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Complexity as a Barrier to Playing Dungeons & Dragons

Keldryn

Adventurer
Warning: This thread requires a lot of reading. The irony of a long series of posts about the complexity of D&D being a barrier to participating is not lost on me.

Mike Mearls has written two recent Legends and Lore articles regarding the increasing complexity of D&D over the years, and there have been some good discussions on this board in response to these articles.

The first article traces the complexity of the fighter class from AD&D 1st Edition through D&D 4th Edition, focusing on the number of steps required to create a character. This is indicative of the complexity of the game growing over time, but it is a somewhat shallow analysis. The number of steps involved in creating a character and the greater number of choices involved at each step are but one part of the growing complexity of the game.

In the second article, he writes a bit about why the complexity has increased.

D&D has also increased in what I am calling front-loaded complexity. The earliest editions of D&D made it very easy for a new player to sit down with a group and actually be playing the game within a short period of time. Later editions of the game require a much greater investment from a player in order to even get started playing.

The issue of front-loaded complexity isn't just a barrier to new players learning the game. It can also be a major obstacle for more casual players, or even experienced gamers who prefer a more streamlined, faster-playing game.

I want to examine how the level of front-loaded complexity has increased with each new edition of D&D over the years. I'm not referring to the overall level of complexity of the game system; this is purely about the essential gameplay concepts and rules that a new player needs to understand in order to actively participate in a D&D game.

The Classic 1st-Level Fighter

I am going to present a write-up of a 1st-level human fighter as he would appear in each edition of D&D. This will take the form of an abbreviated character sheet that includes the essential gameplay information about the character. Character appearance (height, weight, etc) and roleplaying concerns (personality, backstory, etc) are not included, nor is equipment other than weapons and armor. This is not to say that these are not very important elements of a D&D character, but they would simply distract from the purpose of this exercise.

Let's consider a "typical" human fighter, at 1st level, with the following stats: Strength 16, Dexterity 14, Constitution 13, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 12, Charisma 11. We'll give him a longsword, short bow, shield, and affordable medium-to-heavy armor (scale or chain), and max hit points at 1st level. I'm assuming an average amount of starting gold, which allows for the purchase of those items plus standard adventuring gear.

This fighter is intended to be a straightforward, easy-to-play, effective but not optimized character. The 3.x and later incarnations are likely to have all sorts of things that will make CharOp fanatics cringe. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a simple character that is easy for a new player to start having fun with right away.

Each entry will also include a list of concepts that the new player is going to need to understand to be able to make any meaningful decisions in play. The first section is The Basics; most of these concepts need to be explained to the player before the game even starts, although a few can wait until they are encountered in the game. The second section includes all of the In Combat concepts, which the player will quickly need to come to terms with, but are probably best explained in context.

If we assume the classic low-level dungeon adventure, after exploring a few rooms and engaging in 2 or 3 battles, I think that it is reasonable to expect that the new player should be comfortable enough with how the game works to not have to still be asking the other players "what should I do?" in most situations.

General Assumptions

For the purpose of this exercise, I am going to assume that the "new player" is not completely ignorant of fantasy role-playing. This new player has likely heard of D&D, and maybe even played it a couple of times way back in high school. He or she has possibly played an RPG-like game on the computer or a game console. If nothing else, he or she has read Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings -- or at the very least, seen the movies.

The new player is question is being given a pre-generated character, so character creation isn't a concern here.

I am assuming core rules only in each example; no splatbooks.

The adventure is a classic low-level dungeon crawl, with plenty of exploration. The rest of the party includes a cleric, a magic-user (or mage, or wizard), and a thief (or rogue), all first-level as well.



If I've made mistakes on the character write-ups or if I got some of the details wrong in the concepts and procedures, please let me know and I'll fix it. I think that I have been very fair to each edition and I have not intentionally left out essential concepts nor added extraneous concepts to make any particular edition look better or worse.

A note on optional rules: Versions of D&D prior to 3e had a different point of view on "official rules" and house-ruling was extremely common. Comments from Gary Gygax long after the fact revealed that even he didn't use many of the official AD&D rules in his own games. As a general rule, simple optional rules that were at least anecdotally used by a large number of players will be included (e.g. variable weapon damage in B/X). Some of the more complicated official rules that, anecdotally, were ignored by a large number of players will be left out (e.g. initiative as per the AD&D 1e DMG). The examples from 3.x and later will conform to the RAW.

I have never played OD&D, so I'm not familiar enough with it to do it justice. I don't think it would be very different from the Basic example, other than the ability score modifiers.

I hope that this thread provides for some interesting discussion.

We will start with Basic D&D (B/X and BECMI)...
 
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Keldryn

Adventurer
Basic D&D (B/X and BECMI)

Basic D&D (B/X and BECMI)

Regdar, 1st-level Fighter
Male, 19 years old
Alignment: Lawful

Strength 16 (+2 on melee "to hit" and damage rolls)
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 12
Dexterity 14 (+1 on missile "to hit" rolls; -1 to AC)
Constitution 13 (+1 hit points per die)
Charisma 11 (Max retainers: 4; Retainer Morale: 7)

Languages: Common, Lawful

Hit Points: 9
Armor Class: 3 (Chain mail & shield) Rear AC: 4
Movement: 90' (Encounter: 30')

Attacks:
  • Longsword (+2 to hit; Damage: 1d8+2)
  • Short bow (+1 to hit; Damage: 1d6; Range 50'/100'/150')

Saving Throws:
  • Death Ray or Poison: 12
  • Magic Wands: 13
  • Paralysis or Turn to Stone: 14
  • Dragon Breath: 15
  • Rods, Staves, or Spells: 16

The Basics:

Your six ability scores represent your character's basic physical and mental capabilities. They range from 3 to 18, with a score of 10 representing average human ability. Higher scores reflect greater capabilities.

When you want your character to do something, tell the DM what you wish to do and describe how you do it. The DM will narrate the outcome of your actions.

If the success of an action is not guaranteed, the DM may ask you to make a roll to determine whether you succeed or fail. Some of these rolls will be "ability checks," where you roll a d20 and need to get a result less than or equal to the relevant ability score.

Saving Throws: sometimes you will need to make a saving throw to avoid negative conditions or special damage. Roll a d20 and if the result is equal to or greater than the listed saving throw value, you succeed.


In Combat:

One Round: represents 10 seconds of time in the game world. During each round of combat, every participant gets a turn to act.

Surprise: when combat starts, the DM rolls to determine if either side is surprised. If any group is surprised, they don't get to act on the first round.

Initiative: at the start of each round of battle, one person on each side rolls a d6 to determine initiative. The winning side goes first.

Moving: during your turn, you can move up to your encounter speed and attack an opponent.

Attacking: roll a d20 and add your "to hit" bonus. Compare the result with the target's AC on the combat matrix. When an opponent attacks you, the DM rolls to hit your AC.

Inflicting Damage: if you hit, roll your weapon damage die and add applicable damage bonuses. When an enemy's hit point total reaches 0, it's dead.

Taking Damage: if you get hit, subtract the amount of damage you take from your hit points. If your hit points reach 0, you're dead.

Healing: if you get healed, add the amount to your hit points. You can't exceed your original hit point total.

Running Away: you may cautiously withdraw from battle by moving at half speed. If you run away while engaged in melee, your opponent gets a free attack at your exposed back.


Notes:

The saving throws listed are from B/X. I believe they differ in BECMI.

Variable weapon damage is an optional rule in Basic D&D, but it seems that most people used it.

The AC 0 entry on the combat matrix for all 1st-level characters is 19.

1st level clerics don't get any spells, so there are virtually no means by which this character will get any additional bonuses to hit or damage, short of finding a magic weapon.
 
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Keldryn

Adventurer
Ad&d

Advanced D&D

Regdar, 1st-level Fighter
Male Human, 19 years old
Alignment: Neutral Good

Strength 16 (+1 to melee damage rolls, Open doors: 1-3, Bend bars/lift gates: 10%)
Intelligence 10 (2 additional languages)
Wisdom 11
Dexterity 14
Constitution 14 (Resurrection survivial: 92%, System shock: 88%)
Charisma 11 (Max henchmen: 4)

Languages: Common, Neutral Good, Goblin, Elvish

Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 4 (Chain mail & shield) Rear AC: 5
Movement: 9"

Secondary Skill: Husbandman (animal husbandry)
Weapons of Proficiency (4): longsword, dagger, shortbow, spear
Non-Proficiency Penalty: -2

Attacks:
  • Longsword (no bonus to hit; Damage: 1d8+1 S-M, 1d12+1 L)
  • Shortbow (no bonus to hit; Damage: 1d6 S-M, 1d6 L; Range 5/10/15; Fire Rate: 2)

Saving Throws:
  • Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic: 14
  • Petrification or Polymorph: 15
  • Rod, Staff, or Wand: 16
  • Breath Weapon: 17
  • Spells: 17


The Basics:

Your six ability scores represent your character's basic physical and mental capabilities. They range from 3 to 19, with a score of 10 representing average human ability. Higher scores reflect greater capabilities.

When you want your character to do something, tell the DM what you wish to do and describe how you do it. The DM will narrate the outcome of your actions.

If the success of an action is not guaranteed, the DM may ask you to make a roll to determine whether you succeed or fail. Some of these rolls will be "ability checks," where you roll a d20 and need to get a result less than or equal to the relevant ability score.

Saving Throws: sometimes you will need to make a saving throw to avoid negative conditions or special damage. Roll a d20 and if the result is equal to or greater than the listed saving throw value, you succeed.

In Combat:

One Round: represents one minute of time in the game world. During each round of combat, every participant gets a turn to act.

Surprise: when combat starts, the DM rolls to determine if either side is surprised. If any group is surprised, they don't get to act on the first round.

Initiative: at the start of each round of battle, one person on each side rolls a d6 to determine initiative. The winning side goes first.

Moving: during your turn, you can move up to your encounter speed (90') and attack an opponent.

Attacking: roll a d20 and add your "to hit" bonus. Compare the result with the target's AC on the combat matrix. When an opponent attacks you, the DM rolls to hit your AC.

Inflicting Damage: if you hit, roll your weapon damage die and add applicable damage bonuses. When an enemy's hit point total reaches 0, it's dead.

Taking Damage: if you get hit, subtract the amount of damage you take from your hit points. If your hit points reach 0, you're dead. Optional rule: you fall unconscious at 0 hit points, and lose 1 hit point each round until you die at -10.

Healing: if you get healed, add the amount to your hit points. You can't exceed your original hit point total.

Running Away: if are engaged in melee with an opponent, you may break off combat and move away. If you do so, your opponent gets a free attack at your exposed back, with a +2 bonus on its "to hit" roll.


Notes:

I kept the initiative and surprise entries the same as Basic D&D. Even re-reading those sections in the 1e PHB and DMG now, I still can't wrap my head around all of it, and it's not worth the time and effort involved in doing so just to be accurate in this exercise. If any of you ever played it as written, please give me brief overview of how it works and I'll revise this entry. It looks like melee combatants get to treat each lost segment of their opponents' as a full round in terms of number of attacks, so surprise can be super-deadly. Especially to spellcasters.

Weapon speed factors, weapon lengths, and weapon vs. AC properties were all official rules, but by all accounts, few people ever bothered with them, and they certainly weren't necessary to play, so I'm not including them here.

The AC 0 entry on the combat matrix for all 1st-level characters is 20, as opposed to 19 in Basic D&D.

I originally included alternative stats for weapon specialization, but it wasn't in the core rules, and it's in the 2e write-up anyway, which is otherwise almost identical.

The assumed party includes a cleric, so it is not unlikely that this character would be at some point under the effects of a Bless spell: +1 to attack rolls for 6 rounds or a Protection From Evil spell: +2 to saving throws vs effects caused by evil creatures and effectively a -2 AC bonus vs attacks from evil creatures
 
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Keldryn

Adventurer
AD&D 2nd Edition

Advanced D&D 2nd Edition:

Regdar, 1st-level Fighter
Male Human, 19 years old
Alignment: Neutral Good

Strength 16 (+1 to melee damage, Open doors 1-3, Bend bars/lift gates: 10%)
Dexterity 14
Constitution 13 (Resurrection survivial: 90%, System shock: 85%)
Intelligence 10 (+2 non-weapon proficiencies )
Wisdom 12
Charisma 11 (Max henchmen: 4)

Languages: Common, Neutral Good

Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 4 (Chain mail & shield) Rear AC: 5
Movement: 9

Weapons of Proficiency (4): longsword (specialized), dagger, shortbow
Non-Proficiency Penalty: -2

Attacks:
  • Longsword (THAC0 19; Damage: 1d8+3 S-M, 1d12+3 L; Type: Slashing; # attacks 3/2)
  • Shortbow (THAC0 20; Damage: 1d6 S-M, 1d6 L; Type: Piercing; Range: 150/300/510)

Non-weapon Proficiencies (4):
  • Fire-building (Wis -1; 11)
  • Swimming (Str; 16)
  • Riding (Wis +3; 15)
  • Heraldry (Int; 10)

Saving Throws:
  • Paralyzation, Poison, or Death Magic: 14
  • Petrification or Polymorph: 15
  • Rod, Staff, or Wand: 16
  • Breath Weapon: 17
  • Spells: 17


The Basics:

Your six ability scores represent your character's basic physical and mental capabilities. They range from 3 to 19, with a score of 10 representing average human ability. Higher scores reflect greater capabilities.

When you want your character to do something, tell the DM what you wish to do and describe how you do it. The DM will narrate the outcome of your actions.

If the success of an action is not guaranteed, the DM may ask you to make a roll to determine whether you succeed or fail. Some of these rolls will be "ability checks," where you roll a d20 and need to get a result less than or equal to the relevant ability score.

Non-weapon proficiencies build on the "ability check" mechanic of rolling under your ability score. These represent other useful skills that you have learned.

Saving Throws: sometimes you will need to make a saving throw to avoid negative conditions or special damage. Roll a d20 and if the result is equal to or greater than the listed saving throw value, you succeed.


In Combat:

One Round: represents one minute of time in the game world. During each round of combat, every participant gets a turn to act.

Surprise: when combat starts, the DM rolls to determine if either side is surprised. If any group is surprised, they don't get to act on the first round.

Initiative: at the start of each round of battle, one person on each side rolls a d10 to determine initiative. The winning side goes first. If the optional individual initiative is used, roll 1d10, subtract your Dexerity modifier, and add weapon speed (5 for longsword) at the beginning of each round.

Moving: during your turn, you can move up to your encounter speed (90') and attack an opponent.

Attacking: roll a d20 and compare the result to your pre-calculated THAC0 for that attack. If the roll is equal to or higher, you hit. When an opponent attacks you, the DM rolls to hit your AC.

Inflicting Damage: if you hit, roll your weapon damage die and add applicable damage bonuses. When an enemy's hit point total reaches 0, it's dead.

Taking Damage: if you get hit, subtract the amount of damage you take from your hit points. If your hit points reach 0, you're dead. Optional rule: you fall unconscious at 0 hit points, and lose 1 hit point each round until you die at -10.

Healing: if you get healed, add the amount to your hit points. You can't exceed your original hit point total.

Running Away: if are engaged in melee with an opponent, you may break off combat and move away. If you do so, your opponent gets a free attack at your exposed back, with a +2 bonus on its "to hit" roll.

Multiple Attacks: with your longsword, you get 3 attacks every two rounds. On the first round and every odd-numbered round, you get a single attack. On the second and successive even-numbered rounds, you get to make a second attack with your longsword.

Notes:

For the most part, it isn't appreciably different from AD&D 1e. I no longer have 2e books for reference, so I might have missed some spots where it changed from 1e.

Weapon specialization and non-weapon proficiencies are optional rules, but it seems like most people used them, and 2e supplements and adventures assumed their use.

The assumed party includes a cleric, so it is not unlikely that this character would be at some point under the effects of a Bless spell: +1 to attack rolls for 6 rounds or a Protection From Evil spell: +2 to saving throws vs effects caused by evil creatures and effectively a -2 AC bonus vs attacks from evil creatures
 
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Keldryn

Adventurer
D&D 3.x

D&D 3.x

Regdar, 1st-level Fighter
Male Human, 19 years old
Alignment: Neutral Good

Strength 16 (+3 to melee attack and damage rolls)
Dexterity 14 (+2 to ranged attack rolls; +2 to AC and Reflex save)
Constitution 13 (+1 hit points per die; +1 to Fort save)
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 12 (+1 to Will save)
Charisma 11

Languages: Common

Hit Points: 11
Base Attack Bonus: +1 (+4 Melee, +3 Ranged)
Armor Class: 18 (+4 [Scale mail], +2 [Heavy steel shield], +2 [Dex])
Touch AC: 12 | Flat-Footed AC: 16
Skill check penality: -6

Move: 20' (4 squares)
Initiative: +2

Saving Throws:
  • Fortitude: +3
  • Reflex: +2
  • Will: +3

Feats (2 general, 1 fighter):
  • Weapon Focus (Longsword) - +1 on attack rolls
  • Iron Will - +2 to Will save
  • Alertness - +2 to Listen, +2 to Spot

Trained Skills (12 skill points):
  • Ride +6 (4 ranks, Dex)
  • Swim -5 (4 ranks, Str)
  • Handle Animal +4 (4 ranks, Cha)

Common Untrained Skills:
  • Spot +3 (Wis)
  • Listen +3 (Wis)
  • Sense Motive +1 (Wis)

Weapon Proficiencies: All simple and martial weapons
Armor Proficiencies: All armor and shields

Attacks:
  • Longsword (+5 to hit; Damage: 1d8+3; Critical: 19-20; Type: Slashing)
    Attack: +1 [BAB], +3 [Str], +1 [Weapon Focus] = +5
  • Short bow (+3 to hit; Damage: 1d6; Critical: x3; Range: 60'; Type: Piercing)

The Basics:

Your six ability scores represent your character's basic physical and mental capabilities. They range from 8 to 20 for beginning characters, with a score of 10 representing average human ability. Higher scores reflect greater capabilities.

When you want your character to do something, tell the DM what you wish to do and describe how you do it. The DM will narrate the outcome of your actions.

If the success of an action is not guaranteed, the DM may ask you to make a roll to determine whether you succeed or fail. All checks to determine if an action is successful fall under a universal mechanic: roll 1d20, add appropriate modifiers, and compare to a target difficulty class number (DC).

An ability check is sometimes used if there is no specific rule to determine the success of an action. Roll 1d20 and add the modifier for the relevant ability score.

Skill checks are a type of ability check and represent specific training or experience.

Saving Throws: sometimes you will need to make a saving throw to avoid negative conditions or special damage. Your DM may ask you to make a Fortitude, Reflex, or Will save (1d20 + saving throw modifier).


In Combat:

One Round: represents 6 seconds of time in the game world. During each round of combat, every participant gets a turn to act.

Actions: during your turn, you may take one standard action (generally an attack) and one move action (move up to your movement rate). You may also take one or more free actions on your turn, within reasonable limits. Some actions require an entire round; a full-round action takes the place of both your standard and move actions.

Surprise: when combat starts, the DM may ask you to make a Listen or Spot check to determine if you are surprised. Any individual is who surprised does not get to act during the surprise round. If you may act during the surprise round, you may only take one standard action and no other actions.

Initiative: at the start of combat, roll 1d20 + Dexterity modifier to determine your place in the combat sequence.

Moving: during your turn, you can move up to your speed (20' or 4 squares) as a move action. You may take a second move action in place of your standard action.

Attacking: roll a d20 and add your attack bonuses. If the total equals or exceeds the target's armor class, you hit. When an opponent attacks you, the DM rolls to hit your AC.

Inflicting Damage: if you hit, roll your weapon damage die and add applicable damage bonuses. When an enemy's hit point total reaches 0, it's dead.

Taking Damage: if you get hit, subtract the amount of damage you take from your hit points. If your hit points reach 0, you fall unconscious and "bleed out" at an additional -1 hit point per round. If you do not stabilize before you reach -10 hit points, you die.

Healing: if you get healed, add the amount to your hit points. You can't exceed your original hit point total.

Attacks of Opportunity (AoO): an armed combatant is considered to "threaten" the area around him (for human-sized characters, this is generally 5' or one square). In general, performing an action within a threatened area that takes one's attention away from the fight will grant the opponent a free Attack of Opportunity (AoO). Moving out of a threatened space will also generally draw an AoO. Under normal circumstances, a combatant may only make one AoO per round.

Withdrawing: if you take a full-round action to withdraw from combat, you may move up to double your speed and do not provoke an AoO for leaving that opponent's threatened area.

5' Step: If you take a 5' step as your move action, you do not provoke an AoO.


Notes:

The player can be informed that he may attempt one of the situationally-useful combat maneuvers (disarm, trip, bull rush, etc) if the opportunity presents itself, but a new player can get along just fine for quite some time without having to worry about them. And if the player comes up with the idea on his own, the rules are there.

The assumed party includes a 1st-level cleric, so it is likely that this character will encounter some of the following effects and need to apply them. Most of these effects last for 1 minute (10 rounds), so in most cases they will last the entire duration of the encounter:
  • +1 to a single attack roll, saving throw, or skill check (Guidance orison)
  • +1 resistance bonus to saving throws (Resistance orison)
  • 1 temporary hit point (Virtue orison)
  • +1 morale bonus on attack rolls (Bless)
  • +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls with a single weapon (Magic Weapon)
  • +2 deflection bonus to AC and +2 resistance bonus to saving throws, both against evil creatures (Protection From Evil)
  • +2 deflection bonus to AC (Shield of Faith)
 
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I want to examine how the level of front-loaded complexity has increased with each new edition of D&D over the years. I'm not referring to the overall level of complexity of the game system; this is purely about the essential gameplay concepts and rules that a new player needs to understand in order to actively participate in a D&D game.

Hmmm. Maybe I'm just stupid....

I'm not quite clear on what the point is. I mean, I really doubt you're going to have a horde of folks showing up and saying, "No, no, the game used to be much more complicated in the old days and it's simpler now". That particular argument is most likely to occur when you start talking about the rules as a gatekeeper function for guiding/enforcing player behaviour, GM/Player authority and so forth. But in pure terms of "stuff to do in the game" or more simply put "the game" part of D&D... I don't think there's going to be a lot of disagreement.

That being the case, I'm left wondering... "What's the point?" I mean, if you just want to _demonstrate_ how that's happened... groovy I guess. But after you do, what then? What's the discussion supposed to focus on?

If the discussion is supposed to be about whether or not this increasing complexity is in fact a barrier, I'd say that one problem you're going to have is numbers. Folks are going to point to a lack of any sort of meaningful data to track the increase/decrease of the number of players over the years compared to actively supported systems.

Another problem you might have with that particular discussion is, "Who's the actual target market?" I don't care what anyone (including WotC) says ... it seems clear to me that the main target market for _most_ rpgs is actually the already existing gamer market. Heck, your own assumption is that folks have already been exposed to D&D before.

That being the case, I think the question then isn't really about it being a barrier to _playing_ the game; it might be whether or not it's a barrier to people staying with RPGs in general (since they can only find a D&D game and it's too much for them), or whether or not it's a barrier to already existing gamers trying to recruit new ones into the hobby, or something else entirely.

I'd also generally say that I think the issue of complexity is a deceptive one. It's part of that whole "rules light" versus "crunchy" argument that's been going on for decades. In the specific case of D&D it winds up being more edition-based, since there's been a pretty observable uptick in the amount/number of rules as each edition has shown up.

The thing is, in the light vs crunchy (or "simple" vs "complex") the poor "new player" is dragged out and used to try and support one side or the other. The reality of course is that the issue of number of rules/complexity of rules is really a personal preference. Some folks do "need" an in-depth rules framework; they feel more comfortable and they don't have to worry about "doing it wrong". But there's equally just as many folks that find the rules incredibly frustrating and a major turn-off to what they wanted to do when they decided to try D&D: tell a story.

My wife (who would count as a "casual gamer" by any definition) introduced a few people to rpgs, who had never had any exposure to them (didn't play computer games and never tried rps or had siblings that did). She'd never GMed before, so it was an interesting excercise for me to watch how everything unfolded.

She used a rules-light game and away they went. I joined as a player but kept strictly out of the GM side of things. A couple of the people (with a theatre background) hit the ground running with no problem. Another person struggled and in later conversations it became clear that they would have been more comfortable with a stronger rules framework.

A few months later, my wife got together with some friends of hers. In this case a couple of people had previous experience with D&D, a couple of people were again completely new to rpgs. The group as a whole tried 4E and the reaction was mixed. The previously exposed folks thought it was ok and were happy enough to play it again. The never exposed people really disliked it and wouldn't choose to play rpgs again.

Again my wife went with the same game that she'd done before. This time everyone was onboard and enjoyed themselves immensely.

What's my point? It's not that "rules light is better" or "D&D sucks". The very little information we've got suggests that the number of folks involved with D&D is 6 million (a number from WotC.) although we've no clue what edition it might be. My point is, some people are naturally drawn towards the complexity. These are people that like the "game" part of "rpg". They argue for the inclusion of rules (and complexity) because they say the folks that don't like it ("They're just going to focus on the 'rp' part of 'rpg' and ignore a bunch of stuff anyway...") can just ignore the stuff they don't want to use.

So.... yeah. It's great for Mearls to be talking about increasing rule complexity and for folks to sit around arguing about it on the forum, but at the end of the day... where's it going? The fact is, the current design approach that rpg producers take is to creat a product and put it out there; doesn't matter whether it's rules-light, rules-medium, or "really crunchy".

There's no real attempt to actually target different groups with different sets of rules. D&D used to have it in the form of the "basic" and "advanced" games of D&D. But that's fallen by the wayside and the industry in general doesn't pursue it either. 4E Essentials and the upcoming Pathfinder Basic might be argued as an attempt to try that again, but I actually don't think they are; because they're still put out with an eye towards appealing to the already existing gamer market.

*sigh* I wish I had a good conclusion... but I don't. This post kinda rambles along, but I suppose that's sort of fitting given that the whole topic seems a bit rambling to me in the first place. I'm just left with shuffling my feet a bit aimlessly and repeating "What's the point?"
 

Keldryn

Adventurer
D&D 4th Edition (Essentials)

D&D 4th Edition (Essentials)

Regdar, 1st-level Fighter (Slayer)
Male Human, 19 years old
Alignment: Good

Strength 18 (+4 to melee attack and damage rolls; +4 to Fort defense)
Dexterity 14 (+2 to ranged attack and damage rolls; +2 to AC and Reflex defenses)
Constitution 13 (+1 healing surge)
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 12 (+1 to Will defense)
Charisma 11

Languages: Common, Goblin

Hit Points: 28 | Bloodied: 14
Healing Surges: 10 | Surge Value: 7

Move: 4 squares
Initiative: +2
Action Points: 1

Armor Class: 19 (+7 [Scale armor], +2 [Dex]) | Skill check penality: -1
Fortitude: +6 (+2 [class], +4 [Str])
Reflex: +2 (Dex)
Will: +1 (Wis)

Trained Skills (4):
  • Athletics +9 (+4 [Str])
  • Endurance +3 (+1 [Con], -3 [armor])
  • Heal +6 (+1 [Wis])
  • Intimidate +5 (Cha)

Common Untrained Skills:
  • Perception +2 (+2 [Wis])
  • Intuition +2 (+2 [Wis])

Weapon Proficiencies: All simple and martial weapons
Armor Proficiencies: Cloth, leather, hide, chainmail, scale

Feats (2):
  • Heavy Blade Expertise - +1 feat bonus to attack rolls with heavy blades; you gain a +2 bonus to all defenses against opportunity attacks while wielding a heavy blade.
  • Weapon Focus (Heavy Blades) - +1 feat bonus to damage rolls with heavy blades.

Class Features:
  • Heroic Slayer: add your Dexterity modifier (+2) to the damage rolls of all weapon attacks.
  • Weapon Talent: gain a +1 bonus to weapon attack rolls.

Stances (At-Will * Minor Action)
  • Battle Wrath - gain a +2 bonus to the damage rolls of basic attacks using a weapon
  • Poised Assault - gain a +1 power bonus to the attack rolls of basic attacks using a weapon

Powers:
  • Heroic Effort (Encounter * No Action) - when you miss with an attack or fail a saving throw, gain a +4 racial bonus to that roll
  • Power Strike (Encounter * Free Action) - when you hit an enemy with a basic melee attack using a weapon, the target takes an extra 1[W] (1d10) damage from the attack.
  • Second Wind (Encounter * Standard Action) - you may spend one healing surge (regain 7 hit points). Until the end of your next turn, you gain a +2 bonus to all of your defenses.

Basic Attacks:
  • Greatsword: +9 vs AC; 1d10+7 damage
    +9 vs AC; 1d10+9 damage (Battle Wrath stance)
    +10 vs AC; 1d10+7 damage (Poised Assault stance)
  • Shortbow: +5 vs AC; 1d8+4 damage; Range: 15/30
    +5 vs AC; 1d8+6 damage (Battle Wrath stance)
    +6 vs AC; 1d8+4 damage (Poised Assault stance)


The Basics:

Your six ability scores represent your character's basic physical and mental capabilities. They range from 8 to 20 for beginning characters, with a score of 10 representing average human ability. Higher scores reflect greater capabilities.

When you want your character to do something, tell the DM what you wish to do and describe how you do it. The DM will narrate the outcome of your actions.

If the success of an action is not guaranteed, the DM may ask you to make a roll to determine whether you succeed or fail. All checks to determine if an action is successful fall under a universal mechanic: roll 1d20, add appropriate modifiers, and compare to a target difficulty class number (DC).

An ability check is sometimes used if there is no specific rule to determine the success of an action. Roll 1d20 and add the modifier for the relevant ability score.

Skill checks are a type of ability check and represent specific training or experience.

Saving Throws: if you are affected by a negative condition, you may need to make a saving throw to overcome it. You get to make a saving throw at the start of each of your turns, and you need to roll a 10 or higher on 1d20 to succeed.

At-Will Powers may be used as often as you like.

Encounter Powers and Short Rests: an encounter power may be used once per encounter. After taking a short rest (a five-minute period of non-strenuous activity), your encounter powers become available again.

Daily Resources and Extended Rests: healing surges and hit points are restored to their full capacity after taking an extended rest (6 hours of non-strenuous activity). You may only take one extended rest in a 24-hour period. An extended rest also resets your action point total to 1.


In Combat:

One Round: represents 6 seconds of time in the game world. During each round of combat, every participant gets a turn to act.

Actions: during your turn, you may take one standard action, one move action and one minor action. You may trade a standard action for a move or minor action, and a move action for a minor action.

Action Points: you may spend one action point to gain an additional standard, move, or minor action on your turn. You may use one action point per encounter. You gain one additional action point after every second encounter that you face during a single day.

Stances: a stance is an at-will power that is activated with a minor action. A stance lasts until a new stance is entered or until the end of the encounter.

Surprise: when combat starts, the DM may ask you to make a Perception check to determine if you are surprised. Any individual is who surprised does not get to act during the surprise round. If you may act during the surprise round, you may only take one standard action and no others.

Initiative: at the start of combat, roll 1d20 + Dexterity modifier to determine your place in the combat sequence.

Moving: during your turn, you can move up to your movement rate as a move action. You may take a second move action in place of your standard action.

Attacking: roll a d20 and add your attack bonuses. If the total equals or exceeds the target's armor class, you hit. When an opponent attacks you, the DM rolls to hit your AC.

Inflicting Damage: if you hit, roll your weapon damage die and add applicable damage bonuses. When an enemy's hit point total reaches 0, it's dead.

Temporary Hit Points: in addition to your regular hit points, you may also have been granted temporary hit points by another character in your party, such as a cleric. If you already have temporary hit points and receive additional temporary hit points, do not add them together. Keep the higher of the two amounts and discard the other.

Taking Damage: when you take damage in combat, first apply that damage to any temporary hit points which you may have remaining. Subtract the remainder from your regular hit points.

Bloodied: if your current hit point total reaches 1/2 (or fewer) of your maximum hit points, you are considered bloodied. Other party members or monsters may have powers which are triggered when you are bloodied, so you should announce to the group if you become bloodied.

Dying: if your hit points drop to 0, you fall unconscious and are dying. Each round, you must roll a "death save" (10 or higher on 1d20) to stabilize. If you fail this save three times, you are dead.

Healing Surges: represent your total capacity for recovery over a single day. When you spend a healing surge, you regain a number of hit points equal to your healing surge value (7). You can't exceed your original total hit points. Once you are out of healing surges for the day, there are only very few ways of regaining hit points.

Opportunity Attacks (OA): an armed combatant is considered to "threaten" its surrounding squares (for human-sized characters, this is generally 1 square). In general, performing an distracting action within a threatened area (such as attacking with a ranged weapon) will grant the opponent a free Opportunity Attack. Moving out of a threatened space will also usually draw an OA.

Shift: you may move 1 square as a move action. This does not provoke an OA.


Notes:

I originally wrote this one up with the same longsword and shield as the others, and then I realized that the slayer class doesn't get a shield proficiency. The class is designed to use higher-damage two-handed weapons, so I went with a greatsword instead of taking a shield proficiency.

The assumed party includes an Essentials cleric, so it is very likely that this character will encounter some of the following effects and need to apply them:
  • +1 to +3 resistance to all damage until end of cleric's next turn [at-will power]
  • +1 to +3 power bonus to damage rolls against a specific target until the next of cleric's next turn [at-will power]
  • 5 temporary hit points [encounter power]
  • +2 power bonus to all defenses until the end of the encounter [daily power]

Basic Attack Calculations:
  • Greatsword:
    Attack: +4 [Str], +1 [Weapon Talent], +1 [Expertise Feat], +3 [Proficiency] = +9
    Damage: +4 [Str], +2 [Heroic Slayer], +1 [Weapon Focus] = +7
  • Shortbow:
    Attack: +2 [Dex], +1 [Weapon Talent], +2 [Proficiency] = +5
    Damage: +2 [Dex], +2 [Heroic Slayer] = +4
 

Keldryn

Adventurer
I'm not quite clear on what the point is. I mean, I really doubt you're going to have a horde of folks showing up and saying, "No, no, the game used to be much more complicated in the old days and it's simpler now".

Fair enough. I don't know that there is any particular point beyond I find this stuff interesting and I'm hoping that others might as well. I worked for a few years as a game designer in the video game industry, so I tend to spend far too much time thinking about these type of things.

This exercise primarily came about as a means of deciding which version of D&D to use for my current group, which consists of:
  • my sister, who started playing with the Mentzer Basic Set around the same time that I did (1987)
  • my wife, who had never played D&D before but has read hundreds of fantasy novels and plays some console RPGs. She's mainly playing because we have a 1 year-old daughter and she wants some adult socialization.
  • a friend, who started playing with 3.5, but is a walking encyclopedia of 3.5 and 4e rules knowledge
  • my sister's boyfriend, who thinks he might have played some version of D&D when he was in high school a couple of times (probably 2e). He's playing because my sister would like him to, and would have no interest whatsoever otherwise

It's a group with a diverse range of experience and interest in the game. We started with 4e and played through 3 sessions before breaking for the holidays. The two more casual players weren't having that much fun, as they found it too complicated. My sister was indifferent about it. The other player liked it.

We played two sessions of Basic D&D, and the two more casual players had a lot more fun. My sister thought it was refreshingly fast-playing. The other player said he was finding it limiting and that he'd get bored with it very quickly.

That being the case, I'm left wondering... "What's the point?" I mean, if you just want to _demonstrate_ how that's happened... groovy I guess. But after you do, what then? What's the discussion supposed to focus on?

I found that the exercise of writing down what each version of the game requires a new player to understand from the get-go to be very enlightening and useful in figuring out the right fit for my group. When I see the assumptions in writing, and the minimum amount of information that needs to appear on a character sheet, it paints a very clear picture for me.

Another problem you might have with that particular discussion is, "Who's the actual target market?" I don't care what anyone (including WotC) says ... it seems clear to me that the main target market for _most_ rpgs is actually the already existing gamer market. Heck, your own assumption is that folks have already been exposed to D&D before.

Well, the assumption was that they had heard of D&D, and had possibly played it a long time ago but didn't remember much about it. It was a nod to reality, and also a way of avoiding addressing the "what is roleplaying" stuff.

I agree with you that the main target market for most RPGs is the existing gamer market. It's the same with the market for "hardcore" video games as well. However, RPGs (and video games) are a very time-consuming hobby, and many people reach a point in their lives where they don't have time for it anymore. Or the members of a group just can't coordinate their schedules, and they just stop playing. They may be targeting current gamers, but that's not a sustainable business model.

I'd also generally say that I think the issue of complexity is a deceptive one. It's part of that whole "rules light" versus "crunchy" argument that's been going on for decades. In the specific case of D&D it winds up being more edition-based, since there's been a pretty observable uptick in the amount/number of rules as each edition has shown up.

We've had endless discussions on these boards about the complexity of the different editions. I'm trying to narrow down that focus to what each edition expects from the player in order to be able to sit down and play with the most straightforward character types supported by the system. It's not necessarily the same thing as the complexity or number of rules in the system. It's the whole "easy to pick up and play, difficult to master" idea. Earlier editions were much more approachable, and the complexity tended to increase more gradually as you continued to play the game. Modern versions throw a lot more at you right from the start, which is likely to turn away many potential players.

*sigh* I wish I had a good conclusion... but I don't. This post kinda rambles along, but I suppose that's sort of fitting given that the whole topic seems a bit rambling to me in the first place. I'm just left with shuffling my feet a bit aimlessly and repeating "What's the point?"

I do tend to ramble.

At the very least, it was kind of fun spending a few minutes here and there putting this together. If other people find any of what I've written useful and interesting, then that's great. If nobody finds it interesting and I'm just sitting here replying to myself, then that's fine with me too. This exercise has helped me see my own preferences much more clearly.
 

Complexity can be a barrier to potentially interested newcomers but I believe being immersed in a group of system masters playing a complex system is really the cause.

With simple rules such as B/X, characters remain fairly simple even at higher levels. The play of the game is purely done during the adventure itself. There are no builds to worry about or "mistakes" when making a character because you had to choose item A at level 1 if want to have G at level 12. This is the kind of stuff a complete newb doesn't need.

The greatest thing about simple systems is that the complete newbie can begin play quickly, and be a valuable contributing player right from the start.
 

FireLance

Legend
I'm of the view that a game needs both simplicity and complexity. Simplicity makes it easy to get into the game. Complexity keeps you engaged with the game.

One of the best examples of a game that is both simple and complex (IMO) is chess. You can learn how each of the pieces move in less than ten minutes. However, there are probably millions of ways to combine those moves into potentially viable strategies.

As the OP's posts point out, even a 1st-level character in 3e and especially 4e is fairly complex. And that complexity is probably needed to sustain continued interest in the game. However, what I think is missing is some way to break up that initial complexity into bite-sized chunks for a player that is just starting to get into the game, something like the introductory tutorials that most recent CRPGs have.

For 4e, I have considered the idea of having a "Novice" level, where the PC just has access to at-will abilities, and an "Apprentice" level, where encounter abilities are introduced, before the character "graduates" to first level and gets access to his daily abilities.
 

Fair enough. I don't know that there is any particular point beyond I find this stuff interesting and I'm hoping that others might as well. I worked for a few years as a game designer in the video game industry, so I tend to spend far too much time thinking about these type of things.

Heh. No worries. I mean, I spend an awful lot of time thinking about this sort of stuff too; I don't have the luxury of claiming game designer status to justify it either. I'm just an involved hobbyist.

I mean, right now I'm working on an SRD project which I need to complete because it's the skeleton for a revised set of rules that is what I really want to do; parallel to that is another project focused on SRD monsters, a hack of a d12-based dicepool system, some thinking about a whole different system that relies on a d20 roll and degrees of success, as well as thinking some about japanese rpgs and what they're doing, and work on a couple of other projects that aren't far enough along for me to feel comfortable really talking about them.

I'm a huge believer in the idea "System matters". Game systems reward certain behaviours overtly and implicitly, so thinking about what it is you want out of a game and the setting you're pairing with it (whether it's a homebrew or commercial setting, completely independent of whether or not it's the system that actually came with the rules being used) is something that kicks around in my head quite a bit.

For example, if you want a "tactical" focused game that doesn't rely on miniatures (like D&D), there's "Fate" (used in Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files rpg, among others) which is pretty tactical and focuses on getting your bonuses lined up.

Another one that's different from both is "Spellbound Kingdoms" which looks to be quite good for doing a "Thief"-styled game (as in the videogame series) or even Assassin's Creed perhaps. It's approach to tactical play is that there are weapon styles and the option you pick allows certain maneuvers; it includes sheets so it's easy to "slide" along the sheet and know what you can/can't do. Where the real trick comes in, is figuring out what your foe is going to do and either having a counter ready for it or trying to change things so that it plays to your character's strength.

This exercise primarily came about as a means of deciding which version of D&D to use for my current group

Ok, that's a decent enough premise. Not like you need my approval or anything, just saying it make sense to me. :)


I found that the exercise of writing down what each version of the game requires a new player to understand from the get-go to be very enlightening and useful in figuring out the right fit for my group. When I see the assumptions in writing, and the minimum amount of information that needs to appear on a character sheet, it paints a very clear picture for me.

Makes sense. I'm one of those folks that looks at a character sheet first; if it looks to complicated/messy or I can't figure out what's happening with a character by just looking at the sheet? I don't even bother picking up the game. *shrug* Some folks might not think that's fair, but it's how I roll these days.

One thing I find interesting is that almost no character sheets explicitly contain information on where to look for what they're referencing. For example, "Skills" doesn't say what page the skill descriptions start, or the various powers you slap down don't have a place to list where said power actually is in a book. I think that's a huge mistake, especially given the amount of things that need to be kept track of in something like D&D.

We've had endless discussions on these boards about the complexity of the different editions. I'm trying to narrow down that focus to what each edition expects from the player in order to be able to sit down and play with the most straightforward character types supported by the system. It's not necessarily the same thing as the complexity or number of rules in the system. It's the whole "easy to pick up and play, difficult to master" idea. Earlier editions were much more approachable, and the complexity tended to increase more gradually as you continued to play the game. Modern versions throw a lot more at you right from the start, which is likely to turn away many potential players.

Oooooook. I think I get what you're saying... it's that system mastery thing you're talking about, right? By which I mean, earlier editions were less complex in terms of:
1. The amount of rules overall
2. The difficulty in understanding the application of a particular rule
3. When new rules were introduced.

When 3.x hit the scene, there was a fundamental shift in design. First, a huge number of rules showed up. Second, while some of the amount of rules was geared towards trying to provide a tool _in case a GM wanted a specific rule instead of relying on their own understanding_, not all of the rules were geared for that. In fact, system mastery was explicitly introduced, relying on Magic as a source of inspiration for interacting/manipulating the rules at different levels of skill. And of course third, 3.x just dumps the whole thing in your lap and walks away, leaving you to sort it out. Later supplements might expand slightly or modify them, but there really is/was no option for increasing the complexity of the game as your experience with it grew.



I do tend to ramble.

At the very least, it was kind of fun spending a few minutes here and there putting this together. If other people find any of what I've written useful and interesting, then that's great. If nobody finds it interesting and I'm just sitting here replying to myself, then that's fine with me too. This exercise has helped me see my own preferences much more clearly.

Nah, that's fine. I tend to blog that way: a message in a bottle chucked out to sea and then waiting to see if anyone comes back.

One thing that I think would be interesting, would be to sit down with the BECMI books and rewrite 3.x that way. By which I mean, not as a single tome (which is what the Rules Cyclopedia was) but actually as a series of several books. Each one intended to cover not just levels, but additional rules as well. One thing that immediately occurs is how limited D&D is these days; previous editions had provisions for characters doing something more than killing and looting. The whole running a kingdom and trying to become a god. Now, it's just kill kill kill your way along and eventually you sort of stumble into godhood.

But that would be a fundamentally different design than what the majority of gamers are after: simple game with optional added complexity being introduced.
 

I'm of the view that a game needs both simplicity and complexity. Simplicity makes it easy to get into the game. Complexity keeps you engaged with the game.

One of the best examples of a game that is both simple and complex (IMO) is chess. You can learn how each of the pieces move in less than ten minutes. However, there are probably millions of ways to combine those moves into potentially viable strategies.
Excellent point.
Out of interest, I find myself looking more for added "elegant-complexity" and mechanical simulation rather than raw simplification under either basic mechanical or gamist principles. The need for a basic game to break through the complexity barrier is important for novices, but is quickly discarded once one becomes a veteran.

As the OP's posts point out, even a 1st-level character in 3e and especially 4e is fairly complex. And that complexity is probably needed to sustain continued interest in the game. However, what I think is missing is some way to break up that initial complexity into bite-sized chunks for a player that is just starting to get into the game, something like the introductory tutorials that most recent CRPGs have.
This reminds me though of a booklet to play magic the gathering. It was horrendous, even with a play by play walkthrough. Some games are better learnt by playing. An interactive tutorial or even just an educative youtube video would be useful. I think perhaps tackling the "problem" from an education point of view is just as cogent as relaxing the rules/decision/information density of a game.

For 4e, I have considered the idea of having a "Novice" level, where the PC just has access to at-will abilities, and an "Apprentice" level, where encounter abilities are introduced, before the character "graduates" to first level and gets access to his daily abilities.
I'm not as sure about this - I think the 4e designers got the number of powers pretty well right for novices - particularly if you print them onto cards. To me, powers gave you a good connection to what was happening or going to happen in the game. It is the periphery of opportunity attacks, the importance of key words and other minutiae less related to the action that would stop a novice in their tracks. At this point, I'm fascinated to see what Paizo does with their basic set.

Best Regards
Herremann the Wise
 

I'm of the view that a game needs both simplicity and complexity. Simplicity makes it easy to get into the game. Complexity keeps you engaged with the game.

One of the best examples of a game that is both simple and complex (IMO) is chess.

Hmmm.

So first, I'd say that complexity keeps _some_ folks engaged in the game. Not everyone. Which is part of the problem; D&D caters to the hardcore crowd and the "casual" and/or beginner are basically told "you don't belong". What one of the top pieces of advice that I see handed out to people wanting to learn the game? Find someone else somewhere to teach them, because it's overwhelming/too much to try and do it completely cold from the books.

It's interesting you bring up chess. I think it's sort of illustrative of the problem. Chess is a complicated enough game actually. A bunch of pieces moving in different ways and then a few odd things like Castling and En Passant. I've known a few folks that played pretty high level chess and after a certain point it's... I'm sure folks would argue with this characterization, but it's sort of a rock/paper/scissors sort of thing. One player will go with a gambit and the other player will try to recognize the gambit and counter with one. It almost seems like it's not really about the "strategy" so much as it is about who's got the better mental database and how quickly they can access it.

D&D relies on a boardgamey/poor-wargame approach for a fair chunk of it's complexity. Chop out miniature-based play and the funky rules exceptions given to you by feats and you've got a much more streamlined game. "Simpler" in the context of this conversation.

And this is the problem that the OP is talking about... that initial barrier. Chess (and D&D) aren't games you just sit down with and start playing. They require an investment of effort. And it's not just an investment of effort to get started, but it's also an investment of effort and time (and money in the case of D&D) to keep on playing.

Or... ok, let's flip things slightly. Magic: the Gathering.

I used to play this way back when; I had an almost complete Beta set and a nice chunk of Alphas too. Anyway, the game started with a set of rules that were printed on a piece of paper stuck into a deck of cards. Easy peasy. Time goes on and more and more rules are added. The desire for complexity developed as people's skills improved. Along with that was the development of explicit strategy in the form of deck-building.

Last time I looked, the rules for MTG were a book and everything seemed to revolve around what sort of build people were using. A select group of folks actually develop them and a large number of folks rely on it, perhaps with their own customizations.

These days, I wouldn't even consider touching a CCG. I don't have the time, money, or inclination to try and develop the skill necessary to "enjoy" the game.

One could say that MTG is both "simple" and "complex", but I'd disagree. The rules are relatively coherent (consistent) and there aren't necessarily a large number of them, but it's complex because of the specialized vocabulary, the need to keep track of stacking rules, and everyone's favorite "exception based design" which is so integral to both MTG and D&D.

I'm of the opinion that what would really need to happen is that D&D would need to be redesigned from the ground up; one of the explicit goals being simplicity and modularity. You need to basically have the "basic" and "advanced" game and actually support _both_. Continue evolving new rules etc for the hardcore to mess around with, while providing nifty gee-gaws and other bits for the basic game.

But that ain't gonna happen.
 

The need for a basic game to break through the complexity barrier is important for novices, but is quickly discarded once one becomes a veteran.

And I most strongly disagree with this. This is part of the problem; there's this entrenched notion in gamers that "simple" = "novice" and "veteran" = "complex".

Not everyone is playing an rpg because they want or enjoy the rules mastery/game mastery aspect. The fact that there's a "game" there is fine and even enjoyable; it doesn't mean they need or want it to be expanded.

As long as this sort of thinking persists, it's going to continue hobbling the community in terms of expansion. The people that _want_ the game and are hardcore about it? They're catered to. They've been catered to for the past 3 decades and they continue to be catered to. The goal shouldn't be to get some poor slob off the street that doesn't know any better, teach them how to play D&D, and then triumphantly declare "you're a gamer! Don't forget to buy the supplement coming out next month, and remember that DDI is an invaluable tool that you're a fool not to have."

Anyone here go to the gym and lift weights? Jog? Ride a bike? Play Rockband?

Ok now... what if everyone that was involved in your activity insisted that you compete at the professional level? No, going to the gym and doing your little circuit training isn't good enough; the expectation is that you're going to be competing in body-builder competitions. It's not good enough to just ride a bike or jog, you're supposed to be doing Iron Man competitions.

That's basically what's happening with rpgs. Folks show up and want to dabble in it, do a little here or there... and every time they turn around they're being pushed to invest more in it. "Oh, well you're a beginner... of course you want simpler rules. Don't worry, eventually you'll know what you're doing and be ready for the _real_ fun".

Some games are better learnt by playing. An interactive tutorial or even just an educative youtube video would be useful.

It should be an option, not a requirement.

Generally speaking, rpgs seem to suffer from a similar sort of thing as Linux; proponents are in love with the complexity and obtuseness. Yeah, linux might rock on toast and be able to do lots of stuff. But I can actually just fire up a Windows machine and it works. I don't have to "grep" this or do console anything unless I _want_ to.

Some people just want to show up and have something work and be straightforward. The fact that we don't want to invest the great flipping amounts of effort to learn Linux doesn't mean that the only kind of machine we're fit to use is an XBox.
 

Aus_Snow

First Post
Generally speaking, rpgs seem to suffer from a similar sort of thing as Linux; proponents are in love with the complexity and obtuseness. Yeah, linux might rock on toast and be able to do lots of stuff. But I can actually just fire up a Windows machine and it works. I don't have to "grep" this or do console anything unless I _want_ to.
Ubuntu. ;)

Basically, Linux for the Windows user. And sorry to those who simply like it for some other reason altogether - I do not mean it as an insult. Simply a huge sweeping generalisation, and yes, I know it won't apply to everyone. Right, pretty sure the statement has been sufficiently qualified now. :D

Anyway, I largely agree with what you're saying. I think many "classic gamers" fall into the equally classic pattern of either assuming that most/many potential gamers will be significantly like them (e.g., maths heads / engineering or IT types / whatever) or not really giving it much thought either way.

I know for a certainty that quite a few potential gamers have been turned off TTRPGs, or very nearly so, because of both complexity and obscure gamer-oriented references, memes, etc. (i.e., bit of a Catch-22, with some of it). I've seen it happen, have heard about it enough, and hey, I do suspect it's one of the various reasons the hobby has seemingly shrunk, through the years.

Overall, the Linux analogy isn't a bad one, the more I think about it. Ubuntu aside, 'n all. :)
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
The need for a basic game to break through the complexity barrier is important for novices, but is quickly discarded once one becomes a veteran.

Speak for yourself. My preferred editions of D&D are still the original edition and Basic (of the Holmes and BECMI varieties). The same holds true for a large-ish portion of other OSR fans, too, if the relative success of clones like Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry are any indicator (which I think they are). Some people just prefer simpler systems.
 

And I most strongly disagree with this. This is part of the problem; there's this entrenched notion in gamers that "simple" = "novice" and "veteran" = "complex".

Not everyone is playing an rpg because they want or enjoy the rules mastery/game mastery aspect. The fact that there's a "game" there is fine and even enjoyable; it doesn't mean they need or want it to be expanded.



That's basically what's happening with rpgs. Folks show up and want to dabble in it, do a little here or there... and every time they turn around they're being pushed to invest more in it. "Oh, well you're a beginner... of course you want simpler rules. Don't worry, eventually you'll know what you're doing and be ready for the _real_ fun".


It should be an option, not a requirement.

Yes a thousand times over. As a veteran gamer playing these things for over 30 years I still appreciate the appeal of simplicity. I have played complex games and over time have found that for me, they do not add enough extra fun to the experience to justify the effort.

I do enjoy fiddling around with mechanics just for fun in itself, but during gameplay I want to deal with them as little as possible.

There are certainly people who enjoy complex games more and its a good thing that we have games to suit either preference. :)

The notion that simple = for noobs, is a mistake much like the "well known" fact that animated entertainment is automatically suited for children.
 

Keldryn

Adventurer
D&D 4th Edition (Core)

D&D 4th Edition (Core):

Regdar, 1st-level Human Ranger
Alignment: Good

Strength 14 (+2 to melee attack and damage rolls; +2 to Fort defense)
Dexterity 18 (+4 to ranged attack and damage rolls; +4 to AC and Reflex defenses)
Constitution 13 (+1 healing surge)
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 12 (+1 to Will defense)
Charisma 11

Languages: Common, Goblin

Hit Points: 25 | Bloodied: 12
Healing Surges: 7 | Surge Value: 6

Move: 6 squares
Initiative: +2
Action Points: 1

Armor Class: 17 (+3 [Hide armor], +4 [Dex]); 19 against OAs | Skill check penality: -1
Fortitude: +4
Reflex: +5
Will: +1

Weapon Proficiencies: All simple and martial weapons
Armor Proficiencies: Cloth, leather, hide.

Trained Skills (6):

  • Nature +6 (+1 [Wis])
  • Endurance +6 (+1 [Con])
  • Perception +6 (+1 [Wis])
  • Athletics +7 (+2 [Str])
  • Stealth +9 (+4 [Dex))
  • Acrobatics +9 (+4 [Dex))


Common Untrained Skills:

  • Intuition +1 (Wis)


Feats:

  • Weapon Focus (Bows): +1 feat bonus to damage rolls when attacking with a bow
  • Lethal Hunter: increase your Hunter's Quarry extra damage dice from d6 to d8.
  • Defensive Mobility: +2 bonus to AC against opportunity attacks


Class Features:

  • Archer Fighting Style: gain Defensive Mobility as a bonus feat
  • Prime Shot: If none of your allies are nearer to your target than you are, you receive a +1 bonus to ranged attack rolls against that target.
  • Hunter's Quarry (At-Will * Minor Action): You may designate the nearest enemy to you that you can see as your quarry. Once per round, when you hit your quarry with an attack, you may inflict an addition 1d8 points of damage. If you have dealt his extra damage since the start of your turn, you may not deal it again until the start of your next turn. The quarry remains in effect until the end of the encounter, or until you select a new quarry.


Basic Attacks:

  • Longbow (+6 vs AC; Damage: 1d10+5; Range: 20/40)
    +7 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: +5 + 1d8 if target is Quarry
  • Longsword (+5 vs AC; Damage: 1d8+2)
    Damage: +2 + 1d8 if target is Quarry


Powers:

  • Twin Strike (At-Will * Standard Action): Make two ranged attacks with your longbow. These attacks may target different creatures if you choose.
    Two Attacks: +6 vs AC; +7 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: 1d10; + 1d8 on one of the attacks if target is Quarry
    Range: 20/40;
  • Nimble Strike (At-Will * Standard Action): Fire one arrow at your target. You may shift 1 square either before or after the attack.
    Attack: +6 vs AC; +7 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: 1d10+5; + 1d8 if target is Quarry
    Range:20/40
  • Careful Attack (At-Will * Standard Action): Make a single, more accurate attack with your longbow.
    Attack: +8 vs AC; +9 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: 1d10+5; + 1d8 if target is Quarry
    Range: 20/40
  • Two-Fanged Strike (Encounter * Standard Action): Make two attacks against a single enemy with your longbow. If both attacks hit, you do extra damage equal to your Wisdom modifier (+1);
    Two Attacks: +6 vs AC; +7 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: 1d10+5; 1d10+6 if both attacks hit; + 1d8 on one attack if target is Quarry
    Range: 20/40
  • Split the Tree (Daily * Standard Action): Fire two arrows against two creatures within 3 squares of each other. Take the higher result of the two rolls, and apply it to both targets.
    Two Attacks: +6 vs AC; +7 vs AC if Prime Shot is in effect
    Damage: 2d10+5; + 1d8 on one attack if target is Quarry
    Range: 20/40
  • Second Wind (Encounter * Standard Action) - you may spend one healing surge (regain 6 hit points). Until the end of your next turn, you gain a +2 bonus to all of your defenses.


The Basics:

Identical to the 4e Essentials entry, with this change:

Daily Resources and Extended Rests: a daily power may be used once per day. Daily powers, healing surges, and hit points are restored to their full capacity after taking an extended rest (6 hours of non-strenuous activity). You may only take one extended rest in a 24-hour period. An extended rest also resets your action point total to 1.


In Combat:

Identical to the 4e Essentials entry.


Notes:

I felt that 4e core should be represented as well, but the PHB fighter is not a good choice for a beginner. An archery-focused ranger seems to be regarded as the most straightforward class for a new player, so I swapped the Strength and Dexterity scores, gave him hide armor, dropped the shield, and focused on using a longbow instead of a longsword.

he Hunter's Quarry and Prime Shot class features come into play frequently, so it speeds up play and helps the new player remember to use them by including those permutations in the power write-ups. It may look like I'm adding excessive details to make this look more complicated than it is, but these are the calculations which a player will have to make in order to use their powers and attacks.

This is an archery-focused character, but the odds of getting stuck in melee combat are high enough that melee attacks should be accounted for as well, or gameplay will grind to a halt as soon as the character needs to switch weapons and the player needs to re-calculate all of his attacks. I originally wrote this up to use two longswords to allow some of his powers to be used in melee as well, but in the interest of keeping the character as simple as possible, I left him with just a single longsword to make a MBA attack with if needed.

The assumed party includes a PH1 cleric, so it is very likely that this character will encounter some of the following effects and need to apply them:

  • 1 to 3 temporary hit points [at-will power]
  • +2 power bonus to next attack roll against a specific target [at-will power]
  • +3 power bonus to melee attack rolls until end of cleric's next turn [at-will power]
  • +1 power bonus to AC until end of cleric's next turn [at-will power]
  • +2 power bonus to attack rolls until end of cleric's next turn [encounter power]


So long as the party includes a leader, similar effects to the above will be in play throughout each combat encounter. The most effective use for many of these leader powers is to grant these bonuses to a striker. And a striker, being the most straightforward character type to play in 4e, is the best choice for newer players.


Attack Calculations:

  • Longbow:
    Attack: +4 [Dex], +2 [Proficiency] = +6
    Damage: +4 [Dex], +1 [Weapon Focus] = +5
  • Longsword:
    Attack: +2 [Str], +3 [Proficiency] = +5
    Damage: +2 [Str]
 

Keldryn

Adventurer
So what does all of this mean?

I find the "minimal" write-ups for a simple character in each edition to be interesting just in terms of how much stuff needs to be written on a character sheet.

However, I am more interested in the gameplay concepts and rules that a player actually needs to know before they can contribute meaningfully to the game.

When I look over these examples, I see a gradual increase of complexity from Basic D&D through AD&D and even into 3.x. For me, the biggest leap is from 3.5 to 4e. Now, 3.5 is certainly a more complex ruleset than 4e when taken as a whole (even if we're just looking at the core rules). However, it doesn't hit you in the face with all of it at once. Skills and Attacks of Opportunity are the most significant concepts above and beyond what needed to be understood in earlier editions.

One of 4e's stated design goals was to extend the "sweet spot" of 3.x through the whole spread of levels. I don't recall the exact range, but I think the sweet spot was identified as about 4th to 9th level, when characters have a lot to do but aren't too complex. And therein is the issue; 1st level characters in 4e feel a lot like 3rd or 4th level characters in 3.x, with a similar number of options and game concepts in play. However, there was no gradual build-up to this point -- players have a number of abilities available right at the start. And these abilities bring a wide variety of gameplay concepts into play from the start as well.

I've tried to run 4e for two different groups now. The first group included two members of my current group and three of my former co-workers (professional video game designers and programmers). With both that first group and my current group, I was initially puzzled as to why half of the players were struggling with understanding the game. The system was more streamlined than 3.5. They only had 2 at-will, 1 or 2 encounter, and 1 daily power to manage, and everything was contained on the power cards. It seemed so simple to me, but I spent more time and effort helping the players make in-game decisions than I did running monsters or NPCs. Likewise, I spent more time and effort out-of-game revising PCs and trying to find a better way of presenting their abilities than I did working on adventures.

What I didn't think about was the fact that having self-contained write-ups on each power card didn't mean a thing if the players didn't understand the concepts behind them. When I started to think about what the game system requires of the players, everything became much more clear, and I understood why some of my players were struggling with the system. I was always reading about how 4e was so much easier for new players to learn and was the simplest version of D&D since BECMI, but I wasn't seeing that in practice.

4th Edition simply asks for far more player investment up-front than did any previous version of the game. Whereas in earlier versions, I could explain about hit points and attack rolls and then sort of wing it from there, touching on concepts as they came into play, I found that I couldn't do that in 4e.

Explaining what at-will, encounter, and daily powers are and how they work also brings short and extended rests into the mix. The distinction between hit points and healing surges is important, and there are a lot of at-will powers that grant temporary hit points, so those end up being part of the equation very quickly. Many at-will powers cause forced movement or conditions such as slowed, so those concepts also need to be explained before players can make a decision in the first round of the first combat. New players don't know enough to decide whether attacking for 2[W] is better or worse than attacking for 1[W] plus slowing the enemy until the end of your next turn.

I wish that I had taken a more gradual approach, and played out a simple first battle with just at-will powers before tacking the next set of powers, and so on. It might have made things a bit simpler.

But even the simpler classes like the ranger have features that are essentially powers-in-disguise, like Hunter's Quarry, which has three paragraphs to say "you may select a single opponent as your quarry. Once per round, you may inflict 1d6 extra damage on a successful hit."

Features like Prime Shot are overly fiddly for what they do. If you are closer to your target than are your allies, gain a +1 bonus on ranged attack rolls? It feels a lot like Point Blank Shot (+1 to hit on ranged attacks if target within 30') in its intent, but is way more of a hassle to use ("is my target within 6 squares? Cool!" vs "how far away is my target? 5 squares? How far is my target from each of the other 3 party members? One, two, three...").

When you are just learning the game and you have half a dozen or more options to consider on each of your turns, it is very difficult to make a decision when many of those options involve concepts that you aren't familiar with. Adding abilities and effects that require mental effort to track just compound the problem, and the game starts to feel like too much work before you've even really given it a chance.

There is a lot more to say on this subject, and many points were made in the replies that I would like to address, but I'm probably not going to be on here again today. This post is hard on 4e and might make this thread come across as an elaborate and long-winded 4e rant, but that isn't my intent. I'm focusing on 4e in the "what does this all mean" part because it represents the current state of the game and where this growing front-loaded complexity has brought us.
 
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rogueattorney

Adventurer
The main reason I don't own 4e is because I picked up the 200-whatever page PHB in my FLGS, thumbed through it for a couple minutes, and then realized that I just had no interest whatsoever in buying another multi-volume, 600-plus-pages-of-core-rules role playing game. The very thought just makes me feel tired. Seriously, I'm done with it. That's no statement on 4e. It may be a perfectly fine game. I don't know.

If you've got something new and can get your game across to me in 120 or less pages, I'm all ears. Let's check it out. But I just don't have any desire to invest any time whatsoever in learning a massive new system, or even spend the time to figure out what in that massive new system is vital to know before playing and what can just be skimmed.

There are just too many awesome games that come in a single box or volume, have about 20 or 30 pages of actual rules, and fill in the rest of the 40 to 100 pages with some spells, monsters, equipment, entry-level adventures, campaign background and the like, then leave me alone to get gaming. Star Frontiers, Cthulhu Dark Ages, B/X D&D, Tunnels & Trolls, Lords of Creation, Marvel Super Heroes, Dragon Age, Paranoia, Everway... I could go on and on.
 

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