RPG Writing and Design Needs a Paradigm Shift

Reynard

Legend
for me that was your below post


it sounds like you want to remove everything but the mechanical description


I agree, I said as much in several posts since
As to the fireball text, PF2E is about right: clear and concise, telling you what it does in the rules and the game world.

Relatedly: tools like traits, tags, defined terms, etc... help in this process. To continue to use the PF2E fireball as an example, you only have to define "manipulate" once.
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Somewhere along the way people started imagining bland pamphlets without illustrations except for necessary schematics.

For the record: concise and evocative are not mutually exclusive. Purple prose is not the only, or even best, way to evoke theme, mood and atmosphere.
Well...it's certainly not the only way.
 

mamba

Legend
As to the fireball text, PF2E is about right: clear and concise, telling you what it does in the rules and the game world.
not to me, I like the 5e description better (separate out all the mechanical stuff, that leaves "A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.").

The PF2 description is clear, it is concise, it also is not adding anything of value over the pure mechanics. You might as well remove it. It even sounds like the fireball just appears in the target location, either that is intended, or it is misleading, no idea which.

Relatedly: tools like traits, tags, defined terms, etc... help in this process.
I have nothing against this

To continue to use the PF2E fireball as an example, you only have to define "manipulate" once.
'manipulate' is no different from the 'S' in 5e
 

Reynard

Legend
not to me, I like the 5e description better (separate out all the mechanical stuff, that leaves "A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.").
This is veering a little off topic but: the other benefit of "concise" is that the player is freer to personalize.
The PF2 description is clear, it is concise, it also is not adding anything of value over the pure mechanics. You might as well remove it. It even sounds like the fireball just appears in the target location, either that is intended, or it is misleading, no idea which.
What if the player wants the fireball to just appear and not have to "streak" there?
'manipulate' is no different from the 'S' in 5e
Sure, but "manipulate" covers many more actions than just casting spells, so it does lifting for all of gameplay, not just casting spells.
 

mamba

Legend
This is veering a little off topic but: the other benefit of "concise" is that the player is freer to personalize.
I am not seeing the 5e description getting in the way of that. Granted, the more plain it gets, the less it gets in the way, but following that trajectory no description would be the least restrictive.

What if the player wants the fireball to just appear and not have to "streak" there?
what if they do not want that? The description seems to be very clear about it doing that... also, who says this is up to the player, the fireball flying there and exploding at the first target it hits on the path might very well be intentional

Sure, but "manipulate" covers many more actions than just casting spells, so it does lifting for all of gameplay, not just casting spells.
no objections to this point
 

To me the low point of fluff was 3.X, the high point of fluff 4e (i.e. it had the fluff I care about) and 5e has kept a lot but not all of the good 4e fluff.

The 3.5 Fireball spell specifies:
A fireball spell is an explosion of flame that detonates with a low roar and deals 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (maximum 10d6) to every creature within the area. Unattended objects also take this damage. The explosion creates almost no pressure.
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. (An early impact results in an early detonation.) If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must “hit” the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.
The fireball sets fire to combustibles and damages objects in the area. It can melt metals with low melting points, such as lead, gold, copper, silver, and bronze. If the damage caused to an interposing barrier shatters or breaks through it, the fireball may continue beyond the barrier if the area permits; otherwise it stops at the barrier just as any other spell effect does.

Why is this the low point of fluff? Because it makes no physical sense. In specific Copper (one of the listed metals) melts at 1084°C (1983°F). That both gives me a minimum temperature of the fireball and a minimum transfer of heat - and that's literally hotter than the furnaces in many crematoria. And that the heat is on the copper long enough to melt it. Here's someone melting a small amount copper with a blowtorch; it doesn't just take sustained heat but duration to transfer it; this is the sort of energy the fireball is transferring.

That sort of fluff both reads to me as if someone watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon and wrote down the effects and said that they always happened. The fluff makes the world a lot less coherent and consistent.

Meanwhile 4e was the high point. But 5e keeps much of it. Let's compare the 3.5 Ray of Frost to the 5e one. What's the difference? 3.5 Ray of Frost just does "blue damage" as opposed to the "red damage" done by fireball and there is little meaningful difference in the game world beyond that. Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of 4e, the 5e Ray of Frost also adds "and its speed is reduced by 10 feet until the start of your next turn". It has an actual meaningfully different impact on the world and on the target.

One place where 4e was vastly better (and never mind I prefer 4e rituals to either spells or 5e rituals - but this is a worldbuilding choice) is that rather than just resistances and immunities 4e had reactions and consequences; effects that triggered when you hit foes with the wrong or right damage types that weren't just more or less damage. And the reactions and different movement meant that the characters moved differently (5e keeps some of that with Legendary Actions rather than just having generic claw-claw-bite-wing buffet-tail whip attacks but it's not a patch on the sheer physical force of instinctive actions)

Meanwhile the bit about "pointing and a pea shaped ball of fire" or "throwing a ball of fire"? I actively do not want that specified. More accurately if I have a character who spits fire or shoots fire out of their eyes what's the problem with that. It's fluff, sure, but not something I really want. (I really really don't understand why Cone of Cold needs to come out of my hands and not be a breath weapon - and Cone of Cold even in 5e is very much a "blue damage" spell with little meaningful difference from a fire spell).
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I know this is happening in small corners of the indie scene, and some more well known games are starting to adopt alternate ways of presenting information, but mainstream publishers still seem buried in the past when it comes to TTRPG presentation.

Giant books full of walls of text with important information buried in questionable prose is no longer an acceptable way to present a game to an audience. The industry needs a paradigm shift in design -- both system, and visual. They need to stop paying by the word and start paying by the hour. they need to stop treating games like books and treat them like manuals. They need to leverage technology and techniques from other industries and make accessibility a primary goal in production.

I know I have ranted about this before and will likely do so again, so my apologies for evangelizing in this way.
Totally agree

The new wave of OSR, seems to be doing better in this regard.
And of course there's a bunch of Mothership doing great work in information presentation

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There are 2 things I want to see in a game text.
First - each element, like a spell, needs to be extremely easy to reference such that I can instantly just run it without scanning and parsing a big hunk of text to find rules.
Second - I want it to be REALLY obvious which rule section a rule is in, and for it to be easy to find by there quickly.

I tend to play a bunch of different games these days, often ones I've barely, if ever, played before. I'm not going to wade through books and spend 5 minutes finding each thing and understanding it, over and over again every session. We're at a point now in terms of the history of RPG design, and the depth of experience of a lot of the designers, that they should not need to put out stuff that is hard to reference anymore.

I'm fine with 'evokative' or whatever, but if it is hard to reference? I'm moving on to other games!
 

There are 2 things I want to see in a game text.
First - each element, like a spell, needs to be extremely easy to reference such that I can instantly just run it without scanning and parsing a big hunk of text to find rules.
Second - I want it to be REALLY obvious which rule section a rule is in, and for it to be easy to find by there quickly.
...
I'm fine with 'evokative' or whatever, but if it is hard to reference? I'm moving on to other games!
And this is a huge tension in game writing. Do you write for things to be read or to be played? Because a lot of what's evocative away from the table gets away from what is fast and effective at the table.
 

Reynard

Legend
...

And this is a huge tension in game writing. Do you write for things to be read or to be played? Because a lot of what's evocative away from the table gets away from what is fast and effective at the table.
It doesn't hav3 to be either/or. The stuff used at the table should be designed to be used at the table, and the stuff meant to inspire the GM between sessions should be fun to read.
 

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