D&D 4th Edition Working in the Game Mine





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  1. #1

    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!

  2. #2
    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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  3. #3
    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.

  4. #4
    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.

    Warder
    I LIKE COMBAT AS WAR!!!!!!

    the essence of D&D is "The thrill of victory the agony of a natural 1" - Mike Mearls, Gen Con 2012

    Starting From the Ground Up - ACKS Economic system
    Starting From the Grounds Up, Part II - ACKS Economic system

  5. #5
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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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by delericho View Post
    Do. Both.
    Yes, please, do both. And please explain why both are in there. Avoid the false dichotomy that says one must/will overpower or be more important than the other. Write (or hire to have written) nice introductory paragraphs that explain how story and game statistics/terms/mechanics inform each other, and how each can be used together to craft a game that suits the DM and the players. Just as knowing my fighter has 40 Hit Points doesn't mean I would be likely to willingly jump off a building with her because "hey, it's just 1d10 damage!", a DM knowing X is an appropriate challenge is not limiting for for how they can or cannot craft a story.

    Once the idea is set that both are in there and serve each other, keep the info consistently complete and let it continue to inform all sides of the playing experience.

    peace,

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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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  8. #8
    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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    I've had this idea on what a monster is worth for years but the (will to use) technology hasn't been up to speed.

    Every monster is assigned stats and abilities. These are set into stone. Each monster is also assigned an XP-value which represents how dangerous it is. Now, the XP-value is listed online and D&D players can vote to increase or decrease that number.
    This will balance the XP with the actual danger level of the monster regardless of if the attacks sounds more effective than they actually are.
    Some people will try to trick the system but in the end truth will win. It's a matter of how it's set up and the actual obscurity of D&D monster's XP-value. The designers' default XP-estimate will also be available.
    When a monsters XP-value is off it will create an outcry at sites such as this and gamers will rush to set the record straight. As new tactics are developed fans will adjust the XP to accomodate for these advances.

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    Ignore Minigiant
    This article and thread highlights the 3 DM approaches to encounter building.

    The first type of DM is concerned with what happened BEFORE the encounter. This is the more narrative+simulationist view. The DM puts in the encounter what the nonplayer characters would have independent of the player characters. The rich Duke has many minions because he is rich and can afford them. The orcs have axes and bows as they are primitive and lack standing forges. The noble has Heraldic lore because he has to know coats of arms to deal with other nobility. The subject of balance is less of a matter as the encounter has what is organically sensible instead of worry what will happen when the PC show up.

    The second type of DM thinks about what happens DURING the encounter. Throw is the more narrative+gamist approach. They worry about how much damage the enemies deal compared to the health and healing of the PCs. This DMs are more likely to add allies to the foes to cover weaknesses or extend the encounter. The duke gets a mage henchman or magical helm to dispel any attempt to use Charm Person on him. He also gets an ogre to suck up the damage an still live if the heroes have an Area of Effect blasting wizard. This is where Role info and spell list is needed as balance is a concern.

    The last DM type is more concerned on what happens AFTER encounters. It is more gamist+narrative as it is more railroady if done a lot. If the DM want the first 3 encounters to be cakewalk, he'll only use 3-5 orcs in the first few areas of the dungeon. If he wants the heroes to consider running back to town for help after the first battle, then there are 20 orcs at the door. If he wants the noble to be hard to defeat but have a glaring weakness, then he'll add more orc bodyguard but have the orcs keep goblin captive that might turn on them. Here encounter information is important as the DM like to know what is more likely to happen.
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