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D&D General "Hot" take: Aesthetically-pleasing rules are highly overvalued

Right, which is exactly the point I was making in the later parts of the paragraph lead you quoted: the skill challenge framework in 4e doesn't teach you these things, you've brought them in from other places. I absolutely disagree that the 4e skill challenge system is incompatible with traditional GM-decides resolution methods. 4e itself shows this with the many printed adventure skill challenges being essentially upgraded versions of 3e's complex skill checks -- just as scripted and pre-ordered. I think it's very hard to run this kind of skill challenge, and it involves an almost required use of Force, but even so, this is how it was presented, especially if you lacked the awareness of other approaches.

I mean, for a modern example of traditional approaches in skill challenged, Matt Colville has a few videos discussing skill challenges where they are pre-scripted event chains. I was disappointed to find this still being presented, as I find fiction-forward approaches much better, but there you go.
I think this speaks to the way that there is a definite lack of full commitment to a new paradigm in the design team of 4e.
Truthfully, what would be the purpose of having skill challenges if you didn't really intend them to be used in a 'story game' kind of approach? They don't serve much purpose. I mean, yes 3.5 had 'complex skill checks', which is pretty much identical, but it was buried in the back if a supplement that wasn't even released until late in 3.5 and was certainly not some sort of major subsystem or large enhancement to the game. It was more of just another of the myriad of little optional rules that you could use if it suited you in some specific situation. In fact I think it was envisaged there as more just an easy recipe for handling a situation where several skills applied.

And as you say, its a terrible way to handle things in a classic sort of game. It does work for a certain type of scenario where you want an 'encounter' that isn't actual combat, but that is really a pretty niche thing. The examples that are given in DMG1 don't even fall into that category really. They are much more 'story' type things, but then they are handled too much like encounters, so it doesn't quite come off.

But again, I don't see why this would have been introduced except as a story game kind of a mechanic. It might have been sold as "hey, lets see if people will accept this sort of play and get them familiar with it." If so, I think the idea was badly conceived, and I am more inclined to think it was pushed by one 'faction' of the design team, but the other 'faction' didn't really allow it to be fully articulated in a way that worked. It was a step too far for WotC to take with the team they had working on 4e. Or maybe they just ran out of time, I don't know.
 

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Still not seeing a difference.

5E has DCs by difficulty as well. It also works the same way.

As you mention... "I want to make a Diplomacy Check" and "Can I use Diplomacy" are incomplete player actions and are rejected at my table. I would ask for more information about what the player wants to accomplish. I would require their actual in-game action. I would also require their intent and their assumptions of success. "I want to trick the Duke" isn't enough, for example. I need to know how they want to trick the Duke and for what purpose/outcome?

B/X doesn't have skills. But, I'd approach these things in the same manner. I would get the action, intent, and assumed outcome and apply the rules. Often getting the aforementioned information clarifies the matter. In the case of interacting with the Duke, that would be a Reaction roll. Modified by any situational bonus based on the approach of the player and the in-game situation. If there are no rules that apply, I would make a ruling. I already have a very good understanding of the action, so it is relatively trivial to do so.

I can achieve the same results in adjudicating player actions in 5E and in B/X as you can with skill checks and skill challenges in 4E.
But, 'finality of outcome' is a big deal. In a 4e SC (or other systems equivalent mechanics) you go through the mechanical process. Sure, the GM may have set a complexity, a level, and some primary/secondary skill choices, but once the SC starts, there is a hard and fast rule. Once the PCs achieve N successes before 3 failures (modulus some RC-era tweaks) the challenge is over, they won. In 5e there's no such thing as "we won", the GM can continue to ask for checks until the end of time. He can play "oh, best 2 out of 3! No... better make that 3 out of 5!" etc. Beyond that, because no 'victory' is ever declared, nothing becomes consequent on that victory. One of the principles of narrative structured play is "you never reverse a finalized situation." Once the PCs have beaten some SC and enjoyed the rewards, you don't put them up to stake again! You might allow the PCs to 'wager' their new fortunes on something else, but the old bad guy never comes back and reclaims his treasure, so to speak. It is never really clear in a game like 5e when that bridge has been crossed. So that is one issue, and one difference.
 

Campbell

Legend
I see the role of the GM as the arbiter of the game. Every game is different and every situation that develops in a game is unique. It is unique because of the in-game situation, the context of the adventure/module, and even the nature of the people at the table. The best person to determine the outcome of events at the table is the GM. They are the ones with "boots on the ground', so to speak. They have the best information as far as how a situation can be successfully and satisfactorily resolved.

A B/X Referee is absolutely a neutral arbiter of the rules and the fiction, but that does not like carry over to every game. It's up to the individual game what the GM's role is (if there even is one). An Apocalypse World MC (GM) is not a neutral arbiter. You make GM moves based on a defined agenda and the game often instructs the GM on what to do. In Marvel Heroic the GM has authority over scene framing but not the rules of the games. In White Wolf games the Golden Rule applies in that the GM is supposed to do what's best for the story - not neutrally arbitrate the rules and the fiction.

In my estimation 5e cannot decide if it wants a Golden Rule GM ethos or an actual Rulings focused ethos. I think it suffers from not making that choice.
 

heretic888

Explorer
I think this speaks to the way that there is a definite lack of full commitment to a new paradigm in the design team of 4e.
Truthfully, what would be the purpose of having skill challenges if you didn't really intend them to be used in a 'story game' kind of approach? They don't serve much purpose. I mean, yes 3.5 had 'complex skill checks', which is pretty much identical, but it was buried in the back if a supplement that wasn't even released until late in 3.5 and was certainly not some sort of major subsystem or large enhancement to the game. It was more of just another of the myriad of little optional rules that you could use if it suited you in some specific situation. In fact I think it was envisaged there as more just an easy recipe for handling a situation where several skills applied.

And as you say, its a terrible way to handle things in a classic sort of game. It does work for a certain type of scenario where you want an 'encounter' that isn't actual combat, but that is really a pretty niche thing. The examples that are given in DMG1 don't even fall into that category really. They are much more 'story' type things, but then they are handled too much like encounters, so it doesn't quite come off.

But again, I don't see why this would have been introduced except as a story game kind of a mechanic. It might have been sold as "hey, lets see if people will accept this sort of play and get them familiar with it." If so, I think the idea was badly conceived, and I am more inclined to think it was pushed by one 'faction' of the design team, but the other 'faction' didn't really allow it to be fully articulated in a way that worked. It was a step too far for WotC to take with the team they had working on 4e. Or maybe they just ran out of time, I don't know.
From what I have read here and there online, skill challenges were even more "storygame"-ish during playtest. Apparently if a player made a hard check they actually got to declare what happened as a result.
 

From what I have read here and there online, skill challenges were even more "storygame"-ish during playtest. Apparently if a player made a hard check they actually got to declare what happened as a result.
Interesting. That is definitely a different allocation of narrative authority. 4e, as released, certainly hewes in this respect close to older D&D, the GM is the only one who can specify what happens outside of the players direct input on what their PCs choose to do.

Of course, it isn't necessary to grant players this type of authority in order to have a narratively focused game, but it is hard to say a game is NOT at least partly in that camp if it DOES grant such to players.
 


pemerton

Legend
I can achieve the same results in adjudicating player actions in 5E and in B/X as you can with skill checks and skill challenges in 4E.

<snip>

I prefer the versatility of making rulings.

<snip>

I see the role of the GM as the arbiter of the game.

<snip>

They have the best information as far as how a situation can be successfully and satisfactorily resolved.
I'm not talking about "results", in either of the following senses: (i) what takes place in the shared fiction; (ii) settling on an outcome of the action declaration.

All RPGs achieve (ii), assuming they're remotely function - the player declares an action for his/her PC and some sort of outcome is established by some process or other.

And there is no particular correlation between various resolution processes, and various things taking place in the shared fiction. Eg suppose a skill challenge resolution results in events A, B, C, D and finally E occurring - the same sequence of events in the fiction could be established by the GM telling a story, which would be a very different process.

What I am talking about is the process of resolution.

Still not seeing a difference.

<snip>

B/X doesn't have skills. But, I'd approach these things in the same manner. I would get the action, intent, and assumed outcome and apply the rules. Often getting the aforementioned information clarifies the matter. In the case of interacting with the Duke, that would be a Reaction roll. Modified by any situational bonus based on the approach of the player and the in-game situation. If there are no rules that apply, I would make a ruling. I already have a very good understanding of the action, so it is relatively trivial to do so.

<snip>

My ruling would look something like this: "You can attempt <intended action>, if you succeed <what you assume happens> if you fail <something else happens>". The outcomes of success and failure will be clearly defined for the player because I know what the player intends and expects. You have the same possibility of consequences and the same finality.

I could ask for a skill check or not. It would depend on the situation... I could just rule that the player automatically succeeds or automatically fails based on the situation at hand. I can make a ruling tailored to the situation at hand without being constrained to satisfy some game mechanic construct.

<snip>

In B/X, if a fighter wanted to stage an ambush, the player of the fighter would describe what actions his character will take to set up the ambush based on the in-game situation and the DM would make a ruling if it would be successful or not. The thief would do the same thing. If the thief wants to use their Hide in Shadows, they may do so. The use or not of Hide in Shadows doesn't change the situation. The thief can prepare an ambush in the same manner as the fighter without consideration of their thief skills.

<snip>

In the other situations described above... handling a fighter using action surge in a running race, or wooing someone with song, these are outlier areas that are left to be handled by the GM making a ruling.

In a running race, a GM can look at the in-game situation regarding the race and make a ruling. Does the fighter want to use Action Surge to give them a quick boost of speed? Or are they tapping into their reserves in a marathon? The description of what the player wants to do and their intent needs to be known. The GM can rule based on that intent.

Wooing someone with song would be exactly as you suggest. In 5E it would be a Charisma (Performance) opposed check vs Wisdom. In B/X it would be a Reaction Roll. Before rolling you need to know how the player is doing this ('what song are they singing?"), you also need to know what the player wants out of it (what favor they want from the NPC). Then you can determine and state what happens if you succeed or fail. The GM determines difficulty based on the guidance of the rules and based on their understanding of the NPC that they created and presents the success/fail states. The player then chooses to make the roll.
Here we see the relevant differences in processes. The processes you describe all ten to make the GM the determiner of what happens.
 

Argyle King

Legend
Admittedly, I have not read all 15 pages.

I simply read the first page and had the following thought: I disagree with the claim that 5E uses "natural language." Most of the rules problems are (in my opinion) due to using words in a way which do not clearly mean what the words would naturally mean in another context.
 

Admittedly, I have not read all 15 pages.

I simply read the first page and had the following thought: I disagree with the claim that 5E uses "natural language." Most of the rules problems are (in my opinion) due to using words in a way which do not clearly mean what the words would naturally mean in another context.
God yes. Like the recent change to Booming Blade so that it now Targets "Self" so it can't be used with Warcaster.

It's a melee attack - there's absolutely nothing natural langauge about putting target self on something which is basically a melee attack.
 

Admittedly, I have not read all 15 pages.

I simply read the first page and had the following thought: I disagree with the claim that 5E uses "natural language." Most of the rules problems are (in my opinion) due to using words in a way which do not clearly mean what the words would naturally mean in another context.
See, I agree with you. But many who have spoken in 5e's defense on this subject insist that the "natural language" concept, which the designers did reference while the game was being designed, is alive, well, and unequivocally good for the game.

My real argument on this specific subject (a narrow application of the overall topic) is that people have pursued a meta-aesthetic--"natural language"--by using language that sounded natural to them at the time. But what is natural in one context may be highly unnatural in another*...or may sound natural to one person and unnatural to another. That's why we develop precise terms: because naturalness is a constantly-moving target, as it should be, while clarity and specificity are far less so. But because it's so compelling to conceive of a game that you can just understand because everything is written and described with natural, common-use words, people were willing to throw most other considerations out the window. And we are now left with melee spell attacks with a target of "self" and "melee weapon attacks need not actually have any weapons, and are different from melee-weapon attacks," or the confusion over whether you have an Action and a Bonus Action or simply can take an Action and a Bonus Action, etc.

*Consider that saying, "I love all people" is a heartwarming and affirmative message when said in a conversation about, say, politics and religion, but an incredibly hurtful thing to say when your spouse asks you in a distraught voice, "Do you love me?"
 
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Argyle King

Legend
See, I agree with you. But many who have spoken in 5e's defense on this subject insist that the "natural language" concept, which the designers did reference while the game was being designed, is alive, well, and unequivocally good for the game.

My real argument on this specific subject (a narrow application of the overall topic) is that people have pursued a meta-aesthetic--"natural language"--by using language that sounded natural to them at the time. But what is natural in one context may be highly unnatural in another*...or may sound natural to one person and unnatural to another. That's why we develop precise terms: because naturalness is a constantly-moving target, as it should be, while clarity and specificity are far less so. But because it's so compelling to conceive of a game that you can just understand because everything is written and described with natural, common-use words, people were willing to throw most other considerations out the window. And we are now left with melee spell attacks with a target of "self" and "melee weapon attacks need not actually have any weapons, and are different from melee-weapon attacks," or the confusion over whether you have an Action and a Bonus Action or simply can take an Action and a Bonus Action, etc.

*Consider that saying, "I love all people" is a heartwarming and affirmative message when said in a conversation about, say, politics and religion, but an incredibly hurtful thing to say when your spouse asks you in a distraught voice, "Do you love me?"
I wasn't even aware of the new issues. The thoughts I had came from how terms like "natural attacks" and "unarmed..." function in inconsistent ways in D&D.

I do not believe that using "natural language" is inherently bad (and would personally lead toward it being somewhat good). However, even a "natural language" set of rules would need to define common terms so as to facilitate a common understanding between author and audience. I would posit that (in some way) even terms such as "elf" and "dwarf" have a common understanding in D&D and are part of why the brand persists. (I would additionally posit that too many changes to the game which fundamentally undercut the shared understanding of what those established terms mean have a net negative influence on the shared experience.)

I think that, overall, I agree with your general view. However, I am of the impression that part of D&D's "natural language" issue is two part: 1) the game is written in a way which does not consistently use natural language, and 2) there is (in my view) something of a disconnect between how the people designing the game see the game versus how the people playing the game see the game.

For what it's worth, I felt that 4th Edition's design was very aesthetically pleasing. I have a lot of complaints about 4E, but the ease of understanding the rules is/was never one of them. Though, I might argue that 4E sometimes went too heavy in the direction of defining things through keywords and doing so often came full circle back around to creating broken parts of a game born of language being used in strange ways.

I think there are a lot of commonalities between issues with 4th's rules and 5th's rules, in regards to terms being used in inconsistent or ambiguous ways; the two editions simply present the terms in different formats.
 

I'm not talking about "results", in either of the following senses: (i) what takes place in the shared fiction; (ii) settling on an outcome of the action declaration.

All RPGs achieve (ii), assuming they're remotely function - the player declares an action for his/her PC and some sort of outcome is established by some process or other.

And there is no particular correlation between various resolution processes, and various things taking place in the shared fiction. Eg suppose a skill challenge resolution results in events A, B, C, D and finally E occurring - the same sequence of events in the fiction could be established by the GM telling a story, which would be a very different process.

What I am talking about is the process of resolution.
Fair enough. I don't really care about the process of resolution. I only care about the results. I choose the process of resolution that most efficiently and effectively reaches the result.

If you want to think that my preference in process is just GM telling a story; you have a right to be wrong. You have this strange predilection that the only way to have a proper process of resolution is to use a hardcoded skill challenge. Again, you have a right to be wrong.


Here we see the relevant differences in processes. The processes you describe all ten to make the GM the determiner of what happens.
And I'm 100% completely fine with that.
 

I think the natural language approach was a fine idea, but they didn't really follow through. If having ambiguities for the GM to resolve is part of the plan then you have to completely do away with the idea of RAW. There's no place for Sage Advice under such a philosophy. The very idea of Sage Advice encourages the idea that there is such a thing as RAW and a correct reading of the rules. If you're going to go that way then you need precise and consistent language - and technical terms and keywords would be better for that.
 

I think the natural language approach was a fine idea, but they didn't really follow through. If having ambiguities for the GM to resolve is part of the plan then you have to completely do away with the idea of RAW. There's no place for Sage Advice under such a philosophy. The very idea of Sage Advice encourages the idea that there is such a thing as RAW and a correct reading of the rules. If you're going to go that way then you need precise and consistent language - and technical terms and keywords would be better for that.
Well, Sage Advice can still exist as literal advice.

The game is yours to run as you feel. Sage Advice is just that... advice to a DM, nothing more. Sage advice is not official rules... they are just advice to the DM.

There was a famous statement by Gygax in the order of an incredulous statement of why would anyone pay them to imagine things for them.

It is not an all-or-nothing thing. You can have 'natural language' alongside rules. I've never ever considered Sage Advice as anything more than that.. 'advice'. My game is my game. I run it the way I so choose. RAW is irrelevant to me.
 

Well, Sage Advice can still exist as literal advice.

The game is yours to run as you feel. Sage Advice is just that... advice to a DM, nothing more. Sage advice is not official rules... they are just advice to the DM.

There was a famous statement by Gygax in the order of an incredulous statement of why would anyone pay them to imagine things for them.

It is not an all-or-nothing thing. You can have 'natural language' alongside rules. I've never ever considered Sage Advice as anything more than that.. 'advice'. My game is my game. I run it the way I so choose. RAW is irrelevant to me.
If they were going consistently with the natural language approach the purpose of Sage Advice would just be to clarify intent.
 
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If they were going consistently with the natural language approach the purpose of Sage Advice would just be to clarify intent.
I think Monayuris is saying that Sage Advice would become less "rules Q&A" and more "shop talk" if that makes sense? You wouldn't have narrow questions about how rule X, term Y, or interaction Z should be used. You'd have more "best practices" and "DM philosophy" and "tools for managing player experience" type talk. That might not be enough to sustain a distinct Sage Advice thing....but given stuff like Matt Colville's youtube series, I'm inclined to think it would still work.
 

glass

(he, him)
Admittedly, I have not read all 15 pages.

I simply read the first page and had the following thought: I disagree with the claim that 5E uses "natural language." Most of the rules problems are (in my opinion) due to using words in a way which do not clearly mean what the words would naturally mean in another context.
"Natural language" is not, itself, natural language. It is a term of art. A buzzword.

_
glass.
 
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pemerton

Legend
5e D&D has multiple dimensions of PC build - race, class, sub-class, feats, spells - that generate various interacting abilities and modifiers. Those abilities and modifiers live within multiple dimensions of action resolution - an action economy, various categories of check (attack, save, ability), various categories of effect (damage, conditions, movement and distance, etc), various durations and recovery cycles, etc.

Compared to a system like Prince Valiant, or Classic Traveller, or even RuneQuest, this is incredibly intricate. The idea that all those dimensions and their interactions can be handled via "natural language" is not credible.
 

5e D&D has multiple dimensions of PC build - race, class, sub-class, feats, spells - that generate various interacting abilities and modifiers. Those abilities and modifiers live within multiple dimensions of action resolution - an action economy, various categories of check (attack, save, ability), various categories of effect (damage, conditions, movement and distance, etc), various durations and recovery cycles, etc.

Compared to a system like Prince Valiant, or Classic Traveller, or even RuneQuest, this is incredibly intricate. The idea that all those dimensions and their interactions can be handled via "natural language" is not credible.

This is why I occasionally roll my eyes when I see people who regularly play games in the main thrust D&D-sphere refer to other games as "complicated"; its actually damn hard to have a game with a common build metric even approach being as complicated to keep track of as a game with heavy use of exception based design.
 

Campbell

Legend
Fair enough. I don't really care about the process of resolution. I only care about the results. I choose the process of resolution that most efficiently and effectively reaches the result.

If you want to think that my preference in process is just GM telling a story; you have a right to be wrong. You have this strange predilection that the only way to have a proper process of resolution is to use a hardcoded skill challenge. Again, you have a right to be wrong.



And I'm 100% completely fine with that.

I do not think the way you play is about the GM telling a story. I believe you when you say that you judge the fiction as neutrally as possible.

Personally I quite enjoy OSR play, but it is not the only way I like to play. In my experience the process of play matters a good deal. I even think it might matter to you a good deal. I just think you have found a process that really works for you. That's a good thing. However, what works for you might not work for everyone. It is also not universal to all RPGs. Speaking with authority that these things do not matter when you lack experience with doing things differently does this discussion a disservice.

There are tons of ways to play and run RPGs. There are no right and wrong ways to do things. Different techniques and different games are suited to different purposes with different benefits and tradeoffs. If you make this a debate about who is right and who is wrong you will miss out on understanding the diversity of play in the hobby.

I mean a lot of time and effort has gone into designing different ways to play these games. I think game design matters. I would stake money that if you ran a game like Apocalypse World in the way it instructs you to run it you would agree. You may not enjoy that sort of play, but I am fairly confident you would not say it does not matter.
 

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