RosstoFalstaff
 member, 161 posts
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 01:21
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
In reply to DarkLightHitomi (msg # 23):

I'm not really inclined to agree with this, it seems to be another iteration of the idea that you have to not play the game's mechanics well in order to be playing "correctly"

I've said it about 3.5 and I'll say it about 5e, if I lived in a world where polearms helped me stay alive (and wow reality for once, polearms don't suck) I'd be learning how to use them. The kind of character who takes Gourmand isn't as likely to be an adventurer as the kind who takes Great Weapon Mastery . . . but then I've so far not played someone who uses the latter while if I had an extra feat I'd totally put Gourmand on my halfling

I'm (in my opinion and by testimony of my fellow players) a fairly good roleplayer in RL and I am also a person who likes optimization and min-maxing, if only so I can sprinkle a little into a build to not die every time my character steps out the door.

I do agree with praguepride though, a -5 attack doesn't stop an archer from hitting with Sharpshooter. Variant Human Fighter with Dex 16 is rolling that attack at a net +2 for +13 damage. But at that level, as has been said, that damage is going to be overkill in the highest. It might matter if you want to never be bothered checking if the commoners you shoot are dead or not, as the overkill instant death math kicks in
praguepride
 member, 1370 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 01:36
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
My issue is twofold -
One, at that point you're 1 or 2 shotting the bosses, not the mooks. I would have to redesign encounters to throw larger numbers of mooks instead of more singular signature monsters because nobody is impressed when the fearsome owlbear dies of three arrows before it can even reach the party. Some GMs are perfectly fine with "black hole" characters who's mechanics are so great that they warp and change the entire game around them and even the other PCs are just along for the ride but I am not one of them. Finding a game breaking build is great theory crafting and fun to shock people in Arena games but not fun for me, personally, to run or for me, personally, to play with. I like playing with competent team members but I don't enjoy the boredom of not having to really think about things because I know Mary Sue over there is going to 1-shot everything eventually anyway.

The second one is that you are implying that they provide actual reasons behind their picks. "I am the best archer in the land" is fine but you can interpret that character in a variety of ways that aren't invalidated by not getting immediate access to Sharpshooter, in fact I think it is a much better character to have to earn that title in-game rather then starting with an OP build.

The flipside is that if you're not willing to put any work into justifying your picks then you're playing the rules, not the game as described above. "I want to take Polearm Mastery" "Okay, why is the polearm such a central part of your character. What happened in his/her history that made them so devoted to the polearm?" "Uhhh...because I get three attacks with it." "Ah, okay. there's the door..."

This message was last edited by the user at 01:38, Mon 11 Mar.

RosstoFalstaff
 member, 162 posts
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 02:16
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
In reply to praguepride (msg # 25):

Well speaking for my Polearm Mastery Fighter it was that he was a whaler. There's a job in whaling where you row out and spike the exhausted animal with a glaive to kill it after harpooning it. You generally got paid more for the job because it was very much a "you'll die" sort of thing. So he practiced with the glaive and used a whaling glaive as a weapon and was often on the look out for attacks like you'd be in a small boat rowing up to a harpooned whale

I'm confused because you have two examples, one where someone has a reason which you dismiss and deride and another where someone doesn't come up with a trite reason and it's as bad if not worse in your eyes. I'd say picking which you want to foster and endorsing that is the better option. If I want to play Anguy from A Song of Ice and Fire, and my backstory is "I'm the best archer, common born but a deft hand with the bow, I won a tourney and spent all my winnings on food, drink and women" then that should be enough to justify the Sharpshooter feat, no?

But there's an easy solution if you think certain feats should require a basic level, add a requirement (like minimum proficiency bonus). Just be upfront with the players instead of making it a secret filter test. The apricots will out themselves pretty fast none the less.

As a side note, yes stop using single monsters as boss monsters. Action economy tells us that monster loses. In general you want to have about as many attacks as the PCs (so two multiattack creatures) if you want them to be concerned about dying
engine
 member, 693 posts
 There's a brain alright
 but it's made out of meat
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 05:19
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
praguepride:
I would have to redesign encounters

You might consider doing that anyway.

If killing monsters is the best way to "win" encounters, then players are going to tend toward options that let them kill monsters. Even players who claim to be choosing options based on a character concept are likely to be angling toward it, especially if "losing" encounters is going to mean they lose their characters (or even just their agency in the game). So, you'll always have to be on guard for that behavior, and that gets tiresome.

Let characters kill the big monsters as fast as they want, but don't let that be the way to win the game. Don't spring that on the players, of course; it sucks to kill the monsters and think they've won only to have the rug pulled.

It's a fun approach and helps one relax about players who are interested in optimizing. There are other things that help with that too.
GreyGriffin
 member, 274 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 07:05
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
As a 5e DM, I'm actually considering blanket putting almost every combat feat on the banlist.  Access to the feat list is extremely limited, with most characters who don't want to cripple their stats only really getting access to one or two across their careers.  Having access to combat-warping feats encourages players to min-max, with Variant Human builds, hyperspecialized attributes in SAD classees or builds.

My problem with this is that it actively discourages giving better and broader access to the Feats list, which includes a lot of great color and roleplaying selections, because the player can just turn around and pick something that will blow encounter balance out of the water.  Without those crazy combat feats, you could give out feats as milestone bonuses or leveling rewards, the same way players get Divine Blessings/Gifts or even magic items.

(There are a handful of non-combat feats that jerk my chain, too, since they actively disengage the player from certain mechanics.  Observant, for instance, is basically a "Never roll perception again" feat.)

Putting the full gamut of feats on the platter as-written is essentially asking players to punish themselves for picking something that's interesting or appropriate to their background, or begs them to bend their backgrounds in facepalm-worthy ways towards certain mechanically optimal feats, which is even more infuriating.  Feats, as is, is a dumping ground for mechanics that just don't fit elsewhere in the advancement structure, and the lack of consistency and consideration for the power curve really, really shows.
DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1451 posts
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 11:54
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
RosstoFalstaff:
In reply to DarkLightHitomi (msg # 23):

I'm not really inclined to agree with this, it seems to be another iteration of the idea that you have to not play the game's mechanics well in order to be playing "correctly"


This is totally not the udea I hold at all.

To me, the rules are not rules in the same sense as the rules of chess, but rather they serve to aid in communication. For example, which us more clear "Bob is very strong" or "Bob has a 16 strength?"

The inclusion of dice adds tension and uncertainty, which make for emotional impact, and dice also take the burden of success/failure off the gm's shoulders which is good for many reasons.

But looking at the "rules" as serving those purposes means judging their usefulness in an entirely different way and yet still results in rules that look like game rules.

A key distinction here though, is one side assumes that many factors exist beyond the rules, while the other side assumes that only the rules are factors. For example, longsword vs bastard sword, one side sees only the dmg and proficiency, while the other sees many other issues such as sitting in chairs, carrying around all day long, swing efficiency, weight balance, etc despite the rules not tracking all those things.

Another example, penalties for unstable platform. Not sure if that made it to 5e, but still, in teaching others to gm, I'd teach to not use those penalties in a game where nearly all fights occur on a ship, but in a game where one fight is one a ship then that penalty hel0s the fight feel different, because it is naturally assumed that many factors exist untracked.

quote:
I've said it about 3.5 and I'll say it about 5e, if I lived in a world where polearms helped me stay alive (and wow reality for once, polearms don't suck) I'd be learning how to use them. The kind of character who takes Gourmand isn't as likely to be an adventurer as the kind who takes Great Weapon Mastery . . . but then I've so far not played someone who uses the latter while if I had an extra feat I'd totally put Gourmand on my halfling


As I said above, one side assumes the rules represent all significant factors to making tactical choices, such as what weapon to use, while the other does not.

And truth be told, you'd need to do a statistical analysis for your character to notice the difference between a d10 and a d12. Don't believe me, have your gm randomly pick a d8, d10, or a d12 each session and secretly roll all your dmg rolls for you and not tell you numbers but merely narrate results. See how often you guess the correct die size.
praguepride
 member, 1371 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 21:17
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
@DarkLightHitomi

My thoughts exactly.  The issue is less about people trying to play smart and people putting their character and roleplaying on hold for some roll-playing. It is all too common a trope for even good players to put their character's personalities on hold when they pick up the dice and roll for initiative.

One of my favorite stories was this:

http://www.giantitp.com/articl...07KmEm4H9k6efFP.html


Where he talks about how he created a reckless samurai who chose to run down a hallway full of traps taking the damage full force because it would be faster than disarming them with the rogue and they were under a perceived time limit. I myself had a barbarian who would just charge into the thickest part of combat no matter what and the rest of the party had to accommodate that in their tactical planning (Well, the barbarian is going to automatically charge and get flanked so then we can come in here and here to save her...). With both of these it's important to establish clear OOC lines of communication so people know but I had a character who didn't shine as a character UNTIL there was combat and then she would sing out battle hymns to Gorum as she gloriously waded into combat.

It was part of her arc to realize she could serve Gorum by changing up tactics!

Anyway the point of this is that if you take 5 minutes to really think about your character it shouldn't be too hard to justify even the game breaking feats and to incorporate them fully into the character so it doesn't feel like you're just min/maxing the system but playing a living breathing character who just happens to be really good at their job. It's when players can't even take that time and effort to justify things that irks me.

For example the whole point of the variant human was to provide accommodations for regional flavors of humans. Islanders could take the swimming feats or a roman-esque empire humans could take polearm or shield feats to represent their strict military training. It's not hard but it does require effort and some players just don't want to think beyond "this makes my character 10% more effective at killing things" and that mentality is completely incompatible with the kinds of games that I want to run.

I want players to make suboptimal mechanical choices if it makes for a more dramatic and interesting character. Nobody wants to run a party of Mary Sue Supermen, they want characters that fail so that their successes are more triumphant, they want characters to make poor life decisions because that is what real people do. I don't need sad sacks of crap and I get that this is an escape for people who want to experience a more exciting reality but there has to be balance. If you succeed every time then even if it is perfectly fun for you it is boring as all get out for everyone else and overall makes for a very dull and forgettable story.

As part of the RTJ process I ask players to share their favorite RPG story with me and over the years I've collected hundreds of them. I would say at least half are stories of hilarious failure. The other half are mostly split between epic triumph against all odds or incredible bouts of unexpected luck. I would say a very slim <5% are stories like "We were totally prepared and beat the pants off the villain no problem."

I don't want to diminish those stories either because some were quite interesting however this anecdotal evidence would show that things going perfectly to plan do not really make for interesting stories 95% of the time. In general we remember the epic wins and losses and both of those can only come about with real threats.

YES I can redesign every encounter so that killing all the enemies isn't the path to victory and YES I could get my act together and run a 100% custom crafted campaign where every single encounter is perfectly tailored to both the players and their personal stories and YES I could hit the gym every day and get shredded and YES I could get out there and get myself elected mayor....BUUUT I'm not going to do that. Call me lazy or too busy or just not that invested to isolate myself from my friends/family/rest of my life to spend hundreds of hours fine tuning games. I have a family and a job and other hobbies so I am very much reliant on pre-published modules for the bones of my campaign.

I tweak what I can where I can but I just don't have the time/energy/mental capacity to re-do the entire game from the ground up just to accommodate a min/max player that I don't really have any interest in running a game for in the first place.
GreyGriffin
 member, 275 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 21:42
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
praguepride:
For example the whole point of the variant human was to provide accommodations for regional flavors of humans. Islanders could take the swimming feats or a roman-esque empire humans could take polearm or shield feats to represent their strict military training. It's not hard but it does require effort and some players just don't want to think beyond "this makes my character 10% more effective at killing things" and that mentality is completely incompatible with the kinds of games that I want to run.

I want players to make suboptimal mechanical choices if it makes for a more dramatic and interesting character. Nobody wants to run a party of Mary Sue Supermen, they want characters that fail so that their successes are more triumphant, they want characters to make poor life decisions because that is what real people do. I don't need sad sacks of crap and I get that this is an escape for people who want to experience a more exciting reality but there has to be balance. If you succeed every time then even if it is perfectly fun for you it is boring as all get out for everyone else and overall makes for a very dull and forgettable story.

Theee two paragraphs are effectively mutually exclusive, because of how unbalanced the feat list is and because access to it is so limited.  A player who is making a suboptimal mechanical choice with a feat isn't merely stubbing his toe, he's blasting his foot off with a shotgun.  Choosing Linguist or Keen Intellect over Great Weapon Master requires either a lack of awareness of the impact of mecahnics on the gameplay experience, or a willingness to dramatically self-sabotage.  You can't, on the one hand, as a player to make a mechanical decision based on his background, and then expect him to play to the background that just makes his character suck.  That's really unfair to ask of a player in a game like D&D, where the mechanics affect your play experience so much.

It also, as a consequence, creates a problem where players' motiviations to play characters with different aesthetics, techniques, and backgrounds are stifled by a lack of mechanical support.  Why would I play a fighter who dual wields shortswords, even if it's something cool that's written into my backstory that's supported by the setting?  Why would I not instead write my character as someone whose martial tradition revolves around polearm mastery?  By mechanically rewarding attachment to certain aesthetics that may have ties to certain backgrounds and character types, you are indirectly punishing characters who don't adhere to those archetypes, and thus pretty directly reduce the diversity of viable character concepts.

The impact of the top tier of combat feats warps the game from top to bottom - from round-to-round combat decisions all the way back to character backstory.  And when you're making those kinds of decisions wrapped around mechanics that are so punishing for players who choose not to exploit them, you have a balance issue worth putting serious restrictions onto.  Not necessarily because you don't want them to be included, but because including them means hamstringing those players, characters, concepts, and themes that don't wrap themselves around them in some way.
engine
 member, 694 posts
 There's a brain alright
 but it's made out of meat
Mon 11 Mar 2019
at 21:52
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
praguepride:
For example the whole point of the variant human was to provide accommodations for regional flavors of humans. Islanders could take the swimming feats or a roman-esque empire humans could take polearm or shield feats to represent their strict military training. It's not hard but it does require effort and some players just don't want to think beyond "this makes my character 10% more effective at killing things" and that mentality is completely incompatible with the kinds of games that I want to run.

That's pretty uncharitable.

People want to choose options that will matter. Sure, it makes sense for an islander to take a feat for swimming, but unless the player has reason to believe that swimming will occur at least sometimes in the game, they're probably not going to take that feat and who could really blame them? As long as doing damage is the only way to win, players are going to gravitate toward feats that allow them to do damage.

praguepride:
I want players to make suboptimal mechanical choices if it makes for a more dramatic and interesting character.

Most people will do some of that, but not at the expense of a character who is, in fact, largely useless when it comes to an activity in the game that a) is common and b) has a good chance of killing anyone not optimized for it.

It's well understood that a good way to encourage suboptimal choices is to actually make them sort of optimal. There have been games with "flaw" options in them for decades. I don't care for those because the "flaws" rarely matter. But there are also games like Fate which directly reward players for playing to their character, or Dungeon World which tie abilities directly to semi-reckless behavior and reward people when a risk goes awry.

praguepride:
Nobody wants to run a party of Mary Sue Supermen, they want characters that fail so that their successes are more triumphant, they want characters to make poor life decisions because that is what real people do. I don't need sad sacks of crap and I get that this is an escape for people who want to experience a more exciting reality but there has to be balance. If you succeed every time then even if it is perfectly fun for you it is boring as all get out for everyone else and overall makes for a very dull and forgettable story.

Failure sucks, especially in D&D. It can be interesting, but mostly there's no rational reason for welcoming it. The game offers no incentive to do anything but succeed constantly. With dice in the mix, that obviously isn't going to happen, but few people invite failure, because while it might be interesting, it's much more likely to be embarrassing, discouraging and boring.

praguepride:
I don't want to diminish those stories either because some were quite interesting however this anecdotal evidence would show that things going perfectly to plan do not really make for interesting stories 95% of the time. In general we remember the epic wins and losses and both of those can only come about with real threats.

Because of that confirmation bias, the number is nowhere near that high. For each of those interesting stories of failure, there were many, many more of failure that was wrenching and aggravating, and just a downer. You hear about the amazing ones because they stand out.

I recommend you ask players for a story about a time when they were bored in the game. I am willing to bet that most of those aren't going to involve success, but will involve failure instead.

praguepride:
Call me lazy or too busy or just not that invested to isolate myself from my friends/family/rest of my life to spend hundreds of hours fine tuning games. I have a family and a job and other hobbies so I am very much reliant on pre-published modules for the bones of my campaign.

Well, your argument is certainly lazy. It takes nowhere near that much effort. I thought you might at least be willing to ask me honest questions about what I mean before dimissing it.

praguepride:
I tweak what I can where I can but I just don't have the time/energy/mental capacity to re-do the entire game from the ground up just to accommodate a min/max player that I don't really have any interest in running a game for in the first place.

You're taking an uncharitable and unrealistic view of my suggestion, but fine. But you haven't rid yourself of the issue just because you filter this imagined bugbear. I daresay you face it to some degree or another with most if not all of the players you let in, because players generally expect failure to mean death and no one wants their characters to die.

You're setting yourself up to fight this battle forever, and to treat a wide segment of the hobby as personae non grata. Wouldn't you rather not?
praguepride
 member, 1372 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 00:01
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
@GreyGriffon: Do your games follow proper DMG guidelines for building encounters? I have found that with some BIIIG exceptions the power curve is quite low for D&D as per guidelines. Although I have also noticed many published adventures ignoring that guideline completely  but then again some mobs are vary wildly in power.  The difference between kobolds at night vs at day is..well... night and day. I don’t know but it seems to me that if you had a DM who played by the rules then the power curve would be such that linguist, while not a good pick at all, wouldn’t cripple your character either. I would imagine you would run into serious trouble if you are constantly facing deadly level encounters. In my play group for Pathfinder I’ve found every character in a party has a small room for a single “non optimal” pick and things like maximizing persuasion or even linguistics in the right setting is quite advantageous because of the game and not because of the mechanics.

@Engine: Is swimming that uncommon compared to dwarven stone cunning or elven immunity to sleep? I am not trying to balance every choice I am just trying to balance the races. Sure something like linguist is weak compared to what elves or dwarves get but getting GWM or Sharpshooter is also unbalancing in the other direction. Why not have everyone play humans with the best combat feats and just break the 1st level game over your knee? Some people would have loads of fun running or playing in that game but I am not one of them. I just came off of a 1.5yr game where one player insisted on min/maxing his character to the nth degree and the rest of us didn’t. It completely destroyed the game even though we were all friendly. We were making what felt like real decisions that were not 100% optimal but 100% fit with the characters. It was an absolute blast making poor decisions because it made the characters feel alive and as long as we communicated as a party we could ensure that the party as a whole was fine. If you are smart about it you can fail without instant death or campaign TPK. However three of us were playing characters and one was playing a sack of numbers and abilities. Every session he would pull farther and farther away and when we asked him to stop he would continue. Eventually the game was him doing everything and the rest of us just sitting around taking bets at how long before he solos the next combat. The GM could not balance an encounter without either a near constant partial TPK or having this guys keen falchion inquisitor one-shot-killing everything and eventually it killed the campaign.

As for modifying encounters to not make them based on killing monsters I am all ears. Every encounter I make has a social option but players never seem to take it, even when I hang a sign on it. Adding some other objective like saving the damsel before time runs out now warps the whole game potentially depending on the outcome. In a tabletop session I am fine with GMing on the fly but the amount of prep work I have to do for a PbP with maps and tokens etc. means I am not nearly as flexible. It’s funny because it should be with the slower nature of PbP I have days to react to things but the truth for me is the opposite. I spend a lot of time making good looking maps and tokens and the four hours I get with a dedicated tabletop session is generally more time then I spend on a single game here per week. Introducing a macguffin or a damsel or something dramatic like that into every single encounter of a published game is beyond my capability. I do a lot but to add depth to games but for me I need a published adventure for a starting point. I have tried doing campaigns from scratch and have been absolutely miserable with them in games like D&D or Pathfinder.

Finally I have had too many poor play experiences with runaway power gamers to even want to put the effort into making them happy.  You are absolutely right in that many people love to play games to crush the power curve and I am absolutely not saying those people are playing it wrong. I love theory crafting or insane arena PvP skirmishes where all sorts of jank comes into play. You do you power gamer, just not around me. In my personal play group we have a core of three power gamers that we have only now realized after 15 years of playing with the, that their play style is fundamentally incompatible with the rest. Every time we try to have fun there they are consciously or unconsciously invalidating our characters. Either we have to min/max to keep up or they leave us behind and we all become spectators as they compete with one another to outdamage each round. the elf vs dwarf kill count from LotR was fun and cheeky once but after 15 yrs of it I am done. I do not have fun turning my characters into bundles of numbers to keep up and when we have politely and impolitely asked them to hold back they are miserable and just drain the energy from the table. You do you but I have to do me and that means no power gamers, no power curve breaking, no “RP is secondary to mechanics”, no “background and story stops when you pick up the dice” because those attitudes make me unhappy and making a power gamer play inefficiently tends to make them unhappy so why force it? Why not vet out those players early saying that this is not the game for you if you have objections to being asked to take abilities and feats that fit the story and character but might not be the most optimal combat selection you could possibly make.


There is a lot of grey area though. If you are an islander I expect you to be good at swimming or at least have an interesting story to tell about why they aren’t. You can be good at swimming through abilities or skills or feats. HOW isn’t as important as WHY is the point I keep trying to make. I can make powerful characters but they don’t feel like min max because the characterization is so strong that every option makes absolute sense and builds the characters personality and adds depth to them. If someone put the time and effort into justifying a feat, even a powerful one, I would probably allow it if what it adds to the character offsets the damage to the game balance. BUT there has to be that effort. There has to be both give and take from both GM and player. A player unwilling to even talk about why they are making a selection is not one I generally want to play with because the multitude of variables that make them upset over being asked a simple question likely feed into other behaviors that I do not enjoy seeing in my players. In tabletop a GM has to be a lot more flexible about who sits down at the table but online when I have to winnow down 50 applications to 5 then I can be picky. I have to be that picky because I have tried saying yes to everyone who applies and it just overwhelms me and crushes me.

I do not judge power gamers as not true role players and I have great fun indulging my own inner power gamer in the right setting but in general I just don’t find playing with them very fun so why force it? Why detract from my fun and theirs? If I was younger I would get the idea of trying new things and expanding my mindset but after 15yrs of trying to enjoy a game alongside power gamers, I have tried and it just isn’t in the cards for me.


That being said there was one power gamer I loved to play with because he wasn’t selfish. He would always play some kind of buff or support class whose goal was to send the party to the stratosphere. Because he was buffing or debuffing the GM could raise the difficulty of the encounter to match our elevated power level so we were like 5th level clearing out beholder lairs and feeling badass but that was because the power gamer was breaking the game on everyone’s behalf, not just trying to see how much damage he could personally do each round. It wasn’t about him, it was about the party so everyone could have fun at the same time.
GreyGriffin
 member, 276 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 01:13
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
praguepride:
@GreyGriffon: Do your games follow proper DMG guidelines for building encounters? I have found that with some BIIIG exceptions the power curve is quite low for D&D as per guidelines. Although I have also noticed many published adventures ignoring that guideline completely  but then again some mobs are vary wildly in power.  The difference between kobolds at night vs at day is..well... night and day. I don’t know but it seems to me that if you had a DM who played by the rules then the power curve would be such that linguist, while not a good pick at all, wouldn’t cripple your character either. I would imagine you would run into serious trouble if you are constantly facing deadly level encounters. In my play group for Pathfinder I’ve found every character in a party has a small room for a single “non optimal” pick and things like maximizing persuasion or even linguistics in the right setting is quite advantageous because of the game and not because of the mechanics.

The problem isn't that underpowered or sub-optimal characters are intrinsically unplayable.  In fact, I think core 5e's balance is quite good, especially as compared to previous editions, or even other more mechanically dense contemporaries.

The problem is twofold.  One - taking a combat feat, especially one of the outlying high-powered combat feats supplementing an even somewhat optimized build creates a character with power that is outsized.  Sharpshooter + Archery Style and Great Weapon Master + Savage Attacker especially warp combat math.  This is especially prevalent in adventures designed by intent, using 2-4 low-to-modest challenge encounters to "soften up" PCs for a more challenging end-of-day encounter, since these combos result in vastly faster combat clear times with the expenditure of no resources.

[edit: To clarify, these earlier "filler" or "feeler" encounters are designed to chew resources without unduly endangering the PCs (they also allow the DM to communicate aesthetic and mechanical themes of the dungeon to the PCs in a lower-risk environment, but that's a different conversation!), and are usually composed of monsters/creatures who are relatively easy to hit and require low investment to put down, which magnifies the effects of most combat feats that either allow one to trade accuracy for damage or allow one to make extra attacks.  One unseen cost is that many of these feats also ignore conditions that would make attacks more difficult, flattening the strategic aspect of combat.  Why work your way behind a fortification to flank an enemy if you can ignore cover and range penalties..?]

Groups with wide access to these feats and groups without are like night and day, playing through published adventures or homebrew.  The DM, necessarily, has to either ramp up encounter intensity (count, difficulty, or both), thus potentially edging out characters with less-than-optimal builds, or they have to accept that combat is not a challenge or a threat, removing one of the game's most powerful emotional thrills.

The second part of the problem is opportunity cost.  When you are in a position to take a feat, for whatever reason, by taking a feat that isn't one of the high-impact feats that affects almost every roll you make in the game, you are not only spending the resource to gain the suboptimal benefit (woo, languages?), but you're also spending the opportunity to take one of those high-impact feats.  Presenting this conundrum of opportunity cost into the selection of race is one of the huge design crimes of Variant Humans, as now your selection of race has to factor in all of those feat mechanics you are giving up because you want to play a dragonborn sword-and-board Eldritch Knight for fun and flavor.

Every decision you make for fun over effectiveness is a sacrifice you're making, and in a game where the group relies on each other in a real, mechanical way, you're not just sacrificing your own effectiveness in a game, you're potentially putting your whole party's success or failure on the line.  And by putting those feats on the table, you narrow the range of reasonably optimal choices.  We're not talking spreadsheet warrioring some kind of edge case uber-build here, we're talking about an average player making a reasonable decision to impact his play experience at the table and help his party out by fighting better.  With rational players making reasonably optimal choices, you simply end up with Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Mastery and Polearm Mastery, et al.

[edit again: Unlike Pathfinder, in 5e, access to feats is very, very limited.  You are trading one of your five-per-career-and-probably-less-because-who-even-gets-to-level-20-anyways attribute-ups to get it.  This is one of the major factors as to why the suboptimal picks have such devastating opportunity cost.]

By creating those peak end-points, you both force the DM to either up the challenge of encounters, and you force the other players to either make those same decisions, resulting in a much narrower band of playable character builds, or you end up relegating characters who rely on combat feats to simply live with the fact that they can't make the same impact, and that their characters, as a result, matter less at the end of the day than the characters who did build into those feats.

That's just bad feels all around.

This message was last edited by the user at 01:34, Tue 12 Mar.

DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1452 posts
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 02:44
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
In reply to GreyGriffin (msg # 31):

I think you are still missing the point,
quote:
game like D&D, where the mechanics affect your play experience so much.

Mechanics affect things this much only when the gm allows it and the players expect it.

Imagine a freeform game without mechanics. What is it in such a game that impacts experience so much when there are no rules to have that impact? Let's call it Mushu.

A dnd game can have Mushu as the primary driver of the game's experience, using the rules to minimize negativity and slowdowns from miscommunication, clarifying vague terms, and feelings of gm favoritism (regardless of how scrupulously fair the gm actually is).

A dnd game can also ignore Mushu completely and function entirely by the mechanics. Doing so however is such a different game with such different metrics of "good" and "bad" characters that the two are entirely different categories of gaming despite using the same rulebook.

A game run mostly on Mushu does not need mechanically balanced characters. In such a game, having fighters completely dominate combat to tye point of overkill is just fine because the fight is not the point, the fight is a plot situation, a narrative tool.

There is an excellent youtube video that breaks down what made Pirates of the Cartibean a great movie, and that video (which I'll link when I find the youtube address again) the fights are specifically called out and explained why they work, and that "why" basically boils down to showing the audience things about the characters involved. I.E. the fight between Jack and Will at the beginning shows us that they both know how to fight but Will is technically better, but Jack is both more experienced and cheats. It also introduces a foreshadowing, the pistol with the shot "not meant for [Will]." In a Mushu game, this is the kind of thing a fight does, it is fun and exciting but it serves first and foremost a narrative purpose.

A mechanics based game however, the fights are the central focus. In a way, they become the game itself, and the narrative becomes a sideshow to set the backdrop for the fights that have become the central focus. This can be fun, and enjoy this kind of game from time to time, but it still is a radically different beast from a Mushu game and needs to be handled differently by both players and the gm.
GreyGriffin
 member, 277 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 03:51
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
DarkLightHitomi:
There is an excellent youtube video that breaks down what made Pirates of the Cartibean a great movie, and that video (which I'll link when I find the youtube address again) the fights are specifically called out and explained why they work, and that "why" basically boils down to showing the audience things about the characters involved. I.E. the fight between Jack and Will at the beginning shows us that they both know how to fight but Will is technically better, but Jack is both more experienced and cheats. It also introduces a foreshadowing, the pistol with the shot "not meant for [Will]." In a Mushu game, this is the kind of thing a fight does, it is fun and exciting but it serves first and foremost a narrative purpose.

I've seen the video you refer to, and I think it's quite interesting, but it's unfortunately got some pretty big hiccups if you apply it to an RPG.

First, we're talking specifically and explicitly about D&D.  Without broadening the argument, D&D assumes a lot of things - specifically that your characters are typically centered around action-adventure abilities that interact in a relatively complex mechanical fashion to create a game environment where players exert their will on the setting solely through the mechanism of their characters' actions.  D&D is, in this way, simulationist, as it lacks many story-first mechanics like Hero Points, Stunts, Story Points, etc.  In fact, the only story-first mechanic baked into D&D is, in fact, Inspiration.  Inspiration, as written, only allows your character to become more competent.  Indeed, you can't spend Inspiration to fail for a story reason - you can only gain Advantage (taking the higher of two rolled dice).

This construction tells us a lot about the intent of D&D - that it relies on the mechanics to throw the situation into the meat grinder of dice and improvisation to create narrative.

The example you cite of the opening swordfight between Turner and Sparrow is an interesting one because it does seem to be extremely balanced.  The fight is fought and won by cunning and interesting decisions made by the combatants who were on relatively even footing.

Imagine how much less interesting and exciting that fight would have been if one of the combatants had a massive mechanical advantage.  Imagine that Jack Sparrow could have just effortlessly run Will Turner through and then buggered out the back door, on the back of some feat he picked at character creation, because Will Turner decided to take +1 to all his attributes instead.  All the drama, excitement, and build-up, to say nothing of the plot, would have been leeched out of that scene.

Let's take another example from a combat that I recently ran as a guest DM on my friend's West Marches game.  The players were on a storm-tossed ship, and I had designed mechanics around pushing the players around the deck as the ship was thrown around on the waves.  One player was hurled over the railing of the ship.  He had a valuable magic item in hand, and didn't want to drop it in the sea, so he hung, one-handed, trying to pull himself up over the rail, while being tossed by the boat, hanging on by his fingernails each time.  He hung for several rounds, until one of the players fought his way through the monsters on the deck, taking a number of opportunity attacks, and helped to haul him up onto the ship, creating a tablewide wave of celebration.

What was established?  One character was materialistic enough to risk death.  One was selfless enough to risk harm and death to help another.  The combat also established, by its construction and design, that the adventure was nonconventional, that attacks and obstacles would arise from the environment as much as their adversaries, and that they would have to up their game and work together to overcome.  All of that without a single discussion of intent or anyone having to deliberately take a dive against their character's interests for the sake of "telling a better story."

Mechanics can and do tell stories on their own.  Pretending that mechanics are just some kind of overlay that prevents players from realizing their perfect story is ignoring the very important DMing craft of mise en scene, and ignoring the very real potential that allowing mechanical interactions to occur creates risk anbd tension, the very stakes that make drama, and allow dramatic action to occur in an environment where taking those risks as a very real possibility of putting a character in harm's way.

Putting characters with outsized mechanical impact into a situation like that robs mechanically intricate, intense, or challenging scenes of their potential to tell stories and present narrative through their mechanics.  Being able to blow through opposition before it has a chance to present itself and unfold, or being able to ignore the disadvantages that make your character's strategic paradigm risky, or being able to ignore an important facet of a mechanical situation like cover or distance, makes those scenes, are designed to create interesting storytelling with their mechanics.

Furthermore, if the DM wants to recreate those dramatic stakes in the face of these more-empowered characters, he has to turn the heat on even hotter, which doubly disadvantages those characters who haven't availed themselves of the mechanical advantages offered by optimal choices.

Mechanics are narrative.  Your characters' actions are literally their narrative.  Characters having difficulty impacting scenes mechanically have difficulty impacting any part of the narrative, because their actions, when the chips are down and the heat is on, literally matter less.  This is really the core reason that in games without strong narrative control in the hands of the Players, game balance is really, really important.
praguepride
 member, 1373 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 04:41
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
FYI i'm betting this is the video DarkHitomi is talking about:

Pirates of the Caribbean - Accidentally Genius:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhdBNVY55oM
DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1453 posts
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 08:09
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
Yes, that is the video.

===

Now, first the gm controls the world beyond the PCs. This means that the gm has the power to mold things to fit the choices made by the players in building their characters but more importantly, the gm decides what it means to fail. That last bit is the number one thing I see gms do wrong. To fail a check does not always require the obvious fail result. For example, a rogue comes across a trapped and locked chest. They disarm the trap but fail the check to unlock it. The obvious result is to say the chest stays locked, but an alternative is too say the chest is unlocked but the trap was reset. This can be used in many ways to keep things from stalling and consequences to failure yet keep things interesting. This can also be done in combat.

-

quote:
Imagine how much less interesting and exciting that fight would have been if one of the combatants had a massive mechanical advantage.


Your example of making Will weaker and not combat focused fails on two accounts A) if Will isn't a good fighter, then a fight isn't a good way to handle those plot/narrative elements (might be for other narrative things, like showcasing what a character does when in over their head), and B) despite Will being a good fighter, he lost and had to be saved by a dues ex machina. A +1 doesn't really matter there, he still lost.

Also, having fighters shine in combat is just fine when the story has so much more than combat. Consider Lotr in Moria where the hobbits killed a few orcs but Aragorn and Boromir both killed many. This is an example of the fighters getting to shine, and yet there is so much more that happens to the story that makes other skills and abilities just as important.

Even more, is the idea that every battle must be directly won through force of arms. If you want to avoid, the gm can easily trounce a fighter no matter how well built, at which point a one trick pony will provide nothing else to the group. In a game with better narrative balance, characters needing something beyond their combat skills is important so that everyone doesn't feel like they have to carry the fighter around like a sentient weapon instead of a person.

Such issues do not always arise because of the prevelance of players and gms who see combat as the central focus and therefore both completely center everything else around the combat.

However, when you get those familiar with playing Mushu style, the combat is not central, and indeed, combat is just one of many ways to deal with issues. This one reason I like gold-for-xp (though I refine it a bit to quest xp), because if getting xp is achieved by accomplishing an end result, then your strategy for achieving it is more open to variety and preference in strategy. A diplomat, a rogue, a wizard, and a fighter can all have vastly different strategies to achieve the goal based on their own strengths. Combat xp is one of the worst things to ever happen to the game for this very reason. Which leads to next point.

-
The designers, like many players/gms, do not always recognize the difference between the two styles, or other issues like dissociated mechanics. Hence editions wars and similar.

When you have a designer whose entire experience has been mechanics based, do you not think that their designs will also be centered around that style of play?

And yes, there is some mixing here of styles, but really, every player and gm I've seen has been clearly on one side or the other, sometimes solely that one perspective, othertimes with the other style a clear and distant second. Sometimes you'll get those who flip-flop, playing mechanics in combat and mostly ignoring them out of combat, which is still implicitly defining a distinction.

-
Also, for reference, I'm not simply thinking 5e here. Yes, the op has a 5e game, but this issue applies to all rpgs.

I also consider a Mushu style game to be worthy of being called an art, like music or painting, and worth being studied in equal professional fashion. I try for that, despite me sucking horribly at explaning things.
GreyGriffin
 member, 278 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Tue 12 Mar 2019
at 17:23
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
That's a pretty fierce strawman you've put up there.

What you want is a narrativist game with fail-forward mechanics.  I want to play Burning Wheel too, but we don't always get what we want.

Part of the compact of sitting at the table to play D&D is that the players all get to be someone heroic.  It's a compact that is, by and large, enforced by the mechanics.  The mechanics in discussion threaten that part of the compact.  Now, a perfectly symmetrical game is just as boring as a completely asymmetrical one, so there's definitely room to argue what mechanics are and aren't appropriate, and what mechanics do the most to create the best stories.

Arguing that the best way to make a good story in a mechanically intricate system is to ignore the mechanics is pretty unrealistic, and it ignores the good work that good mechanics can do.

The second important part of that compact is the assignment of agency.  In Burning Wheel, players can use Wises to just invent parts of the setting wholesale, and their roll determines how accurate or how major those pieces of lore can be.  A character in D&D has no such power.  Their assigned agency is exercised entirely through the actions of their PC.

Yes, many GMs enlist the aid of players in fleshing out the setting, but that is not the role that the players play in the course of the game.

The argument that Will Turner shouldn't have fought Jack Sparrow is a terrible argument on that basis.  If one (or both!) of those characters are players, then of course they are going to have a conflict!  And an explosive one!  There is chaos all around, Will Turner hates pirates, and Jack Sparrow insulted his unrequited love.  That's a fight!  If you set that scene in a vaccuum and didn't expect those two guys to fight, you did it wrong.  And furthermore, the GM doesn't get to decide that they don't!  If the players are going to fight, they're going to fight!

In the narrative, a fight is the most exciting and interesting way to resolve the tension in the scene.  And if the fight is a flaccid, unbalanced affair because of bad mechanics, it's not the narrative's fault.  It's not the fault of the players who keenly understood their motivations and came up with some real zingers to get a rise out of the other character.  It's the fault of the mechanics, and that's the point of failure that should be addressed, so they can allow that scene to unfold as a result of them interacting, with dice, words, and ideas thrown back and forth..

[As an aside, the Hobbits are NPCs in an escort quest.  No way that any of them are PCs until Merry and Pippin get Ascended NPC status after Gandalf quit the game after the Helm's Deep fiasco and they got a few new players.  Quickly retcon them in drinking magic potions from Old Man Willow to bump up their garbage stats to PC tier and bam.  Pippin was probably Boromir's old player.]

This message was last edited by the user at 17:34, Tue 12 Mar.

DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1455 posts
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 07:38
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
quote:
What you want is a narrativist game with fail-forward mechanics.  I want to play Burning Wheel too, but we don't always get what we want.


Incorrect. You do not need special mechanics to fail forward. Also, I didn't like burning wheel.


quote:
Part of the compact of sitting at the table to play D&D is that the players all get to be someone heroic.


Incorrect. The pact is that players get to be a protagonist.

quote:
It's a compact that is, by and large, enforced by the mechanics.  The mechanics in discussion threaten that part of the compact.


This is where a major assupmtion you are making is causing an issue, because the assumption is false.

That assumption, is assuming that the mechanics have one and only one function and result, that the mechanics in that way are like math. 2 and 3 by any other name always sum to 5.

To use a different example found in language,
A fighter says "I grabbed his sword!" (a clear and solid meaning)
then someone responds "That's what she said!"

Wait, that clear and precise statement just had it's meaning torn out from under it. But what was it that actually changed? Nothing grammatical nor symmantic changed. It was context from outside the statement that changed everything about what the statement meant, without actually changing anything about the statement itself.

The same applies to rpg mechanics. You can change the context outside the mechanics to completely alter the meaning and results of the mechanics beyond all recognition. That is Mushu. Mushu is that context outside the mechanics that changes everything about them while leaving them the same.

There is no One True Way for what a mechanic means nor how to use that mechanic.

That is the point. Mushu leaves the mechanics untouched, yet changes everything about them.

quote:
Arguing that the best way to make a good story in a mechanically intricate system is to ignore the mechanics is pretty unrealistic,


No more unrealistic then a "that's she said" joke. Take away the fighter's statement and the joke no longer works because it has nothing to work on, there isn't anything there to have meaning.

It isn't ignoring mechanics, it is radically changing the context around those mechanics.

Another example is flipping tables.
There is no mechanic for flipping tables, yet mechanics focused players rarely flip tables, even if they do not see it as illegal. That's is because they do not see them as tables. They see only the mechanics, and since the table isn't in the mechanics, they do not see the table when looking for tactical options.

The Mushu player finds flipping the table an obvious option, bevause they do not see mechanics, the see the table as a table because the table is there. They do not need mechanics to tell them what can be done.

Flipping the table is not ignoring the mechanics, it is accepting something beyond the mechanics.


quote:
A character in D&D has no such power.


Firstly, players have as much power in this regard as the group accepts. No mechanics required.

Secondly, a protagonist in a story rarely invents things in the story beyond themself. DnD started as players being the protagonists, not joint storytellers. A major point was for players to not know about things till they discovered them as their characters discovered them. Much in the same way a reader of Harry Potter has no idea what's behind the door in the third floor corridor till Harry and friends find out, only then do the readers discover this.

This is the default assumption of dnd, yet dnd also assumes that the gm will tear the game apart and rebuild it to suit the needs of campaign and group.

quote:
The argument that Will Turner shouldn't have fought Jack Sparrow is a terrible argument on that basis.  If one (or both!) of those characters are players, then of course they are going to have a conflict!  And an explosive one!  There is chaos all around, Will Turner hates pirates, and Jack Sparrow insulted his unrequited love.



Your mistake here is in not changing the elements around the scene.

If Will wasn't a fighter, and couldn't fight well, then everything about this scene would need to change, as in there wouldn't be a scene about Will confronting a pirate, Jack wouldn't have made comments about unrequited love.

Also, Jack is amazing, but not a protagonist. He makes a terrible protagonist. Here he is a pure supporting character.

Will could fight, hence a scene was needed to showcase that ability and other things were brought in because they could fit the scene well.

If Will wasn't a fighter, then we'd get an entirely different scene showcasing what his skill actually was, and the elements to be brought into the scene woukd depend on what would fit well in a scene showcasing whatever Will's skill was. And a very good chance that Will wouldn't have even encountered Jack as an escapee. Instead, Jack woukd have been caught by the guards and Will would be in the prison finishing up installing some of the prison bars, showcasing his smithing skill and informing us of his intimate knowledge of the cell doors because we see him as the installer (instead of needing him to explain that during the breakout scene). It also introduces them to each other in way where a fight can't break out, yet Will's hatred can still be expressed, Jack can learn Will's name, and things are set up before the breakout scene making the breakout scene run smoother and shorter.

This is just an example, but do you see how making Will a non-fighter changes a lot more than just what happens when two characters enter the same room?


quote:
In the narrative, a fight is the most exciting and interesting way to resolve the tension in the scene.


Incorrect. See chick flicks for good examples of nonviolent yet interesting and exciting resolutions.

quote:
And if the fight is a flaccid, unbalanced affair because of bad mechanics, it's not the narrative's fault.


Nope, and it isn't a bad thing either. Remember the scene of the pirates vs the navy? Totally unbalanced, yet very interesting and entertaining.

Also consider Will in the cave fighting undead pirates. Again, totally unbalanced, Will wins by being creative because skill certainly wasn't enough, and victory only happened because of a noncombat solution, the breaking of the curse. Yet despite facing enemies that couldn't be killed, the fight was still fun, entertaining, and interesting.

quote:
It's the fault of the mechanics, and that's the point of failure that should be addressed,


The mechanics are not the failure. Speaking English in the chinese countryside won't help you, but isn't the fault of English language's design, nor even of language itself. The fault lies with the guy who thinks English should work just fine in China simply because it works in America.

quote:
As an aside, the Hobbits are NPCs in an escort quest.


This is incorrect. It seems that way because your expectations are centered around combat and... no not even heroics, just combat.

The Hobbit is a good example. How often do the characters actually fight in that book? How often do they show themselves as combat capable heroes? In fact, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Bard are the only characters who do heroics, and Bilbo is the only PC and nearly all of his heroics are non-combat creativity. The spiders is questionably combat, but aside from one he tackled al0ne, the rest he didn't actually fight with, but rather taunted and drew away.

Fights and combat are not requirements to be PCs, and once you stop thinking of combat ability as a requirement for PC status, then you might start seeing the virtues of hobbits and other not-so-combat-savvy characters.
engine
 member, 695 posts
 There's a brain alright
 but it's made out of meat
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 15:12
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
DarkLightHitomi:
quote:
What you want is a narrativist game with fail-forward mechanics.  I want to play Burning Wheel too, but we don't always get what we want.
Incorrect. You do not need special mechanics to fail forward. Also, I didn't like burning wheel.

Agreed on all counts, and thanks for making this point. In fairness, I must admit to not having actually tried Burning Wheel, just not being grabbed by the rules.

DarkLightHitomi:
quote:
A character in D&D has no such power.


Firstly, players have as much power in this regard as the group accepts. No mechanics required.

Thank you for making this point as well. I agree.

GreyGriffin:
D&D is, in this way, simulationist, as it lacks many story-first mechanics like Hero Points, Stunts, Story Points, etc.  In fact, the only story-first mechanic baked into D&D is, in fact, Inspiration.  Inspiration, as written, only allows your character to become more competent.  Indeed, you can't spend Inspiration to fail for a story reason - you can only gain Advantage (taking the higher of two rolled dice).

3.5 introduced action points along with Eberron. Spending one lets a player add 1d6 to a d20 roll, in an attempt (as I understand it) to make the game more adventurous; it can turn a near success into a true success.

4th Edition also has action points. The base rule is to literally give a character another action, but feats, class features and paragon paths could augment or change that.

GreyGriffin:
This construction tells us a lot about the intent of D&D - that it relies on the mechanics to throw the situation into the meat grinder of dice and improvisation to create narrative.

And the history of D&D tells us that this intent often falls very, very flat.

GreyGriffin:
All the drama, excitement, and build-up, to say nothing of the plot, would have been leeched out of that scene.

Another way to look at it is that in the game you're hypothesizing (and the way I think your view of D&D calls for), is that those things were never inherently part of that scene. If a dramatic, exciting scene results from an encounter then it's pure happenstance.

GreyGriffin:
What was established?  One character was materialistic enough to risk death.  One was selfless enough to risk harm and death to help another.  The combat also established, by its construction and design, that the adventure was nonconventional, that attacks and obstacles would arise from the environment as much as their adversaries, and that they would have to up their game and work together to overcome.  All of that without a single discussion of intent or anyone having to deliberately take a dive against their character's interests for the sake of "telling a better story."

Neat. And happenstance. The mechanics you designed might not have functioned as intended, or the characters might have had skills or figured out things that neutralized the mechanics.

I'm not sure what mechanics resulted in a character who was hurled over the edge being able to catch themselves and hang on with one hand. Was that really handled entirely mechanically, or was there DM judgment involved?

In any case, there was DM judgment in the mechanics you created for the pitching ship. Didn't you create those in some hope that situations might arise that were "better" than usual?

GreyGriffin:
Mechanics can and do tell stories on their own.  Pretending that mechanics are just some kind of overlay that prevents players from realizing their perfect story is ignoring the very important DMing craft of mise en scene, and ignoring the very real potential that allowing mechanical interactions to occur creates risk anbd tension, the very stakes that make drama, and allow dramatic action to occur in an environment where taking those risks as a very real possibility of putting a character in harm's way.

Mechanics result in stories, and sometimes they're stories that the designers of those mechanics intended, other times not.

It's not about a "perfect" story, and your use of that phrasing seems dismissive of the concept of setting aside reinterpreting mechanics to allow a particular result to arise. Mechanics can result in stories, but not everyone feels they can rely on those stories to be worth their time.

GreyGriffin:
Putting characters with outsized mechanical impact into a situation like that robs mechanically intricate, intense, or challenging scenes of their potential to tell stories and present narrative through their mechanics.  Being able to blow through opposition before it has a chance to present itself and unfold, or being able to ignore the disadvantages that make your character's strategic paradigm risky, or being able to ignore an important facet of a mechanical situation like cover or distance, makes those scenes, are designed to create interesting storytelling with their mechanics.

I think there's a word or two missing at the end there, but I think I understand what you mean.

Mechanics can be designed with intent, but once they're in the wild, at use in a game at a table, unintended outcomes can arise. They can arise even without characters designed to rip them apart. I don't really fault the mechanics for this; I've come to realize that if I'm disappointed in the story that resulted from my reliance on mechanics, it was my mistake in relying on them. Perhaps I failed to implement them correctly, but it's also possible that I entirely misunderstood (as did, possibly, the designer as well) what the designed-in story actually was.

GreyGriffin:
Furthermore, if the DM wants to recreate those dramatic stakes in the face of these more-empowered characters, he has to turn the heat on even hotter, which doubly disadvantages those characters who haven't availed themselves of the mechanical advantages offered by optimal choices.

Fortunately, this is true only for certain kinds of stakes, particularly ones focused around solely around one side surviving and the other side being destroyed. Admittedly, those stakes are popular, despite the problems they're known to cause.

GreyGriffin:
Mechanics are narrative.  Your characters' actions are literally their narrative.  Characters having difficulty impacting scenes mechanically have difficulty impacting any part of the narrative, because their actions, when the chips are down and the heat is on, literally matter less.  This is really the core reason that in games without strong narrative control in the hands of the Players, game balance is really, really important.

Assuming the first sentence as true, I agree with all that. And since game balance is notoriously hard to achieve, even when players aren't going out of their way to ruin it, I find that it's important to give the players as much narrative control as they're willing to accept.

Remarkably, what I've found is that they will often use this control to make their own tension and drama, in ways that neither I as GM nor the rules could have actually brought about.
GreyGriffin
 member, 279 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 16:38
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
Thankfully, I actually have the encounter written out in the google docs, since it was being run as a guest spot in another DM's game.

Excerpt from the Adventure:
Over the Rail
If a creature is pushed past the rail of the ship, make a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check to remain on deck, prone.  If failed, the creature is hurled Over the Rail, and is hanging from the side of the ship.  The creature is considered Prone can only use one hand (and must drop an item in the opposite hand into the sea to maintain its grip, if necessary), and must take an Action to pull itself back on board.  This is automatic if the character has 2 free hands, or requires a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check one-handed.
Creatures Over the Rail are not affected by listing in their direction, but must make appropriate saves against listing in other directions to avoid being throw into the sea.

And of course there was judgement involved in designing those mechanics.  That's the point I'm trying to raise - mechanics are designed.  Not just the mechanics of the game overall (character creation, saving throws, and so forth), but encounters, opposition and the unfolding of action and adventure in D&D's case.  Calling emergent story "happenstance" is like calling a good movie's lighting and sound design and color balance "happenstance."  Sure, if you shoot with a VHS camcorder in the woods and rip that direct to video, you'll be excited if a scene comes out well-lit or if you can hear your actors at all.  But you can, if you observe the art of film, put in some effort, use all the tools at your disposal, and get a better, more consistent result.

The encounter with the ship listing was designed so that the majority of the players would fail between 1/3 and 1/2 the time.  The monsters used in the encounter were relatively tough but had low damage, with the intent of letting the encounter stretch for many rounds, to let the ship-tossing mechanics be dangerous.  The monsters also had abilities to affect player movement; giant crabs which used Grabs, and a homebrew Giant Bat with a breath weapon that had a Push effect, allowing me to put pressure on the PCs and keep them in the danger zone.

The crabs also had treasure in their shells, but would slide around the deck (and potentially off it) once they were incapacitated, encouraging the PCs to take some risks if they unexpectedly pushed through the encounter too quickly.  I also introduced the enemies in waves, with the option of some of the monsters falling from above and taking damage if the encounter was going very poorly for the PCs.

As the DM, in my prep time, I took the time to design and tune these mechanics to give them the best chance of having an impact on the session.  By letting loose all of these variables into the game-space, I gave my players an exciting, challenging stage on which to express their characters - badly chosen spells, heroic saves, lack of ranged weapons and all.  And it resulted in something exciting and memorable.

The mechanics of the scene communicated the scene in a way that merely saying "you are on a storm-tossed ship being bucked from rail to rail" simply wouldn't.  It was communicated in a visceral, impactful way, and it was comprehended and assimilated into the ongoing story organically, creating circumstances that the players had to struggle with and against.  The mechanics affected them, and influenced their actions, and thus heightened the scene.

Not everything goes to plan - For instance, the guy with Proficiency in Sea Vehicles even got his Proficiency bonus to the saves to stay on his feet, letting him express a rarely-explored corner of his character's competencies and background, but because of bad dice beats he failed every roll and got tossed around like a ragdoll.

The point I'm trying to make here is that if your mechanics aren't affecting the story, or are actively destructive to your story, the mechanics are either bad or you're using them wrong.  D&D, for instance, is centered around combat, action, and adventure.  Trying to use D&D's mechanics for a game of mystery and intrigue is like hiring Michael Bay to direct your remake of the Maltese Falcon.  You need a different set of tools that give you a different perspective to really execute that story without a whole boatload of fiat calls and house rules.

And players who are operating in a space that's even partially governed by mechanics need to feel the right feedback, or they'll fall back to trying to be effective and muscle their way through.  If you want your PCs to flip tables, for instance, put crossbowmen on the other side of the dining hall and give them cover if they're clever enough to seek it by flipping tables.  Put orcs on the tables swinging down at them, and let them attempt a trip against a whole tableful of them.  Let the barbarian clear a path through the difficult terrain of running up and down tables by blasting through them with a strength check.  Give them advantage on the first Atheltics check in a chase scene where they surprise their unsuspecting opponents by flipping a table in the middle of a tense negotiation that they're coming out the wrong end of.

Nobody in a "real" fight is going to flip a table for no reason, just because it looks cool.  Good mechanical design or improvised use of mechanics of an encounter gives you a chance to reward those cool ideas and interesting components of a scene, to alternately incentivize or force players to interact with the things that make a scene interesting.

And - to bring it back to the central thesis - these mechanics do require design and judgement, but they also require mechanical consistency.  If flipping a table is DC 10 for one character, it can't be DC 13 for another character because that other character built his character "better."  In order to use the mechanics consistently, in order to create a scene that allows players to express their characters in a meaningful way, you need a group of relatively balanced characters.  Characters who throw off the balance can defuse these scenes by their mere presence.  A character with outsized mechanical abilities require either a more challenging environment, which can be un-navigable or outright deadly to a less powerful character, or they will just chop through all of the design intent, which essentially robs the mechanics of the ability to tell meaningful stories beyond "The Unbalanced Character Is Really Powerful."

This message was last edited by the user at 16:40, Wed 13 Mar.

engine
 member, 696 posts
 There's a brain alright
 but it's made out of meat
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 17:27
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
GreyGriffin:
And of course there was judgement involved in designing those mechanics.  That's the point I'm trying to raise - mechanics are designed.  Not just the mechanics of the game overall (character creation, saving throws, and so forth), but encounters, opposition and the unfolding of action and adventure in D&D's case.

Yes, along with the stakes and the failure modes.

But every game I've ever read also acknowledges that the mechanics can't cover everything, and that if the rules are resulting in something that's not fun that they should be reconsidered.

GreyGriffin:
Calling emergent story "happenstance" is like calling a good movie's lighting and sound design and color balance "happenstance."  Sure, if you shoot with a VHS camcorder in the woods and rip that direct to video, you'll be excited if a scene comes out well-lit or if you can hear your actors at all.  But you can, if you observe the art of film, put in some effort, use all the tools at your disposal, and get a better, more consistent result.

No, that's not the same thing.

Even good mechanics used correctly can fall flat if for no other reason than dice rolls. We've all heard stories of the big antagonist who comes off as a joke because the GM keeps rolling 1s, or the players roll a bunch of crits. One could argue that in those cases the mechanics were simply bad, and one can sometimes point to revisions that reduce the dependence of the "intent" on dice rolls. But when dice are a factor, even well-tuned mechanics can result in something unintended and unpleasant.

"Emergent" generally means that you can't really predict what will happen. I don't know if it really applies here. I think you're saying that whatever happens is the "story." But it's not hard for nothing to happen, or for something not-fun to happen, such that accepting it as "the story" can be a tough pill to swallow.

GreyGriffin:
The encounter with the ship listing was designed so that the majority of the players would fail between 1/3 and 1/2 the time.

Yes, I've seen combat rules designed in a similar way, and I've seen them fall flat when the dice go weird for an encounter. One can just decide that that's what happens and somehow make a "story" out of that, but sometimes mechanics just result in dumb, un-fun outcomes. I think you know this, and I think you're just coming at this from a "best case" perspective. I'm just acknowleding the "worst case," which justifies the need to have tools that have fewer (or at least different) vagaries.

GreyGriffin:
The crabs also had treasure in their shells, but would slide around the deck (and potentially off it) once they were incapacitated, encouraging the PCs to take some risks if they unexpectedly pushed through the encounter too quickly.

Cool. Did they take those risks?

GreyGriffin:
As the DM, in my prep time, I took the time to design and tune these mechanics to give them the best chance of having an impact on the session.  By letting loose all of these variables into the game-space, I gave my players an exciting, challenging stage on which to express their characters - badly chosen spells, heroic saves, lack of ranged weapons and all.  And it resulted in something exciting and memorable.

This time. And for what amount of effort? And what parts of that effort never amounted to anything in the scene?

I commend you for your effort. Yes, mechanics can result in cool scenes. I'd never say they can't. But it takes a lot of a certain kind of effort, and doesn't always work. That's all I'm saying.

GreyGriffin:
The mechanics of the scene communicated the scene in a way that merely saying "you are on a storm-tossed ship being bucked from rail to rail" simply wouldn't.

Straw man/false dichotomy. No one is saying that that's the only alternative to the approach you described.

GreyGriffin:
It was communicated in a visceral, impactful way, and it was comprehended and assimilated into the ongoing story organically, creating circumstances that the players had to struggle with and against.  The mechanics affected them, and influenced their actions, and thus heightened the scene.

Yep, that can happen. Not necessarily reliably, but it can happen.

GreyGriffin:
The point I'm trying to make here is that if your mechanics aren't affecting the story, or are actively destructive to your story, the mechanics are either bad or you're using them wrong.

That's certainly a possibility, but they can also do that when used exactly as planned.

Perhaps we vary on what is meant by story. One can construct a story retroactively from what actually occurs. If the enemy can't roll to save his life and the characters steamroll him without having to break the rules, sure, there's a story there if one looks hard enough. But again there's a particular kind of effort in that that not everyone wants to put forth.

GreyGriffin:
D&D, for instance, is centered around combat, action, and adventure.  Trying to use D&D's mechanics for a game of mystery and intrigue is like hiring Michael Bay to direct your remake of the Maltese Falcon.  You need a different set of tools that give you a different perspective to really execute that story without a whole boatload of fiat calls and house rules.

No, you don't. People do mystery and intrigue in D&D all the time. Sure, some probably use house rules and fiat calls, but not all of them. But anyway "fiat calls," at least, are an intended tool of D&D and most other RPGs.

D&D isn't great at shipboard situations either, which is why I assume you had to make up that house rule, along with the fiat calls that it should only be a DC 10 check to pull oneself up with one hand. So, I assume you're not disparaging those techniques.

GreyGriffin:
And players who are operating in a space that's even partially governed by mechanics need to feel the right feedback, or they'll fall back to trying to be effective and muscle their way through.

Sure, no one is saying otherwise, I don't think.

GreyGriffin:
Nobody in a "real" fight is going to flip a table for no reason, just because it looks cool.  Good mechanical design or improvised use of mechanics of an encounter gives you a chance to reward those cool ideas and interesting components of a scene, to alternately incentivize or force players to interact with the things that make a scene interesting.

I don't think anyone is saying differently. "Forcing" the players, in my experience, is what leads to players getting into the habit of muscling their way through.

GreyGriffin:
A character with outsized mechanical abilities require either a more challenging environment, which can be un-navigable or outright deadly to a less powerful character

Yes, it can be, if done in the usual way of taking a bog standard "kill-or-be-killed" encounter and simply making it harder to kill or avoid being killed. So, I recommend avoiding the usual way.

As you may know, my preferred game is 4th Edition which is really, really balanced. Balanced to a degree that many people found sickening. Terribly strong and terribly weak characters, from a combat angle, generally aren't a problem.

One issue with 4th Edition is that it's not hard to boost skills higher than the DCs for the party level. Yes, I know 5th Edition addresses this, or tries to. I will admit that I have asked players not to do that, but I've also worked with groups that didn't have that requirement. They could blow through any reasonable single check I gave them, but that's not always what I gave them; sometimes there was some other obstacle standing between them and that check. The wizard can easily deal with the unstable portal, but less so with the hydra standing in front of it. I found other ways, without having to ramp up DCs so high that no one else could possibly achieve the goal. For instance.

So, it's not even necessary to step outside mechanics to get around the issue of unbalanced characters.
GreyGriffin
 member, 280 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 19:49
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
I disagree with your thesis - it absolutely can be reliable and consistent.  That's the point I am trying to make.

Take Big Boss Flubbing It encounter.  The Giant Evil Boss rolling 1's has definitely happened to me, but the circumstances have been different.  I ran an Exalted game where my first-arc villain got one-shot because I both didn't fully understand the combat mechanics, and the PCs were clever enough to provoke him into a one-on-one duel.  And the story that emerged from that was that the PCs were powerful, and the moment was emotionally frightening and liberating for players and characters, and the consequences and emotional resonance framed much of the rest of the campaign.  The mechanics of the game communicated to the story.

But there are ways to hedge against that happening.  For instance, say you want to run a Giant Evil Villain encounter in 5e D&D, and you want to hedge against the dreaded flub-fest.

First, you realize that in 5e, even the most deadly monsters will pose little challenge to a properly equipped group on their own, so you put in one or two lieutenants to take the heat off.  This is just a reality of how combat works in 5e - if you want 1 vs. all, you have to try a different game, sorry.

Second, you realize you want this guy to be a credible threat to the party as a whole, so you give him access to abilities like Lair Actions, Legendary Actions, or powerful, multi-target spells.  You want this guy's turn to be something that makes the PCs inhale with dread anticipation.

Third, you want to dodge the flub-fest.  So you give him some Legendary Saves that will let him shrug off the save-or-die artillery, and perhaps some actions or attacks that go off multiple times, to soften the impact of the variance of rolling a single die for a single turn.  Being cautious, naturally, that you aren't overwhelming the PCs.

And finally, you want this to be more than a Final Fantasy slapfest, so you inject something interesting in the scene.  A pit to throw Emperor Palpatine down.  Geysers of magma.  A tossing, rolling ship, to throw the whole encounter off-balance.  A bunch of tables to flip, whatever.  Something to color the scene and allow people who aren't in range or aren't inclined to join the slugfest to use their lateral thinking and unique capabilities to influence the scene, even if it's by being the only one standing after the earthquake tips everyone else over.

The system provides all of these tools.  You can look at existing monster and encounter design, adventure design, look at the strengths and capabilities of the characters, and come to the conclusion that this is a decent way to design an encounter.  But it's also easy to do it wrong.

Just as one example, if you only have one NPC, you're exposing him to a 5 v. 1 Alpha Strike.  A single combatant doesn't have the ability to command the space of the battlefield, and doesn't have the necessary action economy to not only attack the entire PC group, but to engage them in the challenge.  Sure, you could give him enough attacks to wail on the whole group, but then you narrow the tactical and strategic space to how close to this dude you stand.  As an individual combatant in D&D, there's only so much you can do to define an encounter on your own.  You're also exposing him, as a result of how D&D's action economy works, to a much higher potential to flub all his rolls.  He gets much fewer of them, working on his own, using big splashy attacks, meaning a much higher chance of flubbing that small number of important rolls.  The way that big single adversaries work is just a built-in limitation of the system that you have to deliberately and consciously build up and around.

There is plenty you can do to mitigate the random effects of dice on encounters, but if it all goes totally south, well, you did what you could.  Sometimes, in your mystery game, a PC just reads your tropes like a book and skips right to the culprit.

I'd say about half of any given planned adventure basically gets thrown in the garbage because it doesn't engage the players or they find some way to circumvent it, but that's just the cost of doing business.  And it's true of almost every system, dense mechanics or not.  That's kind of the point of including players in a game - they get to surprise and challenge your ability to tell stories as a GM, and turn your story in directions you perhaps didn't intend.

But different games provide different tool sets.  I'd argue that the boat encounter I described above requires far, far fewer house rules and judgement calls than trying to run, say, a murder mystery in D&D.  The boat encounter centers around existing mechanics.  The tilting and tossing boat Pushes PCs in a random direction each turn.  Push is an existing, known mechanic.  To avoid being Pushed, they make a Saving Throw, an existing mechanic.  To pull themselves back on the ship, they make a Skill check, an existing mechanic.  If they get thrown around too severely, they take damage, and are knocked prone.  Again, tools that already exist in the game.  The game's mechanics provide all of that scaffolding, just relying on me to put them together with a few other elements to keep them relevant (correct monster selection, setting the theme and aesthetic of the scene with narration, and tuning the mechanics to be impactful without being oppressive.)

In D&D (5e, again, constraining the debate to the environment under discussion), the tools to resolve a mystery are... skill checks?  Sure, you can provide puzzles and riddles and explicit clues, but those mechanisms have their own pitfalls.  I, for instance, am terrible at riddles, even if my character might not be.  So is solving the riddle just an Intelligence check, if my character is capable of it?  Even if you come up with a cool riddle, is you saying the cool riddle, me rolling a single dice, and then you giving me the answer much different than you simply saying, "Roll Intelligence - you solve the riddle and find out x."

This actually came up in a game we were playing in the Dragonlance setting, where very few of the players were actually familiar with the lore beyond a superficial level.  My dumbass Paladin had no business knowing the answer to a very simple riddle was related to a place in the setting, but I, as a player, was the only one who knew the answer.

And that's before you bring spells into the mix.  Spells like Augury, Speak with Dead, Restoration, Cure Disease, Diviniation, Legend Lore, Zone of Truth, Detect Thoughts, Friendship, Charm Person, Geas, Contact Other Plane, Scrying, Locate Object, all have the potential to throw a wrench in any kind of mystery plotline, and that's just off the top of my head.

The design of D&D, the feedback it gives you as a system, says that while intrigue and mystery might be part of the narrative, they're not the central conflicts your characters will be engaged in.

If you want a game that centers around mystery, intrigue, and investigation, then you have better options.  Any number of Apocalypse World variants (fail-forward attached to abstract failure conditions), Gumshoe (built from the ground-up to tell mystery stories), Blades in the Dark (Abstract task resoltion attached to progress "clocks" that can compete with each other), Shadowrun (Intricate systems for infosec, surveillance, and at least the skeleton of a system surrounding social relationships and bonds of trust), and plenty of others provide much more mechanical framework that allows a GM to tell interesting mystery stories that engage the players on levels beyond the mere abstract narrative.

Not saying D&D can't do it, but it's usually more of a diversion, a side-adventure utilizing some this-session-only style minigame mechanics that require a whole lot more time and effort than sketching together what happens when the PCs fight on the deck of a storm-tossed ship.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:23, Wed 13 Mar.

V_V
 member, 809 posts
 You can call me V, just V
 Life; a journey made once
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 20:07
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
Can I just say, I'd love to post on the feats section, and ask two requests;
  1. Please stop trying to convince the same two people of your opinion; if you have a wider audience, awesome! Go for it! It just seems to be the same debate that's inching like tug of war, and hurtling toward getting the thread closed.
  2. praguepride; what feats are on the list of "iffy?" You have already said only a few are on that list. Great! What are they? If there are forty some on the "most likely fine" and a only a few on the "convince me" what's on the latter list?

RosstoFalstaff
 member, 163 posts
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 20:13
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
Well we've determined Polearm Mastery, Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Mastery at least. Lucky too but it remains to be seen if that was a late addition

No word if Crossbow Expert or Sentinel make the list

It's a shame mundanes are feat heavy
GreyGriffin
 member, 281 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Wed 13 Mar 2019
at 20:30
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
RosstoFalstaff:
Well we've determined Polearm Mastery, Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Mastery at least. Lucky too but it remains to be seen if that was a late addition

No word if Crossbow Expert or Sentinel make the list

It's a shame mundanes are feat heavy

Sorry to get vociferous.  I think "mechanics don't matter" is a broadly used argument, though, and one worth discusssing, especially as it relates to how individual characters are balanced against each other.  After all, if mechanics don't matter, game balance doesn't matter, right?

To throw in my more well-directed two cents, I'd personally include Crossbow Expert - although its extra attack mechanic requires a bit of jostling and, it's still an extra attack at range.  It also offers one of my personal bugaboos - making your weapon selection not matter.  Ranged combatants should pay a price for using ranged weapons, and that is being vulnerable or less effective if something crawls onto your face.  Crossbow Expert gets to say "nah" to that, and in certain styles of game (urban, dungeon crawling, arena, etc..) can be even more impactful than ignoring cover.

In my discusssions with other DMs, Sentinel really only makes it onto most garbage lists because of abusive interactions with Polearm Mastery.  It rarely has a chance to demonstrate what it does on its own in my experience, although I can see it being real, real annoying to certain types of DMs.
DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1470 posts
Sun 17 Mar 2019
at 08:22
Re: Called it!!! Fun in vetting 5e RTJs
"After all, if mechanics don't matter, game balance doesn't matter, right?"

Actually, I would say that mechanical balance really doesn't matter (not the same thing as whether mechanics matter), depending on what you are looking to gain from the game. After all, freeform is a thing, so obviously mechanics are not even required to play at all.

In the face of freeform existing, you have to ask, what is the point of using a set of mechanics, and does balance really help the rules achieve the reason for using them?

What is there that exists in freeform? Do you somehow believe that whatever it is that freeform has, somehow goes away because you picked up a handful of mechanics?

Why use mechanics? There are many answers, each different reason comes with different baggage. Some reasons require balance, some do not.