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Do you really want dials and options?


First Post
If a game has so many dials or options that it can be almost any game I want, then what game is it really? What am I paying for? Am I buying a bunch of rules I'm not going to use? Am I buying the ability to essentially design my own game and call it D&D?

I generally feel that when I buy something, the design should be complete, and I shouldn't have to do more designing when I get it home. Too many dials or options dilute the actual artistry of the game. And they make it hard to have a shared experience with other people playing the same game in different groups.

Most of this is water under the bridge already. D&D has included optional rules since its very beginning. And I understand from the process of trying to order a pizza in a group how hard it is to get everyone to agree.

But I do personally prefer things with less options and more of the artist's decisions behind it. After all, Romeo and Juliet would have been kind of silly if at the end a narrator popped out and asked "Well what do you think, guys? What's Juliet going to do when she sees Romeo laying there? Raise your hand if you want her to kill herself." ;)

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This thought had crossed my mind as well. I guess it depends on just how many dials and knobs there are or if it more of a choose a Lite Rules, Medium Rules or Heavy Rules option to quickly convey what type of game you are playing.

Yea but if there are only3 settingss that is fine, and only 3 or 4 dials

But imagin: I use med rules and high fantasy and cinamatic, and low magic
I alowe these 6 races and these 12 classes, and flaws, and we use minis

Most of this is water under the bridge already. D&D has included optional rules since its very beginning. And I understand from the process of trying to order a pizza in a group how hard it is to get everyone to agree

Yea in my group 2 of us want peperoni and one wants whight sauce and one wants vegies an dmushroom and one hates pizza butwill get wings

And as for voteing on juilet's death.... jason todd hates that idea

Crazy Jerome

First Post
I want dials and options properly executed. I don't want them haphazardly executed. The former makes pretty much everyone at least satisfied, and many happy. The latter merely ticks off everyone but those viewing the game through rose-colored glasses.


A proper dial has these properties: It can easily be turned by the group (or sometimes only the DM). It is clear what it does when you turn it, because it is built in and threaded through the system, and has set parameters. Turning actually does something that some groups want (that is, you don't want largely useless dials, or dials that have some largely useless settings). A dial can have a default setting that can be anywhere from "off" to "all the way up" but is often somewhere in between. And finally, a given game can only have so many dials before the game stops becoming a game and turns into a "framework". Choose wisely, and you might need to leave out some otherwise borderline useful one to keep the confusion to a minimum.

As a side effect of all this, dials will seldom be perfect for a given group at a given setting. The dial gets you in the vicinity of the kind of game you want. You then either accept the differences and roll with it, or house rule/tweak further as desired.

A good example of a useful dial would be establishing the amount of background/craft/perform/profession importance in the ruleset. Even though people vary on how much they want, if they want a set amount of one of those things, they probably want roughly the same amount of the rest of them.


A proper option has these properties: You either use it or you don't as a package, and it really doesn't matter mechanically to anything else in the game. (Exception, you might have some simple tiers that are clear in context. If you use the "psionics" option, then you might have some other options that only have any meaning if "psionics" is available.) Some options are mutually exclusive, either going into a particular "slot" that will only fit one thing, or are "loosely exclusive" because they can theoretically work together somewhat, but don't work well together. (That is, you can do these latter ones if you are prepared to put in some work.) Unlike dials, you can add options later, provided that you've made the first options sufficiently modular in the first place. (The 4E roles are good examples of this property--start with two leaders for example, but can add more later.)

Options are also often not perfect as is, but you have those same choice as with dials of rolling with it as "good enough" or tweaking it yourself.


If something is very simple, and seems to have some of the properties of both a dial and an option, it might be a "switch". That is, it is something you flip individually, but what this does to the rest of the game is probably hard to predict, if you flip enough of them. A lot of 3E and 4E house rules that include/exclude specific things are like this. Obviously, people can house rule switches anywhere they want, but it doesn't hurt to include critical ones explicitly where useful (and to thus reserve the options and dials for the big stuff).


Use things as they are meant to be used, or don't use them at all. Exception-based design was done more or less properly with monsters (within the limits of having the DDI but still needing to produce monster books). And it serves its purpose well, making monsters easy to run out the book. It isn't quite perfect, but it is very good. But making a seperate list of powers for every class, with a lot of redundant overlap under slightly different names and effects, as "exception-based design" was really just ad hoc lists called "exception-based design". No surprise, a lot of people don't like it or the side effects from it. And nearly all the flaws in the monster version was where it was a bit too much like the class power version. The difference in monsters was they weren't afraid to make some things common.


And every time some people see elves, eladrin, *and* half-elves, they're going to be irritated. And every time some people see feats, they're going to be irritated. And every time some people see healing surges, THEY'RE going to be irritated.

Sure they will. So the question is, do those things have sufficiently broad-based appeal to make it worth including them despite the annoyance? In some cases the answer is yes; in others, no.

Should the PHB contain rules for laser rifles and spaceships? If not, why not? After all, such things are a crucial element of D&D's very first campaign world. Long before dragonborn were a gleam in Heinsoo's eye, Dave Arneson was running Blackmoor.



To the OP - why would I care that other people have the option in a game of D&D to do what they want as long as I'm getting equal support from the game in the direction I want to go in?

I know people who boggle when I say my HERO SYSTEM group regularly runs 450 point supers games, that we might as well run 1000+ point games for all balance matters, that Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, etc. can all be done for 250 points and the super hard to beat bad guys for 300 points...but the thing is, I can do it. I can have stuff in my game they don't in theirs. That's why HERO SYSTEM is so less onerous (to me) - there's never been a massive sea-change in a game that's been around almost as long as D&D has been around. There are no 3etards, no 4Vengers, no 1e grognards...because we can all do the same stuff, and we all got the same level of support from I.C.E. (nee HERO GAMES).

That wasn't the case for 30 years with AD&D. Second Edition tried to pretend 1e didn't exist. Third Edition said "Back to the dungeons, baby!" and promptly paved over a lot of good things from 1e (and yes, 2e!) in the process - only the OGL gave rise to OSRIC and allowed continued support for AD&D and don't you think that WIZARDS OF THE COAST doesn't regret it. But 4e was just flat out "Your game sucks, old games suck, you didn't play right, this is Year Zero." That sucked.

But all that's going away you see? You wanna play an RPG built around the core of AD&D? Now you have it. How about 4e with 3e things? You can have that too - and it'll all be official, and it'll all be supported.

So go - party on. There won't be any reason for any of us to feel "slighted".

Oh, and someone mentioned "every time someone sees eladrin, they're going to be irritated" and so on - why? That's your game. That's not my game. My game is as official as yours is, and my game doesn't have 'em. You play at my table? Hell, maybe I'll let your eladrin in - one lone stranger from a strange land. I'm at your table? Maybe my antiquated Paladin who can't Mark a target or anything is of an ancient, simpler order. Or maybe he gains those powers, like Holger du Danske traveling to mythic Europe!

This could truly be the big tent guys - nobody has to hate anything.

Consider who's saying this. Me. The Hard-headed 1e Edition Warrior himself. Think about that.
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El Mahdi

Muad'Dib of the Anauroch
So, search your feelings and answer true: are you really in favor of dials and options?

Absolutely, 100%, Yes!

If you can get the play experience you want, would it bug you that other people can adjust the game to get different play experiences that you specifically would not like?

Absolutely no problem whatsoever.

As an added benefit, I like the idea that I can tweak my games very easily for the preferences of my group. Even if it's not necessarily my own first choice.

I want a game that can do this kind of stuff, though without the clunkiness of other "Universal" systems.

I know it seems like a strange thing to ask, but human nature is strange (IMO, YMMV, etc.).

Human nature is strange. That's why I'm glad I'm not Human...:p
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First Post
They tried that and it bit them on the ass. People apparently don't like an edition having a certain way to be played/designed.

I do recognize that, and I'm still looking forward to 5e even if it does end up being a rules-mushy attempt to please everybody. I think WotC is doing good work and I'm eager to see their next product.

At the same time I see certain caveats to having dials and options. Here's a quick list, and on a lot of these I am just playing devil's advocate and being unusually pessimistic.

  1. Page Count: As long as we're deaing with a physical book product, inculding rules that you're not going to use ends up physically taking away details of rules you do like.
  2. Uneven Power Levels: It's inevitable that some options will favor some characters and disfavor others. Players being players, they will cynically want to use the rules that make their character more powerful ("As the wizard, I think we should use the optional summoning rules. That way I get to have two turns a round") and of course they'll not want to use rules that they think hurt their character ("No way are we using the optional swamp exploration resource tracking rules for this. After all we're already using the optional poison festering rules and together they're a recipe for everyone getting Zombie Fever!").
  3. Blaming/Resentment: Making certain rules optional is going to give some players something to focus on when something doesn't go their way in the game. ("My fighter would have never been killed by that Mind Flayer if we had been using the optional rules for location-based grappling modifiers! My horned helmet has the impermeable quality in that system!")
  4. Support: more options means more things to support in every future product. And that ends up spreading caveat #1 across every future product as well. ("Don't like healing surges? Use this optional alternate system! Except that there's no checkbox for it in the e-tools. And in this future book where artifacts use healing surges, there's no indication what to do if you don't use healing surges.")


First Post

A proper dial has these properties: It can easily be turned by the group (or sometimes only the DM). It is clear what it does when you turn it, because it is built in and threaded through the system, and has set parameters.

I would add that changing the dial does something important.

To go with your background/etc. example, if you have 5 settings on that dial, that's probably too many to make the actual choice meaningful. When I turn a knob I should notice.

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