log in or register to remove this ad

 

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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And I LOVE keywords for exactly the reason you dislike them! ;) They provide an instant language, an idiom in which the mechanics of the game can speak.

Here's a very simple example. In the 1e DMG there is an item, Flametongue, a sword which burns. It gains a significant bonus against ... (LONG list of specific creatures) plus several general categories of creature. This list was of course obsolete, probably as soon as the game was published. It would have been vastly better to just have had a "vulnerable to fire" trait connected to a fire damage keyword. This is future-proof and it is abundantly clear what you mean. You can STILL have exceptions to this general rule, either by simply not specifying that THIS creature is vulnerable to fire, or by calling out the specific exception in its description.
If I'm looking up the Flametongue's abilities I want them all right there together, rather than to also then have to look up the specific creature that's getting hit with one to see if it's vulnerable or not. Put another way, even with your idea of 'vulnerable to fire' (which in itself is fine) I want as many of the exceptions as possible called out in the Flametongue write-up so I only have to look in one place.

And while future-proofing things is always a laudable goal, unfortunately there's no real way to do it here without strait-jacketing the design; and strait-jacketed design is exactly what I want to avoid.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Campbell

Legend
So generally the use case for keywords should be for governing how things like interact with each other. Keywords that do actual work should be kept to a minimum. Particularly in a game that is expected to get extended over time with rich interactions keywords let us do things like say an Attack of Oppurtunity (in PF2) is triggered by Manipulate actions so as the game is extended there's no need to go back to previous material to account for new stuff. Another PF2 example is how Mind Blank counteracts all detection effects. I do not have to address whether or not a new spell is affected by Mind Blank because the traits will tell me.
 

If I'm looking up the Flametongue's abilities I want them all right there together, rather than to also then have to look up the specific creature that's getting hit with one to see if it's vulnerable or not. Put another way, even with your idea of 'vulnerable to fire' (which in itself is fine) I want as many of the exceptions as possible called out in the Flametongue write-up so I only have to look in one place.

And while future-proofing things is always a laudable goal, unfortunately there's no real way to do it here without strait-jacketing the design; and strait-jacketed design is exactly what I want to avoid.
Symbaroum is a relatively simple game with an inordinate love of keywords.
This means that monster abilities are all keywords. So you have to have two pages open (or sometimes two books) just to see what a monster does. It's infuritating.

It even has a keyword for monster "Companions" at levels I, II, and III, and when you look it up you see that companions tells you how many of the monsters are usually found together.

And despite all the keywords, it doesn't actually avoid problems of interpretation because the writing is sloppy and the game insufficiently playtested.

Good clear communicative writing is what's really important.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, I don't personally feel this way at all, on any of these points. Player =/= character. Fundamentally the dichotomy between them is quite vast. A character wading into battle is entering a life-threatening situation filled with mayhem and uncertainty, the player is having chips and dip while rolling some dice with her buds and enjoying a beer.
But while noshing down on those chips and beer the player is (or certainly can be) also occupying the mind-space of the character wading in against a horde of Orcs, and deciding from that perspective what to do next.

Gamist constructs such as locked-in turn order fight against this, which is why I in turn fight against them. :)
I am quite sure though that 4e was no less open-ended than 0e, 1e, or 2e. Specific things were more thoroughly covered in rules, but only in the sense that the rules could be objectively applied to them without extrapolation or mechanical interpretation. If you did something novel, there was a rule which could be applied, allowing you to "play to see what happens" (a phrase from Dungeon World). That didn't limit what you could do. 4e and video games have nothing in common here. In 4e the GM can frame a scene, and the players will be able to reason about it in game-mechanical terms, but they will still have to solve it, may have limited information, will achieve different results based on what they are willing to risk/spend (IE do I burn a daily here or not) etc. Luck also plays a part, in the same way it does in other D&Ds as a way to 'stir the pot' so to speak.
Good point regarding luck: one ongoing trend across editions seems to have been to try and reduce luck's influence on proceedings; where to me the whole game is, at its core, about luck. The lucky ones survive, the others don't.

As for 4e and open-endedness, you're actually making my point for me in a way: you couldn't go outside the framework and just try stuff like you could in 0e-1e-2e; you were stuck within the rules no matter what, page 42 notwithstanding.

Put another way: instead of the DM reining you in to a greater or lesser extent depending on numerous variables and being able to allow for circumstance, the rules consistently rein you in. For the player it's the same thing, only the latter is more predictable and thus less interesting.
 

If I'm looking up the Flametongue's abilities I want them all right there together, rather than to also then have to look up the specific creature that's getting hit with one to see if it's vulnerable or not. Put another way, even with your idea of 'vulnerable to fire' (which in itself is fine) I want as many of the exceptions as possible called out in the Flametongue write-up so I only have to look in one place.

And while future-proofing things is always a laudable goal, unfortunately there's no real way to do it here without strait-jacketing the design; and strait-jacketed design is exactly what I want to avoid.
I heavily suspect the DM is already on that page in the MM, so how much 'burden' is this, really? What is straight-jacketed. In fact what you get is a sort of 'world logic' for cheap. The giant eagle has the 'avian' keyword. It is a being covered in feathers, and like all other such beings it is going to take extra fire damage, not just from the flametongue, but also from a fireball! AD&D doesn't even do that for you! The flametongue DOES call out 'avian creatures' or some such language, but there IS NO SUCH CATEGORY IN AD&D. Obviously the DM is expected to make a case-by-case ruling. Is a Vrock an avian creature? Who knows!! The player doesn't, so can he take one on? (a +4 attack bonus is going to weigh heavily in that equation, especially when the base bonus of the sword is +1 and demons are generally resistant to even lower level + weapons).
I'm just missing what the ADVANTAGE is here in 1e's approach. 4e handled this kind of thing really well, but in point of fact it did NOT overuse this technique. Few creatures have resistance/vulnerability to a damage type keyword for instance. They exist, but they're not super common. Keywords tend to be most important in terms of describing what sort of thing a creature/spell/whatever is, or in terms of visualizing its effects. I can see how a game could go crazy with keywording and make it counterproductive, but that seems a different sort of game-design issue to me. Anything can be done badly.
 

cbwjm

Hero
Not sure what it says in 1e, but in 2e flame tongue was essentially using key words. Made it pretty easy to determine which creatures were affected by which bonus. I might prefer the current version though which just deals additional fire damage and the targets either resist, are vulnerable to, or take normal damage to it.

Sword +1, flame tongue, +2 vs. regenerating creatures, +3 vs. cold-using, flammable, or avian creatures, +4 vs. undead:
This sheds light when its possessor speaks a command word or phrase. When activated, the flame tongue sword’s fire illuminates the area as brightly as a torch. The flame from this sword easily ignites oil, burns webs, or sets fire to paper, parchment, dry wood, etc. Cold-using creatures are those whose attack mode involves cold (ice toads, white dragons, winter wolves, yeti, etc.).
 

But while noshing down on those chips and beer the player is (or certainly can be) also occupying the mind-space of the character wading in against a horde of Orcs, and deciding from that perspective what to do next.

Gamist constructs such as locked-in turn order fight against this, which is why I in turn fight against them. :)

Good point regarding luck: one ongoing trend across editions seems to have been to try and reduce luck's influence on proceedings; where to me the whole game is, at its core, about luck. The lucky ones survive, the others don't.

As for 4e and open-endedness, you're actually making my point for me in a way: you couldn't go outside the framework and just try stuff like you could in 0e-1e-2e; you were stuck within the rules no matter what, page 42 notwithstanding.

Put another way: instead of the DM reining you in to a greater or lesser extent depending on numerous variables and being able to allow for circumstance, the rules consistently rein you in. For the player it's the same thing, only the latter is more predictable and thus less interesting.
Again though, you are supposing a sort of oppositional game play process where the players and GM's goals are at least partly in conflict with each other, such that the GM would try to 'reign in' players and part of his 'job' would be telling them they cannot do things. I don't play in that way, at all. It isn't my job to tell the players what their PCs can or cannot do. I can tell them what situation they are in, and I can present them with obstacles and resources which facilitate their exploration of their characters.
And the open-endedness isn't hypothetical. I made a point up-thread about Page 42, and about Skill Challenges. These were points I made for a reason, because in 4e at least, these are structured approaches to adjudicating open-ended situations (beyond just free-form narrative, which is always an option if everyone is cool with it, though if you go too far this way the 'game' aspect might be lost). Other games have similar 'channels'. There are a series of fairly open-ended moves in Dungeon World, such as 'discern realities' (and technically the soft and hard moves any PC move elicits are really limitless in potential). Going back to 4e, if the character attempts something that is beyond a simple application of a power/feat/action then, depending on the context, either Page 42 comes into play (generally used for things which are similar to a power and happen during combat or a similar situation), or a challenge exists. A challenge is simply a variety of an encounter, in essence, so it has a structured set of rules of its own, within which the PCs can pretty much try anything, including using their powers and such. It is really just a more generalized flavor of 'combat' in effect. It can even cover long periods of time, etc. if needed.
The SC is especially powerful, because it codifies the mechanical approach to the situation. The GM is allowed to determine a complexity level (really this is generally going to correspond to narrative weight) and from there everyone knows how many of what types of rolls are needed and how many advantages and hard checks may come into play. A player can thus reason about the degree to which a success at a given point will contribute to achieving the objective, and thus decide A) if it is a good idea, and B) if it is what his character would do.
The character would do side is related to the NARRATIVE, not to mechanics. So, does the narrative work if the PC decides to go all out and pay a big cost for success? Well, how does that story come out? If the character doesn't know she's in a conflict and needs to win, why would she do that? Sure, the player could insist, but the other participants are well within their rights to at least require an explanation. If the explanation is "a feeling comes over her that the stakes are high", well, what caused that? Now we're playing an interesting game! Something new is introduced (or the player decides maybe not to push the plot that way).
In order to assist in this kind of thing, and aim for a balance between players in this kind of input my own game (which started out being a lot like 4e) has resource expenditure for the PLAYER at this point. "OK, you can have a feeling come over Harriet, that will cost you a plot point." It just means the most 'forward' players don't get to drive everything all the time.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Again though, you are supposing a sort of oppositional game play process where the players and GM's goals are at least partly in conflict with each other, such that the GM would try to 'reign in' players and part of his 'job' would be telling them they cannot do things.
The main job of the players is to advocate for their characters. Naturally, a part of that advocacy sometimes involves pushing against the rules and-or trying things the game might not be set up to handle; whereupon it becomes the job of the DM to push back if required, either by enforcing rules already in place or making rulings that are - one hopes - consistent with what's already been established in play.
I don't play in that way, at all. It isn't my job to tell the players what their PCs can or cannot do.
In fact, backed up by the rules most (nearly all?) of the time, it's exactly your job to tell them what they can or can't do; because as the DM part of your role is that of referee-arbiter-rules_enforcer. Even something as simple as "at your level you only get one melee attack per round" holds no weight whatsoever unless and until you-as-DM approve and-or enforce it.

What you can't do is tell them what they can or can't try. Big difference; and it's my assertion that telling them what they can or can't try is much more a thing in 3e-4e-5e design than in 0e-1e-2e.
The SC is especially powerful, because it codifies the mechanical approach to the situation. The GM is allowed to determine a complexity level (really this is generally going to correspond to narrative weight) and from there everyone knows how many of what types of rolls are needed and how many advantages and hard checks may come into play. A player can thus reason about the degree to which a success at a given point will contribute to achieving the objective, and thus decide A) if it is a good idea, and B) if it is what his character would do.
My point in part is that this codification is a bug rather than a feature, as it gives the player (and thus the character) meta-game information that would otherwise be unknown in the fiction; which could lead to the player (and character) making different decisions than would otherwise be made.
The character would do side is related to the NARRATIVE, not to mechanics. So, does the narrative work if the PC decides to go all out and pay a big cost for success? Well, how does that story come out? If the character doesn't know she's in a conflict and needs to win, why would she do that? Sure, the player could insist, but the other participants are well within their rights to at least require an explanation. If the explanation is "a feeling comes over her that the stakes are high", well, what caused that? Now we're playing an interesting game! Something new is introduced (or the player decides maybe not to push the plot that way).
In order to assist in this kind of thing, and aim for a balance between players in this kind of input my own game (which started out being a lot like 4e) has resource expenditure for the PLAYER at this point. "OK, you can have a feeling come over Harriet, that will cost you a plot point." It just means the most 'forward' players don't get to drive everything all the time.
It also goes far further into meta-game play than anything I'd ever want to be part of.

Maybe the PC is going all-out just for the hell of it - a rash moment has come over her. There doesn't need to be an explanation, the other participants have no 'right' to one (they have the right to ask, of course, but no right to get or expect an answer) and there might not even be a win-lose conflict present in that situation for all she knows. She just does what she does, pays the cost, and hopes for the best - and maybe she just threw away her life savings for nothing. ::shrug:: So be it.
 

The main job of the players is to advocate for their characters. Naturally, a part of that advocacy sometimes involves pushing against the rules and-or trying things the game might not be set up to handle; whereupon it becomes the job of the DM to push back if required, either by enforcing rules already in place or making rulings that are - one hopes - consistent with what's already been established in play.

In fact, backed up by the rules most (nearly all?) of the time, it's exactly your job to tell them what they can or can't do; because as the DM part of your role is that of referee-arbiter-rules_enforcer. Even something as simple as "at your level you only get one melee attack per round" holds no weight whatsoever unless and until you-as-DM approve and-or enforce it.

What you can't do is tell them what they can or can't try. Big difference; and it's my assertion that telling them what they can or can't try is much more a thing in 3e-4e-5e design than in 0e-1e-2e.

My point in part is that this codification is a bug rather than a feature, as it gives the player (and thus the character) meta-game information that would otherwise be unknown in the fiction; which could lead to the player (and character) making different decisions than would otherwise be made.

It also goes far further into meta-game play than anything I'd ever want to be part of.

Maybe the PC is going all-out just for the hell of it - a rash moment has come over her. There doesn't need to be an explanation, the other participants have no 'right' to one (they have the right to ask, of course, but no right to get or expect an answer) and there might not even be a win-lose conflict present in that situation for all she knows. She just does what she does, pays the cost, and hopes for the best - and maybe she just threw away her life savings for nothing. ::shrug:: So be it.
Obviously we just see the role of GM (and players) somewhat differently.
And sure, the PC could just "do something rash", that's cool! Now we are learning that they behave rashly, at least sometimes. Hopefully that will become an interesting part of the PC's overall persona. Also it may land them in hot water in the immediate case, or perhaps just the opposite, and which it is can be down to a toss of dice.
I don't think it is WRONG to create an RPing situation which has a GM 'in charge' and a player who is purely in character. Sometimes that works, but it is probably not something that can be sustained IMHO anyway. Eventually you come 'out of character' in some fashion. If nothing else, then the limits and necessities of RPing in a practical sense appear. Other players need to participate, information will exist at the table which simply couldn't exist in character but can't practically speaking be filtered out, etc. Inevitably players make choices all the time for the sake of 'game play' as opposed to 'role play'. It just happens.
We just eventually came to the conclusion that mutual collaboration on the structure and direction of the narrative worked pretty well. Each participant has their unique part to play, but we allow for more than simply being in character. Other inputs factor in too.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Obviously we just see the role of GM (and players) somewhat differently.
And sure, the PC could just "do something rash", that's cool! Now we are learning that they behave rashly, at least sometimes. Hopefully that will become an interesting part of the PC's overall persona. Also it may land them in hot water in the immediate case, or perhaps just the opposite, and which it is can be down to a toss of dice.
Exactly. Thing is, it doesn't have to be explained in order to happen.
I don't think it is WRONG to create an RPing situation which has a GM 'in charge' and a player who is purely in character. Sometimes that works, but it is probably not something that can be sustained IMHO anyway.
36 years and counting...
Eventually you come 'out of character' in some fashion. If nothing else, then the limits and necessities of RPing in a practical sense appear. Other players need to participate, information will exist at the table which simply couldn't exist in character but can't practically speaking be filtered out, etc. Inevitably players make choices all the time for the sake of 'game play' as opposed to 'role play'. It just happens.
Yes it does, but the ideal is to minimize all of these where possible.

Doesn't help that players keep wanting to talk about food or politics or hockey, which is fine in moderation; but a few times ruling that whatever the player says the character also says* helps keep it from getting out of hand: all I have to do now is threaten to invoke that ruling and focus quickly returns to the game. :)

* - verbatim, no matter how ridiculous in the fiction. I once had a character ruin a party's stealth attempt by yammering on regarding something called a 'car'...
 

Undrave

Hero
Saving throw, yes; though it means many different things depending on situation (is it referring to a character saving vs dragon breath, or an item saving vs destruction, or what?). Replace 'ability' with the name of the specific ability e.g. Strength check and I'll agree on this one. Melee attack and grapple aren't so much keywords to me as they are simple descriptors of what someone's doing (or trying!) in the fiction.

Further, other than 'saving throw' all of those are very clear as to what they're referring to, which to me somewhat takes them away from keyword status and more toward simple common use of language.

That's still a jargon that you have to learn. If you say to someone "Roll a Dexterity Saving Throw" and they never played or learned the rules to DnD they're not gonna know what the heck you're on about.

In D&D, though, where timing can be all over the place? Perhaps not so much, as IMO the timing needs to be defined almost case by case. (to clarify, I'm not at all a fan of the timing of everything in combat being shoehorned into action, reaction, or bonus - fine for melee but awful for spells; I also want combat movement to use up time in getting from A to B rather than it being like a micro-teleport)

I could see that working if turns were more granular... let's say a turn gives you 6 'Action Points'. Moving X feet is 1 action point, taking a bonus action is 1 or 2 action point and taking a proper action is 2 or 3 action point... but DnD isn't that granular. In 4e you could 'trade down' your move for a Minor Action if I recall, and trade down your standard action for extra move, so there was a kind of timing element similar to what you mention but for some reason they nixed that in 5e (though the Dash action is still the same as trading your standard for move).

I think people just don't like the idea of casting time longer than a turn in combat. Like you could have multiple rounds but then you're just open to attack and those spells would be judge extremely suboptimal in combat and nobody would ever use them. DMs would 'nerf' wizards by playing 'Whack the Caster' to disrupt them (because you know someone would cry fowl if you can't disrupt casting if it takes longer than an action...).


Exactly - the player's knowledge is just the same as the character's. Strong feature, no bug here.
I don't think a character who learned how to use 'Charm Person' would be as oblivious to how it actually WORKS than a player who is wondering if he should pick it or not for the first time. There's probably tons of info about spells that we as players don't know.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Trying to engage with every discussion as if you're arguing the merits of a scientific paper isn't actually helpful

I'm the one who asked for a specific example, so we could look at the specific example, and see what the idea really meant. And then I was told that we won't be discussing the specific example. That, sir, is what isn't helpful. We cannot increase shared understanding if we aren't going to discuss the thing. And this is, like, a discussion board, you know?

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.

Yeah, so, taking one thing you know about me personally, as if you actually know me, and using that to make the discussion personal? That's crud. Thank you for making an excellent example of why we tell people to not make discussions about the speaker.

If you don't like it, do remember that nobody forces you to read it. The only time you need to give me any heed is when I post in red text, which I'm not doing here. So, just keep scrolling next time, and maybe you'll have a better experience.
 

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)
Hey, Mein Kampf might say that murder is wrong but that doesn't mean that's what was really in the mind of the author. A book need not be consistent with itself. Just because it says something on page 6 doesn't mean that every page after it reinforces that idea, or even that that point is where they're heading. That's where plot holes come from. It's doubly true for rule books. The PHB makes it really clear that Rule Zero exists (the DM is the final authority) but it's also really clear from reading the book that the rules are going out of their way to make you think that Rule Zero is a necessary evil best avoided.

I think it's very clear that from 2000 to 2014, WotC tried extremely hard to make rules that were as consistent, comprehensive, and concrete as possible. They wanted players and DMs to be able to find definite correct answers in the books when they looked things up. These editions tried to minimize the role of the DM as rules arbiter precisely because 1e/2e AD&D was so obtuse, arbitrary, and cumbersome that not only did no two tables play the same way but often two different tables would be playing wholly incompatible games. That's fine from a game play standpoint, but it's unworkable from a "we are a business and need to sell stuff to our customers" standpoint. Part of the reason it was abandoned by the community was because of how unmanageable the rules were. It wasn't just TSR's bad decision making.

The problem is that no matter how hard they worked, no matter how much errata and rulings they issued, and no matter how much they tried to compile the equivalent of MTG rules that you don't need to interpret, the community just kept shouting about more and more crap that people should just ask their DM for. The harder they worked the deeper the hole they had. For over a decade they worked at this until they gave it up. So they stopped digging. They decided to take away rules instead of trying to build rules up.

5e just dropped a ton of rules and never looked back. Not like changing skill rules, but dropping almost the entirely of the mechanics from the spells chapters. You ever notice that wall of force says that it extends into the ethereal, but there's no general rule that force effects extend ethereal anywhere in the books? That rule is gone. Tags are gone, too, and translating [Mind-Affecting] tags into the "sometimes we use a condition and sometimes we don't" of 5e is a whole lot less consistent and comprehensive, especially because monster types are much less prevalent. Monster types still exist, but they're super simplified with basically no consistent abilities for a given type. Lots of weapons are gone, as are lots of actions in combat. You still can use grappling, but it's pretty terrible almost all the time. Circumstantial bonuses and penalties are gone, replaced by the single advantage/disadvantage mechanic.

And as far as making rulings... they go out of their way not to. Sure, there's errata for actual mistakes; you can't avoid that. But, by and large, they don't rule based on the idea of creating a system of consistent rules they can build on going forward. They rule by reading the book back to you and telling you how the book reads. And then they make no subjective opinion about it. That's not a ruling. That's a reading. They give you an answer, but knowing that no answer will satisfy they do their best to spend as little time on rules questions as possible.

Like... 3.5e was basically entirely power level errata for 3e (too conservative of power level errata as it turns out) while for 5e, beyond contagion and the Revised Ranger (i.e., problems with Natural Explorer, Favored Enemy and Beastmaster) there's been essentially no power level errata in 5e. And Revised Ranger got discarded! It died in playtest! The best we're going to get is Tasha's variant class features and probably some Hexblade-fixing-Bladelock-like subclass to replace Beastmaster someday (e.g., Battlesmith Artificer) and that's it. It's not like they don't know the faults in the game. They're just not interested in fixing them anymore. This is the 7th year that 5e has been out. If you put 3e's timeline over 5e, 3.5e would be out in 2017, 4e is due out early next year, and Pathfinder in early 2022! Tasha's is the third major splatbook after SCAG and XGTE. That's a huge strategy change and design philosophy change.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And I LOVE keywords for exactly the reason you dislike them! ;) They provide an instant language, an idiom in which the mechanics of the game can speak.
But... is that what the people who wrote the game wanted? Rules and mechanics that speak?

That would seems to fly in the face of the general idea of "rulings, not rules" that they had put forth for the edition. I suggest part of the problem people experience is in trying to listen to the rules, when maybe that's not the point. What if the rules are there to help you speak?

If you are listening to a symphony, and trying to find the voice of the second chair violin, it may be hard... because the main thrust of the piece is coming from the first chair. The second is usually playing harmony and accompaniment, not the main melody line. The second chair is meant to highlight and support, not to be heard in detail for itself...

Imagine, for a moment, that the rules are merely support. That, for the cases where things seem a tad ambiguous (because yes, natural language can be ambiguous) that you are intended to take it whichever way is mostly consistent that you deem fit? That nobody cares if two of us use slightly different surprise or exhaustion rules?
 

To be fair, despite all the erratta they release for 4E there were plenty of problems they were never interested in fixing there either. The Beastmaster Ranger being an example in that edition as well.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, to add a slightly different perspective from outside games as food for thought....

In mathematics and theoretical physics, there's a word for much of what seems to be intended by the "meta-aesthetics". For us, the word is "elegance".

As you may imagine, a lot of the math in these areas can be really, really hairy and complicated. But, it turns out that most of the time, the general statements that turn out to be true are... elegant. Simple to state. They have symmetries, are smooth, and often fit in just a few lines. Einstein's Special and General theories of Relativity. Newton's equations of motion. Maxwell's Equations. Schrodinger's equation. The Laws of Thermodynamics. The basic statements of all these things are painfully simple. They only get hairy when you then layer them into the real world, where there are sharp corners and small details that make math hard. But the concepts? Elegant.

Elegance is part of the sniff-test for being true. It isn't sufficient, but inelegance is a thing that suggests that you don't have it all quite right yet.

For us in games, of course there's going to be a very reasonable press towards practicality. Maxwell's equations, and Einstein's, are elegant, but aren't practical for day-to-day use at home. However, there's perhaps a thing to be said for looking at the elegance of a design, looking at that meta-aesthetic, and seeing if maybe it is an indication of some true thing about play that you can then look to preserve as you find a practical implementation.
 

Davinshe

Explorer
I'm surprised that people are having difficulty getting this, because to me it's obviously true, and yes it's a real problem.

Another example would be the desire for needless symmetry (an absolute constant in "improvements" to RPG rules design), or needless consistency even when the consistency is actually harmful to the balance of the rules. Really though, thank you for writing this, because I think of a lot of kind-of-terrible rules and generally problematic attitudes re: rules stem from meta-aesthetic concerns that people aren't even consciously processing.
Agreed! I for example have considered how skills might work better using 3d6 instead of 1d20 because this weighs thing heavily in favor of those who have bonuses in a skill; it naturally removes the problem that it's nearly guaranteed that someone will succeed at a roll if everyone gets to roll on a skill and it vastly lowers the chances that a skilled individual will fail at something simple. Heck, it even has a sort of historical precedent in the "roll under your ability score" systems of older editions. Yet, my players would never accept it because it ruins the symmetry of the 1d20 mechanic.
 

EzekielRaiden

Adventurer
Hoo boy, my hot take really did blow up. I might miss some posts since the time I started quoting things, or that said similar stuff, so...apologies if you felt your point deserved personal attention. Note that for me and I'll gladly provide it. As it is, I'll be trimming posts like mad to conserve space!

Or to put it another way, trusting the DM and acknowledging that if players didn't trust the DM, the game was probably doomed no matter how precise the rules were.
I really wish this argument would also stop. While I do recognize that trust is important, neither this issue nor most of my issues are about "trust." And it's really frustrating to be told that my concerns arise from, effectively, being unable to trust people. Like, you're literally disguising an ad hominem attack here. Please don't do that.

I believe you're wrong about the intent of natural language. I don't believe it was intended to create greater clarity in the rules, in the sense of precision; rather, it was intended to be clearer in the sense of transparency--and also to be flavorful, with the idea that any ambiguities would be settled table by table instead of trying to enforce one exact experience across all arenas of play.
Well uh...I don't find it transparent. Not anywhere near as transparent as 4e was, anyway. Like, that was literally a huge beef with 4e, that it showed how the sausage was made, and people welcomed 5e being a little more old-school obscurantist. Not everyone, mind, but some totally did.

« Playing DnD is an exercice in collaborative creation. » that is taken from the preface of the phb. they choose natural langage because it fits better the goal of the design.
That's not a design goal? I'm not sure what your point is here.

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?
The aforementioned Sage Advice stuff about attacks. That is, a "melee weapon attack" and an "attack with a melee weapon" are (almost) completely distinct things, despite being perfect synonyms in natural English diction, and that a "melee weapon attack" can involve no actual weapons whatsoever (e.g. unarmed strikes are "melee weapon attacks" even though unarmed strikes aren't weapons...but see below for more.) That...cannot be understood from the natural meanings of the words alone. "Melee weapon attack" in 5e means a melee attack, which just happens to involve a weapon. If you want "attack with a melee weapon" as a meaning, the Sage Advice compendium specifies that the only difference you make is adding a hyphen. "Melee-weapon attack" means an attack which specifically employs a melee weapon. So you can make a "ranged weapon attack" that is alsoa "melee-weapon attack" (e.g. a thrown dagger), and you can make a "melee weapon attack" that is also a "ranged-weapon attack" (e.g. smacking someone with a crossbow).

The contagion spell is another oft-cited example, one which even Crawford explicitly said on twitter "could be clearer." I used to know at least one other spell with similar issues, but I've forgotten what it is and don't feel like pouring through the hundred-plus pages of spells in the PHB right now. As others have said, the common confusion about how Surprise works is something of a borderline case. That is, the rules theoretically do work as written, but the focus on natural-language presentation prevented the authors from effectively communicating how Surprise works differently from previous games, and thus that focus has led to much confusion.

Another example: "natural weapons" are weapons, while "unarmed strikes" are not. But there are natural weapons (such as the tabaxi claws) which allow you to make unarmed strikes. So...are they weapons because they're natural weapons, or not weapons because you use them to make unarmed strikes? The text is insufficient to distinguish which of these mutually exclusive, jointly exhaustive options is valid.

One I only just encountered, which has been often overlooked: Ranger Favored Terrain. It doesn't tell us much of anything about what the terrains refer to, just giving high-level nouns (desert, Underdark, etc.) But "desert" in natural language just means "a place that gets less than 10 inches of rainfall per year." The Antarctic is one of the world's largest deserts, for example, and the Underdark (by definition) gets zero rainfall--thus both are, by natural language meanings, "deserts." Obviously, DMs can always overrule things, but this is a clear place where the "natural language" meaning of terms is reliant on something entirely outside both the text itself and the meanings of the words used. You and I know the understanding that is meant, but it is not actually communicated by the text.

I think the topic is about rules that play well vs. rules that read well.
A reasonable, albeit short, summary.

I think that the meta-aesthetic concerns (which I'd render as 'narrativist', 'simulationist' and 'gamist') are somehow 'too important' when making rule...
I'm not referring to any of those three things. Sometimes the meta-aesthetic argument pursues a simulationist aesthetic, e.g. skill points and PrCs. Sometimes it is gamist, e.g. condensing all Martial powers (from 4e) into a single shared pool for all Martial classes. I can't think of a narrativist example off the top of my head, but I'm sure one exists. And, again, as I have repeatedly said, meta-aesthetics are NOT invalid! They can totally be a reason to do something. My argument is against any argument where meta-aesthetics are taken to be irrefutable, self-evident proof that a particular approach is not only correct, but best.

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. <snip>
5e chooses to use natural language because it's trying to tell you that it doesn't matter as long as you're consistent.<snip> TLDR; You're supposed to grok the rules, not follow them like a blueprint.
1. 4e didn't try to do that, and I find the repeated assertions that it did extremely annoying. 4e defined a set of things that definitely did work, and then created a set of extensible frameworks (such as Skill Challenges and Page 42) that were meant to support DM extrapolation. Should the DM wish to do further extrapolation, the rules intentionally got out of the way because, as 13A puts it for one of its feats, "If you want <such an improvised thing>, you have a better idea than we do what it should look like."
2. That would be great...if human beings were all that capable of consistency. Thing is, we really aren't. One need look no further than Gygax's D&D to see what happens when you presume consistency from the unbiased referee: you get an unending hodgepodge of unrelated, sometimes contradictory elements. And that's for one person's game; the inconsistency expands exponentially if you have to game as I've had to, where I must seek out groups (usually online) because I don't know anyone who plays.
3. If that's the case, why do we have stuff like the above, where "melee weapon attack" is explicitly and intentionally different from "melee-weapon attack"? That doesn't sound like a grok thing. That sounds like a blueprint, where precise bits matter.

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." <snip> 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.
Perfect example, thank you. A clear "grok" vs "blueprint" situation, which the text alone demonstrably doesn't clear up, given the repeated requests for clarification.

All rules are created with a certain look and feel in mind, as well as well as with ease of use, balance, etc.<snip>
Yes. I explicitly said so. I'm talking about the cases where anyone--fan playtester, game designer, DM, whomever--argues that it is that look and feel, not of the physical product, not of the experience of play, but purely within the internal structure of the rules, that overrides all other concerns unless the other concerns are truly overwhelming.

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.
I don't care what meta-aesthetics you go for. I'm saying that there are a lot of people--more fans than designers, but designers too--the meta-aesthetic is far and away the most important thing, and everything else is secondary. That a meta-aesthetic argument, like that (A5E) Knacks should just be condensed into a single list that each class samples from, is nearly unassailable, indeed self-evidently so.

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.
I don't see why these goals need to be in conflict. This is like saying that a video game has to appeal to new players at the expense of giving old players nothing to do; if you neglect either end, you have a bad game that will do poorly. FFXIV, a personal favorite, struggled with cumbersome slow-burn introduction to a story that got good with the first expansion and has only gone up from there; it has since taken steps to address this problem, and is (almost surely) seeing sustained growth even as the pandemic wanes because of these efforts.

If we don't solve for both things--games that play well once they're familiar AND that feel welcoming before they're familiar--we're not making great games. We're making either great games no one will play, or bad games lots of people will play.

Besides all that? Stuff like "we should make a single list of all A5E Knacks that each class gets to take a few from" is...entirely orthogonal to being "inviting" or not and to being "experienced-friendly" or not. Only an experienced player could be doing the playtesting to make that request!

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
I should bloody well hope it results in "a game you can play." A game that isn't playable should never be printed. "It's playable!" is tied for the most pointless defense of any game, TTRPG or otherwise, alongside "you can still have fun with it!" (Because if the game isn't even playable or somehow manages to prevent even the possibility of having fun, it should never even be printed!)

What more, you claim that these rules disputes led to your groups falling apart. What if <snip>
Not interested in your hypothetical alternatives to my lived experience, sorry.

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.
I don't think I understand your point here. These three sentences seem unrelated.

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.
Thank you! Yes! This is a HUGE part of what I mean by sacrificing the play experience. The meta-aesthetic is more important than people, y'know, actually doing the high-level abstracted actions of playing the game (like taking risks or asking questions, way above the level of even "making attack rolls" or "talking to elves").

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.
Firstly: it is terribly nice to have someone who recognizes the extensible frameworks built into 4e, so that it didn't need "a rule for everything and everything has its rule" a la M:TG, but rather "the codified, the formally improvised, and the informally improvised--and you know better than we do what that last thing needs."
Secondly: Yes, this is definitely a criticism I have of a meta-aesthetic stance in 5e, "everything must go to the DM." I had to start putting as a disclaimer on every. single. post. of advice for 5e play "if your DM says..." or "Assuming your DM's okay with it" etc. etc. etc. for ANYTHING, literally ANY part of the rules no matter how basal, because 5e really is pretty close to "the rules are suggestions."

Wait ... are you saying is that the problem here is that people are reading jargon as natural language? :LOL:
The irony was not lost on me.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Early WoD would be an example of a very aesthetic game, very style driven including in its "systems", as the the rules were called, which could get quite wonky in play.

Its also a good example of how aesthetics vary by the game. Early D&D has one aethestic, free-wheeling and (mostly) abstract, with cool bits thrown in to keep it interesting, AD&D has another, much more authoritative, more simulationist and with so many cool details and style as to start to become baroque. But in practice you probably couldn't really play as 100% written, and few people did.
 

Undrave

Hero
Its biggest sin is not deciding if general rules reside in the PHB or the DMG, they should pick one, and stick with it.

Why though? What's the advantage of having those rules in only one place if they say the same thing? That means I don't have to buy two books to have all the rules I'm gonna need. I suppose you just want me to sit there and say 'I do this' and the DM tell me 'roll this' and then oh... I did it! or I failed, but I don't know why or how? How am I suppose to make decisions if I don't know how the stuff on my character sheet affects outcomes?

Keywording looks good on paper but it fails once you start looking at it too hard. Once you put conditions and game effects into keywords, you 'lock' them into what the keyword covers. If you have a Paralyzed keyword, but you want a creature to have a different effect than that keyword, then you have to override the keyword or stack several keywords. So you end up with Paralyzed -- see Unconcious -- see Incompacitated and so on. This is a common issue with 5e conditions. You have to reference 3 or so different conditions to fully understand an effect on a character.
That's just bad keyword usage, nothing to do with keywords by themselves.

The Push keyword causes both of these powers to behave in the same manner. If you have powers that modify the Push keyword, those powers apply in both cases (even if the context of such powers do not make sense). As an example, I once ruled that if you push a foe into a wall, each square would deal 1d6 damage (I liked the idea of a Push 4 against a wall being a brutal shove). Because of the keyword, it had the undesirable effect of having Undead bash their heads into walls when being turned.
Except that has nothing to do with the 'Push' keyword, which by the way, only implies the DIRECTION of the forced movement, and not the result. It has to do with your ruling that you can inflict damage by pushing a foe into a wall. The damage part isn't from 'PUSH' but from the power being used, so you could easily say 'it only works in this circumstance'. Also, I don't have my 4e books, but I always pictured Turn Undead as PHYSICALLY pushing the undead, not scaring them away (how the heck is a zombie feeling FEAR?!) so it would still work for me.

Some elements of play are better expressed with different mechanics, mechanics that better model the desired effect. Sometimes you want a linear randomizer, but other times a bell curve makes better sense.

It makes sense if you prefer simulationist rules over gamist rules.

Which is bad. If the character in the fiction doesn't know the odds, and-or doesn't know (all or some of) the possible outcomes, the player at the table shouldn't either.

Except that a character has access to TONS of information that isn't easily conveyed to the player and they have been themselves all their lives... you've only been them for a few days when the game starts. How are you supposed to know if they can jump across that acid moat if you're not feeling the weight of their equipment, feeling the length of their stride, or seeing the surface they might be landing on, or that they were long jump champion during that one sports-themed festival they took part in one time 5 years ago? You got a sheet with numbers of them an a few words and a picture in your head based on what the DM is picturing in their head. At some point, a little abstraction if gonna have to come into play for you to judge your chances the same way you do whenever you try something difficult in real life.

Not quite, as you-as-player are transmitting info to the character (the odds of success, and possible outcomes) that it often otherwise wouldn't fully know...which means in these situations you're playing your character as a game-piece rather than as itself in the fiction.

The PCs are game piece, it's a fact. It's almost inevitable that it's gonna happen sometimes. It's not a failing of your skills or something, it's just the reality of playing a GAME.

If I'm looking up the Flametongue's abilities I want them all right there together, rather than to also then have to look up the specific creature that's getting hit with one to see if it's vulnerable or not. Put another way, even with your idea of 'vulnerable to fire' (which in itself is fine) I want as many of the exceptions as possible called out in the Flametongue write-up so I only have to look in one place.

And while future-proofing things is always a laudable goal, unfortunately there's no real way to do it here without strait-jacketing the design; and strait-jacketed design is exactly what I want to avoid.

Why though? Like, if I pick up a sword that produce fire, am I going to know it's good specifically against birds? No, I'm just gonna assume it's good against stuff that's flammable and when I see birds go "oh I bet feathers are flammable..." and even if I'm fighting something that doesn't look flammable (like a creature with regen that hasn't regenerated yet), I'm still gonna hit them with my flaming sword because IT'S A COOL-ASS FLAMING SWORD! And it's still a SWORD! Why wouldn't I use it? Unless I know from legend that the thing is associated with fire. And THEN if it turns out it's not working? Then, I'll change tactics.

To be fair, despite all the erratta they release for 4E there were plenty of problems they were never interested in fixing there either. The Beastmaster Ranger being an example in that edition as well.

Beastmasters never work... They're either overpowered or absolute trash. They should just treat animal companions as a PC of their own with progression, HP and all that entails and just go "Here, you want a battle companion? Well you juggle two creature yourself" and just tell the DM they can just build encounters taking into account +1 PC.
 

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top