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5.5E 4e design in 5.5e ?

Nefermandias

Adventurer
Which shows the two breakdown cases quite clearly: either (1) you aren't actually strict about it, so the (arbitrary) bottom of the bell curve is cut off and usually power creep slowly raises what "the bottom of the bell curve" looks like, or (2) you keep these horrible numbers and almost always die, except in the rare cases where you get lucky. The former means abandoning true randomness (consider the rather complicated, and no longer all that random, default rolling method of 3e), while the latter means forcing players through repeated failure states before a success state appears. Neither is all that good today.

OSR games with modern design have found solutions, but even those have issues. DCC, frex, has the "character funnel": you skip over the process of waiting to get a character that survives by running a large number simultaneously through a meatgrinder. Any that survive thus already either have reasonably good stats, or have gotten lucky, and either option is generally acceptable. However, such things risk showing their gamist edge (after all, such a funnel is inherently dissociated, for anyone who cares about that sort of thing), and ultimately still devalue randomness by ensuring selective pressure that favors characters with actual bonuses.

Ultimately....I don't really know if there is a true solution to this problem. It very much seems like the two desired things--effective characters and easily-generated, truly random characters--are truly at odds. Being effective generally means falling in a certain range of power. Being truly random requires not falling in any particular range of power. Trimming the randomness to guarantee some competence either sacrifices simplicity and ease of use, or breaks the feeling of randomness, or (often) both.

I think, in the end, they either need to be just marked as distinct approaches with a warning label on the random-gen option, or D&D needs to decide which matters more. Because forcing the appearance of randomness while actually, in the end, forcing pretty non-random results is not really tenable long-term.
That's why 4e only had point buy.
 

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It's probably just that the term is a bit misleading. In terms of probabilities, I think you mean that each score is independent. It's like flipping two coins. The result of the first coin doesn't tell us anything about the result of the second. With a deck, the same outcome can occur like this:
I did, in fact, use the phrase "completely independent" in my post you quoted above, so...yes, I very much meant "independent."

In this case, we have no information on any score in advance: they are all equally a surprise. Do you see what I am saying. I believe what you are chasing is at heart something more specific. It's not to do with the randomness, or per score surprise. Most likely you want the sum of scores to vary. How much by?
Well, again, we're not talking about my interests, but my understanding of others' interests. But I can tell you, right now, explicitly, that I have been told that if there is literally ANY effect--anything WHATSOEVER, no matter how small, no matter how unpredictable--causes later stats to be better if earlier stats were worse, no matter how probabilistic that effect is, it is unacceptable. There needs to be truly, absolutely ZERO impact on probabilities.

Drawing cards without replacement, by definition, generates dependent probabilities. The odds of drawing (say) 4 for your second stat are definitely always changed because of what you drew for your first stat. That's literally what drawing without replacement does, it makes each draw's probabilities depend on which cards have already been removed.

Is it okay to have one player have scores summing to 18 while another's sum to 108? Or is that too much variance? I suspect you'd be tempted here to say - that won't happen - but then, like @Xetheral's DM, what happens if it does happen? I had one campaign where our bear-barian just had far better stats than everyone else. They overshadowed everyone: adding nothing to the campaign. In my experience, players enjoy variance, but much less variance than the dice allow.
If we are actually talking about my tastes, yes, that much variation is unacceptable. I'm fine with some amount of variation, e.g. with 4e PB, counting racial stats, you have a theoretical total sum spread between 73 and 83 (with 73 requiring a hyperfocused human and the 83 being a very suboptimal option and requiring a non-human).

If we're talking about the tastes I've been told by others, then yes, to the best of my knowledge, it is not only okay to have such variance, it is mandatory that such variance be at least possible. Otherwise, again, people feel their characters are "born lucky," and thus uninteresting.

There are always niches of players a design cannot serve. The goal is to satisfy as well as possible your chosen main audience. Points-buy won't serve those players (it has zero surprise). I believe deck-generations offer the most scope for future-design. For example, we could use fewer than all the cards. Taking the deck above, we could add one 6 and one 1. Players still draw only 18 cards, no replacement. There will be surprise, because until the last card drawn they do not know what cards will be left in the deck.

6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 ,1 draw 18 cards without replacement, allocating three to each score. Either allocating as drawn, or as desired. Two cards will be left in the deck.
Again, for many, this spoils the "surprise" because the probability of drawing (say) 15 goes up if you previously drew a total of 6 for Strength and a total of 7 for Dex (or whatever order one prefers to draw stats in). You haven't actually made the events independent, by definition.
 


Indeed. Get rid of it entirely. :)
While I appreciate that this is said with humor...yeah. Good luck with that. As I said before, there's a lot to learn from the design of early editions. It's unfortunate that, due to the opaque presentation and abysmal organization, those things are harder to learn than they should be. But there are absolutely very good design elements in early D&D, ones that deserve to be reviewed and tested for use in modern games.

Absolute rejection of point buy is not one of them. Even the character funnel, which saves a ton of time and is IMO a very smart piece of design, is not gonna be particularly popular with the gaming community at large. While I have been speaking out for a group of people whose interests differ a lot from mine--those who see PB or 4d6-drop-lowest or whatever as "born lucky" etc.--I am under no illusions that that group is anywhere near the bulk of players. Most players want to get their class fantasy sooner rather than later; they generally decide what to play first and then figure out how to make that happen; and they generally want to have useful numbers that benefit them in the areas they're interested in pursuing. That's been very clearly the more popular approach basically ever since D&D escaped from the Lake Geneva area, being played by people who weren't acculturated to the perspective of Gygax, Arneson, and the wargaming founders of the genre.

obviously anything that empowers player choice is bad /pointed sarcasm.
I mean, I'd rather not get too deep into the weeds of sarcasm (nor of "empower[ing] player choice"). That way madness lies.

But, yeah, players generally want to be able to bring a fantasy to life, not wait for an indeterminate amount of sessions before racking up enough stories and events that they feel like they've grown a fantasy into life. There are, of course, plenty of players who do only want to step back and let grow whatever seeds happen to blow in. But they aren't the majority, and haven't been for a very long time. Changing the underlying system so that it only permits the latter method rather than the former isn't going to make the latter method more overall popular. It's just going to do as it did in the past, and make more people deviate from those rules because, by and large, they aren't as popular as the "I wanna play an elf bard who <backstory>" or "I wanna play a tiefling paladin pursuing a beauty contest victory in order to help protect threatened animals!" or whatever.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Drawing cards without replacement, by definition, generates dependent probabilities. The odds of drawing (say) 4 for your second stat are definitely always changed because of what you drew for your first stat. That's literally what drawing without replacement does, it makes each draw's probabilities depend on which cards have already been removed.
Given the information-hiding I described, I believe that this describes a desire for variation in the point total rather than 'surprise'. Right? They don't want to know that they will haves 66 points in ability scores: they want that to vary. From other evidence, I believe even those who want variation, want it to be constrained (e.g. posts about player X feeling bad because their scores come to a much higher total than player Y.)

If we're talking about the tastes I've been told by others, then yes, to the best of my knowledge, it is not only okay to have such variance, it is mandatory that such variance be at least possible. Otherwise, again, people feel their characters are "born lucky," and thus uninteresting.
The deck-generation variant I described (two extra cards in the deck) achieves that. Upon reflection I think it works best if the added cards fall in the middle of the range, e.g. 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2 so that if you draw the 4 and 3 instead of two 2s, you gain 3 points, and if you draw them instead of 5s, you lose 3 points. I'm interested to hear your intuitions on that?

Again, for many, this spoils the "surprise" because the probability of drawing (say) 15 goes up if you previously drew a total of 6 for Strength and a total of 7 for Dex (or whatever order one prefers to draw stats in). You haven't actually made the events independent, by definition.
Agreed about independence. As noted, I believe the "surprise" under discussion must be as to the total across scores, seeing as information hiding and simultaneous reveal made it impossible to know in advance any given score. That said, people are subject to psychological and tactile effects and perhaps there is a desire for some sort of show or entertainment in the generation process. A few times I have heard others describe enjoying one or other method for the sake of the rituals involved in it. One thread mentions a baroque method using a Pathfinder Harrow deck!
 

Indeed. Get rid of it entirely. :)
Nice try! But I am not a fan of the cancel process! ❌
Put back boing buy as a legitimate method,
add more sample of popular point buy results, like 4ed did,
Keep rolled stats as an method for experimented players.
Still people like to « beat the game », so it would be nice to add a softer way to improve a score without too much risk.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
While I appreciate that this is said with humor...yeah. Good luck with that.
Thing is, I mean it. Personally I'd be quite happy if point-buy and standard array went away and never came back.
As I said before, there's a lot to learn from the design of early editions. It's unfortunate that, due to the opaque presentation and abysmal organization, those things are harder to learn than they should be. But there are absolutely very good design elements in early D&D, ones that deserve to be reviewed and tested for use in modern games.

Absolute rejection of point buy is not one of them. Even the character funnel, which saves a ton of time and is IMO a very smart piece of design, is not gonna be particularly popular with the gaming community at large. While I have been speaking out for a group of people whose interests differ a lot from mine--those who see PB or 4d6-drop-lowest or whatever as "born lucky" etc.--I am under no illusions that that group is anywhere near the bulk of players.
Yet at one time that group was the bulk of players. Something happened to change that view; I don't know what, but I do wonder how it can be reversed.
Most players want to get their class fantasy sooner rather than later; they generally decide what to play first and then figure out how to make that happen; and they generally want to have useful numbers that benefit them in the areas they're interested in pursuing. That's been very clearly the more popular approach basically ever since D&D escaped from the Lake Geneva area, being played by people who weren't acculturated to the perspective of Gygax, Arneson, and the wargaming founders of the genre.
I'm not sure it came quite that early. Even in 2e days there was still very much a sense of "play what the dice will give you"; though I suspect all the options in later 2e - and then, of course, 3e - tended to promote the "character build" side of the game, which got players thinking ahead of time as to what that build might look like and forced more focus onto mechanical character development.

Another aspect - and this might begin way further back, in the DragonLance era in 1e - is that players got a bit more precious about their characters; and thus wanted - and, later, came to expect - them to survive longer and further, to be in play more of the time. This expectation has been reflected in the design of 4e and even more so in 5e, where as written* it's more difficult to kill characters and there's far fewer opportunities to otherwise take a character out of the play for any more than a round or two.

* - yes, obviously a DM can ratchet up the difficulty if she likes; I'm just looking at the RAW.
But, yeah, players generally want to be able to bring a fantasy to life, not wait for an indeterminate amount of sessions before racking up enough stories and events that they feel like they've grown a fantasy into life.
And this points out another change in outlook over time. At one time the fantasy being brought to life was those stories and events, and the growth and (mechanical) development of individual characters - while welcome, of course - was more seen as a pleasant side effect rather than the main reason for play.

More recently there seems to be far more focus on the player's own character, with whatever stories or events that might happen relegated more to stage-setting and a reason for the individual character to shine.

Player entitlement is probably too harsh a term to put to all this, and player selfishness is definitely too harsh; but there's no denying the general shift of player-side focus from "party and what it does" to "own PC and what it does" over the decades.
 

Mordhau

Explorer
I'm perplexed how people think getting rid of point buy prevents builds.

It's like people do this weird switch in their head where they because 4d6k3 is rolled and 3d6 in order see what you get are also rolled, they think they have the same effect. On a continuum from planned and built to completely random it's more like this:


Point Buy/4d6k3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -3d6 in order.

In any case, even with 3d6 you'd still get builds. You prevent builds by having no build options (for better or worse).
 
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Hussar

Legend
The old "it's Basic so it's kids' stuff...we're teenagers and we played Advanced D&D". But we soon were all playing AD&D...and we kept on playing AD&D until 2009ish. We skipped three-ish editions of the game. Mine is not a unique experience.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the fact that you played AD&D for nearly thirty years is a close enough to a unique experience that it's pretty out there. As in, the overwhelming majority of gamers do not share your experience.

The point I'm making is that after ten years, it's not a "fad". If you started playing AD&D after 1985, you never saw the fad years. The fad years ended a couple of years before that. By 1985, we were picking up the pieces of nearly all the people abandoning the hobby. And, even at the height of the fad years, we weren't even remotely hitting numbers like we are now.

IOW, after seven consecutive years of record growth, "fad" is the wrong way of thinking. This isn't a fad. Hell, even if half the new players abandoned the game tomorrow, the gaming population still dwarfs any other point in gaming history. We'd have to lose about 90% of gamers just to get back to where things were pre-5e. I'm certainly not seeing any indication that that's happening.
 
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Player entitlement is probably too harsh a term to put to all this, and player selfishness is definitely too harsh; but there's no denying the general shift of player-side focus from "party and what it does" to "own PC and what it does" over the decades.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that you don't care for the recent edition that most prioritized the party and what it does--that is, 4e. Because 4e, much more than either 3e or 5e (and, IMO, more than even 2e!), critically depended on teamwork. Yes, you could optimize yourself. But the best optimization, by far the most effective thing you could do, was optimize how you fit in with your team collectively.

If you want people to care about the team and what the team does, reward them for thinking about the team. That's why I was so flabbergasted in a previous conversation when someone said (paraphrased) "Lay on Hands isn't an actual sacrifice, because you have extra resources." Like...if you want your players to do something, you HAVE to either equip them to do it, or reward them for doing it. That's probably the single, most fundamental principle of game design. If you want to see behavior X, reward it.

Forcing people into 3d6-strict (or 4d6k3-and-assign) doesn't reward the behavior you want to see. It just redirects the behavior you don't like to other parts of the system.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm perplexed how people think getting rid of point buy prevents builds.
It doesn't get rid of them; but it serves to change the mentality, or approach, away from "I have xxx already in mind and I'm going to build it" toward "let's see what the dice give me to work with before I decide what I'll build".
In any case, even with 3d6 you'd still get builds. You prevent builds by having no build options (for better or worse).
Yes, that's the next step. :)
 

Herschel

Adventurer
Those rules buried in fluff are a feature. You can't say I cast sacred flame without saying "I cast sacred flame" and have to deal with the fluff of it. The fluff means something so much your players have to deal with it running their characters.

In 4e you can entirely ignore the fluff. A feature to some, at least I thought it was at first.

And while it is true about the "I attack" thing in 5e it isn't nearly as bad as in 4e, in 4e EVERYTHING was "I attack with a * power". At least in 5e you often HAVE to state what ability you're using or what spell is being cast because there is NO OTHER way to refer to it.

I can't find a quote at the moment, but 4e powers were designed like magic cards, precicely because the fluff and mechanics are seperate. It was a design goal. And at first I thought it was freaking brilliant. It helped them be clear about the rules and develop them, it was a desired asset. But its downside was that the fluff had no effect on the mechanics.

However, I think we'll have to just agree to disagree.
The fluff was no more or less part of the mechanics than any other edition, the main difference being it wasn't just casters that got to do cool things. Melee guys and archers got to be vibrant and dynamic, not support putzes. Defender classes got abilities to actually help them do their job rather than being sword-swinging speed bumps. Dual Lightning Strike is at least as evocative as yet another fireball, and YAF devolves in to "I hit these guys with 36 fire, DC 16 save" even more often that Dual Lightning Strike ever did.
 

I don't think that WotC has been catering to old fans at all: not since the D&D Next Playtest when they were courting the Pathfinder and OSR crowds. Since then though? It seems mostly oriented towards the Critical Role crowd and the newcomers.

Primarily yes, but stuff like Warduke and Tasha shows they also want to appeal to old school fans as long as it's not alienating new fans, for as big a market as they can get.
 


Hussar

Legend
It doesn't get rid of them; but it serves to change the mentality, or approach, away from "I have xxx already in mind and I'm going to build it" toward "let's see what the dice give me to work with before I decide what I'll build".

Yes, that's the next step. :)
See, the problem is @Lanefan, unless you do some form of "in order" roll up, then you always start with "I have xxx in mind". Because, well, you know that any character that's rolled is going to have a pretty predictable set of stats (and, let's be honest here, if it's under point buy, the DM will almost universally let you roll it again).

The notion that you roll first and then decide what to play hasn't really been part of the game for a very, very long time. Like, as in 2e at the latest, and actually, with the 1e Unearthed Arcana rolling system, you chose your class first. WotC didn't start this at all. This was part of the game since the release of the 1e AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. 3d6 in order was never part of AD&D.

The notion that I'm going to have to play this randomly determined character for the next hundred hours or more is something I most certainly don't want to ever see back into the game.

It absolutely baffles me why DM's have such an issue with a player building to a concept. It's their character. How is it in any way, shape or form bothering you how I choose what to play?
 

theCourier

Explorer
It's not a bother, it's just a different mindset. One that is more interested in seeing what the dice give you, and making the best out of those results. And as a player, not having to worry about builds is pretty nice instead I can focus on "building" my character through the items, knowledge, and adventures they experience.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
See, the problem is @Lanefan, unless you do some form of "in order" roll up, then you always start with "I have xxx in mind".
Only to a point; and I should also mention here that I'm coming from a background where classes are gated behind stat requirements* (which is something I very much endorse) and some of those requirements are pretty tough.

So sure, I might have a Ranger in mind (which here needs 14-14-13-13-x-x) but if the dice give me just one really good stat and the rest are bland and boring 9-to-12s then it's no Ranger for me today; I have to go to (or come up with) Plan B.

* - under the standard array (15-14-13-12-10-8, isn't it?) five classes in my game would be impossible to achieve: Ranger, Paladin, Illusionist, Bard and Monk. Paladin and Bard aren't even achievable under point-buy, unless there's an awful lot of points to spend. :)
Because, well, you know that any character that's rolled is going to have a pretty predictable set of stats (and, let's be honest here, if it's under point buy, the DM will almost universally let you roll it again).
Depends. My own cutoff, if it matters, is if the average of the 6 stats is less than 10 or you've nothing higher than a 12 then you have the option to reroll. That said, I've seen characters start with something like 15-12-11-10-9-6 and still do really well; at the same time I've also seen characters start with something like 18-18-17-17-15-14 and die at the first opportunity.
The notion that you roll first and then decide what to play hasn't really been part of the game for a very, very long time. Like, as in 2e at the latest, and actually, with the 1e Unearthed Arcana rolling system, you chose your class first.
A rolling system that I've never known of anyone using, other than maybe one person on ENWorld who might have mentioned it.
WotC didn't start this at all. This was part of the game since the release of the 1e AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. 3d6 in order was never part of AD&D.
I'm not advocating for 3d6 in order and probably never would other than for one-offs or gonzo games. But 4d6k3 rearranged? All day long.
The notion that I'm going to have to play this randomly determined character for the next hundred hours or more is something I most certainly don't want to ever see back into the game.
Ah - you're assuming it'll survive for that hundred hours. :)
It absolutely baffles me why DM's have such an issue with a player building to a concept. It's their character. How is it in any way, shape or form bothering you how I choose what to play?
My take on such things is that a player can always choose the basics*, but anything non-basic can only be achieved by random roll; this is specifically to keep the non-basic as unusual.

* - for example, in my game even if you hit the cutoff bang-on (which would be something like 13-x-x-x-x-7 where the 4 x'es add to 40) you can choose any of the basic classes - F, T, MU, or C. But for a non-basic class you need to roll higher, in some cases only very little higher and in other cases quite a lot higher.
 

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