Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Stuff vs More Rules

I've often said here that I prefer "short" games, which is to say, games whose rulebooks take up no more than about 64 pages. In thinking about it, I realize that that's not quite true. OD&D plus its four supplements amounts to quite a bit more than 64 pages and I use rather a lot of those pages in my Dwimmermount campaign. Upon realizing this, I initially thought I wasn't being consistent on this point.

Then I spent some time considering what I meant by saying I prefer short games and it quickly became clear to me: I don't mind games whose page count runs longer than 64 pages if most of those pages are devoted to something other than game mechanics. That is, having, say, 50 pages devoted to spell descriptions, 20 pages devoted to magic items, and 100 pages devoted to monster write-ups isn't necessarily a problem for me. Granted, I generally prefer games that describe all those things in fewer pages, but I don't find the notion of 170 pages devoted to detailing more "stuff" I can use with the rules a priori wrong or problematic. However, I do think there's a problem when, for example, a game requires 30 pages to detail a combat system, including all sorts of special cases that'll likely never come up in play. That's too much for me.

I'm more of a "How many rules do you need to pretend to be an elf?" kind of guy. To my way of thinking, the answer remains "No more than 64 pages, preferably less." However, I do see value in having lots of monsters, spells, magic items, and similar sorts of things, since not every referee is able to make these things up easily (or at all). Where I start to get twitchy is when we see new character classes, races, magic systems, and the like, since they almost always add options to the game at the cost of unnecessary complexity and it's that complexity I find a big turn-off these days. I much prefer to have a simple, solid rules core that doesn't take much effort to master.

Any game system possessing lots of rules I find myself ignoring wholesale is probably too complex for my tastes. That's why I prefer OD&D over AD&D, even though I played "AD&D" throughout my early gaming years. The reality, of course, was that I simply put aside lots of AD&D's rules back then, like initiative and weapon speed factors. Having already been there, I no longer have any interest in playing a game whose rules I have to pare down to something more manageable. That strikes me as a foolish endeavor, when I can much more easily find a straightforward simple set of rules to which I can add more "stuff," as I wish.

Obviously, where one draws the line is different for each person, but, for me, the rules line encompasses a fairly small area, while the "stuff" line is much larger. I still prefer to make up a lot of the the "new stuff" that appears in my campaign, but I have no qualms about swiping stuff from other sources. I don't see anything wrong with buying books filled with spells, monsters, and magic items. Heck, I don't think there's anything wrong with buying adventure modules. The key, as with everything, is to treat all of this stuff as supplements to your imagination rather replacements for it.

I think the main thing that irks me about so many of the hobby products we've seen since the end of the Golden Age is that too often they did seem to be replacements for individual imagination rather than spurs to it. They reduce gaming to yet another form of passive consumer entertainment and that's a pity, because it (largely) wasn't like that when I entered the hobby and there's no reason why it need be nowadays either. That's why I'm so down on gigantic rulebooks and story-based adventure modules and campaign settings. I think they make roleplaying not much different than other types of entertainment rather supporting the unique qualities that make it a pastime like few others.

52 comments:

  1. I agree completely.

    But I'd also expand your point and say that RPG books in general have gotten too big.

    I did d20 Modern setting book that was 64 pages and the #1 complaint I got was that was too short.

    When it did well enough for a revision, I had a lot more material and the length ended up doubling to around 128 pages and folks STILL said it was too short.

    I just don't feel the current trend, where you start a setting with a 360 page hardcover and THEN add setting books on top, is necessary at all.

    In fact, I find settings like the Forgotten Realms where there are thousands of pages of setting available, overwhelming. There's no "blank spots" on the map.

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  2. Don't tell the Paizo guys! ;)

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  3. I like to keep my games simple and abstract. I really hate dealing with padded rules that try to cover everything! Players would go above and beyond of what any rule-system would allow!!!

    Most modern games seem to base themselves on what you can and cant do - unless you get some special trait that exempts you from such limitations. I don't what to get a set of feats just to disarm an opponent! I just what to freewheel in a loose and simple way!

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  4. Good post. I can complain about lots but my chiefest peeve is when a core rule book prescribes a pantheon for you.

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  5. James said:
    "Where I start to get twitchy is when we see new character classes, races, magic systems, and the like, since they almost always add options to the game at the cost of unnecessary complexity."

    Given the systems that you play I find it odd that you would throw classes and races into the "unnecessary complexity" pile while declaring that spells and items are open territory. Every class/race write-up I've ever read for a retro-clone has been no more complicated than 1 - 3 spell write-ups at the most.

    This probably relates a blind spot in retro-clones I have yet to understand: they celebrate playing loose with all sorts of rules, especially ones that are most pertinent to melee-oriented characters, but boy do they love their sprawling, meticulously specific, ever-expanding spell lists! If a system isn't even going to bother with exact rules for hearing/spotting things, why does it spend page count detailing something as complex as Prismatic Sphere? Why not just leave more of the functioning of magic to DM judgment, just like the effects of a fighting man choosing to fight "recklessly"?

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  6. The actual rules content of the 4e PHB comes to nicely under 64 pages, interestingly. There's a huge chunk of pages dedicated to options -- power descriptions, magic items, and so on -- but the core rules are rather concise.

    And then there's the 4e setting model, which gives every setting two books and a module, done, no more supplements.

    I've always thought 4e and the OSR have more in common than people tend to expect/see. I wouldn't call 4e an old school game by any means, but it doesn't have the intricacy of 3e, either. (Intricacy isn't a bad thing per se, mind you. Just saying there's a difference there.)

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  7. I'm not trying to be critical here, I think the retro-clones are great and the same with James' Dwimmermount dungeon, but given the emphasis on rules-lite I can't reconcile the focus on megadungeons. Hey, they look fun, but given the nature of modernity (time, work, family, etc), one would think a focus on short adventures that a group could complete in a single 4-5 hour sitting would "fit" more appropriately with rules-lite. Just a thought, not a criticism.

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  8. What your opinion on supplements that adapt D&D to a particular setting or point of view like Carcosa or Ruins & Ronin?

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  9. Don't tell the Paizo guys! ;)

    I think the Paizo guys are well aware of how complex their game is. It's what their fanbase seems to want and I can't fault them for the decision to cater to it. My main regret is that it's simply too much for me, so the best I can do is wish them well and buy the off product here and there that appeals to my sensibilities.

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  10. If a system isn't even going to bother with exact rules for hearing/spotting things, why does it spend page count detailing something as complex as Prismatic Sphere? Why not just leave more of the functioning of magic to DM judgment, just like the effects of a fighting man choosing to fight "recklessly"?

    There are really two different questions here: 1) Why is it OK to have long, detailed spell lists and 2) Why not treat magic the same way as melee combat mechanically?

    In answer to the first, I can only ask if you've ever looked at the OD&D spell list and descriptions? They're very short and quite vague in places -- hardly what I'd call "meticulous." I think you'll find that many old schoolers actually think AD&D, which does veer more toward the meticulous, is a bit too detailed and specific for their tastes. I know I do.

    In answer to the second, it's an artifact of D&D's magic system. When using a spell slot system, there's much less scope for ad hoc rulings about how magic functions mechanically. Now, again, if you've read OD&D's spell descriptions, you'll know that there is in fact plenty of scope for referee adjudication and player ingenuity, but it's of a different sort than that used for melee combat simply because of the way the two systems are framed.

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  11. The actual rules content of the 4e PHB comes to nicely under 64 pages, interestingly.

    If that's indeed the case, it's a point in 4e's flavor. Unfortunately, rules length isn't the only determinant of whether I like a game and I find the style of play 4e seems to promote, not to mention its historical rootlessness big turn-offs to me. After years of playing the bloated monsters that is 3e, I was more than ready for a new edition of the game, just not the one that was on offer.

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  12. My own anecdotal tuppence is that I think age has a lot to do with it: when I was a teenager I, and every gamer I knew, was intrigued by complexity. There was an element of machismo to it, which meshed perfectly with Silver Age simulationism: you could one-up your cohorts by actually playing Aftermath, rather than just staring in horror at its hit location charts. Working for a wage pretty much ended that, and I think passing years just increase impatience.

    Spell lists are, I think, a border case and/or signal a change in the nature of the MU. My sense of the O/AD&D MU is of a "special tricks" guy, while my sense of the 4e MU is that he's an artilleryman. If you elect to play a special tricks guy then you sign up for learning the tricks. I'm not sure how that fits with James' more general point.

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  13. Hey, they look fun, but given the nature of modernity (time, work, family, etc), one would think a focus on short adventures that a group could complete in a single 4-5 hour sitting would "fit" more appropriately with rules-lite. Just a thought, not a criticism.

    I'm not sure I follow what you mean. Could you elaborate?

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  14. What your opinion on supplements that adapt D&D to a particular setting or point of view like Carcosa or Ruins & Ronin?

    If a supplement simply replaces some bits of the rules in order to better emulate a particular style/feel, I don't see a problem with that, for the most part. Of course, the replacement rules need to work well with the rules that remain from the original and not be unnecessarily complex in their own right. I think both R&R and Carcosa succeed on these counts, though I might have little (mechanical) beefs with both of them.

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  15. My own anecdotal tuppence is that I think age has a lot to do with it: when I was a teenager I, and every gamer I knew, was intrigued by complexity.

    As was I and I do think, historically speaking, that the shift toward more complex games signaled a shift in the intended audience of the hobby. The Silver Age marks the ascendancy of the pre-MMO teenager as the core constituency of gaming.

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  16. The actual rules content of the 4e PHB comes to nicely under 64 pages, interestingly.

    This is true. The actual rules content is very short, and the procedures behind the game are direct and to the point. The complexity is introduced in the myriad special cases provided by character powers. Basically, imagine how earlier D&Ds would feel if every player played a spellcaster. The source of delay isn't usually the actual rules, it's "indecisive wizard syndrome" applying to every player at once.


    Hey, they look fun, but given the nature of modernity (time, work, family, etc), one would think a focus on short adventures that a group could complete in a single 4-5 hour sitting would "fit" more appropriately with rules-lite. Just a thought, not a criticism.

    While I don't think "modernity" presents that much of a barrier to a group that really wants to play, I find that the length of the average adventure within my Castles and Crusades megadungeon works well within that length. Usually there's about an hour's prep time in town, and 3-4 hours of dungeon crawling before the party feels too dangerously low on resources to push on. Sometimes that gets cut short; in that case, its okay to let the players leave, rest, and return to the dungeon. You just need to cut the session short if the group doesn't have the time to play out a second trip.

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  17. I know you mentioned looking at Tunnels and Trolls at one point. Try looking for the reprint of the T&T UK edition(all black cover with a white spiral on the front). Comes in under 50 pages has a small format and includes everything that you would need without the length of other editions.
    The only thing I would personally tweak would be the Monster Rating to determine dice. Using the MR divided by 10 plus one and half of their rating for adds one works better in my opinion.

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  18. Unfortunately, rules length isn't the only determinant of whether I like a game and I find the style of play 4e seems to promote, not to mention its historical rootlessness big turn-offs to me.

    Absolutely. I would in no way claim that I have secretly determined that you will like 4e if only you play it; rules length isn't everything by any means.

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  19. The actual rules content of the 4e PHB comes to nicely under 64 pages - Bryant

    That's my favorite thing about 4e. The rules are simple and modular, and easily adapted to pretty much any situation. Much better than the bloated 3rd edition rules, to my mind.

    The source of delay isn't usually the actual rules, it's "indecisive wizard syndrome" applying to every player at once.

    Hahaha, this one is too true. Although, the design of the game means that you should have only 3-4 valid options at one time, there's always those people who take forever figuring out what they want to do. Not much you can do about that!

    I wonder how much indie games may have affected the design of 4e. There were a lot of things that I picked out when going through my 4e rulebooks that I had seen previously in some of the indie stuff.

    I've always felt that the rules bloat in 3rd edition and games like it sprung from an adversarial relationship between the DM and the players. Games with a lot of rules, like 3rd edition, tend to constrain the DM. Players go in with the expectation that the "rules" are going to be obeyed by everyone at the table, and if the DM steps outside the published rules, the players will be all over him for it. Rules-light systems, on the other hand, tend to put more power in the hands of the DM, because he's empowered to make things up on the fly.

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  20. Asmodean:

    "Players go in with the expectation that the "rules" are going to be obeyed by everyone at the table, and if the DM steps outside the published rules, the players will be all over him for it."

    Check down James blog a bit to the Steve Winters interview. He basically says just this in regard to the 3.e rules design... It was a conscious attempt to reign in DMs.

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  21. I might make a distinction between (a) things that players need to scan, analyze, and make choices from, and (b) things that the DM only puts into play.

    Category (a) can include spells, feats & skills in 3E, maybe magic items if there's wide-open magic item creation for PCs. Category (b) includes monsters, probably magic items, etc.

    The problem is that as category (a) explodes, players feel compelled to comprehensively analyze and min-max the whole list, a task which grows combinatorically, and becomes overwhelming for new players. (e.g., Making PCs this weekend for OD&D one of my players asked "How many 1st-level spells do I have to choose from?", implicitly choosing to avoid playing a wizard if there were too many. I see that a lot.)

    Therefore, I'm in favor of a very stripped-down set of spells (feats/skills) presented to the players. A larger store of monsters, magic, spells, classes, etc. seen by the DM and doled out one at a time in play is more okay. I don't want my "core rules" to explode in size in any way, for the new-player perspective.

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  22. Even though 4E is not my first choice for an rpg, the one thing I like about 4E is how simple it is to DM. The guidelines for designing encounters is quite simple.

    Question to James Maliszewski. What are you thoughts on the minion concept in 4E D&D?

    I've made encounters with minions which are modified. Typically for regular type monsters which are not "bosses" or "solo", I've made them to be minion style where they die after 1 or 2 hits. If a player does a lot of damage, these monsters can die with one hit. Otherwise they are just bloodied, and take another hit to kill. For slightly more powerful monsters, I made them to die after 2 or 3 hits depending on how much damage the players do.

    These bloodied minion style monsters can use their powers which are activated by a bloodied condition, a lot sooner

    In this manner, it's easier than keeping track of the hit points of many monsters. For the bosses or mini-bosses or solo monsters, I'll still use the hit points accounting.

    If I ever get back to playing 1E AD&D or the Moldvay B/X or BECMI box sets, I may very well use the "minion" accounting for monsters instead of keeping track of hit points. Though I will probably still use hit points for the more powerful solos monsters and "bosses".

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  23. Delta,

    That's a very good point you raise and one I know all too well from experience.

    Therefore, I'm in favor of a very stripped-down set of spells (feats/skills) presented to the players. A larger store of monsters, magic, spells, classes, etc. seen by the DM and doled out one at a time in play is more okay. I don't want my "core rules" to explode in size in any way, for the new-player perspective.

    This closely mirrors my own perspective.

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  24. I agree with your basic assessment so much that one of the design parameters for my new game was that the core book had to be 64 pages or less. :)

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  25. @manofthesigns: "I can complain about lots but my chiefest peeve is when a core rule book prescribes a pantheon for you."

    That's an inherent problem with the cleric class. Cleric players need to know who they worship/get spells from. Either you (a) give them a pick-list in the core rules, or (b) require DMs to put in a heck of a lot of work making same before play.

    @Kiltedyaksman: "...but given the nature of modernity (time, work, family, etc), one would think a focus on short adventures that a group could complete in a single 4-5 hour sitting would 'fit' more..."

    This I largely agree with (aside from any connection to rules-light). I'm in a position where I only play rarely, and never with the same group -- every week isn't an option. I do realize/get frustrated that the classic modules are all far to large to play in a one-off session. Having classic-style adventures available that can be played in 4 hours would be great. But that may not be possible with the way D&D is structured for exploring.

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  26. What are you thoughts on the minion concept in 4E D&D?

    As someone who tends toward Gygaxian naturalism in his gaming, I don't much like the minion concept. It's a bit too explicitly "game-y" for my tastes, which is to say, I have a hard time figuring out what it represents within the game world. Now, that's not a criticism of the mechanic itself so much as a statement that, for the way I prefer to play D&D, it breaks the frame. I don't use D&D for "cinematic" fantasy and so rules like that do nothing for me. If I were running a superhero game, I probably wouldn't mind it.

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  27. Having classic-style adventures available that can be played in 4 hours would be great. But that may not be possible with the way D&D is structured for exploring.

    Again, I agree, and I think it's the shift away from exploration that's responsible for most of the trends I actively dislike in the post-Gygaxian development of the game.

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  28. I don't much like the minion concept. It's a bit too explicitly "game-y" for my tastes, which is to say, I have a hard time figuring out what it represents within the game world.

    In terms of the concept, I agree. I'm still not quite sure what exactly the minion concept represents in a game world.

    For my purposes, the minion "mechanic" and how I've modified it to be less wonky, largely has more to do with in-game accounting to save time and simplify things. I've done encounters which only take 25 minutes to execute which in the past would have taken over 40 minutes to finish, due to keeping track of hit points of many monsters and/or misjudging the power of the monsters. I frequently overestimated the player party's ability to kill some particular monsters.

    With the minion style accounting, it is also a lot easier to analyze encounters to check for balance and how long it would take to kill the monsters. With a probability p of hitting a monster, it takes on average around 1/p attacks to hit the monster.

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  29. Most of the answers to the issue raised above come from the changes in the target audiences. OD&D was written for the grad school types and other technical intellectuals, same folks who kept Tolkien/LOTR alive through the 1950's and 1960's. Those people READ sword and sorcery, READ for entertainment. They did no need detailed campaign settings since they have already inhabited that fantasy world.

    WoTC is marketing its D&D product to a culturally diverse audience, which includes members of other ethnic groups, whose connection with the fantasy is via pop culture and who wouold be unlikley to discover Lovecraft and other literature that was prominent in Gygax worldview. This is NOT to say that people from other ethnic groups don't read, they just read different books. Imagine how different AD&D might be, if its magic was based not on the writiungs of Jack Vance, but based on the magical realism traditions of the Spamish literature or have its clerical spells based on the tradiitons of the Japanese folk religion. In short, first, Paizo is marketing D&D to a multicultural audience, and second it's maeketing it to early adilescents as opposed to twenty-somethings, the peers of the Gygax's group. This would explain the primacy of the videogame and the emphasis on extended and exacting rules. The early adolescents are more likely to be playing Diablo then reading pulp fantasy stories, and they are closer to the age group of 7-12 years olds, which psychologically, developmentally, preoocupies itself with playing, not just any kind of playing, but PLAYING BY RULES, and a great portion of the play activity in that developmental stage concerns the making up of rules, making sure that other follow the rules, deciding onthe rules, etc. Read up on Erik Eriksson's work to find out more on this. Initially, WOTC/Paizo decided to make OPTIONS products to sell more books, both for the munchkins to customize their characters and to provide diverse players with a common fantasy setting so that they can coe together and play, but then the psychosocial characteristics of their core audience kicked in and encouraged the trend.

    With regards to combat and spell complexity. D&D does a great job representing magic for battle, on the Vancian model, but there are other models for magic that would make for a better gaming experience. Shamanistic Magic would need different rules. Vodoo witch doctors would have their own spell lists. Clerical magic based on early Christian mysticism would work differently from the magic used by the Shinto priests inJapan. Theb game effects would be different, some players may enjoy playing different systems. I think that the direction in which the DM develops a rule set is the result of the interplay between the DM and his players. The house rules of the DM running a group of fighters would be a little different from a game, where the players are into high level magic, and different still from a game dominated by thieves. That is if the DM wants to encourage and accomodate player charater development. I am into mysticism, but my last group of players were fighters, so the house rules emphasized tactics and the development of the warriors and diplomacy in the realm, purely as a consequence of the choices the players made. It could have been seeking out the ancient sages and shamans, and a bunch of other things that the players weren't interested in.

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  30. I've done encounters which only take 25 minutes to execute which in the past would have taken over 40 minutes to finish, due to keeping track of hit points of many monsters and/or misjudging the power of the monsters. I frequently overestimated the player party's ability to kill some particular monsters.

    I'm glad they speed play, although I must admit that I find the notion of even 25 minute-long combats very off-putting nowadays. Most combats in my Dwimmermount campaign, even those involving 20+ combatants don't take more than about 10 minutes, tops.

    With the minion style accounting, it is also a lot easier to analyze encounters to check for balance and how long it would take to kill the monsters.

    Again, glad you find it useful to you, but it all sounds very alien to my preferred style of play.

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  31. I must admit that I find the notion of even 25 minute-long combats very off-putting nowadays. Most combats in my Dwimmermount campaign, even those involving 20+ combatants don't take more than about 10 minutes, tops.

    I remember 3E/3.5E combats being even longer slow grinds, along with the bookkeeping nightmare that came along with it. This is what turned me off from 3E/3.5E, with combat encounters taking over two hours at high levels.

    4E is slightly better in this regard, but the combat encounters are still somewhat slow grinds (with or without minions). Many of the monsters are like huge bags of hit points.

    I haven't tried using the "minion math" for in-game accounting yet for 1E AD&D, basic D&D box sets, OD&D, etc ... Hopefully it will keep the combat manageable to 5 to 10 minute encounters, without having to do much bookkeeping.

    Now that I think about it, back in the 1E AD&D days I was functionally doing "minion math" for monsters which had less than 2 hit dice. This would be like a group of kobolds, orcs, goblins, etc .. attacking the players.

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  32. Brooze, I love your characterizing of "grad school types and other technical intellectuals" as an ethnic group. I agree exactly.

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  33. Well, it is true that making certain hobgoblins instantly die from a single hit isn't very good from a simulation standpoint. However, I have found the Minion/Solo concept rather useful in old-school games, although not in the way you might expect. While the bookkeeping gains are minimal in a system where tally marks are practical and effective, there are some very valuable insights here in general monster design.

    The core conceit behind Minions and Solo Monsters and whatnot is that different monsters might be a match for different *numbers* of characters. That's an aspect of monster design too often ignored in early D&D (except in a few odd cases like the hydra). While it's counterproductive to use the system to obsessively balance everything (yawn - boring!), I think you can only help your simulation by working out whether a monster is used in large swarms, small groups, or as a singular beast; then designing accordingly.

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  34. Rob, weren't the "number appearing" stats in old monster write-ups used for that?

    I understand it was a bit more "seat of the pants" but that was part of the charm.

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  35. Even back in the 1E AD&D days, I generally tried to avoid using monsters which the players can only hit with a 10% or 5% probability (ie. requiring a natural 19 or 20 on a d20 attack roll), whether with melee/ranged weapons or penetrating magical resistance. For a 10% probability to hit a monster, it will take on average around 10 attacks to hit it. For a 5% probability to hit a monster, it will take on average around 20 attacks to hit it. At the time I didn't know the formal mathematics, but intuitively I knew enough that rolling a 19 or a 20 for a hit is a slow tough slog.

    At worse for a tough "boss" type monster, I would make them such that they could be hit with a 15% or 20% probability. For a 20% probability to hit a monster, it would take on average around 5 attacks to hit it. For a 15% probability to hit a monster, it would take on average around 6.67 rounds to hit it.

    The only times I ever used really tough monsters which the players could only hit with a 10% or 5% probability (ie. requiring a natural 19 or 20 on their d20 attack rolls), was when I deliberately wanted to do a TPK on the players.

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  36. "What are you thoughts on the minion concept in 4E D&D?"

    I'll comment here, too. I don't like 4E "minion" rules because it's a statement about the characters (NPCs)in-game, thus affecting the milieu setting.

    It would be a far different thing if it were a statement about the out-of-game rules that the players are choosing to use. For example, for an extraordinarily large fight, I'm happy to "switch" to Chainmail-like granularity, no damage rolls, every hit = 1 HD taken. But it affects everyone equally, it's not a statement visible in-game or identifiable to the characters themselves.

    Compare to Doug Niles rules for switching granularity in Star Frontiers Knight Hawks based on number of combatants. I'm fine with that, bit making special character types born to die is not cool.

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  37. @Chuck: Yes and no...

    While the Number Appearing stat handled that cosmetically, a lot of the monsters weren't given combat stats suitable to their intended use. One major issue I always had was that big monsters tended to get swamped by the sheer number of actions a PC party could take in a round. When designing one's own creatures, it's very useful (and surprisingly rare) to give big creatures a breath weapon, or a larger number of smaller attacks each round. That lets a big monster take on several PCs at once without necessarily turning the thing into a party killer.

    @robbprofus: For defense, I generally like to fiddle with HP rather than AC (because absolutely nothing's more frustrating than missing a monster eight consecutive times), but yeah, I do something similar.

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  38. Minor Waffle: Most of the monsters in the AD&D Monster Manual are pretty good about this, probably because most of the stuff in it had previously been tested for years. Fiend Folio and MM2, however, are rife with monsters that have this problem.

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  39. Over the years I've wondered how extensive the playtesting was, for D&D and AD&D stuff when Gygax was still at TSR. After Gygax was ousted, rumor has it that playtesting was less and less extensive or very little of it was done.

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  40. "After Gygax was ousted, rumor has it that playtesting was less and less extensive or very little of it was done."

    All signals I see are that was true. The "Playtest" credit simply disappeared from most publications in the late 80's. There are also obvious clues from product quality and speed-to-print.

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  41. Another thing which is insidious and contributes to slowing down of combat in 3E/3.5E and 4E, is how there are so many more numbers being added up to the basic rolls like attack to-hit, damage, etc ... Keeping track of so many numbers and bonuses from spells and other sources, compounds the problem. Never mind that younger players tend not be be as adept at performing mental arithmetic.

    Figuring out which bonuses stack and which ones don't, and arguing with the DM over such things, contributes to the slowdown even more.

    In 4E, most basic at-will attacks already at minimum adds up the d20 roll along with a level modifier of +level/2 and particular stat adjustments (ie. from Str, Int, Dex, etc ..). For example, melee type fighting characters frequently want an 18 or 20 for STR which gives them a respective +4 or +5 STR adjustment to their to-hit attack rolls. From what I remember of 1E AD&D, a high strength of 17 or 18 only gives a +1 bonus to the attack to-hit roll.

    With the character stat adjustments being a core part of the to-hit attack roll, this can contribute significantly to munchkin style min-maxing.

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  42. robbprofus
    The only times I ever used really tough monsters which the players could only hit with a 10% or 5% probability (ie. requiring a natural 19 or 20 on their d20 attack rolls), was when I deliberately wanted to do a TPK on the players.

    Sigh.. I feel you are missing an important point about monsters and encounters. I'll break it down for you:

    1. the players do not have to attack every monster!

    2. the players do not have to attack every monster!

    3. just as they don't have to enter a room with an obvious pit trap, say.

    4. if they decide to attack and they die, it's not the DM's fault.

    5. it's the players' unreasonable thirst for XP and gold which has brought them undone.

    6. there are always other methods for getting what they want: eg. "MacGyvering", or even... role-playing.

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  43. I don't much like the minion concept. It's a bit too explicitly "game-y" for my tastes, which is to say, I have a hard time figuring out what it represents within the game world.

    In terms of the concept, I agree. I'm still not quite sure what exactly the minion concept represents in a game world.


    Minions steal attention; creatures with higher hit points hold attention. They serve different functions in combat, and allow mass-combat game situations to take on immense tactical complexity while minimizing bookkeeping.

    Indeed, 4e's recognition that these monster types serve different purposes in combat is an enormous step forward in playability from all previous editions' combat model. Indeed, 4e monsters come with carefully designed behaviour patterns atop the standard stat blocks and attack listings; the increase in usable detail and complexity far outstrips the increase in complication.

    Well, it is true that making certain hobgoblins instantly die from a single hit isn't very good from a simulation standpoint.

    Tell me, then. How the hell do you 'simulate' hobgoblin combat capacity? And why is the minion model worse than any other at this in-game task?

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  44. The actual rules content of the 4e PHB comes to nicely under 64 pages, interestingly. There's a huge chunk of pages dedicated to options -- power descriptions, magic items, and so on -- but the core rules are rather concise.

    I'd go further: the core rules for 4e can be fit (with precious little loss of detail) on a handful of pages, most class/race information on another couple. Powers and spells and rituals and the like take many pages, but then 4e treats powers as analogous to monsters: unique exceptions within broad 'balance' constraints.

    Indeed, you could include a powers-generation algorithm along with the core mechanics in fewer pages than OD&D took, and you'd have a hell of a lot cleaner design to boot.

    (And: no, I won't.)

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  45. 5. it's the players' unreasonable thirst for XP and gold which has brought them undone.

    D&D has always been about XP and gold. What else are players supposed to want? Rich improvised descriptions from their DM? A pony, perhaps? :)

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  46. Indeed, the 4e Quick Start rules from WotC take 15 pages; figure another 8 pages for customization rules, monster/powers-design guidelines, and some sample characters (including a single full power progression), and you could fit 4e into the Basic rulebook. It wouldn't be pretty but neither is any other game under discussion. :)

    Huh, someone should do this and distribute it as a futuro-clone.

    (Captcha: 'bowleyin,' Robert E. Lee's pronunciation of Henry VIII's wife's name I suppose.)

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  47. D&D has always been about XP and gold. What else are players supposed to want? Rich improvised descriptions from their DM? A pony, perhaps? :)

    LOL. True. But there's more than one way to skin a cat ;)

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  48. Indeed, 4e's recognition that these monster types serve different purposes in combat is an enormous step forward in playability from all previous editions' combat model. Indeed, 4e monsters come with carefully designed behaviour patterns atop the standard stat blocks and attack listings; the increase in usable detail and complexity far outstrips the increase in complication.

    That's a relief.

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  49. "Indeed, 4e's recognition that these monster types serve different purposes in combat is an enormous step forward in playability from all previous editions' combat model. Indeed, 4e monsters come with carefully designed behaviour patterns atop the standard stat blocks and attack listings; the increase in usable detail and complexity far outstrips the increase in complication."

    That's a relief.


    The point here being that 4e monsters are better differentiated, more complexly defined, and more transparent in their usage goals than any previous. They're good game material - less evocative than previous editions, maybe, but more usable. That's all.

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  50. @Chris T.:

    All those reasons are very good points to make about actual game play. We were talking about designing monsters, though, which is a little different. You probably don't want to write a Cthulhu that goes down like a chump to 3rd level characters, and you probably don't want to give your goblins five brutal attacks a round. Design is all about making sure the result fits the original conception of the monster.


    @Wally:

    Minions steal attention; creatures with higher hit points hold attention. They serve different functions in combat, and allow mass-combat game situations to take on immense tactical complexity while minimizing bookkeeping.

    Indeed, 4e's recognition that these monster types serve different purposes in combat is an enormous step forward in playability from all previous editions' combat model. Indeed, 4e monsters come with carefully designed behaviour patterns atop the standard stat blocks and attack listings; the increase in usable detail and complexity far outstrips the increase in complication.


    Minions do make mass combat easier, and explicit monster roles are useful, yes. No argument there. However, I would point out that adding detail to a system doesn't necessarily increase playability - Quite the opposite. Speaking from a systems design standpoint, making a system more complicated almost *always* restricts the scope of what it can handle and makes it easier to break with edge cases. That's part of why 4e has no familiars or summoning spells, why all the magic items are so similar, and why the noncombat spell list is so miserably short. The added detail in combat makes the system more brittle.


    Tell me, then. How the hell do you 'simulate' hobgoblin combat capacity? And why is the minion model worse than any other at this in-game task?

    Whoa, relax! I didn't mean to sound insulting or anything. I make extensive use of minions in my 4e game myself. Some of the minion rules are just a little weirdly inconsistent in certain scenarios. Let me give an example.

    There's an 11th level ogre minion in the MM somewhere (don't recall the exact name), along with a 1st level skirmisher Goblin Blackblade. I think we can all agree that the ogre is the more physically stout opponent. Yet if a tenth-level character hits the ogre in the ankle with a dagger using a basic attack, it dies. But the goblin will easily survive the same hit.

    If you try to take the system all at once, you get lots of minor inconsistencies like this. This is okay if (to use some dirty-hippy-Forge-speak) you play in a narrativist style and only care about the stuff thats in front of the players right now and how it interacts with their story. But for a player who wants a more robust simulationist angle in the game, odd shenanigans will ensue from this sort of thing when you start putting monsters up against other monsters. Being able to handle strange cases sensibly is important to a good simulation. And note: It's not that 4e can't handle stuff like that; it just doesn't do it as well as simpler systems. That's why I use it for some types of games (high-octane action-fests) and run screaming away from it for others (mega-dungeons).


    The point here being that 4e monsters are better differentiated, more complexly defined, and more transparent in their usage goals than any previous. They're good game material - less evocative than previous editions, maybe, but more usable. That's all.

    This. I wouldn't go as far as you do here - For one, I would rather ditch the complicated stuff for something simple but effective - but you are right on the money about transparency of design. 4e does present some very good lessons to be learned about effectively designing to a niche, which is the point I was trying to make above.

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  51. Richard, there WAS a shift in marketing paradigm, as can be seen in the changes in the style of the illustrations from vaguely gothic to comic book style. Call it the egffect of marketing globalization on D&D.

    Some staffer at WOTC official website once wrote words to the effect that: you make a product for the DM, such as a dungeon module, you are only selling to one in five D&D players. Making a supplement or accessory for the players to customize their character, you are selling to every player of D&D, including the DM who is going to include the modified PC in his game, or words to that effect.

    I don't like the idea of minions, it's borrowed from videogames, and computer based adventure is of necessity more linear and restrictibe than a PNP based one.

    I don't like the idea of scaling monsters to fit the players. The game ceases to be a DMs world, which the players can explore, with tactical problems to solve and obstacles to overcome, and becomess a tabletop theater stage instead. A stage, centered on the player characters. The game ceases to be a narrative form and becomes a DIFFERENT KIND of a tabletp wargame, especially with the emphasis on miniatures. I know one $th Edition DM who told me that he doesn't map out the site. He sets up monster lairs, and if the player roll for and find a "secret door" then they surprise the monsters and avoid the traps. This game is very different from one, where you have an actual pre-mapped setting, which the players can NAVIGATE. To me this style of play is new, and came out ouf the 4th Edition of the game.

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