log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 4E Ron Edwards on D&D 4e

pemerton

Legend
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?
I tend to associate those sorts of remarks with critics of 4e. I don't think of it as a wargame because I don't really think of it as trying to simulate outcomes which are knowable as correct or at least plausible via an independent standard (ie of military expertise).

My go-to example for this is the paladin at-will Valiant Strike, which gives a bonus to hit equal to the number of adjacent foes. This is completely different, in its system-to-fiction relationship, from (say) the rules for grenades in Classic Traveller. The purpose of the Traveller grenade rules is to produce outcomes, when a grenade is thrown, that are recognisably accurate or at least plausible based on actual knowledge of what happens when a grenade is thrown at a group of soldiers.

The purpose of the power Valiant Strike is to make it true, in the fiction, that the paladin is valiant. And how does it do this? By giving the paladin player a reason to be in there among the foes, fighting valiantly!

So I see it as very different from a wargame.

Now, if by wargame we don't mean a game that will model the outcomes of military engagements but just mean using the rules effectively to produce the outcome you want, then that's true of 4e but it's also true of Burning Wheel or even as light a game as Prince Valiant. When 4e is described as a wargame simply on this basis, the contrast I see is with games where the players can't impose their will on the fiction via their play: ie pretty standard 2nd-ed AD&D or AP-ish railroading. And I certainly do agree that 4e contrasts with that. But so does Burning Wheel or Prince Valiant. But not by being wargames in any stricter sense.

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.
I would agree with this. But I do think combat has a privileged place in 4e D&D. More of the game system is devoted to it; it looms large on a PC sheet; both the mechanics and the default fiction of the game posit violent confrontation as the ultimate crucible. In this way it resembles 4-colour super hero comics. But that doesn't mean it is about combat. The climax of the typical Hulk story involves Hulk smashing while railing against puny Banner - but the stories are about the conflict of ego (Thunderbolt Ross), id (The Hulk) and superego (Banner) with Doc Samson as the therapist trying to manage the relationships between the three of them. When the X-Men fight Magneto (at least in the better versions, eg issue 150 or the first film) the stories are about what approach to take in inclusion/liberation politics. The different sides just happen to express themselves by punching one another!

So I think 4e, at least at its best and referring to the default fiction, is about the cosmological struggles that form the backdrop to the game and recur and play out during the game: order vs chaos; civilisation vs the primal and the primordial; the gods vs the Abyss; the place of goodness within such a struggle; etc.

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).
The following quote from Ron Edwards on how to do scene-framing is (in my view) highly apposite to 4e, although Edwards gave it as advice on an actual play thread for a different RPG (I've quoted it many times on these boards, and I'm sure the first was in one of these sorts of discussions back in the 4e days!):

If, for example, we are playing a game in which I, alone, have full situational authority, and if everyone is confident that I will use that authority to get to stuff they want (for example, taking suggestions), then all is well. Or if we are playing a game in which we do "next person to the left frames each scene," and if that confidence is just as shared, around the table, that each of us will get to the stuff that others want (again, suggestions are accepted), then all is well.

It's not the distributed or not-distributed aspect of situational authority you're concerned with, it's your trust at the table, as a group, that your situations in the S[hard]I[maginary]S[pace] are worth anyone's time. Bluntly, you guys ought to work on that.​

This description of the "standard narrativistic model" by Eero Tuovinen is also relevant:
  1. One of the players is a gamemaster whose job it is to keep track of the backstory, frame scenes according to dramatic needs (that is, go where the action is) and provoke thematic moments (defined in narrativistic theory as moments of in-character action that carry weight as commentary on the game’s premise) by introducing complications.
  2. The rest of the players each have their own characters to play. They play their characters according to the advocacy role: the important part is that they naturally allow the character’s interests to come through based on what they imagine of the character’s nature and background. Then they let the other players know in certain terms what the character thinks and wants.
  3. The actual procedure of play is very simple: once the players have established concrete characters, situations and backstory in whatever manner a given game ascribes, the GM starts framing scenes for the player characters. Each scene is an interesting situation in relation to the premise of the setting or the character (or wherever the premise comes from, depends on the game). The GM describes a situation that provokes choices on the part of the character. The player is ready for this, as he knows his character and the character’s needs, so he makes choices on the part of the character. This in turn leads to consequences as determined by the game’s rules. Story is an outcome of the process as choices lead to consequences which lead to further choices, until all outstanding issues have been resolved and the story naturally reaches an end.
  4. The player’s task in these games is simple advocacy, which is not difficult once you have a firm character. (Chargen is a key consideration in these games, compare them to see how different approaches work.) The GM might have more difficulty, as he needs to be able to reference the backstory, determine complications to introduce into the game, and figure out consequences. Much of the rules systems in these games address these challenges, and in addition the GM might have methodical tools outside the rules, such as pre-prepared relationship maps (helps with backstory), bangs (helps with provoking thematic choice) and pure experience (helps with determining consequences).
The above is how Burning Wheel works, how Prince Valiant works, and how - at least for me - 4e D&D worked.

When one of the players in my game wanted to reforge the artefact Whelm (a warhammer) into Overwhelm (a honking great two-handed hammer called a mordenkrad) I framed it as a skill challenge:

Another thing that had been planned for some time, by the player of the dwarf fighter-cleric, was to have his dwarven smiths reforge Whelm - a dwarven thrower warhammer artefact (originally from White Plume Mountain) - into Overwhelm, the same thing but as a morenkrad (the character is a two-hander specialist). And with this break from adventure he finally had he chance.

Again I adjudicated it as a complexity 1 (4 before 3) skill challenge. The fighter-cleric had succeeded at Dungeoneering (the closest in 4e to an engineering skill) and Diplomacy (to keep his dwarven artificers at the forge as the temperature and magical energies rise to unprecedented heights). The wizard had succeeded at Arcana (to keep the magical forces in check). But the fighter-cleric failed his Religion check - he was praying to Moradin to help with the process, but it wasn't enough. So he shoved his hands into the forge and held down the hammer with brute strength! (Successful Endurance against a Hard DC.) His hands were burned and scarred, but the dwarven smiths were finally able to grab the hammer head with their tongs, and then beat and pull it into its new shape.

The wizard then healed the dwarf PC with a Remove Affliction (using Fundamental Ice as the material component), and over the course of a few weeks the burns healed. (Had the Endurance check failed, things would have played out much the same, but I'd decided that the character would feel the pang of the burns again whenever he picked up Overwhelm.)

In running this particular challenge, I was the one who called for the Dungeoneering and Diplomacy checks. It was the players who initiated the other checks. In particular, the player of the dwarf PC realised that while his character is not an artificer, he is the toughtest dwarf around. This is what led him to say "I want to stick my hands into the forge and grab Whelm. Can I make an Endurance check for that?" An unexpected manoeuvre!
There is also the need to apply "genre logic" in adjudicating players' declared actions (as per the brief discussion on DMG p 42 - Robin Laws's discussion in the HeroQuest revised rulebook is better). For example, a recent brief skill challenge I ran pertained to the reforging of a dwarven thrower artefact, Whelm, as a mordenkrad rather than a warhammer. At a certain point in the challenge, Whelm was thrumming with magical energy, and the dwarven artisans were having trouble physically taking hold of it with their toos. The player of the dwarven fighter-cleric overseeing the process asked if he could shove his hands into the furnace to hold the hammer steady long enough for the dwarven artisans to get a grip on it with their tongs. At heroic tier, I would have said "no". At mid-paragon tier, I happily said "yes" - and the Hard Endurance check was enough for the challenge to succeed, and Whelm to therefore be reforged as Overwhelm. (Had the player failed the check, I would have allowed the reforging to take place in any event, but was going to impose some sort of consequence for the PC on wielding Whelm, as the burns to his hands returned whenever he picked it up.)
4e uses a "treasure parcels per level" framework for the awarding of treasure and magic items, so there are no worries about deciding whether something like this has been made "too Monty Haul" or "too killer DM" - you just run the encounters as per the standard pacing rules (whether XP-per-encounter + XP-per-level; or the option of dropping the common term (ie XP) and just doing encounters-per-level) and keep track of the treasure awarded.

A different example: when the Raven Queen devotees went out into the woods about town looking for remnants of the Orcus cultists the PCs had defeated in town (a player-authored quest; this fits under Edwards' rubric of "taking suggestions") I framed them into the discovery of an Orcus temple. Which spun off into a long underdark saga.

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?
That is story before, not story now. 4e will (in my view) push against that at every turn, because the GM has to cabin the players' action declarations or negate the consequences of action resolution. This is potentially feasible in 5e D&D out-of-combat, because the core resolution process there is player declares action, GM tells them what to roll and/or what happens next. But a system where the resolution framework is very clear about how players are able to impact the fiction via their action declarations - which is typical of "story now" oriented systems - would not be a good fit.

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?
DW is not a scene-framed game; it is a PbtA if you do it, you do it game. I think I posted upthread on the contrast between those two approaches.

On 4e and "leaving blanks", here is an old post of mine:

I think I basically agree with you.

I posted upthread that, when 4e was released, I assumed that WotC had the market research to confirm Ron Edwards' specualtion that a well-supported RPG that departed from "simulationism-by-habit" could really take off.

It seems, however, that WotC were taking a bit of a punt, and that Edwards' speculation was wrong. (Although I think WotC didn't do as good a job as they might have in writing their rules texts - see below for more on this.)

My response to this - and it's just my intuition, it's not coming from any deep insight into either RPG business or RPG design - is twofold.

On "why not both" - I think it's actually a bit of a challenge to come up with action resolution mechanics that suit both "just in time" GMing of a situation-driven game, and that suit "world/story" GMing of the sort that a developed setting supports.

I'm not saying it's impossible - HeroWars, for example, is a game that tries to combine both approaches using Glorantha as the gameworld.

But just one example as to why it might be tricky - in a "world/story" game, the GM is likely to know the obstacles in advance, and to present them in some detail to the players, and the players will then be looking for action resolution mechanics that really let them enage with the detail of those challenges. And those action resolution mecanics have to produce results that put the players on the same page as the GM - otherwise the game won't run smoothly.

On the other hand, in a "just in time" game the GM is more likely to be adding details to a situation in response to ideas and interest expressed by the players as play is going on. So the action resolution mechanics have to be ones that encourage the players to produce those sorts of ideas, and that let them pursue their interests - otherwise the GM will be left with nothing to build on.

Skill challenges are, in my view, a good attempt at a mechanic for the second sort of play - and that is how the rules for skill challenges are presented in the DMG and PHB (I can provide quotes if desired). But skill challenges are a fairly poor mechanic for the first sort of play - they tend to produce the "exercise in dice rolling" experience, as the GM describes the situation to the players, and tells them their options, and the players roll the dice. And this is how the examples of skill challenges both in the DMG and in the WotC adventures have tended to be experienced (not by everyone, but I think at least by a majority of the posts I've read on these forums).

Second response: I think Ron Edwards is right when he says that authors of non-simulationsist RPGs mechanics are often afraid to explain, in plain language, how they intend their mechanics to be used. They fall back into the language of simulationist RPGs. And this makes the rulebooks for their games at least moderately incoherent. And in my view 4e has this problem. (Worlds and Monsters is an honourable exception, but its candidness about the way in which monsters and other game elements are intended, by the designers, to be used by a GM in running adventures is reflected in only one part of the core 4e rules that I can recall - namely, in the DMG's brief discussion of languages. EDIT TO THIS: of course the DMG makes it very clear how monsters are to be used in combat encounter design and resolution - but I'm talking about the use of game elements to create an FRPG experience - indeed, the fact that the DMG goes metagame only in relation to combat, but not in relation to GMing overall is part of the problem.)

When I look at the rules in a book like Hubris's Maelstrom Storytelling, or Robin Laws HeroQuest II - which are both sterling exceptions to Edwards' generalisation about non-simulationist game texts - and compare them to WotC's efforts, it makes me cry (well, not literally!). If only WotC had actually explained to readers of the rulebooks how the sort of game that the 4e mechanics support is played and GMed, maybe 4e would not have so easily fallen victim to the "dice rolling"/"minis game"/"WoW" critiques. Instead WotC left this as an exercise for the reader - and those who tried to play the game in the typical sort of way that 2nd ed AD&D or 3E was played had, I assume, a fairly mediocre experience, of rolling a few dice and making a few tactical decisions but not really experiencing the evocative power of gaming in a fantasy world.

But like I said upthread, and earlier in this post in response to BryonD, maybe the sort of game that 4e exemplifies is just not going to be popular in any event. In which case I fully agree with you that the problem for 4e's popularity is the setting issue, but precisely because this is (in my view) a symptom of deeper features of the mechanics which it turns out many RPGers seem not to want.
"Just in time" GMing is my formulation of "no myth" (and I may have picked it up from an earlier poster in the thread), which is a concept that DW borrows from but did not invent.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yes, there can be player-driven game that don't look like a story during play.

Classic dungeon-crawling along the lines advocated by Gygax in his PHB, or Moldvay in his Basic rules, would be examples. This is very close to wargaming, and would typically be "story after". The more the GM pushes the "hook" to the fore, such that the player are following the GM's lead rather than making their own choices about exploration, the more the game shifts to "story before". In the publishing history of D&D, I think that shift begins somewhere in the early-to-mid 80s and is fully entrenched by the 2nd ed AD&D era.
If "story before" is simply the DM having some idea of a situation in mind or even a module to work from, then "story before" was there from before the start of D&D proper. Wesley's Braunsteins and Arneson's Blackmoor game, for example. That seems like an incredibly terrible definition.
Hexcrawls are in principle similar to dungeon-crawling. I have my own doubts (influenced by a mix of experience and Luke Crane's analysis) about the extent to which they can be genuinely player-driven, because the scope of the fiction becomes so large so quickly thereby shifting the outcomes onto GM decision or random tables, but that's a separate matter.
Those two aren't connected. But then the definition of "story before" as presented is such that literally anything with any planning, i.e. anything that's not 100% pure in the moment improv from start to finish could be called "story before".
I don't know how much 4e experience you have.
I played it weekly to monthly for the entire active life of the edition.
Combat in 4e works on a conflict => rising action => climax => (typically, given the maths of the system, and assuming reasonably skilled play) PC victory. This is achieved by the asymmetry of PC and NPC/creature build: the latter have more hit points, and generally hit harder with their at-wills; which puts the PCs on the ropes; but effective play will allow the players to draw on their much greater depth of mechanical resources (including unlocking healing surges) and to deploy their encounter and/or daily powers effectively, which - if it all goes to plan - will yield a rally and a victory.
So is the entire argument about 4E being a story now game based on combat supposedly following that pattern? That's hyper-thin.

In my experience, 4E combat was a tedious, samey slog from start to finish. The PCs would nova and focus-fire targets until they were all gone. They would create whatever synergies they could between their powers and abilities and slowly whittle down the opposition. They would rest up, regain their encounter powers, heal up a bit...then go do exactly...exactly the same sequence of actions in the next combat. If that's how loosely you're applying the "story structure" no wonder it looks like 4E is a story now game. It only took a tortured use of story structure and a tortured example of 4E to get it there.
In my experience it's very reliable. and very engaging because the permutations of challenge and the details of resolution are different each time even if the player resources suites are relatively constant from combat to combat. (And of course the story significance/stakes of the fight change from combat to combat too; but in this post I'm focusing mostly on structure.)
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.
And this produces conflict => rising action => climax => resolution.
So you're defining story structure as "a conflict exists, things get tense, then resolve"? Literally every combat that isn't resolved in the first action would fit that criteria.
I remember reading a post, I guess over 10 years ago now, on rpg.net by Sergio Mascarenhas that criticised 4e D&D for being so convoluted (in terms of its use of levels, and rest cycles, and healing surges, and everything else) to achieve the same sort of pacing outcome as HeroQuest revised. But it does do it.
Not in my experience.
My reply to these is much the same. No, not all games give players the mechanical resources to proactively engage the fiction. For instance, if you give me a 2nd ed AD&D PC sheet and frame me into an urban intrigue game, I have few or no resources to proactively engage that fiction...
Except your ability scores. Strength (Str) measures a character’s muscle, endurance, and stamina. Intelligence (Int) represents a character’s memory, reasoning, and learning ability, including areas outside those measured by the written word. Wisdom (Wis) describes a composite of the character’s enlightenment, judgment, guile, willpower, common sense, and intuition. Dexterity (Dex) encompasses several physical attributes including hand-eye coordination, agility, reaction speed, reflexes, and balance. A character’s Constitution (Con) score encompasses his physique, fitness, health, and physical resistance to hardship, injury, and disease. The Charisma (Cha) score measures a character’s persuasiveness, personal magnetism, and ability to lead. Then there's your race. Your class. Your kit. The languages you speak. Your alignment. Weapon proficiencies. Non-weapon proficiencies. Secondary skills. Along with your money and gear. Sure...nothing. Ability checks are detailed on page 13 of the PHB (revised black cover). They're a core mechanic for AD&D2E.
unless I'm (say) a MU/thief with a good suite of illusion and charm-type spells.
Or a good imagination.
If I'm a fighter, or a blaster-type MU, or a heal-y/bless-y cleric, I can do very little except say what my PC does and wonder how the GM will adjudicate it.
That's literally how D&D works. The DM describes the scene, the players describe what they want to do, then the DM adjudicates it. I'm not sure what the complaint here is. You want mechanical widgets that stop the DM from DMing?
Archer rangers in 4e, in my view, have the same issue: they are really good at Twin Striking but don't bring much else to the table. Our archer-ranger player rebuilt his PC as a hybrid cleric as soon as the PHB 3 came out (I think around 6th level) - he called it "Operation Have My Character Do Something Other Than Twin Strike". By having the suite of leader and controller-type abilities that a hybrid cleric brings he was able to put his PC much more front and centre in taking charge of the fiction and doing interesting things with it.
That shows a distinct lack of imagination on that player's part. Characters have never been limited to what's on their character sheet. The sooner people realize that the better.
I'm not 100% sure what points you're making here.
Only that the conditions necessary for something to work a given way aren't sufficient that it will work that way. The groundwork may be there, but that doesn't mean it will be used that way.
I don't know of any scene-framed RPG that is not oriented towards "story now" play, and that doesn't at least aspire - via its framing principles and resolution system - to produce rising action => climax => resolution, with the whole thing meant to have some sort of thematic heft beyond just will we get the macgufffin?
Again, that's a rather...strained and basic definition of story structure.
Player-authored quests are put forward as the ideal in both the PHB and DMG. Magic item wishlists are put forward as the ideal in the DMG.
Not according to my PHB and DMG.

"Sometimes a quest is spelled out for you at the start of an adventure. The town mayor might implore you to find the goblin raiders’ lair, or the priest of Pelor might relate the history of the Adamantine Scepter, before sending you on your quest. Other times, you figure out your quests while adventuring. Once you assemble clues you find, they might turn into new quests.

You can also, with your DM’s approval, create a quest for your character" (PHB, p258).

And after a quick search, this is the sum total of what the DMG says on the topic:

"You should allow and even encourage players to come up with their own quests that are tied to their individual goals or specific circumstances in the adventure. Evaluate the proposed quest and assign it a level. Remember to say yes as often as possible!" (DMG, p103).

Not exactly a ringing endorsement much less "put forward as the ideal" as you're claiming. You're drastically overselling player-designed quests.

The only mention of a wish list in the Treasure chapter of the DMG is this:

"A great way to make sure you give players magic items they’ll be excited about is to ask them for wish lists. At the start of each level, have each player write down a list of three to five items that they are intrigued by that are no more than four levels above their own level. You can choose treasure from those lists" (DMG, p125).

Plus the rest of the paragraph detailing how to check things off the list. Not so much with the "put forward as the ideal" you're claiming. Again, drastically overselling this.

So both things you're claiming are "put forward as the ideal" actually are not any such thing. They're both options mentioned for the DM to use, should they so choose. Neither is painted as anything close to the "ideal".
As far as design is concerned, Rob Heinsoo in a pre-release interview talked about indie-game influence and in my view it is obvious in the design. I'm not going to say that I predicted every design nuance, but nothing in the final package surprised me given what was being said in the lead-up period: skill challenges are not just 3E-era "complex skill checks" but are rather closed scene resolution in the same sense as a HeroWars/Quest extended contest or Maelstrom Storytelling scene resolution; the combat framework doubles down on every bit of classic D&D fortunte-in-the-middle (hp, defences, etc) but also gives the players all these proactive capabilities that historically were the prerogative of a certain sort of spell caster; and the use of the encounter paradigm for durations, recovery, etc supports scene-framed play in a way that no prior edition of D&D had done. I don't think those features were coincidence.
Yeah, it certainly was great to have non-casters who got cool toys.
And as far as the stakes/thematic stuff is concerned, I know it's not coincidence because they explained it all in the preview Worlds & Monsters book, which in my view is very strong: it ought to have been largely reproduced in the DMG, probably replacing its pretty hopeless advice on adventure design and instead offering an excellent complement to the DMG's very strong technical advice (but no story/theme advice) on combat encounter design.
Another quick search of the Classes book yields the word "theme" mentioned a few times in relations to characters classes (surprise), but nothing else. Care to provide a page number to point me to the actual text you're using to support this claim?
 

Aldarc

Legend
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?
The whole "if it had been called dnd tactics" bit was something that didn't so much come from 4e's defenders but, rather, its critics and those who echoed the sentiment that 4e was somehow "not true D&D" or a lesser, baser form of it. But there may have been some 4e defenders who thought that calling it "dnd tactics" instead would have resulted in at least having 4e validated as anything more than the Red-Headed Stepchild. And though I can't be certain without context, I suspect some of the apologetics about 4e being true to the wargaming roots of the hobby may have been meant to address the special pleading regarding said criticisms of 4e as wargaming rather than roleplaying.

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?
Maybe, but some of the worst 4e adventures were railroads, while some of the better ones (e.g., Rich Baker's Reavers of Harkenwold) were non-linear and more like sandboxes. I suspect that Rich Baker's Lost Mines of Phandelver would also make for a good 4e adventure as well, but I can't be sure.

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.
Despite their differences, I think that what 4e and PbtA games do incredibly well is intentional design that both encourages and simulates trope play, particularly 4e classes and PbtA playbooks.

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?
It largely did: i.e., the Nentir Vale (aka the Points of Light) setting. This is how I generally run the Nentir Vale as it is a map that is essentially drawn with blanks for the GM to fill with encounters as needed.
 


Maybe, but some of the worst 4e adventures were railroads, while some of the better ones (e.g., Rich Baker's Reavers of Harkenwold) were non-linear and more like sandboxes. I suspect that Rich Baker's Lost Mines of Phandelver would also make for a good 4e adventure as well, but I can't be sure.
I think one of the (many) things which kneecapped 4E was the extremely low quality of the initial WotC offerings, and the lack of quality 3PP material at launch (which was entirely and directly WotC's fault and decision, note).

Even for people who hadn't been put off by other 4E missteps (jesus the early marketing is some of the most tone-deaf, boneheaded nonsense in all of gaming history - including videogames and board games, it's gotta be top 5 for "terrible marketing approaches", possibly #1), the fact that all the early adventures were, boring, incoherent, largely linear, ultra-high-fantasy hack-n-slash idiocy, stuff which was often just nonsensical in an entirely bad way, and which didn't even really conform to 4E's own design principles gave one the idea that this was how WotC saw 4E, and what it was "meant" to be. And that was tremendously off-putting. I think I got lucky in that whilst I bought the first three adventures, they were so bad that I diverted course to my own material at the end of the first one (having read through the others), and honestly if I hadn't done that, I don't think 4E would have lasted long with my group.

But yeah later on they did better, and there are some excellent ones in Dungeon magazine too (including one which is almost a prototype of Blades in the Dark in a sense - Blood Money by Logan Bonner).

It largely did: i.e., the Nentir Vale (aka the Points of Light) setting. This is how I generally run the Nentir Vale as it is a map that is essentially drawn with blanks for the GM to fill with encounters as needed.
Yup. PoL was really influential on the one new DM I know who was knew with 4E - my wife - she still reckons that was by far the best approach for a fantasy RPG setting, and I have to admit I largely agree, despite having enjoyed many heavily-developed settings.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think one of the (many) things which kneecapped 4E was the extremely low quality of the initial WotC offerings, and the lack of quality 3PP material at launch (which was entirely and directly WotC's fault and decision, note).

Even for people who hadn't been put off by other 4E missteps (jesus the early marketing is some of the most tone-deaf, boneheaded nonsense in all of gaming history - including videogames and board games, it's gotta be top 5 for "terrible marketing approaches", possibly #1), the fact that all the early adventures were, boring, incoherent, largely linear, ultra-high-fantasy hack-n-slash idiocy, stuff which was often just nonsensical in an entirely bad way, and which didn't even really conform to 4E's own design principles gave one the idea that this was how WotC saw 4E, and what it was "meant" to be. And that was tremendously off-putting. I think I got lucky in that whilst I bought the first three adventures, they were so bad that I diverted course to my own material at the end of the first one (having read through the others), and honestly if I hadn't done that, I don't think 4E would have lasted long with my group.

But yeah later on they did better, and there are some excellent ones in Dungeon magazine too (including one which is almost a prototype of Blades in the Dark in a sense - Blood Money by Logan Bonner).
Agreed. 4e's version of Keep on the Borderlands and the Chaos Scar was also one of the best reinventions of the classic module.

Yup. PoL was really influential on the one new DM I know who was knew with 4E - my wife - she still reckons that was by far the best approach for a fantasy RPG setting, and I have to admit I largely agree, despite having enjoyed many heavily-developed settings.
Your wife is wise beyond her years.
 



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.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I think one of the (many) things which kneecapped 4E was the extremely low quality of the initial WotC offerings, and the lack of quality 3PP material at launch (which was entirely and directly WotC's fault and decision, note).

Even for people who hadn't been put off by other 4E missteps (jesus the early marketing is some of the most tone-deaf, boneheaded nonsense in all of gaming history - including videogames and board games, it's gotta be top 5 for "terrible marketing approaches", possibly #1), the fact that all the early adventures were, boring, incoherent, largely linear, ultra-high-fantasy hack-n-slash idiocy, stuff which was often just nonsensical in an entirely bad way, and which didn't even really conform to 4E's own design principles gave one the idea that this was how WotC saw 4E, and what it was "meant" to be. And that was tremendously off-putting. I think I got lucky in that whilst I bought the first three adventures, they were so bad that I diverted course to my own material at the end of the first one (having read through the others), and honestly if I hadn't done that, I don't think 4E would have lasted long with my group.

But yeah later on they did better, and there are some excellent ones in Dungeon magazine too (including one which is almost a prototype of Blades in the Dark in a sense - Blood Money by Logan Bonner).


Yup. PoL was really influential on the one new DM I know who was knew with 4E - my wife - she still reckons that was by far the best approach for a fantasy RPG setting, and I have to admit I largely agree, despite having enjoyed many heavily-developed settings.
This is very true! All of my best experiences with 4e were totally unscripted, and all of my worst ones were from WotC modules.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Am I right in thinking that you're trained in the physical but not the social sciences?

Yes, but that probably doesn't mean what you think it means in this context.

Ideal type methodology - most famously articulated by Max Weber - is a pretty standard analytical tool. It rests very deeply on empirical grounding. (But not normally on counting.) If you want to see fine-grained analysis of the empirical details of play
- who said what when, motivated by what considerations and conforming to what principles - there is no going past Forge actual play threads.

Two words: sample size.

There is nothing in the world like a bunch of theoreticians talking about a small number of self-selected examples to completely miss what is actually going on in the rest of the world - in this case, how and why the unwashed hordes not in the theoretical conversation actually play these games.

Connecting your model to an individual case (especially one chosen for demonstration purposes in discussion) is not empiricism. Checking that your models actually fit what happens in the rest of the universe is empiricism.
 


I don't accept the implication of your position, namely, that there is no knowledge being generated in history, politics etc departments just because they're not counting things.
This would be my aforementioned problem with the way too many strident physical scientists view the humanities (and I say this as someone with training in the physical sciences and a desire to be a professional in that field). The genuine belief that the only truths which matter, and sometimes the only truths that exist at all, are those which result from measurement or counting.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't accept the implication of your position, namely, that there is no knowledge being generated in history, politics etc departments just because they're not counting things.

Politics... sorry, not going there on this site.

History? One does not "generate" knowledge of history. One discovers it. And failure to check reality in history gets you nonsense like "Europeans wanted spices to cover up the flavor of rotting meat".

Your repeated reference to "counting things" is emotionally loaded, dismissive, and specious. What you are calling "counting things," I am call, "checking the reality of things". This may or may not include counting. But when your theorizing interacts with how humans, broadly, act and think, it will include counting things, because humans have a lot of variability. Failure to do so gets you Freud and Jung, who, it turns out, didn't actually know a lot about how or why people thought of felt as they did.
 


Aldarc

Legend
History? One does not "generate" knowledge of history. One discovers it.
That seems more of a philsophic stance of semantics and epistemology rather than a true or meaningful insight. I'm not sure if the distinction is worth making though as this sort of semantic distinction you make could easily be applied to other fields where you or others may otherwise claim to "generate" knowledge. So what does this distinction contribute to this discussion? The bold below?

Your repeated reference to "counting things" is emotionally loaded, dismissive, and specious. What you are calling "counting things," I am call, "checking the reality of things". This may or may not include counting. But when your theorizing interacts with how humans, broadly, act and think, it will include counting things, because humans have a lot of variability. Failure to do so gets you Freud and Jung, who, it turns out, didn't actually know a lot about how or why people thought of felt as they did.
While I agree with your overall point, Umbran, the bold seems a bit of a pot and kettle situation in regards to how you and pemerton are interacting.

At this point, it looks like you two are having a pissing contest. I'm not sure if anyone cares who wins between you two, because at the end of the day, we all lose.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That seems more of a philsophic stance of semantics and epistemology rather than a true or meaningful insight.

I'm not the one who brought up history - for me, that was a possibly demonstrative aside, but not central to my thoughts about Edwards' work. I feel no particular need to get into deep arguments about History here.

I'm not sure if anyone cares who wins between you two, because at the end of the day, we all lose.

I am not trying to win anything. I have an opinion of Edwards' work. Pemerton doesn't seem to agree with or like it, and questions bits of it. I give support for my thoughts. That's all this is to me.
 


pemerton

Legend
Politics... sorry, not going there on this site.

History? One does not "generate" knowledge of history. One discovers it. And failure to check reality in history gets you nonsense like "Europeans wanted spices to cover up the flavor of rotting meat".
That seems more of a philsophic stance of semantics and epistemology rather than a true or meaningful insight. I'm not sure if the distinction is worth making though as this sort of semantic distinction you make could easily be applied to other fields where you or others may otherwise claim to "generate" knowledge. So what does this distinction contribute to this discussion? The bold below?
I agree with Aldarc in that I don't see the importance of this distinction.

If I discover a hitherto unpublished book by Newton with an unexpected result in it, I discover some new mathematical knowledge. If I discover a hitherto unpublished manuscript by Hobsbawm, I discover some historical knowledge. When Newton sits down and works out his stuff, he is creating new knowledge. When Hobsbawm wrote his anlayses of the 19th and 20th centuries, he was creating new knowledge.

The verbs I've suggested aren't the only tenable ones, but they do draw a significant distinction, between learning of someone else's research and doing one's own.

Your repeated reference to "counting things" is emotionally loaded, dismissive, and specious.
Then you have misinterpreted me. Some of the most important advances in human knowledge have been the result of careful counting (and sometimes associated measurement). Astronomy is an example.

The most interesting social scientific researcher into judicial decision-making that I've ever had the privilege of interacting with described his work as "counting things carefully". (His intention was to contrast with generalising from a less-than-total count.) The last funding application I submitted was for salary to pay RAs to count things. (In my case, occurrences of certain terms - and hence associated concepts - in particular texts.)

My point is simply that counting things is not the only way to generate knowledge. Ron Edwards does not count things, in his writing on RPGs. That does not mean that he is not generating knowledge about them.

In another active thread, on RPG salaries, it seems to have emerged that median salaries in Australia are significantly higher than in the US. Learning that fact requires, among other things, careful counting. Explaining that fact is also possible - but it cannot be explained by counting. Other methods - eg of the sort developed and applied by Weber - are necessary.

when your theorizing interacts with how humans, broadly, act and think, it will include counting things, because humans have a lot of variability. Failure to do so gets you Freud and Jung, who, it turns out, didn't actually know a lot about how or why people thought of felt as they did.
There are researchers who count who also produce dud results - the phlogiston theorists weren't making mistakes in their measurements! Of course measurements matter to the explanation of combustion, but they are not all that matters.

How humans, broadly, act and think is crucial to explaining the difference in median wages between the US and Australia. As I said, no one will explain that difference via a method that is confined to counting, not even if supplemented with allied techniques of measurement and statistical generalisation.

How about focusing your criticism on Ron Edwards then? It looks all too easy to lose sight of that topic at the current trajectory.
There are interesting avenues of inquiry into 4e that are not yet fully explored. I'll suggest two:

* 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.)

* Are players able to initiate a skill challenge? Or is this solely in the domain of the GM?​

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. . . .

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?
 

niklinna

Looking for group
What's the difference between skilful evasion and dodging around?
Based on my interpretation of his text, I'd say skillful evasion means engaging with the challenge, but not in a way the challenge initially presents (as per his example), whereas dodging around seems to refer to avoiding the challenge entirely.
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?
Depends on what "it" is. If it's a monster, that invokes combat mechanics. If it's an object (a target in an archery competition, a statue to knock off a shelf, a rope to cut), then it's (part of) a skill challenge.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top