Whaaat – Afterthought 34

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Ostensibly this one is about things that are so bad that they swing around towards being good.  I’d like to say that our insane ramblings at the beginning are an example of the genre, but speaking honestly they’re really just ramblings.  As always, many questions are answered.  Also hey, are you a Redditor?  Check out and/or follow our new subreddit.  We’ll start posting episodes there now, and eventually backfill in a bunch of older ones, but it’s got one of those wikis you’re free to mess around with and it’ll be a great new way to get your Afterthought questions and so on in front of our faces.

27 responses to “Whaaat – Afterthought 34

  1. Psionics in 3.5 were pretty good, second only to standard (overpowered) spellcasting. Perhaps you’re thinking of 3.0 psionics, which were hot garbage that should never be touched?

      • Multiple Attribute Dependency is only a bad thing in the context of other classes who can get away with having one good stat. Ideally, every stat should be useful to everyone, at least a little bit.

        But yeah, 3.0 psionics must be quite different from 3.5 psionics, because 3.5 had three psionic classes and each one only used one ability score.

      • Not quite, though it was certainly close in power. (That’s what I meant by “pretty good”, by the way, though taken on its own the design was fairly elegant too.) The major limitation that psionics had as opposed to spellcasting was that many of the weirder/more broken spells either aren’t there, have been siloed into one of the specializations*, or had some tweaks. (Illusions just aren’t a thing, summoning and shapeshifting are in different specializations, and shapeshifting is self-only.)

        That said, there was a variant Erudite (itself a variant psion) in a web supplement that did exactly what you said, and it’s exactly as broken as you’d think it would be.

        *You could grab a power outside of your specialization, but that took a feat to get one power.

  2. I disagree with not hanging out with people just because you disagree with their ideas. Discussions and ideas are not born from blocking people out and only hanging out with people that agree with you.

    If the guy doesn’t bring it up at the games, he probably knows that he’s wrong in some respects, or that his views are unpopular at the table. As such until they actually become an issue at the table where people are actively not having fun, I don’t see an issue.

    • That whole segment was messed up. You should never feel obligated to ostracize a person for ideological reasons. That’s just nonsense.

      The caller said the guy is friendly and he likes to hang out with him. That should be the end of the discussion. You shouldn’t entertain for a second the thought that him having a different life experience or outlook somehow invalidates him as a friend.

      • I assumed the asker was uncomfortable with the situation, or he wouldn’t have asked. If he’s uncomfortable with the ideology of someone he associates with, shouldn’t he do something about it?

  3. On the note of the EU clone naming convention, Boba Fett became Booba Fett. No joke. Nor was I too keen on the Sun Crusher. I felt once you have a nigh indestructible super-weapon that causes Super novas while being somewhere between the size of a B-wing and the Falcon, it’s kind of hard to make threats credible.

    I can agree with your opinion on 4e. It was never a *bad* game, it just structured itself very differently from previous editions. Ironically, its detail to balance allowed it to be the best D&D for gm v player style of play that was apparently how D&D was played in the ’70’s. Obviously 4e can do other kinds of games, though. I personally don’t need the attention to detail in the combat rules, so the simpler(ish, it’s really mostly just fast, I might look into other systems to find an even simpler method) 5e’s fights do fine for me.

    • Mechanically, 4E was mostly fine. It would make a decent board game. The vast majority of the mechanics could have gone toward making a good RPG, without much issue.

      Philosophically, though, it’s hard to take the rules as accurately reflecting how a world could actually work, when ninety percent of NPCs will explode into gibs if they get scratched. It might work as a game mechanic, but it makes it hard to suspend disbelief or seriously buy into the world. In terms of presenting a believable world, it’s roughly on par with how Haven: CoV insisted there was a 5% chance of catastrophic failure for every action, and it’s far from the only place where the 4E designers prioritized exciting gameplay over sound world logic.

      • I’ve played the D&D adventure system Board games based on 4e (Temple of Elemental Evil specifically), and I found it fit really well with the action attrition feel the board games were going for.

        Admittedly I haven’t actually played 4e beyond that, all I know is that it heavily utilizes tactical combat, which is all well and good, just (again) not something I’m in need of right now. I might look at Iron Kingdoms to scratch that itch, I’ve heard it’s pretty good at tactical combat.

      • This has been a complaint I’ve found more and more odd, because the whole point of a ruleset is to model *something*. Your model will be focused in some manner, because the reason for making a model is to describe that something at a reasonable tradeoff between fidelity and usability. 3D graphics processing is a great example of this, as there’s a constant tension between showing cool moving art to the user versus having the relevant processors complete each frame on time. The compromise that gets made is to actually draw what’s on screen, keep in RAM what’s likely to be on screen, and hold everything else in a pile of data in slower non-volatile memory.
        Where this applies to TRPGs is that in practice, as a designer you care about what’s “on screen” for the players. So you’ll want rules for what the PCs should be able to do in your game, rules for them interacting with NPCs or other parts of the game that aren’t them, and rules for constructing likely things for them to interact with. Everything else is ancillary. That said, if you’re making a relatively generic system “what the PCs should be able to do” and “likely things for them to interact with” will be broad, but at the same time you’re going to be sacrificing some fidelity.
        And where this applies to 4E in particular is that the game’s for the most part designed for high action and dungeon crawling-ish resource management. We don’t need to do a full simulation of fantasy economics or everyday non-adventurer life; we only need those parts the PCs will actually be seeing. There is a limited skill system because of course the PCs will be interacting with parts of their environment that aren’t monsters in combat, but it’s limited because the focus isn’t delving deep into mysteries and/or conspiracies like (for instance) Gumshoe. I can respect that; if I want to play the type of game that 4E proclaims itself to be, loud and clear, then I’ll likely play 4E. But if I instead want to play a knockoff of the Gentlemen Bastards series of novels, focusing on intrigue and heists, I’ll want to look somewhere besides D&D (regardless of edition). Perhaps Blades in the Dark? That sounded promising back in the Kickstarter days.

      • And that just about sums it up. With 4E, they spend everything on their exciting dungeons and combat, and don’t care about the rest of the world. To contrast, anyone who got into D&D through 2E or 3E would expect the game to first present a coherent world, and only then allow you to assemble the dungeon experience from those parts. It was a classic case of mismatched expectations.

      • This never held true for me. What is there in 2e that suggests they built it with the rules for the world working first, especially in such a way that it contrasts against any other edition? Is it the one background skill everyone rolls? The arbitrary reaction roll tables? The number appearing guide on the monsters that no one used because who wants to fight 144 orcs? The treasure types that make it likely that a giant spider has a painting? Honestly 2e is just cleaned up 1e and that game is the least naturalistic game ever made, what with alignment languages, strict rules that only exist to dissuade players from using poison, characters knowing what level they were, it was gamier than a deer stuffed in an elk. I think the idea that old editions were built world first is basically a sacred cow that turns out up close to be made of rose colored papier mache. The editions haven’t been getting more or less naturalistic, they never were and still aren’t. Heck cleric only existed because the original players needed something to be “the opposite of vampire.” That hardly suggests that Gygax ever gave one tin shit what their place in his world was.

        That said l like every edition just fine. That particular argument just never held water to me.

      • There’s a difference between simply presenting a coherent world and making the explicit decision to model it in a process sim, to mechanistically tell “how the world works”. For all that several editions of D&D have attempted to put forth a “generic fantasy game”, it still has a bunch of implicit assumptions baked into the game about dungeon crawling and resource management. (Plus when D&D has attempted to model life for the 99% who were peasants and artisans it’s usually fallen flat on its face.)

      • Second edition was naturalistic in its presentation. It told you how things worked, and the reason why they worked that way is because that’s just how the world was. There was no ulterior motive about “what makes for a good story” or “what’s a balanced encounter for the PCs”. If anything, those concerns went straight into the world-building; i.e. the world was designed in such a way as to promote balanced encounters and make good stories.

        Poison is evil because the societies of the world consider it to be. Regardless of why the world was created in this way, that’s the in-game reality that the players have to deal with. You could create your own societies, or your own worlds, where that wasn’t the case; but that’s the default in the world presented by the rules.

        You encounter 12d12 orcs because that’s how their social structure works, as detailed on pages xxw-xxz of the monster manual. If you’re level 1, then maybe you should run and hide from 42 orcs. If you’re level 7, then maybe throw some fireballs and you can probably take them.

        The major difference between 1E and 2E was in the presentation. They got rid of the alignment languages, ditched some of the class-based societal structures, and removed Gygax as anything more than a label. This was also the era where they actually started being aware of meta-gaming as a concept. Most of the big products from 2E were just different settings, presenting different worlds that worked in different ways.

        Feel free to disagree, but if you can’t understand why some people saw 2E (and then 3E) as fair expressions of how their worlds worked, then you won’t understand why there was such a huge backlash against 4E.

      • In most cases, I think people want to be accepting, and are willing to see what they want to see. Regardless of its original intent, you *could* play 2E or 3E as a world sim, because there was nothing hitting you over the head with why that wouldn’t work.

        To contrast, 4E was very up-front that the world exists around the PCs, and none of the fluff actually matters, so you can go ahead and re-fluff anything as long as you don’t mess with the math. Simulationists need not apply.

      • It should be noted I never said that 1e’s poison rules made it evil to use poison, just that they existed to dissuade players from using poison. That wasn’t a moral function. Even the book says that those rules exist because it would be overpowered if all the players poisoned their weapons all the time. The decision was made to attempt a naturalistic solution (the everpresent sizeable chance to inadvertantly kill yourself) instead of simply reducing the effects of poison, or making it less important overall. The end result however was that the attempt at natural design stands out like a sore thumb. A competent assassin won’t kill himself 25% of the time he does his job. It’s a balance rule that has been masquerading as a world-building effect for 40 years.

        I’d also say there’s really nothing stopping anyone from doing one of those massive hex grid “build the entire world organically” map things that some DMs like to do in 4e. You’re not supposed to do them in any edition after 1st but people keep on doing it, why should 4e be any different? Just ignore the encounter levels and stick the correct number of bullettes by that swamp. What’s gonna happen, will someone tattle on you to Rob Heinsoo?

        And where the heck is this idea that editions prior to 4e didn’t worry about what a balanced encounter looks like? I mean, I’ll happily agree that the Challenge Rating system in 3e is shittily designed, but it’s definitively in there. Heck it’s in 2e too, it’s just buried in the Dungeon Builder’s Guidebook (Monster HD total should not exceed combined party level by more than 5).

        Ultimately I think it’s interesting that your method of finding whether something is game design or natural design focused seems to zero in on the presence of rules or suggestions that interact with storytelling or player agency, notably that including them makes the game not natural. I think that’ll just be a fundamental disagreement. I think there isn’t a fundamentally naturally designed D&D. Whether it’s 1e with its alignment languages, 2e with its 3 foot goblins counting as giants and level caps, 3e with feats you can take at high levels that do things like define the tribe you come from all of a sudden, and 4e… well I hardly need to give you an example there. Never was natural. I can see it exactly why players didn’t like 4e, and it’s about half foot-dragging stubbornness, 25% internet groupthink, and 25% the fact that the first PHB and MM for 4e had legit, definable problems. Hardly a need to make up new fake ones.

      • Player agency is good, since any game is supposed to be about the decisions you make and the ramifications thereof. Since we’re talking about role-playing, though, we want those to be in-character decisions as much as possible. I mean, that’s why we’re playing an RPG, is to role-play.

        Out-of-character player agency mechanics (FATE points, for example) are bad when they tell the player to treat the game like a story, or a game, rather than a real place. You can’t role-play *as though* you were a character in a story or game. Brains don’t work that way. You role-play by pretending that it’s real, and asking yourself what they’d do in that situation.

        My imagination is pretty good, so I can usually buy into a world that works by whatever rules that aren’t necessarily realistic, but I can’t buy into a world that *actually* operates by narrative convention. As a scientist, that’s where I draw the line.

      • The thing about having everything be in-character is that *I am not my character*. I don’t have their history, skillsets, or emotional state. (This last one is important because often characters may be in emotionally charged situations while the players aren’t, such as delicate negotiations or addictive states.) The details on my driver’s license, up to and including my name, are not something like “The Sura (secretly a demon)” or “Shirin Tir, high school student”. The characters generally want to fulfill various goals in life, but we want to have fun while describing their stories, and often there’s a bit of a gap. (Check out the concept of The Eight Kinds of Fun by Marc LeBlanc et al. for more on this.) Thus the whole point of narrative mechanics is to mend that gap, between how the characters likely would act if they did exist (which is distinct from how they want to act) and how the players want them to act.
        You say that you “can’t buy into a world that *actually* operates by narrative convention”, but keep in mind that “the map is not the territory”. A game’s ruleset isn’t the same as that game’s world, but rather is an approximate model for describing that world; don’t confuse the two.

      • The map isn’t the territory, but it should be a close enough approximation for whatever purpose the map is designed to serve, or else it’s a bad map.

        The map which is the 4E ruleset is sufficient to describe the territory of the game world, within the context of fighting monsters in a dungeon. It does that fairly well.

        That’s not what I’m looking for in a map, though.

  4. One thing I learned within the past few years was that before he co-developed D&D, Gary Gygax used to work as an insurance underwriter. It’s a very math-heavy job focusing on evaluating the risks to clients, and thus what sort of premium is appropriate with exposure to those risks. Once I found out about that, a lot of early D&D makes sense, because he was basically translating his job into the intended playstyle of the game.

    • Another major factor is OD&D was designed as a wargame. It was not supposed to be the kind of game rpgs today fulfill. It was an expansion pack to miniatures wargame so that you could play individuals instead of armies, while giving the referee the tools to write up dungeons so that the players had something to do when they weren’t fighting the good fight between Law and Chaos. Its subtitle was “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames” as well.

  5. My main reason for not caring for D&D 4e is because I don’t want one combat to take up an entire four-to-six-hour game session. I’m not really into overly tactical combat to begin with, so 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder and 4e have never really appealed to me that much.

    As it is, as much as I enjoy 5e, I still find find that there are more moving parts and fiddly bits to the rules than I’d prefer. I’m starting to lean a little more toward Swords & Wizardry White Box—and especially the space opera derivative White Star—because of how free-form everything is. (I know some people really like having things codified by rules, but that’s not a problem for me.)

    • Fair enough. Different tastes for different people. I recently got the OD&D set; at some point I need to locate the 1971 chainmail rules, as it sounds neat to play an actual old school wargame rpg.

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