Cover Art on 1e Adventure Modules #RPG #DnD #ADnD

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Last weekend, someone on Facebook (Dino) shared an anecdote accompanying this image.

May be a cartoon of text
I2: Tomb of the Lizard

Funny story. Was running this late 80s/ high school. I describe the bridge encounter shown on the front of the module. Players say heyyy… isn’t that pic on the cover? They were careful. Oops….

That’s interesting. After all these years I never realized why cover encounters usually aren’t in any of the adventures I played. If a player was in a gaming store and saw the adventure, the cover art would give away a couple of the encounters. When the art is there, it’s often misleading or too vague to give the players a warning (e.g., S1: Tomb of Horrors). I feel kind of dumb because that never occurred to me. Even as a kid I’d never take advantage of that, so false consensus effect, I guess. When I converted the adventures to 3.5e, 4e, and 5e, I almost always included the cover page encounter, so if you ever want to face a toothpaste demon, I’m your DM.

I’m a dope.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

It’s Roleplaying Cats and Dogs! #Caturday

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File this under, “What?”

Apparently, a line of miniatures inspired it’s own RPG universe. These aren’t anthropomorphic races, but rather the animals themselves roleplayed as PCs. Again, what? The Kickstarter was successful, so if this is your thing, go for it.

Why would anyone want to roleplay a pathetic animal like a dog. Be a cat. Have an ego and kill something.

Follow me on Twitter at @gsllc


Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet @DelveRPG #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance |

This series has gotten a lot of feedback, most of which has been extremely helpful. For example, between that feedback and further analysis on my part, I’ve changed position on Armor Class Ratings. It’s a great theory, but it’s implemented poorly in 1e, in part because of the specifics of 1e’s mathematical framework. I’d like to see it in a game, but not in 1e. So, hooray for the hive mind!

However, this is not a nice post. On Facebook, I asked a question about how to balance encounters in 1e. Specifically, I asked where that information is provided. I got an answer from the overwhelmingly helpful: the tables at Dungeon Master’s Guide, pages 171 and 177-179. From that I was able to get even more information by looking through Monster Manual II, pages 133-134, and Field Folio, page 100-110. However, several answers came from a perspective that I encountered frequently but never understood. Despite my acknowledgement within the question itself that some encounters should be trivial or impossible for story reasons, I received quite a few lectures on, well, the fact that some encounters should be trivial or impossible for story reasons. Some people seemed downright offended by the fact that I was even asking the question, as if there’s never a place for an encounter where the fight is challenging but winnable. This was duplicated on another Facebook post where I published a link to my post on boring magic items. In that post, my first substantive statement was:

DMs balance encounters to suit the game they want to run. Maybe they want the encounters to be average, harder than average, or easier than average, but whatever the balance they want, that’s what they want.

Nevertheless, I received criticism for not acknowledging the very point I made, including placing words in my mouth that were, in fact, that exact opposite of what I wrote.

Let me be clear: I’m not criticizing that style of play. This has nothing to do with how difficult you want your encounters or campaigns to be. That’s a matter of taste, and everyone’s entitled to play the game they want to play. My concern is that a few don’t understand the distinction between the nature of the question and play style. Even if DMs want all encounters to be exceptionally hard or exceptionally easy, how can they make them that way if they don’t know how to balance encounters? That is, if DMs don’t have a clue as to where the even balance point is, how do they know that their exceptionally hard encounters are indeed exceptionally hard? They don’t, so what they’re criticizing is my insistence on knowing whether I’ve accomplished my own goal, whatever it may be.

This isn’t championing old school gaming; it’s discouraging DMs from being prepared, and DMs with no idea what they’ve written are most certainly not prepared. Even if players shouldn’t have any sense of what they’re facing – that makes little sense unless negotiation or retreat is always a practical option – DMs should know what they’re throwing at the players. DMs should know that 4 orcs is too easy for a 10th-level party, and that Asmodeus is too hard for a 2nd-level party. Again, this isn’t to say that either encounter is per se inappropriate; it’s simply saying that DMs should know which is which. Throwing a merciless (i.e., won’t negotiate), 8 HD, never-surprised, barbed devil at a party of 1st-level PCs that can neither run away nor fight their way through is nothing more than a conscious choice by the DM to TPK that party. Why would anyone want to do that? If a DM does not want to do that, why would any DM want DMing to be an annoying trial-and-error process spanning months of gaming sessions to get enough sense of the game to avoid it?

But This Is About Game Design

Of course, this may not be the fault of DMs. The game system itself may not provide the tools necessary to make this determination, creating that annoying trial-and-error period. As this article points out, 1e could have done a better job. In fact, much of what is discussed in that post is already part of the design process of a game a friend and I are designing. (I’m tempted to do a lot of work and apply those principles to 1e.) The first box set for the Dragon Age RPG certainly falls into that category as well, providing no guidance for building balanced encounters. I was trying to do something cool by throwing something other than just another band of brigands at the low-level players. The encounter was a TPK not only because of the tremendously overpowered creatures I used, but also because their nature kept the characters from retreating. How is that fun? It’s not risky. There’s absolutely no risk at all. Those characters had a 0.000000% chance of survival. They couldn’t have won even if every single one of their d6 rolls was a 6. Did I throw the DARPG equivalent of Asmodeus at them? Nope. They were giant spiders. Giant spiders! That was an impossible encounter because the spiders showed no mercy, they were faster, and they were a superior combat force. This stupid encounter wouldn’t have occurred if there were challenge ratings attached to the creatures. Clearly there’s no story benefit to walking through the forest and dying at the hands of randomly appearing giant bugs, so why leave that as certain to occur eventually? I don’t think a single one of those players played the game again, because of course they didn’t.

I know that (many think) a game system can’t be designed to be perfect in this regard (damn, have we all been sold a bill of goods on that one), but that’s not a reason for it not to give us a good approximation, especially considering that most game designers in fact do a decent job with it. I know the dice can always roll consistently high or low, but that’s the nature of all RPGs. I know that there are min/maxers out there who game the system, but that’s also the nature of all RPGs. I know that there are tricks and traps (as 1e calls them) that make weak monsters stronger, but other game systems account for the effect of tricks and traps within their challenge rating system. None of these facts impact my argument in any way whatsoever. In fact, they don’t even address it because, as I showed, they are neither unique to 1e nor unworkable.

A game isn’t fun unless there’s a chance at both success and failure, regardless of how that success or failure is achieved. Allowing those chances to bounce from high to low prevents the game from getting stale. However, when they reach anything near 0% or 100% – not because of an occasional story necessity, but because of poor game design or game control – I have tremendous difficulty finding a reason to play. Ergo, I want to know exactly how to design encounters, and I want my DMs to know too. That’s not a lot to ask.

But here’s what really bugs me. As I said, it may not be the DM’s fault, but there are people that proudly revel in such imprecision. This is the way they claim they want to run their games, having no clue whether they’ve created a scenario that’s easy, challenging, or absolutely unwinnable. They literally might as well just roll a single d20, and if it’s [greater|lower] than a target number proclaim, “You’ve [won|lost] D&D!” Then everyone can go home and watch Netflix. I’m not the slightest bit interested in being at those tables; most people aren’t. YMMV, but some of the criticism seemed to be a reflexive reaction to specific keywords rather than an appeal to logic, so I’m not sure they believed what they were saying. I bet they don’t create impossible encounters, which I define as not having at least one means of success (combat, negotiation, or retreat).

But hey, maybe not, and that’s okay. Different strokes and all that. If you get a thrill out of killing characters with absolutely no chance of success, and the players somehow enjoy that, more power to you all. As always, play the game you want to play.

Some of You Are Your Own Worst Enemies

Disagreement is wonderful because it opens one’s eyes to other possibilities. Mischaracterizing of my words and mean-spirited snark, however, are not. (Humorous snark is always welcome.) A small few (none of whom were on MeWe) fell into the stereotypical role of an “old school gamer” that immediately launches an illogical and unfair attack against anyone who ever mentions “balance” (among other keywords). This creates a greater barrier to player recruitment than any game designer ever could. I’d love to play a game via Zoom with an experienced 1e DM before attempting to run my own game, but I won’t take the risk of being stuck with a DM like that. At least religion and politics deal with important social consequences. The fact that people behave this way when discussing games is perplexing.

I’m reluctant even to ask a simple question about the rules on Facebook because of the reactions. For example, I’ve asked for the locations of rules within the sourcebooks, which means the rules I’m looking for have an historical basis in D&D. A small number infer (fairly or not) that I want to play the game in a way differently than they do, and they have a problem with that. They’re not going to be in my game, so why do they care how I play? Their objections seem petty and insecure. I believe that’s what the kids are calling “gatekeeping,” which ruins things for the rest of us. Sadly, I’ve stopped posting these musings to specific groups littered with these folks – though they’re getting this one and will likely project their holier-than-thou attitudes onto me – so I’m going to have to be content just doing my best running the game for players I know personally even though none of us have played 1e in years or decades. I’m sure this experiment will be shorter because of it. Considering these same people complain that there aren’t enough 1e players drips with irony. To the vast majority that don’t think this way (and have been quite helpful), it’s up to you to rein in these dipshits. They certainly won’t listen to me.

Everyone balances their encounters, and their overall campaign has a balance to it as well. Balance isn’t a four letter word and shouldn’t be treated as such. On the other hand, you shouldn’t hurl genuine four-letter words at people when discussing games. Well, as long as you’re not being an asshole about it. 🙂

This isn’t about making the game easy or hard; it’s about knowing whether or not you have. Knowledge is power.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: Hitting More Frequently @DelveRPG #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet |

During the last in-person Winter Fantasy (2019), I play-tested Delve RPG, which was run by my friend, Stephen Radney-MacFarland. As sometimes occurs, I let him know what I thought about game design, but he had no choice but to listen. My sole purpose to being there was to criticize. I pointed out that my understanding (at least in the D&D world) was that characters should, on average, expect to hit on a d20 roll of 9. According to Stephen, 11 was the magic number. At least for 1e, looking at the matrices, it appears he’s right. No surprises there.

The Magic Number

My position is that the magic number should actually be 7. Any miss can be frustrating depending on the timing, but for the most part no one gets too upset if they miss on a 4 because they expect that roll to miss. On the other hand, missing on a 9, or even worse on a double-digit 11, can be especially frustrating. You expect to hit on those rolls, but if 11 is your average, then particularly tough creatures will require even higher rolls than that.

Even worse, the greater the range rolls that miss, the more often it occurs, which means you’re more prone to very frustrating bad streaks. How many times have you seen a player have ridiculously bad luck at the table? That can derail an entire session for that player.

What I suggest (and am doing) is adjusting the amount of damage a character can withstand so that the increase in hits averages out to take down an opponent in the same number of rounds. The combats are no faster or slower, but they’re always more dynamic. In this case, dynamic = fun.

NPCs

So what about the NPCs? Should they hit at the same rate? Well, more or less, yes. On this flip side, getting hit a lot adds to the tension of combat even if the net result is mathematically the same. You just don’t know if you’re going to make it. Accordingly, a game designer should make the same adjustments to PC stats to account for the increased hits.

Of course, as I’ll explain tomorrow, not all encounters are perfectly balanced for a wide variety of reasons. However, this baseline would still improve most of those encounters as well, or entire campaigns, that are written to be either more or less difficult. The level of threat the GM wants doesn’t change; just the feel of the game.

I prefer a game that’s dynamic.

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Follow Delve RPG @DelveRPG

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: The Problem with Democracies @SlyFlourish #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet |

Remember this?

Keep that in mind. I don’t like talking about serious matters on this blog. This is supposed to be goofy and fun. But bear with me. Every election cycle, there are lawsuits by candidates wanting to get their names at the top of the actual voting ballots. Why? Because people often pick the first candidate they see. This tendency to pick the first option has an affect on how RPGs are played. I don’t want to feed the ridiculous notion that good science is practiced via the internet — no, 100 YouTube videos of a thing found after a focused search does not mean it’s a trend among 325 million Americans, let alone 7.5 billion humans — but we work with what we’ve got, right? I asked my friend, Sly Flourish, to run a poll for me. He has a much larger footprint than I do, and so his poll didn’t disappoint. The results?

These results show that over half of gamers chose the first option presented in the 5e PHB. I don’t think this is a coincidence, but let’s dig further.

Let’s consider another example: 4e skill challenges. I have a lot of thoughts on those but will refrain from going down that rabbit hole. Instead, I’ll just acknowledge that they could have been designed better, but with the caveat that they were far more maligned than they should have been. Their introduction in the Dungeon Master’s Guide was were presented in the The 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 introduced us to progressive and branching skill challenges, but the one time I saw each in a Living Forgotten Realms adventure, they weren’t received well. “What is this? Just do a skill challenge!” You didn’t see them often. In fact, Wizards of the Coast themselves didn’t use these in their own published adventures. Even the ballot-maker voted for the first entry (so to speak).

Again, this isn’t great science. There’s limited data, some of which is based on my personal experience, but for what it’s worth, I ran a gaming club that almost 300 people considered themselves part of, I ran a gaming convention for two years and worked admin for several others for decades, and at one point I was organizing games every single weekend across as many as 6 different locations. My experience may count for something, and this example is consistent with what I’ve experienced in many other contexts. Also, this is consistent with a well-documented psychological phenomenon.

I want my table to be a constitutional democracy, but much like citizens often get in the way of democracy (freedom includes the freedom to be stupid), so do players often get in the way of gaming. My writing is at its best when I’m writing legal briefs, not blog posts, and certainly not gaming handbooks, so I don’t have an answer as to how you should present these materials. All I have is a thought that I hope game designers will take to heart. They’re usually better equipped to solve a problem like this. It just depends on whether they’re aware of the problem and willing to fix it. Right now, options are presented as a simple list, with the first option appearing at the “head of the table.” Somehow, readers need to view these options as equal. King Arthur had a round table so that no one would be seen as at the head of the table. I’m not sure how to do that with writing. Something has to be written first, but game designers have to find a way to to make sure each option is an equally valid choice so that when multiple options can be used in the same game, they will be. Or maybe we should keep reading after the first option.

Democracy is still the best form of government, so my table will always be a constitutional democracy.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Sly Flourish @SlyFlourish

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Musings on Game Design and Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition: The Feel of a School of Magic in D&D @SlyFlourish #DnD #RPG #ADnD

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Introduction to Each Post in This Series

On Friday (July 23, 2021), I mentioned that I was relearning AD&D 1st Edition (“1e“) with the intention of running it. As I read through the Player’s Handbook (“PHB“), certain mechanics or text will strike me as odd or surprising, but in either case worthy of discussion. In fact, the most surprising thing I’m experiencing is that I’m finding a lot more great ideas in 1e that we’ve since abandoned. I find myself asking, “Why?” As a result, I’ll be writing several posts over the next few weeks. I’m sure everything I’m thinking has been discussed before — sometimes be me — so perhaps my questions have been answered, and my concerns resolved, years ago. My experience with RPGs is relatively limited in scope, having played a small number of games, so I’m sure a lot of what I’m going to say has been incorporated into games I’ve never even heard of. (Some have certainly been addressed by future editions of D&D themselves.) Nevertheless, bringing this directed conversation to the public is new to me, so here it goes.

Posts in this series: | My Playlist | Campaign Settings and Pantheons | Languages | Level | “Dead Levels” | Division of Labor, Distance, and Time | Initiative | Combat Subsystems | Armor Class Ratings | Alignment and Reputation | The Feel of a School of Magic | Boring Magic Items | Ability Score Bonuses and Skill Rolls | The Problem with Democracies | Hitting More Frequently | Encounter Balance and Shooting Yourselves in the Feet |

My Last Experience with a Wizard

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A friend and I have been designing our own RPG. We’re so busy with ordinary life that I doubt we’ll finish it, so don’t expect it to see the commercial light if day. Still, I enjoy the process so much that I love working on it when we can. One thing that was on my mind during design was my attempt to make a non-violent wizard (“NVW”). I wanted to create a pacifist that could still contribute to the combat but do so without ever directly causing damage. My attempt at a NVW was Ymitraa Warwager, a CG moon elf abjuration wizard under D&D 5th Edition (“5e“). To start, her combat-useful spells were Blade Ward, Minor Illusion, Shocking Grasp (only because I ran out of non-violent spells), Color Spray (considered non-violent because the blinding was only temporary), Shield, and Sleep. It didn’t work because the only aggressive but non-violent spell that I’d always have available (cantrip) was Minor Illusion, and that worked only because the DM (Sly Flourish) allowed me to cheat with it. As I progressed, I saw very few useful spells available, and I wasn’t interested in rewriting the game, let alone having Mike approve each rewrite.

NVW Don’t Work Because of a Lack of Flavor

My conclusion was that 5e failed in this regard, and when my review of 1e brought this memory back to the surface, I started writing a piece on how modern games have lost that focus on flavor. More to the point, prior editions (as well as other games) never made me feel that my enchanter was actually enchanting, or my illusionist was creating illusory things. They all felt like their magic was reskinned evocation, focusing on damage and just saying something like, “You cause this damage by scaring the guy, so even though the damage is the same in value, it’s toooootallly different from Fireball. Honest.” The loss of focus on flavor meant that the schools all resembled each other, and that always resulted in (largely) non-violent schools being reskinned evokers. This is why I rarely play wizards.

I believe that in order for certain schools of magic to work, the caster needs to play a different role than wizards from other schools. In 4th Edition D&D terms, a wizard was a “controller,” which was often interpreted to mean that damage dealing spells hit multiple targets, but there’s more than one way to interpret “control.” In fact, Another (better?) way to define it has nothing to do with doing damage. As a “leader” would move its allies into better positions, a controller would move its enemies into worse positions. Ergo, an illusionist should sacrifice damage done for a greater ability to trick enemies to go where they shouldn’t. An enchanter should likewise sacrifice damage done for greater ability to pacify or scare off enemies. Not every enemy has to die or even be captured in order for you to win.

1e was from a different time where flavor played a greater role. 1st level enchantments included Charm Person, Friends, and Sleep, none of which did damage but all of which provide a tactical advantage. At second level, you have Forget, Ray of Enfeeblement, Scare; at third level you have Hold Person and Suggestion; at fourth level Charm Monster, Confusion, Fire Charm, and Fumble; and so on, all of which do no damage but provide a tactical advantage (though Ray of Enfeeblement could use some slight flavor tweaks). They obviously did this correctly.

But we can’t even address that problem in modern games because the rules don’t give us the framework to do so. Going back to my stat block posts, I created a database containing all 457 spells contained in all the 5e spells. This proved quite convenient to make my point as long as I used 5e as the example of how to get it wrong. Well, that experiment failed. 5e gets it right just as well as 1e did.

Some Sour Before the Sweet

At first, a spell selected entirely at random and one I had never read before, confirmed my original thesis. I grabbed Mind Spike from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

Mind Spike does 3d8 psychic damage and allows the caster to know the target’s location until the spell ends (concentration up to an hour), preventing the target from hiding in any way from the caster (even through invisibility). At higher levels, the spell does and extra d6 of damage.

Does this feel like a diviner to you? A diviner is about gathering information, but how useful is the information gained beyond combat (which will end a bit quicker because it’s doing scaled damage)? Why is the spell’s higher-level benefit an increase in damage rather than information? To me, this seems to play out the way an evocation spell would, just not as well. It does damage, then gives you tactical information about the target so that the caster can kill it even faster (and certainly faster than the spell’s duration). How about instead doing less (or no) damage, but being able to translate that information to one or more party members so they can tear him apart (all of that scaling with spell level). If this turns people off to diviners, then those people really don’t want to play diviners.

Next, I randomly grabbed Power Word: Pain.

Power Word: Pain targets a single creature. If it has less than 100 hit points and isn’t immune to charm, its speed can’t be greater than 10′, it has disadvantage on attack, ability, an saving rolls (other than Con saves), and it has trouble casting spells (Con save to succeed).

Placing someone in crippling pain doesn’t seem like the kind of thing an “enchanter” would do. I want the target intimidated, convinced, or fooled into acting or not acting, or maybe just losing their marbles, but not doubling over in pain. It’s hard to ignore that flavor when the name of the spell screams it out. Nevertheless, in the end the net effect on the target is exactly what should be the result of an enchantment spell. Though it seemed that Wizards of the Coast (“WotC“) is snatching victory from the jaws of defeat on this one, after only two spells my thesis was falling apart.

My last random selection was Illusory Dragon.

Illusory Dragon creates a huge, illusory dragon that occupies a space and frightens enemies for 1 minute if they fail a Wisdom save. The save can be repeated if the enemy ends its turn without line of sight to the dragon, but the dragon can be moved. The dragon can use a breath weapon to do damage.

Although Illusory Dragon does a lot of damage even to someone that’s pierced the illusion, at 8th level, that makes sense. The phrase “scared to death” has some basis in truth; people can be scared into, for example, secreting fatal amounts of adrenaline, and 8th level is pretty damn high. But you all know how cognitive dissonance science works. I had data and needed to determine what it was trying to tell me. I assumed that Xanthanar’s was just WotC correcting an earlier mistake from the 5e PHB. All I needed was to tweak my thesis: Game designers, at least initially, build all their wizards towards blowing up things.

The 5e PHB

Focusing only on the 5e PHB, I came to the same conclusion. Again, I thought I found a couple of stinkers. For example, the point of Hex is clearly damage.

But even though it’s an enchantment, it’s a spell for warlocks. Everyone expects all warlock spells to blow up things. That’s actually the correct flavor for that enchantment spell. Oops. At this point, I had to really press hard to find a screw up in how 5e designed these spells, and despite that Herculean effort, I still failed. All of their divinations, enchantments, and illusions are written to play exactly as they should.

Even better, this puts Mind Spike in a completely different light. It’s not the rule, but rather an exception. Whenever a wizard uses a spell in the wizard’s chosen school of magic, there’s an added bonus of some sort. This allows an enchanter to enjoy that bonus at a relatively low level even in the event that odd circumstances dictate a different approach. That adaptation to circumstance doesn’t in any way take away from the player’s ability to play an enchanter the way the player wants.

Something good did come of this wasted effort. I found an error in my data entry. Prayer of Healing was designated an enchantment. Fixed!

My New Thesis

So now I’m forced to adopt a new thesis: WotC has completely failed in 5e to produce a balanced, tactically useful cantrip that doesn’t do damage. It’s very specific, and not exactly a “failure,” but that’s all I I’ve got. Should WotC get on this and make it happen? Maybe, but if they don’t, the only thing we lose is a NVW, which is a character quirk. On the much larger issue of having necromancers feel like necromancers, illusionists feel like illusionists, etc., they’ve already got that 100% right on the spells (as far as I’ve observed). If I had played wizards more often, or was a little more patient with this one, maybe I’d have seen that in the class abilities as well. In the meantime, here are my suggestions. Please keep in mind that I don’t have a good sense on how to balance 5e spells, so these may require some tweaking.

Divination

Enchantment

Illusion

These spell cards were created care of Dungeon Master Assistant.

Very well then. Carry on, WotC.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

My Favorite TTRPG Characters @slyflourish @alphastream #DnD #3e #4e #5e #RPG

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Writing yesterday’s post gave me the idea for this post. Here’s a list of my favorite RPG characters.

D&D 3.5 Edition: Frylock

This is my favorite character of all time even though I’m not a fan of 3rd edition. I left D&D in 1981 due to the Satanic Panic and returned in 2005. Frylock was the first character I created in my glorious return, which was for a Living Greyhawk game day. He was a half-elf warmage with a couple of levels in rogue. I’m not sure if I played correctly by the rules, but this was an awesome character, combining the rogues sneak attack damage with high-damage touch spells. He was high charisma, manipulative, and arrogant as hell, except for that one time he met his match. He ran into Teos’s character, Ambrosia, in whose hands Frylock was like putty. He was also a terror in combat, which was helpful considering that I’ve almost never built a character for combat. Spoon-feeding me competent character design helps keep my fellow players happy with my combat performance. If I was cheating to do it, this would explain why no one called me out for it.

For over a decade, my license plate was Frylock. That shouldn’t surprise any of you.

I’ve never been able to duplicate the feel of this character since 3rd edition. The closest I came was the supremely underpowered sorcerer-assassin hybrid in 4th edition. Maybe if I cheated, I could’ve done that in other editions. 🙂

D&D 4th Edition: Rizzen Pharn

4e is the only edition of any RPG I’ve ever played in which I loved play leaders (i.e., healers). After playing the Warlord pre-gen at some convention, I knew that would be the case. My first character I built on my own was the Drow, Rizzen. He was an Inspiring Warlord, and due to Commander’s Strike, it didn’t matter whether I rolled well on my d20s. I just gave my attacks to other people, than used my minor action to heal everyone. Suddenly, I was the most popular player on the table. I can’t remember any personality quirks I gave him. I doubt I did. At this point, 4e was new, and the character builds leant themselves inherently to personalities probably due to the emphasis on roles (i.e., controller, defender, leader, striker). I didn’t feel the need to spice it up.

D&D 4th Edition: Doofus Pharn and Snuggles

Doofus was Rizzen’s brother, and he was a beastmaster ranger. That was a really good class. Combined with the class’s features, my choice of powers gave me the ability to race across the length of a standard battle map in a single turn. The first time I did this was a disaster. I was all by myself surrounded by enemies with no actions left to fight or “ink.” Once I got the hang of the character, that mobility was remarkable. His DPS was also pretty good. His companion was a jaguar named Snuggles, and using the companion, Rizzen was able to set up his own flanks without the help of any PCs. Just like Frylock, I didn’t have to build the character for combat efficiency. The race and class combination handled that for me.

D&D 4th Edition: Luigi Deleonardis

Luigi was a riot. He was the stereotype of a senile old man, and I played him to a tee. He was a brawling fighter, which meant his primary combat tactic was “rassling.” He had a belt buckle with Kord’s holy symbol on it. He didn’t worship Kord; they grew up together. Sure, Kord was a bit younger than Luigi, but Luigi took him under his wing and showed him the ropes. He felt bad for the little guy.

Initially, Luigi always annoyed other players because they thought he’d be useless, but here’s a quick story of how I avoided that. The party had to convince wood elves to let them through their woodlands. Skill challenge! Everyone went with diplomacy or bluff, but not Luigi. As he was about to engage with the elven leader, he suddenly had a squirrel moment and decided to climb a tree. As a fighter, my Athletics was pretty high, and I (uncharacteristically) rolled well. My physical prowess was remarkably impressive, so I passed that check. When we came around again, the entire challenge came down to my roll. I was one of only two players that had to roll twice in the challenge. My (perceived) age allowed me to tell an impressive story of the gods, and with a natural 20, I saved the day. In that same adventure, the ultimate mission was to rescue a kidnapped woman, and as Luigi often did, he told that woman that she reminded him of his great, great, great, great granddaughter’s . . . granddaughter. That gave Luigi the incentive to protect her directly, which is exactly what a fighter is supposed to do.

My unorthodox style never held me back, but it always provided comic relief.

D&D 5th Edition: Balasar Kimbatuul

Balasar was a gold dragonborn battle master fighter who played the bongos, and by that I mean that I went to Toys ‘R Us and bought a set of bongs to play at the table. I created him for Sly Flourish’s Horde of the Dragon Queen campaign, and somewhere on slyflourish.com is a picture of me playing those bongos. The first leg of the campaign is a really tedious slog with little opportunity to rest and recover abilities. The rat swarm was particularly annoying, but the first leg ends with a blue dragonborn calling out one of us for a one-on-one fight. I spontaneously shouted out, “Honor duel!” That became his thing. He’s always pick the baddest NPC on the battlefield and convinced that NPC to duel him. It wasn’t through some class or racial feature, but purely through role-play, which Mike facilitated. In such a situation, it’s easy to outshine your fellow players by grabbing all the glory. I honestly don’t believe that ever happened. Besides the fact that my dice are weighted towards low numbers, so I was often knocked out, Sly Flourish is literally the best DM I ever had. He allows everyone to play as they want to play, and yet characters rarely stole each others’ thunder, nor did players annoy each other. As players, we deserve some of the credit for that, but most of it goes to Mike, and I like to remind him how grateful I am for his talent as a DM. I was in his home game for many years and play-tested most (all?) of his published work during that time.

D&D 5th Edition: Portia Tossgobble

Portia was one of four members of the Tossgobble family I created. Because I can play only one of them at a time, they never met in-game, but they were all siblings. Portia was a halfling, kensai monk in the D&D Adventurer’s League. Because I play once per year, I forgot most of her details. I was playing her at Winter Fantasy, and we needed someone to steer a ship. It suddenly occurred to me that she had a sailor background, so with a natural 20 on my attempt to steer the ship . . . well, let’s just say I finally had the opportunity to yell, “Ramming speed!” The adventure’s treasure included a perfect item for her: a +1 trident. All I need now is a magic item or feature of some sort that allows her to breath water, and she can rule however many seas Faerun has.

I could go on, but I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember some other fun characters and share them in a future post. I liked my occultist in 13th Age (another Sly Flourish campaign), but I was on my last legs as an RPG player at that point. My memory and my thrill in creating meaningful characters waned during that time.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that all of these characters were D&D characters.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part V: 4th Edition Combat #DnD #4e

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| Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

I didn’t think I’d write a part V, but here we are. Once again, I’m my own inspiration.

Inside information: I made up that rule number.

I’m going to expand on this thought. For proper context, I point you to my post on how I prefer to play D&D and my dungeon crawl system PDF. Because neither of my two non-spam followers are going to click through, here’s the gist of them. Dungeon Crawl System: I created a system for 4th edition D&D that quickens combats and removes the annoyance known as the 2-hour adventuring day. (Your number of hours may vary.) My Approach to D&D: While I can enjoy a good combat, I prefer role-playing a quirky character to rolling dice, immersing myself in the game world and taking interest in even the most mundane of NPCs. That limited context will have to do if you don’t want to click thorough.

If you’re in combat and roll a natural 20, what have you accomplished? I’m not talking about your character; I’m talking about you, the player. What did you accomplish? Rolling a 20 (or any hit) is just a matter of random chance for the player, so while it represents a character’s achievement, the player hasn’t done anything of note. That’s why I prefer puzzles, moral dilemmas, and the like. They’re a challenge for me, the player. This doesn’t mean combats are useless in this regard. One thing we accomplish in all aspects of the game is that we’re telling a cool story. I just prefer that in doing so, we’re more screenwriters than moviegoers. I want to be the one writing most of the story rather than have random chance present it to me. That is, I prefer to moderate random chance so that it provides tension without overwhelming the story.

4e changed things for me. I actually enjoyed combats because winning a combat felt like I was accomplishing something. The tactics were intricate. I had to cooperate with my team of PCs to defeat the tactics of the DM, just like what you’d do in the real world.

See the source image

Damn, that sounds nerdy. I know real life combat is very different. I’ve trained in the martial arts since I was 14. I’m just drawing an analogy. The point is that you have to use your brain and employ sound tactics in 4e D&D. It seems so strange to me that one of the most common criticisms of 4e is that it’s a combat simulator that sacrifices role-play. The mechanics of 4e kind of made role-playing a character part of combat, and it’s why I had a much easier time fitting in with other gamers during its run. That gives me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Seriously, typing that sentence gave me an idea.

All that said, I’ve always said that if a game system doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s you’re own damn fault. You can use any system to play any style.

I’m a Napoleon Dynamite-esque martial artist.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part IV: 4th Edition Stat Blocks @shawnmerwin @MerricB @bandofmisfits #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

Part #4: 4th Edition Stat Blocks

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t you already write 39 pages on this subject (Cambria 11 pt. font)?” Well, sort of. Those posts were about intellectual property law, so the comments on this particular subject were obscured in a sea of other material. Because this is still going on in my mind and the minds of others, it’s worth a brief and focused reexamination. Besides, this is going to pick far fewer fights than yesterday’s post.

So Shawn, who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about (settle down, internet tough guys; inside joke), inspired a complimentary response from Roving Band of Misfits. This led to a back and forth between Merric and me. I’m just going to post a couple of tweets. If you want more context, click through to the thread.

My response boils down to this.

Space

Merric has a good point. I don’t expect any bestiary to be printed with one-stop/4e-style stat blocks (henceforth, “OSSB” or “OSSBs”), but I do expect Wizards of the Coast to make them printable via D&D Beyond, or to provide PDFs for download on their site. However, I don’t care what they choose to do (especially now that I’ve done it). This post is about why I think they’re helpful.

Versatility

Merric’s position is that shorter stat blocks allow you to make more complex creatures. However, if you hide a stat block’s complexity through shorthand, the complexity not only disappears, but the stat blocks all become nearly identical to one another.

Let’s use an example. Halaster Blackcloak’s stat block (Waterdeep – Dungeon of the Mad Mage, page 310) is about 2/3 of a page long. In my OSSB treatment, he’s 3-1/2 pages long (see page 12). What should be going through you head is, “How can you expect 3-1/2 pages of content to be properly run with about 81% of it missing?” Well, without an eidetic memory or tons of study time, you can’t.

What Merric is missing is the fact that compressing everything into a small space with up to 90% of the content missing can no longer be considered “describ[ing] them”; you’re merely hinting at what they could be, because most DMs can’t run that much material as intended in combat unless it’s right in front of their face. Now, you may also say that most DMs couldn’t possibly handle a stat block as large as Halastar’s. Well, that’s kind of the point. OSSBs will always be easier to run properly than the alternative. Put another way, if Halastar is too big to run, abbreviating it will make it even harder. It’s always harder except for the most simplistic of stat blocks, which break even. by publishing OSSBs, game designers need not fear making more complex stat blocks.

So, how do DMs typically handle very complex stat blocks in combat? In my experience, they just go with what they know: Fireball, Magic Missile, and Hold Person. That is, the spells that are most popular among WotC designers themselves (in part due to their universal value in combat) are the ones they memorize, and rather than look up a new couple of candidate spells every round, DMs just use those adjusting each for spell slot level. They sure as hell aren’t going to use Symbol in combat, and most couldn’t handle Confusion either unless they had the time to look up and memorize it, but the brain has only so much space to store these spells. What’s the difference between Halastar casting Magic Missile and a Githyanki Gish doing it? Spell level. That’s it. The result is that every monster they run become slight variations of each other. In other words, not only is stat block complexity lost, but so is the complexity of the game itself. Everything’s the same, and it can be boring. If OSSBs don’t fix that, nothing really will short of computers running the combats for you.

I really don’t get the resistance at all, so if you have a different view, please speak up.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

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Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part III: Why 4e D&D “Failed” (Did It Really?) @newbiedm @Dm_LSP @MerricB #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |Part V |

Part 3: Why 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons “Failed” (Did It)?

Here’s where I pick a fight. 🙂 To make sure you stay laser focused on my point, here’s my thesis up front: 4e was not a significantly less marketable game design than 5e; it was simply a victim of circumstances beyond the control of its designers. Ergo, while you’re free to legitimately hate its mechanics, you can’t reasonably argue that it was a failure. 5e would have suffered from the same circumstances if it were released in 2008.

4th Edition D&D is my favorite edition of D&D (stay focused!), so I love the nostalgic ramblings I’m seeing on Twitter. As S Keldor noted, not everyone agrees.

Wizards of the Coast has never been in the business of losing money. As S Keldor pointed out, they kept producing material despite this supposed failure. 4th Edition didn’t fail in a meaningful sense of the word. They, and others, thought that they didn’t succeed enough; hence, the relatively quick release of 5th Edition. Maybe. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Why wasn’t 4e as successful as it could have been? Here was Merric’s answer (again, just 280 characters of it) and my response.

I love Merric’s ramblings on Twitter and respect his analysis and opinions, so I say this with a great deal of respect.

Starting first with my third point, he analogizes 4e to a movie that cost twice as much to make as it took in as a profit. Even respecting that he was exaggerating, for the analogy to stick you must presume that 4e costs more to make than 5e. To my knowledge, 5e books cost just as much to produce as 4e books (maybe more adjusting for inflation). The cost to produce the game isn’t higher. A more appropriate analogy is to two movies, one that costs $1M to make and that brought in $100M at the box office, and another that cost $1M to make and that brought in $200M at the box office. Both are successful, but one more than the other. The “failure,” therefore, is less about failing per se and more about missing an opportunity to have done even better.

Logarithmic v. Linear Thinking

Now, I’m no economist, and I don’t have access to WotC‘s sales reports, but I’m at least as good as most of you at analysis and speculation. As I stated in my third point, there are probably other factors that affect one’s interpretation of “failure.” How much better are 5e’s sales if factoring in inflation? Also, let’s consider the difference between raw numbers and percentages. If we have 10 consumers, and 5 of them buy a product, you’ve captured 50% of the consumer base. Now let’s say that by the time you produce your new product, the consumer base has jumped to 20 (not due to marketing, but because the population in general has doubled), and 7 of them buy a product. You’ve captured more consumers, and therefore are making more money with the second product, but you’ve captured only 35% of the consumer base. Anyone that’s ever rolled a d20 should know this. 😉 In other words, your new product may represent the “missed opportunity” above despite looking like it was a greater success. I doubt that’s what happened here — as Merric did, I’m using a simple equation to illustrate a point — but without proof to that effect, and not just taking WotC‘s word for it, we can’t reasonably argue from our couches as to the full context. Either way, it’s outlandish to believe that WotC didn’t make a profit off of 4e, so even merely analogizing to such an example is a bit off the mark.

Unit Cost

Let’s now assume that 5e overcomes all of that. How should I know they didn’t? Let’s say that the cost to produce their books is less than the cost to produce 4e books, which would validate Merric’s use of his analogy. Let’s also say that 5e is outselling 4e adjusting for both inflation and general population increases. This still doesn’t address several important factors. I’ll deal with the simple issue first. If it currently costs less to produce RPG books today than it did between 2008 through 2011 due to market factors, then that would have applied if 5e was produced during that span. That is, if 5e were released in 2008, its costs would have matched that higher cost of production. That can’t be said to be a failure specific to 4e’s mechanics, so 4e could still be seen as the most successful it (or 5e) could have been at the time. Remember, we’re trying to figure out if 4e’s design was a mistake. You can’t use generally applicable circumstances to justify that position.

Market Hysteria

Here’s the bigger issue representing points 1 and 2 in my post above, and it isn’t meant as a counter to anything Merric said, but rather what I’ve heard over the past 13 years on the subject. Without exception, the community always had a large subset that reacted very poorly to the announcement of a new edition, even if some of those naysayers were destined to accept the new edition once it was released. 4e was no exception. Accusations that 4e ruined the game flew by like those damned cicadas even before the game was released, meaning those accusations were based on ignorance. This, in turn, means they were really based on emotion (**see sidebar below). RPGs are expensive, and being the market leader with the most valuable trademark in the industry, WotC is clearly no exception to that rule. They can charge what they want, and consumers will pay that amount, but those consumers won’t be happy having to spend that amount of money all over again for the new edition to keep up with their fellow gamers. This sense of entitlement isn’t unique to gamers, but clearly gamers aren’t immune to it. We just call it nerd rage when applied to gamers and our kin.

** A good example of this was 1st level hit points. When 4th edition was released, one of the complaints was that 1st level characters had too many hit points, making them too durable. 3.5e, they said, had a much more reasonable number of hit points. It didn’t take long for 4e defenders to point to similar complaints about 3.5e. There were posts (lost to time) complaining that 3.5 characters had too many hit points because they didn’t have to roll for them at first level. That is, if their hit die was a d8, they didn’t roll a d8 for starting hit points, but instead just received 8 hit points. Even that was deemed too much. Why? Because those naysayers were looking for an excuse to complain, and they latched onto 1st level hit point mechanics to give credibility to their nerd rage. The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

The Perfect Storm

In comes Paizo, who lost the license for publishing Dragon and Dungeon magazines. However, unlike the other third parties publishing official content, they were in a position to make a move to compete seriously via Pathfinder. I don’t have access to the internal machinations of Paizo, but I (and you) personally know that they had a foothold not just in the gaming community generally, but specifically in the D&D community. Paizo took advantage of both their position and that customary anger/resentment, giving those naysayers what they wanted, even including a living campaign. People fear change, and Pathfinder gave a certain group a means to avoid it (to a large extent). Moreover, their public playtest was launched (2007) before 4e was released (2008), so by the time consumers were making their decision to invest in 4e, they knew that Pathfinder was not merely a twinkle in some nerd’s eye. This was a real game that was going to be published come Avernus or high water by a talented set of designers, and it was more familiar than what was coming from WotC. No other edition of D&D faced this combination of talent, market presence, timing, and appeal to the naysayers. None. How would 5e have fared against this perfect storm of competition? How would any game or edition have fared? These are obvious but inconvenient questions that are, unsurprisingly, ignored by the 4e haters.

Finally, I’ll remind you of what I wrote yesterday. The game has a low barrier to entry for players but high barrier entry to casual adventure designers. That’s a strength of marketing, but not of game design. That is, 5e doesn’t necessarily sell better because it’s a more enjoyable game, but because it’s built to force sales on the consumer. This isn’t at all devious or “wrong,” but I believe it’s an accurate assessment that cuts against the notion that 4e was a mistake.

WotC Did a Good Job with 4e

This is why I don’t believe WotC’s abandonment of 4e was a sign of failure. If not for those outside factors completely beyond the control of the game’s designers, the naysayers would have come back around as they always have. Because they didn’t, 5e was released sooner rather than later as an attempt to regain what WotC had lost at the hands of an intelligent, talented, and opportunistic competitor. WotC was punished for experimenting and knew that they needed to go backwards in some ways (even offering strategic mea culpas at times) to get back that share of the market. I don’t think that the following equation is perfect, but it’s probable that most of Pathfinder‘s revenue represents money that otherwise would have gone to 4e. It’s impossible to prove but also impossible to disprove; however, it makes sense based on history. When all was said and done, a significant portion of the naysayers would have come around and invested in 4e, had fun playing well-written adventures with good friends, developed a nostalgic attachment to the game (if not love), and cried just as hard when 5e was eventually announced (regardless of how they ranked 4e against other editions). The cycle would have repeated because those initial complaints are based on your financial investment in the game, not the game’s mechanics. If they were based on mechanics (which is perfectly reasonable; play what you like), you’d probably just keep playing that version and not worry about what everyone else was doing, but as history shows us, you’d have been in the minority if you left the D&D community altogether over a new edition.

So, add Pathfinder‘s sales to 4e’s sales and tell me with a straight face (and reliable, hard data) that 4e wouldn’t have been just as successful as 5e, adjusting for inflation and population. Seriously, tell me. I don’t know the numbers. I’m going off of my extensive, well-connected, but ultimately anecdotal experiences. 5e may legitimately be doing better than 4e, but I bet those speculative 4e numbers are far from “failure” numbers.

Haters Gonna Hate

All of this is to say that the factors that went into 4e’s disappointing sales numbers would have impacted 5e as well, so calling 4e a mistake is unfair until proven otherwise. This is unsurprising considering that those same 4e haters use every mention of 4e to spew vitriol on 4e and those that love it (no accusation intended towards Merric; he’s always respectful). Because Pathfinder gave 4e haters a “3.75e” D&D for a large community, and even gave them a living campaign on top of that, they didn’t have to get over their hate, so they never did. We can’t stop the vitriol, of course, but we can call it what it is: pathetic and assinine (the latter is intentionally misspelled). When they use sales numbers without proper context as a placeholder for their hate, it’s almost certainly based on ignorance or evasion of that context. Of course, no one should spew such vitriol at someone who legitimately prefers 3.5e, Pathfinder, or 5e, but that’s a relatively rare occurrence. The only people I’ve seen do that are those few playing only AD&D or 2nd Edition.

In any case, to say 4e failed, and that 5e was objectively a more marketable design, you have to prove that 5e wouldn’t have been similarly impeded if it had been presented as the 4th edition of D&D at that particular time in history, and so far I’ve seen no one even address that issue, let alone prove it to my satisfaction. I’d be interested in seeing data supporting that position.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

In case the tweet is deleted, here’s an image of it.