Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A few thoughts on differences


"In many ways the steady march away from original D&D has been a sustained effort to remove the effects of a bad GM on the game." - Quote from SquareMans blog

I was reading a few of my "breakfast blogs" while partaking in my brisky mornin munchin (I don't really "like" Gungans btw), and noticed this quote on SquareMans blog. For some reason, maybe it was the right time in the right place, it resonated with me.

I've had the discussion with a buddy of mine about why Dungeons and Dragons has evolved in the way that it has. We're were both pretty sure that it has to do with a couple of things:
  1. Remove the Bad GM (as per SquareMans) from the equation.
  2. Something to do with Gary Gygax (RIP) and his view of how people were playing the game.
  3. Allow people to gather at conventions and be able to play w/out sitting around a table for 3 hours trying to figure out a standardized set of "house rules".
Now I'm not claiming that I know it all. In fact, quite the opposite. I don't claim to know diddly really. I've got a fair amount of years under my belt in terms of playing the game.... but that hardly qualifies me as any sort of an expert. But, like everyone else, I've got an opinion and lordy lou...lookee here, we have a medium for me to espouse that opinion.

If I were to add to SquareMan's quote up above I'd say that in so doing, the game has actually deprecated the DM. What I mean is that the rules have become so encompassing in their attempt at standardization and the "fair" game, that they've relegated the DM to the role of adjudicator and story teller.

Some of you may say, hey, that doesn't sound so bad. But when I say "story teller" I'm also saying that if you laid out a module in front of the group and said "read the text box, nothing else", AND you had a rules lawyer in the group, you could do away with the DM completely. This is a strong statement... I know. But if you think about it, you'll see that there might be a kernel of truth in what I say.

Let's take a modern day game (4E for argument's sake) as an example, it runs very much like a war game. You have "figures" that move in squares. They have powers that they can utilize on a time-managed scale. (Sort of like you could "force march" your troops only so many times / game.) Now take a recent WotC released module. It has everything you need as a DM stated right there. You read out of the boxes (if you like, you're never forced of course) and utilize the monsters given.

A nice neat plot path dictates how things will play out in their entirety. Now obviously things don't always go as planned...but the skeleton, musculature and nervous system have been laid our for you. The players add the skin. Viola, you've got a game!

In the above scenario, given honest gamers, you could lay the module out in front of them and tell them to only read the boxed sections. When they need the monsters they could read all they need from either the core books or the module itself and play against them.

Example (most of this is made up...I don't have a 4e PHB in front of me):
  • Player - "I shift one square and use my daily, 'Positioning Strike' power." clickety clickety roll... Success! Orc takes 2W+Dex and player can move adversary's mini 2 squares in any direction.
  • Orc - (stats and powers listed for player to look at.) Takes a "move action" to reposition and uses its "Octopus from Above" encounter power...clickety clicket...die is rolled. Success! Player takes 2w and is now considered grappled.
  • Player 2 - Rinse Repeat
This is obviously a very "dry" example. But the current game doesn't scream for colorful descriptions...It's all about powers, combinations and tactical movement. This honestly  doesn't require a DM IMHO.

When I was young I used to play Squad Leader a LOT. I often played it solo though... I couldn't find many people interested in playing a game with me. This was a wonderful way to learn strategy and how you could use the rules to win.... Hint, hint.

What ever happened to, "I kick the table over, put a shoulder to it and push it into the orcs coming through the door"? These types of things take a DM to adjudicate. It's a free form style that can't be defined by rules. In 4E I'm consumed with staring at my sheet and powers and trying to figure out what might be the best tactical solution to the current situation. D R Y.

I'm not complaining really. I like 4E for what it is. But it is NOT in any way related to Dungeons and Dragons of yesteryear. Not one bit.

1 comment:

thanuir said...

4e actually has a measure of support for improvised actions. (Page 42 of the DMG, IIRC, has guidelines for improvising all sorts of things.) The powers just make improvising stuff less useful, when you can just use a power to have at least as much effect and probably do significant damage, too.