D&D 4th Edition Working in the Game Mine


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    Working in the Game Mine

    What roles do story and mechanics play in your game? Mike takes a look at both in terms of monsters and how DMs approach their games this week.

    Read Working in the Game Mine on D&D Insider here!

 

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    Interesting, as long as they keep the role/level off the top of the creature description I'm happy, I don't want the first thing in a creature description to be its roll, I find that in game terms it's arbitrary and immersion breaking.

    I hate it when my players say "oh it's probably a controller so attack it's fort", totally turn me off.

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    So as I read it, the MM will be free of technical terms. But maybe there is an appendix, where roles are applied to the monsters.

    Seems totally right.

    I could also imagine PC classes having no technical description of their role, but an appendix later telling you what the class is good at.

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    Quote Originally Posted by UngeheuerLich View Post

    I could also imagine PC classes having no technical description of their role, but an appendix later telling you what the class is good at.
    I'd rather not, I think that class roles should be left out of the game all together.

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    As long as the level, XP, and monster role is on the monster page, am okay with it.

    I still will never get what is so offensive about having mechanical encounter information on the monster's page.
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    Quote Originally Posted by UngeheuerLich View Post
    So as I read it, the MM will be free of technical terms. But maybe there is an appendix, where roles are applied to the monsters.

    Seems totally right.

    I could also imagine PC classes having no technical description of their role, but an appendix later telling you what the class is good at.
    That would also "force" them to make all classes good at something. I wasn't a big fan of the 3.x Monk (the AD&D one was pretty decent).
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    The article is interesting and insightful, but I think it misses an additional level of divide which actually goes a bit beyond monster design. I agree that both approaches (the monster make sense in the game world / the monster makes a good challenge if the DM wants that approach to his adventure design) can be made compatible, but there are players and DMs who either want a more simulationist approach to design and other who precisely don't want that. The second group appreciate the freedom it gives to antagonist design, the first like the logical approach to the game world and how everything makes sense.

    Continuing with the Bob example, he may have stolen the power from an elemental lord; that's good enough for the second approach which for the sake of convenience and not with any intention of edition slapfight I'll call 4e approach. For them, Bob can be a solo with four times the hit points of a normal human and an AC of 35 while wearing non magical robes because that's the AC he needs so he's an acceptable challenge and nobody bats an eye.

    The other camp, which I'll name the 3e approach doesn't like that. How exactly does one steal power from an elemental lord, and can a PC do that? Is it a Elemental Lords' Power Thief prestige class? A Steal Power From Elemental Lords spell? What spell-like abilities does he need to get the AC I need so he's not Power Attacked into negatives in a single round? How many feats he's entitled to? And if Bob is a mage, you have some freedom on how many hit point does he have if you're geneous with his Con score and handwave an extra powerful False life spells or whatnot, but he won't have 4 times the hit points of a PC because that's not how the universe behaves.

    Both Bobs can have an interesting and consistent backstory and simultaneously work well as a combat challenge, but one approach isn't going to sit well with either group.

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    I was not happy with this idea. IF they do this then every monster book needs a DMG to go with it. I want my controler, solder, lurker info to help me build encounters, but if i need dmg for that, and an MM for the stats that sucks...

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    Oh dear.

    This point is where things could diverge. In one approach, we explain Bob's ability to conjure whirlwinds because he once conquered a region of the elemental plane of air, slew a mighty elemental prince of storms, and claimed his powers. In the other approach, we tell you that Bob is a controller, and because of that he has abilities that allow him to move people around in a fight.
    Do. Both.

    The adventure should almost certainly tell the DM that Bob can control winds because of that elemental thing. But it should also tell the DM that Bob is a Controller.

    It's like the selection of a PC's class - the player probably chose Fighter because he wants his character to be good at hitting things, and that's the appropriate class for that.

    (And yeah, to an extent that's circular logic. Did the player choose Fighter because he fancied playing that class, and the "hit things" come after, or did he want to "hit things" and so chose Fighter? It doesn't actually matter - the bottom line is that the player has a Fighter and he's good at "hitting things"... and his character sheet notes both.)

    I believe that we can use both approaches, as long as we're mindful of how and why we're doing it. An entry in a book like the Monster Manual might be driven entirely by the first approach. The entry frames everything in terms of story and the immersive elements of the world of D&D. Monsters don't have roles, they have backstories and cultures.
    Again, why can't they have both? The 4e MM did a really good job in presenting several different types of orcs/goblins/drow/whatever, each with different roles to reflect their place in their appropriate societies. The 4e MM went wrong in that it tended to skimp on background details, but that doesn't mean you drop the mechanical expression of the roles, it means you add the 'missing' background stuff.

    After all, an Ogre is not going to be any less a Brute just because the MM doesn't list him as such.

    For maximum utility, include both monster backstory and the monster roles.

    On the other hand, our encounter-building guidelines should speak to our more technical-minded DMs. We give crystal clear advice on how to balance encounters.
    Fair enough...

    We give you a list of every creature and tell you what it's best at.
    Ah I see. Put it in the Monster Manual, in the entries for each monster. That way, when you add more monsters, you don't have to print revised tables, and end up with wasted pages in the DMG.

    The story DM rolls on random encounter charts or just picks the creature that feels right.
    Or, and this is a radical thought, you could provide storytelling guidance to such DMs. Take the time to talk to them about pacing, and character motivations, and all the rest. Explain to them different types of encounters (speedbumps, overwhelming encounters, etc), how they each fit into the story and how each can be used to a different effect.

    The 4e DMG, to its credit, at least tried to do this. Sadly, it largely failed (IMO). But here's a suggestion: Ari Marmell has done significant work for you in the past. He also has significant credits with White Wolf's Storyteller/ing systems. Why not leverage that expertise and have him write some guidelines for you?

    Do you start with a list of monsters by level and role, or do you flip through a book looking for creatures that are greedy and foolish enough to strike an alliance with a cleric of Cyric? When the characters head to the Amedio jungle, is your first impulse to sort creatures by their typical climate and geographic territory, or would you happily reskin a yeti into a jungle brute if you liked the yeti's mechanics? If we're doing our job right, it doesn't matter which approach you prefer. The game supports both without making one or the other feel wrong.
    I agree 100% with the principle of what you're trying to achieve. I'm just not 100% sure you're going about it the best way.

  • #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Minigiant View Post
    I still will never get what is so offensive about having mechanical encounter information on the monster's page.
    There's nothing inherently offensive about having broader mechanical information in the monster entry. Most editions have included some encounter notes. I think Mike's thinly-veiled 4E-bashing tends to push it that way.

    4E innovated and did a lot right with monster and encounter design from a mechanical standpoint. However, from a literary standpoint (ie, setting/lore) it was about as evocative as drying paint. The point Mike is making is that both mechanics and lore have merit, but more importantly both have a place where they are important.

    The obvious question being asked is this: what is the main focus of a monster's entry in the MM? Is it their individual mechanics (ie, stat-block)? Is it their broad mechanics (ie role)? Is it their literary description (ie, lore)? Or should all three hold equal weight? A more subtle question is: what is the purpose of the MM? Is it a collection of literary nuggets? Is it a collection of purely mechanical stats? Is it a method by which to build encounters and adventures?

    For my part, I feel the answer is that the MM has to be all three in roughly equal balance. To that end, a monster's stat-block has to include mechanics, lore, and "meta-mechanics." Does the latter need to be as overt (and frankly, rigid) as 4E? No. However, I think having a "Role" entry in the stat-block is appropriate in aiding how a monster can be incorporated into an encounter, in the same manner as having lore or stats is appropriate. The entry should contain everything needed to run the monster, and that includes its mechanical interactions on a broader scale.

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