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


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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The choice to employ natural language in wasn’t a particular aesthetic the developers were aiming for, but rather a response to player feedback, both the general critique of 4e’s over-reliance on keywords, and in the playtest surveys. I do agree that it was a poor choice, but I see the problem being more about designing by popular vote instead of by clear and consistent design principles and goals, than about aesthetics. Also, the fact that WotC is really bad at writing natural language. 5e is actually written quite technically, it just tries to appear natural by using natural-sounding words in technical ways.I guess one could argue that in pursuing a natural language aesthetic without sacrificing technical precision they ended up with the worst parts of both approaches.


I don’t see prestige classes as aesthetically preferable over Paragon Paths at all. Paragon Paths follow a clean, consistent design structure, which is far more aesthetically pleasing than the mess that is Paragon Paths. Likewise, I don’t think the 3e skill rank system is the least bit aesthetically pleasing. It’s a giant pile of fiddly math. It looks ugly and it plays poorly. In contrast, 5e’s system where there’s a unified proficiency bonus that increases with level and applies to all proficient checks is highly aesthetically pleasing.

I struggle to grok your argument because I’m not seeing the consistent thread between the design elements you say are driven by “meta-aesthetics.” It also doesn’t really help that aesthetics are highly subjective. Designs that you find aesthetically pleasing may be aesthetically displeasing to others.

3.x skill points, with different rules for first level, different rules for class skills and cross-class skills, and fiddly synergy bonuses, are very much not what I would consider aesthetically pleasing.

I think you folks may be relying too much on your normal every day usage of "aesthetic" rather than reading the OP's specific explanation of how they're using the term in this thread.

3e's skill points system was designed with what the OP calls "meta-aesthetics" in mind, just like 4e's Power Sources were. They're there so that when you read the rules in the rulebook it has a certain look and feel, rather than with ease of use, balance, etc, in mind.
 

Undrave

Hero
(There's a reason that when PF2e was announced, another company announced they were going to carry on the PF1e torch just as Paizo had done for 3.5e before them. Look up Porphyra sometime.)
Geez... how many DECADES of material do these people NEED?! Just play with what you go for pete sake... get over it...
I would refer you, for example, to the excellent AD&D 1e Combat Flowchart. Which is, frankly, insane. Rules are pulled from all over the place in the PHB and DMG and even elsewhere.
JEEZUS... people played that?!
WTF is OP talking about?
I think that the meta-aesthetic concerns (which I'd render as 'narrativist', 'simulationist' and 'gamist') are somehow 'too important' when making rule... except I'm not sure why you would create rules if you're not trying to fulfill one of those three aesthetics? Or, fulfilling one of the 8 aesthetics of fun, which are a different type of meta-aesthetic that apply to games in general (while the other three apply to RPG more specifically).

Like... what else is there exactly??
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
If we aren't going to discuss the particulars of you example... your assertion becomes non-falsifiable.
Trying to engage with every discussion as if you're arguing the merits of a scientific paper isn't actually helpful, and it doesn't make you right, it just makes you good at doing a very very specific type of discussion that isn't especially relevant to the one at hand.

In other words, this is a physics class or an academic publication. Your insistence on always treating every single discussion like it was one of those gets obnoxious.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I like to write natural-language rules and statutory rules. Just to really confuse people 🤓

Let the DM have the ability to examine the situation and make a judgement call.
...was a design goal of 5e if I'm not mistaken. "Rulings, not rules." @EzekielRaiden's point might be that aesthetic rules, ruling-friendly rules, didn't help 5e at all, thus the design team overvalued that goal, but the degree to which that happened is so subjective that I don't see it as worth debating. I also don't know that there's a general clamor over how great aesthetic rules are, so I won't say that other games are guilty of overvaluing either.

5e removed the concept of 'skill check' but does a TERRIBLE job of explaining that it did and how the use of them SHOULD be handled.
Wait, what? I'm pretty sure skill checks are still in 5e... did you mean removed the "term" skill check?
 

Also, the actual M:tG rules are extremely complex and fiddly. I would never run a tournament for that reason.

More than that, the MTG rules are comprehensive. They completely explain every conceivable interaction between every possible set of cards with every possible set of abilities. And when they don't, they have to create a new rule for it. Everything in Magic is predefined and codified before it ever goes to print.

D&D doesn't do that. D&D tells you to invent your own stuff and make it up as you go along.

That was not the reason for the use of natural language.

The use of natural language was an aesthetic choice, but not that aesthetic choice. If that had been the intent, then they would have taken a more legalistic approach or instruction manual style, with an extensive glossary and high end index with lots of cross referencing and defined terms. Which clearly was not the choices they made.

They made these choices with natural language to intentionally evoke the 1e "magic" where opening a core book feels like you're opening an arcane tomb of knowledge. It was to intersperse story elements into the rules elements, and a bit of meandering to the reading path that the rules take. This was to begin the common experience shared by D&D players of themselves encountering an adventure in the rules themselves. To make it feel like you're not reading a legal document or an instruction manual. Some of the rules are made intentionally vague, to make each table more unique, and put more judgement calls back in the hands of the DM.

Now, these are as you say aesthetic choices. Which means they're not objective, but subjective in nature. So if they rub you the wrong way, I can understand that.

But for me, these were great choices. They returned my interest in the rules, and did bring back some of that "magic" I felt with 1e AD&D.

I think this is the core of it from an aesthetics standpoint, but I can think of two other reasons.

First, I also think they were tired of players saying that fluff wasn't mechanics and was therefore not a rule. "No," they're saying. "The fluff is just as important as mechanics and just as mutable as mechanics. There's nothing wrong with changing the fluff or the mechanics."

Second, I think it's founded in the idea that it's impossible to create a set of rules that completely explain every conceivable interaction in an RPG. I think 3e, 3.5e, and 4e all tried it and they all failed either as comprehensive rules sets or as playable games because you're essentially forced to write a physics engine in RPG rules. It's just not reasonable.

5e chooses to use natural language because it's trying to tell you that it doesn't matter as long as you're consistent. And it doesn't matter if you're consistent as long as you've got a good rationale. And however you want to play, it's fine. The rules are not a recipe where you input players on one side and output fun on the other. The rules aren't there to restrict what is possible like in MTG or Risk or Warhammer 40K. The rules are there to give you an explanation of theory and method with general recommendations for how things work. It's a framework, not a program.

It's like the difference between having plans and diagrams for one table and a book entitled How to Build Tables. You follow the plans as closely as you can because you're trying to recreate a specific thing with specific dimensions. You read a book on table construction and you expect to learn what you need to know to plan and create a table of any design. D&D rules are the latter.

TLDR; You're supposed to grok the rules, not follow them like a blueprint.

You are still talking about a class of items, without naming any particular concrete examples. Can you quote at least one 5e rule that you feel is given in natural language, that cannot be understood the way it is written?

Stealth and hiding rules. Those rules are basically, "You can hide when it's reasonable that you are able to hide." And then there's Halfling's Naturally Stealthy and Wood Elves' Mask of the Wild(?) ability that say, "You can hide in these conditions." So now it's not clear if you should be able to hide when the DM says it's not reasonable because there are abilities that appear to explicitly let you hide when it's otherwise not reasonable for anyone else. And what happens when you keep hiding in the same spot? Is that still unreasonable? Based on the number of people who complain about it or ask Sage Advice about it, it feels really cheesy for Halfling Rogues to be able to do this to a lot of tables.

Like I don't think it was even explicitly clear that this really was an intentional design until the Class Variants UA (and presumably forthcoming in Tasha's) included the Aim action for Rogues.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think you folks may be relying too much on your normal every day usage of "aesthetic" rather than reading the OP's specific explanation of how they're using the term in this thread.

3e's skill points system was designed with what the OP calls "meta-aesthetics" in mind, just like 4e's Power Sources were. They're there so that when you read the rules in the rulebook it has a certain look and feel, rather than with ease of use, balance, etc, in mind.
All rules are created with a certain look and feel in mind, as well as well as with ease of use, balance, etc. Different designers will prioritize things differently; for instance, 4e placed a high priority in cross-class balance, particularly as it relates to damage output and tactical battlefield manipulation. It also had a particular design aesthetic that was influenced by its intended VTT compatibility, which accounts for the “videogamey” feel many felt it had.

In contrast, 5e prioritizes cross-class balance less highly, aiming for a general feeling that everyone can contribute meaningfully over tight mathematical parity. The aesthetic it aims for is an informal conversation with the audience, emphasizing the conversational nature of the core gameplay loop (this was something they really tried to emphasize in the play test process).

3e placed very low priority on game balance but very high priority on a particular internal logic. How much damage any given character could do per round or how much they could contribute to the group was not given near as much attention as whether or not the character’s capabilities were consistent with this internal logic. It’s design aesthetic was of a comprehensive catalogue of the world this internal logic described.

That’s where I’m struggling to understand the argument being put forth here. I understand the concept of meta-aesthetics, of designing to achieve a particular look and feel. I just see them as a concern in all game design. It seems like the OP has a certain design aesthetic they don’t care for, and are trying to claim that rules with this aesthetic are poor because they are too focused on aesthetic instead of other design concerns.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Stealth and hiding rules. Those rules are basically, "You can hide when it's reasonable that you are able to hide." And then there's Halfling's Naturally Stealthy and Wood Elves' Mask of the Wild(?) ability that say, "You can hide in these conditions." So now it's not clear if you should be able to hide when the DM says it's not reasonable because there are abilities that appear to explicitly let you hide when it's otherwise not reasonable for anyone else. And what happens when you keep hiding in the same spot? Is that still unreasonable? Based on the number of people who complain about it or ask Sage Advice about it, it feels really cheesy for Halfling Rogues to be able to do this to a lot of tables.

Like I don't think it was even explicitly clear that this really was an intentional design until the Class Variants UA (and presumably forthcoming in Tasha's) included the Aim action for Rogues.
It doesn’t help that some people consider the conditions under which some of these abilities (particularly Mask of the Wild) allow you to hide seem to some like reasonable conditions under which to hide in the first place.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Second, I think it's founded in the idea that it's impossible to create a set of rules that completely explain every conceivable interaction in an RPG. I think 3e, 3.5e, and 4e all tried it and they all failed either as comprehensive rules sets or as playable games because you're essentially forced to write a physics engine in RPG rules. It's just not reasonable.

The 3.5 DMG says in the first few pages that they know they aren't comprehensive:

"Often a situation will arise that isn’t explicitly covered by the rules." (DMG pg. 6)

And I'm not sure they tried to be. Trying to put in the most common things you picture happening based on your collective decades of experience seems different than trying to do everything. If they did try, they admitted the failur up front.

They certainly are playable games, given how many folks have, and still play them, so the failure, if any, isn't there.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Well, as noted, "natural language" is a thing where I think these meta-aesthetics have got it wrong.

Natural language was favored by 5e's designers because, they claimed, it would make things so much better. There would be no need to learn any special words, no need to check references, because everything would just mean what it says! You could look at it and just know, because you already know how to read English (or whatever language the text was translated into).

Except...it didn't. This decision, driven by the meta-aesthetic desire to have rules that "need no explanation," has resulted in rules...that still need explanation. And rules that, a non-negligible portion of the time, cannot work even in principle unless the DM does actually explain them. It doesn't come up constantly, not even once a session necessarily, but it does come up, and has in actual games I have personally played. (No 5e game I've played in has lasted more than ten sessions, and part of it was this very problem in one of those games.)
So one of your problems is that you are solving for the wrong thing.

You are maximizing for good play experience among experienced players.

Maximizing for good play experience among experienced players is a trap.

It is what experienced players appreciate, but you only get experienced players if new players play, and those new players play enough to become experienced.

So rules have to look good to new players, and be inviting, in order to gain new players and avoid scaring them off.

Natural language is an example of something that looks good to new players. "I get to smite if I hit with a melee weapon? Awesome!" -- the fact that when making a melee weapon attack you can substitute an unarmed strike, but an unarmed strikes are not melee weapon attacks, so you cannot smite with an unarmed strike, that doesn't matter to the recruiting of a new player who picks up and reads the rules.

The value of "melee weapon attack" isn't that it is elegant or whatever. It is that it is inviting.

The rules need explanation, but that isn't why you use natural language. You use natural language to make the rules look like they need no explanation.

And heck, if you don't have the explanation, and you interpret smite to work with or without unarmed strikes, you still end up with a working game. Hell, you can interpret "melee weapon attack" to include casting a touch spell using a melee weapon as a focus and let the paladin smite on that, and the game still functions.

You can treat 5e as a bunch of natural language adjudicated on the fly by the DM. It results in a game you can play. And there is an entire wing of D&D players who play it that way. You can also look for official rulings and stuff and use that instead of on the fly rulings.

What more, you claim that these rules disputes led to your groups falling apart. What if your group dynamics led to them falling apart, and it was the rules disputes that where the symptom of the group dynamics?

You wouldn't be able to tell the difference from your experience. Yet "better rules" that didn't have rules disputes wouldn't have an impact on your groups falling apart.

What more, people making the game want there to be plenty of groups that form. They care less how long the groups last, because 10 sessions is long enough to buy a PHB. The "rare" Whale who buys every book is great, but not key.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I think they failed! Gygax was, above all, ORGANIZED.
...What?

Did you play AD&D with the same books I did? There are many adjectives I could apply to those books. "Organized" is not one of them.

I think you folks may be relying too much on your normal every day usage of "aesthetic" rather than reading the OP's specific explanation of how they're using the term in this thread.

3e's skill points system was designed with what the OP calls "meta-aesthetics" in mind, just like 4e's Power Sources were. They're there so that when you read the rules in the rulebook it has a certain look and feel, rather than with ease of use, balance, etc, in mind.
I am not at all convinced that this was the purpose of the skill point system, and would like to see something to back up that claim.
 

I don't see any problem with the spell. I'd rather have this natural language than a more precise keywording system, because you are talking about edge cases that aren't covered by the rules.

The best way to handle these edge cases is to allow the DM to make specific rulings based on the context of the situation at hand. Let the DM have the ability to examine the situation and make a judgement call.
But that is exactly the issue many of us have, which is that this is a resource which is of unknown value to a given PC. The player can only try to guess what sort of thing the GM will decide it is. They can't chose to select it vs something else, they can't decide to use it vs something else, they won't ride any stakes on it, because it could be worthless for all they know.
This kind of thing inhibits players from deciding to wager stakes and take risks. Instead they tend to just fall back on a small repertoire of well-understood tactics instead. Or more likely they 'play the DM' trying to measure just how much the DM is vested in a given outcome or scenario, or perhaps just using social engineering on them in some cases.
And what really is gained? The NUT of the motive was to let the GM, in a Gygaxian fashion, squelch 'abuse', which is really just a code word for "I don't like how easy this is to use." The 4e (at least) solution was to simply put things in a fairly narrow context, so 'Charm Person' generates a condition, and that has specific in-game effects. It can't really be abused because that's all it does! Now, that doesn't preclude other uses, but it puts them into things like 4e's 'page 42' (the rules for attempting things that are not already defined as powers or similar). Page 42 is pretty clear about what the expectations are there. In other situations you have SC rules, which are again pretty clear and give a good indication of the relative value of using a power as a resource cost in an SC. One of the issues with 5e is it lacks analogs to both of these, meaning you MUST leave things open-ended, and then you're always putting the GM in the spot of deciding if a given use is "OK" or not.
 

Undrave

Hero
Wait, what? I'm pretty sure skill checks are still in 5e... did you mean removed the "term" skill check?

There are no skill checks. You make an ABILITY CHECK and you may apply your proficiency bonus if it applies to the action you're doing. Technically, what's supposed to happen, is that you say "I want to do X" and your DM should tell you "give me ability check X" and then you say "I'm proficient with Y does that help?" and your DM goes "sure, you can add your proficiency bonus".

That's how it should go, but it doesn't, because people are used to say "I want to use skill X".
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
There are no skill checks. You make an ABILITY CHECK and you may apply your proficiency bonus if it applies to the action you're doing. Technically, what's supposed to happen, is that you say "I want to do X" and your DM should tell you "give me ability check X" and then you say "I'm proficient with Y does that help?" and your DM goes "sure, you can add your proficiency bonus".

That's how it should go, but it doesn't, because people are used to say "I want to use skill X".

This is one of those areas where I think some people get overly concerned about verbiage. As long as intended action and result is clear there is no wrong way to do it at my table. YMMV.
 


Wiseblood

Adventurer
I wonder if....perhaps I still don’t understand. Is the Meta-aesthetic we are referring to self referencing aesthetic or post hoc rule creation that unintentionally or intentionally creates an implied rule?


What I mean is...does the difference between weapon attack, melee weapon attack, attacking with a melee weapon and the attack action have differences noted because rules that came after reference these differently?
 

Undrave

Hero
This is one of those areas where I think some people get overly concerned about verbiage. As long as intended action and result is clear there is no wrong way to do it at my table. YMMV.

No but I feel like the intended way to present it would help dissociate skills from ability score (like the eternal 'STR to intimidate' thing)

But then the book goes around and... describes the skill in each ability score's section... So I think it sends a mixed signal on what was intended to be a more flexible skill system.
 

And I disagree. In my opinion, the 1e AD&D books are not well organized and Gygax was not, above all, organized. I don't think he ever claimed to be well organized, and you're the first person in over 40 years I've heard describe him or the AD&D 1e books that way. They are so disorganized that modern OSR reprints are primarily about re-organizing them so you can find all the rules which relate to one concept in one place.

I would refer you, for example, to the excellent AD&D 1e Combat Flowchart. Which is, frankly, insane. Rules are pulled from all over the place in the PHB and DMG and even elsewhere.
Well, all I can say is that all the rules of combat in 1e are in the combat chapter of the 1e DMG. There isn't a single rule anywhere else (maybe one of the later supplements could be excepted, like OA has rules related to Martial Arts which would have been in the combat chapter had they existed at the time). Those rules themselves may not be clear, in fact Gygax is famous for leaving many things unsaid or providing multiple conflicting interpretations, but the actual rules are in one place in 1e!
Now, there are rules about equipment, for example, that are in other places (IE how much damage does a longsword do, or what AC does leather armor grant) but again, the consistency is there, ALL of those rules fall under equipment, pure and simple, no exceptions.
Looking at the 'flowchart' actually exemplifies this. Everything in the first diagram is on DMG pp60-61. Where things are referenced to other rules sections, it is where there are rules about other things, races, classes, and monsters, which provide input to the surprise rules (IE PC Dex reaction bonus, elf abilities, etc.). Note that this wouldn't even be necessary in a unified system like 4e because the mechanic would simply be part of a more all-encompassing general rule, how to make checks, and so all that would be needed is for the surprise rules to state that Dex is a modifier to the check. I'd further note that the diagram devotes a bunch of space to dealing with various popular interpretations of the rules (IE reducing surprise checks to a % in order to compare different die sizes), which would AGAIN not be needed if 1e was a unified system.
My point seems made though, 1e's rules are actually quite modular and clearly organized. They are not so good in OTHER ways, but I don't agree that organization was a weakness of Gygax's. He seems pretty well-organized to me at least.
 

Mistwell

Legend
Well, all I can say is that all the rules of combat in 1e are in the combat chapter of the 1e DMG.. There isn't a single rule anywhere else (maybe one of the later supplements could be excepted, like OA has rules related to Martial Arts which would have been in the combat chapter had they existed at the time). Those rules themselves may not be clear, in fact Gygax is famous for leaving many things unsaid or providing multiple conflicting interpretations, but the actual rules are in one place in 1e!
Now, there are rules about equipment, for example, that are in other places (IE how much damage does a longsword do, or what AC does leather armor grant) but again, the consistency is there, ALL of those rules fall under equipment, pure and simple, no exceptions.
Looking at the 'flowchart' actually exemplifies this. Everything in the first diagram is on DMG pp60-61. Where things are referenced to other rules sections, it is where there are rules about other things, races, classes, and monsters, which provide input to the surprise rules (IE PC Dex reaction bonus, elf abilities, etc.). Note that this wouldn't even be necessary in a unified system like 4e because the mechanic would simply be part of a more all-encompassing general rule, how to make checks, and so all that would be needed is for the surprise rules to state that Dex is a modifier to the check. I'd further note that the diagram devotes a bunch of space to dealing with various popular interpretations of the rules (IE reducing surprise checks to a % in order to compare different die sizes), which would AGAIN not be needed if 1e was a unified system.
My point seems made though, 1e's rules are actually quite modular and clearly organized. They are not so good in OTHER ways, but I don't agree that organization was a weakness of Gygax's. He seems pretty well-organized to me at least.
You are objectively incorrect in saying the combat rules are only in the combat chapter of the DMG.

I honestly think you're on a one-man island on these claims. I don't think even the biggest 1e fan in the world agrees with you on this particular point. I'd challenge you to go on Dragonsfoot and make the claims you're making and sit back and watch the reaction. It will be quite the show.

You could also ask Gary's remaining family members in the industry. Even they will not agree with you on this particular topic.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
Any game where a player can say "I kick over the cauldron, spilling it towards the ogre, and jump over the Cauldron to attack the Troll" is a game anyone can play.
It's how I'd prefer to run all my games. For some reasons, my group has a variety of relationships with game rules that make me cringe. So basically, I prefer when they describe their intent, then I ask them to do the thing I deem relevant (make a check, ok, you've advantage on your roll) and describe the outcome. If they don't narrate their intent, gameplay in your proposed scenario, where the PC is figint a ogre and a troll runs as this :

Me: you have initiative, what do you do?
Player 1: mmmmmmm meditatively look at his character sheet
Me: ...
Player 1 : I am wondering if should roll History or Acrobatics.
Me : any chance you could explain the reasoning behind this conundrum?
Player 2 : easy, I jump over the cauldron and impale the ogre with my rapier.
Me : OK, make an attack roll
Player 2 : rolls 12..."ok I rolled 12, I add my +7 bonus, that's...(five full seconds pass) 18.
Rest of players: actually that's 19.
Me: OK you hit the ogre, for how much damage?
Player: 1d6+5, I roll 3 that's...
Me: sigh
Player 2 : I'd like to us an expertise dice as well.
Me: what effect do you want to do?
Player 2 : let me check takes smartphone to go online and read about what expertise dice actually do, despite playing the same character for 2 years
Player 1 : Hey! I just remembered about my move action, can I make a move action out of my turn?






What
 

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