Tuesday, March 20, 2012

GURPS: Coming to a D&D Game Near You!

I keep running across articles and comments written by folks who seem utterly perplexed by what the 5e team is saying about D&D Next. How can you have one-hour games that finish even one combat and 4e-style grid maneuvers? How can the game appease both folks who want OSR-style fantasy fucking Vietnam and precious-snowflakes who will never die to mooks and random chance?

C’mon, folks, they haven’t exactly been cagey about this. They’re going to build a bare spine of a game and then give you modules to build your own personal campaign from. Want race-as-class? Great, here are some dwarf, elf, and halfling classes to slot into your campaign. Your neighbor wants race and class to be separate? Great, here’s some race modules they can slot in instead.

But what, then, goes up the cry, will be the default game? I can’t say for certain, but if they’re going to do everything they claim to be setting out to do, I imagine it’ll be so bare-bones as to be neigh unplayable. It’ll be stats, BABs, saves, and that might be all of it. Every class, race, spell, etc would be part of a module. Every campaign will be unique, nobody will use all of it, and everyone will be talking in bizarre shorthand about how their campaign works (“D&D w/Core4 cls, no hlf or gnm, hrdcr dmg.”)

Assuming they plan to take it to this extreme, the really interesting question will be how they plan to publish supplements and adventure materials that would cover every available style. Perhaps they don’t? Maybe they’ll just focus on core books and settings that provide more slottable rules modules?

All their surveys certainly seem to point to this idea. The more diverse (or fractured, take your pick) the community reveals itself to be, the more this option looks like the logical next step. Though this doesn't address comments that a 1e-sytle fighter and a 4e-style fighter can play at the same table. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster. So I’m willing to entertain the notion that I’m completely wrong here; my track record with predictions for 5e has been notoriously bad so far. ;)


Will Mistretta said...

I think that's one way to interpret what they're saying.

Another, based on WotC's actual track record, is that we're due for another whole new fantasy action game with the D&D name, just like we got in 2000 and 2008. Remember, there was a lot of reverent lip service paid to TSR's game at those times, too. It didn't amount to much.

greywulf said...

The bare bones core of D&D Next (or whatver it ends up being called - I predict it'll be called Basic D&D) will be very much like a retro-clone. Stripped down to four races & classes, in-your-head based combat and a simple skill system. It'll be fully playable as a game in its own right, all the way through from level 1 to level 20 (or 30, or whatever).

It you want combat to use a tactical grid, that'll be a module. This will have 5' steps, combat advantage and all the mechanics that came into the game with 3e and 4e.

Want a more detailed character? There'll be modules for that too. Your PC will be number-equivalent to a Basic character (still within the same range for attack and damage, for example), but you'll likely have more options pre-printed on your character sheet. OSR gamers well know that the fewer options on your character sheet, the more you're free to do what you want, but 4e has proven that some gamers do like to have the options prepared for them. Having this as a module means that players can find their own individual comfort level and game together. If it's done right, and that's a big "if".

What this means for adventures is hopefully we'll see a return to more story-driven adventures where different gaming groups can play them however they want. That's the theory, anyhow.

It also means we'll see a return to people hacking the system for their own use, with House Rules presented as user-created modules. I love the potential behind that idea.

Overall, I'm quite excited by the whole thing.

trollsmyth said...

Will: Let's just say I'm not expecting a game that replaces the glorious melange of Labyrinth Lord, LotFP, and ACKS that's becoming my gaming of choice these days.

I am hoping for a game that has a few cool ideas I can steal from.

What is new is them talking openly about putting every character class that's ever existed in a PHB in the 5e PHB. And customizeability. Usually it's our way or the high way. We'll see.

Greywulf: That would seem to be the logical way of approaching it, both from an ease-of-use perspective and especially if they want a newbie-friendly game.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks seemed keyed to see the default options as a sort of sanction as to the "proper way" to play the game. I think if they gave us Labyrinth Lord in fancy trade dress plus modules for grid-tastic combat or 101 feats, they'd piss off everybody but the OSR crowd (and not even all of them) no matter how awesome and flexible the module system actually turned out to be.

I think the only way to avoid this is to make the core system an unplayable skeleton you must bolt modules on to play. But then, I say this in spite of Jeff's and Zak's demonstration of how you can have multiple rules sets running on the table at once. I don't think that will work for most folks, but I'm willing to be shown I'm wrong.

In any case, yeah, if they come anywhere near what they're preaching with the modules thing, it almost certainly will mean more and more exotic hacking. That'll be great.

mikkelibob said...

I'm with greywulf...

That sounds 100% perfect to me. Publish the stripped out basic game. Basically begin with the OSR retroclones that take the most basic core from the SRD. Make everything else optional. Yes, that does mean groups will have to coordinate and decide what rules they will be using. But that's not unlike the house-rules that existed pretty much everywhere prior to 3.0 (when suddenly being pure WOTC seemed the standard).

Plus, as (was it Steve Winter) someone said, game companies need to publish the players books to keep alive. Make core books evergreen, and add the options. When I run, I run microlite OSS. But I really do want the "industry" to exist beyond the legacy of the SRD and basically us opensource hackers. I think its good for the hobby. Somebody has to put ads in the back of comics books.

After a couple years I bet they republish D&DN as version "5+" that is the basic core plus the most common 3.5/4.0 tactical options. Which is fine by me. I like the idea of putting up a 3x5 notecard at the local gaming store saying "lfg, prefer D&D-core" and have people know what that is. Like or not, D&D is the gorilla in the room.

Plus the stripped down D&D-core also makes a "red box" very easy to publish.

greywulf said...

My reference point for envisioning how different complexity characters would work at the table comes from (oddly enough) our Mutants & Masterminds superhero sessions.

I have one player who likes creating really simple characters. Doesn't matter whether it's a super-strong basher, a spellcaster or a dude in power armour, his character "sheet" is rarely more than five lines long. The PC's abilities are all broad sweeps of the brush - Blast, Armour, Super-Strength, etc.

On the other hand I have another player who agonizes and fine-tunes his character between sessions. His sheet is typically about 5 pages long with every single Power, Ability, etc given multiple Advantages and Disadvantages to get it exactly how he pictures it.

And they both play at the same table, enjoying their game, and that's awesome. It's very like a Labyrinth Lord gamer and a 4e gamer sitting at the same table. Only with more spandex, obviously.

Traditionally D&D has gone along the lines that Fighter = simple, Magic-User = complex. I would love to see that broken up so that players can chose to play a complex Fighter, simple Magic-User or anything in between. Or any other class, of course.

From what I've seen of D&D Next so far (disclosure: I have signed the NDA), they might just manage it too.

Brendan said...

What is new is them talking openly about putting every character class that's ever existed in a PHB in the 5e PHB.

That sounds like the opposite of stripped down and modular to me. They could still do it with a separate beginner box, but then nobody will consider that as the "real" game.

I'm still moderately hopeful about the direction they are going though, particularly the focus on moderating the power curve. I think a 4E power fighter could easily adventure with a simpler B/X type fighter as long as the powers are chosen in place of things like base attack bonus bumps (and preferably during level-up rather than chargen).

Word verification: otogrea slayprig