Railroading and Pizza – Afterthought 35

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Can a game rely heavily on GM fiat to function?  How many rules does a game actually need that aren’t just “let the DM figure it out?”   Also, if you needed to have an animal head instead of your own head, what kind of animal would you pick?  It’s Afterthought 35!  Enjoy.

45 responses to “Railroading and Pizza – Afterthought 35

  1. “I’m going with shower head, because it knows too much.”
    And now we listeners know too much.

    The Fantasy Flight Star Wars game has a neat antagonist system where you’re still fighting other guys, only they come in three tiers. There is the mook tier, which is basically a simple HP stat and maybe one other thing. A regular guy tier which is sort of like a PC, but a bit weaker, with a handful of stats. And then you got the nemesis tier for boss types which are like PCs but much stronger. The game has a ton of examples of all of them, and simple rules to create your own.

    • Savage worlds has two types of NPCs: Minions and Wild Cards. Wild Cards are essential the same as PCs in how they work, but minions do not get the “wild die” like wild cards so they are not quite as effective as PCs, and Wild Cards take a lot more damage but minions fall fast. Very cinematic, though I tend to use a type of NPC I devised which is halfway between minions and wild cards- sort of the secondary boss which i call a minion card (to no one as I do not identify NPCs as minions or wild cards either, but I do talk to myself a lot). In the RPG system I am writing as a hobby I have a similar deal. NPCs are mooks, minions, or masters.

    • I get the impression rulings over rules is different from fiat. For me, fiat is when you go “No, that doesn’t work” Despite everything in the rules clearly saying it should, while rulings over rules is more “Hmm, the rules don’t have an explicit means of adjudicating that, let’s make something up on the spot.”

  2. I disagree with some of your dislikes of 5e, but that’s just a difference of opinion. Different people have a different set of ideals for what’s too fiddly and what isn’t, yes the fighter could use some expanding but the battlemaster holds a good mould for that expanding, and I like the current release schedule.

    There’s only one group of people I actively dislike, and that’s specifically the people who say 5e should’ve copied 13th Age on Reddit. No, just because they like 13th Age more doesn’t mean 5e should’ve been built to resemble it.

    • I’m not sure I understand why anyone would argue that D&D 5e should have just copied 13th Age. 13th Age exists, so if that’s the game they want to play, they should play 13th Age.

      • Oh they do, it’s just that every recommendation I see for it goes along the lines of “This is the D&D 5e should have been” or otherwise make comparisons to 5e more personal and opinion based than I think they should. “5e is just a soulless nostalgia grab” is another one I see that annoys me.

  3. A question for the next Afterthought. One of the groups I play tabletop dice games with is filled with players who do not want to take an active role in the story of the campaign. Even when asked directly by the GM, these players don’t really make choices beyond “take a quest to fight some stuff”. The baffling thing to me is that these same players talk about their characters’ backstory but will not really use that as motivation for action. Since I sometimes run games for this group (and would like to help out my GM), how can I help these players take a more active role in the story and want to have any agency in our games?

    On a less serious note, if you were stuck in any videogame what game would you choose? Also, what tabletop game would you play with the fellow inhabitants of your now digital world?

  4. I wouldn’t be able to tell how well it would go over, but I personally would enjoy it of you guys were on Youtube as well. Lots of podcasts put on there without any visuals, just a title screen. If nothing else, you could try putting up some of the “best ofs ” and link people to the main site for more.

  5. The HP debate is important because it drastically alters the narrative. Whether you heroically evade the enemy attacks until you are worn down and an ally inspires you back to the fight, or whether you have three arrows sticking out of your back which you heroically power through until an ally mends your flesh, those are different stories with different tones that might be either compelling or ridiculous to different people.

    If the rules support one narrative instead of the other, then that’s going to alienate anyone who strongly prefers the other narrative. Early editions left it vague enough that you could go either way, but 4E was solidly in the inspiration camp and didn’t really support the alternative narrative. And of course, 5E promised that you could do both, but failed miserably in the execution (though it failed by only supporting 4E, in this instance).

    • I’m going to have to disagree with you on 5e. If you’re only looking at the Player’s Handbook, sure, the HP that completely regenerate after a long rest sure do seem less like meat and more like an abstract, but the Dungeon Master’s Guide give a few alternate options for how to handle healing. One of the things I love about 5e is that it really embraces the idea that it’s your game; you run it how you want.

      • Right, which is the idea that they were selling, and why I was originally willing to make the investment in the books. Even with the most restrictive options in the DMG, though, you can still recover from zero to full during an eight-hour short rest by spending all of your Hit Dice (though you might only be able to pull that off once per month).

        There are lots of dials for healing, but they don’t get anywhere near the AD&D model. Kind of like how there are lots of tactical options for combat (grid, flanking, marking), but it’s nowhere near what you could get from core 4E. The modular options are universally under-whelming.

      • Depending on how few HP you have remaining, it can be highly unlikely that you regain all your HP by rolling all hit dice, and then you won’t regain any of them until you take a 7-day long rest. (And depending on your DM, that can be much easier said than done.)

        I guess what it comes down to is that you’re still free to make tweaks to the rules you don’t like. The DMG even explicitly states that you aren’t confined to the rules (or monsters) in the three core books. Obviously, if you’re changing things willy-nilly to the point that it doesn’t even resemble the game anymore, you’re better off playing something else, but if you want grittier healing rules and more tactical grid-based combat, absolutely nothing is stopping you.

      • No, it doesn’t matter how few HP you have remaining – spending all of your Hit Dice will, on average, restore you from zero to full. It’s non-magical overnight full-heal, which is exactly the nuisance that this option was supposed to address!

        It’s not so much that the task of fixing the game is insurmountable, as that I shouldn’t have to. They promised us that we would have options to recreate our preferred playstyles, but their solutions are so far short of the mark as to come off as disrespectful. It’s not the kind of company that I would want to support.

      • “…but their solutions are so far short of the mark as to come off as disrespectful.”

        Now I think you’re just going overboard. Feeling personally slighted over the design of a game is kind of ridiculous. If you don’t like what they’ve done, there are loads of other F20 games out there to choose from.

      • Sorry, but there’s a difference between simply not delivering a product I want (which is fine whatever), and promising to deliver but failing horribly. The cost of that failure is measured in brand loyalty.

      • I think the trick to making your hit dice heal slower would be to slow the amount of hit dice you get back. RAW the hit dice you get back is half your maximum hit dice. if we assume that max hit dice = max HP restored, this means it takes about two weeks rest to restore hit points, if we use both gritty long rest = 1 week, no hp regen. Now, they don’t talk about it (And they really should have), but you can further cut that into say, a quarter of their hit dice restored. So now it’s a month in bed to get back hit points. Not a perfect solution, but it’s an idea.

      • But Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Magnolia, that would require using a rule not detailed in any of the three core books! Unthinkable!

      • It doesn’t matter how slowly you recover Hit Dice, because that only affects how *often* you can go from zero to full during a short rest. Even if it takes you twenty weeks (or months) to recover your Hit Dice, you can still spend them all at once and be back to full after a short rest (however long that may be). Not to mention how changing the duration of short and long rests in such an extreme fashion might make the game less fun for… basically everyone except rogues.

        To actually address the issue in a meaningful way, you would need to remove Hit Dice from the equation entirely, which creates significant complications with the other game mechanics which reference Hit Dice (where Hit Dice were intended as a limiting factor to keep those other things in check).

      • What are you looking for from 5E’s Hit Dice? Is it a more even progression of healing and HP loss between long rests, or something else? You’re saying that you’re annoyed about being able to fully heal with Hit Dice during a short rest, but I’m not certain how and would be interested to know.

      • I just want healing rules that follow along with the basic narrative that I’ve been using since the nineties. If you get beaten nearly to death (whatever that means), then – barring something illogical, like magic – you should still feel it the next day.

        Nobody should have a get-out-of-jail-free card just because this is the first time they’ve been beaten nearly to death *recently*.

        Hit Dice make sense as a game mechanic, so the day isn’t over after one bad encounter. And it can work on a narrative level, if you play Hit Points as mostly heroic resolve or meta-game plot armor. I don’t want to be forced into that sort of narrative, though.

      • Then you’ll likely want something with more detail than hit points. HP, on their own, are a perfectly reasonable abstraction for determining whether you’re still alive* and establishing resource management based on Not Wanting to Be Dead. But that’s about it; as written, being at 3 HP is the same as being at 30 or 300 HP. You’ve just got the binary of “Are You Dead? (Y/N)”.
        If you’re looking to go beyond that, to have damage still mean something in the morning and *actually reinforce that*, then you’ll have to go into, again, more detail. And a number of systems already do this, whether it’s the 40K system of wounds/critical wounds, the d20 variant rule of vitality/wound points, the life spiral from Iron Kingdoms, L5R’s escalating penalties for taking wounds, Fate’s system of stress/consequences, or the Eclipse Phase system of durability/wounds.
        There’s a fair amount to pull from, and you can probably find something to your liking. Just keep in mind that this isn’t so much an issue with Hit Dice as a broader incompatibility between your preferred playstyle and using hit points straight up. :)

        *This being the cue for a Portal or Social Distortion reference.

      • Except that Hit Points worked fine as an abstract measure of beaten-up-ed-ness for thirty years. Action penalties and death-spirals are added complexities which are not needed or appreciated.

        They had a perfectly workable system, saw that it was too weak to support their gamist agenda, and so they softened it up to be even less concrete. It’s basically the same problem that you see in all of those heart-breakers, where they add in a bunch of complications to make it more realistic (and terrible to anyone who doesn’t buy into their agenda), except here they’re making it less realistic (but still terrible to anyone who doesn’t buy into their agenda).

      • You’re basically trapping yourself in a paradox, then.
        Your stated goal is that you “just want healing rules that follow along with the basic narrative that [you’ve] been using since the nineties. If [someone gets] beaten nearly to death (whatever that means), then – barring something illogical, like magic – [they] should still feel it the next day.” This is, on its own, fine. Some folks enjoy gritty play, after all.
        But you’ve also said that “…Hit Points worked fine as an abstract measure of beaten-up-ed-ness for thirty years. Action penalties and death-spirals are added complexities which are not needed or appreciated.” Again, on its own a preference for the simplicity and abstraction of hit points is fine.
        The problem is that, taken together, these two are incompatible. Like I said above, HP establish a binary variable of “Are You Dead? (Y/N)” with no detail beyond that. Whether you’re at 3 HP, 30 HP, or 300 HP; there’s no difference in your capabilities. You’re not going to “still feel it the next day”, beyond a vague sense of risk. You can say that you’d still feel it, but there’s nothing backing that up. There’s a saying in MtG that “no point of damage matters except for the last point of damage”, and this situation is exactly the sort of thing that the saying applies to.

      • Except that it actually did work, for decades before 4E came along. Even if the only mechanical effect of being down to your last few HP is that you can’t take another hit and keep going, that’s sufficient to model the process to the degree that we care about.

        It’s just that a lot of people, apparently including both you and the current designers, assume that it would be insufficient and that nobody should be using the mechanic for that purpose. Which is a failure on their part to understand their market demographic; hence the backlash.

      • Hit points got used for a while to represent the “meat” side of the “luckmeat” abstraction because that’s the model people had, not because some folks sat down to examine what the rules *tell* us versus what they *show* us and make the best rules out there. They were originally stolen from naval wargaming in which one hit was literally a hit point, and in such circumstances you’re not going to care about feeling the effects afterwards. But just because they’re a TRPG tradition doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t critically examine them from time to time, to see what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.
        Intellectual rigor’s a good thing, y’know? ;)

      • It’s also possible to critically examine something and decide that it’s still perfectly functional.

        That doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to find something better; it just means that the task is harder than it seems. Most attempts to update Hit Points in one direction or the other have been a failure. Even with the massive playtest base that WotC had at its disposal, they still failed.

      • “Most attempts to update Hit Points in one direction or the other have been a failure. Even with the massive playtest base that WotC had at its disposal, they still failed.”

        Either that or the current rules on HP are just what they determined players preferred after said massive playtest. But nah, that’s just crazy talk. I’ll just put on the tinfoil hat and rail against the “gamist agenda” conspiracy!

      • If their goal was to unify the editions through a modular ruleset, while letting anyone treat HP as they had been in any previous edition (as the relevant sidebar in the PHB suggests), then yes it was a failure.

        If their goal was to promote one particular playstyle, while claiming to support others and then not offering the tools to do so, then that does sound like they had a hidden agenda. Maybe they’re just incompetent, though. Hanlon’s Razor and all.

      • “If their goal was to promote one particular playstyle, while claiming to support others and then not offering the tools to do so…”

        The tools are there; it’s called “house-ruling” and requires just a little tiny bit of extra thought. But if your agenda is just to find something to complain about…

      • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the Oberoni fallacy refers to rules that are actually broken that need to be fixed. The rules of 5e are perfectly fictional; you just don’t like them and feel personally ripped off.

      • The rules do not function in the manner advertised, which is to let you play in a manner similar to your preferred edition.

        If someone was selling a modular vehicle that could be converted from a car into a boat or plane, but the boat configuration leaked and the plane configuration couldn’t fly, then you would say that’s a non-functional design regardless of how well the car configuration worked. Whether or not you could make those other configurations work, by building your own components and attaching those instead, is irrelevant.

      • Welp, sorry you feel cheated. As I said before, you sure are lucky you live in a day and age where so many D&D clones with every possible rules variation you can think of exist. I genuinely hope you find something you like better.

  6. You guys should really stop talking about sexuality and gender. You guys don’t really understand what you’re talking about and are only alienating people who do.

    • I’m curious what you mean. Obviously, Jef and Jon are speaking from firsthand experience, but it’s anecdotal and therefore likely to be flawed. I’d like to know what specifically is abnormal about what they’ve seen.

  7. I’m actually surprised you didn’t mention RIFTS for a monster manual. While all the non-humanoid, non-sentient, non-player character monsters get stats, albeit randomized, I really hate having to stat up an individual Coalition foot soldier, Dog Boy, Simivan raiders, Brodkill marauders or the average Pecos bandit every time using the OCCs and RCCs. That’s one of those things, that’s painful about the system, no generic adversaries. In fact, the Coalition really shouldn’t have playable OCCs, their entire write-up should just have been “here’s a bunch of cannon fodder to shoot at, have fun.”

    As for Hit Points, I’ve felt that TSR/WotC didn’t have a clear idea, Gygax reference aside. For example, I remember in AD&D 2nd Edition that gunpowder weapons having extremely powerful effects with exploding damage dice to be dangerous to experienced (i.e. high-HP) characters. Thinking about it now, they really should have given them high damage dice but more in common with the great weapons instead of a wholly new damage system. Like, gun weapons should kill most low-level characters in one-shot, but if I’m a Level 20 Hercules, that should be just another mortal item that I can shrug off. I think even later d20 games with more modern firearms like D20 Modern or Spycraft, treated high-level, high-HP characters more like ’80s action heroes, able to wade through gun fire while mowing down scores of enemies. That’s perfectly reasonable, high-level, high-HP characters should be more mythical than just have more meat.

    And speaking of which, I’ve felt that Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K RPGs had it right in concept but wrong in name: they call their damage system “Wounds” when it does, in fact, act like “Hit Points” where it’s not just how much meat they have but their tenacity, luck, combat ability, etc. that increases the characters’ longetivity. Also, when exhausted of Wounds, then damage inflicted does critical wounds to them. It’s like those missing -10 hit points in D&D people always forget about, the ones that actually separate a player character from the living and the dead.

    • Something that the podcast kind of ignored in the D20 Modern review is that D20 Modern is about playing action movies rather than reality. Like, the rules for magic are labelled as FX powers and everything.

      Most of the weird stuff about that system falls into line when taken in that context. Like, yes, the guy shot you and that means you actually did get shot; but you’re an action hero, so you’ll be fine as long as you don’t catch too many more bullets before you can get that looked at.

      • Yeah, like every bullet wound you get is a graze, even headshots; or “it went through clean straight thru” without expansion or hitting anything vital; or the classic “I get shot point-blank with a shotgun blast to the torso and thrown 20 feet but the vest saved me” instead of having to deal with hematomas, soft tissue damage, and broken ribs from blunt trauma. At worst, it’s the John Wayne shoulder wound were you can can’t use your arm for the remainder of the game but it’ll recover completely fine by the next session.

  8. I have to disagree with the idea that DnD’s 4e (and 3e also had tried to make balance a mathematical thing with all the EL crap). Most games do not have this kind of system, and while it sounds good it has made players less cautious. They often just charge in knowing that the game balance means they will probably win and it will not be out of their abilities. Other games, even old school DnD, this was not true. You needed to determine how deadly the encounter is, and if you think you may lose or are not sure of the enemy’s strength you might try to sneak around it, try diplomacy, and so on. I have played a lot of Parhfinder, DND 3.5, some 4e, and this is the case.

    This was really a shock to some kids in a one-shot Dungeon Crawl Classics game I ran at my FLGS. Balance is not a big thing, except between the characters so they do not get jealous of another’s player’s more powerful character. So the adventure goes and by the end half the party was dead (it was a slightly killer dungeon written knowing it was not a campaign), although I thought they were fair, but this guy brought his preteen kids and they were upset. I asked why and he said, “they have only played 4e. None have ever played a character who has died.” Really?

    This is not to say I want to kill the characters and without WotC’s “use the sine function to determine the gradient of the EL raised to the level of the party” math based balancing you need to be aware of the situations. I have ran games with no balancing for almost all of my 102 years on this Earth and had to fudge the rules at time to save them- they don’t know the stats, they don’t know my rolls. They don’t know this. My job is to make a game that feels fair, challenging, and so on, and death needs to be part of that.

    I find that total fiat is too far left and relying on the outcome of the die without exceptions is too far right. I use some fiat to make the game feel better and heroic, but I like dice because randomness means nothing is sure and that make scenes tense. But if a character is going to have a meaningless death I have to step in (secretly) because the death needs to mean something.

    In fact, one thing I dislike about d20 and 4e (I have yet to play 5e) is that the results are too defined, they leave almost no room for interpretation, and there is an attitude that fudging it is wrong.

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