Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rise of the Rules Lawyer?

Randall of Retro-Roleplaying thinks he's finally nailed down what bothers him about later editions of D&D:

"The players reacted more by thinking 'What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?' rather than 'What's the logical thing to do according to the rules?'" I think this sums up my deepest problem with the WOTC editions of D&D. These editions encourage and reward being a "rules lawyer" -- a type of player that most of us who started playing long ago abhor even more than power-gaming munchkins.

We've been seeing this a lot lately, but I think there's some truth to it. However, I'm not ready to crucify WotC yet as a bunch of evil book-pushers. Until recently, I also believed more rules was the way to go. I thought having rules for social status and skills and "social combat" and all of that was the way to go. It's only recently that I've begun to question that conventional wisdom.

That said, WotC has gotten themselves into the business of selling big, heavy, hard-backed tomes chock full of crunch and art. Their customers expect D&D to be comprised of multiple 300 page books, and will likely feel cheated if they don't get that, even if the price to get into the game is slashed drastically. The fact that the game Randall and I want to play can probably be sussed out in a single 128 page book won't make it tempting as a new model for WotC's flagship RPG.

UPDATE: And here's another variation on this same theme from Delta's D&D Hotspot:

(4) Ignoring the thief's "Remove Traps" ability. This was an unexpected thing that occurred spontaneously -- there's almost no reason to use a "Remove Traps" die roll. When you're dealing with the environment very concretely, it becomes obvious whether a found trap can be bypassed or not. Poisoned button? Tap it with a sword or pole. Pit trap? Hold it shut with a driven spike. Collapsing ceiling? No way to hold it up -- maybe just trigger it from afar with a rope. That was all very satisfying. It avoids eye-rolling arguments I've seen in the past about "I missed my roll but I can't just smash the poison lock off with a mace?" and stuff like that.

(Just as an aside, in my games, we let you smash off the lock with a mace, though that would 1) set off any other trap on the chest and 2) possibly damage the goodies inside the chest, like potions or other breakables.)


Randall said...

I once believed that more rules was the way to go as well and wrote hundreds of pages of rules. However, I discovered that we were not using most of those rules in play, so finally learned that there was little point to most of them.

Rules for skills, social status, and the like aren't necessary bad, although they are often an unnecessary complication for class and level based games. It's how they are used that matter. Resolving all problems with a skill roll becomes "roll-playing" (to use a term from the early 1980s) not role-playing, but they can be useful when the players are stuck and the game really needs to move on before everyone gets bored. Successful skill rolls can earn hints from the GM, for example.

Skills can also be useful for times when something needs to be made and made well (like a sword or a ring for a magic item) or when a character needs to write a poem or tell a story -- things that you would not expect a player to be able to do as well as her character any more than you would have a fight with an orc decided by the players' fencing skills.

trollsmyth said...

Very true, but I've come to realize that it's enough to know that the players have the skill. Beyond that, any sort of mechanic is superfluous. For instance, I don't really need, or want, to roll to see what quality the sword or the poem is. I'd much rather the player tell me what they're doing, in a vague sort of way, to tailor their craft to fit the situation at hand. Is the poem full of double entendres that poke fun at the Duke's sexual escapades? Was the sword quenched in the blood of a blue dragon during forging? I don't need a roll. If we've previously stated that the character has the necessary skills for success, then I'm happy to let them succeed. That said, I might want a roll if some pernicious force is actively trying to thwart them. Composing a poem while simultaneously crossing blades with a trio of the Duke's henchmen, for example.

What I don't want was what someone was proposing for skill use in 4th edition D&D, where you simply roll a handful of successful skill checks and your challenge is overcome. I also don't like the assumptions of incompetence that come with skills; if I don't have the "seduction" skill, I can't possibly try to sweet-talk the Duke's daughter. When none of your characters can swim because swimming takes up a valuable skill slot better used for something like blind-fighting, I've got issues with the mechanics.