D&D 4th Edition:
Cinematic Combat

By Shamus
on Jul 8, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

I recant on yesterday’s complaints about the combat in 4e. Part of my complaint was based on the misconception that once-a-day powers reset at midnight, which is arbitrary and mechanical. (Part of the problem is that I’m reading both the PHB and DMG at the same time, scattershot, instead of just sitting down and reading them in an organized or responsible manner.) But the main reason I objected to the powers was that I couldn’t see the cinematic / dramatic / possibilities it opened up, because I’m so used to combat being a break in the roleplaying.

The fact that players can try tricks and stunts and improvise with the environment is exactly the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to do, but found the books got in the way. Early in my DM career I tried a few fights with epic scenery (like a rope bridge in a storm, which is right out of the 3.5 DMG) and while they were nice, the setting didn’t really translate into more interesting combat. It was just something cool I described before we began the fight on a stark grid, standing next to each other while we rolled lots of dice. If a player had decided to cut the bridge, or attempt to push their foe over the side, I would have been at a loss. First we’d have to muck about with attacks of opportunity, then I’d have to figure out if this sort of thing was already covered and if there were rules governing it, and then (assuming they didn’t) I’d make up some ad-hoc way of resolving it and the mechanics would feel rudderless. Are we setting precedent here? Am I going to regret doing this? Is this going to imbalance things later?

The page 42 rule – where page 42 of the DMG gives you rough guidelines for all sorts of improvisational situations – is something we could have done in 3.5, but having it in writing gives a certain sanction to this sort of business, and gives players the assurance that while the current action isn’t provided for in the books, the DM is still being governed in some way by the rules and not surrendering to anarchy or capricious whimsy.

I like Rule 42 so much I’m going to drag it along with me – as best as the rules allow – on our Star Wars campaign. (We’re using d20. I understand there is a d6 version as well, but the d20 is the sourcebook I have, so we’re going with that.)

Enjoyed this post? Please share!


2020202014There are now 94 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

1 2

  1. “the DM is still being governed in some way by the rules and not surrendering to anarchy or capricious whimsy”

    Now THAT takes all the fun out of being DM. That’s one of the benefits of having to do all the work of the DM. If it’s too hard, just make up something reasonable and “cinematic” to keep the players on that railroad of a plot thread that you’ve got going and keep the story moving. If you’ve got your head buried in the books then you’re doin’ it wrong ;)

    Grahame

  2. Rule 42 is one of the best parts of D&D 4e as it applies to combat and other skill-based challenges.

    I hope you like the game when you get to play it.  I’ll start writing about my 4e campaign as soon as I’m done prepping for Gen Con.

  3. Darcy says:

    If you’re into zany pulp adventure at all, you might want to look into Spirit of the Century sometime. The whole system revolves around improvising on interesting characteristics in a scene or other characters, for real combat effects.

    Although, if you’re not into capricious whimsy, the game might not be for you. Another neat thing about the game is that *any* skill can be potentially used in combat, including stuff like Art or Rapport or Science (especially Science).

  4. Lain says:

    Well, I don’t know 4e, but I always had Problems with Hitpoints. You need for killing a Warrior with about 50 Hitpoints you need about 20 Arrows, when you roll not so good.
    How is that in 4e?

    With systems like Warhammer or Rolemaster, this goes much more realistic, cinematistic. Even if you need you own doctorgrade for Rolemaster. But when your firm with it, it rules. For that I love also Cyberpunk 2020, which declares damge but not Hitpoints.

  5. Jonny says:

    Good choice on the d20 version of Star Wars. Don’t mess with the d6 version. As Fear the Boot says, it’s just a glorified game of Yahtzee.

  6. Scourge says:

    Rule 42… Like 42 = Meaning of life?

    Perhaps this is the explanation we always sought after?

  7. Eric says:

    I agree with chatty cathy, catch 42 is awesome!!!!

  8. In 4E they have completely doen away with hitpoints solely representing how healthy you are. They are a combination of health, morale, plot armor and various other intangible things that allow your character to go on fighting. theer are three important points in 4E with respect to hitpoints. The first is when you are at half hitpoints. You then enter a state they call bloodied. The next is at 0 HP, where you drop unconscious. Finally, you have -1/4 your HP, and that is death. The warrior with 50 HP still requires lots of arrows, but in 4E, the loss of the HP represents him dodging out of the way. As the HP gets closer and closer to 0, it is less dodging out of the way, and more the arrows having an effect. Him getting nicked here and there, and getting tired from all of the dodging. As you get really close to 0, the arrows start hitting and doing more damage.

  9. Kevin says:

    I hadn’t read it, so I just went and looked. I sure wish I had had that rule back when we were playing AD&D in high school!

  10. Arthur says:

    The page 42 rule – where page 42 of the DMG gives you rough guidelines for all sorts of improvisational situations – is something we could have done in 3.5, but having it in writing gives a certain sanction to this sort of business, and gives players the assurance that while the current action isn’t provided for in the books, the DM is still being governed in some way by the rules and not surrendering to anarchy or capricious whimsy.

    Bah! Capricious whimsy is precisely what I demand from DMs!

    Don’t get me wrong, Rule 42 is an excellent tool, but I also absolutely support the right of the DM to come up with spot rulings for one-off situations in any game.

  11. Hal says:

    I’m quite stunned, Shamus. You never struck me as the type to let a dependence on rules get in the way of awesome RPG moments.

  12. Dave says:

    Just out of curiousity, which Star Wars d20? Original, Revised, or Saga (the one that’s currently in print)? The latter came out last year and is something of halfway house between ‘classic’ D&D 3.x-inspired d20 games and 4e (and the first version of the Star Wars RPG ever where it’s not immediately obvious to a casual reader that Jedi are better than everyone else).

  13. Eric says:

    4E is more user friendly to the dm than any other system that I have read. When I Dm’ed for Mod d20, I had tons of questions that the DMG just didn’t answer. I really needed the 4e DMG badly, they’ve finally made it a tool, instead of a hinderance.

  14. Eric says:

    Star wars saga

  15. Locri says:

    I just played my first 4e game last night and I was pleasantly surprised. There are still a few details here and there that I don’t like, but there are also a lot of good ideas.

    The best aspect of it is the combat is now so much more dynamic and interesting. I think the designers finally realized that D&D has always been one of the more combat oriented systems and just went with it. It’s not the most realistic thing in the world (I’m still unsure about the healing surges thing), but it’s significantly more interesting than 3.5. I’m not sure how to describe it, but my wizard character had a lot more to do.

    Ugh, I could ramble on more, but I have to work >_<

  16. Cadrys says:

    Never let the rules–or the dice–get in the way of telling a good story.

  17. Zack says:

    Many people have mentioned the skill challenge systems but since some have not seen the mechanics in play let me cut some of my comments for another message board.

    I like the “skill challenge” system. A lot exploration and puzzle-based gameplay could fall into this category. Basically it makes long social/puzzle interactions involve everyone rather than just playing to the character with the best skill.

    Old style spot check :

    GM: You are traveling through the woods on the bandits trail. Could I get a spot check?
    Rogue: I get a 20.
    GM: There is an ambush ahead, roll for initiative. Neither side gets suprize.

    New Style :
    GM: You are traveling through the woods on the bandits trail. Could I get a spot check?
    Rogue: I get a 20.
    GM: You catch a glimpse of armor through the trees ahead, the path opens up in another 20 feet it looks like you were about to head into a ambush.
    Ranger: How is my horse reacting? It is battle trained so it might notice unfamiliar humans expecially if they smell of weapon oils and armor. (animal handling 26, a great success)
    GM : He is spooked, what ever you are about to face it isn’t human. He also seem to be flaring his nostrils, So whatever it is must be close.
    Cleric : I roll a listen of 16 do I get anything?
    GM: You hear movement to the right, you think what the horse smelled must be working its way around you using the hillock for cover….
    etc…

    Old style opening a door in a dungeon :

    GM: You approach the end of the hall. A large stone door is flanked by huge stone gargoyles.
    Rogue: I search for traps taking 20. Everyone assists.
    GM: you find a tra..
    Rouge: I disarm it while everyone stays 30 feet back, I get bardsong, guidance and I use masterwork tools.

    New Style :

    GM: You approach the end of the hall. A large stone door is flanked by huge stone gargoyles something is making your hackles rise there is something dangerous nearby.
    Rogue: I search the door for traps (moderate success)
    GM: You are worried about the way the gargoyles moths open and point toward the door. Also light from behind the door makes you think that the activation switch is hidden on the far side, this will be a bear to deactivate.
    Ranger: Can I see any abnormal wear on the statues or floor? Maybe there is a deactivation method? (roll fails)
    GM: You think you see a worn block, but moving to look you hit the statue with your swordsheath making a loud noise… You hear a muffled call from the far side of the door.
    Wizard: What language is the call? I mutter a reply in the same language to fool them into thinking it is a patrol coming back early (bluff – fantastic success)
    GM: The query was in troll. You call out the one phrase you know and it must have fooled them, as it sounds like someone is unlatching the door on the far side grumbling something you can’t quite understand.
    Dwarf warrior: meanwhile I wanna do something to plug those statues in-case they can trigger a trap to spit acid or poison on us. Does craft stone work?
    etc…

    Basically the entire group gets to interact on the problem. The interesting thing is the problem MUST not have A solution. The problem is a general situation, and the players as much as the GM define the actual situation. The GM mainly insure that the players use appropriate abilities and prevents the party from always applying the same skills to every issue.

    A nice addition to this is that as you increase in level your base skill checks improve even if you are not putting points into a skill. I saw this on EN world – “every character can use every skill whether trained or untrained. Untrained skills use 1/2 level + relevant ability modifier + d20 opposed by someone else’s skill check or a DC.”

    Thus a level 12 wizard has a decent chance of riding a horse and knowing how to jimmy a simple lock since he has been around the block a few times. (his base check for both is +8 if he has a 14 dex. Not bad at all.) This helps allow the simple fighter to make a diplomacy check or a wizard to climb a rope. Things that were all but impossible in the old system.

    Another example from the EN boards:

    The characters are travelling through a forest and come upon a large tree. There’s a dead, naked man hanged on the tree. I announce a challenge with a general skill DC of 18 (I don’t say how long the challenge is, but it’s 6/4).

    The rogue decides to walk up to the corpse and inspect it with Perception. He wins the roll and notices that theres a dry red line of blood going from the corpses throat to his groin, like he was sliced completely open then put back together. The wizard uses his Insight to try to understand what this means, and fails. The Ranger uses his Athletics to climb up the tree without disturbing the corpse, and wagers a Hard roll on it. We wins the hard roll and I offer him a second success with another skill, he chooses Nature to inspect the tree itself and I describe the tree’s dryad being pleased with him and making herself visible to the party from the branches of the tree. Meanwhile, there’s a discussion amongst the players which results in the Samurai trying his History skill to see if he has any knowledge of any historic battles where people were hung from trees after being sliced in half and re-closed and why someone would do something like that; he wins the roll and remembers tales of honorless dogs of war who would hide balloons of poison gas inside corpses and make traps out of them which would trigger on touch.

    We cycle back to the rogue, who tries to climb the tree as well and fails. This makes 2 fails, but they need 4 to fail the challenge and set off the trap, so I describe him falling and just narrowly avoiding hitting the corpse, and it swaying dangerously and the top of the cut splitting just a little bit. Everyone gulps. The wizard tries diplomacy on the dryad and asks what she knows of this corpse and why it’s there. He wins, and dryad tells him she doesn’t know why the corpse is, but that she’s sure a black satyr (enemy of hers) has set it up there while she slept in hopes of someone triggering it and killing her tree. The ranger tries a Hard thievery check to secure the corpse and cut the rope, which he wins.

    The party now has the 6 wins, so they’ve won the challenge, but I say nothing and I let it play out. The Samurai rolls athletics to catch the corpse gently and makes it (but it wouldn’t have burst anyways since the challenge was won), then the rogue describes burying it so that it won’t hurt anything else, which I tell him he doesn’t need to roll, they have won the challenge, they clap and cheer a little bit, and the dryad thanks them and gives them some advice and the traditional wooden magic item that dryads always give as rewards

    I will comment more later when I get a break.

  18. Eric says:

    That was pretty sweet, I want to do that.

  19. Russ says:

    This is what I like most about 4th edition, they come right out and tell you how things work and the design around them. The curtain separating the designer/author and the reader/player is gone. This make the game much easier to understand and run, even when strange situations occur.

  20. Joe says:

    But with your misunderstanding of once-a-day powers, you missed the dramatic setting of having a battle at midnight on a field bisected by a line of demarcation between two time zones. Think of the battle strategies!

  21. henebry says:

    Zack: You make the system sound really inviting. I played one 4e game recently (the trial one played across the country for the opening day, except we played it a few weeks later). I could tell that skills worked differently for challenges, but I didn’t understand the mechanics behind the system. All I knew was that it was more interesting.

  22. wintermute says:

    If a player had decided to cut the bridge, or attempt to push their foe over the side, I would have been at a loss. First we’d have to muck about with attacks of opportunity, then I’d have to figure out if this sort of thing was already covered and if there were rules governing it, and then (assuming they didn’t) I’d make up some ad-hoc way of resolving it and the mechanics would feel rudderless. Are we setting precedent here? Am I going to regret doing this? Is this going to imbalance things later?

    The second case is trivial; it’s a bull rush.

    The first case is not covered by explicit rules quite so well, but off the top of my head, I’d make a ruling like “the rope has AC 10, 5 hit points, DR 20/slashing. When the first rope’s cut, everyone on the bridge has to make a DC 15 reflex save to stay standing; if you fail you can make another DC 15 reflex save to grab hold of the bridge and not fall to your doom. When the second rope is cut, the whole thing collapses, forcing a DC25 reflex check to hang on.”

    Doesn’t seem like too much of a problem to me…

  23. wintermute says:

    Zach: So, if I understand skill challenges correctly, had the ranger climbed up and down the tree six times, and no-one else had done anything else, then they would have successfully completed the challenge, even though they never did anything with the corpse, or found anything out?

    I’m not convinced that this is as good a mechanic as you make it out to be…

  24. Shamus says:

    Wintermute: Remember – I was a new DM. I know all that seems obvious to someone with experience, but for people still struggling to understand not just how things work, but why they work that way, that answer is pretty complicated. It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me at that point in my career.

    Which is another reason Rule 42 is so excellent: It gives green DMs a framework on which to quickly build without needing to understand the finer points of the system.

  25. Eric says:

    Well in that scenario I’m pretty sure as dm you wouldn’t let that fly. The Dm is there to not allow that kind of shenanigans.

  26. InsanePsychic says:

    See my problem with the challenge system is the “X amount of successes for victory”. Just because 6 guys all remember some history about corpses in trees shouldn’t mean that the trap is suddenly not gonna blow up in their face if they mess it up.
    Also, that a wizard should be able to pick a lock because he’s seen a rogue do it a few times seems a little silly.

    I dislike the whole MMO-feel as I’m no great fan of the endless grinds that are your typical MMORPG. Also, “Astral Diamonds”, “Godplate armor” and other ridiculous names really ruin my day. But I guess 12-year olds find them cool.

    Finally, I have to say that I am a bit miffed about the fact that new handbooks are supposed to come out every year. I know they’re a big corporation and have to make money, but I simply won’t buy new books just to get a bunch of classes and revisions and whatnot that should’ve been in the PHB in the first place.

  27. guy says:

    @Eric

    i’ve always felt, “A good DM wouldn’t let you get away with it” to be a cop-out. that is a flawed rule, and under some conditions it might be used

  28. Eric says:

    I can concede to that Guy, but my point being was that the dm is there make it cinematic, and not allow the players to half a@# anything…..if that makes it any clearer. It’s up to the dm to get the group involved as a whole in everything, I tried this in mod d20 and failed miserably.

  29. Hentzau says:

    Damn. I’m at work and don’t have my books here, and I’m dying to know what this “Rule 42” is!

  30. Kaeltik says:

    Wintermute & Guy, any GM worth his salt won’t let player repetition count for anything. That said, refereeing and involving the whole group are hard, especially for novice GMs. I’ve personally never been good at it, especially with players who are rule sticklers and/or determined to break immersion when it’s convenient to win a challenge. How would you deal with such players?

    Edit: Eric seems to have said much the same thing a couple of hours ago. :) Apologies for the repetition. That’ll teach me to post right away rather than sitting on a reply.

  31. Zack says:

    So in my comment above about skill challenges I give examples of how skill challenges allow more types of gaming situations but even more importantly they allow the entire group to participate contributing to the overall success. So while the rogue is still the character who will disarm the trap, he can’t well do it unless the fighter holds back the crushing wall trap and it would be harder if the wizard hadn’t warned him that historically Ancient Venarin traps often had two separate consoles needed to be activated at the same time to disable a trap.

    This solves the ancient problem of the party getting bored when the situation called for one skill expert to use their skills.

    While the Mage researches the recently recovered Librum of insanity, the has to make intuition and religion checks to notice when the mage starts going insane. Meanwhile the fighter is intimidating the librarians into letting the rogue into the closed stacks of the royal library to look for the “lost” copy of the mad wizard who last transcribed these scrolls. Maybe this scroll was taken by a local cult and the rogue needs to bluff the way in and then the fighter and him fight a minion on their way out to keep the alarm from being raised even as the research is still going on.

    This type of play is particularly exciting when you combine this with a combat encounter. So the hack and slashers can be holding back the raging fire demon while the rogue tries desperately to deactivate the crushing walls from smashing the group. Meanwhile the mage needs to decide if she wants to help the fighter with the demon of help spot control panels because the walls are getting a bit too close for comfort, oh and did I mention that the room is slowly filling with poison gas? So even if the walls are reset they still might die? But plugging the gas holes in the walls might give the rogue a few critical seconds to stop the walls… But anytime you try to do that the demon puts a wall of flame in your path unless the fighters restrain it somehow…

    You can get some really heart stopping moments using these rules and it makes for amazing climatic scenes of daring escape.

    But enough of the cool things… what about the things I didn’t like?

    Character generation is painfully slow. Until there is a good computer tool to assist the process you lose anywhere from 3-5 hours per NPC you write up. I spent literally an entire week of free time writing up 8 6th level characters for a test run. The fastest I managed was 3 hours for a well detailed character, slowest was 8 hours for a character with lots of ability choices.

    Also it seems weird to not have enemies with normal classes. I wanted an enemy caster with mirror image, levitate, illusions, fireball, and wall of fire for plot reasons but NPCs with character levels have very little HP and produce absurd damage compared to “normal” monsters. I was in risk of a TPK using a 10th level caster against a 6th level party, but at the same time a lucky crit by the party warrior could have ended the fight on round one. This is sad given that my previous campaigns have usually had a lot more humans or rival PCs as bad guys. 4th ed just doesn’t balance the same, PC classes are special and for “heroic protagonists only” (well not exactly, but close enough)

    I personally felt that with a very tight tactically aware party combats were rather slow. A first level fighter with a specialist healer behind him can easily take 160 damage in a fight before dropping. That is a huge amount of damage to be ignoring at first level. I found in a group with 3 healer types (paladin, cleric, warlord) we had insane amounts of health tossed around every round. It was better in my next campaign where I had very little healing power in the party but that first campaign inspired several of my friends to limit healing via house rules. (Note: I play with lots of GMs)

    Also some characters are bookkeeping nightmares for the GM. A Warlock with fae focus puts debuffs on enemies. You get a group of enemies where 2 are marked, 4 are slowed, 1 is blinded, 2 stunned and you start to have problems keeping all that straight. I used little colored page markers that I can attach to figure bases, I also use cards for each enemy so I can check off abilities and write down effects. But a novice GM would have a hell of a time dealing with all the bookkeeping involved.

    I had some friends really love the 4th ed run I ran but I still miss non-combat spells and abilities. Also while there are lots of specialist feats there are amazingly few generally useful feats. My eladrin warlock was out of useful feats at 4th level. I expect them to hugely flesh out the feat selection in supplement books but at the same time that prospect makes my skin crawl as they have shown in the past that supplements are rarely as well balanced and you get combinations that are just infinite feedback loops since they up the power of each supplement so that munchkins will want them all. Not to mention the collectible trading card aspect of abilities… *shudder*

    But overall 4th edition has some promise. 1st level mages are FUN to play. Hell 1st level is FUN for all classes. Also 1st to 2nd is no longer a doubling in power it feels a lot more like 5th to 6th level in 3.5. If they can keep power bloat of the expansions under control then they might have a winner here, but it is still a bit early to say.

  32. mithmurr says:

    @guy: There can be limitations on where successes come from. Like “Climbing the tree can only count toward number of successes once.”

    Also, not all actions can lead to a success, but may provide a bonus to a different skill check. Like a successful insight check may not give a success toward “winning” the skill challenge, but might provide a bonus toward a diplomacy roll that can count as a success.

  33. Penn says:

    The sample skill challenges all have several skills that can only succeed once – like Insight or History. Once you’ve used it, you have the info you can get.
    In addition, I believe that the book recommends going around the table (maybe even initiative order) and getting actions one at a time. This means that after the Ranger climbs the tree once, everyone else gets to take an action before the Ranger goes again… and he’d have to justify why climbing the tree a second time actually advances the situation. Just because he can get a success by climbing doesn’t mean that every climb check makes for a success. It’s all in the flow.
    Essentially, it’s a way of codifying (and giving XP for) situations that aren’t combat, but that rely on skills. Sure, many good DMs did similar things before, but having a rules framework for it (that’s portable to almost any system, BTW) is golden.
    As regards tracking stuff for the DM, I note things in pencil on my scratchpad by where I have their running hitpoint total. So, by Grunk the Giant I’ll note that he’s taken 20 damage, and that he is currently blind, and taking 5 poison until he saves.

  34. Zack says:

    Wintermute: As others have mentioned since climbing the tree was not a primary skill for the challenge you should only allow it to count to the event once, similarly with the history checks.

    Actually one of the weaknesses of this system are that a few skills are easy to finagle into any situation (Bluff, Acrobatics, Arcana) so you have to be careful not to let them be overused by players. Also Penn and MithMurr explained how you don’t let a single character just make 6 skill checks against his best skill, the whole idea is to bring the rest of the party into the action.

    And as a GM it is fun to find creative reasons why a player can’t do that… Maybe when the ranger is climbing the tree the Nymph appeared at the bottom of the tree and was distraught that the ranger might bend her tree’s branches to breaking, or maybe she thinks he was planting the awful corpse until someone explains the situation…

    Another example : the rogue starts to disable the troll trap but then realizes he can’t shift the 500 pound boulder to finish disabling the trap without help from others. And in my previous example I mentioned multiple control panels for deactivating a trap, but you could do the same with magic, a ritual may require 5 people to take part in it…

    By letting people participate even in minor ways you make the time fly even if someone else has the spotlight for that encounter. It is your job as GM to set up encounters that let other share the spotlight. It is different approach from the past, but not necessarily a bad thing. I definitely felt that people were a lot more willing to let the bard talk to enemies or the thief sneak off when they know that they won’t have to twiddle their thumbs for 30 minutes while the specialist worked his magic.

    (And apologies for being so Loquacious Shamus, I didn’t mean to chatter so much, but I spent several weeks really cramming the new system for a friend’s weekend get-a-way)

  35. Eric says:

    Zack is exactly correct, 4e is a complete departure from the solo events. What I don’t agree with though is what he said above about the combat. 4e seems more geared to 6vs10, than the old 6vs1 format.

  36. Mari says:

    @Zack: Your first two examples are how I’ve always run checks. It’s not a mechanic, it’s running a game in a more narrative style. Nothing in old editions prevented any DM from doing this if he/she wanted to do so, it just never suggested that they might want to, either.

    And that last example applies limits to a situation I could have created just as easily without a mechanic. Without the “6/4” on it, I’ve created similar encounters in 3.x and all the way back in 2.x. It’s not complicated. You set up a situation, establish a goal for “success” and let your players figure out how to reach the goal.

    I’m failing to see why I needed a new set of rules for this. I mean, it’s neat that they’ve explained how to do it explicitly when before it was something a DM had to think of with no prompting, but nothing ever kept you from doing it. I’ve run many a game and even very long campaigns where this was the predominant mode of play because my players have always gotten bored with combat. *shrugs*

    I’m not saying I hate 4E, I’m just saying the only part of this new “feature” is the fact that the company got around to pointing out what was already possible.

  37. Jimmie says:

    Zach
    I”m curious about your skill examples. You gave this as an example of 4e goodness.

    New Style :
    GM: You are traveling through the woods on the bandits trail. Could I get a spot check?
    Rogue: I get a 20.
    GM: You catch a glimpse of armor through the trees ahead, the path opens up in another 20 feet it looks like you were about to head into a ambush.
    Ranger: How is my horse reacting? It is battle trained so it might notice unfamiliar humans expecially if they smell of weapon oils and armor. (animal handling 26, a great success)
    GM : He is spooked, what ever you are about to face it isn’t human. He also seem to be flaring his nostrils, So whatever it is must be close.
    Cleric : I roll a listen of 16 do I get anything?
    GM: You hear movement to the right, you think what the horse smelled must be working its way around you using the hillock for cover….
    etc…

    But you can do that in 3.x, or pretty much any other d20 game. Nothing in 4e makes you give the sort of bland, lifeless descriptions you used in your first example. That seems a bit deceptive to me.

  38. Eldiran says:

    @Zack: Regarding the fact that NPCs can’t have PC classes… this is true, in a way. You no longer build NPCs as if they were PCs; or even, in fact, as if they were bound by rules. When making NPCs, you just give them whatever abilities and spells you want, and an amount of hit points appropriate to their level and abilities. It’s really quite liberating, actually.

    If I want some level 3 dragonborn fighter to face the party, I’ll make up some numbers for his attributes, stats and hit points (he may only have 10 Dex and 12 Con, but I’d give him 16 Reflex and 80 hit points, or he’ll go down in a flash). I’d probably give him powers like Reaping Strike, Spinning Sweep, etc. to make him seem like a fighter. I, however, don’t give him every ability a normal fighter would get. On the other hand, I can feel free to make up some crazy power (say, Cross Slash or Climhazzard) as a recharge power. If I want the flavor of a base class, just give ‘im normal PC powers. But you have to look at the powers to calculate what level foe you should give them to, because level 1 PC powers are not level 1 NPC powers, simple as that.

    Simple as that is, it shouldn’t have taken me so much rambling to say it…

  39. Eric says:

    @ Zach: Concerning character generation, I think why it took you so long to generate your npc’s is the fact that you don’t know the feats, and powers like the back of your hand yet. I found it took the same amount of time to make a char in 3.5 the first couple of times. Once you get used to the powers, char gen time should be cut down significantly.

  40. Way up the page, Marcel Beaudoin mentioned hit points being “a combination of health, morale, plot armor and various other intangible things” as if this were something new for 4e. As I recall, that was the excuse for humongous hit points back in 1st edition AD&D.
    As to NPCs, the system for making them up sounds really weird, but I expect if it’s very annoying most GMs just won’t use it, but instead put most NPCs together as rudimentary PCs like they always have. I remember Shadowrun had some similar stuff, plus a template system for creating PCs. I don’t remember anyone ever actually using either. So, no big deal; in any rules system there nearly always turn out to be some rules which are basically wasted space.

  41. wintermute says:

    Kaeltik / Eric:

    So, the system ain’t broken because any GM worth his salt can fix it? Sounds like a winner to me.

  42. Eric says:

    Generating npc’s is easier noe for one reason: you can use the minature’s monsters’s cards. It says so right in the book. Use these for your minions and whatnot, but still generate a npc from scratch for campaign mechanics, and story purposes.

  43. wintermute says:

    Eldiran:

    I’ve never found it “liberating” to assume that PCs and NPC are two completely different species, and never the twain shall meet. If I create a 1st level fighter NPC and give him spell resistance “just because it would be cool”, without any rhyme or reason, I’d fully expect my players to get pissed at that.

    PCs and NPCs are exactly the same, so far as the game world is concerned, and they should follow the same rules. Otherwise, I’m going to play one of those NPC types.

  44. Eric says:

    wintermute: By what your saying every edition of D&D, or any other rpg is broken, there will always be something the Gm is going to have fiddle with, because it doesn’t work.

  45. sciguy says:

    Hentzau:
    Damn. I’m at work and don’t have my books here, and I’m dying to know what this “Rule 42″ is!

    It’s not really “Rule 42”, it’s the “Actions the rules don’t cover” section on page 42 of the DMG. At the bottom is a table with guidelines for level-appropriate DCs (categorized by Easy, Moderate, or Hard) for anything that the PCs might try that aren’t covered in other rules, along with damage that they (or their enemies) might be able to inflict with stunts, environmental hazards, etc. The same sort of thing could have been done (and probably was done) in earlier editions, but in 4E the designers flat out said to DMs “Here’s what the underlying math determines will be an easy/moderate/hard challenge for Nth level players”. Experienced DMs can certainly go on coming up with their own numbers on the fly, but I think it’s a great resource for new DMs.

    Most people seem to think that having the “answer to everything” on page 42 was deliberate. I agree. :)

  46. In general, this game sounds kinda annoying to me. Of course, I haven’t actually played D&D since 1st edition. But by the time second ed. came out, first edition, while a messed-up system with tons of kludge, allowed for a lot of possibilities. It was class based, and classes were fairly narrow. But there were so many of them, and so many spells, and so many ways to combine classes, and then there were the weapon specializations and all kinds of stuff like that; in the end, though theoretically limiting, almost anyone could find a style that was what they were looking for. Rolemaster was similar.
    Eventually I still got sick of relying on the sheer kludginess of a game to let me do something like what I wanted to do, and moved to GURPS (and sometimes Hero) where the flexibility is built into the system, and the system is an actual system rather than a mound of kludges. Indeed, you can add house stuff all you want without abusing the game, because most of your house stuff will just be additional skills.

    4e sounds very playable, if what you want to play is what they have in mind being played, with the kinds of characters they have in mind being played, in the way they have in mind playing them. But it sounds awfully deuced limited. If I wanted a mindless gorefest with very narrow possible character options, I wouldn’t play a tabletop game I’d play a computer game. No doubt things will improve as they release supplements–but the basic structure seems narrow in itself. I mean, from what someone said above it sounds like weapon choice is largely determined by character class. That’s ridiculous! What if you want to do a campaign setting whose culture uses weapons different from the ones any of the character classes can do cool stuff with? You’d have to kludge up a bunch of house rules just to get it playable!

    And if you have magical items that have once-a-day powers, you can only use 1-3 of them per day? I’d love to hear the rationale that makes that seem anything like the Gods of Game Balance stepping into the campaign and saying So Shall It Be. All in all, 4e may be a fun game with entertaining, cinematic combat. It doesn’t sound like it’s really designed to be a role-playing game, though.

  47. Eric says:

    Once again, these are things you can work out with your Gm. The class doesn’t choose the weapon, the player does. You can be whatever you want within reason, as long as your not trying to be the last son of krypton. That’s it.

  48. Derek K says:

    I’m with Wintermute, generally. The point of playing a game, rather than just sitting around writing cooperative stories, is that there is a framework around it, and the players are reasonably assured that the rules are consistent across both sides, such that a victory is truly a victory, and a loss is truly a loss. If you won out over the dragon in the last second, and claimed the treasure, then later found out you’d only won because the DM fudged three rolls, doesn’t it take away most of the excitement? Because now, you didn’t win. You just listened to a story where the outcome was fixed. And if you find out that you lost a fight because “you were supposed to” then don’t you sort of wonder why you showed up at all? But I know that’s a style thing – I prefer to know that the game was fair, and that the outcome could have gone either way. I also prefer games that are more ad-hoc – I prefer a DM that has a general plan, and a world, and then I go live in it, rather than one that has an epic story already mostly written, which I will inhabit. The epic story likely has better setpieces, but it feels more hollow to me. But I can see the other side, too.

    My other big beef with 4e is the writing style. It’s written in a … I hate to say folksy, but very casual style in a number of places. I don’t mind that in, say, a gaming blog. But in the core PHB, it kinda bugs me. It kinda breaks the illusion that the designers are a bit above – if it reads like some guy chatting with me, I start to wonder why I paid $100 to get the books this guy came up with, when he’s just some guy. ;)

  49. Eric says:

    I understand what your getting at, but to believe that gm doesn’t step in anywhere is naive. How are you going to know where the gm steps in at, unless he tells you, and if he does he’s not a really good gm. The gm is suppose to keep this information discreet.

  50. Eldiran says:

    Wintermute:

    Heheh. That’s not exactly what I meant when I said they didn’t have to follow rules any more. The NPCs still have to obey physics (you have to make an attack roll to hit someone, for example) and well, the DM still has rules he has to follow (make things make sense, and make things of appropriate difficulty — no Finger of Death spells for random peasants).

    My point was more that you don’t have to shoehorn enemy concepts into predetermined PC classes. If you want a swordsman who can cast fireball — given the appropriate background, reasoning, and balancing — you can just go ahead and give him that power. Or make up a similar power for him. Not to say that you couldn’t do this in 3.5, but it certainly (to me) seemed to be heavily discouraged without giving the guy 5 levels of wizard and working it all out mathematically.

    Whereas NPCs still have abilities that pertain to their race and occupation (all Kobolds, PC or NPC, possess the “Shifty” ability), it doesn’t seem that there’s so many hard restrictions on what your opponent can do. A good example is that “Elite” foes (boss monsters) get an extra standard action each round. In 3.5, this would be objected to by most every player, including myself, as cheating, but in 4e, it is encouraged.

    At least, this has been my experience so far. Suffice to say I enjoy making monsters even more than I used to, since there are even fewer limits to my creativity when it comes to creating dynamic and unique foes.

  51. Dev Null says:

    Yeah, this seems a bit strange to me. The only thing new in your example Zach is the 6/4 mechanic, which is the only bit that seems arbitrary to me.

    I’d have handled your gas trap in just about any game I’ve ever played by modifiers to rolls. Sure, the thief could just roll to disarm the trap, but it’d be a bloody hard roll. If he’s good enough though, or lucky enough, it’ll work (sort of the trap equivalent of level 1 monsters leaving your level 20 character alone instead of wasting your time.) But if you describe how you want to disarm it, and it makes sense, I’ll let you and the rest of the party make additional rolls for bonuses. The thief makes a spot check looking for the trigger and finds it – +15%. The ranger makes a climb roll to get up in the tree and help – +10%. The samurai makes his history roll which tells him nothing more useful than its a trap, which you knew already – +0%. The druid colossally blunders his plant lore skill to try to identify the gas by trace smell – -10% because you’re now looking for a contact poison and really its respiratory.

    The only real difference is there is no arbitrary point at which the characters skill rolls stop being useful, IF they can come up with a good reason WHY the skill should be useful in this situation (and theres no magic point beyond which some klutz couldn’t screw it up either.) Honestly, as a GM encourage your players by helping them out with suggestions once, and the little min-maxing minxes will be badgering you for details about the room/person/situation that they can use to _roleplay_ challenge support forever more. More detail, more group participation, more roleplay == more fun.

    Which is not to say the 4e way of encouraging this is bad per se; just hardly new, and the threshold seems a bit arbitrary to me. What if my first skill roll was to light an enormous bonfire under the tree and back away 100 yards or so? It succeeds! The entire tree and corpse is engulfed in flames and the poison is utterly destroyed! Now, for 3 more skill rolls to successfully disarm it… Lets see; History, Singing Campfire Songs, and Cooking Marshmellows should do it. Also, it smackls heavily of the old Shadowrun system, where the difficulty of any task was described by two different factors – the number you were trying to roll and the number of them you had to get (in this case the difficulty of the challenge and the number of skill tests you need to pass.) That seemed really cool on paper, but was an absolute nightmare to GM. If the target number is 4 and they need 4 successes on 6 dice, how do you make it “1 harder”? Make the target number 1 higher? Drops your odds from 34.4% to a bit over 8% – huge drop*. Make them need 1 more success? Plummets to nearly 11%. Trust me; as a GM, having two codependent variables determining the difficulty of any task is a mess.

    *Just to stem off any pointless argument; my off-the-cuff maths may well be wrong, but the point would still be valid. Back when we actually played Shadowrun we wrote a quick script to calculate the odds and go you one better, and it always surprised me; I threw it out when we finally gave up and just went percentile but kept the world.

  52. Tizzy says:

    About sciguy’s comments:

    I have not seen this famous p. 42, so maybe they address this well, but — sight unseen — I don’t see how a “Here’s what the underlying math determines will be an easy/moderate/hard challenge for Nth level players” table would be that helpful to novice DMs. Because, what constitutes an easy challenge for, say, a level 20 character? Doing a backflip? Running up a wall? Reading? Reading runes that have not been used in 1000 years?

    Well, every DM will have their opinion on that, and that’s fine, except that for the novice who’s been blindsided when the question comes up unexpectedly, it’s tough. And you can make up numbers on the fly, but it’s consistency that will get you. Either you don’t even attempt to have uniform difficulty levels (one day climbing a rope is hard, the same rope may be easy some other day) and you don’t have rules any more. Or you try to be consistent, but if you winged it too much at first, you may have a broken, nonsensical world (where running on ice without falling is easy but climbing a tree is almost impossible).

    This still sounds very tricky to me especially for the novice.

  53. Zack says:

    Mari: You have good points. if you already had the forethought to integrate skill checks into most encounters then more power too you. I think 4.0 does a better job of teaching GM that they should do so. I honestly would like to run GURPS but I have found that it takes a more time to explain non d20 mechanics to my friends. Also 4.0 is easier to explain to new players. The weekend retreat only two people had read the rules and yet everyone was able to play with only a few seconds of basic explanation because the relevant rules were on the character sheets I gave them. That is great for one shots games.

    Jimmie : good catch that was a pretty weak example, but in 3.0 I know the party was often beset with constant spot or listen checks and really the cross class rules made it so that only 1 person (rogue/ranger) mattered since a cleric or fighter literally had zero chance of spotting a specialized vampire rogue sneaking up on the party. It was frustrating that unless a skill was maxed it was generally meaningless after 5th level. I feel that having all skills slowly climb really helps alleviate that issue, but it does mean there is a bit of skill inflation at higher levels I would expect. I ran a campaign to 20th in 3.0 and I don’t expect I will ever try that again. At least in 3.0 the system really broke down after 13th level.

  54. Brian says:

    In response to Purple Library Guy.

    I mean, from what someone said above it sounds like weapon choice is largely determined by character class. That’s ridiculous! What if you want to do a campaign setting whose culture uses weapons different from the ones any of the character classes can do cool stuff with? You’d have to kludge up a bunch of house rules just to get it playable!

    My seaside culture uses their own weapons: one is the Shark-Toothed Staff, a hideous club wrapped with dried fiber and covered in serrated blades, and the other is the Tail Knife, a wicked-looking short sword that curves into two blades near the end, looking like a fish tail. The Shark-Toothed Staff is a Superior One-Handed Versatile weapon, belongs to the Mace group, and deals 1d10 damage with 3 Proficiency. The Tail Knife is a Simple One-Handed Off-hand weapon with High Crit, belongs to the Light Blade group, and deals 1d4 damage with a 2 Proficiency.

    In five minutes, just by glancing at the Equipment section, I’ve created 2 weapons. All classes gain access to Simple Melee Weapons, and if a character wants the Shark-Toothed Staff? Weapon Proficiency feat. That is not a kludge, as you so politely put it; it fits elegantly into the system already presented, and DnD players have been doing it for years in the systems that you skipped over in the intervening time.

    And if you have magical items that have once-a-day powers, you can only use 1-3 of them per day? I’d love to hear the rationale that makes that seem anything like the Gods of Game Balance stepping into the campaign and saying So Shall It Be.

    This is what makes the game liberating. What is the rationale behind it? Is it the limitations of the human spirit to properly attune themselves to embedded magic? Do spent magic items clash with charged ones to prevent them from working? Perhaps all magic items are limitedly intelligent, and become angry or forlorn when not used. The liberation of 4th Edition is that The Gods of Game Balance have saved us from The Gods of Forced Flavor Text, and we’re free to give whatever explanation we want. Flavor is nothing but words, and words can be changed; heck, isn’t that the entire point of the HERO system?

    All in all, 4e may be a fun game with entertaining, cinematic combat. It doesn’t sound like it’s really designed to be a role-playing game, though.

    That’s because the rules have gotten the heck out of your way with regards to roleplaying. There’s not a single spot in the crunch, the numbers, or the mechanics that tells you how to roleplay; to some that’s a prison, but to me that’s all I need to really escape.

    If I wanted a mindless gorefest with very narrow possible character options, I wouldn’t play a tabletop game I’d play a computer game.

    The Player’s Handbook is full of combat rules because combat can get tricky and unbalanced if it’s not regulated. There’s no rules listed for roleplaying because there’s no such thing; you can roleplay however you like.

    …Wow, I’ve written far too much. Apologies!

  55. Derek K says:

    “I understand what your getting at, but to believe that gm doesn’t step in anywhere is naive.”

    Not if that’s the game you’re playing in. The GM sets up the encounter appropriately. He sets a challenge that is a level the players enjoy, and then he goes. He might not spring the allies he had planned to bring in after 5 rounds, because the battle is going badly, so they get delayed until round 10. But he’s not going to break rules. He’s not going to have the 10th level wizard cast magic missle every round. He’s not going to give a save to a spell that didn’t have one.

    I know that my GM won’t do that. I know because there have been a number of times where I, or someone else in the party, has died, and it has disrupted the plot, and he has complained about it. I know because we’ve talked about how we play, and discussed this facet of the game. I know because he’s said “Well, you knew that he was doing con damage. You shouldn’t have kept attacking.”

    Can I fudge the rules to make a better game? If I needed to crit to kill the bbeg, and I didn’t roll a crit, should I tell the DM that I did, because that’s more dramatic? Most people are going to say no. So why should the DM?

    Again, it’s different expectations of the game – I’m more interested in knowing that it’s a fair and balanced outcome, and whatever happened happened under the same rules it always did, even if it’s not as good of a story (although if you’re leaving key story points up to dice rolls, that’s another issue, and if the only way you can have a good story is for the PC’s to succeed, I’ve got a couple prison scenarios to run you through….) in the end. Because no matter what happens, my DM’s gonna make it a good story. The death of my PC by gruesome beheading is going to be just as interesting as the looting of the behir’s horde would have been.

    To me, if I know the DM will pull punches to save my life, there’s no danger. And if there’s no danger, there’s no conflict. And if there’s no conflict, there’s no challenge. And if there’s no challenge, it’s not a game. Cause it’s just as much G as it is RP, and judging by the roots, arguably more. ;)

    And honestly, if you tell me “The rule is that way because it makes the game balanced” I’ll say “Ah, okay.” I can put my own flavor behind it if I feel the need, but generally, I just say “That’s because it makes a better system” and move on.

  56. Eric says:

    Tizzy by the time a novice Dm gets to run campaign for lvl. 20 characters he’s not going to be a novice. I still see what your trying to get at, though. The table is just an guide, it says in the book Dm discretion.

  57. @Purple Library Guy
    4th Edition is the first one where this idea (HP as plot armour, etc) is a central part of the rest of the game. It is, IIRC, explicitly stated in the section on HP.

    You can see this also in the healing surges, and a lot of the Warlord’s powers. The game, more than any other editions, is very much aimed at cinematic combat and cinematic storytelling.

  58. Nostromo says:

    Congratulations, guys.

    You’re all playing Runequest.

  59. Eric says:

    @Zack: In my experiences it depends on the Dm, after all it’s dm’s discretion.

    Also, it’s not that I don’t want my character to die form my mistakes, but rather Dm mistakes.

  60. wintermute says:

    Eldiran:

    My point was more that you don’t have to shoehorn enemy concepts into predetermined PC classes. If you want a swordsman who can cast fireball — given the appropriate background, reasoning, and balancing — you can just go ahead and give him that power. Or make up a similar power for him. Not to say that you couldn’t do this in 3.5, but it certainly (to me) seemed to be heavily discouraged without giving the guy 5 levels of wizard and working it all out mathematically.

    If an NPC can do something, it stands to reason that a human* can do that thing, given the right stats, feats, etc. Which means that it should be eminently possible for a PC to be able to duplicate the effect. Yes, it might take levels in a prestige class that can only be taught by a hermit living high in the Faraway Mountains, or a feat that’s whose existence can only be discovered in an ancient book now forgotten in the king’s private library, but it should be doable.

    If a player says they want their next PC to be able to pull off the trick they just saw an NPC use, and your only response is “uh, you can’t actually build that, legally”, then I call shenanigans. In effect, you’re saying that PCs and NPCs are entirely different creatures who are governed by entirely different rules.

    Within the world, PCs and NPCs are exactly the same. Why should the mechanics of the system treat them differently?

    *Or whatever. But note, I’m talking about NPCs, not monsters, just in case anyone thinks I want PCs to be able to breathe fire like a dragon…

  61. wintermute says:

    Brian:

    This is what makes the game liberating. What is the rationale behind it? Is it the limitations of the human spirit to properly attune themselves to embedded magic? Do spent magic items clash with charged ones to prevent them from working? Perhaps all magic items are limitedly intelligent, and become angry or forlorn when not used. The liberation of 4th Edition is that The Gods of Game Balance have saved us from The Gods of Forced Flavor Text, and we’re free to give whatever explanation we want. Flavor is nothing but words, and words can be changed; heck, isn’t that the entire point of the HERO system?

    Except that each of those explanations has its own subtle ramifications; can magic items be communicated with, on some level? Could a new GM-created race have different limitations? Is there some mystic counter keeping track of uses that a third party could read somehow?

    By removing “words”, you’re removing the understanding of how this actually works in the game world. And, of course, you can then add in whatever explanation you like, so long as you think through the consequences of that explanation, and remember them for a hundred different rules that need explanations. The flavour text essentially become house rules at this point, and the next group you game with might require you to learn a whole new set of rules.

    Saying “you can only use three magic items a day”, but not providing an in-game rationale for that is fine, if you don’t care if it makes sense to the characters, or if you like making up your own rules. But it’s not a solution that I find “liberating”.

  62. Brian says:

    I’m being blunt here because I really can’t take it anymore. The biggest cause of flamewars among the 3rd Edition vs 4th Edition crowd have been between Simulationists and Gamists. After months of their arguments, I really have to put this here.

    Within the world, PCs and NPCs are exactly the same. Why should the mechanics of the system treat them differently?

    Wintermute: Keep playing 3.5. That’s not an insult, and I’m not trying to be derisive; 4th Edition is not your kind of game, I can tell you that right now. 3rd Edition created rules where PCs and NPCs use the same character creation system, and 4th Edition got rid of it. 3rd Edition works off of the gameworld having discrete, concrete rules, whereas 4th Edition encourages you to wing it. It’ll only cause pain and rage when you come up against discrepancies like this. If you want your RPG system to simulate a real, breathing fantasy world, use 3rd. If you want your RPG system to simulate an epic, action-packed tale, use 4th.

    That’s not a bad thing. It’s a matter of style, and if you try to convert to 4th you’ll be unhappy. Do what makes you happy, and stick with 3.5: you’ll be glad you did.

  63. Alan De Smet says:

    InsanePsychic (26): Yearly(ish) handbooks chock full of new classes and such are hardly new. 3e had the Complete X series (Complete Arcane, Complete Warriors, etc). 2e had the Complete X’s Handbook (Complete Fighter’s Handbook, Complete Wizard’s Handbook, etc). Now as a branding thing they’re just calling them Player’s Handbook II and so on. They’re explicitly trying to convince people that you need them, because they’re somehow core when the Complete books weren’t, but it’s really just branding.

    Zach (31): Slow NPC chargen: Use the templates! They won’t be identical to a properly levelled character, but it takes but a moment and will give you something that captures the flavor of the character. Reserve full blown NPCs for rare villians.

    Many people on interesting skill checks: You could always do interesting skill checks in 3e and earlier. Zach’s examples were a bit biased, since he did include better color text. But the key here is that the DMG explicitly tells you that this is a good way to run it. It gives you a clear mechanic and guidelines for handling multi-stage skill checks with lots of people involved. It explicitly gives you guidance on incorporating player creativity. Of course you could always have done this. But the DMG didn’t especially help. Now someone new to the game can get cool stuff right now, instead of learning it through years of play or from other people. If something was a good idea for pretty much all games, doesn’t it belong in the core rules? (Sadly, the actual multi-check skill challenge rules are busted. There is some evidence that multiple systems were still being considered very late in the development process and that the resulting system is a rushed mishmash. There is a good system there, but it needs refinement. Several people have suggested a variety of good alterations. WotC needs to fix this, because I shouldn’t need to homebrew to work around a fundamentally broken part of the game.)

    Wintermute: “PCs and NPCs are exactly the same, so far as the game world is concerned, and they should follow the same rule.” This is a key change in D&D. D&D used to half-assedly support a more simulation focused style of play. NPCs and PCs were basically the same. Simulation play is lots of fun. But it’s also ill suited to heroic adventure of the sort D&D has been promising for decades. High level NPCs really needed to realistically carry piles of magical items, both for game balance and simulation (the players have them, why not the NPCs?). But this injected piles of magic into the game. A game with more NPC opponents got more magic and were more powerful than a game with more monster opponents. The R&D people commented at one point that a high level NPC typically had four times as many magical items as an equivalent dragon, but was less dangerous. Hunting NPCs was far more profitable than hunting dragons. Not so good for a game called Dungeons & Dragons. Similarly, the simualtion aspect encouraged picking up even crappy items for resale, and carefully tracking your encumbrance values. Which part of heroic adventure includes the powerful hero looting bodies for spears as supplemental income? The simulation aspect meant that simply applying the existing rules could create monsters that were worth lots of XP, but in practice were easy, or monsters that were way more powerful than their challenge rating suggested. You ended up giving commoners levels and classes. A skilled tailor inexplicably had more hitpoints than a low skilled ditch digger. To have a a world famous singer whose soulful songs could cause riots means that they are also must be great warriors (at least better than a low level standing army’s soldiers). Once up to a moderate level, PCs could logically slaughter a mid-sized towns entire armed forces. In an attempt to compensate mid-sized towns would strangely have a bunch of mid to high level NPCs who could themselves rule the town with an iron fist, or make piles of money doing “safe” (lower level) adventuring, but instead were happy to act as hedge wizards, bartenders, or town priests making a few silver per day.

    4e realized that the heroic adventure and the simulation were fighting each other, creating a wishy-washy result that was just barely good enough for the heroic adventure and simulation, but wasn’t great at either. They decided to focus on the heroic adventure to strive for great. A lot of the simulation was sacrificed. I think they made the right call; but I never liked D&D simulation aspect. For my simulation fix, I looked to other games. GURPS leaps most obviously to mind, as do DC Heroes and Shadowrun. There are many others.

    All that said, D&D did fill a special and large niche that may be the reason for it’s long term success: it was a game that both simulation fans and heroic adventure fans could play together and have a good time. Neither got as great of a game as they could have (short of significant house ruling), but it was good enough. Making a game the heroic action fans love at the cost of angering the simulation fans may be a problem. The heroic action fans may lose half of the group they love socializing with.

    (For those people familiar with GNS theory, I would put forth that D&D 1e to 3e in practice did an acceptable job of supporting Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist play. 4e sacrifices simulationist play in exchange for better gamist and narrativist play. The heroic/cinematic adventure aspects are tuned to generate cool narratives and crunchy gameplay problems.)

    Purple Library Guy (46): Yes, weapon access and powers are limited. The same was true in every other edition until lots and lots of supplements came out. One of the gems of 4e is that the rules give clear guidelines on tweaking the system. Adjusting for another culture’s weapons wouldn’t be hard. 4e is an RPG. It just happens to be an RPG with a strong focus on cinematic action instead of world simulation. Both are acceptable focuses for an RPG.

    Tizzy (52): Consistency is, sadly, a muddy point in the rules right now and part of the most glaring flaw that needs fixing. The rules put forth two different views, then never explains how to pick between them. The skills section gives you static challenges based on the world. The skill challenge section gives you difficulties that vary based on your level. The first is more simulation based; it gives you a world that makes more sense. The second is better at game balance and interesting stories where the characters always fail an interesting portion of the time. Put another way, powerful characters in fantasy novels sometimes fail at weirdly mundane things because it’s interesting to the plot.

    Now, I think the intention is that at higher levels you shouldn’t be facing challenges that are easy. Maybe the duke you debated at level 1 was actually a pushover, while the king at level 10 was a hard ass, and the demon at 20 is supernaturally hard to persuade. Climbing a 20 foot tall tree is always easy, but at higher levels is no longer as helpful to the problem at hand (especially since you’ll typically have easy access to flight). Swinging into an enemy on a chandelier may technically be easy, but at higher levels your enemies are more saavy and you need to swing faster or misdirect them or time your swing to hit them just as they adjust their stance. However, I shouldn’t have to figure this out myself. My years of experience shouldn’t be prerequite to running a fun game of D&D. The DMG should spell these things out. Given how many of the assumptions they spell out, this is a glaring omission.

  64. Alan De Smet says:

    Wintermute: “Within the world, PCs and NPCs are exactly the same. Why should the mechanics of the system treat them differently?”

    Because they’re not exactly the same. The PCs are the protagonists. The NPCs they fight are villians; they exist to be cool enemies for a while, then to be defeated. The PCs should constantly be cool and should generally survive even preposterous circumstances. The game is built around a bias for the PCs over everyone else.

    This idea is pervasive, but the most striking example is the minion rules. They have one hit point, no matter what “level” they are. From a simulation standpoint this is utter nonsense. How could a skilled combatant capable of seriously threatening a heavily armored 10th level fighter be taken down by the slightest injury? You can come up with excuses for special cases, but you’re supposed to use these rules frequently for just about any foe. It’s a terrible simulation, but it’s sure as heck heroic as the PCs wade through them on the way to the big boss.

    That said, I mostly agree with Brian, with one big addition:
    if you haven’t already, give 4e a try. Keep on the Shadowfell is entirely self contained; no other rules necessary (although it’s a bit sparse). If your entire group goes in on it, it’s just a few bucks per person for a month or two of gaming. Go in with an open mind. Try to not sweat the simulation details and try to appreciate the combat and the heroic action. Maybe you’ll hate it. But you might discover that you like other styles of game and want to occasionally take a dip in non-simulation focused games. I certainly did. I still love a good simulation game. But I also like 4e for what it is.

1 2

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>