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D&D 4E Ron Edwards on D&D 4e

It was literally the single most boring edition to actually play. Every fight was nearly identical. The only variables were the dice, the size of the room, and whatever (if any) random elements were involved, such as a trap, terrain, or skill challenge. The PCs would find strategies and synergies that work and spam them until the fight was over or the required resources ran out. They'd then move on to the next strategy and synergy...until the required resources ran out or the fight was over...then they'd switch to the next strategy and synergy until the required resources ran out or the fight was over. The fights were almost all exactly the same for what...6 years. I had to design a homebrew freeform power system just to get the players to stop using the exact same powers, in the exact same sequence combat after combat after combat.
Yeah, it is painful to imagine that people played such an open-ended game which provided such strong cues for action-adventure in such a limited and 'pedestrian' way. While I don't feel like emulating Ron Edwards, it almost makes me sympathize with some of the statements that he was being lambasted for early in this thread... ouch!

The encounters that we played were, aside from a small fraction of 'duds' where somehow everyone failed all their checks or something and just grappled together in a pile, super dynamic. I can give an example of each type:

One early encounter took place in my first campaign, around level 5 IIRC. The PCs were traversing an area which had fallen into being an almost uninhabited waste, but there was an area of bogs along an ancient roadway, which they naturally followed. As they moved along it, a group of lizardfolk jumped the party. I don't recall exactly, but I think there was a bit of back and forth and then a fight broke out. I don't recall which exactly statblocks I used except one was a Greenscale Marsh Mystic (level 6 controller) which instantly cast "Swamp's Grasp" smack dab on the party before anyone got a move. This is an area burst 2 which has a side effect of making the whole area a zone of swamp terrain (difficult terrain, swamp walk negates). This instantly turned basically the whole battle into a slog in a swamp, lol. The PCs spent the ENTIRE rest of the encounter moving at speed 2 or 3, unable to shift, etc. It was a bit of a slog. I blame this mostly on my failing to include anything dynamic in the encounter. I thought since it was in the open, and the PCs could move around, it would be fine. bleh. Still, it WAS fun, as a change, and the party was taught a lesson about being able to make ranged attacks!

The OPPOSITE, an ideal encounter, was a capstone boss fight in a later campaign where the PCs were, again I think somewhere in low heroic tier, and they took on a Young White Dragon reskinned as a giant wolf spirit, and its hench creatures which were Jackalweres. The 'chief' (reskinned dragon) went to the lumber mill to kill his 'unfaithful girlfriend' (some NPC woman that this creature thought was his lost love from 1000 years ago, etc. stock storyline stuff, we aren't going for innovation in that area here). So he ties her to the saw table and gets ready to cut her from the script when what happens?!!! The PCs ride in on the log flume! SMASH! they break up the party and a vicious fight ensues with the saw running and the girl slowly being drawn towards her doom, except when the PCs are able to divert the bad guy from his work. There are some platforms, a log hung from the block and tackle that can be pushed all around the room, and a few henchjackals to make everyone's lives more fun. THAT is a 4e encounter. It should be something like most encounters!

I've had a collapsing mine shaft with mine cars on rails careening down tracks, one with the PCs in it, one with the bad guys, each trying to derail the other, etc, until finally the PCs switch the bad guys onto the track that dead ends at a giant chasm, and then they ride it out with the drift coming down right behind them.

There was the encounter that STARTED that collapse, which was a gallery with a bunch of pillars in it. One of the PCs activated the old mining golem and commanded it to 'smash', and it smashed all the pillars! Well, that did in a bunch of bad guys but it triggered the whole place to collapse! Hence the above mentioned cart ride.

I recall one where there were these shambling mounds roving around causing havoc and then one of the PCs did something or other that activated the lightning stones standing around the area. BWAAAAHHHAHAHAHA! That was kind of a gotcha, but it sure shook up the fight! I can't remember how the PCs won, but they all ended up climbing into the trees to get away from the turbocharged shamblers. I think the key was that the stones had some other functions, you just had to figure them out.

Another fight was the PCs strung out on a set of stairs built into the side of a vast well, but many of them were missing, so you had to climb/leap and the characters got a bit spread out, and then the Gnaw Demons started buzzing around, lol. That was fun! They were overjoyed that they got to chew on the wizard without any interference from the fighter...

You just never never ever want to say "here's a room with 5 orcs in it" or anything like that. 4e encounters have a story, a plot, and a stage, and if the stage wouldn't excite Steven Spielberg, then its poopoo. It is just that sort of game. The great part is, the PCs have all these hooks, classes, themes, feats, etc. that are loaded with keywords and color. So everyone has ideas of cool stuff they can do, or things they need to think about. I mean, @pemerton is more a master of "Oh, you want to sacrifice that treasure so you can blow up the bridge, OK..." sort of thing, but I've since built that kind of stuff into the rules of my own game (and I admit, 4e doesn't quite do that).
 

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I think a huge amount of work is done on the “4e is clearly a robust Story Now engine” front via the Dungeon/Dragon Mag front + the 2nd wave of books (which was only 9 months after release).

I guess if you had no experience with Dungeon/Dragon mag during that period (people played 4e without that support?) and no exposure to DMG2, Dark Sun, Neverwinter et al, then perhaps you missed some of this.

Im going to go through some of these articles/books and pull some of this out for this thread when I have some time.

But make no mistake, I’m not saying that 4e wasn’t clearly a robust Story Now engine from the word go (no one who has ever read my posts would think I’m of that opinion). Just that it became increasingly obvious as time wore on.
Yup, though I was in some discussions on the WotC boards in the early days of 4e which, in retrospect, tell me that there were certainly people within and outside of WotC who got it from day one. I always figured that the concept of story game D&D was simply so controversial, and maybe certain 'product level' people weren't really on board, that they simply understated a lot of things in DMG1 and let people draw their own conclusions.

I, personally, was too dense, lol. I read the books through and started a game and really wondered what the heck was supposed to happen. I was drawn to the very intentional design, without really just knowing what the intention was. I didn't do things in the 2000's like read RPG design forums. So really never heard any of the Forge or whatever discussions. I'd seen some of the early story games, but didn't instantly put it all together.

Even so, it was hard not to pretty quickly learn to play it that way. I mean SCs make NO SENSE in any other context, as apparently a lot of people soon discovered! By around the 5th encounter I ran I had figured out that things had to be highly dynamic and key on something one of the PCs was 'about', and then the technique of launching a quest from that each time was a kind of obvious one, though maybe a bit 2-dimensional (I let the players invent all of those pretty quickly). Then there was the fungibility of the 'treasure parcel' concept. You don't have to give away treasure like an old-timey dungeon crawl! One time a PC hit a monster with his axe and got a crit and really just splattered that bad guy and THE AXE BECAME MAGICAL. Another time a PC just made a magic item by describing how, and the whole making the item was the SC which the item was the treasure for. This evolved into the "boon driven advancement" principle of my own game, where you go up a level when you get the treasure! (the main treasure, not trivial stuff). The follow on option is you leverage an element of your PC to make the move that gets you the treasure, hehe.
 

* Is it possible to reconcile the maths of combat with the maths of skill checks? Does this require abandoning AC as a defence? (@AbdulAlhazred has done more work on this than anyone else I know; but that might be a reflection of the state of my knowledge.)
Well, I don't know the answer either, except that it would also be possible to eliminate NADs, lol. I mean, I think its possible to have both, in theory. My problem with the whole thing is that they're just different things. I mean, NADs seem like an 'active defense' to me, so my thinking was that I would eliminate AC (and implement DR based on how heavy your armor is). That worked! I did some simplifications, like Armor reduces ALL types of damage across the board, there's no "psychic damage" or whatever that it doesn't work against. My explanation for that (its just a rules simplification) is that a key component of hit points is morale, and thus being clad in metal armor is actually also a mental defense! (OK, its a bit of a reach, but whatever). So, then consequently I designed some rules that really treat "0 hit points" as potentially "You give up all hope and flee/surrender." This becomes one of the options that can be put in play by the GM or the players depending on the situation. Game design is like that, at least for me. I start at one place, and various ideas lead to others.

But to get back to reconcilliation, the other question is why do weapons have a +2/+3 proficiency bonus, and skills have +5? I slapped the +5 on everything, but I am not saying that was maybe wise... lol. Maybe proficiency is a bad idea to start with. I made your choice of weapon determine the attack stat, so that already leads to certain builds and stat distributions using certain weapons, etc. So who ACTUALLY needs proficiency?
* Are players able to initiate a skill challenge? Or is this solely in the domain of the GM?​
I wrote up a rule like this in my design notes once. It was actually a design for a system where the players and the GM would sort of create a 'front' interactively, with the players wagering stakes on what would be in it, and the GM either accepting them or upping the ante, and vice versa until one side decided they'd had enough and started the first scene. I never tried it, dunno if the idea has legs or not...
On that second point, but also kinda implicating the first, here is a quote from Edwards' campaign document:

Skill challenges bearing significant risk count as encounters . . .​
Anything with consequential risks counts: foes, environment, social situations, and more. If you avoid it, i.e., find a way not to engage, then it doesn't count, but skillful evasion does, i.e., converting a fight into a skill challenge. Formal skill challenges use different rules from combat, but an encounter can shift from one to another depending on what happens in it, e.g., fighting as a tactical component of getting past and away from a foe. . . .​
[Skill challenges] can be initiated through players' announcements rather than GM planning – in other words, have your characters do motivated and skillful things, especially big things, and you level up with less fights. . . .​
Well, in my game there are no 'free checks', so if you WANT to confront something and you are a player, then you basically are starting an SC. This can create some situations that might be challenging to GM... lol.
What you can't do is dodge "around" fictionally-legitimate fights via Skill Challenges – if and when an adversary decides you need to die, he or she or it will take action to make that happen.​

What's the difference between skilful evasion and dodging around?

And whereas, in 4e as in other forms of D&D, I shoot an arrow at it tends to invoke the combat mechanics by default, how does a player initiate a skill challenge?
As I said, no free checks exist, so once a player invokes the dice AT ALL, they have, definitionally entered a challenge! That was my solution, which is game-structural. 4e itself is not so easy to do this in, because it has a LOT of "and just make a check to see if you..." kind of material. I had to think this through to get rid of it, so my opinion is the GM can still avoid a challenge, which creates a sort of "yes, or roll the dice" by implication. I have never stated this principle in HoML, but it is a structural corollary of no free checks. I guess if you enforced this in 4e, you'd have basically the same thing, with a few rough edges.
 

Yeah, it is painful to imagine that people played such an open-ended game which provided such strong cues for action-adventure in such a limited and 'pedestrian' way. While I don't feel like emulating Ron Edwards, it almost makes me sympathize with some of the statements that he was being lambasted for early in this thread... ouch!
you mean the...brain damage quote?? 😬
 







I think a lot of 4e's value is in the way it integrates its cosmic conflicts into the broader game. I have not always used the Nentir Vale with 4e, but I always used the Dawn War.

The best game I ran doubled down on those things. I set it at the height of the Nerath Empire with Bane and Kord as basic stand ins for Romulus and Remus.
Yeah, so, in 1975 or so I scribbled a map onto some sort of big sheet of graph paper I got someplace and that became the 'world map'. Instead of wandering around from commercial D&D setting to other commercial D&D setting, I just plopped different areas onto this map to do different things with, and then kind of invented a few stories to make it all a bit coherent (IE there was an ancient empire, and then a not so ancient empire, and then a big crash, and over in this other area there was a magical catastrophe, etc.). The main conflict generator was something called the 'Elder Gods', which were described as 'elemental beings' (there's a fire guy, an ocean guy, and a nature god who defected to the other side). They claim to have created the 'Younger Gods', but that might be PR... Anyway, the Younger Gods are more like the 4e gods, pretty much just bog standard D&D gods, Gruumsh, Moradin, and Correlon even got in there as sponsors of their respective races, though the others I apparently made up (I forget, it was 40+ years ago).

The upshot being this was a LOT like 4e's layout! I even had a 'land of fairy' where the 'eldar' (high elves back in the day) lived,
and a 'land of death', which in that cosmology was the 'first world' which the Elder Gods built, but then smashed up when they decided to exterminate the Younger Gods. So, the current world is the SECOND world, and the first one is kind of shadowfell-like.

Kinda strange how different people can pretty much invent the same solutions, lol. I didn't really explicitly make an 'elemental chaos' I guess, never really thought too much about it, so I will give WotC credit for polishing the ideas more than I ever bothered to. I still use my god names, so instead of Pelor there is Lir, who is usually depicted as female (since the first person to run a cleric of Lir so decreed, lol).

Oh, and the primary time frame was 'after the big empire crashed' and the world is just a lot of little towns and castles with maybe a few barbarians claiming they run things, when they aren't getting their butts kicked by whatever remnants of orc hordes are still roving around... lol.
 

He’s an Evolutionary Biologist.

When Edwards says “it causes brain damage” it’s a euphemism for a hypothesis like “a peer contagion (or multiples with varying degrees of overlap) within the cultural layer of D&D exacerbates our evolutionary-based cognitive biases and reliance on bad heuristics.”

Which…if you’ve ever seen much of my commentary…well…
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
Yeah, so, in 1975 or so I scribbled a map onto some sort of big sheet of graph paper I got someplace and that became the 'world map'. Instead of wandering around from commercial D&D setting to other commercial D&D setting, I just plopped different areas onto this map to do different things with, and then kind of invented a few stories to make it all a bit coherent (IE there was an ancient empire, and then a not so ancient empire, and then a big crash, and over in this other area there was a magical catastrophe, etc.). The main conflict generator was something called the 'Elder Gods', which were described as 'elemental beings' (there's a fire guy, an ocean guy, and a nature god who defected to the other side). They claim to have created the 'Younger Gods', but that might be PR... Anyway, the Younger Gods are more like the 4e gods, pretty much just bog standard D&D gods, Gruumsh, Moradin, and Correlon even got in there as sponsors of their respective races, though the others I apparently made up (I forget, it was 40+ years ago).

The upshot being this was a LOT like 4e's layout! I even had a 'land of fairy' where the 'eldar' (high elves back in the day) lived, and a 'land of death', which in that cosmology was the 'first world' which the Elder Gods built, but then smashed up when they decided to exterminate the Younger Gods. So, the current world is the SECOND world, and the first one is kind of shadowfell-like.

Kinda strange how different people can pretty much invent the same solutions, lol. I didn't really explicitly make an 'elemental chaos' I guess, never really thought too much about it, so I will give WotC credit for polishing the ideas more than I ever bothered to. I still use my god names, so instead of Pelor there is Lir, who is usually depicted as female (since the first person to run a cleric of Lir so decreed, lol).
There is a blog that asserts PoLand/Nentir Vale is as Old School as one can get with a setting. During the article, he says something like, “this setting is already part of your cultural consciousness.”

Here is the post: 4th edition's implied setting is Old School as f*ck
 


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...
Right, but where it really bites you is say you want to use your acrobatics to dodge an attack. That COULD be a defense, literally, if the various bonuses were aligned. HoML2 literally works that way, you say "OK, I dodge that fireball" and you ROLL AN ATHLETICS CHECK as your defense. It all 'just works' because all the bonuses are built onto entirely the same scale. Also I only use up to +3 enhancement, so its not that critical if you do or do not have it, and having redone the math there's not a need for hacks like "inherent bonus" anyway (there's just level bonus, actually as things are currently tweaked it goes up a bit faster than in 4e). This is the sort of thing that COULD HAVE worked, heck, even things like the use of Athletics to escape a grab is all messed up in 4e, and only because of this sort of issue. I think the engine needed one more revision before it was ready to publish. Stuff "just works" in my game, weapons and implements are ONE THING too. Same basic reasons.
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
Gonna be brutally honest: anecdotes about how epic awesome your particular games were don't disprove the anecdotes the people whose games fell flat. Some games "click" for some groups, some games are a big miss. 4e was a miss for my group (I was a player and did not find it engaging). Had the GM been more familiar with GMing and the system as a whole, I have no doubt 4e would have been more fun. But it's still not a game I want to play. I lean hard into simpler systems with simpler mechanics, so even 5e is a bit much for my tastes.

As I alluded to earlier in the thread, I miss 3e and have very strong nostalgia for it. But I recognize that if I were to return to it, the game that I would run as GM would not resemble 3e much at all.
 

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?)
I don't know about the sheer volume of people playing, but CoC has not been a game which contributed anything new in the Cosmic Horror genre in a long time. While CoC's latest edition (which I experienced as a player briefly) does seem to be modestly cleaned up in a few respects compared to older editions, it still suffers from basically the same old "started out as RQ core rules, but missed a lot of the good stuff" as it has always had. I think it is not played so much anymore. I think it doesn't command any sort of mind share at all in terms of defining its genre nor what can be done in that genre.

And there's a huge way in which it never was like D&D, that is it borrows its genre, so you can produce entirely different games which are TRULY Mythos games. You can certainly do like Dungeon World and steal some tropes from D&D, but D&D is its own unique thing unto itself, and always will be. Actually I think THAT explains D&D's survival and prominence more than anything else, it is an IP all its own, effectively. CoC is not. Maybe at one time it came close and maybe it could have been, but the system was just too weak.
 


There is a blog that asserts PoLand/Nentir Vale is as Old School as one can get with a setting. During the article, he says something like, “this setting is already part of your cultural consciousness.”

Here is the post: 4th edition's implied setting is Old School as f*ck
Interesting, though when I think of the early settings I think more of huge sprawling things with 1000's and 1000's of locations and super elaborate encounter tables and whatnot (Wilderlands of High Fantasy, City State of the Invincible Overlord). I mean, those two products together are like a dungeon map and key on a huge scale, and the hexcrawl rules are just subbing in for the dungeon exploration rules. lol.
 


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