Sunday, 6th May, 2012, 11:16 PM #101
A jumbled collection of thoughts...
I appreciated the clarity of 4E, but I would agree the books could be dry. Oddly, when Essentials came out, one of the stated design goals of 4.E was to be an easier entry point into the game. I say 'oddly' because I personally have a really hard time finding the information I need when looking through Essentials. I'd go so far as to say (IMO) The Heroes of _____ books presented information in a way which was harder for me to grok than even some of the most obtuse 3rd Edition books I own.
I don't find 3rd Edition to be nearly as hard to understand as (most?) other people seem to. Maybe that is because I have more than one mode of reading I use? What I mean by that is that there is normal reading mode in which I sit and just read; doing so was rather enjoyable throughout most of my 3rd Edition library. During game time, what I do is more of a quick scan. I know the information I am looking for, so I briefly scan the text and pick out what I need. If something is particularly troublesome for me to remember (Turn Undead rules, I'm looking at you,) I write them down. Did I mention that books have an index? While the cross-referencing and indexing of the 3rd Edition books do not (in my opinion) reach the quality of such things found in the GURPS books I own (not to name drop -but they do a really good job of book layout,) I feel 3rd Edition did a pretty good job of making it easy to find the pages I needed.
I never played 2nd Edition; however, I highly enjoy reading the 2nd Edition Monster Manual. I've read the book (and others) via friends of mine who have the material. I can't speak to the quality of the rules, but something about the way the book is written makes me feel like I want to play the game -in spite of how horrible I'm told Thac0 was.
I am not familiar enough with 1st edition to comment on it.
If I can get back to 3rd for a moment, I really hated the monster layout they shifted to for MM4 and 5. Much like 4th Edition's Essentials, I remember the later 3rd Edition format being touted as easier to read. Personally, the 'new' 3rd Edition format was difficult for me. I had a hard time finding some of the information which came up during play -in spite of me finding many of the creatures very interesting.
I'm currently a new Pathfinder player. I felt the Beginner's Box was excellent. The information was clearly presented, and it was presented in a way which flowed smoothly. Moving to the full game, it was much like 3rd Edition. However, there are a few minor changes to layout. In a few instances, those minor changes made accessing the crunch information faster and easier for me.
Overall, if I had to choose an ideal D&D layout for me, I'd choose something between 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition; leaning more toward 3rd. I'd also suggest that WoTC look at the Pathfinder Beginner's Box and GURPS* Dungeon Fantasy
*I mention it because it's a product line for a modular/toolkit game which is intended to produce games in a vein similar to D&D, Pathfinder, etc. Despite being a game which includes more options and things to choose from, I feel that DF sometimes presents the information in a way which is easier to access than 4th Edition Essentials. Being that 5th Edition is supposed to be a more modular approach, I feel looking at a game which is currently a dungeon fantasy style with a modular approach would be a good idea.
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Lama (Lvl 13)
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ø Ignore Bedrockgames
I was wrong about 5E
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Although I agree that the individual "flavorlessness" of powers and spells is less inspirational and makes it harder to engage with, I think the amount of fluff in 4E outweight 3E/Pathfinder, in some respects.
Of course, all this is based on my fuzzy memory and impressions, so please bear with me.
Introductory text and sidebars in 4E have been extremely evocative, I've felt. The recent Heroes of... books, definitely, but even the earlier Draconomicons and even the original PHB to some extent.
I think Grell's "whitespace argument" makes sense. Perhaps, 1) if you didn't need 40 power entries for each class, and 2) you included evocative sidebar text on most powers... this would allow you to keep about 4 "powers" per page, still concisely presented, while also providing immersive fluff.
A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)
Heh. I knew my article would get interpreted as a desire for more fluff rather than a desire for prose-rules. I think 4E has a perfectly acceptable amount of fluff, albeit ring fenced in power entries. I wouldn't want to see more of it; just have it mixed with the mechanics rather than specifically separated out.
I can get on board with that. However, at the same time, I felt that Essentials did that in a way which made finding the information harder. Maybe I'm in the minority when it comes to that opinion? I have no problem finding the info I need when going through Pathfinder or my Dungeon Fantasy books. In contrast, the Essentials layout frustrates me.
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
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ø Ignore beepeearr
4e powers were quite simply put, boring and repetitious. It was too easy to miss a keyword here or there or a to hit bonus, or an indention and realize you had a power that worked completely different than the way you thought it did, or forget which class a power belonged too. 4E did some good things on the DM side, but man did it create a ton of redundant almost identical powers. The individual powers mights have been fine, but there was just so many of them that they became such a tedious read.
Previous editions were better at grabbing your attention, and much easier to read, but it would be nice to somehow keep the actual rules bit separate when there is a lot of prose or fluff, the 3e sleep spell was ok, I remember 2e needing some separation of rules and prose though.
One of the nice things about previous editions was sleep was sleep, not a handful of slightly different abilities.
I really like the approach Mutants and Masterminds 3e took with powers broken down into effects and then you build your powers from those effects. Basically it still opens up the game to having unique powers, but without having rulebook upon rulebook of named powers most just slightly different from other named powers.
Then the Players handbook could be the effects in straight forward terminology, and save the prosey descriptions for sample character write ups, monster manuals and adventures. Oh well never going to happen, but I would have been way more excited if WotC had brought back Steve Kenson instead of Monte Cook.
WotC needs to launch the next edition with a great adventure though whatever writing style they choose for the rules. Its the adventures that people will remember in 10 years not "Hey, remember how they changed the wording of sleep that one time"
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One of the things which got me to buy into Pathfinder (I recently learned the game) was the quality of the Beginner's Box. The information was well represented, and the starter adventure was fun. There's a lot to be said for a company who can offer all of their material for free on their website, and still convince me to purchase a book.
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
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A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
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The prose style and the almost bullet-point style of 4e both have advantages, and I'd like to see each play to their strengths.
The thing I like about the almost clinical 4e-style is that it is great for gaining an at-a-glance executive summary of what something is about. Both new and well-versed readers can benefit from that, the former primarily because it provides a simple structure on which to hang all other relevant information, and the latter because that most important information is a great shortcut for reference purposes.
The thing I like most about using prose is that it is often easier to provide an explicit link between the rules as they are generally intended to be used (i.e. the executive summary) and the fiction. I find this very beneficial to immersion, as clearly do many others in the thread. It also tends to embrace the rules as rules suggestions, and can give enough detail to help the DM consistently adjudicate the aspects which are too small to be worth a full rules treatment. It becomes, in effect, a hinting mechanism for both the DM and player. This last point is important because no matter how cleanly presented the basic rules are, such situations will arise unless one is willing to hand-wave a fair number of potentially jarring outcomes or (less often) accept the rules as the setting's physics.
That being the case, I think I'd want to at least explore a presentation with a very concise sidebar that captures the most basic information like a 4e power or the attributes of a 3e spell. Then I'd have a prose description of what is happening that is set much more within the fiction of the game, relying as much as possible on the sidebar to avoid a repetition of information, and also providing the hinting I mentioned earlier. To help marry these elements together I would make fairly strong use of 4e-like keywords, along with a mechanism to clearly delineate when a single effect has subparts which are one keyword but not the other.
Perhaps more radically, I'd want to try to format them in such a way that one could almost modularize the rules presentation to better fit the different preferences found in this thread. In one module the sidebar would be the principle expression of the rules, with the prose understood primarily as useful for corner cases or difficult calls. This would be a "rules-first" playstyle, where what happens is usually more important than how it happens. The second module would place the prose in equal weight with the sidebar, so that the emphasis is on what is going on in the fictional world and then interpreting through the lens of the rules.
Another interesting possibility might be to provide multiple prose sections that represent different "implementations" of something like a spell. For example, a spell like Gust of Wind could be very similar to a spell like Blast of Force, identical in its first-order effects but with distinct second-order interactions. The people who reflavor freely in 4e could continue to do so, while those who want to see additional impact from their reflavorings would have a much clearer structure for doing so, and for balancing their changes with the first version of the spell.
This idea might not work if the separation I'm suggesting simply can't be be done elegantly, or if it places too great a burden on the developer to essentially make sure the rules work under two different emphases. Still, let me try to present the sleep spell in something like this method. This is similar to what @Klaus suggested, and I'm borrowing some of his ideas because I liked them.
(The keywords after the semicolon might denote those for the "vanilla" version of the spell, while those before it might be the ones common to all versions. The fact that the sleep kicks in at the end of the target's next turn is obviously a 4e-like save or die moment, but I like it much more than kicking in after the first failed save because that led to weird situations where granting an extra save and failing turned out to be worse than not getting that extra save at all. The asterisk denotes that one could apply that improvement to the spell multiple times.)Sleep (Level 1) (Ainamacar Edition)
1 action ✦ Sleep; Enchantment, Verbal
Area: Burst 5 feet within 100 feet
Target: All creatures in burst
Attack: Casting attribute vs. Wisdom
Hit: Slowed (save ends). If ongoing at end of target's next turn it must save or become unconscious for 1 minute (damage or granted saving throw ends).
Miss: Slowed (save ends)
-1: Target willing creatures only, who magically fall into an otherwise natural sleep at the end of their next turn.
*+2: Increase burst size by 5 feet
+2: Affects all living targets, even those that don't normally sleep.
+2/4/6: Unconscious for 1 hour/day/forever
+4: May specify creatures to exclude from effect
+8: Unconscious forever (requires quest to awaken)
Here are various versions of the spell. As I see it, each version has its own sub-name and keywords. Other changes to the basic form of the spell (which should be very minimal) can also be given. This is also a good place for spell improvements which specifically relate to given details.
♪ Mr. Sandman... ♪Sleep ✦ Enchantment, Sleep, Verbal
You speak a word of lethargy, one so powerful it is difficult to force the final syllable from your own mouth. Despite their better judgment, the targets feel a compulsion to nap.
This might be a bard spell, or appropriate for certain types of clerics.Sleeping Dust ✦ Creation, Enchantment, Somatic, Sleep
With a wave of your hand you cause a burst of very fine magical sand to explode in a nearby area, although it quickly dissipates. Creatures within the sand cloud are overcome with weariness, falling asleep if they fail to shake off the initial effect.
*+1: The magical sand persists one additional round, although it may be dispersed earlier by large winds or the like. Creatures entering the region are subject to the initial attack, but no target may be attacked multiple times by a single casting.
Necromancers, evil enchanters, and several deities might enjoy this version. Maybe even shadow druids. It introduces an attack against a new defense score, but I don't think it's different enough to be worth a completely separate effect.Lullaby ✦ Enchantment, Sleep, Sonic, Verbal or Somatic
You sing (Verbal) or play (Somatic) a soft verse that calls all who hear it to sweet slumber, but for some that call is magically enhanced.
+1: While you continuously perform the lullaby (an action each round that does not put new creatures to sleep) waking up is difficult. Creatures that can hear you must make a saving throw at a -2 penalty to wake up.
+2: If you sing the lullaby you may select a language. Only creatures within the burst that understand that language are affected.
Perfect for druids, clerics of nature deities, and maybe even some wizards (especially Dark Sun preservers.) This variant moves a bit further from the base by attacking a different defense, but also making up for the limitation of being on the ground in natural terrain by essentially granting a turn of immobilization rather than slowed.Night's Torpor ✦ Darkness, Necromancy, Sleep, Verbal
Attack: Casting attribute vs. Constitution
You speak a foul word and a spectral inkiness spreads over the bodies of the targets, absorbing their vigor like water into a dry sponge. Those who do not resist the night's call fall into a fitful sleep.
+1: All creatures have concealment against the target until the spell ends, and sighted creatures are blind for 1 round after waking from this spell.
+2: You may plant a nightmare within a sleeping target's psyche by touching the target (an action), although the target may make a Wisdom save to avoid the effect. This effect has the Enchantment and Psychic keywords. If you remain in contact with the creature you may enter a trance to passively observe its nightmare until it wakes up or you choose to end the trance. This trance otherwise behaves like that of the nightmare spell.
+4: You may plant and observe a nightmare as above, but you also create a link with the target that allows you to actively participate and interact with the target within its nightmare.
By having a single base effect one can effectively generate a whole bunch of spells that work basically the same way, but mesh with a host of different themes and can be expanded upon in unique ways. DMs that don't want to fuss with all the extra stuff can pretty much just run with the base spell, and reflavor as necessary. If they want to expand upon the spell in a specific instance several variants will likely be on the same page as the sleep spell proper. Electronic character sheets can do all the necessary substitutions, whether the full-text or just a summary is required. Finally, by presenting several variants side-by-side, homebrewers may find it much easier to get an idea of what the designer's thought was a good variability for the different versions of a spell.Languorous Landscape ✦ Creation, Poison, Sleep, Somatic
Attack: Casting attribute vs. Constitution
Hit: Immobilized (save ends) instead of slowed (save ends), otherwise as base spell.
You touch the ground at your feet, and in the distance new life springs from the ground, but this burst of flora and even some very small fauna holds a toxic secret, releasing pollens, spores, and other natural products which for a brief moment can induce even the mightiest creatures to sleep. This spell can only be performed in a natural environment, or an unnatural one where significant natural life is present.
+1: You cast this spell subtly (remove Somatic keyword).
*+1: The toxins are produced for one additional round, although any damage to the new life in a space will prevent additional production. Creatures entering the region are subject to the initial attack, but no target may be attacked multiple times by a single casting.
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