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D&D 4E Ron Edwards on D&D 4e


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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yes. I think the use of powers in skill challenges is amply covered in the two DMGs.

But consider this:
Because of various mechanical considerations, including but not limited to the role of enhancement bonuses, the maths for combat and the maths for skills don't match up.


Are there solution people have come up with that fall short of full system rebuilds?
I was thinking about this and adjusting the skill system dialing its advancement and divergence to be closer to the combat one would be the most viable. DCs then become direct kin numerically to Defenses.
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
I was thinking about this and adjusting the skill system dialing its advancement and divergence to be closer to the combat one would be the most viable. DCs then become direct kin numerically to Defenses.
Maybe a character gets the magic item bonus for any magic weapon or implement in the character’s possession, when using skills.
 



MwaO

Adventurer
Yes. I think the use of powers in skill challenges is amply covered in the two DMGs.

But consider this:
Because of various mechanical considerations, including but not limited to the role of enhancement bonuses, the maths for combat and the maths for skills don't match up.

A related phenomenon occurs for NPC/creature skills, which are based on stat+training+half-level bonus, rather than the per-level basis for statting out defences; which means that most NPC/creature skill bonuses trail those of stronger-end PCs.

I mean, that's simply not treating skills in a manner that everyone does by default in combat. If something is meant to be challenging, but a PC can consistently uncork skills at a value 5 higher than expected(i.e. about 8 levels higher), the DM has to adjust the skill challenges to match or those skill challenges won't be interesting.

An example might be Athletics. Normally, it might just be a door needed to be broken through, but what if it was two doors, one right after the other. A hard DC gets you through one door, hard+5 gets you through two. Or go after 'weak defenses' — sure, Arcana might solve 500 different problems, but the Wizard is trained in say Insight and not very good at it, and there's an insight check to be made while the skill challenge separates out the PCs for a little bit.

Etc...
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
As a recovering 3e player, Ron isn't entirely wrong. Over a decade later and still sober! But damn if there ain't the temptation to crack open that sweet, sweet rulebook. Just a glimpse of fighter bonus feats. A whiff of Mialee's gargoyle beauty. Just a hint of quadruple skill points at first level.
8+INIT skill points per level for the Rogue!
But to need something to ween you off... Just look at the the original 3.0 D&D Fighter skill list and skill points per level. :)
Or look at a CR 15 Dragon stat block and then look at his sorceror level, the PHB's sorcerer class per level description, and the PHB spell list, and imagine preparing the rest of that encounter.
 

Campbell

Legend
Here's what I can say - when I get too used to the sort of clean and crisp narratives seen in most Marvel films, comic books, video games, television serials, most genre fiction and most mainstream roleplaying game experiences when I try to engage with more messy narratives where we linger on moments for longer, things do not get neatly resolved, and characters might be confused about what they really want become harder to get into because I don't have that dopamine drop syncing into my brain on a regular basis in the same way. Video games especially.

I do not think it's brain damage, but that constant dopamine kick from clean narrative arcs, high stakes action, and the like can really have a profound effect on our ability to really dig into messy character driven fiction. I know I feel it from time to time. Especially after playing a bunch of Final Fantasy 14 or watching a sitcom for too long even one as smart as Kim's Convenience.
 


So PBtA is an example of Forge influence, and directly of Edwards. It certainly seemed the best fit.

Its another branch of RPGs. It clearly influences a lot of designers, but is not part of the mainstream. Traditional gamey games like D&D, versions of D&D, and CoC obviously remain dominant.

I guess a game like Alien could be seen as drawing from the mainstream and a more narrativist approach. Though its my understanding that it really works in the simulationist sense.

But 4E is big G game. For better or worse, its all about the G.
I think that runs the risk of being fairly dismissive.

In any case, aside a brief period in the 90's, supposedly, and perhaps to a degree during the heyday of PF1, D&D has just been the face of RPGs to the outside world. Its understandable, it is an EXTREMELY niche area! I mean, of all the IT folks, even the young ones I work with, 10% has any interest or knowledge of RPGs at all (And I literally live down the street from WotC). So, once you go past the BRAND of D&D, you're far out in the wilderness of things that few actual people know about.

So, that being said, in terms of people who actually DO have an interest in RPGs beyond "I sometimes play a character in that friend of mine's D&D game" you will run full face smack dab into PbtA games crawling out of the woodwork! I think a solid half, maybe even 80% of what people are playing except D&D is some sort of PbtA or a game based on FitD or something very similar. Yeah, it may be a subsection of an obscure hobby, but in terms of the people who have anything to do with making or thinking about RPGs at all, its pretty important, and I bet it gets a lot more play than you think! Mainly because, of the small portion of RPGers who play a LOT, MANY are playing these games.

And that's only a subsection of stuff that is heavily influenced by 'story game' design concepts. I mean, WOTC PUT IT IN D&D, that tells you something! Maybe they now think that was a 'new coke' move, but it sure does show that those folks over there, and this was 14 years ago, were already deeply influenced by this type of design. I believe there are other significant schools game design, for sure, but game of the ilk of PbtA and certain other systems in the loosely 'FATE-like' or 'BW-like' kind of school are damned common. ALL the groups that I have played with, and some are fairly casual, have at least tried one or two of them out. Its not just some tiny elite of GMs or something doing it.
 

It's possible that the influence of the impressionists (just to pick one school) doesn't tell us anything about whether their aesthetic theories had merit. But it's not self-evident.

Central to Edwards' analysis of RPGing is who gets to decide what about the fiction, by reference to what principles? And then to build ideal types of the play experiences that will result from those differences. I don't think that the passage of time has reduced the utility of such analysis.
Right, and at the risk of beating a horse that the rest of this thread may have already slaughtered... The existence of analysis is what IMHO is valuable. I'm unsure of my opinion on the actual utility of the specific analysis that Edwards, and 'The Forge' in general, produced. However, the fact of ASKING THE QUESTIONS went a long ways towards facilitating a search for ways to play differently/better (in a not-judging other's way of doing it kind of way). Honestly, I don't have too much interest in commenting on other people's commentary on a game. I think Ron's comments and discussion are mildly interesting, but to be perfectly honest I think our discussions here have probably helped develop my own concepts to whatever degree any discussion and analysis ever can (at least until leavened with more experience, which I'm currently suffering a bit of a lack of).

But anyway, I think we should celebrate the fact that analysis has come so far and opened up so many avenues of exploration. I mean, I can remember the early days of RPGs, and what we knew then seems appallingly limited in scope from today's perspective! lol.
 

Pulling together a couple posts from different threads...

I've often heard people online who are defenders of 4e say that it should have been called "dnd tactics," or that the combat focus of the game made it the one most true to the wargaming roots of the hobby. Do you all agree with that?
No, not really. That is to say, you have a very comprehensive resolution system for combat (action) in 4e, which frees the players from dependency on the opinions and agenda of the GM in terms of deciding what does and doesn't work, etc. That system, being necessarily detailed (the grid and such is there for a reason) is inherently wargame like and naturally lends itself to a game with a developed sense of tactics. The tactics, IMHO, are not in and of themselves central to the core aspect of the game as a story game. You could replace them with a flavor of the SC rules, it would have an impact on the player's dependency on the GM (because SCs are much more subject to GM arbitration than combat) but in terms of being able to be story centered, that would still be equally possible. One might argue even more so.

OTOH, as played by many, 4e is largely a wargame with some RP attached, but those people mostly abandon the SC system entirely, don't bother with quests (probably only skimmed the DMG mostly) and declared things like players declaring what items they would like to be anathema. I'm not sure they are actually playing 4e, but rather using 4e rules to play something else, maybe a sort of idealized 3.x? I think 5e is largely aimed at this, and clearly its satisfactory to a lot of people. So, 4e as experienced may be more 'dnd tactics' than 4e as designed.
From your description, it seems the game is not about combat per se, but about putting emphasis on the encounter as a means of pacing a narrative and creating distinct scenes within that narrative. Skill challenges, whether well-implemented or not, similarly seem to be a way to take free play make it into a more structured scene. If this is the case, I have two questions:

1. what is the relationship of what happens inside of initiative order and what happens outside of initiative, especially as compared to, say, AD&D or basic? For example, if I'm thinking of creating a player driven sandbox in AD&D, a lot of the player agency takes place outside of initiative, sometimes using a subsystem designed or heavily modified by the DM (spell research, questing for a magic item, training, random shenanigans, gen exploration, etc). From that perspective, a game that places a focus on the encounter while also heavily defining what a character can do within the encounter seems to be not player-focused, and yet you are saying that it is. (note: I'm not saying one or the other is good for roleplaying, but trying to understand what exactly hinges on rolling initiative and being in vs out of an encounter).
My answer is probably discernible from my earlier comments, the structure of these systems, combat and skill challenge, puts the players much more in charge. In a combat I can see the terrain, and the geography of what is around me, and I can maneuver around in it in a detailed way. I can reason about it, too "that orc cannot get to me if I stand over beyond this difficult terrain here." In an AD&D combat none of that is apparent. This is pretty well realized from the example combat in the 1e DMG where position and tactical situation are fully abstract. The player in a 1e game HAS to rely on the GM to adjudicate what exactly is and isn't allowed, etc. In fact 1e's (and 2e's) rules are actually VERY ambiguous and more of a generalized toolkit for the GM to judge things by than a set of hard rules.

So, by having hard rules, the player knows what he can depend on. This is empowering. The same is true in a different sense for the SC system. That system governs how much a check is 'worth', its VALENCE. It is worth 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, 1/10, or 1/12 of total success! Consider the situation in 5e. You are 'sneaking into the castle'. So what is the 'worth' of a stealth check? In 4e I know this is a complexity 3 challenge and thus if I succeed in this stealth check, I have to succeed in 7 more checks to win. In 5e, there's no such guarantee whatsoever. The GM is free to impose as many more checks as he wishes between me and my goal, and the consequences of failures are likewise entirely their business. If I spend some resource on passing a check, I have a pretty good idea in 4e what I'm getting for my 'money'. This is empowering! Moreover there's a very interesting corollary here, which is it doesn't actually matter what the notional fictional 'riskiness' of the challenge is. 4e SCs always throw checks at the DCs appropriate to the character's level, there is NO discussion in 4e of SCs having a 'level' as combat encounters do! Now, I would posit that there is a thematic test there, in that 4e has a very clear set of definitions of what sort of character you are, a hero, a paragon, or an epic (yeah, that doesn't work does it?). So, the GM will control that aspect, describing a dangerous trek in the woods, or a dangerous trek in the deep underdark, or a dangerous trek through the 5th circle of Hell depending tier and maybe everyone's preferences. No matter, the actual mechanics are identical in each case, though the fiction will be different.
1a. To take a specific example, the Dragonlance modules are lambasted for being railroads because the attempt to create a paced, high fantasy epic clashes with the AD&D's focus on picaresque freeplay. Would these type of modules feel more natural in 4e, where each bit of narrative could be treated as an encounter/scene?

2. How does the encounter-as-scene dynamic of 4e compare with explicit storygames (let's say Dungeon World as a good fantasy comp)? It would seem that there might be some similarities, but dungeon world goes the other way and gets rid of initiative all together. Similarly, DW encourages us to "draw maps, leave blanks," as a way of keeping the story-now focus; would 4e work with this same advice?
I never paid the slightest attention to DL, so I am not sure what those modules are like. I would think that the ideal of how to design a module for 4e is to have a whole bunch of encounters, each of which provides some hooks and information which pertains to the others. These probably form a sort of graded set, so you will pass through at least some of the more peripheral ones early on, and then logically move on to others that are part of the ramp up, and finally there will be one of several possible finale. I mean, really, it COULD all inevitably lead to a single final capstone, but with the PCs having engaged in one of several, perhaps almost infinitely many, possible paths to getting there.

For example, the Shadowfell city setting, Gloomwrought, is quite amenable to this sort of thing. It has a rich set of situations, characters, plots, etc. which all form a kind of tapestry. There's definitely stuff going on, though its loosely enough described to be fairly mutable. Prince Roland runs the place, and if a campaign plays out there it is ALMOST inevitable that the PCs will eventually come into conflict with Roland. Its possible they could ally with him, though he will probably try to get rid of them because they're too powerful. So, you don't have to play out a final struggle with Roland, but you'll certainly play out the consequences of the whole power structure of Gloomwrought (or just leave and go somewhere else). It is more of a story now kind of module than many people would think, as it LOOKS like just a 'resource book'. I would say probably some other similar setting aids could work similarly. The Fallcrest location in DMG1 for instance is not so well realized, but it does have kind of a similar setup, you can ally with different factions, fight them all, etc. It just lacks an explicit kind of 'top dog' that is an obvious opponent. I think because the idea is you will just use it as a launch point vs it BEING a campaign arc.
 

S'mon

Legend
So, that being said, in terms of people who actually DO have an interest in RPGs beyond "I sometimes play a character in that friend of mine's D&D game" you will run full face smack dab into PbtA games crawling out of the woodwork! I think a solid half, maybe even 80% of what people are playing except D&D is some sort of PbtA or a game based on FitD or something very similar.

No, most people who aren't playing D&D, or a D&D derivative, are playing Call of Cthulu. :p
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
No, not really. That is to say, you have a very comprehensive resolution system for combat (action) in 4e, which frees the players from dependency on the opinions and agenda of the GM in terms of deciding what does and doesn't work, etc. That system, being necessarily detailed (the grid and such is there for a reason) is inherently wargame like and naturally lends itself to a game with a developed sense of tactics. The tactics, IMHO, are not in and of themselves central to the core aspect of the game as a story game. You could replace them with a flavor of the SC rules, it would have an impact on the player's dependency on the GM (because SCs are much more subject to GM arbitration than combat) but in terms of being able to be story centered, that would still be equally possible. One might argue even more so.

OTOH, as played by many, 4e is largely a wargame with some RP attached, but those people mostly abandon the SC system entirely, don't bother with quests (probably only skimmed the DMG mostly) and declared things like players declaring what items they would like to be anathema. I'm not sure they are actually playing 4e, but rather using 4e rules to play something else, maybe a sort of idealized 3.x? I think 5e is largely aimed at this, and clearly its satisfactory to a lot of people. So, 4e as experienced may be more 'dnd tactics' than 4e as designed.

My answer is probably discernible from my earlier comments, the structure of these systems, combat and skill challenge, puts the players much more in charge. In a combat I can see the terrain, and the geography of what is around me, and I can maneuver around in it in a detailed way. I can reason about it, too "that orc cannot get to me if I stand over beyond this difficult terrain here." In an AD&D combat none of that is apparent. This is pretty well realized from the example combat in the 1e DMG where position and tactical situation are fully abstract. The player in a 1e game HAS to rely on the GM to adjudicate what exactly is and isn't allowed, etc. In fact 1e's (and 2e's) rules are actually VERY ambiguous and more of a generalized toolkit for the GM to judge things by than a set of hard rules.

So, by having hard rules, the player knows what he can depend on. This is empowering. The same is true in a different sense for the SC system. That system governs how much a check is 'worth', its VALENCE. It is worth 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, 1/10, or 1/12 of total success! Consider the situation in 5e. You are 'sneaking into the castle'. So what is the 'worth' of a stealth check? In 4e I know this is a complexity 3 challenge and thus if I succeed in this stealth check, I have to succeed in 7 more checks to win. In 5e, there's no such guarantee whatsoever. The GM is free to impose as many more checks as he wishes between me and my goal, and the consequences of failures are likewise entirely their business. If I spend some resource on passing a check, I have a pretty good idea in 4e what I'm getting for my 'money'. This is empowering! Moreover there's a very interesting corollary here, which is it doesn't actually matter what the notional fictional 'riskiness' of the challenge is. 4e SCs always throw checks at the DCs appropriate to the character's level, there is NO discussion in 4e of SCs having a 'level' as combat encounters do! Now, I would posit that there is a thematic test there, in that 4e has a very clear set of definitions of what sort of character you are, a hero, a paragon, or an epic (yeah, that doesn't work does it?). So, the GM will control that aspect, describing a dangerous trek in the woods, or a dangerous trek in the deep underdark, or a dangerous trek through the 5th circle of Hell depending tier and maybe everyone's preferences. No matter, the actual mechanics are identical in each case, though the fiction will be different.

I never paid the slightest attention to DL, so I am not sure what those modules are like. I would think that the ideal of how to design a module for 4e is to have a whole bunch of encounters, each of which provides some hooks and information which pertains to the others. These probably form a sort of graded set, so you will pass through at least some of the more peripheral ones early on, and then logically move on to others that are part of the ramp up, and finally there will be one of several possible finale. I mean, really, it COULD all inevitably lead to a single final capstone, but with the PCs having engaged in one of several, perhaps almost infinitely many, possible paths to getting there.

For example, the Shadowfell city setting, Gloomwrought, is quite amenable to this sort of thing. It has a rich set of situations, characters, plots, etc. which all form a kind of tapestry. There's definitely stuff going on, though its loosely enough described to be fairly mutable. Prince Roland runs the place, and if a campaign plays out there it is ALMOST inevitable that the PCs will eventually come into conflict with Roland. Its possible they could ally with him, though he will probably try to get rid of them because they're too powerful. So, you don't have to play out a final struggle with Roland, but you'll certainly play out the consequences of the whole power structure of Gloomwrought (or just leave and go somewhere else). It is more of a story now kind of module than many people would think, as it LOOKS like just a 'resource book'. I would say probably some other similar setting aids could work similarly. The Fallcrest location in DMG1 for instance is not so well realized, but it does have kind of a similar setup, you can ally with different factions, fight them all, etc. It just lacks an explicit kind of 'top dog' that is an obvious opponent. I think because the idea is you will just use it as a launch point vs it BEING a campaign arc.
Monster Vault 2 sounds like a story now module.
 

No, most people who aren't playing D&D, or a D&D derivative, are playing Call of Cthulu. :p
Meh, not these days. The genre is popular, as ever, but there are actually quite a few good offerings. CoC is a bit like D&D in that space, but IME it is no longer the dominant game. It is just too ill-matched to the genre to be perfectly frank. While CoC has great production values and whatnot, the core system it is built on actually bites lava chunks in heck for that type of game. I don't even consider it playable, and I was enthusiastic enough about the game in the 1980's that I own a decent amount of CoC stuff. I would use it as background material nowadays, but for actual play purposes the SoC and FATE derived games that are out there are VASTLY better fits. Trail of Cthulhu is really rather brilliant and produces great Mythos stories, and that is an old game at this point.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
CoC is a bit like D&D in that space, but IME it is no longer the dominant game.
I'm either confused by what you mean by "like D&D in that space" if it is "no longer the dominant game"? Or are you not taking dominant to be 'far and away the most played'? (Is it no longer the most played of that type?)
 

Having run DW for a few years now, I would say absolutely yes, you can run a 4e game that way. In some ways it will be more effort, because 4e is intentionally more mechanically-heavy and thus has more moving parts to consider. But in other ways it will be less effort, as you can "offload" most of the math concerns to the system, because the system works very well. It's far from perfect, to be sure, but it really does succeed far more often than it breaks down.

I mean, for example, Dungeon World expects you to do some prep work--one of your moves is "exploit your prep," after all--and that includes things like monsters you expect the party to run into, traps they may need to navigate, and people or situations that may complicate matters and require solutions. That's what 4e is doing with its "scenes"/encounters: preparing reliably functional combat encounters, environmental hazards, and other complications (social, magical, physical, whatever).

But those scenes don't exist in a vacuum, and they will usually not be jammed right up against one another with nothing between. (Sometimes they will, e.g. a "chase the bad guys across the city" Skill Challenge followed by a "fight against the bad guys" combat, but more often they won't.) The threads connecting between "set piece" content are for improvisation and extemporaneous play. It's sort of like a higher-level-abstraction version of DW's "start and end with the fiction" concept. The "improvisational" parts of 4e are where you start and end, but sometimes those improvisational parts trigger the "scenes" that 4e has rules for, just as DW has "the fiction" that sometimes triggers the "moves" that DW has rules for. Whenever you aren't in the "scenes," you return to the improvisation--and, yes, sometimes the improvisation will mean you have to edit, rework, or completely delete a scene you had prepared for, just as sometimes the fiction in DW will mean modifying or negating prep you've done.

As an example of this for DW: in the game I run, the players once completely outsmarted me, and turned what should've been a fairly epic fight into a sad-trombone non-event. They exploited an interaction I had failed to consider. I let them have it, even though I felt that was disappointing, out of respect for their cleverness. They still sometimes mention that fight, so I think I made the right call. As a 4e DM, you may be forced to do the same thing, reworking or even jettisoning a "scene" you prepared because it no longer makes sense. That's okay. The tools are meant to be sufficiently powerful, reliable, and quick (especially with the software tools) that you can adjust, remove, or replace as needed--and, as I mentioned above, overcoming a combat encounter without actually fighting explicitly gives the same XP as the fight itself would, so the players lose nothing for their cleverness, pacifism, or whatever else.
Right, so in my playing of 4e I got to the point where all the 'scenes' are built pretty much on the fly from the 'toolkit' which is what prep is for (or something like Gloomwrought, though you will still do some 'find a good map for that' prep). When the PCs are just 'in between' there's a pretty loose format. 4e allows checks, but I learned to elide them entirely unless a scene was active.
So my own hack homebrew RPG just doesn't HAVE a rule for a 'check' unless it is part of a challenge, or you're in 'action', which is basically combat. Outside of that you are in 'interlude' and it has a framework, but there's nothing 'at stake' by definition during that mode of play. If something is wagered and there is hazard, etc. then a challenge will exist, and the GM (me) will frame that scene. If it is an action scene, then it will have a map, presumably from my toolkit or maybe just library of past maps.
So, I've basically taken the 4e model and got rid of any cruft that was left from 'traditional D&D' and what is left is the final refined form of this design, at least to the extent that I can make such a thing. Lately I've also worked in the technique in a more formal sense where each action that a PC takes will be described in terms of both intent and act, what did you try to do, and how did you try to do it? Then some back and forth happens, so the player, or even another player, could propose something which changes the situation. In the end some aspect will govern the resulting check, stealthy, athletic, diplomatic, etc. or possibly in a few cases it might be "you can use your lockpicks here, which you're proficient with" and that will basically be the same thing. You could implement this sort of play with 5e too, at least outside of combat.

Now with HoML2 you actually describe your defense NARRATIVELY when someone attacks you, and the same kind of check negotiation happens, but you can use powers. So you can actually say "Oh, he fires an arrow at me, I slice it out of the air." and that is simply handled as how defense works. You could also just say "I dodge it" and that works too, but you might be better at one than the other.
 

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