D&D 4E Ben Riggs' "What the Heck Happened with 4th Edition?" seminar at Gen Con 2023

Aldarc

Legend
I think "Healing Surge" suffered a lot for the name. It reads as "all characters have X healing potions built in" not "all characters have Y capacity to be healed daily." Calling it something like Healing Reserve or Healing Tolerance and separating out the surge value into some other term would have helped.
They could have called it "Vitality" (or some variation thereof) and called it a day.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
An opinion that has virtually nothing supporting it deserves to be giggled at. They should be dismissed. Why should I take an opinion seriously that has virtually no evidence to back it up?

Let's unpack this. First, can we all agree that "simulationism" is just jargon introduced in the '90s.

The threefold model. If you want a brief refresher, this was a debate that was primarily between the "D" and the "S." It was about decision-making.

Simulationists believe that decision-making (players and DMs) should be based on cause-and-effect from in-world game logic.
Dramatists believe that decision-making (players and DMs) should be based on the logic and needs of the story.
(Gamists were always marginalized, both then and now, but looked at game skill- think Gygaxian Skilled Play).

Anyway, think of this in terms not just of debates between games, but decision-making within games. If you're running a 2e game, are decisions being made based on the logic of the game world or based on story logic?

By the way, this isn't something new. Lewis Pulsipher (who posts here) was arguing against the "D" approach in the late 1970s. This is all covered in The Elusive Shift. Old debate, new can of paint.

Then came ... that other thing. It wasn't really explanatory, instead, it just shifted the terms around, changed it from decision-making to agendas, and used it as a critique (in other words, elevating "N" ... replacing "D" in order to critique G and S).

The important point is this- the origin of the terms is actually jargon. So when certain people come in and start slinging around "simulationism" they are using it as jargon. But they are also sneaking in the collateral meaning in order to rubbish what other people enjoy - the more common meaning of simulation. I wrote about this previously, calling it the "Texas Two Step"-

------------------------
This problem of conflation of jargon with natural language occurs repeatedly in conversations here, because these are all hobbyist-created terms. And because of this conflation, one of the recurring issues I see is what I call the "Texas Two Step." Let's use "simulation" as an example.

"Simulation" was first widely used in the threefold model (GDS) and later adopted for the GNS model. While it has various definitions, I'll just crib the one from wikipedia which is close enough for our purposes-
Simulation is concerned with the internal consistency of events that unfold in the game world, and ensuring that they are only caused by in-game factors - that is, eliminating metagame concerns (such as drama and game). Simulation is not necessarily concerned with simulating reality; it could be a simulation of any fictional world, cosmology or scenario, according to its own rules.

Notice that this term is jargon. It has a specified technical meaning that arose in the context of RPGs, and it was about playing goals and decision-making. It was trying to set it off against the "G" and "D" components.

The trouble is that while this is jargon, it also has specific connotations that people are familiar with in the real world. For example, when someone says that a pilot has 1,000 hours in a Boeing 737 simulator, a person who hears that assumes that the machine is designed to simulate the reality of flying a Boeing 737- not just some fictional world or fictional genre. In common parlance, simulations usually reflect our reality, and the closer that they completely reflect reality, they more accurate they are as a simulation. So this is where the Texas Two Step comes in, over and over and over again.

Zeno: I like playing that RPG because I like Lord of the Rings.

Achilles: Well, we all know that is a simulationist RPG. You like simulations! (Using the JARGON that someone is playing the game as a simulation of the LoTR genre).

Zeno: Um, sure. I like the way the game immerses me in the feeling of Middle Earth, and the fiction of Tolkien.

Achilles: HA! How dare you say that? Don't you know that game doesn't accurately simulate the economics of Middle Earth? For that matter, how can a world exist on the same technology for thousands of years? Heck, I don't even think that Tolkien understood plate tectonics and didn't accurately model how the mountains in his world formed!!!! It's not a simulation! (Using the COMMON VERNACULAR of simulation).

Unfortunately, this happens repeatedly- people that deliberately conflate jargon with the more widely-understood meaning in order to berate people for differing preferences. It's the Texas Two Step- first, get people to use jargon, then use the non-jargon meaning to criticize them, and then go back to defending the jargon. Rinse, repeat. Once you see this pattern happen, you will see it happen over and over and over again, with all sorts of terms.
---------------------------

And that's the problem. Why are you laughing at someone who says they enjoy simulation? They aren't saying that their fantasy game is "real." Or that they think that hit points is a 100% accurate representation of combat. Instead, they are saying that they prefer games that largely follow the cause-and-effect of in-game logic, and don't sacrifice that for story reasons.

That's a reasonable position and difference to articulate; arguably, that's one reason that people either did (and did not) enjoy 4e, which had an emphasis of "getting to the good stuff."

It's important to understand what the actual objection is.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Let's unpack this. First, can we all agree that "simulationism" is just jargon introduced in the '90s.

The threefold model. If you want a brief refresher, this was a debate that was primarily between the "D" and the "S." It was about decision-making.

Simulationists believe that decision-making (players and DMs) should be based on cause-and-effect from in-world game logic.
Dramatists believe that decision-making (players and DMs) should be based on the logic and needs of the story.
(Gamists were always marginalized, both then and now, but looked at game skill- think Gygaxian Skilled Play).

Anyway, think of this in terms not just of debates between games, but decision-making within games. If you're running a 2e game, are decisions being made based on the logic of the game world or based on story logic?

By the way, this isn't something new. Lewis Pulsipher (who posts here) was arguing against the "D" approach in the late 1970s. This is all covered in The Elusive Shift. Old debate, new can of paint.

Then came ... that other thing. It wasn't really explanatory, instead, it just shifted the terms around, changed it from decision-making to agendas, and used it as a critique (in other words, elevating "N" ... replacing "D" in order to critique G and S).

The important point is this- the origin of the terms is actually jargon. So when certain people come in and start slinging around "simulationism" they are using it as jargon. But they are also sneaking in the collateral meaning in order to rubbish what other people enjoy - the more common meaning of simulation. I wrote about this previously, calling it the "Texas Two Step"-

------------------------
This problem of conflation of jargon with natural language occurs repeatedly in conversations here, because these are all hobbyist-created terms. And because of this conflation, one of the recurring issues I see is what I call the "Texas Two Step." Let's use "simulation" as an example.

"Simulation" was first widely used in the threefold model (GDS) and later adopted for the GNS model. While it has various definitions, I'll just crib the one from wikipedia which is close enough for our purposes-
Simulation is concerned with the internal consistency of events that unfold in the game world, and ensuring that they are only caused by in-game factors - that is, eliminating metagame concerns (such as drama and game). Simulation is not necessarily concerned with simulating reality; it could be a simulation of any fictional world, cosmology or scenario, according to its own rules.

Notice that this term is jargon. It has a specified technical meaning that arose in the context of RPGs, and it was about playing goals and decision-making. It was trying to set it off against the "G" and "D" components.

The trouble is that while this is jargon, it also has specific connotations that people are familiar with in the real world. For example, when someone says that a pilot has 1,000 hours in a Boeing 737 simulator, a person who hears that assumes that the machine is designed to simulate the reality of flying a Boeing 737- not just some fictional world or fictional genre. In common parlance, simulations usually reflect our reality, and the closer that they completely reflect reality, they more accurate they are as a simulation. So this is where the Texas Two Step comes in, over and over and over again.

Zeno: I like playing that RPG because I like Lord of the Rings.

Achilles: Well, we all know that is a simulationist RPG. You like simulations! (Using the JARGON that someone is playing the game as a simulation of the LoTR genre).

Zeno: Um, sure. I like the way the game immerses me in the feeling of Middle Earth, and the fiction of Tolkien.

Achilles: HA! How dare you say that? Don't you know that game doesn't accurately simulate the economics of Middle Earth? For that matter, how can a world exist on the same technology for thousands of years? Heck, I don't even think that Tolkien understood plate tectonics and didn't accurately model how the mountains in his world formed!!!! It's not a simulation! (Using the COMMON VERNACULAR of simulation).

Unfortunately, this happens repeatedly- people that deliberately conflate jargon with the more widely-understood meaning in order to berate people for differing preferences. It's the Texas Two Step- first, get people to use jargon, then use the non-jargon meaning to criticize them, and then go back to defending the jargon. Rinse, repeat. Once you see this pattern happen, you will see it happen over and over and over again, with all sorts of terms.
---------------------------

And that's the problem. Why are you laughing at someone who says they enjoy simulation? They aren't saying that their fantasy game is "real." Or that they think that hit points is a 100% accurate representation of combat. Instead, they are saying that they prefer games that largely follow the cause-and-effect of in-game logic, and don't sacrifice that for story reasons.

That's a reasonable position and difference to articulate; arguably, that's one reason that people either did (and did not) enjoy 4e, which had an emphasis of "getting to the good stuff."

It's important to understand what the actual objection is.
This is the definition of "simulation" I am talking about and prefer.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Seems rather dismissive of other people's opinions to laugh at it.
I find the notion that people find 4e hit points/healing surge mechanics less realistic than other versions of D&D as laughable, too silly for words. To me both are gamist mechanics to allow some plot armour and 4e does it better since it supports the tempo and beats of heroic fiction.
This is just one thing. Now do not bother to refute my position and I will not argue with yours. I accept that people disagree with me, and I generally do not comment on these and other positions I find it ridiculous because no good an come of it and no useful conversation can be had.
In fact I am frequently astounded by people that want simulationist game play and stick with D&D when there are better games out there for that style.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I find the notion that people find 4e hit points/healing surge mechanics less realistic than other versions of D&D as laughable, too silly for words. To me both are gamist mechanics to allow some plot armour and 4e does it better since it supports the tempo and beats of heroic fiction.
This is just one thing. Now do not bother to refute my position and I will not argue with yours. I accept that people disagree with me, and I generally do not comment on these and other positions I find it ridiculous because no good an come of it and no useful conversation can be had.
In fact I am frequently astounded by people that want simulationist game play and stick with D&D when there are better games out there for that style.

I bolded and underlined the relevant part.

You're completely correct. The 4e combat system (as other describe it ... cinematic) was designed to better enable ... decision-making based on story logic. Which was one of many changes that pushed 4e into a more D (as in GDS) direction.

Which is fine! People have preferences, and there were people that were incredibly happy about that! But conflating that jargon of simulation with the common meaning of simulation isn't helpful. If you don't think 4e was less simulationist than other editions of D&D (in the actual technical meaning of the term), then I would also find that ... too silly for words. Because it was designed to be that way- that was its strength (also its weakness, but definitely its strength).
 

Pedantic

Legend
If you strip the roll to find a secret door of it's narrative context, it's a terrible game: try and roll a 1 on a 1d6.

But skill challenges have no meaning outside of their narrative context. The 4e DMG even says as much (p 72):

More so than perhaps any other kind of encounter, a skill challenge is defined by its context in an adventure.​
Oh I don't disagree at all, and frankly a flat 1 in X chance of finding secret doors isn't a particularly compelling mechanic, especially if you don't specify the timescale it takes, and especially if that timescale/chance of success isn't variable based on other outside choices.

But that's neither here nor there. The decisions present in a skill challenge are not interesting, unless you substitute something other than the gameplay they provide, and that isn't necessary. You can just write a lot of specific actions, and make deciding whether or not to use them and when, at what risk, interesting on its own.

Imagine, for a moment, if we simplified combat down to the SC structure. We'll combine hit and damage into a single roll, we'll give characters 4 attack bonuses targeting AC, Fort, Ref & Will respectively, we'll make the enemy forces abstract in number but resolve a rout once 3 of them have been taken out by successful attacks and assume the players are overwhelmed if they can't do it in 6 rounds.

This is a worse game, with less choices, less points of interaction, and less interesting decisions than an action based, detailed combat system allowed for. The gameplay loss still exists, not matter how much effort you put into situating those remaining decisions into an interesting fictional context.
Here's an account of the difference between HeroWars (an early version of a closed scene resolution framework) and RuneQuest.

And here is an argument in favour of conflict over task resolution:

In task resolution, what's at stake is the task itself. "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!" What's at stake is: do you crack the safe?​
In conflict resolution, what's at stake is why you're doing the task. "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!" What's at stake is: do you get the dirt on the supervillain?​
Which is important to the resolution rules: opening the safe, or getting the dirt? That's how you tell whether it's task resolution or conflict resolution.​
Task resolution is succeed/fail. Conflict resolution is win/lose. You can succeed but lose, fail but win.​
I'm well aware of the differentiation between the two, but you're doing a thing here that is frustrating, and is the same thing a skill challenge does. The failure state in both cases remains the same; does the player get the dirt? The difference in the task resolution model, part of the gameplay is in putting together a series of tasks that will get to the dirt. Picking the right tasks (a process that should begin long before the safe, likely with some kind of research), stacking the correct advantages, weighing their cost in time and being responsive to failures so you can propose a different set of actions tactically.

Winning or losing as your example puts it is not contained in a roll or action declaration, it's an emergent property of all of them.
In conventional rpgs, success=winning and failure=losing only provided the GM constantly maintains that relationship - by (eg) making the safe contain the relevant piece of information after you've cracked it. It's possible and common for a GM to break the relationship instead, turning a string of successes into a loss, or a failure at a key moment into a win anyway.​
Let's assume that we haven't yet established what's in the safe.
"I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!"​
It's task resolution. Roll: Success!​
"You crack the safe, but there's no dirt in there, just a bunch of in-order papers."​
"I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!"​
It's task resolution. Roll: Failure!​
"The safe's too tough, but as you're turning away from it, you see a piece of paper in the wastebasket..."​
(Those examples show how, using task resolution, the GM can break success=winning, failure=losing.)​
The example above only works as a counter argument because of the bolded line. So let's not assume that. Let's assume instead the GM is an uninterested party who will not be making decisions about the player's success or failure, but about things like "where would this villain store their incriminating documents?"

That's worth doing precisely because it results in a better gameplay experience.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
One of the most surprising, to me anyway things that came out of the whole 4e thing was this notion that D&D in any edition has ever supported simulationist play. Before 4e was announced, you never heard anyone talking about how they play D&D because it's a good simulationist game. And, frankly, people who DO play sim games would giggle at the suggestion. The whole point of sim games, very often, is a reaction to the almost complete lack of anything remotely resembling simulation in D&D (any edition).

Yet, it became this huge rallying cry. And, bizarrely, it still is. I mean, if you don't like Full to Zero HP mechanics, why on earth would you play any edition of D&D? D&D has never had anything remotely resembling a sim based combat system. It's entirely abstract and it's effectively old Final Fantasy 1 combat. One side wiggles slightly and a negative number appears over the sprite on the other side. Repeat until one side or the other falls down.

It constantly baffles me that anyone would seriously think that D&D is a sim game. :erm:
Snarf already did a great job breaking down the problem with this idea, so I won't go further into it except to note that this post is a not-so-subtle attempt to say that that 4E wasn't "really" rejected on its own terms, but was unfairly denigrated because people didn't understand what it was, didn't understand what it was trying to do, and didn't understand D&D as a whole.

In other words, this is more revisionist history. D&D has never been the most simulationist game out there, but earlier editions of it were, in fact, more simulationist than 4E was; people were aware of that, and weren't under any sort of mistaken impressions or mismanaged expectations when they called it out as being a break from what the game had been up until that point.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I bolded and underlined the relevant part.

You're completely correct. The 4e combat system (as other describe it ... cinematic) was designed to better enable ... decision-making based on story logic. Which was one of many changes that pushed 4e into a more D (as in GDS) direction.

Which is fine! People have preferences, and there were people that were incredibly happy about that! But conflating that jargon of simulation with the common meaning of simulation isn't helpful. If you don't think 4e was less simulationist than other editions of D&D (in the actual technical meaning of the term), then I would also find that ... too silly for words. Because it was designed to be that way- that was its strength (also its weakness, but definitely its strength).
In the technical sense you are correct.... I do not see D&D as particularly good at simulation in the technical sense or the other sense for that matter. At its core it is a bunch of wargame mechanics beaten into shape to serve as a role-playing game. It is good enough for the purpose and I can find players for it.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In the technical sense you are correct.... I do not see D&D as particularly good at simulation in the technical sense or the other sense for that matter. At its core it is a bunch of wargame mechanics beaten into shape to serve as a role-playing game. It is good enough for the purpose and I can find players for it.

Let me elaborate.

If someone is using the term "simulation" in the TTRPG context, they are referring back to the jargon meaning, because that's where it came from.

Think of the debates in D&D about whether it should be played as people just going around, doing things in the world, or whether there should be some "larger narrative purpose." That's the core of the issue.

For a "simulationist," the question isn't whether there is an accurate mapping of the economy, or plate tectonics, or an inn. It's just whether or not decisions are made in accordance with the fiction of the world. Which is established by the game system, norms, lore, and (on occasion) by "common sense" rulings.

Contrast that with a pure gamist. The easiest way to put this is thinking about "Gygaxian skilled play." A gamist views this more as a game; so after Klud Mudderhunk dies in the dungeon, Klud Mudderhunk II sallies forth. Except that Klud I died from an earseeker, so Klud II is especially careful when it comes to listening at doors. A gamist thinks this is fine, but a simulationist would decry this as it relies on information (meta-knowledge) that is antithetical to the fiction of the world; why would Klud II be aware of earseekers?

If you're all about the D ... um ... you know what I mean ... anyway, you're looking for the story reasons. You want to increase moments of drama and tension, even if it's not necessarily in keeping with the "game" or the "cause and effect of the game world." Early attempts at this would be considered today (from the DM's perspective) as a type of railroading, but the "Hickman Revolution" was all about making D&D about the D.

I would say that early D&D was strong S/G, and was ill-served for D. People tried to keep beating the D into it, and that's usually where the pressure points came in. 3e (for example) went heavy into the S direction, and 4e reversed course and went heavily into the D direction.

(I would add that, for the most part, these decisions are rarely mutually exclusive. Most people enjoy a little bit of each. Which is why D&D has traditionally allowed for games to be pushed in different directions. If you really want to go heavy into a single direction, you're going to be better served with a game that eschews the other concerns.)
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Let me elaborate.

If someone is using the term "simulation" in the TTRPG context, they are referring back to the jargon meaning, because that's where it came from.

Think of the debates in D&D about whether it should be played as people just going around, doing things in the world, or whether there should be some "larger narrative purpose." That's the core of the issue.

For a "simulationist," the question isn't whether there is an accurate mapping of the economy, or plate tectonics, or an inn. It's just whether or not decisions are made in accordance with the fiction of the world. Which is established by the game system, norms, lore, and (on occasion) by "common sense" rulings.

Contrast that with a pure gamist. The easiest way to put this is thinking about "Gygaxian skilled play." A gamist views this more as a game; so after Klud Mudderhunk dies in the dungeon, Klud Mudderhunk II sallies forth. Except that Klud I died from an earseeker, so Klud II is especially careful when it comes to listening at doors. A gamist thinks this is fine, but a simulationist would decry this as it relies on information (meta-knowledge) that is antithetical to the fiction of the world; why would Klud II be aware of earseekers?

If you're all about the D ... um ... you know what I mean ... anyway, you're looking for the story reasons. You want to increase moments of drama and tension, even if it's not necessarily in keeping with the "game" or the "cause and effect of the game world." Early attempts at this would be considered today (from the DM's perspective) as a type of railroading, but the "Hickman Revolution" was all about making D&D about the D.

I would say that early D&D was strong S/G, and was ill-served for D. People tried to keep beating the D into it, and that's usually where the pressure points came in. 3e (for example) went heavy into the S direction, and 4e reversed course and went heavily into the D direction.

(I would add that, for the most part, these decisions are rarely mutually exclusive. Most people enjoy a little bit of each. Which is why D&D has traditionally allowed for games to be pushed in different directions. If you really want to go heavy into a single direction, you're going to be better served with a game that eschews the other concerns.)
Umm.. Who exactly are you arguing with?
That said it is probably the clearest and most concise explanation of the Forge terms I have ever seen on these boards. So, thanks, I guess.
 

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