Comment by Mark
I’m gonna give you some more ammunition.
Design matters. 4th edition was a step in the right direction that needed go farther, and I had hoped 5th edition would continue in that direction. Here’s why: the more consistent mechanics, the clear keyword-based rule listings, and above all else, the balanced and meaningful math – all of that combines to make the game easier to DM. It doesn’t go far enough because there’s no advice, and because a lot of the design was still pretty kludgey, especially early on (compared the quality of the monsters in the Monster Manual 1 to those of the Monster Manual 3), but to a strong degree a novice DM can follow the instructions and trust that the game will work.
I’ll use a common DMing task as an example: designing a balanced encounter. In 4th edition, they’ve got a guideline: pick so many monsters in such-and-such a proportion of archetypes of equal level to the party (no matter their composition), and use their powers like you want to win, and it’ll almost always be an appropriate challenge for the party. It still takes deep familiarity with the combat system to actually run the battle (and the books didn’t do much to teach that, although the Move-Minor-Standard system was intuitive enough), but it’s straightforward.
5e’s regressive design makes it harder to DM. This extends not only to the layout of the books, where you need to cross-reference spell lists because monsters’ abilities aren’t fully described in their stat blocks, but also to their actual capabilities. The balance between classes has gone back to being Angel Summoner And BMX Bandit ( http://youtu.be/zFuMpYTyRjw ), which means that the relationship between the party’s level and the monsters’ challenge ratings is ambiguous at best. A good DM has to know that they need to take into account the monsters’ powers, not just their level, and tailor the encounter to match the characters’ capabilities, and if they misjudged the relative strengths, they may also need to know to enforce the “gentleman’s agreement” not to inflict a TPK during what was supposed to be a speed bump.
The important part about this is how much it requires the DM to understand, in advance, the actual mechanical effects of the monsters. And how much it requires them to adapt to the circumstances of the party, not only in their composition but also in the flow of the battle. A novice DM can only acquire those skills through practice, and 5e is much more demanding of improvization on the part of the DM (not only making narrative decisions on the fly, but anticipating the gameplay consequences thereof).
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Mike Mearls answers questions about the 5e rules on Twitter. Check out how many time he says that the resolution of some ambiguity is “up to the DM.” But doctor, I am Pagliacci! How’s the DM supposed to learn what a good ruling is, without guidance? Why isn’t that guidance in the book? If the book isn’t going to provide guidance for making good rulings, then why does it provide rules that require so many rulings?
Comment by Mercurius
But so I’m not an instant of that complaint, I’ll throw an idea out there. The Starter Set is clearly, as the Angry DM put it (in paraphrase), “The Start Playing Again Set For Those Who Already Know How to Play Some Version of this Game.” I’d recommend that WotC research and design a true Beginner’s Set. Thankfully “starter” could mean that it is just a quick start product for those wanting to play right away, but not necessarily the product for newbies. There is still room for a Beginner’s Set without too much confusion or loss of face.
What would this Beginner’s Set be? Just that – a product for beginners, for people who have either never played or only played and never DMed. It would be designed for reasonably intelligent 12-year olds to learn on their own. What would it include? Basically what we see in the starter set or the core three books, but in a massively simplified tutorial version. There would be:
- A Player’s Book – how to make a character, in a hand-held manner. “Once you’ve selected your class, turn to page X if you choose fighter, page Y if you choose wizard”…etc.
- A DM’s Book – Again, a tutorial on how to run the game, including example sessions.
- An Adventurers Book – Sample short adventures, both choose-your-own style that you can run yourself through, but also a full-blown adventure that you can run for your friends, albeit with helpful sidebars and such.
- Dice and other doodads – Pretty it up. Make it fun to open and look at. But not too much.
In addition, there would be online support and apps for character design and other fun things. The text could include numerous references such as “For More Options, go online to…”
Beyond the Beginner’s Set you could theoretically have an Expert’s Set, which would be more levels, less hand-holding, more adventures, classes etc, and a transition to the core books. You could also have rules for random dungeon generation, that could both be used for solo play or for designing adventures (hopefully this will be in the DMG, but a simple version would work here).
OK, those are two products plus some apps. I also agree with the Angry DM that advertising is huge. But all that, well, let someone who knows what they’re talking about say their piece. But again, you need someone who can “translate down.”
Oh yeah, one more thing. I didn’t talk about ideas to convert existing players to DMs. I think solo products are an untapped potential – world builders, campaign builders, and yeah, solo dungeons to play through, have fun and also try things out. I’m not sure what Dungeonscape will offer, but the world/campaign/adventure building is huge. I hate to say this, but the basic idea of those annoying Facebook questionnaires might work well, with algorithmically generated worlds and adventures, that then can be tweaked. The point being, people need help and an interactive process could actually be rather fun.
Read more: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?363009-Does-WotC-suck-at-selling-games/page3#ixzz3JM1ypz4M
Comment by Pemerton
In the early 1980s I owned two RPGs: black-box Traveller, and Moldvay Basic. I was given Traveller first, I read the rules, and I had no idea what I was meant to do to play the game. I knew that playing it involved characters who would experience events giving rise to some sort of story, but I literally did not understand how I was meant to do that.
Then I was given Moldvay Basic. It told me how to play. It didn’t just present rules, and flavour. It told me what to do with them. Especially, as a GM, it told me how to set up and referee the game. Simply, and with pithy but useful examples. (Such as the lists of possible adventure sites, and possible scenarios. And then the worked exampe of the Haunted Keep.)
I was able to get into D&D straight away. And from that point on I was also able to play Traveller, because I had now been told what was involved in refereeing an RPG.
The lesson I take away from this is that it is possible to GM from a standing start, provided you are told what is actually required.
Quote Originally Posted by roadtoad View Post
I’m not seeing the problem with the Skill Challenge example on DMG 77, but maybe I’ve internalized the Skill Challenge rules too much to notice. It seems to follow the “Running a Skill Challenge” structure described on page 74 just fine. There are checks, DCs, roleplaying, a use of the “DM’s best friend.” What’s the problem?
In the Essentials example, the final (failed) check is a Streetwise check to identify a building. The consequence of that failure is that some thugs, who were earlier scared off with an Intimidate check, turn up again to fight the PCs. The technique in use here is to draw on an earllier element of the challenge (the NPC thugs) to estabishe a consequence for the failure of Streetwise, and of the challenge – even though those thugs weren’t themselves part of the framing of the Streetwise check.
That technique is an important one for running skill challengs, or any similar “indie”-style conflict resolution system. But it is not self-evident, and I know from my posting experience on these boards that it is very counter-intuitive to many experienced D&Ders. I am familiar with it, an recognise its use, because I have read advice about in written by Robin Laws in HeroWars/Quest, and by Luke Crane in Burning Wheel. The Essentials rulebook, by contrast, does not call out or explain the technique.
For the DMG example, look at Uldar towards the bottom of p 77. Uldar’s player says “Okay, calm down everyone. . . . I empathise with your desire to protect your people, Duke, and I assure you that we want to accomplish the same thing. But to do that, we really need your assistance.” And then the mechanical commentary explains that this is resolved as an Insight check. Why Insight? How did the GM and player establish this as an Insight rather than a Diplomacy check? There is no explanation or advice.
Another weakness in the example: look at the opening Diplomacy check – the PC tells the Duke that he and his friends want to help against the goblins. This succeeds. Per the GM’s notes for the challenge, this also opens up History. And the GM has to Duke respond “I do remember the Battle of Cantle Hill. Nasty business.” What the GM is doing here is having the duke respond in a way that makes fictional sense of the mechanical fact that History has been unlocked as a skill. But there is no explanation that this is what the GM is doing (ie keeping the fiction and the mecahnics in sync.) Nor is there any discussion of how the GM might have had the Duke respond if the PC’s Diplomacy attempt had involved a slightly different subject-matter that made it harder to have the Duke respond with a simple download of his past – eg what if the first Diplomacy check made had been an attempt to hose down the conflict resulting from the failed Intimidation? How does a GM respond to that in a way that smoothly unlocks History as a possible skill?
There are GMing techniques at work in these examples, and it is quite feasible to identify them, call them out, discuss them, talk about their scopes and limits, etc. Other RPG authors do this in their rulebooks. I think it is a big weakness that the D&D books tend not to. (And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the strong advocates of skill challenges on these boards are familiar with similar techniques from other RPGs, where they are better explained!)
I should apologise if this post seems a bit ranty. I’m not hostile to 4e – I think it’s one of the best RPGs ever produced and I’ve GMed it virtually straight for nearly 6 years. (Nor am I hostile to 5e.) I’m just hostile to poor advice – or rather, to a design approach (that Monte Cook called “Ivory Tower”) that favours presenting the rules and the flavour as if that’s all there is to playing the game, without any attention to explaining the practical details of actually taking those rules, and that flavour, and turning them into a play experience.
I really do think that it’s a pity that the quality of advice in thise sense (as opposed to mechanics and flavour) for D&D seems to have peaked over 30 years ago!
Read more: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?363009-Does-WotC-suck-at-selling-games/page13#ixzz3JM7lOrjY