Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 26, 2012
A tankless game of D&D Next

I've been playing D&D Next against myself, as my regular group isn't signed up for the beta test. That actually isn't a bad method to test a rules system, as you can concentrate on the rules without rule-independent factors like story and roleplaying getting in the way. It also gives me the opportunity to try the "mean DM": What would happen if I played the monsters to the maximum of their written abilities without factoring in "artificial stupidity" for reasons of fairness or story?

In D&D Next that approach yields a surprising result right in the first encounters of the playtest material, where the group is fighting a bunch of kobolds: The kobolds run past the fighter and gank the wizard. It turns out that the fighter in D&D Next only has half the necessary features of a "tank" role: He has the good defenses and health, but he is missing any form of aggro control ("taunt").

In 4th edition a front-line fighter has two ways to protect the wizard in the back: He has what other games would call a "zone of control", that is he can make opportunity attacks on an enemy running through the squares next to him. And he can "mark" one enemy, forcing that enemy to attack him or suffer penalties and opportunity attacks. All these rules of aggro control are gone in D&D Next. There is absolutely no penalty for the kobolds to completely ignore the fighter and go for the softer targets.

In a way that reminded me of PvP in World of Warcraft, of which I didn't play much. But for some time I did some PvP with my tank spec warrior, complete with shield and spell reflection abilities. And I quickly learned that enemies tended to ignore me as long as there were other targets around. I wasn't perceived as much of a threat, nor as easy target to kill, so the enemy rather went for somebody else. Which suited me just fine, although as approach to PvP going as tank was somewhat unconventional.

But while I didn't mind that on an Alterac Valley battlefield with 79 anonymous strangers, I don't like it as a rule system for my D&D group. It basically forces me as a DM to fudge. I need to introduce "artificial stupidity" into the behavior of the monsters, so they don't ignore the fighter. I so hope that WotC still changes the fighter to something a bit more effective as a tank.

The pregen fighter isn't a tank though. It's a DPS fighter.

Look at the Cleric of Moradin, specifically the Defender feat and then the Hold the Line feat at level 3.
Is it really "artificial stupidity" for the kobolds to NOT run past the big armored guy with the sword up front?

I get what you're saying - I always had a dilemma when dragons had 6-8 brutal melee attacks a turn whether to aim them all at the same character - but in some respects what you describe would be "metagaming." Do the kobolds know who the wizard is? Are they willing to run past the front lines (as it were) and sacrifice their lives to try and take the clothie down? Your players might legitimately come up with that strategy, because presumably the characters are veterans of many battles.

I mean, how often do your creatures finish off unconscious players (assuming the whole -1 to -10 still applies)? I would do that, as a player, but it never seemed particularly... legit to do as a DM unless the monster was specifically know for that behavior.

I dunno. It does seem pretty odd that they would get rid of Attacks of Opportunity. The rules for AoOs were always shady - remember the Bag of Rats + Great Cleave trick? - although they do solve the "run by the warrior" problem.
If they are smart enough for such a tactic, why shouldn't they use it? They players would. Trained kobolds or those commanded by a decent leader probably would. Random kobolds defending their home from a surprise attack probably wouldn't.

Getting rid of zone of control/attacks of opportunity does however sound a bit dumb to me.

Gobble gobble
I believe you're applying too much MMO to your D&D, Tobold.

In the history of the real world, why didn't attackers run past the sword-wielding bodyguards to attack the soft target they're protecting? Because those bodyguards will cut them down. This still applies in D&D. How many kobolds are willing to let the fighter get a flanking bonus and they can't use their shield against him? Not many.

At least until the wizard starts tossing spells. Then it changes things because pure survival of you and your kobold tribe probably depends on making that wizard stop casting right now. You may die to the fighter, but if you can take that wizard out of action, your tribe can live. (Though I figure only a fraction of most goblinoid races would see self sacrifice as good.)

So, that's where tactics come in for the party. Move to where the kobolds can't get past the fighter. Use a doorway or columns or trees. If necessary, use a corner and put the fighter, the cleric, and the thief in the other three squares between the wizard and the kobolds. (Assuming a standard party makeup.)

Gamers have been playing D&D for decades without taunt or other MMO tanking abilities. I for one am glad they're moving D&D away from pure tactics and MMO styling and back toward the game I grew up loving.
How many kobolds are willing to let the fighter get a flanking bonus and they can't use their shield against him?

I'd say all of them are willing, because there is no flanking bonus in D&D Next either. In fact there are no tactical / positional bonuses at all. The kobolds would need to be very stupid to remain standing next to the fighter instead of standing next to a clothie.
SiderisAnon beat me too it. There's way too much MMO thinking in RPGs if you need defined 'tanks/dps/healers'.

As GM we have ultimate flexibility in defining the intelligence, tactics and responses of opponents that the players characters meet. But the flipside is trying to avoid 'metagaming' or as I would put it giving creatures out of game knowledge. There's no reason kobolds should think wizards are more dangerous till they face them and besides if the fighters are in their face that's a more immediate problem than what the robe-wearer 'might' do or not. Realistically speaking most kobolds tribes, if they happen to meet a party of adventurers, are unlikely to live long enough to learn more than "humans are deadly" ;-)

I would find it constraining and dumbed-down for fighters to be using 'taunts' constantly to maintain 'aggro' in D&D - hence why I stayed with 3rd edition. I would much prefer my players use tactics and planning to handle encounters, or clever improvisation when surprised, rather than relying on the artificial mechanics that the MMO genre have introduced. These mechanics are not a sophisticated evolution of simulated combat, they are a compromise necessary to balance challenge and avoid instant character death in the min-maxing heavy world of computer gaming.

I've signed up to see this new version of D&D just to see what it's like but if it's closer to 3rd edition than 4th then I'll be interested in buying manuals again for the first time since I looked at the previews of 4th edition.
Mmm.... well, I can see where the "too much MMO" group is coming from. But this is a beta of the rules mechanics. Take "kobolds" out of the equation and replace with the "trained palace guard" if that helps remove the stupidity factor.

OK, you have a five man D&D group, and they are up against your fantasy SWAT NPC group that understands just how much threat a wizard can be. As a defender, even one with both the "Hold the Line" and "Defender" feats, what is your best approach to protect your squishies?

I think that, if you are in the open, your best bet is to stand next to the wizard, let them attack him, and use your shield to give them disadvantage. It isn't a great solution, but you are in the open and you can't really protect him from a determined swarm attack.

But "Hold the Line" might be very good if you can get anything like a chokepoint. Maybe we'll see something like the cornerblocking tactics one sees in Guild Wars 1?

Playtest, playtest.
I agree with Tobold. I think the current playtest characters lack mechanics to function successfully.

A lot of people keep arguing that "kobolds are too stupid to ignore the fighter," which may be true. However, D&D combat isn't always with kobolds. Sometimes the party fights experienced combat veterans (the evil Duke's imperial guards, the legendary orc raiders, etc.).

So what if, instead of kobolds, Tobolds article mentioned elite orcs? The orcs would bumrush the Wizard, and the Fighter could do nothing about it.

In general, I feel like this playtest lacks depth. I am bored by it. I'm happy that other gamers are happy about it, and I hope that many groups will have some great experiences with it. But if this is what we can expect from D&DN, I will neither play it nor pay for it.
"The kobolds would need to be very stupid to remain standing next to the fighter instead of standing next to a clothie."

From my experience in pvp, even against real humans, around 50% of them will simply attack the closest target. You probably missed it, but Gevlon managed a very effective "tanking" strategy in Wintergrasp where the tank ran in first and healers kept him alive.

So I think you can look based on the relative intelligence of the creature in question and make probability rolls. Animals and most monsters will usually attack the closest thing to them. Dumber humanoid types (like kobolds) will have maybe a 50/50 chance of attacking what's closest, or running past to attack a clothie. The smarter humanoids will usually do the smart thing and attack rational targets.

This also helps give a more varied combat experience, as fighting other humans is a much more difficult tactical challenge than fighting animals or monsters, as it should be.
You cannot defend system faults on the grounds that if you try very hard to ignore them and specially avoid them by roleplaying, they kind of go away.

Of course, you could try to compensate any kind of imbalance or other game design fault with roleplaying. For example, if your boss has super-mega-fatality which can kill all the party, and you decide not to use it because of "roleplaying" or "realism", it doesn't make the system balanced, the fault doesn't magically vanish.

If you must constantly fight the system to somehow negate it's faults - it is bad game design.
Random Phobosis has independently generated a variation on D&D's "Oberoni Fallacy": "The fallacy that the existence of a rule stating that, ‘the rules can be changed,’ can be used to excuse design flaws in the actual rules. Etymology, D&D message boards, a fallacy first formalized by member Oberoni."
Oddly enough, we used to play PnP RPGs without maps. Generally the fighters would wade in and start slaughtering everything in their wake, drawing aggro (though we would not have called it that) primarily by virtue of being the guys in the mobs faces stabbing them with swords.
Maybe all but well-trained, intelligent mobs will plausibly attack the fighters *until* the mages start hurting them.

So a mage could reasonably hold back for a round, perhaps casting a protective spell or moving into a relatively protected spot, before letting loose with fireballs or whatever.

Just trying to imagine something that would be plausibly realistic against not-too-smart monsters. You can still have an 'aggro table' even if fighters don't have a taunt.
As a former DM, players liked the realism and randomness of my NPCs. When fighting in a large battle, some foes would flee or distract players or plead for their lives, then attempt to kill them when trusted. All these NPCs might be of the same opposing group, but as individuals, they had a range of responses to any given situation. I guess it is more of a role-playing approach but it was a lot more fun than tank-and-spank, which has very little semblance to real combat.
Why would the kobolds meta-game? "They know the fighter doesnt get a flanking bonus"

It's a ROLEplaying game. The players hold their role and the DM every other. Is it charasteristic for kobold to attack wizards first. It is? Then they do. The fighter might do or say something witty to change their target, but otherwise it is the DMs job to play the role of the kobolds.

If the fighter hacks some of the kobolds enough, I'd say pretty much any kobold would turn and fight back against it's attacker. There's your "taunt".

That's what I hate about D&D 4th.. if there's no mechanic, there is no way.. it's like MMO. You leave imagination and story out of the room, and start hacking. (yes, i know i'm going to the extreme here.. but this "artificial stupidity" talk, while meta-gaming kobolds irks me. [Meta-gaming Kobolds, sounds like a Smallworld race])

Why would I want to play that on PnP? I have computer games for that.
If the party chooses to fight the kobolds in unfavorable terrain, and the kobolds win due to superior numbers, then whose fault is it? If the party chooses discretion over hubris and retreats to, say, a nearby hallway where "their numbers count for nothing," they're more likely to win. Furthermore, you don't need rules for taunts. A player can just make up a taunt and have the DM roll say, a Reaction roll or Charisma check to determine the results.

It says right up there in GM bit that Challenge Ratings aren't a thing now. Fight smart and you're less likely to die. Fight stupid and somebody's going to bite it unless you get real lucky. Player skill is an important thing.
It's a ROLEplaying game. The players hold their role and the DM every other.

Then why is D&D Next a ROLEplaying game only for fighters? Every other class has rules and game mechanics supporting their role, only fighters are supposed to make up their game mechanics on their own. And then risk the DM saying "No, you insulted the skeleton to make it attack you, but it ignores you.".
Having DMed most every edition of D&D from B/X through 4th ed, I can say that the lack of mechanics to support a "defender" style fighter just makes players adjust their play-style to achieve the same results. It makes players think much harder about WHERE they decide to fight. It is not at all uncommon to see players trying to lure groups of monsters into hallways or other choke points exactly to prevent them from just running up to the wizard. It also makes hirelings almost a necessity, to be able to form an expendable shield wall around the vulnerable party members. My Labyrinth Lord group typically travels with the wizard and cleric grouped in the middle of about 15 men at arms, including the hirelings and the PC fighters.
I have played D&D from 2'nd Edition up. Gave Next a run last night and I did notice that without Opportunity Attacks, creatures did have the option of basically walking right past the front line, with no penalties. Of course, this lead to them dying pretty quick thereafter. After all, what creature likes the idea of standing between 4 enemies, sure they get to hit the Wizard, but are most likely to die thereafter, and well...the threat of certain death should prevent 'most' enemies for pursuing that course of action.

Of course, this forced us back into the old ways of positioning properly, putting the clothies back farther, so it isn't worth the run on the first attack, hiding them in a corner, using the DM's knowledge and past experience to 'play' the opponents as he would see fit, instead of some rule that forces them to behave in a manner that they may not go for.

I think they need to have other abilities in to help players entice opponents to stop attacking the rear lines, or punish those that do. In 3rd, it was attacks of opportunity, as far as I can tell in Next, the Cleric with Defender (which was used extensively) gave opponents a much higher reason to hit the Cleric and leave the other Cleric alone.

I did not like the 4th Edition of 'WoW on paper' aspect. It was far too restrictive, and got boring as heck. However in the later levels, most of the 'taunts' were kinda pointless (especially the Paladin's - ooo..scary, the creature with 500 HP totally is scared by the Paladin's 10 points of damage from being ignored) Sorry, the whole MMO style on paper was a huge step backwards in the realm of D&D, almost completely scripting the battles and taking away from what creatures would 'actually' do.

It IS roleplaying, need a bit more imagination than 'because the rules say so'.
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