Friday, 12th October, 2012, 12:58 AM #231
I think that the smarts of an MU, and the contrast with other PCs in that respect, were expected to emerge, at least in part, via the way the PC was played.
I don't know 3E well enough to know what other knowledgeable classes you have in mind (the bard? but won't INT be weaker for a bard than for a wizard, so that the wizard will somewhat make up the gap in skill points and have a better stat bonus to Knowledge?).
In 4e, the wizard is I think the most knowledgeable class, having access to all 5 knowledge skills (Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature and Religion), having good INT and (for some builds, at least) secondary WIS, and having good access to rituals. An invoker is also a good scholar, with good WIS (but no class access to Dungeoneering or Nature), and (for some builds, at least) secondary INT. Like wizards, psions favour INT, but lack Nature and Religion as class skills; swordmages favour INT, but have lack Dungeoneering, Nature and Religion.
Warlocks can also have secondary INT, but are likely to have lower WIS, and lack Nature and Dungeoneering as class skills, and so are second-tier intellectuals. Bards have access to the full range of skills, but will have secodary INT, or secondary WIS, but not both. A warlord can be a good historian (History class skill plus secondary INT) but has no other knowledge class skills.
So maybe because I have a lot of experience with Rolemaster, where casters tend to have narrow spell lists by classic D&D standards but are also generally the best at knowledge, or because I am currently GMing 4e, which tends to resemble RM in this respect, I have a different view of the situation.
I'm not worried about the sage's overlap - it's the sheer mechanical effectiveness. If it's clearly better than the casters, they get downgraded in relative terms which means, if the game is tightly designed, also in absolute terms.
I agree with you that scenario design is a somewhat separate area. I think good scenario design permits multiple avenues, and tries to spell out consequences for that. So if the players don't have a scholarly sage among them, they have to learn the info some other way (say, go to the scriptorium and ask politely, bribe, or just shake the place down!). And this other way should matter to how things unfold. (This is tricky in pre-packaged scenario design, but I think not impossible - look at the scenarios in the HeroWars Narrator's Book, or some of the Penumbra d20 modules.)
As far as D&Dnext is concerned, I think this is where background traits could be put to work. The players and GM should both be playing towards traits as natural guides to likely approaches to a scenario, and also sources of consequences.
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Of course, as I said above, I may be wrong in this respect. If they're prepared to publish options that break their game, that's their prerogative. My concern is them designing a game that assumes the mechanical and story space, without breaking, for such PCs.
My personal preference is for a tighter approach to design, where they have a clear sense of the parameters for viable PC abilities, clearly stake those out (fighters for melee, bards for social, the "intellectual" caster classes for scholarship, etc) and then design within them. The mundane sage would then be no better than the wizard in effectiveness, but might perhaps have meta-abilities (whether along the lazy warlord buffing line, or something else) to substitute for a lack of spells. I'd do the duelist the same way, I think - their fighting is the same as the fighter, but they get other abilities to compensate for no armour - perhaps a tumble to add active rather than passive defence, and maybe more hit points to give them a meta-defensive resource that the fighter lacks. (Though this would interact oddly with non-melee dimensions of hit point loss - maybe a bonus to parrying dice could be a viable alternative.)
For me, D&D is gonzo fantasy. You start with goblins and finish with Orcus. On the way through you fight hordes of humanoids, many demons and ghosts and other supernatural creatures, dragons, purple worms, etc. The fights what were defining of legendary heroes (say, Hercules, Beowulf or Bard vs their respective dragons) are just one among many for you! Yet, perhaps, no less significant for that (because of the time dilation produced by the passage of real time between roleplaying sessions, which is absent in a book or film). And the wizards who are mere plot devices or mentors in classic fantasy (Merlin, Gandalf etc) become meaninful protagonists - meaning high magic! (Supported, at least, even if not present in every game.)
Hit points are part of that. So are combat resolution mechanics that make combat interesting. So are good spell mechanics.
The other thing that D&D has, in my view, is a bit more "fine-grainedness" in its mechanics than a purely abstract resolution system like HeroWars/Quest (which otherwise can handle gonzo fantasy fine). We care about things like position, and (perhaps) facing, and (perhaps) which hand you have your weapon in, and (perhaps) whether your moved 5' or 15' last round. We tend to track equipment. And so on. So I think D&D is always going to be a bit more on the traditional than the avant-garde side in respect of these mechanical features.
Lama (Lvl 13)
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I'm just still not getting the objection. I mean, I think I get what you're saying; it's just not resonating with me, personally. As always, play what you like
As always, play what you like
1 - A bit lazy
2 - An extraordinarily (overzealous?) lofty goal.
Much to my dismay, at this point, I'm leaning toward "a bit lazy." I too like coherent, tightly focused games with resolution mechanics that support a few clearly specified playstyles. I have yet to see much from 5e that inclines me toward playing it (or possibly even purchasing it...which would be the first D&D ruleset that I've passed on). From what I've seen so far, I think they are trying to please so many disparate demographics and playstyles that they really have no sense of themselves or their goals (except the ambiguous "big tent"...which does nothing to tell people what kind of game you're aiming at) from top to bottom. I look at the Cloak of Elvenkind and then the Boots of Elvenkind - one is a very specific item that has clearly delineated mechanical potency...and the other is just fluff that does...what mechanically exactly? I don't know if two different people with two totally different agendas designed these or if one person who has no cohesive vision for the ruleset they're trying to produce did it. I fear that this sort of inconsistency/incoherency is not going to be anomalous in this edition...but rather it will be rife with it.
Outside of that, I have heard much about pillars but have seen no legitimate resolution mechanics to frame scenes/encounters premised upon these challenges. I'm rather "turned off" at this point. I just have too much exposure to the utter dysfunction inherent to large bureaucracies (government and corporations) - Right hand being unacquainted with left hand...salary justifiers galore...an absurdly narrow band of legitimate producers, team-players and innovators, etc. Nonetheless, I suppose I still "hope" they know what they're doing and that it turns out to be 2 and they are able to pull it off.
Our approach to gaming at this point is simple (and 4e caters to it extraordinarily well):
-My players build archetypes that they enjoy to play. 4e allows extraordinarily deep, textured archetype creation with backgrounds, themes, a large payload of highly functional class features and wonderfully thematic powers that map to archetype. Paragon classing continues this. Further, if you tug on the multi-class rules a little bit (allow for free power selection from your multi-class after you've multi-classed), you can go further (with zero mechanical imbalance to be honest).
- These broad, round characters are expected to express themselves through all manner of non-combat fictional scenarios. The Skill Challenge mechanical resolution system and the Condition Track system are both enormously empowering to this end. I can frame (and then we can play out) all manner of diverse, genre-relevant challenges and adversity that play out in-line with the thematic undercurrent inherent to these archetypes. What is so wonderful about them is that our playstyle and thematic aims emerge from our interfacing with these resolution systems rather than through DM-force or implicit (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more), speakeasy, co-conspiring between my players and myself to achieve this. Its liberating to push the system in the direction we want to go and the system doesn't just sit there and say "yeah, uhhhh...whatever"...it actively supports us. Outcome-based mechanics are key here as you aim toward a theme/genre preference and you maintain that theme/genre preference pass or fail.
- Obviously this is D&D so these archetypes need to have thematically- inclined tactical and strategic resources. There is a reason that 4e gets labelled "just a tactical skirmish game". That is not because it fails in other arenas, it is because it excels so dramatically at this end of the game (and unfortunately a lot of folks peddling that meme either haven't played the game or haven't played it with vigor or with a good GM/group that knows how to leverage the systems mechanics to play to theme). We have a small group (3 players) and we are all extremely efficient in our handling of turns so our combats (with 10 enemies) can literally be performed in 20 minutes (5 rounds on average with a minute per turn for each of us). We're all very good multi-taskers so intra-round tracking doesn't cause us to blink. Epic, boss fights or mass combat skirmishes will go about 40 minutes. And speaking of both of those, no combat system I've played performs as well as 4e in those two arenas (climactic boss fights and mass combats by way of swarm rules). Beyond that, it is so amazingly easy to make dynamic, mobile, exciting combats and they almost never fail to live up to expectations.
So then, the score:
My players have the ability ability to create diverse, broadly proficient archetypes and these archetypes actually have firm, potent mechanical backing (both combat and non-combat). In terms of resolution systems, I am empowered in framing genre/archetype-relevant scenes/scenarios/challenges (both combat and non-combat) and I have mechanical backing to this end that actually supports my efforts. I can actually test my PCs with consistently genre-relevant tests that move/change the fiction as outcome-based consequences/complications emerge from their passing/failing of the trials. Further, within the scope of those scenarios, my players have unprecedented capacity (specifically martial and specifically within D&D) to enter author and director stance and mold the micro-fiction toward our pre-selected coherent genre/theme from which the macro-fiction emerges.
So then, agenda:
- Establish a genre and accompanying themes/tropes that we are going to explore.
- Create genre-relevant PC archetypes whose thematic components are challenged.
- Compose loose story and frame strong scenes/challenges that are theme and archetype relevant.
- DM is empowered with firm, outcome-based mechanical backing so that I don't have to hold back or manipulate/force things toward maintaining theme/genre preference.
- Players are empowered with author and director stance mechanics to dictate/impose upon the fiction.
- Fiction emerges that is thematic and archetype relevant.
I'm not sure how that is not Narrativist and I'm not sure how 4e's system doesn't yield support for that agenda.
An example is the burning of the Ritual Candle to permit the shifting of the Arcane Gate that I mentioned above. I have a DC chart to turn to. I make the player role a check. If it succeeds, he gets what he wants. If it fails, I can move the end of the gate somewhere I want and it won't break the game or make the scene come to an end or fall flat. That very flexible yet robust and resilient action resolution system is really key.
underdark adventure as a coherent whole.)
Last edited by pemerton; Friday, 12th October, 2012 at 03:34 AM.
I'll give it a look. I'm sure it will be insightful. I'm sure there are more posts over there that are insightful. I should probably visit that forum more and that will give me an excuse to do so. Thanks.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
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You guys' posts in its defense (on some threads I've been reading over the past month) got me to keep the three 4e PHBs when I brought some other no-longer-used books to trade-in last week, just in case one of the better DMs around wants to run it with a group of players who can keep the combat flowing and get into the roleplaying side of the skill challenges. I did bring back the DMG and MM... I just can't see myself running it (I love that the NPCs/Monsters have a totally different system than the PCs, but a bunch of the flavor and a few other things clash too hard with my world building sensibilities and the ideas that I've been mulling over in the background for ages. And I kind of like the OGL for a variety of reasons.)
Last edited by Cadence; Friday, 12th October, 2012 at 04:15 AM.
That's good to hear that you're considering giving it another shot. If you take the agenda I outlined above and use the Skill Challenge mechanics as a non-combat resolution tool to frame closed scenes that play-to-archetype/genre, I think you might be pleased with the results.
When composing those Skill Challenges to resolve non-combat genre tropes consider this approach:
- Your Skill Challenge should be attempting to resolve something that "matters" to your campaign. It should be attempting to capture the spirit of the fiction embedded in a genre trope that you and your group appreciate (literary, theatre, cinema, comic books, etc).
- When devising your Skill Challenge, what is absolutely paramount is that you have a strong list of "genre-logic-derived" fictional outcomes (complications/adversity) that arise from both passes and failures. These outcomes need to lead to new and interesting decision-points (with multiple ways to attack the current adversity/complication and multiple possible complications then arising from those decisions) for the PCs. They should urge them to engage with the fiction on the fiction's terms, using thematic logic embedded in their chosen archetype, and not just "use x skill."
- Your passes and failures should map as much as possible to the Skill used to interface with the fiction but do not treat it as linear, coupled cause and effect, process simulation. You're looking for outcomes that are genre-relevant...outcomes that aspire to those great tropes you're capturing. Find ways to work backward from those outcomes and capture the Skill and the check in the resolution toward that outcome.
- Whenever possible (which should be most of the time), use "fail-forward" techniques. The PCs don't need to look like buffoons when they fail. Further, a "fail-forward" approach broadens the scope of outcomes rather than narrows them. You don't just fail a check and automatically look like a buffoon. You fail and something interesting, fictionally dynamic that is external to your locus of control (but perhaps loosely related to the Skill leveraged) interposes itself between you and your goal.
- Encourage your players to narrate results (mostly successes) now and again (but not the ultimate resolution results). If a player's technique becomes clearly advanced and they have a deep creative reservoir (thus earning your trust), give them more rope. Let them narrate failures.
- Finally, as important as anything, this requires good communication and understanding of these aims by players and DM and practice, practice, practice. It is not a bad idea to compose Skill Challenges together and practice them so you are used to the techniques required that allows this resolution mechanic to work with you to create genre-relevant, emergent fiction. If everyone understands the hard-coded mechanics, the implicit inner workings and aims...and then practices their technique...chemistry will manifest and you guys will consistently be pleased with your results.
Beyond that, there is all kinds of good advice on these boards about how to leverage different 4e systems (condition track, swarm rules) to achieve all manner of D&D conventions (exploration attrition, mass combat).
Best of luck to you. I hope you find a fitting group.
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