Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mechanical Complexity of D&D Part I

Mike Mearls wrote an article comparing the steps to a create a fighter between the different edition. To summarize it takes 6 steps for AD&D 1st, 11 for AD&D 2nd, 16 for D&D 3.X, and 18 for D&D 4.0.

I think in total D&D has gotten more complex over the various editions. The prime factor for this is player saying
I want to make the character that I see in my head.
A good test of this is Fritz Leiber's Gray Mouser who has a bit of fighting, a bit of magic-user, and whole lot of thief.

Back in the day this is the prime reason why people went to Runequest, Hero, GURPS and other FRPGs. The solution adopted was generally the list of skills with the players being allowed to pick which ones his character is good at.

However the list of skills is not universally appealing or simple in the way the straightforward class & level system of D&D is. In 3.X the designer came up with a pretty elegant way of allowing players to customize their characters yet retain much of the advantages of level and class. Also skill based system developed packages, or templates which took the list of skills and distilled into a specific set of options understandable to the average player. The two approaches learned from each other.

As for D&D this one of the main factors that propelled it into a smash hit. It also helped effectively suck the wind out of 2nd and 3rd tier RPGs by closing the biggest reason for changing away from D&D.

But coupled with the open ended list of feats, diversity of classes, and other things then we start running into the complaints about 3.5.

4 comments:

1d30 said...

Good points. I think the strength of 3E is in campaign-setting-specific feats, races, and prestige classes.

That is to say, a campaign wherein any player can play any combination of race and prestige classes and feats is going to quickly devolve into a weird Spelljammer / RIFTS thing.

These choices are better used to develop a coherent party and connect them each to the game setting.

For example, in an Ice Age setting I would allow a list of prestige classes and feats that were along the lines of Barbarian, Druid, Ranger, Sorcerer, and possibly Bard. Note that none of them need to write, none involve specific cults that don't exist yet or sailing around on Renaissance-era tall ships. Nobody is mincing about with an epee nor loaded down with 600 pounds of plate and mail. Such a specific list of archetypes and equipment available makes for a focused and entertaining game.

Another example for prestige classes would be an Arabian Nights setting. Spellcasters with books make total sense, Shamans and Druids far less so. Barbarians seem like a weird choice - you'd have Nomads and Dervishes instead. Not just reskinned Barbarians, they would need specific prestige classes associated with them. Here a Thief makes sense too.

Now take a civilized Old World Renaissance-era game. Why in the world would you have Barbarians and Druids at all? These would be the enemy actors or possibly NPC allies, if anything. The PCs consist of Cavaliers, Musketeers, Swashbucklers, Brigands, Burglars, Fences, Duelists, etc.

Don't get me started on the prospect of having a Drow Elf, Arctic Gnome, Dung Dragon Half-Thri-Kreen, and Whistling Teakettle Halfling in the same group. That's just retarded.

Look at Dark Sun and Dragonlance. That is where 3E shines. Not as a "stone soup" of every possible combination.

Stuart said...

Don't get me started on the prospect of having a Drow Elf, Arctic Gnome, Dung Dragon Half-Thri-Kreen, and Whistling Teakettle Halfling in the same group. That's just retarded.

Look at Dark Sun and Dragonlance. That is where 3E shines. Not as a "stone soup" of every possible combination.


I think that's true of all editions in an "If everyone is special, then no one is" kind of way. I'd much rather play in that Arabian Nights setting than the kitchen sink setting that's default in later edition D&D.

anarkeith said...

As a DM, I've always tried to leave character selection as open as possible for my players. Looking back on it, I think my campaigns might have been more cohesive had I imposed some limitations. As a player I chafe at limitations when creating my characters, but I often end up with more interesting characters to play. Maybe because they fit the campaign better?

A couple of DMs I game with are working with variations of point-buy systems (like HERO) to let players create more precisely what they want. I'm daunted by the systemic complexity, preferring simpler rule sets as a DM. I'm looking at Dragon Age as a simple system with thematic characters that aren't completely open-ended. That's the major hurdle for me. Will my players accept the restrictions?

Canned Man said...

In my experience, seasoned players often pose a harder challenge in this aspect for the DM than newer ones. It's never hard convincing the new players to stick to the core classes, but when including an old-timer in the game, that player'll often want something from one of the many books released later on; these classes are in my experience flawed by not being balanced with the basic classes. In addition, as stated here, they make the world go a bit awry. Why would a super-duper multi-talented knows-stuff-no-one-else-does character bother to travel with a regular fighter and sorceress? Those super-specified newer classes, in my opinion, would fit better in settings focused on a group with only such characters.
Variation is fun, of course, but not when it always has to be varied. The more I play, the more the core classes appeal to me, and even more so by DM-ing.