Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DDI Article and 4E meets AD&D part 3

Combat Velocity

A couple things today. I haven't reviewed a Dungeons and Dragons Insider Article review in a good long minute, but there was a pretty interesting one published today behind the subscription paywall concerning some things you can do to speed up combat in your 4E game.

Wait, didn't the D&D 4E blogosphere hash this all out a few months ago? Why, yes, yes we did. All over the place! Seemed like everyone except WotC had some suggestions on how to speed up combat. It's about time they got on the bandwagon. Their suggestions are: roleplaying(!), doubling PC damage, doubling all damage, using average damage instead of rolling dice, using fewer monsters, and limiting character options. I think every single one of those options has been bandied about the interwebs at length and ad nauseum. However, there was a really interesting article over at Campaign Mastery last week where Johnn used a timer on all the participants and discovered that, by a significant amount, the DM (himself) was the biggest time-thief at his table.

My Suggestions

Referee, know thy monsters. Use simple ones. Save the one with all the fun tricks to be the boss.

Players, know thy characters. Have a plan of attack in combat. Know what the different funny sized dice are. Know how your powers work.

And here's one that's out of left field: change daily powers (class and magic item) to be 1x per encounter powers. Make red encounter powers usable twice per encounter. This will eliminate a lot of player waffling over which power to use, is it worth it to spend the daily now, should I save it, I don't know...

That was just a thought I had yesterday. Gonna playtest it soon, see how the players like it. I'll have a more in-depth article on that soon.

Now, back to the Old-School stuff.

Rulings, Not Rules

Of all the Old-School maxims, this is one I often have the most difficulty with. And not because I'm averse to making rulings at the table in any given situation. As I read through my old-school rulebooks, the rules are convoluted and often confusing. Some actions require a D100 roll, some a D20, and still others a D6!

There is no real core mechanic to the system.

For the game to work with "rulings" instead of "rules", the rulings must be able to be applied fairly to all players, given the circumstances. No DM is perfect, of course. We all make mistakes.

4th Edition's Core Mechanic, however, allows for more consistent rulings to be applied by the DM in any given situation. Understanding the rules and the system is key to making rulings. A judge in a courtroom knows the law; that's how she became a judge. Her understanding of the law allows her to make rulings that are consistent with precedent. At the gaming table, the rules are there to help the DM make consistent rulings. If you have to keep looking up rules at the table, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG! Set a level-appropriate target, have them roll a D20, add the appropriate modifer, and get on with the game. Tie goes to the players. Know (or have an easily accessed cheat sheet) for all the rules you regularly need to reference. The biggest part of that particular trick is knowing your PC's abilities and powers, and knowing the same for your monsters and villains.

One complaint I see old-schoolers make about 4E again and again is that the system limits players with set powers in combat. However, if the DM won't allow a PC to attempt something because he doesn't have the right power, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

That's right. Now, everyone take a deep breath, and if you really want to get a firm grasp on the rules and learn how to make better rulings in any given situation, for anything the PCs want to try, go read At-Will. This website should be required reading for every 4e DM. If you haven't spent a good chunk of time reading his stuff, you are behind the curve. And the webchat there is awesome! Hope to see you there!

1 comment:

  1. On the one hand, I agree with this basic principle: good rules help you make good rulings, and allow the freedom for imagination and invention outside of their bounds. It's better to have a good rule than no rule, and a bad rule is just a good rule that needs to be reworked.

    On the other hand, several of your criticisms of OSG make no sense. To wit:

    "Some actions require a D100 roll, some a D20, and still others a D6!"
    -So? And 3E uses a wide variety of damage dice (d3, d4, d6, d8, d12, 2d4, etc.) where in OD&D, the vast majority of damage dice were 1d6. And what's intrinsically wrong with using a bunch of different kind of dice? By this argument, any White Wolf game is inherently better than any version of DnD because they use nothing but d10s. For that matter, Yahtzee is better than any version of DnD because it uses nothing but d6es. It's a pointless criticism.

    "There is no real core mechanic to the system."
    -This statement has no meaning. What is a "core mechanic"? Do you mean the basic dependence on rolling high on a d20+modifiers for success in most things? Because if that's all it is, who cares? Chess doesn't have a "core mechanic" either, and it's an awesome game. One could argue that a "core mechanic" like d20 dependence makes a game more boring and samey.

    "If you have to keep looking up rules at the table, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!"
    -If your choice at the table is to either look up rules (and be accused of "doing it wrong") or to house-rule something on the fly (and become vulnerable to complaints from people who have memorized the actual rule for a situation or who look it up later), then THE EXISTENCE OF A "CORE MECHANIC" IS POINTLESS BECAUSE IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY REDUCE THE DIFFICULTY OF USING THE SYSTEM!

    "Set a level-appropriate target"
    -Aside from the call-out to 4E's balance fetish, which you attack in later posts, aren't you saying that every situation is nothing more than DM fiat? Isn't that exactly the worst aspect of rulings over rules? How can you tell players to accept the DM's on-the-fly DC almost immediately after declaring that "No DM is perfect, of course. We all make mistakes"?

    "have an easily accessed cheat sheet... for all the rules you regularly need to reference"
    -Um. Actually, that counts as "looking up the rule." It's expedited, certainly, but according to your previous statement, even a cheat sheet is DOING IT WRONG; the DM should just make up a number that sounds right. Right?

    "One complaint I see old-schoolers make about 4E again and again is that the system limits players with set powers in combat. However, if the DM won't allow a PC to attempt something"
    -You've entirely missed the point. My complaint, at least, on this issue is that the rules themselves discourage player inventiveness. If you've got a character's power with flavor text about sweeping an opponent's legs, but they can only use it once per combat or day, doesn't that make the player extremely unlikely to try for a leg sweep after having used up the power? The DM doesn't need to forbid anything; the existence of the power itself implies a prohibition. It's that subtle psychological limit that's the hardest to spot and combat, and it's hard-wired into 4E all over.

    Anyway. AD&D was heavily house-ruled because, frankly, its "design" was somewhat scattershot and based on a bunch of ideas that sounded good at the time but proved often unwieldy in play. 4E is a smooth-plastic over-polished piece of design... so it's interesting to see you call for mass house-ruling of it as well. 8^)