And if it's physical, it should say so
Perhaps it's assumed that a game player can work out that an abyssal ghoul whose hunger is unending, and whose goal is to eat the living, is scratching and clawing and spitting and etc.
That seems not to have been true in your case. It was true in @Manbearcat
's case and in my case - I never had trouble working out what an aura in a statblock corresponded to in the fiction. In one of the most recent 4e sessions I GMed a PC was fighting a hundred-handed one, which had an aura of autodamage (Avalanche of Blades). It wasn't ambiguous what was happening - the PC was being mauled by the hundred hands!
and be described that way so that once more intelligent players can deal with it properly instead of being subjected to them by DM's fiat, in particular if it's because the DM has simply decided that it would be cool tactically.
I really dislike that kind of interpretation, I'm pretty sure that a lot of players would complain about player agency here, as a DM you don't get to describe how a character reacts to an event.
I can only comment on my players.
The way they deal with auras of damage is to take steps to reduce damage, which the game system offers to various degrees.
They didn't complain when their PCs, shocked by the horrific visage of the wight, recoiled in terror.
Deathlock Wights are not the first creatures in D&D to have fear effects, so I don't see why you would think they are especially egregious in this respect.
Being forced to move back exactly 3 squares is totally silly to me and just a backwards justification for a power that moves figurines on a boardgame.
What do you think the right distance should be?
I just looked up the d20 SRD and saw that a 3E mummy's aura of despair causes a PC to be paralysed with fear for 1d4 rounds. Why not 1d6 rounds? Why not until the mummy is out of sight? How is that not a "backwards justification" for a power that manipulates action economy in a wargame?
My point being that I am at a loss as to what your evaluative criteria are.
why does the wight not show her visage to every one around her ?
Because she can only look in one direction at once?
Why is that a specific power in one direction only ?
Because she can only look in one direction at once?
Is she forced to hide her visage again for the rest of the encounter ? Why does just showing her visage need to RECHARGE ?
The recharge is a pacing device. It's like limiting dragons to 3 breath weapons in AD&D, and having a 50/50 chance to breath or claw/claw/bite (MM p 30). Gameplay becomes boring if the same move gets made every turn. In the fiction, I imagine that the wight briefly reveals its true visage, like a revelatory glimpse in a horror film.
These are simple technical implements with no grounding in the fiction.
So you say. Reading the stat block for that wight, and then running it in play, gave me a more vivid sense of the fiction than I ever had with any other wight encounter. I recently ran White Plume Mountain, which has wights in it. There was no sense of horror or undeath at all. They were just game pieces which the players dealt with via a successful turning check from the cleric.
OK, so where does the specific differences of these orcs come from ? Answer, it comes from nowhere apart from the DM needed monsters TECHNICALLY at the level of the PCs. It's totally artificial.
There is no difference in the fiction. And how would the game mechanics not
be artificial? They are artifice. They're artifice in 5e, too.
5e has just demonstrated that you DON'T NEED that technical device. Just use the same monster, no need for technical changes, it works.
All "works" means here is that you enjoy it. Whereas for me it holds no interest as a RPG system. 4e "works", in the sense that it gives me vivid fiction and gonzo FRPGing, as I said effortlessly.
Saying that a given adversary is powerful in the world has sense. Saying that it's power is relative to the PCs' current level is what is ARTIFICIAL.
The power of an Orc is not relative to anything. The statblock of an Orc is relative to what I want to do with it in the game. That is artifice. The stat block of 5e Orcs is artifice too.
You don't need it for your narration, it's contrary to the logic of the world. The ONLY thing that it provides is confort for the DM that the difficulty of the encounter is totally controlled. And that's one of the only two major reasons for which the 4e encounter calculator of 4e is more precise than that of 5e, because the aberrations come in 5e when you have multiple monsters and levels that vary a lot compared to that of the PCs (the other major reason is that 5e PCs are far less calibrated than 4e ones).
So it's just confort for the DM, but it's artificial and not needed for narration at all.
it contradicts the global fiction of the world
I don't know what the word "needed" is doing here.
I don't know why you regard pacing as a comfort to the GM. In my experience, players also enjoy RPG experiences that are nicely paced.
I also don't know what you mean by the "logic of the world". What is it about the logic of the Nentir Vale, or (in my case, given the setting that I used for my 4e game) the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, that tells us how many hit points or what attack bonus an Orc has? Answer: nothing. Those are not elements of a fiction. They are technical game devices.
Only it's the other way around. You decide TECHNICALLY to use minions, and, thank goodness, the fiction supports it.
I'm not sure how you've become more of an expert on my decision-making processes than me!
happens is that I decide that I think a certain scenario or situation would be cool - for instance, my gnolls had a pack of hyenas with them; I thought a hobgoblin phalanx seemed pretty cool; I liked the idea of the PC falling through the Elemental Chaos and landing on a Githzerai training ground - and then I work out how to mechanically implement it, using the very robust suite of tools that the system provides me with: minions, swarms, defence-and-damage-by-level guidelines, etc.
Often I can take a shortcut because a game designer has already done it for me, with a useful statblock in a rulebook or sourcebook.
"Effortlessly" when actually it requires adapting every single encounter to the level of the PCs at the time ?
Honestly, I find it even more effortless to NOT do that, just use the monsters as written or as I imagine them when I create my own.
So what you're saying here is that you do the same thing I do when GMing 4e: you either take a stat block that a game designer has written for you, or write up your own. I don't get how that is effortless for you but not for me.
constantly reworking the adversaries so that their level matches the PC, minions and others. But don't you see how artificial this is ? How unneeded it is and how? I'll give you a pointed example below.
Fiction works the other way around, you create fictional situations where levels and other constructs don't matter.
This is confused.
A fictional situation is The PCs encounter Torog
. But to resolve that in a RPG I need a system. And most of the time, my RPGing preference mean a system which uses dice as part of its resolution process. So I need numbers for the dice to interact with. In D&D, we call that a stat block.
As soon as I write up a stat block, I have levels and other constructs. Your 5e Monster Manual is full of them, just like my 4e MM is.
And what happens when they are side by side ? Or adventure in the same world. Do monsters change from one to the other ? I've had this specific example in shared campaigns, in particular our best one that lasted 10+ years with multiple DMs, where we had adventurers at any level between 1 and 20 (this was 3e) sharing the world. Did we need to adapt the monsters ? No, we did not, a monster was a monster, he did not suddenly change into a minions with totally different stats when another group, more or less powerful, went to the same type of area.
If I was running a campaign like you describe, with PCs of vastly differing power levels, I wouldn't use 4e D&D. I would probably use Cortex+ Heroic.
I'm not sure how that is supposed to prove that the fiction of my 4e game is incoherent because I used minions.
My worlds are completely different, there are situations, some the PC will decide to tackle, others later, others not, but the monsters will not change. And there is a good reason for that, because if they have different abilities, their plots would be different.
I assume by "monsters" you mean "stat blocks".
The changing numbers on a PC sheet reflect the transformation of the PC from noob to hero
Do they? Here's something I sent to the players in my 4e game in late 2008 or early 2009, before our first session:
Relationship Between Game Mechanics and Gameworld
Unlike 3E or Rolemaster, a lot of the 4e mechanics work best if they are not treated as a literal model of what is going on in the gameworld. So keep in mind that the main thing the mechanics tell you is what, mechanically, you can have your PC do. What your PC’s actions actually mean in the gameworld is up to you to decide (in collaboration with the GM and the other players at the table).
Some corollaries of this:
Levels for PCs, for NPCs and for monsters set the mechanical parameters for encounters. They don’t necessarily have any determinate meaning in the gameworld (eg in some encounters a given NPC might be implemented as an elite monster, and in other encounters – when the PCs are higher level – as a minion). As your PC gains levels, you certainly open up more character build space (more options for powers, more feats, etc). The only definite effect in the gameworld, however, is taking your paragon path and realising your epic destiny. How to handle the rest of it – is your PC becoming tougher, or more lucky, or not changing much at all in power level relative to the rest of the gameworld – is something that will have to come out in the course of play as the story of your PC unfolds.
The rules for retraining, swapping in new powers, background feats etc, don’t have to be interpreted as literally meaning that your PC has forgotten how to do things or suddenly learned something new. Feel free to treat this as just emphasising a different aspect of your PC that was always there, but hadn’t yet come up in the course of play.
So as you can see my 4e game did not rest on the premise that you state in your post.
Does this mean that the world transforms around them, that monsters change drastically gaining or losing abilities ? Not, it does not
Monsters in my 4e game don't "change drastically gaining or losing abilities" either. You seem to be confusing stat blocks - a mechanical artifice - for fiction.
what would have happened if the PCs had tackled things in a different order ? Again, the monsters would have artificially adapted to the different path, guaranteeing exactly that they met their match. There is no use being clever, there is no penalty for being dumb, the world adapts around them, and you think it creates fiction. It does not, it just creates a succession of challenges that you call greater because you adapt not only the numbers of the adventurers as they progress, but the numbers of the whole world.
I don't think you're in a position to tell me what the quality of the fiction was, or is, in my 4e game. My own view, not entirely modest, is closer to what this poster once said:
I am very impressed by the colourful setting that you and your players create. The mausoleum, the sphinx (and the poplars!), the search for the name of the goddess, the players' debate about how to deal with the threat - everything drips with life.
If the players had had their PCs do different things, then the situations would have been different, and the resulting fiction different. That's fairly typical for a RPG.
As to whether there is use in being clever, I don't know what you count as cleverness. I think I've seen some pretty clever play over the course of my GMing, in 4e as much as other systems. The PCs persuaded Yan-C-Bin to let them go, and to give them back their flying tower. That was pretty clever. They made friends with duergar and thereby were able to redeem captives who otherwise would have been enslaved. That seemed clever. In combats, they are always coming up with various combinations and interactions, mostly based around forced movement and condition infliction. That seems like reasonably clever play to me.
If by "clever" you mean having your 5th level PCs clean out kobold lairs knowing that the kobolds can't hurt them much, well that was never a part of my 4e game. 4e isn't well-suited to that sort of thing: as the rulebooks (both PHB and DMG) exposition of the tiers of play makes clear, it's a game focused on heroes confronting challenges that only they can overcome; it's not a game of hardscrabble, down-on-their-luck adventurers wondering when it would make sense to move from the first to the second level of the dungeon as a target for looting. If I wanted to run that sort of game I'd use AD&D, Moldvay Basic or Torchbearer.