Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 17, 2014
 
Garroting an ooze

I very much recommend reading DMDavid's post on elegance and resolution transparency in Dungeons & Dragons rules. He very well explains the problem that you want pen & paper role-playing rules to BOTH "apply broadly so fewer rules can cover whatever happens in the game" and "produce outcomes that match what players expect in the game world". Which happens to be an impossible task. So while I very much agree with him that 4th edition covers the first point brilliantly, and is a much better system also in terms of game balance because a warrior works fundamentally the same as a wizard in 4E, I also agree with him that the downside is "the edition often fails to model the game world, creating a world where you can be on fire and freezing at the same time, where snakes get knocked prone, and where you can garrote an ooze".

In fact, while I didn't detail it in my campaign journal there was a situation in our last D&D session where a black pudding (an ooze-like monster) was "knocked prone" by a spell-effect. And when the players asked me whether that was possible, I preferred to stick to the rules even if they made no logical sense in that situation, than to create a case-by-case system of rules exceptions which would be impossible to manage.

I do consider that position a modern one, as opposed to what I would have ruled in the same situation 30 years ago. And one thing that changed in the meantime is computer games and MMORPGs. When we played 1st edition AD&D the idea that a fireball could burn only enemies while leaving allies untouched would have appeared completely foreign to us. Now I play 4E D&D with a group of players who all played World of Warcraft, and in WoW all area-effect spells selectively touch only enemies and there is not such thing as friendly fire. 4th edition has both kinds of area effects, selective or with friendly fire, and due to the experience with MMORPGs, players don't think that is strange in any way.

Having discussed the theory of games for over a decade on this blog, I think you will believe me if I say that I have a deep interest in that subject. I believe that rules systems are important, because they affect very much how we play, a theory which outside of gaming is an important part of behavioral economics. From my point of view, 4th edition was progress for Dungeons & Dragons, while 5th edition is a step back. It is not that I don't understand the appeal of "classic" D&D, or why some players would want a wizard to work with one sort of resource system (Vancian magic) and a warrior to work with a completely different one. It is just that by having played D&D for over 30 years with many different people and groups, I am very much aware of the problems that these classic rules cause. The "linear fighter, quadratic wizard" problem, or the "5-minute work day" problem were all things that 4th edition solved, and 5th edition brings back.

For me, in the end, Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative multi-player game. So in my opinion it is more important that the rules apply broadly and thus create a system with automatic balance between classes. If that leads to somebody garroting an ooze, so be it.

Comments:
Some enemies state they are immune to things like being knocked prone.

For an ooze, I generally explained that knocking it prone just means that it lost some of it's normal cohesiveness. It's currently a congealed puddle trying to pull itself back together.

A little bit of imagination and you can come up with pretty decent descriptions for most things even if they don't make sense at first blush.
 
For me, in the end, Dungeons & Dragons is a collaborative multi-player game. So in my opinion it is more important that the rules apply broadly and thus create a system with automatic balance between classes.

I dont get this conclusion. Since it is a collaborative game, isn't balancing mostly unimportant? Balancing would definitely be required if the players played against each other. But the opponents are NPCs and monsters which can be balanced by the game master at will.

So the wizard is more powerful than the thief? So what? The group fight the battle as a group, who's counting "damage dealt per character"? Who would care?
 
My sense having played a great deal of 4e and Pathfinder is that former requires the players to conform more to the game. In Pathfinder the game seems to conform more to the players.

You described a few instances of this in your post. It also comes up when you make a character. In 4e you essentially choose a class that functions within some closely defined parameters and serves a clearly defined combat role. In Pathfinder you come up with the character concept first and then use the rules to customize the character to match the concept.

I take it that your plan is to stick with 4e after 5e comes out. Is it your sense that there will end up being a 4e hold over community the way that there was for 3e? If so, how many more editions can the community support?
 
So the wizard is more powerful than the thief? So what?

It is not just group dynamics, with the underdog eventually resenting the player of the overpowered class. It is also the problem that in any game where imbalances exist, the players will exploit them. Next campaign nobody wants to play a thief any more, and you have three wizards. And they insist on a full rest after each fight.

Is it your sense that there will end up being a 4e hold over community the way that there was for 3e? If so, how many more editions can the community support?

It probably will even be worse. 1E to 2E to 3E to 5E is some sort of evolution. 4E is a radically different game to 3E and 5E. 5E actually has a larger appeal to somebody who today plays Pathfinder than to somebody who today plays 4E. As an attempt to unify the player base, D&D Next is an utter failure before it even has left the beta.
 
In reading your comments I was struck with this thought: the primary difference between 4e and the other editions is that 4e was designed to address DM concerns (perhaps at the expense of the player concerns). The balance issue is a good example.

When my group played non 4e versions of the game, there was not much consciousness of class imbalance. Instead, there was a tendency for players to play classes that played a certain way. In other words, some people just played fighters because they liked the simpler rule set. Other people enjoyed the complexity of the magic systems.

When we shifted over to 4e players were unmoored. The fighter types started playing paladins or rangers or wardens. They didn't know if what they had enjoyed was being a "defender" or a "striker." I think what they found was that they liked playing a more simple game. Likewise the wizards in our group missed the complexity they had previously enjoyed.

Those class categories, however, make things much easier for the DM. Class balance also obviously improves adventure design since you can more easily anticipate what your group will look like.

Likewise, you can look at the your verisimilitude verses ease of play dichotomy in your original post and again see the tension between the interests of the players and the interests of the DM.

Perhaps 4e was ultimately unsuccessfully ironically because it was designed by DMs for DMs and the players revolted?
 
You hit the Ooze! It sticks... to the rules!
 
In other words, some people just played fighters because they liked the simpler rule set.

Funnily enough, everybody who writes things like that is playing a spell-caster himself.

Me, I have never met a single player who beyond an introductionary phase of learning the game enjoyed playing a character with such limited options, while everybody around him did all the interesting stuff.
 
The guys who play the fighters/melee in our group feel as if they are doing ALL the interesting stuff. They are bored by the battlefield control aspects of the wizard or the buffing/healing aspects of the cleric. They want to hit things and make them bleed.

The mages seem to enjoy figuirng out ways to use their spells cleverly to bypass trouble. That ends up being contrary to the interests of the fighters.
 
Not to nitpick but in my play test time with 5E I have not noticed the linear fighter/quadratic wizard problem returning at all (keeping in mind I rarely saw it in 3.0 to begin with), at least partially by design. Likewise, the 5-minute workday is still much less of a "thing" in 5E, much like 4E. This is at least partially because a fair chunk of the hidden balancing in 5E strikes me as a reskin of the core conceits of 4E, but repackaged in a way that feels more "D&Dish" to the masses, I suppose. There's a lot more 4E DNA in 5E than the 4E fans are willing to admit....or WotC, for that matter, for fear of scaring of the older edition fans from even trying it.
 
Garotting an ooze is perfectly possible. Just assume that your razor-sharp Filament cust through the protective outer Skin and rasps through the "cells" including the mitochondiriae and other cell-like structures. Of course oozes don't have a windpipe or arteries to choke and cut, but the point is you intend to damage it.
Good choice to stick to the rules.
 
If a player can explain why an status can be applied to an ooze, pudding or tree in a way that makes sense then I would let them have it. I would say no to a prone pudding but leaving a pudding squashed so that it acts as prone would be ok.
 
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