Friday, September 7, 2012

Some Current Observations on D&D Next - Or "Where the F' Has Grumpy Gone?"

A "Not So Grumpy Dwarf by Stephan Alvarado
FYI - The Grumpy Dwarf is still around - he just isn't looking at D&D Next much. Why? Because Mike (and Monte, who is long gone) is no longer pulling game design concepts out of his ass. WotC is no longer promising the world and the stars - their design goals seem to be closer to home.  Heck, even the current posting by Mike makes sense.

Yes, I dared to say it. Mike Mearls Makes Sense. Say that five times fast.

Lets look at Mikes' "Pearls of Wisdom" from this past Monday (yes, I am making light of it, but his observations are spot on. Just giving credit where credit is due):

The rules shall make things easier for the DM. This might seem like a funny concept, but it’s something that is a huge distinguishing point between RPGs and other types of games. In an RPG, the rules should help move things along, serve as a useful tool for the DM, make things clear and easy to understand for players, and enable the sort of creative, unpredictable, and evocative gaming that has kept tabletop RPGs going for 38 years.

The rules guiding a good RPG fade into the background. Once you learn the rules, you can apply them logically and easily. A good rule is easy to extend to situations that sit near it, giving the DM an easy tool to cover the gaps and any weird situations that arise. The rule doesn’t call attention to itself, disrupt the game, or cause extra work.

An RPG rule’s greatest goal is to ensure that the game is better for its presence. If you didn’t have that rule, you’d want it in the game.

This point is important because RPGs are the most open-ended form of game. The DM needs to make judgment calls and apply the rules, and having rules that are easy to extend or modify makes that much simpler.

I sincerely doubt that D&D Next will "my kind of RPG", but if Mike can accomplish this, he'll go a long way to bringing players back from all the editions of the D&D.

The rules shall balance character options, within reason. D&D gives players classes, races, spells, and other options to build characters. Although the game isn’t competitive, it’s supposed to give players a chance to take on a role as an adventurer in a fantasy setting. Some people want to be wizards, and others want to be warriors. The game should ensure that no single option, or small group of them, completely overshadows the rest. The game is about the adventures of fighters, rogues, wizards, and clerics, not a wizard and his or her lackeys.

In other words, the game shouldn’t punish someone for deciding that he or she wants a character like Sir Lancelot rather than someone based on Raistlin Majere (or vice versa). Whether your DM runs an absolutely killer dungeon or hands out artifacts like candy, the characters should each have the same basic opportunities to contribute to the adventure, stand out, and feel effective.

On the other hand, perfect balance is a complete myth. If people want to build broken characters, they are going to find ways to bend the system and options to completely outdo everyone else. When a broken combination appears, R&D needs to judge whether it’s a pervasive enough problem that it requires errata or another major fix. In the meantime, we can give DMs guidance and advice on dealing with overpowered characters. We can also issue suggested changes to tide groups over. It’s fine for players to find powerful combinations. R&D needs to determine if those combos are powerful enough to distort the game or transform one character class into the absolutely most powerful option (This is Grumpy sticking my head in to the conversation - notice how they are treating D&D Next like a MMORPG with this - I suspect there will be a big push to provide the rules in whatever electronic format WotC can use to lock them down and provide updates via subscription - whatever method that WotC uses to distribue this - and all the back catalogue they are promising - will probably not be consumer friendly)

Building everything in perfect balance would lead to a boring game. Additionally, the moment where a character does something notable is a moment created by localized imbalance. It’s interesting when the wizard uses feather fall to allow the rogue to float silently on to a hill giant’s back and stab it in the back from above. It’s heroic for a fighter to block a dungeon corridor and singlehandedly hold back a dozen ogres while the rest of the party retreats. We want our characters to shine. The rules step in to make that happen by giving the character the chance to accomplish something unique.

The rules fall down when, through no special effort, one character outshines everyone else combined. There’s also a problem when entire classes don’t have much to contribute. The system works if the average gamer can put together a character and have a good time. Thus, overall the classes should be balanced by giving them unique and interesting things to do that allow each one to stand out in its own way.

Not aiming for perfect balance. Targeting the average gamer?  Good stuff :)


  1. I was so disappointed with the character generation rules ar gencin, I just walked away. Too many ability bonuses for doing nothing. Too time consuming to create characters.


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