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D&D 4E Ron Edwards on D&D 4e

S'mon

Legend
Also, whereas the combat encounter section is excellent from a mechanical point of view, and - contrary to widespread opinion - I think the skill challenge section is not bad, the section on adventure design is awful.

In the combat encounter section there is no discussion of theme or story from the metagame perspective. All that is found in the W&M prequel. The only bit of the DMG that really compares to this in tone is the section on languages. I think a lot of that W&M stuff could have been dropped into the DMG whole-cloth and made it quite a bit better.

Agree 100% - it's insane that W&M has so much vital thematic stuff that got cut from the 4e DMG. I remember comparing the Planes section from the DMG to the same in W&M and going WTF?!?! - W&M had far more & better info!!
 

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S'mon

Legend
Re 4e Skill numbers vs Combat numbers. The former go up roughly 3/4 by level, the latter roughly 1/1 by level. This is some really painful math to try to fix! I'm not sure how big a problem it really is though. The difference is small enough, and skill numbers start 2-3 points higher, that the difference is only really visible in upper Epic Tier. And even there I found that 42 makes a good capstone target number for both monster AC & NADs (it's the standard AC & NAD of a Level 30 Brute) and for Skill DCs. A level 30 PC without too many temporary buffs is probably attacking at ca +36 to hit, and their higher skill bonuses something like 10+(30x.75=)22 = 32. (edit for a math mistake - I forgot that the 3/4 includes ASIs etc).

So skill bonus starts off around 3 ahead of attack bonus at level 1, and ends around 4 behind attack bonus at level 30.
 
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You know, as I am remembering it, the comparison he makes to Greyhawk is more along the lines of the piecemeal way both settings were published. Bits here and bits there in various books and magazines. Contradictory themes and elements. That sort of thing, rather than the underlying story worlds of each setting.
Well, as I remember it, Greyhawk was hinted at in various ways, but GARY didn't reveal squat about it, until the first WoG product was released. Sure, in some circles I'm sure there was a lot of passed-on info, as a lot of people played in Gary's group, or with people that had knowledge of Greyhawk. Also it was at least partially derived from the C&C Society Great Kingdom campaign setting which they used for wargames (and which I presume was significantly formulated by Gary too). I don't recall Dragon articles about it pre-WoG either, except some previews maybe (I'm not going to dig out my Dragon collection to try to research that). There were a lot of articles AFTER it was published that fleshed out the pantheon and whatnot (Roger Moore IIRC wrote a lot of that stuff).

But IME WoG itself was sort of a bolt out of the blue in terms of Greyhawk was just a mythical origin campaign about which nothing was known except a few spell-caster's names that appeared on spells, and a few NPCs that had artifacts and such named for them. Maybe you could glean a bit here or there from modules that MIGHT be suggestive of the origin campaign. But in terms of its form, that was entirely something brand new to the world with Darcy's map. It also covered the entirety of the campaign world from day one. There was nothing really added later, we just got details filled in specifically for spots where some action happened.

PoLand OTOH really didn't exist, even after the publication of the core 3 books, etc. It only slowly took shape. All we had was the Nentir Vale, and some names, Nerath, Bael Turath, Arcosia, and the cosmological structure it fit into. We only finally even got a 'world' map years later when the board game was published. Amusingly the canon is not coherent in a lot of spots either. There are a couple of different versions of the fall of Nerath for instance.
 

Also, whereas the combat encounter section is excellent from a mechanical point of view, and - contrary to widespread opinion - I think the skill challenge section is not bad, the section on adventure design is awful.

In the combat encounter section there is no discussion of theme or story from the metagame perspective. All that is found in the W&M prequel. The only bit of the DMG that really compares to this in tone is the section on languages. I think a lot of that W&M stuff could have been dropped into the DMG whole-cloth and made it quite a bit better.
I don't think I'm alone in believing that DMG1, though actually a quite good book in many respects, was more a rough draft than a finished product. I think someone came to James and basically said, "Welp, you got 3 months to whip this thing into shape!" and they did the best they could. Some sections don't seem to be quite built on the same numbers as the rest, or they were hastily revised, the various sections of advice and explanation of process of play are somewhat incoherent and often seem to serve the agenda of a different game. Some of this might also be politics, some higher ups came back and rejected the more coherent text and mandated including more traditional 'dungeon stuff' or something. Some sections were simply written in great haste and needed a full rewrite, etc. The editing pass that happened at the end of that was technically solid, so it kind of hangs together and its reasonably well organized, but DMG2 is a much better book, overall. Had DMG1 been equally strong in its explanation of 4e as story game, then at least people might have understood how to play SCs and what the point of all that was.

What I never understood was how Mearls is both so versed in things like Forge discussions of story in game, and yet was so massively out of touch with 4e as a game. As an advocate for the game my feeling is he was totally the wrong person, he either didn't grasp, or thoroughly did not believe in, the game. Putting him in charge was a very bad idea. I don't know any of these guys, so I can't say which one would have actually been capable, organizationally, of filling that role but Heinsoo, Wyatt, almost any of them, would have had to have been better choices.
 

S'mon

Legend
What I never understood was how Mearls is both so versed in things like Forge discussions of story in game, and yet was so massively out of touch with 4e as a game. As an advocate for the game my feeling is he was totally the wrong person, he either didn't grasp, or thoroughly did not believe in, the game. Putting him in charge was a very bad idea. I don't know any of these guys, so I can't say which one would have actually been capable, organizationally, of filling that role but Heinsoo, Wyatt, almost any of them, would have had to have been better choices.

I'd guess Heinsoo, Wyatt seems more of a board game guy. And he's responsible for most of the worst lines in the previews ("D&D is not a game about traipsing through fairy rings and interacting with the little people") and the DMG - remember this The Guards at the Gate Quote ? :D

Edit: And the one time I inadvertently created a Meme The Guards at the Gate Quote
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
Sure. But the reverse is true too - that someone's game sucked doesn't show that mine did. And it also doesn't meant that I was doing the same thing as them but just don't get bored when they do.

When a group of posters - me, @Manbearcat, @AbdulAlhazred, @Campbell are some of them active in this thead, and back in the day there were others, and it seems Ron Edwards is from the same school - converge without colluding on the same understanding of 4e and how and why it works, that suggests that it's more than just wild idiosyncracy or arbitrary differences in taste that meant some of us got great games out of it.

I think Edwards's comparison to early Champions - not a game I ever played, but I have a bit of a sense of it - is a pretty interesting one.
4e is a very well-designed game for its purpose. I am actually envious of its functionality and wish its design competence had been translated to 5e; the relative sloppiness of 5e mechanics is something of an embarrassment for a game developed on the heels of 4e with a considerable playtest period. I recognize that 4e's design isn't for my tastes despite the overall technical skill displayed in the game (toward the end of its lifespan vs. the beginning, at the very least, and disregarding skill challenges entirely).

My grievance with the related comment was not to disregard your experiences with the system, only to remark that most RPG experiences depend on the players and GM, regardless of system quality. A solid system can provide foundational support, but inter-group variance is high. Always there are these D&D (and other tradgame) players who claim they've played whole sessions without rolling dice. That's nice and all, but it doesn't change that the game itself is largely a combat engine with some notes about roleplaying tacked on--which I feel very strongly pertains to 4e and, to a (marginally lesser) degree, all iterations of D&D.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
PoLand OTOH really didn't exist, even after the publication of the core 3 books, etc. It only slowly took shape. All we had was the Nentir Vale, and some names, Nerath, Bael Turath, Arcosia, and the cosmological structure it fit into. We only finally even got a 'world' map years later when the board game was published. Amusingly the canon is not coherent in a lot of spots either. There are a couple of different versions of the fall of Nerath for instance.
The difference between not existing and only getting hints and bits... is not too big
 

cavalier973

Adventurer
The difference between not existing and only getting hints and bits... is not too big
Hints and bits were the only thing really needed, because, as the DMG stated, “It’s your world”.

A few ideas to get you started. That is all PoLand was supposed to be; it was all it needed to be. But those hints and bits are wholly awesome, in my point of view.

Addendum: Matt Colville has a video called “The sandbox versus the Railroad”. In it, he describes a DM laying out a map in front of his players. They start excitedly asking questions.

“What’s that place?”

“That’s an elven stronghold.”

“Ooh! What is this woods?”

“That’s a haunted forest. Who knows what’s in there.”

“Look at this! A dragon!”

“Oh, that place is famous. It used to be a dwarven citadel, but it got wiped out by that dragon.”

That is what Nentir Vale is like to me, when I look at the map, and read the descriptions in the DMG. It is a place with all sorts of potential adventure sites, scattered across the hills and plains and woodlands.
 
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I'd guess Heinsoo, Wyatt seems more of a board game guy. And he's responsible for most of the worst lines in the previews ("D&D is not a game about traipsing through fairy rings and interacting with the little people") and the DMG - remember this The Guards at the Gate Quote ? :D

Edit: And the one time I inadvertently created a Meme The Guards at the Gate Quote
I'm with @GSHamster on that one, I have not a single clue why anyone objects to that quote. Its really a comment about PACING and FOCUS. If the guards at the gate are something relevant to the players, if they are more than just "Of course there will be guards, its a gate!" then just blowing past them might not be so cool. Then again, for pacing reasons they STILL might be a minor issue that is resolved in one check of an SC, and that would be perfectly fine. If NOTHING AT ALL IS AT STAKE then interacting with the guards beyond noting that you passed through and they were there, would make no sense at all, particularly in a scene-based game. This is, again, why HoML no longer has 'stand-alone checks' and anything without stakes in diceless interlude explicitly. James is welcome at my table any day of the week! :)
 

Hints and bits were the only thing really needed, because, as the DMG stated, “It’s your world”.

A few ideas to get you started. That is all PoLand was supposed to be; it was all it needed to be. But those hints and bits are wholly awesome, in my point of view.

Addendum: Matt Colville has a video called “The sandbox versus the Railroad”. In it, he describes a DM laying out a map in front of his players. They start excitedly asking questions.

“What’s that place?”

“That’s an elven stronghold.”

“Ooh! What is this woods?”

“That’s a haunted forest. Who knows what’s in there.”

“Look at this! A dragon!”

“Oh, that place is famous. It used to be a dwarven citadel, but it got wiped out by that dragon.”

That is what Nentir Vale is like to me, when I look at the map, and read the descriptions in the DMG. It is a place with all sorts of potential adventure sites, scattered across the hills and plains and woodlands.
Right, it was definitely aimed at that, though it did grow a bit in the sense of extending to a whole world by the end. WotC didn't spend a lot of energy on that though, they gave details, but few overviews. In that sense WoG is very different, as it primarily existed in its early days as a map and a pretty thin book. The map covers an area larger than Western Europe, and each nation gets a paragraph, maybe three. It is definitely a 'fill in the blanks' kind of place, but not so much of a local region where you'd likely go off the map.
 

pemerton

Legend
4e is a very well-designed game for its purpose. I am actually envious of its functionality and wish its design competence had been translated to 5e; the relative sloppiness of 5e mechanics is something of an embarrassment for a game developed on the heels of 4e with a considerable playtest period. I recognize that 4e's design isn't for my tastes despite the overall technical skill displayed in the game (toward the end of its lifespan vs. the beginning, at the very least, and disregarding skill challenges entirely).

My grievance with the related comment was not to disregard your experiences with the system, only to remark that most RPG experiences depend on the players and GM, regardless of system quality. A solid system can provide foundational support, but inter-group variance is high. Always there are these D&D (and other tradgame) players who claim they've played whole sessions without rolling dice. That's nice and all, but it doesn't change that the game itself is largely a combat engine with some notes about roleplaying tacked on--which I feel very strongly pertains to 4e and, to a (marginally lesser) degree, all iterations of D&D.
I think you need the first bit I've bolded to get to the second bit I've bolded.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I think you need the first bit I've bolded to get to the second bit I've bolded.
Even if one didnt explicitly use the skill challenge mechanics reading the guidance surrounding them is also soundly pointing out what the game is about (Skill challenges are mentioned a large number of times in the DMGs especially I think DMG2).

Skill challenges at their base provided a mechanic foundation for adventuring that may never have to involve combat if you wanted and established expectations associated with skill use (and should be considered whether you used the structure or not). Arcana skill is even used to alter rituals making the open ended even more flexible.

For instance reading the skill challenge rules and flanking elements of the guidelines, very much shows how important and big skills are meant to be in 4e they are very much as big as class utilities/spells/rituals. That was demonstrated other places too with the empowered effects in skills off the bat (acrobatics that reduces falling damage for instance) and further with skill powers directly swappable with utility powers.

Further 4e started out with quite a few rituals and by the end the number is positively huge not to mention Martial Practices another element focused on "not combat".

The omg "its all combat" must have not read the DMGs at all (and probably ignored rituals too.)
 
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pemerton

Legend
I suspect you could take the advice from Dungeon World, use that as your 4e GM advice, and it'd work better than anything WoTC ever put out. And I've not even read DW...
I used advice from Malestrom Storytelling, HeroWars and HeroQuest revised (both Robin Laws), Burning Wheel (including the Adventure Burner) as well as the DMG and DMG2.

the one time I inadvertently created a Meme The Guards at the Gate Quote
I just did a quick re-read of that thread. It plays out more-or-less as one might expect.

I'm a bit surprised that no one pointed out that Wyatt refers to an encounter with two guards, whereas your picture is of one guard, and having just reviewed my own copy of City of Thieves I've confirmed that the encounter there is either with one guard, three guards. Hence it hardly refutes Wyatt.
 

pemerton

Legend
Further 4e started out with quite a few rituals and by the end the number is positively huge not to mention Martial Practices another element focused on "not combat".
@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).
Martial Practices were never a thing in our game. I guess they were introduced a bit too late and maybe seemed a bit to fiddly/granular and a bit unnecessary given skill challenges. But I know you (Garthanos) are into them.

But rituals were a big part of our game. And also using Arcana to manipulate magical phenomena, and using Religion to invoke the gods. And as AbdulAlhazred notes, sacrificing magical items in order to buff skill checks or otherwise open up possibilities that weren't part of the rules.

Here's an example:
Their planning was "Dunkirk and then Normandy" - the paladin fell back through the Arcane Gate, so the whole party was on the safe side of the river, and the fighter was brought back to consciousness. But the player of the invoker was worried about the salamander archers - he and the sorcerer are limited to range 10 attacks, and he didn't think the PC ranger could handle a long-range archery duel against the two on his own. So he unilaterally reconfigure the "Normandy" part of the plan: he permanently expended his Ritual Candle in order to shift the location of his already-cast Arcane Gate to another point within range, namely on the "safe" rock on the far side of the lava pool, so that the PCs could go through and lock down the salamander archers in melee. (Success was adjudicated using an Arcana check; the fictional logic was that the character sucked all the power out of the candle in order to use his knowledge of the Linked Portal ritual to close and reopen his Arcane Gate.)
This is the sort of thing that becomes easy to adjudicate when you have a uniform system of player-side resources and a DC-by-level chart.
 

pemerton

Legend
He specifically compares PoLand to Greyhawk, but I don’t know a whole lot about the latter.

I took his argument as being that PoLand fit the idea of Law versus Chaos; civilization versus wilderness; order versus entropy.
I think the comparison to GH publication history is a bit off-base, for the same reasons @AbdulAlhazred has posted. But I agree with the blogger that it is a fully D&D-themed DIY setting framework.

PoLand OTOH really didn't exist, even after the publication of the core 3 books, etc. It only slowly took shape. All we had was the Nentir Vale, and some names, Nerath, Bael Turath, Arcosia, and the cosmological structure it fit into. We only finally even got a 'world' map years later when the board game was published. Amusingly the canon is not coherent in a lot of spots either. There are a couple of different versions of the fall of Nerath for instance.
There are also different histories of the betrayal/fall of Asmodeus; different timelines for when the Giants enslaved the Dwarves; and I'm sure other stuff too. This is great - it reinforces that Old School as F*** feel! And it supports no myth/story now adjudication.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Hints and bits were the only thing really needed, because, as the DMG stated, “It’s your world”.

A few ideas to get you started. That is all PoLand was supposed to be; it was all it needed to be. But those hints and bits are wholly awesome, in my point of view.

Addendum: Matt Colville has a video called “The sandbox versus the Railroad”. In it, he describes a DM laying out a map in front of his players. They start excitedly asking questions.

“What’s that place?”

“That’s an elven stronghold.”

“Ooh! What is this woods?”

“That’s a haunted forest. Who knows what’s in there.”

“Look at this! A dragon!”

“Oh, that place is famous. It used to be a dwarven citadel, but it got wiped out by that dragon.”

That is what Nentir Vale is like to me, when I look at the map, and read the descriptions in the DMG. It is a place with all sorts of potential adventure sites, scattered across the hills and plains and woodlands.
And this is how I use the Nentir Vale. This is also why I often think that the Nentir Vale should be published in "sketched form" rather than fully fleshed out in the manner of Forgotten Realms. Let the table truly individualize the details of the setting. The themes and motifs of the setting's World Axis / Dawn War framework is robust enough to handle it.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Martial Practices were never a thing in our game. I guess they were introduced a bit too late and maybe seemed a bit to fiddly/granular and a bit unnecessary given skill challenges. But I know you (Garthanos) are into them.

But rituals were a big part of our game. And also using Arcana to manipulate magical phenomena, and using Religion to invoke the gods. And as AbdulAlhazred notes, sacrificing magical items in order to buff skill checks or otherwise open up possibilities that weren't part of the rules.
Sacrificing a magic item eh?
The DMG2 basically put an auto success on a significant skill check at 1/10 the cost of level appropriate magic item or 1 healing surge or 1 appropriate ritual. The latter however are cheaper and involve more specific premeditated strategic cost of learning the ritual and prep of ingredients (see also residuum to undermine that element). Martial practices were perhaps kind of too expensive effectively.(needed scaling which a skill check could do if the skill check works no healing surge cost) and you could do the same with spells if the skill check worked no ritual cost. But for the concept to really work at all tables we might have to have skill checks better under control (they are just potentially too optimizeable)

So sacrificing the right level appropriate item could be on the order of win this challenge in 4e.

Now if you are using inherent bonuses? I think the value of a magic item might be distinctly lower.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
It occured to me that elements like Epic Destinies and Paragon Paths in 4e are most cool because of the story elements in general it isn't necessarily the mechanics I like about many ED though a few do an interesting job at branching reality and in some ways tearing the lid off ... Thief of Destiny. It is the ability to let players by choices invest in how the story line goes and what they experience. This is also an element of players having wish lists for their characters a communication tool to the DM. So of course 5e doesn't have any of that.
 

Even if one didnt explicitly use the skill challenge mechanics reading the guidance surrounding them is also soundly pointing out what the game is about (Skill challenges are mentioned a large number of times in the DMGs especially I think DMG2).

Skill challenges at their base provided a mechanic foundation for adventuring that may never have to involve combat if you wanted and established expectations associated with skill use (and should be considered whether you used the structure or not). Arcana skill is even used to alter rituals making the open ended even more flexible.

For instance reading the skill challenge rules and flanking elements of the guidelines, very much shows how important and big skills are meant to be in 4e they are very much as big as class utilities/spells/rituals. That was demonstrated other places too with the empowered effects in skills off the bat (acrobatics that reduces falling damage for instance) and further with skill powers directly swappable with utility powers.

Further 4e started out with quite a few rituals and by the end the number is positively huge not to mention Martial Practices another element focused on "not combat".

The omg "its all combat" must have not read the DMGs at all (and probably ignored rituals too.)
Here's an illustration of the kind of flexibility that is inherent in 4e's overall system.

The PCs were exploring an ancient lost dwarven city, and they ran into a big problem. All the various ducts and whatnot that ran around the place were infested with Jermlaine! In case you don't know, these are nasty little 1 foot tall humanoids, kind of 'mini kobolds' you could say, stealing and ambushing and then running away. So the party was never safe, and it was a big problem, they couldn't rest, would suddenly get tripped or their gear would be damaged, etc. even in the midst of a fight!

So, the wizard had Stinking Cloud, a daily power, but it is obviously not possible to cast it down into a bunch of ducts and whatnot where you can't really see, etc. It needs LoS and has a pretty limited range. So, her solution was to INVENT A RITUAL, as a skill challenge, and use it to create a 'Fumigation Ritual' that would pour poison gas down into these areas and drive out/kill the Jermlaine. This had to be repeated now and then, and required some checks and resources to cast, but it added a useful tool to her repertoire. Later she was able to trade this knowledge to some other people and thus it also became basically a treasure parcel.

I mean, yes, you COULD play this sort of thing out in a similar way in other editions. I'm not sure how that would be framed in 5e, I haven't really read all the magic item and spell research rules and whatnot. In 1e it would never have been possible as-written without some long and arduous task of great expense and entirely uncertain GM determined results. 2e seems even MORE bound and determined to make this stuff hard, advising that any such course of action must require strange and virtually impossible to obtain ingredients, etc. It might work in 3e, but who knows how easy or difficult the GM would make it? In 4e it was pretty clearly delineated, and my logic was it was a complexity 3 challenge, since in terms of absolute threat the Jermlaine were fairly weak monsters. It might have warranted more, but then narratively the scope of action for the challenge is kind of limited, its just magical research and such, and some improvising. So, the GM is going to have a place in deciding likelihood of success, but it is set up right up front at the start, and amenable to negotiation. Since the PCs didn't want to go back to town, some of the checks were hard for instance whereas in town they could have spent gold to access some books instead.

It is a really excellent system for this kind of stuff and this was the first D&D where I really saw much of it happening.
 

Sacrificing a magic item eh?
The DMG2 basically put an auto success on a significant skill check at 1/10 the cost of level appropriate magic item or 1 healing surge or 1 appropriate ritual. The latter however are cheaper and involve more specific premeditated strategic cost of learning the ritual and prep of ingredients (see also residuum to undermine that element). Martial practices were perhaps kind of too expensive effectively.(needed scaling which a skill check could do if the skill check works no healing surge cost) and you could do the same with spells if the skill check worked no ritual cost. But for the concept to really work at all tables we might have to have skill checks better under control (they are just potentially too optimizeable)

So sacrificing the right level appropriate item could be on the order of win this challenge in 4e.

Now if you are using inherent bonuses? I think the value of a magic item might be distinctly lower.
Right, so IMHO practices should be a bit scalable, and maybe that includes "pay more, get more" and I have linked them in my design to consumables, so a consumable is just a 'condensed practice/ritual' in effect (4e already has that with scrolls, I just assume that potions are similar, you can also consider them to be 'one time use boons').
 

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