Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Deeper Into the 4ether

Ok, yeah, the whole 4=A thing is getting a bit old. What can I say, naming these entries is the hardest part of my day sometimes.

Anyway, James of Kill the Wizard First gives us his second report from his scrutiny of the 4e PHB:

I think an important part of this is getting used to the idea that unlike 3e, where character capabilities changed massively over 20 levels, 4e characters really don’t. A 4e character has essentially the same capabilities at 5th and 25th level, with bigger numbers. And while the specifics of the numbers are problematic (an issue I will address in either the DMG or MM sections), the concept isn’t offensive to me, though I do find it less interesting.

He shares the good, the bad, and the decidedly bizarre:

Pro Tip: Mounted Combat. As mentioned previously, you can’t cast Fly until level 14, but you can buy a hippogryph and ride it around starting at level 5. Do the math.

One area he touches on is a specific pet-peeve of mine:

Guys, Diplomacy needs a system. Preferably one that doesn’t let you win the game.

Honestly, the Diplomacy skill is an evil poison, a sickness that turns what should be the best part of the game into something even more mind-numbing than the usual combat chant of: I swing, I miss, I swing, I miss, I swing, I hit, I do 6 damage, I swing, I miss...

It encourages players to say, "I use Diplomacy to convince him to give us the gem." And just that, roll the dice. How is this beneficial to an RPG? And how is this any sort of protection from jerk DMs? They'll just gimp the roll anyway, or twist the results. Strong rules might help out inexperienced DMs (though I'd say the jury is still out on that front) but they do nothing to protect you and your game from twits and jerks. Never, ever underestimate the endless, infinite power of human stupidity.

9 comments:

ChattyDM said...

Hot Damn, great finish! I'm sure Heather will appreciate.

Heather said...

Yes! Heather indeed does appreciate the link love! I will repay you in kind.

Greyhawk Grognard said...

You are _so_ spot-on with your observation about the Diplomacy skill. As I noted in my own brief assessment, they don't even bother to include "role-playing" as a type of encounter. Sheesh.

James said...

Here's the thing:

YES, talk in character. Roleplay out the situation. That is awesome and totally appropriate.

BUT, also include a Diplo system.

First, some people want to play a social character but are not, themselves, very good at improv. D&D doesn't force you to be good with a sword to get past a checkpoint by killing everyone, it shouldn't force you to be good at persuasion to get past it by talking. A competent system is a good patch on this issue, and you can still throw it out and let people talk if that's how they roll.

Second, some encounters are worth a full-table conversation with funny accents (which I routinely avoid), exclamations to fictional gods, etc. Some are just trying to get a better trade in on your slightly used full plate, and your group may consider table time better spent in other ways.

Bonus, if you like crunch (and I do, usually): if you have a good social system, you can hang a lot of neat system tricks on it. Try Exalted 2e's social combat, only imagine that it's actually clear and coherent.

So my preference would be the best of both worlds: a robust social system, and a suggestion to toss it and roleplay when you want to. But a good system is a boon to GMs who aren't awesome at managing social encounters, and doesn't hurt the better ones at all.

trollsmyth said...

James,

I agree, so long as it stays in the background. The problem I keep running into is that players are far too likely to see the dice as a crutch in this sort of situation.

This is one of those areas where I think mechanics belong in the DMG, far from the eyes of prying players. Sure, if you need a dice mechanic, have one, but don't tell your players how it works. Let them do their thing, as best as they are able and comfortable, and then roll your dice behind the screen. But if you let the players manage the crunch, too many of them will hide behind it.

- Brian

gamefiend said...

first things first. 'ello!

Next...wouldn't these things be covered by skill challenges now? I realize it's just a framework, but it seems the proper framework to do just the sort of things you want. Take a re-read over the example on page 76.
There is room for roleplay and diverse skill usage as well. You could map these out ahead of time, or you could run something like this off the fly pretty easy. You won't have to use a skill challenge for easy stuff (like intimidating or diplomancing a guard) but anything that matters, make it a skill challenge.

I believe skill challenges are going to be a GMs new tool to merge crunch and fluff in 4e.

trollsmyth said...

Gamefiend,

Maybe. There seem to be some issues with skill challenges. And I've yet to see them in action, so I can't really comment on how different they are from what has come before.

- Brian

gamefiend said...

Hmmm. I'm not horribly mathletic, but I feel that Stalker has identified the issue pretty correctly (according to his presentation of the data), as well as providing a possible solution.

If his fix actually fixes the system though, I think we'd be back at the front door with some real potential. I could see having sessions that are nothing more than elaborate roleplayed out skill challenge sessions. Time will tell!

I'll certainly be reporting any failures or successes I have with the system.

trollsmyth said...

Cool! I'll be looking forward to reading about that, Gamefiend.

- Brian