by tocts at 9:18 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best part of that article is that every card mentioned is followed by a link to buy it.

No, the best part of that article is that its go-to metaphor for explaining the notion of a stack is that your mom is doing the dishes. I know I was a kid when I started playing Magic too, but sheesh.
posted by cortex at 9:18 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm wondering about the modern world we live in when a writer for Forbes has already been given access to the rules in development.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:19 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If images were enabled, this would be a good point to insert a gif of someone walking into a room, looking around, then backing out veeerrryy slowly...
posted by madajb at 9:20 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would buy a whole other book of just those tables if it existed.

calamitoustables.tumblr.com
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:20 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to play 25 years ago. Recently my 12-year-old asked about the game and I said "Get in the car RIGHT NOW so I can buy you a starter set!"

Holy shit what a disappointment. We found the simplest play unbearably complicated. A dozen or more calculations for a single combat--and this on the training level! Completely unplayable. "People used to think this was fun?" my son asked. Indeed we did, but it was different back then.
posted by LarryC at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm baffled by all the discussion of rules. I thought the rule systems were the thing that got in the way of the, you know, role playing.

As a Shadowrunner, I tend to agree. Hell, so do the makers for Shadowrun. The 4th ed. rules actually say, several times, "If the rules don't work for your style of play, or if they get in the way of telling a good story, feel free to change or ignore them."

Having said that, you can't ignore the rules entirely. Without rules, it's not really a role playing game anymore, it's just communal story telling. And, trust me, bad rules can make for a bad game. I used to play Rifts. The Palladium system is kind of terrible.
posted by asnider at 9:27 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know I was a kid when I started playing Magic too, but sheesh.

At one point, my friends and I decided to head down to the game shop near our place to play M:TG with Other People. So everyone got home from work, changed, showered, had a bit of food and walked over there. Apparently, while the actual shop is open 'til 11, Friday Night Magic ended at 8 PM.

Sigh.
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2012


We used to joke that after a 1st level wizard used up his handful of useful spells, the best thing for the party would be for him to die.

We tried two things to de-nerf the magic-user...

1) Making some scrolls much cheaper to create/purchase/use, and limiting the number he could carry at any given time. Essentially treating the magic-user like a guy carrying a grenade launcher, but limiting the number and type of grenades he could carry.

2) Ignoring a magic-user's limitations on metal arms and armor. Magic-users could now wield swords and armor, but would still advance in hit points and on the hit tables as a magic-user.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 AM on January 9, 2012


Dark Heresy is the only thing I'll play nowadays. Basically you play dystopian far future secret policemen investigating occult X-Files style nonsense and occasionally failing a Fear check and having to be knocked unconscious with a lasrifle butt before you go Hulkamania on your teammates.

I kind of wanted to run Dark Heresy, if only to see how quickly my mostly-progressive players would turn to waterboarding suspects to find nests of heretics, shooting suspects in the back of the head, and so on (Kattullus weighs in on the same gaming group). The system is... just so horribly clunkly with players (not to mention the poor GM) having to keep track of dozens of special abilities. I was kind of thinking of adapting Pelgrane Press's Ashen Stars to the Dark Future, since I have a ridiculous adolescent fondness for Warhammer and its derivatives, and I really like the Gumshoe system as a nice balance between storytelling and nice, streamlined rules (and I kind of hate the Ashen Stars out-of-the-box setting).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:31 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last night we rolled new characters for our weekly 3.5 game. Thanks to the entrance of my friend's wife into the mix, we are all, for the first time in our lives, playing a game with the full compliment of classes (except barbarian.)
I'm not really familiar with 3.5 (or, uh, anything past 1, really), but I thought I had gathered that there were something like 85 billion classes now. Am I misunderstanding something?

Also, you have both a paladin and an assassin?

Also also, are there still both paladins and assassins?
posted by Flunkie at 9:35 AM on January 9, 2012


What they should have done™ is create what is now D&D4e as a fantasy/strategy wargame with another title, and move the D&D itself back in the direction of role playing as per "the old days". At this point your best bet for a true D&D experience is Swords & Wizardry, which has absolutely picked up the dropped ball in that regard.

There is of course, more money in a game that requires a map + miniatures, along with complicated rules that are delivered in an unending flow of books... but again, that is another game, not D&D.
posted by datter at 9:36 AM on January 9, 2012


valkyryn: "What people don't necessarily need is a rule for how to do every gad-blamed thing under the sun."

This is sort of the guiding principle behind the Old School Renaissance. I find Grognardia, in particular, to be a very thoughtful blog that isn't just slavishly old school for old school's sake.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:36 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 1978, RuneQuest came out, and that was the first game (for me) that discarded a lot of the ridiculous ideas of D&D. Now, part of it was that it came along just as my friends and I were hankering for a more complex gaming experience (Neil, one of the players on the Yog Radio game podcasts said something like "This is the basic D&D plot -- an orc has a pie; you kill the orc and eat the pie," which is pretty damned true of the way I played D&D back in the day). So, RuneQuest came along at just the right moment for us to want plots that went beyond what our younger power-gaming selves could imagine, but it also facilitated that through a sleeker game system -- skills that advanced as you used them rather than being tied to a bizarre level system that never really made sense and so on.

Then, of course, Call of Cthulhu came out, and we lost all interest in D&D forever. What could heroic fantasy offer us? We had seen Jazz Age Existential Horror, and we knew what we liked.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


An addendum to the above, I've been DMing Swords & Wizardry for my kids (10 and 12) and we are all loving the hell out of it after a very abortive attempt at "D&D"4e and another attempt at Pathfinder, which struck me as great at first but still isn't the game I remember playing.

Will say it again...

Swords & Wizardry
posted by datter at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2012


THAC0 appears to have been designed to secure a "least intuitive idea ever" trophy
OK, here's another ignorant question from the point of view of a version 1 player:

I was under the impression that "THAC0" was "To Hit Armor Class Zero", meaning it was a number that you had to roll, or higher, to hit someone who has armor class zero. And if they had a different armor class, you just add* that number to your THAC0.

That seems very intuitive to me. Am I mistaken about what THAC0 is, or how it behaves?

*: Or maybe subtract. I'm also under the impression that they reversed AC in going from version 1 to version... something past 1, where "lower is better" in version 1 and "higher is better" now, but I'm not 100% sure.
posted by Flunkie at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2012


you sound like a Vampire Masquerade player

OH WTF. I played Vampire once about fifteen years ago and dreamt about it last night and completely forgot until this comment and the whole scene just rushed back to me. Weird.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking some outfit should get into developing a tablet game. Something that is shared across multiple tablets.. shows the map/characters/monsters as they come up and has different basic random stat generators for the die rolls. Add to this a VOIP for all players and some other tweaks (able to pull up monster artwork/backgrounds if you have the knowledge) etc etc.
posted by edgeways at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


speaking of 2nd edition for life, also, sharp-edged dice for life. none of this rounded-edged crap.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


12 years between 1st and 2nd edition. 11 years between 2nd and 3rd. 8 years between 3rd and 4th. 5 years between 4th and 5th. At this rate, new editions will be published weekly by the time the 18th edition is released.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not really familiar with 3.5 (or, uh, anything past 1, really), but I thought I had gathered that there were something like 85 billion classes now. Am I misunderstanding something?

Well, I should have said the full compliment of basic (from the Players' Handbook) classes, but I just realized we don't have a paladin. Or a ranger for that matter.

Assassins are now a prestige class, and function like rogues with minor spellcasting abilities. There's also a Blackguard prestige class that's basically an evil paladin.
posted by griphus at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2012


speaking of 2nd edition for life, also, sharp-edged dice for life. none of this rounded-edged crap.

+1 billion. Gamescience dice 4eva!
posted by no relation at 9:47 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with datter. I run a weekly game using Swords and Wizardry Complete, and I'm not sure I'll ever go back to fiddlier editions. I chose it because I was going to be playing with a bunch of new roleplayers, and a few people with a small amount of 3.5 experience, and they have all responded extremely well to the game.

S&W uses ascending AC and to-Hit bonuses, like 3.x, and unifies saving throws into a single score, but is otherwise extremely similar to 0th edition D&D. The "Core" rules are 0th edition without all the supplemental material from Greyhawk, etc. (so there are only three classes, for example), the "Complete" version is 0th edition with most of the supplemental material added in (rangers, barbarians, thieves, assassins, paladins, monks, druids, etc.).
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2012


I'd forgotten that 4th Edition was published with an open-source like option. How did that work out for them? Will they continue with IP experiments with this new edition?
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like I probably should care about this having been a part of that community in the 80s and 90s when house rules were more important than lawyering through sourcebooks. These days, I find the system to be overly complex, don't know how to find a group, and probably would find the demand to game on a schedule frustrating if I did.

I'm not really familiar with 3.5 (or, uh, anything past 1, really), but I thought I had gathered that there were something like 85 billion classes now. Am I misunderstanding something?

I think Version 3 had the option (that was already implicitly covered by house rules) of rolling your own character class. Of course, publishing new base classes and prestige classes became a cheap and easy way to show of by getting published, and practically every issue of Dragon offered a new Bard that's not really a Bard, Barbarian that's not really a Barbarian, or Missile Specialist that Fixes all the Problems with Rangers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2012


In 5th edition all non-combat interaction with NPCs will be carried out by multiple-choice "conversation cards". Only a few basic conversations will be supplied with the set but booster packs featuring more complex dialogue will be available.
posted by Artw at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


There's a truly extraordinary amount of creativity going on in the RPG world, with an incredible breadth of settings to choose from, and sets of rules to facilitate nearly any playstyle you want. Want minimal rules that everyone can keep in their heads? Try Risus or FU or Over the Edge. Want something focusing on the characters' relationships? Check out Monsters & Other Childish Things or Dogs in the Vineyard or Apocalypse World or Smallville. Want to have the players share in various ways in world creation? Try a FATE game like Diaspora or Kerberos Club. Want to engage in collaborative world-building without advance preparation or a GM? Shock: Social Science Fiction or Microscope. Improvise a scenario also without advance preparation or a GM? Fiasco or Shab Al-Hiri Roach.

So if a new edition gets you thinking about a new game or maybe a new play style... I just wanted you to know there's a lot of things to choose from.

I got tired of looking up links in the middle but if you web search any of those things along with "rpg" you'll find them.
posted by Zed at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Things started to go off the rails with the 3rd edition. The 3rd edition was much better balanced and easy to play game

Um... no.

Gygax always remembered that D&D was a game about expert treasure hunters looting anything that wasn't nailed down. And because it was a game he made sure it was fairly well balanced. It might not be as balanced as 4th because it was balanced empirically rather than theoretically and empirically but close. (Those overpowered fighter types in Unearthed Arcana were attempts to increase balance because even back then there were problems).

2e kept the 1e rules more or less while changing the settings (leading to interesting lapses in balance - for instance mages could rest much more easily outdoors than in a hostile dungeon - a balancing factor) but basically kept the core system and ported it. So it was much less balanced than 1e.

3e even if you ignore abuses like Pun-Pun the Kobold God with infinite divine rank (IIRC at level 1) removed almost every restriction on the wizard (e.g. system shock making polymorph dangerous), gave them more spells, and gave fighters terrible rather than superb saves while still restricting them to poking people with sharp bits of metal. 3.X was the worst balanced edition ever.
posted by Francis at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


To continue the side discussion, the problem with THAC0 is that it was a bad simplification. The simplest way to view what the tables were doing was that you added everything together and tried to get a 20. That's why AC in 1st and 2nd was negative - it effectively modified the attacker's roll.

THAC0 got rid of the tables but missed the logic behind them.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:59 AM on January 9, 2012


I think Version 3 had the option (that was already implicitly covered by house rules) of rolling your own character class.

2ed had this. It had a system for putting together new classes in terms of abilities and restrictions, each of which contributed to a multiplier that determined the XP tables for that class. I loved it and encouraged my players to make classes that fit their characters exactly instead of just using a stock class.

The stupid thing was that the stock classes could not be created with the set of abilities and restrictions given (well, they could, but they would end up with prohibitive XP multipliers).
posted by Jpfed at 10:03 AM on January 9, 2012


The stupid thing was that the stock classes could not be created with the set of abilities and restrictions given...

I think the reason for that is that the more powerful a class is, the more gametesting is required to balance it out. With custom classes made by players who wouldn't be formally playtesting them, "don't break the game" was probably a big priority.
posted by griphus at 10:05 AM on January 9, 2012


To continue the side discussion, the problem with THAC0 is that it was a bad simplification. The simplest way to view what the tables were doing was that you added everything together and tried to get a 20. That's why AC in 1st and 2nd was negative - it effectively modified the attacker's roll.

THAC0 got rid of the tables but missed the logic behind them.
That's not the simplest way to view the tables. The simplest way to view the tables is as tables. Look up your level in a row, and the AC in a column, and see the number that you need to hit.

What you did instead of that is essentially equivalent to what THAC0 does (or, rather, to what I believe THAC0 does). It's just doing it in a slightly different way than you did.
posted by Flunkie at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2012


griphus: "I think the reason for that is that the more powerful a class is, the more gametesting is required to balance it out. With custom classes made by players who wouldn't be formally playtesting them, "don't break the game" was probably a big priority."

This is why the new character classes in Dragon (the jester! the forger! the alchemist!) would always be labeled "NPC only." Too much danger of game imbalance.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2012


Want something focusing on the characters' relationships? Check out Monsters & Other Childish Things or Dogs in the Vineyard or Apocalypse World or Smallville.

Zed, you are right; there is a load of interesting stuff going on right now, and I like the idea that a game shouldn't have to be everything. I like the Gumshoe-derived games, they took an enormous weight off my shoulders for mystery-oriented gaming, but they are not the best mechanics for, say, high fantasy adventure. Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World do some very interesting things in challenging the paradigm of "the GM creates a story and the players try to figure it out" with "the GM creates a setting; the players act within it; by reacting to each other, the GM and players develop and flesh out the world," which I personally find pretty exciting.

And I think game balance is overrated. Game balance is the the thing that gave us nightmares like GURPS and the Hero System, which seemed more directed at creating characters than actually playing them (although I have fond memories of many afternoons spent with Champions). Balancing out what each character can do in some sort of absolute game-mechanic sense seems much less important to me than making sure that each player gets some time to shine in each session (which I think can usually be accomplished better in systems with simpler, more streamlined rules) -- which may be revealing my narrativist sympathies or something.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:28 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gygax always remembered that D&D was a game about expert treasure hunters looting anything that wasn't nailed down.

Ahem. I prefer the term "freelance murder hobos."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:31 AM on January 9, 2012 [40 favorites]


Game balance is the the thing that gave us nightmares like GURPS...

I don't recall GURPS being a huge nightmare. I recall building some very interesting worlds (and one really awful Dune ripoff) based on GURPS. It was overly technical at times, but I don't recall it being a nightmare of a system.
posted by asnider at 10:32 AM on January 9, 2012


I don't recall GURPS being a huge nightmare.

I remember a couple of years in the 80s when a lot of gamers seemed to be setting up campaigns and designing characters which they never played. GURPS seemed to attract (or, perhaps, create) the kind of person who liked thinking about the game they would play more than they wanted to actually play a game....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:38 AM on January 9, 2012


GURPS isn't that bad, particularly in the later editions, but all the rules can be a bit fiddly. Man-to-Man, at it's core, is no slower to run than 2nd Edition D&D. GURPS worst problems are scaling: it degrades the further you get from baseline human with a knife. Superheros or demigods are really kludgey.

I once developed some demigods to assist a GM with an online game. He wanted to start with 500 to 2000 pt characters, using GURPS Basic, Magic and a few other associated source books. Starting GURPS characters are usually 100 points. Two hundred is considered a very developed PC. The demigods weren't so much powerful as omni-competent. They had almost every power going, but could be taken down by a bunch of PCs with a lucky crit or using the flanking rules. Eventually we had to use a Primal Order-type divinity points system to get the flavour he was after, to keep the godlings from getting killed in their first combat with low-level PCs.
posted by bonehead at 10:45 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


game-based bigotry is good clean fun
posted by LogicalDash at 10:48 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flunkie: I'm not really familiar with 3.5 (or, uh, anything past 1, really), but I thought I had gathered that there were something like 85 billion classes now. Am I misunderstanding something?

What you are missing—and from what I have read online, what many DMs are missing—is that you can play with only the classes listed in the first, main rulebook(s), and that you do not have to use any and every splatbook that a player brings to the table, including the ones from the original publisher and that are considered "Core."

Game companies like to publish splatbooks that add to the "Core" rules, because by doing so they give many customers the impression that in order to play the game "correctly" or to make it "more fun," they need to buy and incorporate all these add-ons into their games. 3rd party publishers like to publish splatbooks because, frankly, you can make just as much money selling a book full of new character classes, magic items, and spells as you can selling a book containing an interesting and usable adventure or campaign settings, and with a lot less mental effort.

Naturally, this leads to class (and spell, and magic item) bloat.
posted by moonbiter at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I think game balance is overrated.

I generally agree for the games I'd be interested in playing. I'd rather play with a group I trust to be engaged in a collaborative fiction that's fun for everyone rather than play with people who would hog the spotlight with the most powerful character possible, and have to count on the rules to mitigate that. But if everyone's after that kind of tactical wargame-like game, then it makes sense, and I'm happy games exist to facilitate that.

But I think GURPS is a magnificent creation. Most of the sourcebooks are fantastic, and the rules are a great reference for how one might approach just about anything in a simulationist vein. I've got a shelf and a half full of them. I may never actually play by the rules, but I'll keep checking out the books.
posted by Zed at 10:55 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody ever plays GURPS by "the rules," they play it by the rules they like. You're supposed to pick the ones you like and drop the ones you don't and houserule to taste.

You may have already played GURPS and not even known it!
posted by LogicalDash at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2012


I'm pretty disappointed to see all the 4e=wow=rollplaying grognardism roll out here, especially from the people who haven't actually played it or read the books. Scroll back up and count the number of posts along the lines of 'I haven't played it, but ...'.

Personally I've had a lot of fun running 4e since release, and the game certainly has as much roleplaying potential as 3e or 2e. It's also much easier to run.

Some of the highlights of the game for me:

- the DMG (DM's guide) is absolutely wonderful, by far the best iteration of this for someone new to the game. It actually talks about how to run the game with lots of useful hands-on advice on talking to your players about what kind of game they want to play, how to prepare for a game and design adventures, a dissection of different adventure and campaign styles, how to build interesting fights, and how to run interesting NPCs.
- It's way easier to run on very little prep, and very quick to improvise interesting fights for.
- The online tools have been on and off, but the compendium (a full database of powers/classes/monsters/items/) is really useful and the monster builder is nice too. Pay $7 for a month and download about 200 4e adventures from the DDI site.
- Monsters, in general, are great. Fun for the GM, easy to manage.
- Most classes are interesting and viable. You don't need to delve into the depths of character optimization to avoid accidentally making a terrible character. Bards are awesome.
- Rituals are neat - strategic magic is something everyone can contribute to.

Suck bits

- The initial wave of adventures were pretty bad - linear, boring dungeon crawls.
posted by xiw at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I hated THAC0 at first, then came around to liking the simplicity. The rest of 2nd Ed. was crap though, and it didn't get good again until 3.5, which was neat. 4 was a ton of fun, and a great return to old school super tactical gaming (we even got out miniatures again!) but also super specific - the dreams of a Universal Decent System Everyone Knew tossed on the altar of Chipping At the WOW Market. Curious to see what's next.

By the way, the idea that there are no new ideas or interesting mechanics in RPG systems is entirely wrong - the FATE system (Diaspora, in particular) has changed how we play all our games as grownups with an interest in both a good story and fun crunchy game mechanics. I haven't tried Fiasco yet (which I learned about here) but it looks like an incredible model for single night grown up gaming. So things like D&D are still fun - and not just nostalgic - but there's a wide range of other things to do out there these days.
posted by freebird at 11:02 AM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been reading the Fourthcore Alphabet off and on. I've grown gradually disillusioned with 4e, but it's been renewing my interest.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


...last year I was substituting for a PE class.

In case my utter nerdity wasn't already flashing like a neon sign at a dive hotel in a film noir, I spent several moments frowning, trying to parse the "PE" acronym as "Player _______" and trying to recall what classes you might be talking about (Bard? Monk?). /shakes head

In my defense, the last time I was in a PE class, MTV was still playing music videos. And it was a novelty.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:07 AM on January 9, 2012


I'm surprised no one has ragged on Essentials yet, so I might as well. I can't link the comic right now, but Penny Arcade had one where Tycho told Gabe -- who, like his real-world counterpart Mike Krahulik, had just started playing D&D with 4ed -- that Essentials completed his D&D experience in that it was a subsequent edition he could hate with the heat of a thousand suns.

May 5ed not prove to be the same way.

(For the record, I started with the 1ed Basic Set, then AD&D, skipped 2 and 3, got back in after some 20 years with 4th (at GenCon, no less) and currently play Encounters -- the drop-in format the NYT article mentions really is clever, and the adventures are often based on classic 1ed modules like Keep on the Borderlands and Ghost Tower of Inverness (why WotC doesn't turn around and sell them after the Encounters session is over is beyond me) -- and run a campaign for my daughters and their friends.)
posted by Gelatin at 11:09 AM on January 9, 2012


On a quick read-through, I actually thought that while the 4th ed certainly was showing the effects of MMORPG influence (especially in the proportion of "monster" player races), it also picked up some of its miniatures roots in becoming more tactical.

4th does have the same problem I had with 3rd edition. The 4th ed player's guide sums it up nicely in once sentence: "Every class, race, feat, power, and monster in the D&D game lets you break the rules in some way." Basically, instead of a set of rules, it's a set of stacking exceptions. That really annoys me. I don't mind complexity (I learned my tabletop gaming on Champions and Ars Magica), but inconsistency bothers me.

I suspect 5th will be the same way, but I'll be keeping an eye out for interesting ideas.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:12 AM on January 9, 2012


Encounters -- the drop-in format the NYT article mentions really is clever

Is this what is meant by the phrase "D&D Encounters" on the event calendar of my local game store? How exactly does this work? Do you bring a character you rolled up at home and just jump in with whoever is there? I ask because it seems like it might be a good way to learn to play D&D, which I might be interested in.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2012


I suspect 5th will be the same way, but I'll be keeping an eye out for interesting ideas.

I think it will go the other way. I was talking to Ed Greenwood -- a moderately inside insider -- at a convention a few months ago and he strongly suggested that the 4th edition was seen as a dead end in the company, and that the way forward was to get back to where they once belonged.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


xiw: I've played 4e a number of times now and if I were to give a completely fair assessment of it it would be that 4e is good at a number of things but none of those things are what I enjoy about RPGs.

My DM runs Encounters at the local game store here in DC (this is separate from the games we do with our group) and has come around on 4e a lot. Partially because thats the only thing you can run in ENcounters (the DMs are getting comped by WotC to teach people how to play, and want it to be their current product line) and partially because it makes things WAY easier on the DMs side.

And let me tell you, our group can get off the tracks in a heartbeat. We are mostly lawyers/law students, or else biblical scholars, etc. It's hard to keep us moving in the same direction in a complicated rules-based game. 4e simplifies that.

However, for most of us players, that takes away half the fun. We don't care if we get off track - helf the point of the game is as a pretext to hang out anyway.

4e is, like most have said, basically WoW, but more than that it's Wow simplified to the point where you're playing it with a small Magic deck. It doesn't prohibit creativity or role-playing but it sure as hell doesn't encourage it. It's the opposite of something like White Wolf, wherein you can attempt anything you can imagine if you can explain how you're doing it. With 4e, you've got a menu. Choose something off the menu. No there are no substitutions.

Again, great for storytelling, not so great in my estimation for gaming.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2012


Bulgaroktonos: I hope that your "local store" is on the Hill because then you can learn from my friend, Gus, who is very good at teaching and making it fun. I believe that he'll have pre-mades ready to go so that you can hit the ground running. The idea is to get a taste for the rules, so people showing up with their own could mean a party of 5 rogues who don't know each other. Bad situation.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2012


ricochet biscuit: "I think it will go the other way. I was talking to Ed Greenwood -- a moderately inside insider -- at a convention a few months ago and he strongly suggested that the 4th edition was seen as a dead end in the company, and that the way forward was to get back to where they once belonged."

I can believe that they want to move back to an older version, I just think that they're seeing 3.5/Pathfinder as the roots they're looking for. I'll be pleased, but surprised, to see the "stacking exceptions" rule style go away.

I've signed up for the playtest group, so that'll be interesting.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2012


With 4e, you've got a menu. Choose something off the menu. No there are no substitutions.

This isn't 4E. This is a subset of 4E that lots of folks seem to have decided to play. 4E explicitly has page 42. Go off the reservation! Try something cool!

D&D is a social game. Their challenge will be making a new version that somehow unifies rather than further splits the player base. I genuinely wish them luck, I've enjoyed D&D in every iteration (and had problems with it in each iteration as well).
posted by meinvt at 11:28 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


the DMG (DM's guide) is absolutely wonderful, by far the best iteration of this for someone new to the game. It actually talks about how to run the game with lots of useful hands-on advice on talking to your players about what kind of game they want to play, how to prepare for a game and design adventures, a dissection of different adventure and campaign styles, how to build interesting fights, and how to run interesting NPCs.

Yes. This. I would suggest reading the Dungeon Master's guide to anyone who wants to run any game.
posted by hot_monster at 11:43 AM on January 9, 2012


I'm pretty disappointed to see all the 4e=wow=rollplaying grognardism roll out here

It's not that later revisions of D&D are "worse". If anything they are much easier to pickup than the older games, which had a fairly hard learning curve. It's worth realizing however that AD&D and D&D 4e are different play experiences. AD&D was a really loose game. It had lots of charts and tables, sure, but most of the time you were making things up as you went. Combat, for example was full of improvised modifiers: standing on a table, hitting a halfling with a chair while drunk, maybe -2. Fourth edition tells you exactly what to do.

I don't think it's a coincidence that as D&D became more structured, a portion of the playerbase sought out more free-form systems like FUDGE, Over the Edge and Risus.
posted by bonehead at 11:48 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ahem. I prefer the term "freelance murder hobos."

In the latest Unspeakable Oath podcast they talk about a Call of Cthulhu campaign where the characters played small time cops and various supernatural menaces kept showing up. The worst was when some investigators showed up and started randomly murdering people.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Navelgazer: "And let me tell you, our group can get off the tracks in a heartbeat. We are mostly lawyers/law students, or else biblical scholars, etc. It's hard to keep us moving in the same direction in a complicated rules-based game."

D&D with lawyers and scripture students.

My mind recalls at the utter Lovecraftian horror of such a thing.
posted by idiopath at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It does sound like a recipe for some horrendous min/maxing. Maybe they learn to check that stuff at the door.
posted by Artw at 12:14 PM on January 9, 2012


Ah yes, the ancient geek rite of passage: choosing your favorite gaming system/edition and battling all comers as stupid.

*sip*

Continue.

...what? Me? Hey, buddy, I'm over here playing Hunter/Werewolf/VtM/Mage v.2. I don't have time for your dumb babby DnD.

*sip*
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:18 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer, Labyrinth is also my local store, and I sort of know Gus. I kind of run the Euro game nights that they do on third Thursdays. Small world.
posted by X-Himy at 12:23 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just wanna know if I can attack creatures with my Additional Notes.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:26 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The split seems to be pro-4e folks* on one side and the Old School Renaissance movement on the other, with 3.5e/Pathfinder caught in between. The OSR "manifestos" I can find online won't say what is actually wrong with everything that came after 1e. What exactly is the disagreement about? Character-building possibilities? Rules-heavy vs. rules-light?

The unique thing about pen & paper RPGs is the incredible breadth of possibility and the organic way in which rich stories can emerge. For me, the point of a ruleset is to maintain a level playing field on which these stories can be played out. Can any combat-focused folks give their version of the ruleset's basic function?

Also: I play 3.5e with a lot of lawyers/law students. We had only one gamebreaking barbarian/rogue/fighter min-max and the desire to do so has totally left that player. It was fixed with 2 simple house rules.

*Though even they sound like they prefer it for its ease and convenience, more than anything else

posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:27 PM on January 9, 2012


I stopped playing at age 12 and didn't pick it up again until adamdschneider re-introduced me last summer, and now I've been playing Encounters almost every week. I can't speak to any other edition but 4e, but I like it: it's easy to follow for n00bs like me. Even in the carefully-controlled, WotC-sanctioned Encounters environment I find it pretty easy to let imagination be my guide and solve problems creatively, which I would think is the hallmark of D&D.
posted by eamondaly at 12:29 PM on January 9, 2012


Grimp0teuthis: "The OSR "manifestos" I can find online won't say what is actually wrong with everything that came after 1e."

I don't think it is so much that there is something "wrong". Different rule sets lend themselves to different feeling games, and the OSR folks prefer the feel of D&D in its original form.
posted by charred husk at 12:34 PM on January 9, 2012


Ahem. I prefer the term "freelance murder hobos.

I always liked the bit in Perdido Street Station* where they turn up.


*Casts 'Summon ArtW to say 'that fucking spider'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:39 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


>Charred husk

I just want someone to articulate in broad strokes what that feeling is and what rule/setting differences it comes from. E.g. "1e had only a few classes and combat didn't have annoying cruft like attacks of opportunity".
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:39 PM on January 9, 2012


And yeah, D&D ain't really D&D without stupid rules and idiotic monsters and silly spells and down right weird magic items (and terrible art). Of course back in the day we did not know any better... but it's why I love WTF D&D!? so much
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:42 PM on January 9, 2012


Is there an existing system for coordinating D&D interested MeFites? I have always been curious about D&D, and this thread piques my interest (I am nyc).
posted by rosswald at 12:42 PM on January 9, 2012


>Is there an existing system for coordinating D&D interested MeFites? I have always been curious about D&D, and this thread piques my interest (I am nyc).

Create an IRL event.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2012


rosswald, you may wish to consider checking out Meetup.com. Search for a D&D or RPG gamers' meetup near you. They are in most cities. I am the founder and senior organizer of the East Valley D&D Meetup here in the Phoenix area. We have 200 members and have staged over 500 events since I started it a couple of years ago. It's a great way to meet others interested in the game, as well as coordinate and organize gaming events and campaigns. Good luck!

p.s. I'm an old 1st Ed gamer, myself, but have embraced a number of 3rd Ed house rules that make the gaming experience a lot more fun. I tend to avoid, however, the dozens of separate skills rolls that, as someone above said, cruft up the game play. Instead, we tend to find ways to role play those things for a much more cinematic experience.
posted by darkstar at 12:49 PM on January 9, 2012


@ Bulgaroktonos: How exactly does this work? Do you bring a character you rolled up at home and just jump in with whoever is there? I ask because it seems like it might be a good way to learn to play D&D, which I might be interested in.

You can bring your own character, but you don't have to -- they have sample characters (your basic archetypes -- dwarf fighter, elf rogue, human paladin and wizard, etc) that you can play, so as long as you can borrow some dice, you literally don't need to bring anything at all to play. Depending on the point they are in the adventure, the characters would be of first through third level (so if you consistently playing Encounters adventures a few times, you wind up with a stable of fourth-level characters).

You don't even have to bring the same character week after week, so it's a good opportunity to experiment with different character types or builds. It's a good program -- I travel for work, and have managed to play the same character in the same adventure in several different locations. From my experience, it is indeed a good opportunity to learn. I've played a bunch of games and even DMed a couple of sessions, and there's usually a mix of experienced and new players, and I've never been in a situation where the other players weren't helpful and welcoming to new people.

@ Karmakaze: 4th does have the same problem I had with 3rd edition. The 4th ed player's guide sums it up nicely in once sentence: "Every class, race, feat, power, and monster in the D&D game lets you break the rules in some way."

That's in part because 4ed is designed very much like a collectible card game; the online Character Builder even prints attack powers and magical ites as "cards" on the sheet, with flavor text as well as description of the game mechanic.

I don't agree that every power breaks the rules, though. For example, the rogue's backstab does extra damage, just like it always did, and others allow you to reposition your opponent, inflict a status such as temporary blindness, or knock them prone. None of those abilities are unprecedented in D&D or break the rules; indeed, the rules cover those very conditions.

You're right, though, that 4ed is very miniatures-focused.
posted by Gelatin at 12:52 PM on January 9, 2012


Thanks for the tips. Not meaning to derail, just thought maybe there was something already setup, or maybe mefigamer etc. Awesome.
posted by rosswald at 12:52 PM on January 9, 2012


Speaking of which, here is a search of the D&D-related Meetup groups near you, rosswald. Happy adventuring!
posted by darkstar at 12:53 PM on January 9, 2012


Even in the carefully-controlled, WotC-sanctioned Encounters environment I find it pretty easy to let imagination be my guide and solve problems creatively, which I would think is the hallmark of D&D.

I agree, and to demonstrate, I'm going to get my brag on for a moment. The scene: Early in the Keep on the Borderlands session of Encounters, more than a year ago. We're in a noisy tavern when one of our people outside gets ambushed. Not surprisingly, my elf ranger makes her Perception roll and hears the scuffle. The DM gives those of us who heard it two choices that round: Yell out a warning to the party members in the tavern, or rush outside to assist.

I declared that my elf, instead, was going to go outside by leaping through the front window in a tuck-and-roll, as opposed to running out the door. The dramatic exit would call attention to the urgency and it'd get her outside into the battle. The DM considered, called for an Acrobatics check, which she made, and so the fight was on.

It all depends on the creativity of the people involved. Rules-light early editions required the DM to be creative when an unusual situation cropped up, but there's no inherent reason why DMs and players can't be just as creative in 4ed as any other game. (I'll add that the DMs I've played Encounters with in various locations have invariably added their own personal touches.)
posted by Gelatin at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


MAGICAL FUCKING PLOT SPIDER!
posted by Artw at 1:13 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


My mind recalls at the utter Lovecraftian horror of such a thing.
posted by idiopath at 3:10 PM on January 9 [+] [!]

It does sound like a recipe for some horrendous min/maxing. Maybe they learn to check that stuff at the door.
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on January 9 [+] [!]


We also came together for the most part via a theater group, though, so there's a lot of fun in the RPing most of the time. I've alerted Gus to this thread so I'm definitely not going to put any more words in his mouth, but from what I could tell our two-and-a-half year 3.5 campaign ended (spectacularly) partially because things got too bogged down after level 15 or so (which is where the party was, more or less) and also because some players were min-maxing like crazy, while others (most notably me) were not, creating some pretty massive party imbalance that made designing battles and whatnot particularly difficult.

(For specifics, I had a halfling rogue to begin when I didn't know much about the game. From day one he wanted to eventually become a pirate king. While other players joined or left the campaign over its long run, and some players discarded and created new characters as they saw fit, I kept Holmes Blackacre going the entire time, making him a swashbuckler for a while for some of those benefits, and eventually taking the Dread Pirate prestige class, which is almost entirely an RP thing with limited value to gameplay. When you've got a badass min-maxed level 15 Cleric in the mix, this makes it tricky to make a good session, I'd imagine.)

I'd guess that this is another benefit that 4e brings to the game, that balance at higher levels doesn't get too wobbly, but I don't know that for sure. I'm not opposed to playing more 4e and trying to get over my own issues and finding the RP fun. We've been playing Pathfinder with a different DM in the group for a few months now, and I'm loving that, though I haven't gotten to delve into the rules as much, and am a bit behind the curve as far as that's concerned.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:17 PM on January 9, 2012


Haven't played in decades. My last group was a mish-mash of D&D (2d edition, I think) plus Arms Law & Claw Law & Spell Law. Lots of people and lots of action and stories.

I don't miss the page-turning and rules-lawyering, but I do miss the story telling.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:18 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The OSR "manifestos" I can find online won't say what is actually wrong with everything that came after 1e.

Actually, a few comments before yours, Navelgazer nailed it:

It doesn't prohibit creativity or role-playing but it sure as hell doesn't encourage it.


I was playing D&D back in the late seventies (my grognard status is such that to my mind, Deities and Demigods is the "new book," and it has Cthulhu and Melnibone in it, dammit.) I left the game behind for other systems just before 2nd edition came out. Over the years, various adventures and books for later editions have made their way to my shelves. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, third-and-a-half all seem familiar to me and I can interpret the crunchy mechanics at sight. Fourth edition books hold zero interest and are baffling for me: they seem more like rules for a very involved and joyless boardgame than anything to do with roleplaying. I am glad there are people who can wring some role-playing enjoyment out of them, but it is not for me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:18 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd encourage anyone interested in game design in general and D&D in particular to download and read the compilation of their legends and lore column from Wizards' site. It's a very thoughtful and extended meditation on the history of d&d and possible approaches to game design they could take in the future. I've really been enjoying it over the past year.
posted by Caduceus at 1:21 PM on January 9, 2012


I kept Holmes Blackacre going the entire time,

No matter how many editions of D&D there are, law students will always love Blackacre references.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2012


I just want someone to articulate in broad strokes what that feeling is and what rule/setting differences it comes from.

Grimp0teuthis, yes, some of the OSR objection is to the creeping ruleset. The desire is to have the players play their characters in the game world, having things follow from what's in the minds eye, the primacy of the imagined thing, and not so much preening character sheets and stat blocks with a citeable rule and mechanism for every event. For example:

DM: You're standing in front of the sarcophagus, your torchlight flickers over the simple carvings on the lid. What do you do?
Player: I use my Search skill. [Rolls.] Nat 20! With all my feats and synergies and hm did I update that last level wait a sec... I think I forgot my Int bonus for skills when I leveled.. Hmm.. Okay.. Total is 32. What do I find? I'm sure I find everything. I hope there's some cool boots in there, I could use a better magic item in that equipment slot.
DM [headdesk]

Some of it is a reaction to 3E's giant bloated horror show of a combat system and the way it dominates prep time and play time and player giving-a-shit time.

Some of the objection is to certain play styles, with their linear adventure designs and railroaded plots and PCs who generally can't die, and NPCs who are more important than you, and the expectation that a balanced party will always be encountering level-appropriate threats with commensurate rewards on a calibrated advancement schedule.

It's against player entitlement but for player empowerment, if that makes sense. Without doing anything nutso insane such as ceding ultimate narrative control.

Where the OSR immediately comes from, though, is the OGL. For the first time, new products could be published using essentially the old rules regardless of whichever splatbook publishing, shitty-new-version-promulgating, lawsuit-happy assholes happened to own the D&D brand at the moment.
posted by fleacircus at 1:31 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The DM gives those of us who heard it two choices that round: Yell out a warning to the party members in the tavern, or rush outside to assist.

I declared that my elf, instead, was going to go outside by leaping through the front window in a tuck-and-roll, as opposed to running out the door.


See, this reads as weird to me, because back when I played, no one would have said, "You can shout or a warning or move but you can't do both at once." It just all sounds more boardgame-like to me (meaning one Action per Turn kind-of-thing). We wouldn't need creative solutions like yours because we all just would have been yelling as we ran for the door. And no DM I ever played with would have been, like, "Actually, that's two actions."
posted by neuromodulator at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2012


It all depends on the creativity of the people involved. Rules-light early editions required the DM to be creative when an unusual situation cropped up, but there's no inherent reason why DMs and players can't be just as creative in 4ed as any other game.

It's hard to do that when 4e not only has a lot of structure, but structure that is explicitly centered around very specific actions in combat. For example, in 3.5 it was fun to play a Beguiler character, which is kind of a combination of Sorcerer and Rogue. The spell list had some spells that had clear uses in combat, but for the most part they were best suited for non-combat situations, and to a certain extent you had to be creative in combat. Leveling up wouldn't give you the kinds of god-like abilities of high level Wizards, but there was a feeling that overall you were getting better at being a thief who uses spells.

With 4e a Controller-style character will just gain abilities that say something like "Push one enemy back up to 5 spaces" along with some fluff about what particular method that Controller class uses to push the enemy. With 3.5 it felt like if you wanted to, you could play the game without a tactical map or even without any formal combat battles at all and it would still make sense. But with 4e to me at least it very much feels like the system is centered around making your tactical combat unit incrementally better at performing in combat rather than having your character incrementally be able to do more stuff in general. Sure you can add as much role playing on top of that as you want, but to me that's just like role playing about chess pieces during a chess game than a system that actively encourages doing interesting and novel things. If I'm playing a Wizard, I want to be doing Wizard-y stuff all the time rather than being relegated to using a few support maneuvers in combat and making Int skill checks outside of combat.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:38 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having played D&D, AD&D, 2nd ed., 3rd e., 3.5, 4th, and Pahfinder; as well as a slew of others, the enjoyment of the game really boils down to how good the GM is and the synergy of the gaming group. With a good group any system can be fun, even GURPS or Champions.

However I find that 4th ed. is just too rigid. It is all loosey-goosey with the Out-of-combat stuff but super strict on combat rules; and in my opinion that just automatically leads it down the miniature-gaming/videogame pathway. People new to the genre read the player's handbook and cannot wait to ty out their characters in combat, to try out the wicked synergy between placement on the map and combat abilities and team mates and all that stuff. But because the rules in that area are so well laid out it just doesn't feel right when the GM all of sudden breaks the rules and throws a collapsable boat at the players. And since there are no social abilities or skills really, players kinda just skipped that part and choose to fight it out instead ("Oh look, we are having a disagreement with this fellow here, so, hmm, ATTACK!").

But in Pathfinder you have characters whose entire skillset can be devoted to social interaction, knowledge rolls and backroom shenanigans. Those characters usually actively seek to AVOID combat and attempt to resolve problems using their character's specialties. It is this balance between out-of-combat effectiveness and combat prowess that inherently makes Pathfinder more enjoyable out of the box. If I decide to put max ranks in Diplomacy and Bluff, well damnit I am going to use them!
posted by Vindaloo at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, this reads as weird to me, because back when I played, no one would have said, "You can shout or a warning or move but you can't do both at once."

I considered adding more context, because normally speech is a free action anyway. First of all, it was a surprise round, so everyone who was aware of the danger only got a single action, not the usual move-minor-standard of a normal 4ed combat round.

On top of that, the bar was crowded and noisy -- so much so that most of the party didn't hear a fight going on directly outside -- and the barbarian and the paladin (!) were distracted by flirting with the barmaids (again, that was nothing but role play on their part). Yelling as we ran to the door might have caused them to look up and go "Huh?", but actually getting everyone's attention and informing them of the danger would have taken more time (and effort) than it would have taken to just run outside. Trust me, in the context of that game session it made sense.
posted by Gelatin at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, fleacircus. I'm starting to get it now.

I'm a little ways into a 3.5e campaign (with a couple of creeping Pathfinder influences) as well as just beginning an Eclipse Phase campaign, and I can see where the time spent adding up bonuses, penalties, and other special circumstances takes away from actually doing things.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2012


Yes, 4e is entirely centered around combat. Skill challenges are somewhat different, but not terribly. The best encounters I've played/DM'd mixed the two, actually, but you can't do that all the time. A lot of my disillusionment with 4e has come from the total combat focus of the thing. (The criticism above of the system being entirely flavorless is spot on, by the way. I liked reading 2e and even 3e manuals. I do not read 4e for fun.) If I ran or played something more puzzledungeony and less roleplaying-y it might strike me better. I don't know, to be honest.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2012


Whaddaya mean, "even Champions," Vindaloo? I always had fun playing Champions with my group. I wasn't aware it isn't supposed to be.

(By the way, I like Champions' mechanic of defining the power but not the "special effect;" I tend to carry that aspect into my 4ed games, even if I'm not supposed to. I guess, in short, even 4ed can be played in the style of "tell the DM what you want to do, and together you can figure out how to do it.")
posted by Gelatin at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2012


I can see where the time spent adding up bonuses, penalties, and other special circumstances takes away from actually doing things.

This seems like it gets more important in the gaming market as time goes by. The proportion of adults in the potential market for games must grow year on year. We have jobs, families, children, all the time-consuming stuff. Unless I can prep a session to GM in two hours a week, I probably can't prep a session at all. Rules light games in general seem like an essential to the future economic viability of the RPG industry, and there's no shortage of them these days.
posted by howfar at 1:54 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong, by the way, I think 4e gives you more tactical options than any edition of D&D or maybe even any other RPG has yet, but as a DM, the ONLY support the system gives you in planning adventures is "throw a combat encounter at it". There is a lot of variety in those combat encounters, but that's what the system is there to do.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:56 PM on January 9, 2012


"Whaddaya mean, "even Champions," Vindaloo? I always had fun playing Champions with my group. I wasn't aware it isn't supposed to be.

(By the way, I like Champions' mechanic of defining the power but not the "special effect;" I tend to carry that aspect into my 4ed games, even if I'm not supposed to. I guess, in short, even 4ed can be played in the style of "tell the DM what you want to do, and together you can figure out how to do it.")
posted by Gelatin at 1:49 PM on January 9
"

Actually, I had tons of fun playing Champions, but the ruleset is just not very good. You can easily end up with wildly powerful characters right at character generation if you know how, which really sucks for the guy who's character is under-powered. That said, it is the only game I have played where a bad guy jumped out of train and threatened us with a gun only to have a clown run at 300 mph around the train wagon and smack him in the back of the head with a frying pan (yes, one of our party members was a clown with a frying pan, and no I don't remember why, but even now I am dying of laughter as I type this).
posted by Vindaloo at 2:04 PM on January 9, 2012


as a DM, the ONLY support the system gives you in planning adventures is "throw a combat encounter at it". There is a lot of variety in those combat encounters, but that's what the system is there to do.

And skill challenges. There's a whole set of rules for guiding players through group skill challenges.

And nonviolent RP. There's always that, in any roleplaying game.

I absolutely love 4th Ed. Sure, I don't care for many of the new races, but if I don't like 'em, I can simply not play 'em. I can make the case to my DM that they shouldn't be part of the setting. Done.

My skills matter more now, rather than less. Yes, there are fewer of them, but they do more.

My fighter no longer has the same boring 1d20+x attack doing 1d8+x damage anymore. Now he's got a right hook, and a left jab, and an uppercut. He's got tricks up his sleeve.

My mage isn't a complete waste of space after 1.5 fights.

As a DM, I can put together combat challenges really quickly. I have a better sense of scale than ever.

Settings stuff has always been a matter of supplements and/or home brew stuff anyway. I don't really need that in there.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


as a DM, the ONLY support the system gives you in planning adventures is "throw a combat encounter at it".

With all respect, what more support do you need? The first session of the game I'm running for my daughters, I made a "the party members meet (and then are beset by zombies) encounter. I had everything in my mind -- since "meeting in a tavern" is hackneyed, I'd have them meet at a roadside shrine just outside of town (they could tell me if they were traveling to town or natives, and thus, there was lots of opportunity for role play), and, though I was sewing together a couple of canned adventures after that, the shrine itself (specifically, that the Evil Undead Presence was sapping its shrine-y abilities) was a clue to what was going on.

I drew the map on one-inch grid paper I downloaded and printed. All I needed was a mix of zombies, and the game provided that -- and, oh, look! zombie dogs! And hey, a Crawling Hand -- I'll declare that the first zombie killed spawns that thing (though it isn't called for in the rules). I got a *scream* when that thing grabbed someone's ankle as they stepped past what they thought was a fallen rotter.

I admit using canned adventures isn't the height of creativity, but blending several together into a cohesive campaign -- in which I wound up fleshing out the village to a huge extent, with even more role playing -- should count, and again, there wasn't a thing about 4ed that prevented any of that (or if there was, I just ignored it). I'm genuinely perplexed.
posted by Gelatin at 2:11 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for 5E, I think the most important design thing I'd like to see redone are the way spell memorization and replenishing work. 1-3E had the awful fight/sleep cycle, and 4E's at will/encounter/daily is just a little too samey and dumbed down. Wimpy spell spam is a problem with most every system.

I'd like to see something like: at first level a caster can hold 4 spells in his head and has 7 casts. (The same spell can be cast multiple times like a 3E Sorcerer, not like Vancian magic.) As the MU goes up in level the number of spells known increases, and the spells become more powerful, but the number of casts does not go up quickly.

The important point is that the MU has a lot of casts but they regenerate slowly, at about 1 per day. This means the party can go further without rest, but when they are tapped they will need a much longer rest and will need to withdraw back to town. It breaks sessions up into sorties and trips which are strategic and about resource management, instead of a grind of breaking off exploring to hole up for a day to heal (completely, basically for free), or because you didn't memorize knock.

I've played in a D&D game with something like this system, and it works pretty well.
posted by fleacircus at 2:12 PM on January 9, 2012


But I loved meeting in taverns as a character when I played AD&D. Because then you'd meet beleaguered Gnomes named Kyle, who only spoke Pirate.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:13 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Some thoughts, in no particularly well-arranged order:

4e is very balanced. Being very balanced sometimes makes it more fun that previous editions, and sometimes makes it less fun than previous editions. It's also very combat-rules-heavy, out-of-combat-rules light, but that doesn't mean the actual games you play with it need to be that way, it just means the out-of-combat stuff ends up being more the sort of vague hand-wavey stuff of V:tM or what-have-you. (Despite this fact, the folks who rail the hardest against 4e usually swear by this kind of rules-lite stuff.) Outside of combat in 4e you're much more reliant on actually having a good DM. But at the end of the day a good (or bad) DM makes so much more difference to the quality of the game than the actual rules you're using anyways, so find yourself a good DM and learn and use whatever rules make them happy, as long as you can build a character within those rules that makes you happy.

My biggest gripe with 4e is that they made all these efforts to simplify it, make things streamlined compared to 3rd, so you could write out your whole power and everything it did on an index card, but then there were a zillion feats and racial modifiers that were "add an almost insignificantly small bonus in these certain fiddly circumstances X, Y, and Z" and were impossible to remember. I'm one to take the flat +1 to-hit feat over the +3 to hit goblinoids on third wednesdays of each month feats, anyways, but 4e seems to suffer a particularly excessive number of those which from what I've seen mostly just contributes to an excessive number of "Oh, wait, my math was wrong, I actually [hit/didn't hit] that guy last turn..."

3e/3.5 OTOH was very imbalanced (I've heard good things about Pathfinder but haven't really looked into it too much). Attacks of opportunity get a bad rap but they weren't all that bad - no, what really broke the game was the noble yet foolish idea that monsters and PCs should be basically based off the same system. This led to not only the rise of the 3rd edition stereotype of half-blue-dragon/half-ogre/half-aasimar PCs all over the damn place but it horribly unbalanced the game; giving a once-a-day power to a hero that is expected to fight a zillion mooks a day is a lot different than giving such a power to the zillion mooks, and so especially at high levels combat got either very very deadly or very very silly or both at the same time. (Fun fact: per the rules, a high-level third edition rogue that gets polymorphed into a hamster is not necessarily any less dangerous and may actually be more dangerous in many situations.)

Last thought: almost all the most memorable parts of any of the (many, many) D&D games I have played have been the truly weird things that happened because of the completely unexpected way the dice fell; this is why I am generally leery of games which are too rules-lite. Collaborative storytelling alone is not nearly as interesting as collaborative storytelling with a big, big random factor.

(And I am really sad that calamitoustables.tumblr.com is not a real site.)
posted by mstokes650 at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last thought: almost all the most memorable parts of any of the (many, many) D&D games I have played have been the truly weird things that happened because of the completely unexpected way the dice fell; this is why I am generally leery of games which are too rules-lite. Collaborative storytelling alone is not nearly as interesting as collaborative storytelling with a big, big random factor.

Yesterday's pathfinder game involved a final big battle where the DM had been having some fun playing with the half-dragon template. We got a Half-Dragon Ogre and a Half-Dragon Cyclops to deal with, but also a much weaker Half-Dragon Cockatrice.

As we had TPKed a few sessions before and I had gotten much the blame for my fighter character running around killing the status-effect mooks who I thought we needed to get out of the way first, and not just focusing my attacks on the big bad (and for the record, I apparently didn't have the instinct to know which enemy was the big bad that my fellow players did at that time) I focused on the Ogre in front of me. Boom, cockatrice bites me, I roll a 2, and so my Barbarian fails his FORT save on round two. Turned to stone.

The next two rounds also involved the cockatrice biting players with high FORT saves, which they botched. Damn near TPK at the end, because of some random super-low rolls. And that was cool. I agree that some level of randomness like that is what one plays D&D for instead of the White Wolf games.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2012


So I peeked in at my local bookshop this lunchbreak and saw that Gamma World is in a box right there on the shelves. You've got to admit, it's quite cool that we now live in a wold where you can wander into a bookshop and just pick up Gamma World (whatever the version).
posted by Artw at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


out-of-combat stuff ends up being more the sort of vague hand-wavey stuff of V:tM or what-have-you. (Despite this fact, the folks who rail the hardest against 4e usually swear by this kind of rules-lite stuff.)

You see, saying that makes me think you've probably not really played much in the way of actual rules-lite gaming. The most obvious example of good rules-lite is BRP, the system used in Call of Cthulhu, which is about as far from being "hand-wavey" as you can get (indeed, my major problem with BRP is the tendency for Keepers to overuse the skills in a social setting). And yes, it is a rules-lite game, I know there's a big list of skills, but applying them is dirt simple.

There are many others. The key to most rule-lite play is that there is a single central mechanic that is applied to combat and non-combat situations alike, and that this mechanic is simply and intuitively adaptable to any situation. To a certain extent, 3/.5e attempted to incorporate this, but the traditional D&D focus on combat prevented it from working. Combat became this ungainly monster in 3/.5, rather than just a subset of the things your character can do in the world.
posted by howfar at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's quite cool that we now live in a wold where you can wander into a bookshop and just pick up Gamma World

I'd probably explode if I saw Boot Hill and Gangbusters as well. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:42 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll be honest, none of the later editions have had books that smell remotely as good as a virgin-through-well-used copy of the 2nd edition Player's Handbook or DMs Guide and that is why I lost interest in pen-and-paper roleplaying.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:45 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


You see, saying that makes me think you've probably not really played much in the way of actual rules-lite gaming.

For me, the litmus test is how much space do the combat rules take up compared to all other uses of skills, game systems, etc. Most RPGs, you will have a very lengthy set of rules on how combat works, with a lot of detail and addressing specific situations (an axe does this, a sword does that, darkness works like this, etc) but not too much on how social interactions work, on how you find information, etc. Frankly, this is depressing, because you are privileging combat as the most exciting thing you can do, the thing that gets you the most experience/skill checks/whatever, the way to treasure or glory or whatever. Playing a character who is a negotiator or a merchant or, really, anything other than a murder hobo (great term) is a lot less interesting. Obviously, a good GM and good players can and have for decades, worked around this, but I like a system that doesn't need so much workaround.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the Cthulhu Dsrk combat rules - you try to fight a monster, you're dead.
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And I am really sad that calamitoustables.tumblr.com is not a real site.)

Let's get to work on that. After I posted the fake link, I started to think about what it would look like. The big hurdle would be to find an easy way of faking fonts and tables that I'd then take a picture of. Beyond that, "Butterknife Mishaps Table B" practically write themselves.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:57 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gah. Cthulhu DARK.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are many others. The key to most rule-lite play is that there is a single central mechanic that is applied to combat and non-combat situations alike, and that this mechanic is simply and intuitively adaptable to any situation.

Oh, indeed, but the hand-wavey stuff tends to come into play when you need to determine how easy or difficult something is going to be to achieve with that mechanic. I mean, the core mechanic of every roleplaying game is the player saying "I want to do X" and the DM saying "Okay, roll to see if it works or not." All the rules for every roleplaying game ever are more or less about determining what number you need to roll for it to work, or not work.

Combat tends to be heavy-on-the-rules because monsters always have stats. Often, tons of stats. So you've got clear number to work from. Non-combat stuff tends to be more rules-lite because non-combat stuff fairly often doesn't have stats, unless you're opposing someone else in a noncombat way in which case it's still all about the monster stats. But y'know, your character wants to do some research, well, libraries tend not to have stats, so how hard is that research going to be, or not? So enters the hand-waving, which will work out just fine in the hands of a good DM but in the hands of a poor DM might as well be either a plain old-fashioned rail-roading in some cases or a plain old-fashioned coin flip in others.

on preview: I'm with GenjiandProust here; the ideal is not an RPG that has less rules, per se, but one which has rules and stats for things other than just the monsters you kill. And yeah, that's been a problem which has plagued D&D from day 1.

Now I want to write a table of critical library-research failures...

01-03 - You get fascinated by a completely unrelated topic, and the next thing you know 1d8 hours have passed without you accomplishing anything
04-08 - You are too noisy. [You are engaged by 1d3 hostile elderly librarians]
09-12 - This card catalog is mad, MAD I tell you! You spend 1d6 hours unsuccessfully and must make a Will save or take 1d4 Sanity damage.
(...on down to the really harsh stuff at the end...)
96-97 - CANNOT UNSEE - you really shouldn't have looked at that one book; lose d6 sanity points.
98 - You have found the Necronomicon. Or perhaps, it has found you...consult with the DM.
99-100 - Roll d4 more times on this chart.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Art Criticism Critical Hits Table

1-50 - Targeted artist doesn't notice.
51-70 - Artist becomes depressed.
71-80 - Artist declares criticism "precisely the facile reaction I expected from shallow analysts like you".
81-90 - Artist becomes enraged. Save vs. Reflex or take 1d4 pencil damage.
91-93 - Artist gives up art, studies for MBA.
94-96 - Save vs. Will or realize that your criticism is a projection of your own insecurities. Take no action for three rounds.
97-98 - Essay is published in upcoming journal. Gain 1d20 silver pieces at beginning of next month.
99 - Artist gives up art, becomes next Hitler.

posted by cortex at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


I see from the twitters that Greg Stolze is working on a new RP system, which is probably A) very simple but B) involves a bajillion dice, which seems to be the way his previous ones have gone.
posted by Artw at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2012


Frankly, this is depressing, because you are privileging combat as the most exciting thing you can do, the thing that gets you the most experience/skill checks/whatever, the way to treasure or glory or whatever. Playing a character who is a negotiator or a merchant or, really, anything other than a murder hobo (great term) is a lot less interesting. Obviously, a good GM and good players can and have for decades, worked around this, but I like a system that doesn't need so much workaround.

I've mentioned previously that I'm working on an investigation-based campaign which will eventually use 3.5 (or possibly Pathfinder) rules. I'm frustrated at the systemic simplicity of stealth in these rule-sets, because "roll 'Hide' and 'Move Silently'" (or for Pathfinder, "Roll Stealth") doesn't give me a lot to use to juice up these inevitable situations.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:11 PM on January 9, 2012


My Eclipse Phase character has the Art:Criticism skill!


...I'm gonna use it to make fun of the enemy mercs' compound's generic architecture while they shoot me in the face.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2012


The big hurdle would be to find an easy way of faking fonts and tables that I'd then take a picture of

For fonts you can check the TSR & WotC Font FAQ, which answers the question "What font did/do they use?"

Once you have the fonts it's a pretty simple matter of firing up a spreadsheet program and using slight every-other-row highlighting for that RPG-table look.
posted by jedicus at 3:14 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Must pick up Eclipse Phase...

(It can join Transhuman Space in the pile of cool games I will read about but never get around to playing)
posted by Artw at 3:15 PM on January 9, 2012


Not sure what happened there, but the Font FAQ link should go here.
posted by jedicus at 3:20 PM on January 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


the ideal is not an RPG that has less rules, per se, but one which has rules and stats for things other than just the monsters you kill.

Not sure I agree precisely. There will never be enough rules and stats to fill the gaps you're talking about, and I will never have the time to use them if there are. What you call "hand-waving" is what I call judgement, and seems an integral part of RPGs, to me. What I need when I GM is a mechanic that is sufficiently simple and robust to allow me to exercise my judgement effectively, and that gives me clear guidance on how to apply it, while allowing my players to see what I've done. I apply modifiers on the fly, but I always explain what each element is for. If my players think I'm wrong, then I'll listen, but they very rarely challenge me. If they try something reasonable, they'll have a reasonable chance of success.

Now, maybe that's not what people with more time want, but I really do want and need a game I can run on minimal or no prep, partly because of time, and partly because there are too many worlds to explore for me to waste time on superfluous elements.
posted by howfar at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2012


none of the later editions have had books that smell remotely as good

My personal version of this is that none of them are the Fiend Folio.
posted by neuromodulator at 3:24 PM on January 9, 2012


I've seen a lot of cute die-score generating mechanics in RPGs—which are never as interesting as their creator thinks they are—but not enough dice minigames. Reiner Knizia's Decathlon: the RPG, here I come.
posted by fleacircus at 3:25 PM on January 9, 2012


Sorry, I meant Fiend Folio.
posted by neuromodulator at 3:25 PM on January 9, 2012


Greg Stolze is working on a new RP system, which is probably A) very simple but B) involves a bajillion dice

Hey! The Token Effort system is diceless! In the One-Roll Engine, you never roll more than ten dice at once!* That's downright modest compared to a lot of dice pool mechanics.

* OK, sometimes the GM will roll more for a crowd of mooks.

Must pick up Eclipse Phase...

You probably know, but it and its supplements are available as free PDFs.
posted by Zed at 3:25 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, kinda new that... PDFs for whatever reason seem to be the preferred format of RPGs. I never really know what to do with them - print them, I guess, but it becomes a lot of printing.

(Tablets don't *quite* seem to do the job)
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on January 9, 2012


That Cthulhu Dark "system" is pretty fascinating. Are there any crunchy non-combat systems I might look at? I have a pair of characters that started in 3e that I'm not sure what to do with under 4e, because they're rather unorthodox for an adventuring party, being a changeling assassin & a gnome...snake oil salesman, basically. I run an adventure for them once a year or so, but they're not really combat guys.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:48 PM on January 9, 2012


I did a 4e campaign that lasted three years. This was the only rule of d&d that worked almost as well at level 1 as it does at level 30.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:53 PM on January 9, 2012


Lately we've been trying on a lot of systems for size. Eclipse Phase has pretty pictures and does use a lot of cool sci-fi ideas but the rules are just not that good. Character creation is mostly a pretty bland point-buy system and the rules for things are mostly similarly bland. It has the best approach to hacking that I've encountered, though.

Artesia is beautiful and stylish and has some very flavourful mechanics, particularly for character creation. The character statistics forming through a combination of Heroic lineages, birth omens and birthsigns and various other things combined with a decent lifepath system meant that it's easy to create fleshed out characters. The experience system that uses it's own Arcana enabling the players to develop through the different types of things they do and decisions they make, without restricting them to just learning the same skill they use is excellent.

Twilight 2013, the latest in this series of military-focused games placed around the immediate aftermath of a world war. The game, unsurprisingly, is quite combat-oriented, but that's ok because the combat system manages things that not many systems even try to, it's slightly slow and quite tactical. And of course the company that published it no longer exists and it's not supported. And for the most part it was a mess. But if you see it hanging around or see a pdf for cheap, pick it up just for the excellent take on modern combat. It was written by veterans and that shows.
posted by Authorized User at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just started playing in an Eclipse Phase game yesterday. Any game where I can be an embittered octopus detective is A++++ by me!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:57 PM on January 9, 2012


Oh yeah, I perhaps ragged a bit too much on Eclipse Phase due to my personal dislike of the d100 mechanics. It really is pretty good.
posted by Authorized User at 4:00 PM on January 9, 2012


Eldritch Skies looks like an interesting SF/Horror/Cthulhu setting.
posted by Artw at 4:02 PM on January 9, 2012


my personal dislike of the d100 mechanics

BRP - essentially unchanged since, what, the early 80s? :-)
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on January 9, 2012


Before I die, I would love to play a campaign of Nobilis.

No dice. Very little combat. All imagination.




I would also like to strangle whoever picked the artist for the latest edition, especially after the beautiful 2e work.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 4:04 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eldritch Skies looks like an interesting SF/Horror/Cthulhu setting.

And finally out next month!

Before I die, I would love to play a campaign of Nobilis.

Ditto.

I would also like to strangle whoever picked the artist for the latest edition, especially after the beautiful 2e work.

There was a big nightmare with the art in which they discovered just as they were about to go to print that one of their artists had traced a lot of his work, and they had to replace all of those at the last minute, in some cases from volunteered contributions from fans... but if you're objecting to the manga style itself, that was a deliberate design choice and you wouldn't have been any happier with the prior art.
posted by Zed at 4:22 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not in RPGs but in comics, some freinds of mine ran into BIG trouble when it turned out their cover artist, who they sourced from Deviant Art, was basically just cropping other peoples work and presenting it as their own.

(Moral of the story being do not source anyone from Deviant Art, or at least get some proof that their work is their own)
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust: Most RPGs, you will have a very lengthy set of rules on how combat works,... but not too much on how social interactions work, on how you find information, etc.

Having met more than a few game designers in my time, it is not surprising at all that they don't have an idea of how to handle social interactions.

I kid, I kid. Sort of.
posted by moonbiter at 4:45 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another great no-dice system was Everway by Origins Hall of Famer Johnathan Tweet (heavily involved in Ars Magika, Over The Edge, etc). Sort of a combination of Rifts and D&D but very New Age-y. Instead of dice it relied on Karma (do the player's stats support what the player wants to do?), Drama (would it serve the story to have the player succeed?) and Fortune, a draw from a card deck sorta similar to a Tarot but not. Like a Tarot the card drawn could be Reversed. Cards had names like "striking the dragon's tail", i.e. forging ahead without recognizing the larger danger. Very very very cool. So of course Wizards sacked the entire team right in December '08, because MtG. Still bitter.
posted by waraw at 5:23 PM on January 9, 2012


wenestvedt: "I don't miss the page-turning and rules-lawyering, but I do miss the story telling."

There are tons and tons of other great games out there that will do the job, if you want to start playing again. Folks have already recommended a bunch in this thread; let me know if you'd like other, specific recommendations. (For example, I've recently been hankering to play Old School Hack, which kind of boils old school D&D down to its essentials in a way that promotes really creative play. It's free to download, too.)
posted by jiawen at 5:48 PM on January 9, 2012


Not sure I agree precisely. There will never be enough rules and stats to fill the gaps you're talking about, and I will never have the time to use them if there are.

And I have to disagree with that as well. I think the fairly simple systems for PDQ, Risus, and FATE are broad and robust enough to encompass pretty much any situation. In another forum, I* challenged the posters to bring up situations that couldn't be covered by the PDQ or FATE systems, and nobody could.

That's actually really surprising, since both PDQ and FATE are at heart easy to learn systems- though FATE can have a lot of stuff tacked onto it regarding character special abilities. I could probably teach you either of those games in under ten minutes.
posted by happyroach at 5:52 PM on January 9, 2012


"I would also like to strangle whoever picked the artist for the latest edition, especially after the beautiful 2e work."

Writing as the guy who commissioned the art for Nobilis 2e, thank you.
posted by Hogshead at 5:54 PM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I lost my copy of Nobilis 2e when I lent it.
I'm very seriously considering buying a copy for the $hundreds they sell for now.
That book was beautiful.
posted by Richard Daly at 5:57 PM on January 9, 2012


So of course Wizards sacked the entire team right in December '08, because MtG. Still bitter.
posted by waraw at 8:23 PM on January 9 [+] [!]


I was a member of the Wizards Class of 2008. We were let go not because of Magic, but because of the Wizards Digital initiative. MTGO v3 was years late, Gleemax.com epically failed, and dozens of people were hired to create and/or support those things but neither of them contributed to the bottom line in 2007 or 2008. WotC cleaned house, cutting a bunch of fat... and also a bunch of muscle.

Magic is not why so many people got dropped.
posted by andreaazure at 6:01 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, Nobilis 2nd ed is worth something now? I even bought my copy from Hogshead himself at Gencon. Need to dig it out and put it in the Special Place with my Library Edition CoC and Dune d20...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:03 PM on January 9, 2012


I've seen the claim that you can't do things that aren't combat in 4e. This is emphatically untrue. I've DM'd and played plenty of out of combat situations in 4e and there is plenty of rules support there. If you want to run a stealth game with half the party providing a distraction while the other half robs the place blind, 4e is extremely suited to that (it's the sort of thing skill challenges are good at - they aren't the same as skill checks). What it doesn't have is downtime skills. "I'll take a week off to make a good bow." "And I'll go back and work behind the bar, earning money for the week." 4e skips that and tells you to get on with the adventure.

But what is 4e great at? It's a very good high fantasy action game running under Holywood Physics but that's not where it excels. What it excels at IMO is providing support for new DMs and allowing them to find their feet - a lot of freedom and support to improvise and to accept PC improvisation. To illustrate, I like to use my third ever session as DM.

The PCs had just managed to turn one of the bad guys, riding a dragon wyrmling. (No, that wasn't anywhere near the plan - but when the bad guy gets a natural 20 with a friendly fire attack while missing all the PCs in the area and the party diplomat (and borderline diplomancer) follows it up with a natural 18 (plus lots) on the diplomacy roll, I'm going to run with it. Anyway the city the PCs were in was being bombed by dragons, and their safehouse was across town. And the PCs didn't want the dragon spotted as having defected for obvious reasons (or spotted by the locals and starting a riot). So they decided to throw a horse blanket over the dragon and put its back legs into a cart as a plague cart to take it to their safehouse. 4e provided me with the mechanical support I needed to run that (Skill challenge level 3 complexity 3 IIRC) and a clear enough ruleset that I could think through the crunch while taking a swallow of my drink to mask my worry. And the whole thing was an entertaining interlude that was challenging enough it might have failed, inspired me as to when to throw complications into an already absurd plan, and was about the right length to be an entertaining diversion.

I don't need the support so much any more (almost two years later) although it's nice to have there. But there is no other edition of D&D (or any other RPG I can think of) where I could apparently effortlessly have handled such a situation with so little experience as a DM. (Or improvised combats as a DM - pick a handful of monsters of the right level, add a little interactive terrain, and you're ready to go - with Page 42 of the DMG ready to handle the mechanical side of stunting or terrain powers).
posted by Francis at 6:45 PM on January 9, 2012


You've got to admit, it's quite cool that we now live in a wold where you can wander into a bookshop and just pick up Gamma World (whatever the version).

So young. I bought a lot of modules off bookstore shelves thirty years ago. Hell, I bought The Village of Hommlet in an Eaton's store (an iconic Canadian department store, now defunct, but surely not because they carried AD&D modules).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:54 PM on January 9, 2012


My fighter no longer has the same boring 1d20+x attack doing 1d8+x damage anymore. Now he's got a right hook, and a left jab, and an uppercut. He's got tricks up his sleeve.

Ah, but that's where the imagination comes in!

If I may share an anecdote, last week I was GMing a 1st Ed. campaign. One of the player characters, a gnome illusionist, uses a Wand of Wonder against a Stone Guardian (a homebrew creature). I roll for the effect and the lucky gnome scores a lightning bolt! We roll 6d6 for damage and it does 28 points, pretty serious! But rather than just telling the player he "hit for 28" and moving on to the statue's counterattack, I get to decide how 28 points of damage will impact the creature.

In my head, a quick calculation: the animated statue had 40 hp, so the 28 it just took was a serious blow. My description went along these lines:

"A blast of electricity scorches the air between your wand and the Stone Guardian, striking it in the left shoulder. A large chunk of the granite form explodes, scorching the surface and sending shards of rock caroming off of the walls and ceiling. The statue's forward momentum is arrested, though its stony face shows no emotion. It lifts the stone axe in its two hands to attack [as I mime the action] and -- CRRRACKKK! -- the stress of the axe's weight on the scorched shoulder opens up a large fault line from its left shoulder to the armpit. The stone guardian's left arm falls to the floor, its left hand still gripping the axe hilt. The creature thumps toward you, dragging its dismembered left arm and attacks, its right hand swinging the axe -- and the attached left arm -- toward your bare gnomish noggin!"

At no time did I have to communicate damage point totals to the player or consult some arcane table to determine where a lightning bolt might have struck or what the effect might have been on various body parts, etc. Nor did I pause to calculate whether encumbrance of a dismembered left arm would result in a stress fracture or otherwise slow a stone guardian. I simply "winged it", then rolled it's to-hit and mentally subtracted some percentage on the fly, considering it was partially disabled. The result, I think, was a much more smooth combat encounter.

I must, at this point, note the rather awesome response of the player. Despite his relative weakness, he chose to grapple the powerful creature(!) and was marginally successful in holding off any further attacks for a few rounds until the rest of his party could break through the large oak door and take up the battle. In short order, the stone guardian was reduced to rubble.
posted by darkstar at 7:10 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


But there is no other edition of D&D (or any other RPG I can think of) where I could apparently effortlessly have handled such a situation with so little experience as a DM.

Oh I don't know. Your (admittedly cool) story reminds me of a Pirates of the Spanish Main game I ran a few years back, in which I was force to deal with an improvised plan to discredit the island governor, which involved an explosive rigged coach, a rent-boy, a hoax haunting, the local vicar and the town cricket pitch. In a system like D&D I wouldn't have know where to start, if I'm honest. In Savage Worlds (which I was new to GMing at the time), I was able, once the plan had been outlined to me, to spend a 5 minute beverage break jotting notes and then run the plan as outlined (although not to the expected conclusion) with sufficient fairness to leave my players satisfied and my conscience clean.

What made running something like that satisfying was that the system allowed each person to contribute their skills to it. Social skill rolls, repair skill rolls, disguise and acrobatics edges, intimidation, fighting and more all played a part. Despite the simplicity of running the scenario it felt, to me, much less like an abstraction than anything I'd ever managed in any edition of D&D.

We all have systems that work for us, of course, and I wouldn't criticise anyone for playing what they enjoy. It's just that, having wandered around a few different systems, I no longer see any justification for the pre-eminence D&D still enjoys.
posted by howfar at 7:19 PM on January 9, 2012


It's just that, having wandered around a few different systems, I no longer see any justification for the pre-eminence D&D still enjoys.

Just conjecturing, but I'd guess that for many gamers, D&D is their introduction to rpgs in general, so it kind of by default becomes the system that everyone knows (give or take an edition) and oftentimes people can be too lazy to teach/learn a new system even if as a group they can agree that no one particularly likes D&D.
posted by juv3nal at 8:04 PM on January 9, 2012


Or you have a particular rules lawyer group member who utterly refuses to consider using another system, even on a trial basis. -_-
posted by adamdschneider at 8:19 PM on January 9, 2012


I'm pretty sure reading the entirety of this thread has restored my virginity.
posted by bardic at 8:37 PM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


btw, if you're up for some Call of Cthulu and live in South Korea let me know
posted by bardic at 8:57 PM on January 9, 2012


But there is no other edition of D&D (or any other RPG I can think of) where I could apparently effortlessly have handled such a situation with so little experience as a DM.

My experience with different systems is far from comprehensive but Mage in my experience could run wild with this kind of stuff.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2012


That said, Mage would probably be a nightmare for a new DM (as it is something which should never be someones first RPG for playing) but if there was an award for Best RPG Ever it would be my nominee. Simply a near-perfect system. Simple, anything is possible, get creative and be rewarded, go too crazy and get punished, better understanding of how the world works leads to more creativity and bending of the rules of the universe... simply brilliant. Best there is, in my opinion.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:25 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Old School Hack looks great. I had heard of it before, but never really read the PDF. Thanks, jiawen. Seems like it would be easy to run over the internet, too.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:12 PM on January 9, 2012


It's just that, having wandered around a few different systems, I no longer see any justification for the pre-eminence D&D still enjoys.

It has a lot of content. Nothing comes close to, for example, the monster and spell list. There's a lot of stuff in there for players and DMs to play around with in the game world. Some other games offer contrived subsets, but it's not the same. So I wouldn't say it's entirely based on branding and inertia.
posted by fleacircus at 10:38 PM on January 9, 2012


Sorry, wenestvedt.
posted by jiawen at 11:56 PM on January 9, 2012


Oh I don't know. Your (admittedly cool) story reminds me of a Pirates of the Spanish Main game I ran a few years back
My experience with different systems is far from comprehensive but Mage in my experience could run wild with this kind of stuff.

Oh, I don't doubt other systems could run such situations well. I certainly can in other systems. My argument is that 4e makes it easier for a DM to reach the standard where he/she can cope with that sort of mayhem.

We all have systems that work for us, of course, and I wouldn't criticise anyone for playing what they enjoy. It's just that, having wandered around a few different systems, I no longer see any justification for the pre-eminence D&D still enjoys.

There is an advantage to having a default system for people system doesn't matter for. And if there is, why not D&D? It's a decent system even if not the one I'd choose. That said there are a few systems I'd judge you for using - FATAL and RaHoWa spring to mind.
posted by Francis at 5:02 AM on January 10, 2012


GURPS Fourth Edition has fixed most of the problems with superhuman characters from previous editions by merging the psionics options into the core character creation. This basically means it's copied from Champions, but hell, it was doing that all along.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:33 AM on January 10, 2012


With a good group any system can be fun, even GURPS or Champions.

Whaddaya mean, "even Champions," Vindaloo? I always had fun playing Champions with my group. I wasn't aware it isn't supposed to be.



Likewise, I have been having fun with GURPS for over a quarter-century now, entirely unaware that it was supposed to a brutal slog. I hope you can enlighten me as to what I have been doing wrong.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:56 AM on January 10, 2012


The thing that really turned me off on 4e was the way the text was written. So while in 3e you had:
Characteristics: The wizard’s strength is her spells. Everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition to learning new spells, a wizard can, over time, learn to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way.
In 4e you had:
Characteristics: Your powers are all about affecting multiple targets at the same time—sometimes two or three foes, sometimes everyone in a room. In addition, you are the master of utility spells that let you avoid or overcome many obstacles, from flying across chasms to halting the flow of time.
Further, all the metagamey language about "strikers" vs. "controllers" etc., and (especially!) the focus on "character builds" just left me cold. I don't want my players to have "character builds," I want them to have "characters."

But to each their own.
posted by moonbiter at 8:08 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The gamist stuff in 4e sure was off-putting, particularly to simulationists and dramatists. Rollplaying vs Roleplaying and all that.
posted by bonehead at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2012


but Mage in my experience

Are you talking the White Wolf Mage? Man, I never played any of their games except very briefly, and their systems were a whole 'nother matter, but oh my god their settings were brilliant. Really creative, inspired stuff. I never read Mage, and the Werewolf one was so-so, but Changeling and Wraith were some of the richest fantasy settings I've ever encountered. Man, the ideas I had for campaigns, while reading those books.

I don't play anything these days, but if I'm ever in an old folks' home (as a resident), I plan to run a seriously epic campaign with my fellow seniors.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:22 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit: Likewise, I have been having fun with GURPS for over a quarter-century now, entirely unaware that it was supposed to a brutal slog. I hope you can enlighten me as to what I have been doing wrong."

I think he doesn't like the aspect of both HERO and GURPS that the point-based character generation allows for minmaxing by experienced players, which can leave ostensibly point-balanced characters not actually balanced against each other in play. Granted, this is possible in a lot of systems (for example, in D&D 5.x where you could do broken things if you knew which feats to stack), but those two have a rep for it.

There's a bit more up-front work in setting up those games than a class-based system like D&D4. I do find it necessary to check new player sheets for "efficiency" during the initial parts of running a HERO campaign. (I say HERO rather than Champions, because I actually run urban fantasy and space opera as much as I run superheroes.) In my case, it just falls under the same process where I check whether the characters I've been pitched would actually be able to work with each other and are a good fit for the setting I've pitched. There's a reason why I only use pre-generated characters when I run games at conventions.

Of course, in most D&D4 games, it's not necessary to do the balancing character concepts either, because inter-party roles are pre-defined by character class, and the setting has a niche for "adventurer" that already assumes that otherwise incompatible people will put up with one another because that's how these things are done. Thus it's a lot easier to just pick up and start bashing things.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:30 AM on January 10, 2012


It has a lot of content. Nothing comes close to, for example, the monster and spell list. There's a lot of stuff in there for players and DMs to play around with in the game world. [...] So I wouldn't say it's entirely based on branding and inertia.

A whole bunch of games offer more content than any gaming group is likely to be able to touch on. I really don't think some great plurality of people is choosing D&D because they have a strong opinion about its level of support making for better gaming than other games'. I suspect it has more to do with enjoying D&D enough to not be interested in looking for alternatives and/or the alternatives not being on their radar at all. Which is to say, inertia. Which I think is kind of inevitable given how ultra-dominant D&D/Pathfinder is in the RPG world, and how much mindshare and shelf space-share they occupy.
posted by Zed at 9:55 AM on January 10, 2012


I suspect it has more to do with enjoying D&D enough to not be interested in looking for alternatives and/or the alternatives not being on their radar at all. Which is to say, inertia.

Right, but also that inertia has also affected how even other game designers have behaved. Since D&D is the 800lb. gorilla, there are only so many other major game systems in a similar "role-playing medieval-ish fantasy" universe. Almost no one makes a straight-up D&D competitor: almost all of the alternatives are either systems in other genres (such as Call of Cthulhu) or general systems meant to fuel broader numbers of worlds (such as GURPS) or minimal-rules systems (such as FUDGE).

That, plus D&D itself offers its own multiple versions by dint of having such a long history. Don't like 4E? Use 2E, or 3(.5)E, or even 1E. (I'm sure people even still use the "red box" non-advanced D&D.) Don't like the usual Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms setting? Pick one of the other well-developed settings.

It's not to say that D&D is the best, not at all, but it is uniquely well-developed, especially for people new to the world of RPGs, and especially for people who want to do the whole dungeon crawl type of thing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2012


No, what people need, by and large, is creative content. Campaigns. We basically get how to run campaigns, and good DMs can improvise or play around with a loose enough plot to keep things off rails. But most of us don't have the time or talent to create campaigns. Rather than inventing all new content for 4e (or, heaven help us, 5e), WotC could probably make a mint just updating their existing content to work with the new rules.

Bouncing off of this idea, I'd pay to read a book on lateral thinking in D&D. Cull myriad examples of lateral thinking, by both DMs and players, of unusual and bizarre ways to use established items, magic, creatures, etc, or of the most novel and effective ways to design settings. What a neat book that could be...
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you can fill an entire book just with "Dumb Portable Hole/Bag of Holding Tricks" alone.

Although one of the best examples was still the D&D laser: use a spell of far-sight (or whatever it is called) to see into the inside of a sun. Then, open a pinprick-sized gate inside the sun, and in front of whatever you want dead.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rather than inventing all new content for 4e (or, heaven help us, 5e), WotC could probably make a mint just updating their existing content to work with the new rules.

Yeah, well, they did this with Dark Sun, and I find the original version better in all lore-wise ways. They hammered it into their stupid faywild/shadowfell cosmology instead of letting it be its own thing, as it originally was. I liked the 2e Planes+Spelljammer spheres cosmology a lot. It was imaginative and provided a breeding ground for ideas. The new stuff is rather flat by comparison.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:07 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although one of the best examples was still the D&D laser: use a spell of far-sight (or whatever it is called) to see into the inside of a sun. Then, open a pinprick-sized gate inside the sun, and in front of whatever you want dead.

I think that might possibly have ill-thought out gravitational consequences.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ill-thought out consequences are the best kind of consequences!
posted by adamdschneider at 11:29 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been thinking about this more and would have been seriously tempted as their DM to announce that they had destroyed their planet.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nah, a pin-prick sized gate wouldn't destroy the planet. On the other hand, it may sure let an awful lot of fire elementals squeeze through! (What, you thought you sun was a ball of fusion gas? Guess again.)
posted by fings at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about this more and would have been seriously tempted as their DM to announce that they had destroyed their planet.

It looks like someone underestimated *sunglasses* the gravity of the situation.

YEEAAAAAAAHHH!
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


a pin-prick sized gate wouldn't destroy the planet

I'm not talking heat, I'm talking the gravity pulling the planet through the gate.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2012


Won't that depend on the length of time the gate is open?
posted by griphus at 12:02 PM on January 10, 2012


Gravity? Not really. Gravity is highest at the surface. Even if you are talking about a Sol-type star, the surface gravity there is only about 28Gs. If you open a portal to the exact center of the sun, there's no gravity issue (though a whole lot of pressure!)

Besides, gravity and gates is weird anyway. If I open a gate on the floor that opens on the ceiling, and step in, do I fall forever, or am I in zero-g? I could see arguments made either way.
posted by fings at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a fun bit in the Stars Are Right that describes what happens when someone successfully opens a gate to Azathoth.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on January 10, 2012


Also, if you're using a Gate spell (9th level, nutty powerful already), it's not out of place to say either 'okay, 30d6 fire damage for everything inside area x (where X may be enough to bone some PCs, depending on your level of cruelty), reflex for half' or 'teleportation effects generally require intent or action to pass through, planar energy and gravity effects end at the gate border but flaming elemental monoliths start wandering through torching everything in sight' or whatever else you want. Improv is the name of the game, obviously.

And saying that 4e gives melee guys more options than 3.x, where you just smacked things over and over again? Anyone who says that never put much thought in building a melee character.. one of the biggest complaints in 3 and 3.5 were that there were too MANY options, between feats and prestige classes and everything else (Pathfinder definitely fixed a large swath of that between feat rebalancing and providing the whole 'alternate class features' deal). And yeah, any combat that degenerates into 'you roll 22 to hit, you do d8+7 damage, next player' just has some crap roleplaying at the table. We've got players who get up and straight pantomime their entire array of badassery while providing a running narration of their zorro-esque antics. The numbers don't mean squat until you've provided a good reason for them to be there - that's the job of a role-player. Play out your part! Live the moment! Thwack that orc like a BOSS!
posted by FatherDagon at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, they did this with Dark Sun, and I find the original version better in all lore-wise ways.

Perhaps. I'm quite fond of the Free City of Tyr. But that's a sidenote.

The core point is which makes for the better game? And here, in 2e you needed to fight the rules step by step to get Dark Sun to work. But 4e works and meshes neatly. And the lore you're objecting to isn't something that normally comes up at the gaming table - few campaigns IME walk the Planes unless they are intended to do so.

However let's look right where the rubber meets the road. Starting with that staple of Dark Sun: Defiling. Under the rules of 2e, Preservers and Defilers were separate classes. Either you were a Preserver or a Defiler. And never the twain shall meet. You were either a good wizard or a bad one (on a shorter XP chart), and made that decision once at character creation. Under the rules of 4e defiling is a choice. It's a temptation mechanic that any arcane caster can use, even a member of the Veiled Alliance. And being a temptation mechanic it's far more likely you are going to use it when your back is to the wall.

So the defiling mechanics are always in play for every arcane caster - you can just choose not to use them. Or you can go for easy power and defile. Interesting enough

Let's look at the weapon breakage rules. 2e weapons made of inferior materials broke on a natural 1. Which means that they break against the skin of halfling bandits as easily as against the hide of whatever those giant armoured sand worms are. And also the more skilled you were with a weapon, the more attacks you got, so the more likely to break your weapon you were. Yeaaaahhhhh. Under 4e weapon breakage rules, if you roll a natural 1, you may reroll. Only if you roll low on this reroll does your weapon break. Which means that rather than more skilled characters being more likely to break their weapons, more reckless characters are more likely to break their weapons (conservative ones taking the natural 1 as a simple miss). And you are more likely to break your weapon at moments when you are giving it everything you have got and the risk becomes worthwhile.

So 2e might be better lore-wise for all the aspects that never see play. But for the aspects that actually see play like defiling or weapon breakage, 4e is IMO demonstrably superior. Especially Defiling - one of the core features of Dark Sun.
posted by Francis at 12:28 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two favorite moments from a couple years worth of D&D3.5 games:

1) So we're fighting a dragon, full grown, red, burnination happening left and right. Our monk, who is really good at this sort of thing, attempts a trip attack on the dragon, setting off an insane reaction around the table as to the actual feasibility of such an attack. Ultimately it's decided that the massive pile of modifiers afforded the dragon (for size, number of legs, etc) are enough to settle things. Dice are rolled, and indeed, the dragon is tripped. Everyone gets attacks of opportunity as it tries to get back on its haunches. For the rest of time, Brandon is intermittently greeted with, 'Hey, remember that time you tripped a dragon? That was awesome!'

2) My bard-barbarian and anarchist of epic scale, Vodun of Cimmeria, enlisted a wizard cohort via the Leadership feat, which brings all kinds of ridiculousness to the table. Best moment: The party is in this kind of arena-combat thing where we fight increasingly terrible things and whoever proves themselves awesomest will get some crazy artifact.

We're being attacked by some kind of uber-harpy who's flying high above us in the sky peppering us with deadly magic arrows. Things look grim. Vodun's horse Gannondorf is then polymorphed into an eight-headed hydra, still saddled, and the next round the wizard casts 'Flight' on the horse. Vodun and the monk then get on the Hydra, and full move straight upward. At the height of the move, the monk is thrown by Vodun at the harpy, who it turns out is just in range of such shennangans. The monk unleashes a stunning flurry of blows, and knocks the harpy unconscious for a round, causing it to plummet towards the earth since it's not actively flying anymore. The monk gets super excited to have landed what is surely the killing blow... But falling past the hydra sets off an attack of opportunity: Gannondorf grabs the harpy out of the air with one head and bites the hell out of it with the other seven leaving the harpy dead, dead, dead. And so the credit for the kill went to my horse.

(Admittedly, the end of that campaign was min-maxing as conceptual art.)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm quite fond of the Free City of Tyr.

Tyr was free in the second edition boxed set of 2e Dark Sun. The one that had Papyrus everywhere.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2012


Also, I'd make the argument that crappier lore means the setting is less fun to think about, which is where, for me, adventures usually come from. I don't see why the rules you mention can't come with better lore.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012


adamdschneider: Yeah, well, they did this with Dark Sun, and I find the original version better in all lore-wise ways. They hammered it into their stupid faywild/shadowfell cosmology instead of letting it be its own thing, as it originally was. I liked the 2e Planes+Spelljammer spheres cosmology a lot. It was imaginative and provided a breeding ground for ideas. The new stuff is rather flat by comparison

I hear you. I wept when I read the 4e version of Forgotten Realms.
posted by moonbiter at 2:56 PM on January 10, 2012


I've long been fantasizing about a celebrity D&D television program. The whole idea is basically that I'd really like to watch Christopher Walken DM to Owen Wilson. I can't imagine either of them forming a D&D-appropriate sentence without overloading with delight.
posted by neuromodulator at 3:05 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised to see the complaints about 4e Dark Sun's setting - I thought it did a pretty great job of building a workable setting. It rewound the setting to the start and eliminated a whole lot of the really terrible later Dark Sun stuff from the 2e days, and there's very very little planar stuff in there. It plays like a dream.

2e dark sun had surfboards and psychic dolphins and biotech halflings. If you really prefer that lore, well.
posted by xiw at 3:58 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wasn't much of a fan of 4e when it first came out. Combats dragged on painfully long and the way powers are set up kind of railroads a character's actions. Now that we've been playing it for a while we've got better at the mechanics and they don't get in the way as much. One of the key things for me is resisting taking any power of feat that is conditional. A power that gives you a bonus on your attack/defense next round slows things down too much to be worth taking 19 times out of 20. I'd still rather play Torg but I'm managing to have fun regardless.

fleacircus writes "I'd like to see something like: at first level a caster can hold 4 spells in his head and has 7 casts. (The same spell can be cast multiple times like a 3E Sorcerer, not like Vancian magic.) As the MU goes up in level the number of spells known increases, and the spells become more powerful, but the number of casts does not go up quickly.

"The important point is that the MU has a lot of casts but they regenerate slowly, at about 1 per day. This means the party can go further without rest, but when they are tapped they will need a much longer rest and will need to withdraw back to town. It breaks sessions up into sorties and trips which are strategic and about resource management, instead of a grind of breaking off exploring to hole up for a day to heal (completely, basically for free), or because you didn't memorize
knock."

Fundamentally all versions of D&D are resource limited and cycle based on those limitations. Whether it's hit points, healing, spells or actions there is always a limit on how long parties can adventure. Making a party resource limit be offensive spell caster ability is, IMO, a really poor limit. It creates constant tension between the magic user who want to go nova and then rest and everyone else who wants to keep going and justifiably resents all the sitting around waiting for spell points to recharge. This is one of the things that 4e does better than any other edition. Parties are still limited (either by dailies or surges) but the whole party is affected. So the party isn't constantly resting because of the cleric or wizard rather it's a consensus.
posted by Mitheral at 4:42 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dude, the biotech halflings were one of my favorite parts of Dark Sun. I do not recall the psychic dolphins, but that sounds sweet, too.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2012


xiw: "2e dark sun had surfboards and psychic dolphins and biotech halflings. "

Lots of people hate on Spelljammer, but I dug those space going beholders and hippo mercenaries.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Giff (the hippo mercenaries) were boss. They featured heavily in my last campaign.

Spelljammer always kinda seemed like a great idea. It was certainly one of the weirdest ideas TSR ever committed itself to.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 PM on January 10, 2012


That Cthulhu Dark "system" is pretty fascinating.

Bubbles and Troubles - First Commercial Cthulhu Dark Scenario
posted by Artw at 9:22 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making a party resource limit be offensive spell caster ability is, IMO, a really poor limit. It creates constant tension between the magic user who want to go nova and then rest and everyone else who wants to keep going and justifiably resents all the sitting around waiting for spell points to recharge. This is one of the things that 4e does better than any other edition.

Yep that is what I was trying to address with my idea, where the wizard would have more offensive casts available than previous editions, so other things would have time to build up to trigger a retreat and recharge (depleted healing, low ammunition, ailments that need outside help, items that need IDing, running out of light sources/food/spell components—ha ha j/k).

In practice what I see happen in 3E is that the rewards for resting a day or two are extreme; usually complete healing and the party emerges at full force, and the only cost is gameworld time which it is really on the DM to enforce penalties for. And often the penalties are ones the DM doesn't want to enforce, such as "okay, the bad guy escapes", or "well duh the army's still right there, you're surrounded in the night and captured", or "okay night encounter rolls if there's a fight it'll use up the whole rest of the session time", or "eesh, the bad guys go into high alert and fortify their position [rethink rest of adventure hurriedly]". So what I see in practice is that often the DM just pretends like that time doesn't happen or throws in a token result. And it has lead to the mentality that the mage just wants to nuke and rest because it can be gotten away with. Then other things that require going back to town (or the equivalent) become annoyances in comparison.

I don't think 4E really changes the cycle; it just enshrines and streamlines it. Six hours rest gets you back to 100% in most everything. What I'm after in 4E terms might be, for example, instead of daily powers you'd have "adventurely" powers you could use three times, but had to rest in town a week to recharge.

The goal of my idea is to discourage the "extended rest" and encourage more medium term planning.
posted by fleacircus at 10:04 PM on January 10, 2012


I hear you. I wept when I read the 4e version of Forgotten Realms.

I prefer the new Realms but think that the 4e realms were an utterly bonheaded move. There were many things I disliked about the Realms (like Elminster), but they were what made the Realms into its own setting. We already have the Points of Light setting - no point turning the Realms into a clone of that.

Also, I'd make the argument that crappier lore means the setting is less fun to think about, which is where, for me, adventures usually come from. I don't see why the rules you mention can't come with better lore.

Rules are lore. And as for the setting being less fun to think about, the parts you thought about were the cosmology? Not the city states, the defiling, the Sorceror Kings, and the rest of the things actually in Dark Sun? And none of the nearly irrelevant wallbangers like the aforementioned dolphins? The cosmology is nice to have in the background to know it's there but an impersonal cosmology is very seldom something I find directly inspiring. So I'd say the 4e fluff was an improvement for Dark Sun over the 2e fluff.

And fleacircus, in one of my campaigns I've redefined what an Extended Rest is. And if I were to ever run an older edition I'd enforce the house rule "Clerics only recover all their spells in a temple and wizards with time at a library or lab". Really keep the pressure up and prevent Rope Tricking and the like in almost exactly the way Gygax did.
posted by Francis at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2012


Lighten up, Francis. It's all of a piece. I can't help but get from the tone of your posts you think there is a right way and a wrong way to handle and think about this stuff. There isn't, dude.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:15 AM on January 11, 2012


Speaking of Gygax, after over 30 years of playing D&D, I must say that I've developed a large degree of dismay at some of the approaches he took to his and Arneson's great oeuvre. My biweekly gaming group still plays 1st Ed. on a regular basis, which is testament to its lasting power, surely, but we have to take significant efforts to de-Gygaxify the game.

I never knew the guy, but from playing by some of his early rules for so long, it leaves one with the distinct impression that, well, Gygax seemed like kind of a dick, to be honest. The 1st ed DMG is replete with examples of thinly veiled assholishness toward his players, limiting them for ego's sake, etc. Issues I wasn't aware of until I grew into maturity as a gamer.

Nevertheless, very grateful he and Arneson were able to get it off the ground. I owe them both a lot of enjoyment, despite my feelings about his gaming attitudes and pecadilloes.
posted by darkstar at 7:47 AM on January 11, 2012


Would you mind detailing some of the changes you've made, darkstar? I'm interested.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:12 AM on January 11, 2012


Well, having read what I've written, I probably was too harsh about Gygax. I really do appreciate his contributions to gaming, and I'd hate to be ungrateful.

Still, there are some things in 1st ed we have modified for game play that seemed necessary. Some of these are related to simplifying the game mechanics and others are for empowering players' imaginations. Some implement changes found in later editions, some don't.

1. Significantly reduced the impediments to multi-classing. Part of the awesomeness of using your imagination is being able to imagine all the possibilities: including the fact that your char, who has studied magic for several years, might actually want to learn how to pick a lock or swing a sword without forfeiting the ability to learn more magic in the future. Or how your fighter, if dexterous enough, might wish to learn how to sneak up on someone and backstab them, etc.

2. Significantly reduced the impediments to "cross-class" weapon usage. There should be nothing prohibiting a mage from picking up a sword and hacking at someone with it, even if he might have a reduction to-hit because of a lack of proficiency. Similarly, a druid might wish to pick up a metal pike at hand and run through an undead without somehow compromising her druidic ideals. Similarly, the Cleric's proscription from using bladed weapons derives from a very narrow interpretation of a narrow doctrine of warfare in human history; the idea that warrior priests in any D&D milieu would be limited in that way seems ridiculous.

3. Opened up studying and learning non-canonical spells when they make sense. We include cantrips/orisons, because they just make sense. There's no way a mage is going to study spellcasting for years and not learn how to mend and clean small things magically, etc. A druid should be able to Create Food and Water similar to a cleric, even if the sources for divine inspiration are different. A cleric should be able to cast Friends as a mage, even if the source inspirations are different. Mages should be able to cast Resist Fire. Druids should be able to summon Gust of Wind. Druids and clerics should be able to cast spells similar to fireball, though they manifest in different ways and at different levels. The cleric's fireball is a sphere of projected holy power that is effective only against those of opposite alignment and undead. The druid's higher level "fireball" is a sphere of projected life force drawn from nature that can overwhelm or stun undead, though very powerful undead that can withstand the attack are actually healed by the blow. Lots more of researching new possibilities, too, and we try not to limit them artificially. When game balance becomes an issue, we try to address it on the fly in as unobtrusive a manner as possible, but don't a priori foreclose the possibility of exploring the line of spell research.

4. Greatly reduce some of the braking systems 1st Ed have built into the rules. So, for example, we don't require people to wait a week or more to recover from negative hp if they've been magically healed. A day or two of rest may be appropriate to deal with the shock to the body, but the whole point of magical healing is that it doesn't rely on our expectations of duration of natural healing. I've had a character that was reduced to -8 before being healed completely, but still had to spend the next game week lying in the back of a wagon hauled around by the party while they continued adventuring. That was a LOAD of a fun session for me, thank you.

Similarly, the encumbrance issue: 1st ed doesn't have anything like a Heward's Handy Haversack, so you either have a Portable Hole (an incredibly valuable item) or a Bag of Holding (still quite expensive). That means that encumbrance with coins is reached pretty darn quickly, especially with the ridiculous suggestion that 10 coins equals a pound (more on that later). So we introduce magic items that seem they would be quite commonly crafted in such a milieu - a small "Keraptis Cabinet" that basically functions as a Leomund's Chest without the absurd F.U. to players of possibly having your loot mysteriously disappear; also a Beltpouch of Holding that can carry the equivalent of 1 cubic foot of volume, a maximum load of 100 pounds and weighs 5 pounds when full (essentially, a mini Bag of Holding). The latter is easily in reach of a second- or third-level character's ability to purchase and would let him carry thousands of coins comfortably.

5. Speaking of which, coin encumbrance and value is generally overhauled to make more sense, overall. The idea that a coin of the real would weigh a tenth of a pound is absurd in any milieu. The fat-assed coins standardized in 3rd ed. surely would weigh that much, but seriously. I standardize on a coin size of a U.S. nickel, which is a great reference, but also has historical precedence (e.g., the Greek silver tetradrachm was almost exactly that size). I have a leather pouch of 500 nickels I sometimes bring out to allow players to get an idea of the size/weight. Without getting too detailed about variable metal densities, we allow 50 coins per pound and roughly 4000 of these coins per cubic foot. It works out well for the Beltpouch of Holding I mentioned above. For what it's worth, we also use a metric scale for coin values and introduce brass coins as a value below copper. What can I say, some players really like coin loot!

6. We don't do Morale rolls or Armor Class Adjustments for weapon damage. The former can be omitted if the DM uses some decent common sense. The latter, while perhaps reflecting more realism, really bogs down game play. We use a simplified AC system (more like 3rd ed.) and have introduced a few skill rolls; Perception is a very useful one, since it's somewhat more difficult to constantly role-play being attentive in an imaginary environment when you're having fun around the table. We greatly simplify the grappling rules, too, which means our players are much more likely to engage in it! :)

There are lots of other things, but they tend to follow a general two-pronged line of reasoning: does it make sense and does it make the game more playable/more fun?

I'd stress that this is just our little gaming group of half a dozen or so, mostly older, players. The EVD&D Meetup has two hundred members and they play all kinds of editions and many other RPG systems (as does our group) so this isn't prescriptive, at all. We've recently been playing a Witchcraft campaign which has some very nice aspects to it. We're thinking of porting our chars in from a D&D campaign into a Witchcraft setting and continuing the adventure. Should be fun!
posted by darkstar at 9:43 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gravity? Not really. Gravity is highest at the surface.

HAY GUYS. Guess what I did. I emailed a certain astrophysicist (I won't publish whom because he didn't expressly give me permission to republish this, not that I asked). BUT, for your entertainment and education, my email, with his replies in italics.

--------------

This question is meant to be entertaining and I hope you don't find it irritating. Please disregard if you do, and understand that this was not my intent.

DAMN YOU FOR WASTING MY TIME!!!!!!!

(kidding) `Sounds like fun.


I've been having a discussion online with some people about the use of a "gate" spell in Dungeons and Dragons to open a small-diameter portal (they called it a pinprick) with one end in "the center of the sun" and the other in front of their enemies, with the idea being that the enemy would get annihilated by the outpouring energy.

Yeah, the flood of gamma rays would turn them into a hulk of disintegrated biomass. (c:

I thought that gravity would be a larger concern, further because it would be omnidirectional. Of course I realize that there aren't any situations in nature analogous to such a portal, but the other party is arguing that gravity would not be an issue, because:

"Gravity? Not really. Gravity is highest at the surface. Even if you are talking about a Sol-type star, the surface gravity there is only about 28Gs. If you open a portal to the exact center of the sun, there's no gravity issue (though a whole lot of pressure!)"

Well, the other party is right, although he/she isn't expressing it well. (1) A sudden exposure to 28 gees of acceleration won't kill you (if you're positioned carefully) but it will put you out of commission for a while. So they are downplaying the shock of sudden acceleration. However, (2) at the centre of any spherically symmetric distribution of mass, all the gravitational forces balance. Newton was the first to derive this. So there would be many gravitational pulls, but they would balance to zero. (3) "The whole lot of pressure" is an understatement, and don't forget heat. The jet of gas that would emerge from the pinprick nozzle, with a temperature of 16 million degrees C, would wipe out anything in its path.

Would you care to rule on this? I know it's fairly nonsensical but I just feel like suddenly reducing the distance to the sun to near-zero would have major consequences, whether the portal was at the surface or the center.

You're right, although if the portal was opened at the Sun's surface (and if it's only a pinprick), then although the gas temperature is about 5500 degrees C, the pressure is extremely low, so the air in your location would flow into it. There would be a blinding light coming from the pinprick, though. And if gravity operates across the boundary, then the acceleration would be disorienting at the very least.

That's a problem, though, if gravity works across the boundary and eliminates the distance. Gravity would not be 'focused' through the hole, but would be a transformation in the local spacetime. If you opened that portal, then the Earth would feel a gravitational force as if it was at the surface of the Sun, and everything would be thrown out of kilter. Somebody on the other side of the Earth would feel an 'extra' pull of close to 28 gees too. Worldwide catastrophe.

posted by neuromodulator at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2012 [123 favorites]


Neuromodulator I think you just found the DM for the "something goes terribly wrong and spells start to follow the laws of physics" campaign I've always wanted to do. Also flagged as fantastic.
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


darkstar: Similarly, the Cleric's proscription from using bladed weapons derives from a very narrow interpretation of a narrow doctrine of warfare in human history; the idea that warrior priests in any D&D milieu would be limited in that way seems ridiculous.

Actually, I feel that clerics are not restricted enough when it comes to roleplaying the favor of deities made manifest by most higher-level spell casts. Clerics have taken up a lifestyle proscribed by rules above and beyond that of the laity. And when they break those rules, the DM should be willing to play god with the consequences.

Granted multiclassing was easier to roleplay after 1E.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2012


I totally agree that the role-playing may well restrict clerics far more than the rules...but in my opinion, that's where the restriction should originate. Not from an arbitrary rule that says all warrior priests are prohibited from bladed weapons. Indeed, role-playing some warrior priests may mean that their only approved weapon might, in fact, be the specific one used by their god, or something totemic, like the jawbone of an ass, etc.
posted by darkstar at 10:13 AM on January 11, 2012


On re-reading it, yeah, my earlier comment was misleading. I should have said not that "the idea that warrior priests in any D&D milieu would be limited in that way seems ridiculous" and rather that "the idea that ALL warrior priests IN GENERAL would be limited in that way seems ridiculous."
posted by darkstar at 10:15 AM on January 11, 2012


I agree that the specific "no bladed weapons" is a mistake-too closely tied to a very narrow historical milieu, etc. But I think some restriction is called for-otherwise, clerics become pretty omnicompetent. A class that can fight and cast spells is overpowered unless restricted in some fashion.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2012


Oh, I don't doubt other systems could run such situations well. I certainly can in other systems. My argument is that 4e makes it easier for a DM to reach the standard where he/she can cope with that sort of mayhem.

Don't really see what this based on. My Savage Worlds anecdote was of my 4th or 5th session running the system. I have only played 4e a couple of times, but it didn't seem to be making life magically easy for the DM, and left a lot more between fights rules free "hand waving" than SW or BRP would, both of which are definitely a world easier to teach to players. But "whatever works" is the real Rule Zero, because if you don't do that for yourself and your players, you won't have a game.
posted by howfar at 10:43 AM on January 11, 2012


"something goes terribly wrong and spells start to follow the laws of physics"

Funny you should say this, because I spent the bus ride to work this morning thinking about writing a comic about a typical comicbook world with super heroes, but the protagonist is an ordinary human who is trying to figure out the physical/metaphysical/theological implications of the superheroes of his/her world. I didn't make any connection between that idea and this D&D thread, though.

Anyway, for the record, I think FatherDagon's answer about volition being requisite is the technically correct answer, but I'd still be tempted to bend that rule as a DM in order to suggest that, "Yes, you can play with spells in creative ways, but no, the result won't always be what you expect." I guess world-destruction was a little overboard, though.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:55 AM on January 11, 2012


World Destruction
posted by Chrysostom at 11:16 AM on January 11, 2012


Neuromodulator, that is very very awesome.
posted by Think_Long at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2012


That's a problem, though, if gravity works across the boundary and eliminates the distance. Gravity would not be 'focused' through the hole, but would be a transformation in the local spacetime. If you opened that portal, then the Earth would feel a gravitational force as if it was at the surface of the Sun, and everything would be thrown out of kilter. Somebody on the other side of the Earth would feel an 'extra' pull of close to 28 gees too. Worldwide catastrophe.

Haha.

"I cast Finkleworth's Pinprick Of Annihilation! Wait, is that the one at the centre of the sun or the surface? I always get that confused with OH SHI-"
*planet destroyed*
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:14 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


neuromodulator: "Yeah, the flood of gamma rays would turn them into a hulk of disintegrated biomass."

let the sunshine in
posted by idiopath at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2012


Alternatively: "the flood of gamma rays would turn them into a hulk"
posted by jedicus at 12:52 PM on January 11, 2012


Finkleworth's Pinprick Of Annihilation

Finkleworth never forgave the Mage Academy for that one...
posted by griphus at 12:58 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thinking about the many ways a wizard with some imagination and no grasp of the larger consequences could obliterate his planet, or even his entire universe, I have come up with

"the strong misanthropic principle"

the reason that magic does not exist is because if it did there would be none of us left to see it

tl;dr: a wizard undid it
posted by idiopath at 2:22 PM on January 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


ENTIRE PLANETARY MASS CONVERTED TO OWLBEARS.
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on January 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


Artw, that has me grinning like an idiot.

IMPORTANT FOLLOW-UP:

-------------

Please feel free to identify me. I have a nioghranite-proxy fjelj-5 field generator set up around my perimeter in case anyone upset about my answer tries a hostile interdimensional pinprick.

Cheers,

Jaymie

Dr. Jaymie Matthews
Professor
Astronomy Undergraduate Advisor
Astronomy Colloquium Chair
Department of Physics & Astronomy
University of British Columbia

posted by neuromodulator at 2:42 PM on January 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


Jumping back about half a thread, one of the things that made D&D so dominant was heavy success in multi-media licensing with almost a dozen explicitly licensed computer games (two of which are often cited as being the best CRPGs produced), at least a score of novels, at least three long-running periodicals, toys, a cartoon, and at least one movie.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:44 PM on January 11, 2012


the "something goes terribly wrong and spells start to follow the laws of physics" campaign I've always wanted to do.

On the other end of things, I've lately been kicking around the idea of a homebrew best described as "something goes terribly wrong and adventuring starts to follow the laws of economics and politics".

I think I would have to end up calling such a campaign "Freelance Murder Hobos" if I ever actually run it.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2012


More on Horizon, and it's of possible interest to the magic conversation:

In short, what is HORIZON about?

In my mind, I call it “fantasy science.”

In fantasy, technology is discarded, magic is embraced, and the whys and wherefores of magic are often handwaved or ignored. In science fiction, technology is embraced, and often thought through very carefully as a foundation for character conflicts. Then there’s science fantasy, where technology is name-checked and invoked, but where the details are handwaved or ignored. To forestall any potential arguments, I love all three of these, but they’re different things.

With HORIZON’s ‘fantasy science’ I want to take the presumptions of fantasy–that magic exists and that people can learn it and do awesome stuff with it–but think them through with the care applied to hard SF. Consider the common trope of ‘emotion-powered magic.’ HORIZON’s going to have that (that’s why ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ are numerically statted) but consider what it means to have physical effects based on feelings. Suddenly, what is (in our world) a blurry and self-reported mess becomes quantifiable. “Sorry,” the prince can say, “I know you love me — you used a love-based spell to lift up seventeen pounds of rock, after all. But SHE used the same spell and lifted twenty-five pounds. I’m forced to conclude that her feelings are almost 33% more genuine!”

posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've lately been kicking around the idea of a homebrew best described as "something goes terribly wrong and adventuring starts to follow the laws of economics and politics".

Monsters & Other Childish Things is an rpg I'm itching to try about children with monster playmates. This was one person's campaign:
...a campaign called The Dungeon Monster's Guide, where the PCs are the children of a stereotypical medieval village fated to live near a terrible dungeon... except that the village's entire economy is based in selling things to adventurers, and the kids have befriended the monsters who live in the dungeon.
posted by Zed at 3:08 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I was a little girl, I adored the D&D cartoon, but never actually played the game. Didn't even know anybody who did. When I was 22, my then-boyfriend (now the mr. epersonae) got me started playing with some of our colleagues at the children's museum. (We even played IN the museum for a while.) That was 2E; I DM'd for a while, really enjoyed playing. We seriously resisted 3rd edition, put it off for so long that we basically just skipped to 3.5. Have played that off and on, mostly with a small group of friends. Now I'm in two different games, until recently three.

Mr. epersonae, FWIW, started playing in the late 70s when he was a kid. Some of the people we've played with in our 30s are the same guys. He is a SERIOUS rules nerd, with a lingering fondness for Basic, 1st edition, and AD&D. We have lots of old rule books at home, although curiously not much of the 2nd that I started with. Not much 4E either; I think we'll be skipping it possibly in favor of 5E or Pathfinder or an old-school system.

Am I alone in hating THAC0? Maybe it's because it came out in my "I hate math soooo much" middle-school years, but that shit just bugged me.

I HATE THAC0 WITH THE BURNING HATRED OF 1000 SUNS. (Including the gravity.) I think about playing old school periodically, and always have to add the "without goddamn THAC0." And I was a college graduate when I learned it!

Hey, now. Arguing over the resolution order of the instant, enchantment, summon and sorcery simultaneously put into play prepared a generation of young people for law school. [see also:] D&D with lawyers and scripture students.

True story: one of the 2E games I was in was a semi-public game at the library. We were joined for a while by a pair of law school students who had been told by their professor that they should try role-paying games. What I remember best is that one of the gals wanted to play a lizardman SOOOO bad. Also, that game included the guy who owns the game shop in The Gamers. (He didn't own it at the time.)

I would buy a whole other book of just those [random] tables if it existed.

I present to you: Toolbox. I have the first edition, and it is one of my most favorite things ever. You want a random item on a table in a dungeon? You got it. The name of a female dwarf? Yep. Today's weather conditions? Indeed. Plus some actual (3.5) stat blocks for random monsters, villians, NPC.

12 years between 1st and 2nd edition. 11 years between 2nd and 3rd. 8 years between 3rd and 4th. 5 years between 4th and 5th. At this rate, new editions will be published weekly by the time the 18th edition is released.

Kinda like Firefox. :)

I'm surprised no one has ragged on Essentials yet, so I might as well.

I've managed to avoid buying any 4E books despite being in a game for almost a year and a half, borrowing books from others, using someone else's DDI subscription, etc.) But I was given a copy of the Essentials handbook, and as a quick in-game reference, it's pretty good. Was helpful in figuring out how dead I was in our last adventure. (Dead. Very very dead.)

One is pretty vanilla 4E, the other (DM'd by mr. epersonae) is running on a theory that there's a way to "nest" all the rules inside of each other. It's a bit mind-bending, but it mostly works. We were also playing a D20 modern/future/urban arcana, which was kind of odd. I think I'm not really that into RPGs in non-high fantasy settings.

The plethora of options, both for character generation and for stuff to do in combat, was probably my least favorite thing about 3.5. Paradox of Choice FTL. 4E has some nice and some annoying simplifications; the reduction in randomness (as I've experienced it) gets on my nerves. (See also: Toolbox!) I find it hilarious -- in a bad way -- that my hand-rolled attributes get flagged in the DDI character generator as being too good. The first time I wanted to drink a healing potion and found out I had to use a healing surge, and I didn't have any left, I almost stormed out. I also found I don't quite like the character sheet options, and spend most combats running off of an spreadsheet I built myself. (I like doing my own character sheets; my favorite was a stack of index cards that had just the right info for various situations. Oddly enough, I'm kinda meh about the 4E power cards.)

What I like about the older rules is both their idiosyncracies (an elven assassin will kill you w/out you knowing it 95% of the time! 6 point font! and the art....) and the simpler flow of combat. I found a 2nd edition pamphlet a while ago and thought the list of what happens in a round to be a thing of beauty. Some day I will run something like Swords and Wizardry.

ENTIRE PLANETARY MASS CONVERTED TO OWLBEARS.

YES. Aside: I was explaining to mr. epersonae about my 4E game, which he isn't in but might join tonight, and that our party is known as the Company of the Owlbear because of our sweet owlbear coats. Only we didn't actually kill the owlbears ourselves. We found the pelts in a cart belonging to a party of dwarves who we'd just killed, possibly in error, or we might have had to take the pelts in exchange for the money in the dwarves' cart from a gnome trader who we needed information from, and who had been planning to do that trade with the dwarves. (Also in that encounter: a brand-new character got killed by our wizard who'd just cast some sort of fireball thingy on the area where the dwarves were...and where the monk was fighting them. Yipes.) Tonight's our first game since late September, because of schedules and whatnot, and now I'm really excited.
posted by epersonae at 3:42 PM on January 11, 2012


A thought - RPG books as PDFs suck on tablets, but what about the app-like format some magazine formats are using? That might actually make some sense, especially with the interactive possibilities.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


and at least one movie

There are two so far. Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God, which was a direct-to-DVD release. There is apparently a third movie in the works, Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness. The rumors are that it will be released on SyFy and timed to coincide with some kind of supplement release.

I've only seen the first one, which was pretty bad as I recall. Luckily, the audio died for a few minutes partway through it, so we all got a free movie pass out of the bargain.
posted by jedicus at 3:45 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure most of that stuff came after D&D was pretty well established.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on January 11, 2012


Pretty sure most of that stuff came after D&D was pretty well established.

The movies did for sure. The cartoon series was fairly early, though, predating 2nd edition.

I've lately been kicking around the idea of a homebrew best described as "something goes terribly wrong and adventuring starts to follow the laws of economics and politics".

Check out the Econonomicon section of The Awesome Tomes [pdf], several sections of which basically amount to seriously overthinking the economic, political, and philosophical implications of the D&D rules and the stock setting (the rest of it is basically homebrew rules-fixes and extra classes and spells). There are several other sections that would probably be of interest.
posted by jedicus at 3:54 PM on January 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Economicon," rather.
posted by jedicus at 3:57 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot recommend the Economicon stuff highly enough. It made the rounds of my game groups a couple years back and it really changed the way we thought about the large-scale ramifications of having an essentially that basically depends on magical murderers for hire.
posted by absalom at 7:24 AM on January 12, 2012


Huh, where did this Tomes stuff come from, anyway? Any background?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2012


The second movie is worth any D&D fan's time. Though it's low-budget and hardly high art, Wrath of the Dragon God was far, far superior to the theatrically-released D&D movie, which is easily in the top five most laughable things I've seen in a theater.

dear god, I saw THAT in the theater

There are many moments in the second movie where you feel like you're actually watching a cinematic version of somebody's campaign. There are basically zero such moments in the first film, so distracting is its awfulness. I caught a few minutes of the first film recently in a hotel room and I seriously asked myself what consequences I might face if I smashed the TV set.
posted by AugieAugustus at 8:01 AM on January 12, 2012


Yeah, the second D&D movie was pretty good (for direct-to-DVD standards), and definitely stuck to the mythology better. It felt like a bunch of people who actually like D&D got to do what they wanted, knowing that they wouldn't have to please studio execs who needed to make it into Happy Meals and rides at Six Flags.

Hell, the scene where they recruit the rogue into the party involves the rogue being double-crossed by a bunch of other rogues and letting them die in a fire trap. It was hilarious.

Also, one of the characters pronounces "goblins" as "goo-blins" and it is adorable.
posted by griphus at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2012


Oh, and, hey, it looks like The Book of Vile Darkness is going to be directed by the same guy!
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2012


Wow, the Awesome Tomes truly are awesome...tomes. Really good stuff. It's the best kind of overthinking. Borderline FPP material unto itself.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:46 AM on January 12, 2012


Huh, where did this Tomes stuff come from, anyway? Any background?

The Tome of Awesome homepage and this forum should tell you what you need to know.
posted by jedicus at 8:54 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Borderline FPP material unto itself.

Yeah, if I could find an HTML version I would do it. A single-link PDF wouldn't make a very good FPP.
posted by jedicus at 8:55 AM on January 12, 2012


The best part of the theatrical release for me was watching a half-dozen CGI dragons attack the tower accompanied by a loud snore from my partner, who had fallen asleep.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A single-link PDF wouldn't make a very good FPP.

What? Why?
posted by griphus at 8:57 AM on January 12, 2012


What? Why?

People don't really like PDFs in general, and it's not the most convenient format for browsing, especially on mobile devices. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my reading of MeFites' likely reactions.
posted by jedicus at 9:09 AM on January 12, 2012


I'd favorite it.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:20 AM on January 12, 2012


I'm pretty sure the (absolutely inevitable regardless of what you post) complaints will be outweighed by "holy shit look at this thing." You want me to do it?
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2012


Yeah, a post based on a PDF is fine if it is a totally awesome PDF. Some people do not like PDFs, and that's fine, de gustibus and all that.
posted by cortex at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2012


Of course it's a totally awesome PDF. It's right in the name.
posted by jedicus at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gloominess on D&D from Robot Viking: Musings on Wizards of the Coast, D&D and Failure, Part 1

Unsure how they are measuring failure there, since D&D has massive exposure and is presumably making $$$ these days.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2012


Unsure how they are measuring failure there, since D&D has massive exposure and is presumably making $$$ these days.

WotC laid off 3 D&D staff in June and a couple more last month. So while they still have a commanding share (of a dwindling market), they apparently feel that D&D doesn't justify much staff. (Obviously we can't tell from the outside exactly what's going on, but, from what we can see, it doesn't look like they're acting like D&D's booming.)
posted by Zed at 11:10 AM on January 12, 2012


WotC probably just needs to lay people off every now and then to maintain their Chaotic Evil alignment.
posted by Artw at 11:12 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gloominess on D&D from Robot Viking: Musings on Wizards of the Coast, D&D and Failure, Part 1

Call me crazy but when you're asking "Why not just sell people a small section of wall to bang their heads against instead?" at the end of the article, that seems like it might just be the answer to the question "Why is WotC having such a hard time selling D&D?" that you were asking at the beginning of the article...

And yeah, jedicus, the Awesome Tomes are indeed awesome, thanks for that link! Some of it's a little more high-magic-y and epic-level than I was thinking (and tbh I'm not totally convinced it's quite that easy to set up a sweatshop of djinni cranking out 15,000gp magic items of every imaginable size and shape, either) but a lot of it should be really useful. And FWIW I think it'd make a fine FPP too.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2012


From the Robot Viking article...

... long-time Wizards’ employees have been laid off...

Or, as the rest of us like to call it, December.
posted by no relation at 4:10 PM on January 12, 2012


I'm sort of suprised it isn't all freelancers.

FWIW their web team is hiring, but it;s in fucking Renton.
posted by Artw at 4:11 PM on January 12, 2012


Oh, and: D&D 4E Comment Thread Bingo!
posted by Artw at 4:12 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Late to the thread, but there's still a very interesting discussion to be had here about the strange choice of publishing model that WotC seem to have adopted:

they should re-release some of the older material, with updated play notes and advice on how to run campaigns.

what people need, by and large, is creative content. Campaigns. We basically get how to run campaigns, and good DMs can improvise or play around with a loose enough plot to keep things off rails. But most of us don't have the time or talent to create campaigns. Rather than inventing all new content for 4e (or, heaven help us, 5e), WotC could probably make a mint just updating their existing content to work with the new rules.

I agree entirely with these sentiments (and I've also been happy to see the "old-school" open-source stuff starting to gain steam), but there's still another aspect of this question that I haven't really seen discussed much, not that I have made an exhaustive survey. It seems like there's been a big shift in the model for how D&D is published, away from worldbuilding and toward a planned-obsolescence model, seemingly patterned on the worst features of the software industry. And I wonder why this happened, or continues to happen. Why does a new D&D book need to make old ones obsolete, rather than adding to what you can do with them? That is, why has WotC decided to be in the business of publishing new rules that replace old ones rather than new supplements or sourcebooks that extend old ones? I remember (yes, I know, nostalgia) the height of the 2nd Edition period as a flowering forth of a zillion new imaginary worlds, settings full of richly rendered and weird fantasy gods and characters and monsters and treasures, where every two months you could go buy a new box full of the maps of a thousand-year-old lost city or a set of new spell-galleons to sail into space. And in this model each new book or box really gave you something new, adding to your gaming possibilities (okay, aside from those Complete Fighter's/Halfling's/Whatever's Handbooks) rather than rendering already-owned books obsolete. And this model — call it the fiction publishing model — still does have a built-in motive for players to buy new stuff: the history of each of the worlds advances and changes, with world-scale events changing the politics and magical landscape and so on, so if you want your characters to play in the same world as the novels, fight the new invading evil armies, etc., you still have to buy new books.

Was this book-publishing-like model really so much less economically viable that it's worth all the fragmentation of competing with your own older products, alienating players and making them feel cheated, and generally acting like Microsoft releasing a new format-incompatible version of Word? Does the totally-new-rules treadmill really make that much more money?
posted by RogerB at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does the totally-new-rules treadmill really make that much more money?

I imagine the business case is that if they if they come out with new core rules, they can sell you a second updated-to-work-with-new-rules copy of each of the sourcebooks/supplements you already own. I don't know how that's panning out for them with regard to pissing off their customers, but it's probably working out ok for them if they keep doing it, right?
posted by juv3nal at 4:35 PM on January 12, 2012


I suspect the list of people in the RPG world making more money than them is an extremely short one.
posted by Artw at 4:37 PM on January 12, 2012


I suspect the list of people in the RPG world making more money than them is an extremely short one.

Right, but that's mostly just the brand, isn't it? I mean, pretty much anything you stamp "D&D" on and sell in Barnes & Noble will probably make more money than everything else in the RPG world. Why work this hard at alienating the repeat customers if you've already got that extra mass-market appeal going for you?
posted by RogerB at 5:15 PM on January 12, 2012


That is, why has WotC decided to be in the business of publishing new rules that replace old ones rather than new supplements or sourcebooks that extend old ones?

It's great to look back nostalgically on the business model that TSR was operating with at the height of 2nd edition AD&D but at the end of the day, that business model left TSR facing insolvency, unable to pay printing bills, and is ultimately why WotC was able to buy them out in the first place. So I dunno that the planned-obsolescence-treadmill is that big a moneymaker (and too-frequent-rules-updates is one of the things that drove me out of WH40k, y'know in addition to minor details like "going away to college") but it's clear that the "publish one set of rules and then an endless number of campaign settings and adventures" business model didn't work out for TSR in the long run.

I've also heard that back when 3rd edition was in full swing, WotC made a very conscious decision to move away from publishing adventures and worldbuilding stuff and towards publishing class splatbooks, etc. - character building options, basically, and anything else they published needed to have some character building options (new feats or whatever) in there somewhere because they felt that while D&D players was a big enough market, D&D dungeonmasters was too small a market to be sustainable. Now, personally I think they underestimated the chunk of the market that's players that will buy a cool adventure anyways, or (as has been amply represented in this thread) folks that don't have a gaming group but still love to read and think about this stuff anyways. Obviously it's not like I have access to WotC's financial records, but it does seem lately like they've been less strict about that model and more willing to put out campaign settings and adventures.

But really, I assume (as everyone else here seems to) that D&D would turn a profit pretty much no matter what; it's just a question of how much of a profit and whether it's enough to satisfy their Hasbro overlords.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:27 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Argh, I miss too many threads. I've been building one on the 4E/5E transition for a couple of days now.
posted by JHarris at 2:19 AM on January 13, 2012


I've also heard that back when 3rd edition was in full swing, WotC made a very conscious decision to move away from publishing adventures and worldbuilding stuff and towards publishing class splatbooks, etc. - character building options, basically, and anything else they published needed to have some character building options (new feats or whatever) in there somewhere because they felt that while D&D players was a big enough market, D&D dungeonmasters was too small a market to be sustainable.

I have a theory that most of the big first-generation RPG companies went through a similar evolution:

Phase 1 -- the designer finds his little homebrew rules are a hit with his* gaming groups and so he decides to publish them. The game gets some success and the new company begins to publish more adventures, supplements etc.

Phase 2 -- At some point the company gets so big that the designer gradually ceases design work and spends more and more time running the company, something for which he probably has no training whatsoever. Others begin doing design work

Phase 3 -- the business professionals hired to manage the burgeoning company force the designer/founder out and they start producing far more polished product, but the new regime has no idea how these game things work. The company flounders and gamers move on after the quality begins falling.

Phase 4 -- the company goes under, or changes so drastically it is unrecognizable.

TSR certainly went through this. I was a devout D&D player in the late seventies / early eighties, when it was just moving into phase 2. The modules looked sharper than they had a few years earlier, there were lots of new products, but Gygax was spending all his time in board meetings and marketing presentations while not finishing The Temple of Elemental Evil or Castle Greyhawk. By the time I had moved on to other games, 25 years ago, they were into Phase 3. Lorraine Williams was running the show, and TSR was turning its vast energies to all kinds of Buck Rogers games and novels**.

A TSR writer told me once of a marketing meeting he attended in the phase 3 years. The suits told the talent, "We have been looking at the product line and we see room for growth here. For example, we sell a 'DM screen,' right? But our research shows us that for every DM, there are four to six players, so clearly we have to start selling player screens as well." The designers in the room protested that the idea made no sense, but the suits said, "It is in the summer catalogue, at the printer right now. You guys have two weeks to put them together."


*And it seems it was always 'his' and 'he.'

**The fact the Buck Rogers had been syndicated as a newspaper strip by Williams' grandfather sixty years earlier and she owned the rights surely played no part in this new direction.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Good grief, y'all. I just stumbled across "The Dungeon Masters", a documentary (available on Hulu) last night. Has anyone else seen this -- it's not altogether complimentary in its depiction of gamers as somewhat dysfunctional.
posted by darkstar at 10:24 AM on January 13, 2012


Has anyone else seen this -- it's not altogether complimentary in its depiction of gamers as somewhat dysfunctional.

Aw, that's nothing compared to how film-makers get portrayed in my Documentarian: the Unemployed role-playing game.
posted by Zed at 10:36 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW, robocop is bleeding, that is surely one of the best FIRST! posts ever.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2012


So I've been a rough attempt at catch-up on this thread... and re Owlbears, I just want to state that when I found out that officially Owlbears were no longer produced by a mad wizard but had a wandered in from the Fey dimension or something equally stupid D&D died for me.

(I seem to remember my very first mefi comment was about Owlbears... Nerdcore4Life!)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:20 PM on January 13, 2012


Owlbears were created by a mad wizard and STFU anyone who says otherwise.
posted by Artw at 12:35 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


TEACH THE CONTROVERSY
posted by griphus at 1:09 PM on January 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


We should start an owlbear truther campaign.
posted by neuromodulator at 6:34 PM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Good grief, y'all. I just stumbled across "The Dungeon Masters", a documentary (available on Hulu) last night. Has anyone else seen this -- it's not altogether complimentary in its depiction of gamers as somewhat dysfunctional.

Yeah, the 'lookit these sadnerds' tone was grating as all hell, but my breaking point was round about 7 minutes in when there's a close shot of someone using a straight up Sharpie permanent marker on a Battlemat. NOOOOOOOO

Also, the DM in that segment was just kind of a smirking prick, talking about how people take it so seriously when he pulls some jerkass Tomb of Horrors 'oh ho that doorway was actually a sphere of annihilation' shit to TPK a group of characters that people had been playing for near to a decade. Guess what folks - Gygax may have been instrumental to the start of the game and the lore that came from that era, but he kind of pathologically hated players. If you pull a Gygax on your players, be prepared to either follow it immediately with 'haha just fucking with you guys, let's keep playing' or find your campaigns completely devoid of players shortly thereafter.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:01 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems terribly fitting that tomes was typeset with Latex.
posted by ianhattwick at 10:43 PM on January 24, 2012


I ran a Basic game on Saturday, when one of the players in our weekend 4e+ game had a cold. Thanks to Flunkie's comment, I was able to manage THAC0 by not actually trying to calculate it, but using the table on the DM screen.* We had a ton of fun, too. It's fiddly in parts, but overall so much more simple than anything else I've played; also quite a bit more dangerous....

1) We get to the end of the first combat, a random encounter with a half-dozen goblins. A couple of PCs have taken damage. One player asks, "So how do we heal?" Somebody flips through the book, after the 1st level cleric notes that he doesn't have any spells yet. "You go back to town and rest to get back 1-3 HP/day...or hope that you run into some healing potions."

2) One of the thieves goes down the hallway where I know there's a pit trap. I roll to see if he detects it: nope. I roll to see if it activates: yep. I describe him falling into the pit, then roll damage: 5pts. He looks down at the character sheet, and he only has 4 HP. I killed a player with a pit. He was pretty cool about it, though, and they had an NPC ("John the Peasant") who he was able to take over for the last little bit of the evening.

Planning on playing LOTS more basic/expert now. :)

* Mr. e and I have a bunch of old D&D materials, including 2 copies of the Basic (red) book, and a very nice (basic? 1st edition?) DM screen.
posted by epersonae at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]




I killed a player with a pit.

Basic, Advanced and 2e has lots of effectively "Save vs. Death" rolls. IE: situations where a _single_ failed roll results in death or even sometimes just excellent rolling by adversaries, even of a character at full strength.

One of the nice things about 4e is it takes a lot of rolls to actually perma die and generally other members of your party can bring you back from the brink fairly easily. I can't think of any power that has the effect Save or Die.
posted by Mitheral at 3:24 PM on January 30, 2012


That's one of the things that I hate about 4E, Mitheral. While older editions' propensity to kill characters based on single rolls is maybe a little excessive, at least the game feels dangerous.

I've been running a 3E game, but using a 1E adventure lately. At first it seems like it'll run without much adjustment, and there were some close calls near the beginning, but it isn't too many levels (about 4th-5th level actually) before all the many advantages 3E characters begin to overwhelm the setting. I'm going to have to make adjustments to keep it playable for them.
posted by JHarris at 6:18 PM on January 30, 2012


My very first D&D character had 1HP... that was fun
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


The players said they appreciated how much more dangerous everything was in the Basic game, that they had to really think about what they were doing. The thief who didn't die had only 1HP; he spent the evening hiding in the back/middle, then moving up and stabbing dead goblins while yelling "take that!" Which, admittedly, was pretty hilarious.
posted by epersonae at 10:19 AM on January 31, 2012


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