An interesting conversation popped up on Twitter today and I figured that it would make for a good blog post. In the discussion, we spoke about the effects of battle on an actual character, and how traditionally D&D has only counted 0 HP as the real consequence/end-effect.
Dungeons & Dragons has had many varied effects over the editions. These are all well and good, but aside from long-term effects from spells such as bestow curse, or a more powerful wish or miracle, there is much to be desired. In fact, the only real consequence of the D&D game, in terms of mechanics, is when your hit points reach zero.
Let’s be clear with a caveat. I know there are some things in the various editions that might amount to more than what I’m speaking to, but for all intents and purposes, reaching 0 HP (and character death, if you reach it) is the dark black line. At the end of it all, you’re just knocking down the HP value until it reaches null.
One of the first games that comes to mind, when thinking of moving away from this type of system, is the Star Wars Saga edition game. In it, there were tiers applied to a character’s health, and certain debilitations that were associated with it. It’s worth a read if you have the book, and something I would like to see implemented in D&D Next. In all honesty, it was such an enjoyable system that came at the tail-end of 3.5 that I wanted it to be the basis for 4e.
Either way, this is something to consider. Even if it doesn’t make the final cut, I am hoping that a new and updated system license allows for someone like me to append it via a third-party supplement.
- Matt James
Sorry for the lack of updates recently, I have been very busy with work and other duties. I promise to be more dutiful in updating this blog. The D&D Next Playtest has been coming along nicely, and after opening up the latest revisions, I have to say things are looking good. The Internet is full of commentary on DND and this next iteration of the game, but I think a lot of it is clouded by the politics involved with the company, and not the game itself.
Taking a step back and looking at the rules for what they are, this game looks to be great. It provides a dynamic in gameplay that is both enjoyable and intriguing. I can already see future products being written that will work nicely with this rule set. I can only hope that a license is designed that provides third-party publishers the freedom to help breath life into this game. I hope in the very least people give this game a look if for no other reason than having another option. If it’s not what you like, you can always move along and play with what works for you, and your friends.
I have been apart of a regional LARP on the East Coast that has a couple chapters in the area. It is a medieval fantasy game and it has been around since 1997. This game, like any, has had it’s ups and downs and has seen a significant amount of revisions during the years. The latest rules for the game, in my opinion, have put a real burden on the player and I feel it has stifled what could be possible with a more streamlined and simplified core mechanic. Here is a quick breakdown of how I would go about creating a LARP game’s rules while trying to meet the following goals:
- Live action roleplaying is difficult enough. The rules need to be light, non-intrusive, and compliment gameplay.
- Because traditional pen and paper will not be used, the game needs to be easy to learn with minimal intrusion while in characters.
- And finally, the game needs to be fun. In LARP games, the focus needs to be on the environment. It is not fun if there are constant game stoppages or rules disputes that will disrupt immersion.
The Core Mechanic
The core mechanic of a game system includes the nuts and bolts of what makes it work. In Dungeons & Dragons, the core mechanic include a d20 die that you roll. It is modified by circumstance, ability, and skill. The result is compared against a target number and you have your resolution. Sure, there are many sub-systems that compliment this, and the game has additional complexity, but this is a core of it all in the end. There are many theories out there on the best way to implement your core mechanic, but the only thing everyone can agree on is no way is perfect. For this reason you have to be delicate in how you develop a system, and take into consideration the elements of the game you want to emphasize.
LARPs need to have something equally as eloquent. Because players will often be running around, roleplaying, and making calls (verbal delivery of system mechanics), any system should be light and easy for all participants to understand. If you start to get into large numbers, or copious amounts of effects to memorize, you start to cause other aspects of the game to suffer. If your LARP is combat-focused, this might be a good thing, but for the story-driven ones, there needs to be a balance in order to facilitate better story-arch development.
A core mechanic for a LARP system can be as simple as swinging a weapon (or throwing a special packet in the case of an archer or spellcaster) and having a simple call given. Example: You swing your weapon at an opponent and deliver damage:
This call gives two very simple instructions to the opposing NPC: Take 1 damage that is of the slashing type. Because I hit with a melee weapon, it is automatically assumed it is delivered through a melee weapon. If the NPC has any immunities, resistances, or vulnerabilities to slashing damage, the resolution might be different. Simple enough, yes? This core mechanic might be altered at different stages of the game, but it remains constant no matter what happens. For instance, as the game complicates, a special fire enhancement might have been placed on the weapon for the next attack that is completes. In this case, the call might be: Fire Slashing One —Again, the core mechanic is in place, only a simple variable has been added. It doesn’t complicate the core mechanic, and allows for additional game system vectors to be introduced (that’s for another discussion, however). Also, for different deliveries of damage, you will alter accordingly. It might look like this, in example:
Melee Delivery: Slashing One
Ranged: Ranged One
Magic: Magic One
One important thing to keep in mind while developing a LARP system: keep the variables limited and try to stay away from an exception-based system. When you start to get into a call and response dynamic, you start to degrade other aspects of the experience. Unless your system is designed for combat-oriented gameplay, you may find it to be cumbersome and anti-climatic in other areas.
Any additional sub-systems should be tailored to fit with this example of a core mechanic. Keep in mind that the more you add to the combat system, the more difficult the game will become. Again, combat-based games can afford this, where story-driven ones may suffer. As with anything, you’ll want to strive for a balance, but keep in mind the strain it will cause players while they are out there in the fray.
If you’re into D&D, and haven’t been living under a rock these past 6 months, you know that the playtest material for the next iteration of the game has been unleashed to the world. In it, Wizards of the Coast includes sample characters, an adventure, DM guidelines, and a basic players’ packet. It gives you everything you need to get a taste of the new system, and to try out some specific areas that have been deemed appropriate by the staff.
I want everyone to keep in mind that this is not the complete game. Do not look at this playtest material through the lens of being complete. There are many, many aspects that have not been included, and you can be assured that Mike Mearls and the WotC team will guide you in the direction you need to go. My only contribution to this edition thus far has been in the form of playtesting. I am not on the game development team (R&D).
This playtest is a good starting point for playing out the core mechanics of the game, and bringing them inline with the legacy of D&D’s storied past. A lot of different things are in play at this point, and I hope you enjoy the material as much as I have over the past half year.
To follow my insights on D&D Next as material is made public, please follow me on Twitter.
If you want to sign up for the playtest, please head over to this page.
Continuity in a fictional world is something that I consider important. It ensures a standard is maintained so that I can continue to experience the vibe that attracted me to it in the first place. Here is a piece I wrote for Critical-Hits.com that was published today.
One of my good friends, Peter Seckler, tweeted recently about a topic that I have wanted to cover for a long time. Now that I have a few moments, and some caffeine in my blood, I figured that I would tackle it. Peter has been active in the D&D community for years and has contributed significantly to the RPGA. I value his insights and consider him knowledgeable. His tweet read as follows:
point buy stats interlock with roles to create a rigid (and fragile) “right” way to play D&D. It all has to go. #dnd
I’m a big fan of 4e. I enjoy the ease of which I can set up a campaign. I love how easy it is for me to run the story the way I want to without too much interruption in the form of sourcebook reference. That being said, it is far from perfect. I, too, like Peter, dislike how interlocked attributes are with specific classes and roles. It adds a certain cookie-cutter feel, regardless of the numerous paths to creation that exist. Try out the following to add variety and change to your 4e campaign or game.
After choosing a race, but before anything else, randomly roll attribute stats. Choose to rolls 3d6, 4d6 (drop the lowest), or some other method that you prefer. Have them roll them in order; STR, CON, DEX, INT, WIS, CHA. By forcing your players to do it this way, they will make a conscious decision about their class in a meaningful way. We’re all not designed to be football stars or award-winning scientists. We do the best with what we have, based on our abilities. A professional football player likely rolled a high STR, CON, and/or DEX. Equally, the scientist probably has a high INT/WIS. They made the decision on what they would do in life off of what would be fulfilling, and what they are naturally good at.
Try it out, let me know how it works. You may just be surprised at how the game changes when certain choices are not immediately the best option. 4e is forgiving in that many of the roles can be filled in different ways. Don’t fear that a good leader may not be present, in example.
- Matt James (@matt_james_rpg)
Several big projects have been on my radar in the past year and I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to engaging the D&D community. One of them, a documentary about my experiences as a disabled combat veteran, has consumed a large portion of my time. Hopefully, in the coming months, I can wrap that project up and devote even more time to the community. You should still check back here often. As time permits, I’ll be tossing up entries for you to read that will hopefully be valuable to you in some way.
Something that I wanted to point out: My game design work is done on a freelance basis. As much as I would love to contribute to the game on a much deeper level, I honestly only design content that is either asked of me, or that I pitch, and get approved. I have very little (if any) say in how the game moves forward. My opinions are my own, and do not represent that of Wizards of the Coast, or any other gaming company I do work for. It stinks that I have to point this out, but in today’s day and age, it’s a necessary disclaimer.
One last thing, before someone asks, I will not be covering D&D Next anytime soon. For any and all information regarding it, you should check out the section that Wizards of the Coast has put up in support of it. You can find it here. People that I consider good friends are working on it, and just know that it is in able hands. Some will hate it, many will like it, and I feel swaths will love it.
- Matt James (@matt_james_rpg)