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Stainless

D&D designers play ToC

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Stainless

The D&D Experience is just finishing. As you may be aware, the big news is that WotC are currently designing a new edition of D&D (working title, D&DNext), and it looks like they are going to do a radical redesign. One of the big themes the designers are talking about is to make it more story driven (will wonders never cease?!). Anyway, the seminars they have been running are being written up on various sites (e.g., ENworld). The seminar on "Upcoming products" (presented by Mike Mearls who is the design team leader), had questions from the audience and this got my attention;

 

What are you guys playing that's not D&D?

 

Call of Duty, Skyrim, Trail of Cthulhu, Lord of the Rings Confrontation.

 

In the run-up to D&D Next we played every edition of D&D and Pathfinder.

 

The first two titles are computer games for those not in the know. Lord of the Rings Confrontation is a boardgame. So, other than different flavours of D&D, the only other roleplaying game they are playing is ToC. Since they've stated they are playing other roleplaying games to give them ideas for D&DNext, I found this admission to be quite interesting, perhaps revealing.

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frozen

I think it would be neat to see more people come to appreciate not failing at rolls where no one has a stake in the failure. Even if it's not explicit in the rules text like it is in Trail of Cthulhu, I hope D&D Next's DMing advice text has a very, very prominent section on not calling for rolls when no one wants there to be a chance of failure.

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Stainless

And now this from Monte Cooke, the lead designer of D&DNext

 

A couple of days ago I talked a little bit about how we want the core mechanic of the game to be the interaction between the DM and the player. And one of the great tools for that is the ability score. So what we want is to empower DMs and players so that if you want to attempt to do something "I want to open the door" then the DM doesn' thave to even have you roll, he can just look, see you have a 17 strength and says "Yeah, you burst through that door". We want to get past some of the mundane rolls and not tie up a lot of table time with that and move on to the more interesting stuff and the table narrative.

 

Then this from Bruce Cordell (another designer)

 

An example I saw yesterday was a rogue going into a room and looking for traps. You can describe what you're doing and roleplay what you're doing. If he says I look in the jar and I know there's a gem in the jar, I'm not going to have him roll. However, if something is more hidden, like a secret compartment on the shelf I would look at their intelligence and see if he can just automatically find it or if he's looking in the exact right place. However, if he's doing that check in the middle of some other stressor like fighting, then I'd have him roll.

 

And finally this from Rob Schwalb, (another designer and a big 4e designer)

 

Earlier this week I had some players fighting some kobolds in the room. One of the guys wanted to jump over a pit, he had a 15 strength so I let him just do it - it wasn't that big of a jump and it sped up combat. It's very liberating to be able to do that kind of thing and just keep the flow going.

 

It's looking like the penny is finally dropping at WotC.

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frozen

Cool stuff. Thanks for posting those quotes.

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wombat1

What, you mean that D and D may become something worth looking at again? Naw, couldn't be.

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frozen

My favorite thing about Trail of Cthulhu is that the mechanics are always relating back and forth with the content of the shared narrative at the table. For example, when you have a character that is a professional at evidence collection, extra time is not spent using the system by rolling dice to see how well the professional conducts her evidence collection each time she attempts it. Instead, the question is answered using the narrative. Is she a professional at this particular investigative skill? Yes. So she knows how to collect evidence and does it.

 

Then, during exceptional circumstances, there may be additional information that a truly great professional might be able to discover. Is this one of those moments? If so, spend a point, if not, don't.

 

You don't follow through a procedure where you take a system reference and connect it to another system reference and then that calls for using an entirely different rules subsystem and so on, without referencing the shared narrative. You don't spend play time doing activities that are disconnected from the shared narrative but are only done because using the resolution system has mandated them.

 

If D&D can get that tight connection between the narrative and the resolution system back, I'll give it another look.

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GBSteve

We've been playing GUMSHOE fantasy. It worked very well. Given that most fantasy games involve an element of mystery, there was a good fit for the clue system but we also pushed the whole benefit system much further. In effect it becomes not just a system for supplementary clues, but also for supplementary action. Each class has core actions and could go further by spending from their special class pools. There's no direct comparison because GUMSHOE is less rigid in what you can do (giving players much more explicit creative input) but we've played it at around 8-9th level and 4-5th level equivalents to AD&D and both worked very well. In AD&D, you spend your resources gradually, in GUMSHOE you can choose to blow much more in one go for a spectacular effect such as all my priest's divine power in one Holy Word spell to take out a temple full of mook cultists (actually they were recidivists from my character's religion but he doesn't forgive). I also liked not having enormous pools of hit points. It felt dangerous.

 

We still play AD&D. None of the subsequent system have improved on the feel for me, although much of that is obviously nostalgia.

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frozen
We've been playing GUMSHOE fantasy.

 

You wouldn't happen to have a document or a blog post or something about this? I'd like to see what you did with the rules to make it work.

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Justin F
We've been playing GUMSHOE fantasy.

 

Isn't that essentially what Lorefinder is (as a plug-in for Pathfinder)?

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frozen

I could see using Lorefinder + the Pathfinder Basic boxed set, but I have no interest at all in using Lorefinder + 500 page rulebook + expansions.

 

And I'm guessing that GBSteve is using Gumshoe's general skill system and a combat system using Gumshoe.

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RobinDLaws

The "don't roll when failure is boring" concept already appears in D&D, as seen in the Collaborative Storytelling chapter of the 4E DMG II, where it is called "Avoiding Dead Branches." Written by some guy whose name I forget but seems awfully familiar with GUMSHOE.

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frozen

They put all sorts of stuff in DMG2 that should have been front and centre in DMG1. :D

 

Unfortunately, the core 4E system does include lots of rolling when failure is boring. It took the class designers a while to add more miss: and effect: lines onto the attack powers to help with the whiff factor when you miss.

 

I ran 4E every week from its release until October last year. What finally did it for me was the harsh game mode changes and mechanical systems which reference further mechanics in a long chain before finally bringing the results back to the narrative.

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pual
Isn't that essentially what Lorefinder is (as a plug-in for Pathfinder)?

 

I've got Lorefinder but for me it doesn't quite work (the last thing 3rd edition needs is more rules...), however, whilst reading it occurred to me that GUMSHOE would probably work better with some of the older D&D versions (AD&D or "Basic"). The D&D rules could cover the combat whilst the GUMSHOE could cover the skills and social interactions. The conversion of spells would, on the other hand, be a bit of a nightmare.

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GBSteve

It wasn't Lorefinder, although there was some cross-fertilisation. Simon doesn't have any plans to publish it for the moment but might allow playtesting. A few people got to play it at Indiecon. You'd have to ask Simon.

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frozen

My group is enjoying our game set in 1935 right now, so I don't think I'll be able to contribute to playtesting right away. Once our mini-series is done, something fantasy is on our to-do list and not having to learn a drastically different system might be appealing to some of the participants.

 

Lorefinder + Dark Dungeons/Labyrinth Lord (Basic D&D retro clones) is certainly on the short list, but perhaps we'll end up building a Gumshoe variant ourselves. I don't know what's expected from Pelgrane's playtesters, but I may still ask Simon about it when it gets closer to happening.

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Stainless
The "don't roll when failure is boring" concept already appears in D&D, as seen in the Collaborative Storytelling chapter of the 4E DMG II, where it is called "Avoiding Dead Branches." Written by some guy whose name I forget but seems awfully familiar with GUMSHOE.

 

Interesting. I've not read any 4e rule book, but the impression I got was that such advice is fairly buried and incidental; not noted much by the average punter. What I'm inferring from what has been said at D&DXP, is that the concept is being made much more prominent, possibly even "central". But perhaps I'm being overly hopeful.

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The_Tatterdemalion_King
I've got Lorefinder but for me it doesn't quite work (the last thing 3rd edition needs is more rules...), however, whilst reading it occurred to me that GUMSHOE would probably work better with some of the older D&D versions (AD&D or "Basic"). The D&D rules could cover the combat whilst the GUMSHOE could cover the skills and social interactions. The conversion of spells would, on the other hand, be a bit of a nightmare.

 

My OD&D/GUMSHOE mashup just uses ground-down versions of the MCB abilities as the basis for the spells, but that's a slightly different beast than what you're thinking of.

 

Really, you could Gumshoe-ize OD&D simply by writing a list of broad 'investigative abilities' for each class and applying them as a DM during play. I had a fairly relevant discussion w/ Zak S et al re: OD&D and Gumshoe approaches to forensic dungeoneering on G+ a couple months ago but I have no idea how to link to it so as to let it show up...

 

Interesting. I've not read any 4e rule book, but the impression I got was that such advice is fairly buried and incidental; not noted much by the average punter.

 

"The Average Punter" = DM who doesn't actually read the rulebook?

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Stainless

"The Average Punter" = DM who doesn't actually read the rulebook?

 

Yes, but I also suspect D&D tends to attract players/DMs who are attracted to the rules crunch. Thus, a rule that tells them not to use their rules is likely to be ignored.

 

Case in point, there have been a number of posts on the forums (ENworld, RPG.net) where people are critical of the DM/player dialogue aspiration of D&DNext. Their argument is that there will simply be too many arguments between players and DMs when each wants to get their way. Thus, having an unarguable rule for all situation and relying on the fate of a dice roll helps these kinds of people cope with their less than great interpersonal skills.

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Blackburn
Yes, but I also suspect D&D tends to attract players/DMs who are attracted to the rules crunch. Thus, a rule that tells them not to use their rules is likely to be ignored.

 

Case in point, there have been a number of posts on the forums (ENworld, RPG.net) where people are critical of the DM/player dialogue aspiration of D&DNext. Their argument is that there will simply be too many arguments between players and DMs when each wants to get their way. Thus, having an unarguable rule for all situation and relying on the fate of a dice roll helps these kinds of people cope with their less than great interpersonal skills.

 

I don't think that this is something that can be attributed specifically to DnD, or even crunchy systems in general. Arguments happen at any game table and how they are handled depends on the personality and the dynamic or group. Having specific rules to point to to settle an argument is an advantage of a crunchier system.

 

Why shouldn't rules help to support character concepts. Someone who isn't that great at rp'ing and thinking on their feet are encouraged to avoid interaction by systems that don't help reflect their character, after all. If I can't keep up with what I think a great diplomat or fast talker would say, then I'm not going to waste my time on those characters. The result is that I lose a chance to actually feel encouraged to actually roleplay because the system is leaving everything up to the GM. That's fine in some cases, but sometimes the GM is just obstinate and refuses to let you succeed or expects you to actually replicate the type of argument you are making as though you were on stage. Would people play healers if they had to answer medical trivial when they wanted to actually heal someone?

 

A system is no more than a framework. They all have their benefits and drawbacks, and enjoying one or even preferring one doesn't make you a "Better" or "Worse" class of gamer.

 

For example, my group rotates between a number of games, switching up every few months depending on life and so forth. In the last four years we have played DnD 3.5, DnD 4e, Pathfinder, World of Darkness, Trail of Cthulhu (and Bookhounds of London), Dr. Who, Monsters and Other Childish Things (and Candlewick Manor), and Anima: Beyond Fantasy.

 

To put a point on it, my first diplomat character was in a d20 (meaning uber-crunchy) Wheel of Time game. I joined a very long running game (4 years in) and it continued for another 2 after I joined. Everything was uber crunchy mechanically, just like all d20 games, and I was the only non-spellcaster in the party because they had no diplomat and desperately needed one. And, when I joined, there was so much rp that we might have had combat once in ever 6 to 8 sessions, and it would take us at least 36-52 hours of real time gameplay to get through one day in game, and we met on a weekly basis for 6-8 hours.

 

That was my first experience as a diplomatic character. Playing 3e in a game where the GM enforced rolls for everything and RP only game you bonuses. But it made me feel comfortable learning how to rp because I knew that I could say something and not mess it up because I wasn't as could as my character was supposed to be. It was the same with everyone else in the group.

 

So no, crunch systems don't encourage or teach you to ignore roleplay for roll-play anymore than lighter systems result in you throwing out the books and simply sit around and RP without any form of character sheet/stats or dice/result deciding mechanism. And if they attracted certain groups of players then people who really do enjoy rule light systems would never go back or even remotely enjoy the crunchy stuff.

 

All games have been slapped with a sterotype. Call of Cthulhu is a game where players die every session and can never succeed at anything if sterotypes are to believed, but we know better because we've taken the time to actually sit down and play the game with a group of good people. The people who make DnD look bad would do the same if they played Call of Cthulhu or any other RPG after all.

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Clangador

Considering what a turd 4e was, playing another system can only help them.

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Stainless
I don't think that this is something that can be attributed specifically to DnD, or even crunchy systems in general.

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I agree with a lot of your points. But, with respect, re-read my post. I was not trying to say all D&D players are roleplaying deficient. I agree that crunch can be a fun thing in and of itself. I agree crunch can help those who don't want to/can't roleplay very well or just speed up things for those who can. I agree that playing a crunch-less game doesn't necessarily make you a better roleplayer.

 

However, if the crunch is there in spades and encourage by salami-sliced crunchy books constantly being sold and attitudes by the company that all of the books are to be considered "core" rules, then I think there is a tendency for some to rely very heavily on those mechanics. To my mind, gaming sessions which go a bit like this; "The skeleton walks towards you", "I attack and get a 20", "The skeleton crumbles", "Next..." are kind of loosing the whole point of the roleplaying genre; They might as well play a boardgame. I've suggested D&D is a major culprit here because my impression is that, certainly with 4e, there has been an increasing tendency to view the game for its rules and as a collectable item rather than its roleplay. Just my opinion and I accept there is a wide spectrum of tastes and styles.

 

Lastly, if D&DF wasn't suffering from this, why would the company and designers be explicitly stating they want the new system to be "less gamy" (Rob Schwarb), be more focused on "story" (Mike Mearls), be "more streamlined and faster" (Monte Cooke)?

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