Monday, June 16, 2008

4e, Computer Games, and Playing with Exploits

Via The Velvet Dicebag, there’s this seven page article by Tom Smith on what computer game designers might be able to borrow, steal, or learn from D&D’s 4th edition. Mr. Smith is a Creative Manager at THQ, so this isn’t just some Monday-morning quarterbacking by a guy who thinks computer games are kinda cool.

It’s a neat article, and if you’re interested at all in how computer games are designed or in the sorts of issues that game design of all kinds must deal with, it’s worth your time. It was this bit on the last page, however, that caught my eye:

The Dungeon Master's Guide has a section on "Actions the Rules Don't Cover". One example there is a player who wants to swing from a chandelier to push an ogre into a fire. It's a fitting and interesting idea, perfect for the cinematic action style of most D&D games. But there are no core rules for it.

The book encourages the DM to improvise, giving a skill check (Acrobatics against the standard Easy Difficulty Check, provided in a chart) for grabbing on and swinging, and an attack (Strength versus Fortitude) to knock him back.

Now this is very interesting to me. Pushing enemies around the battlemat is, I thought, a specialty of the rogue class. Some of those powers, I’m sure, are per-encounter and per-day. But if I want to just knock that ogre back a few squares, I can do it without spending any of my special powers? Doesn’t that kinda suck some of the wind out of the rogue’s sails? Can I get something like the magic-user’s ability to smack multiple foes at once if I toss a bench at them? If I do something to inspire my allies, can I give them extra attacks, or movement, or healing surges like a cleric or warlord?

You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. If I can invoke special moves like that without having the requisite abilities, why bother with those classes? The 4e warlord is suddenly in the same boat as the OD&D thief; instead of making the game more interesting, he’s stealing the chance for the players to be creative. A chance to interact with the world, NPCs, or even your fellow players has been reduced to a single roll of the dice.

I’m not quite ready to bring healing surges to my Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord hack (though I haven’t completely counted them out yet, either). However, using the terrain for fancy maneuvers or inspiring henchmen to give them temporary bonuses to the moral certainly are not beyond the realms of the reasonable. And we already have lots of rules we can use to adjudicate such things. We could treat them like skill checks, for instance, roll under a stat or the tried-and-true 1-plus-bonuses or less on a d6. If it’s a fancy combat maneuver, you could just tie it in to the to-hit roll. After all, there’s no reason why the to-hit must be about damage. That’s what you’re normally trying to achieve in combat, but if you instead are more interested in maneuvering your opponent, or disarming them, or forcing a moral check, I see no reason why those can’t be invoked from a to-hit roll modified to reflect how much easier or more difficult the desired effect is than simply wounding and wearing down your foe.

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