Mass combat, via
Last week’s Unearthed Arcana covered Mass Combat for the second time since the series launched at the beginning of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Behind only the Ranger class, it is the second most-covered subject of the series, meaning D&D’s designers feel there is a gap in players’ expectations and the rules as written.
Frankly, I don’t care much for either entry, as both sets of rules offer too much unnecessary crunch to a game that’s elegant and streamlined. I don’t have any particular gripe with the rules they’ve presented (though they’re more complicated than just using a swarm, for no real benefit), but rather with the fact that any rules are presented at all. Simply put: most RPGs, including D&D, don’t need them. However, this latest Unearthed Arcana does capture the most important element for running exciting mass combats, buried in the very final section: Critical Events. An RPG should focus on the moments where the characters’ actions influence the direction of the story most, and these inflection points–Critical Events, in the parlance of the UA article–should be the point of focus for the rules and the Gamemaster.
To illustrate this thesis, think of the Trojan War. It’s a story that has been retold a thousand times, but can you recall anything about troop formations or the tide of the broad battle at any given point? The Greeks attacked and the Trojans held firm. Alternatively, think of the battle between Hector and Patroclus; Hector famously slew Patroclus, believing he was Achilles for he had donned Achilles’ armor. Achilles, on learning of Patroclus’ demise, entered the battle in earnest and turned the tide in the Greeks’ favor. More to the point, if you were retelling the story at a tabletop, would you rather focus attention on the minute movements and formations of the regular Greeks and Trojans, or on the epic duel that led to the entry of the Greek’s greatest champion and, ultimately, the demise of Troy? To borrow from the silver screen, would you rather focus on the naval battle around the Second Death Star, or the Millennium Falcon’s bombing run into its core?
Posted in Dungeons & Dragons, Game Design Dungeon, Homebrew, Mundangerous
Tagged 5E, d&d, Design, dnd, Dungeons and Dragons, Mass Combat, RPG, Unearthed Arcana
The following article was originally posted by the author on The Mad Adventurers Society, and is reprinted here with permission. You can find the original here.
When I initially received an email from game designer Keith Baker, I was astounded. Not only is Baker the creator of the Eberron setting for Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the designer of the narrative card game Gloom, but he had also just launched a Kickstarter for his latest game, Phoenix: Dawn Command. I knew he’d be swamped with promoting his Kickstarter, and I am a nobody blogger who got his attention on Twitter and sent him a 750-word email for his trouble. I was working on a story about a growing trend of what I have dubbed “prop-based” RPGs: games that use proprietary elements, such as special dice, unique tokens, or, in Baker’s case, cards. I wanted to know what was behind this trend; in a matter of months, we’ve seen Kickstarters for games that use proprietary decks of cards, like FAITH, Neon Sanctum, and Phoenix: Dawn Command, and there has to be a reason that designers are focusing on cards.
I still haven’t answered that question to my satisfaction, but Keith is such an insightful designer that I’ve spent the past couple weeks reexamining my own beliefs and principles when it comes to game design, specifically around conflict resolution. I’ve previously written about why the rules exist (spoiler: it’s to justify killing the characters when the players don’t want them to die.) Around these parts, MAS’s own dynamic duo, Sammy and Fiddleback, took a run at randomness and PC death on episode 65 the Potelbat podcast back in September (spoiler: everyone hates randomness.) As both a player and gamemaster, I am very much of the crunchy system mastery/optimization persuasion. I have spent hours poring over rulebooks precisely to understand and mitigate the randomness of die rolls in order to assure my character is reliably good at whatever it is he’s supposed to be good at, his “One Cool Thing,” if you will.
I’ve played dozens of different systems using a variety of mechanics: d20s, percentiles, dice pools, FUDGE dice, and whatever you want to call Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars dice. I’ve dismissed some for being to high variance—“swingy” like 40k RPGs—and some for being too low—“curved” like FATE and Dungeon World. Maybe what I’ve been looking for all along isn’t the right mathematical outcome curve of dice blended with the right measure of static modifiers and properly turned target numbers. Maybe what I really want is a slight preview of the next die roll. Maybe what I want is actually cards.
W. Eric Martin is an editor for BoardGameGeek and posts pretty regularly from the site’s official Twitter account. This morning, he shared some observations about the game industry and this year’s new games, prompted by the trends–or lack thereof–he noticed at this week’s New York Toy Fair industry trade show.
This is not the Unearthed Arcana you’re looking for… via
A week ago, Wizards of the Coast’s R&D team released Unearthed Arcana: Eberron, the first supplemental material that’s been released for Dungeons & Dragons 5E, and the first hat tip to Eberron since the D&D Next playtest ended. Of course, this is all stamped with a huge DRAFT label, and effectively serves as a playtest feedback period for the materials.
The purpose of the Unearthed Arcana series appears to be providing an early glimpse into the R&D team’s priorities, projects, and products, as well as a way to get playtest feedback from the D&D community. Though the product strategy for 5E is still “evolving,”it seems clear that Wizards is more open to giving new content to players for free online. Leveraging the D&D community to validate design decisions and provide playtest feedback is an encouraging new trend for Wizards of the Coast, and I support any move towards transparency for the hobby’s flagship brand.
So while I think Unearthed Arcana is great in theory, now that we’ve had more than a week to play the beta of the first rules supplement, it’s time to offer some feedback. We need to talk about the Artificer.
Update 2/16: Unearthed Arcana was updated to v1.1. The Artificer wasn’t affected, but I’ve got the full changelog available here.
The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules. -Gary Gygax
That quote from Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax has almost become axiomatic across the hobby, a mantra for the avid homebrewer, house ruler, and just about anyone who’s ever read a wonky rule and thought, “That could be better.” Unfortunately, while The Godfather nailed many things in his career, this quote wasn’t one of them.
Gygax’s point is intuitively pleasing: roleplaying is really just a form of shared storytelling, and no one needs rules to enjoy the less collaborative forms of narration, such as fiction writing. This view overlooks an important contribution of the rules, and perhaps the only one that matters: rules provide a way for the GM to kill players. Continue reading