Monday, May 28, 2012

On the #DnDNext Playtest, Part 4 worldbuilding and logical questions....

This is probably the most obscure of the set of problems we had with the play test on Saturday. Most of these aren't going to matter to most people, and they are worldbuilding and continuity issues. Part of me is 'this far' from getting out our copy of Master of the Game and putting in quotes to support my points below, but I think it would be dickish, and another part of me is 'this far' from creating a post that has to use Rhetorics of  Fantasy to be understood. Instead, I will endeavor to behave.

Let's agree upon this, at the least: In order to have fun in a fantasy setting, there has to be some logic and order. That seems completely contrary to how 'fantasy,' should work, but without a set of rules, even a loose set of rules, things just aren't as much fun. When we stop having things make internal sense, sense with reference to itself, things break down and it's not like participating in a shared game, it's more like you're participating in a shared hallucination, with no rhyme or reason, which can be fun, but isn't something you need "rules" for.

This can get very philosophical and hard to understand, but let's work with that consensus, to start with, that even with "magic," things need to at least make sense.

To clarify what I mean more, let me use an example from the previous section of the playtest critique:

I object to the idea that the cleric can "defend" two or more people (giving their enemies disadvantage), simultaneously, by "interposing your shield." I object to the idea that you can defend all allies, specifically, by interposing your shield, within what is effectively a 15ft diameter sphere (giving a dwarf an arbitrary shape as a 5ft diameter sphere, which is sort of my shape, now that I think of it.) I have no problem, however, with the idea that you can "cast a holy aura" that gives your enemies disadvantage for the exact same amount of space. Giving off a holy light: That makes sense, even if it is impossible in our world. Having your shield be in four or more places simultaneously, while you have one shield, and defending people in all directions, that's 'broken,' to me. [I allowed it, because 'play as written,' I just tried to not think about it.] If you can't see how this ability can be described as a holy light and be fine, but as interposing a shield and not being fine, STOP READING NOW, because this is going to go into deeper worldbuilding than that.

[First, a second caveat. I play (and DM) in a magic heavy world, and the characters in it are "heroic." That means while everyone else uses 3d6 for their ability scores, players use 4d6 and drop the lowest, and are required to have at least one stat above 9. They aren't average Joes- they are a little smarter, or stronger, or both. Some people found the scores of the pregens objectionable, I did not. This is, however, flavored by that fact.]

So...Let's talk about the wizard. I find the wizard hopelessly and completely broken. Broke to the power of n. I am certain any smart player could solo the entire adventure with the wizard, using any of the large boxes in the dungeon as resting points. Unless the game is meant to be soloed, this is a problem.

This isn't about Sleep and the fact that if you read the saving throws one way, it's almost impossible to not put vast swaths of creatures to sleep, or even about the fact that the wizard's at-wills make you a fighter with an ever-full quiver and a bow that never tires out (you can throw damage constantly, all the time, without tiring from it or running out.) This is about how you got those at-wills.

You are a first level character. You have a minimum of training.You're an elf, so you're a little older, but a human mage would have the same abilities. Starting age for a human character in D&D has historically been between 13 and 20 years old.  You would have these same abilities if you were a 16 year old human from a dirt farm in the back woods.

You acquired these at-wills without money, without a high social class, and without years of training. They were so easy that you and the guy who smashes things with a hammer have the same number of years of training. You're so good at these things you can do them constantly, almost without thinking about it...

So...Why can't the bad guys?
If it takes a modicum of intelligence to be able to do these things, you can argue goblins, hobgoblins and kobolds are not smart enough, but if magic abilities are so easy some kid can pick them up in a couple of months and utterly master them, shouldn't they least be throwing around lesser forms? Maybe only 10% of goblins can do unlimited magic missile. Maybe they can all do it once a day.

You have stumbled upon a phenomenon called "the magical arms race."

 If magical abilities have no cost and require no training, then everybody gets them. Literally, everybody. There is no reason for anyone to not have them. The fighter should spend a month at that magical internship the wizard got, then one at the cleric's temple, then one with the thieves, then he can do all of them, right?

But this is not the only "arms race."

You live in a world where a good long nap will heal you even if you're almost dead from your injuries. So do the monsters. Every organized group of monsters is going to have healer's kits and know how to use them. You can just stabilize a guy, put him in a box, and he'll come back all better in the morning. EVERY MONSTER with an above animal intelligence will know this.

Both of these ideas will radically change how a world works...if they work for players, they work for everyone.


  1. Holy shit man, you take this game waaaaay too seriously. Chillax. You'll have more fun.

    1. Dude, people who tell people "the right way" to have fun don't understand fun. Seriously. Do all the people like the same flavor of ice cream in your world?

  2. Putting aside your misreading of saves, the sleep spell, sleeping in boxes safely and the defender feat which I have addressed in your previous blog posts.

    The background assumption for level 1 wizards is that they have had some kind of training either at a school or by being apprenticed to another wizard. This is reinforced by the optional background and theme given to the playtest wizard. Background Sage, Theme Magic User. Both of these give the impression of someone who has spent time studying. Another wizard with the background of say commoner and the theme of (to make one up) Hedge wizard, would have totally different abilities including less at will spells.

  3. I'm pretty sure that the dynamics of character mechanics aren't meant to imply how the fantasy world works, just how it works for the protagonists. Similarly, there will have to be a different set of mechanics for how it works for the DM's staple, and even then it will have less to do with the "real fantasy world" and more to do with the dynamic needs of the DM. This is unfortunately how D&D has trended in the last few years, although one could argue it's backlash to the extreme 3rd edition "everything now follows the same rules approach" which I didn't ultimately like because, simply put, each players has to make 1 character but I as DM have to make everyone else and I have better things to do with my life (like play the game) than to spend all day writing out stat blocks. I'd be happy with going back to the 2nd edition era, where mechanics supported need more and were a bit less about modeling fantasy land...but were just grounded enough in some sense of reality that we could all suspend disbelief easily enough.

  4. Just for the record - and not because I expect it to change your view of the playtest....

    But the cleric's defender ability is a reaction. You can only take one reaction per round (more precisely - after taking a reaction, you cannot take another one until your next turn).

    Thus your objection to the realism of the ability seems misplaced.


    1. The main problem was that it was described as "allies" and as "ally" on the sheet and in the how-to-play. I allowed the broader interpretation- the power worked AS WRITTEN ON THE CLERIC's sheet:
      "your allies and THEIR attackers"
      If it's in PC info as written, I don't think the DM can fiat around it, but more importantly, I find it terribly important during a playtest to use the materials as written, even when they are written stupidly. (We also did "roll the damage and treat it as maximum" for the critical hits, which is dumb...but some of players are 10 years old, so no one should 'assume' what something means.) So, taking the defensive was a "reaction" but taking the defensive protected *allies* within 5ft, not *an ally.*

      I'm curious what you think my opinion of the playtest is, because I've only mentioned our *data* and impression from the playtest. I don't think I actually mentioned my opinion of the whole playtest anywhere. Where I have, it's been this: It's meh. There are some problems that need to be fixed before it's workable for me, but that's normal in a playtest. If I wasn't doing play as written, I'd nerf the hell out of the wizard, who can solo the adventure. *Easily.*

      The larger problem may be that some of the same exact mistakes that were pointed out in winter (and acknowledged as mistakes) were maintained in the public playtest. That's lazy. That's not even playtest or edition crap, that's just not spending speaks of larger problems, IMO.