Monday, March 9, 2009

Yes there is an Unbridgeable Gap

Jeff Rients talks about an unbridgeable gap here which concerns this post about randomness in encounters.

The problem is that ANY roleplaying game that have masses of players in the same setting have to be fair. Fair in that players don't meet any less difficult or less easy encounter than any other group of players. So if a Doom of Lord Death module is being run for five groups of players; each will meet the same challenges with the outcome being based solely on how well the players play their characters. This is an issue that Living Table-top campaigns, Convention Tournaments, MMORPGs, and Live-action Roleplaying Games have to successfully address.

And it is totally antithetical how tradition table-top RPGs are run. Traditional games are run between a small group and a referee. By definition you can't standardized these type of games as each group of players and their referees are unique. If you try then the result in a watered down experience in which everyone quickly loses interest.

It OK to have these limitations in Living Table-top, etc. Part of the appeal of those games is that you are in a massive setting with a lot of players. To have that you have to have the limitations on encounters so they are fair.

I feel that too much of D&D has been influenced by trying to cater to the convention and living campaign crowd. AD&D originated in the Gygax's desire for a standard game and it has been extended to it's logical conclusion in 4e.

Now 4e can be run old school. The advice is there in the DMG, the tools are there. But focus is not there. Especially in the add-on products like adventures.

In some ways this is a problem limited to D&D. Because of it's dominance in the hobby it is the one RPG that can be counted on to be run in standardized formats. Based on my experience with Live-Action roleplaying ANY RPG can suffer from this given the same circumstances.

What should have happened is that D&D had a set of conventions rules and kept the core rulebooks focused on being a flexible toolkit for players and referees to run any game that their imagination allowed.

So there is indeed a unbridgeable gap.


Dave The Game said...

I still disagree that it's an unbridgeable gap based on system. I think there are unbridgeable gaps based on play styles, and while certain play styles are encouraged by certain systems, it's still plenty easy to find divisions within the same system playing with the same rules.

Also, we all love megadungeons.

Jack Badelaire said...

"In some ways this is a problem limited to D&D. Because of it's dominance in the hobby it is the one RPG that can be counted on to be run in standardized formats. Based on my experience with Live-Action roleplaying ANY RPG can suffer from this given the same circumstances."

As I mentioned in my comments to Jeff's post, I do indeed think this is largely a D&D problem and not a RPG problem. With (as Jeff pointed out) a few notable exceptions in older games, the vast, vast majority of RPGs out there do not have "random encounter tables" in them, and as it stands now, many, many gamers have gone their whole gaming careers without ever once tossing a d20 - to a person new to any edition of D&D, the idea of "random encounter tables" might seem downright ludicrous.

If all you've ever played is GURPS, White Wolf, Ars Magica, Feng Shui, Savage Worlds, Heavy Gear RPG, Call of Cthulhu etc. etc., the idea of randomly rolling on a chart every in-game hour or so to see if suddenly 2d4 skeletons show up might seem laughable. Or many not - who knows. The point being that not every gamer or system considers this necessary or even desirable.

Spike Page said...

Granted that the random factor does skew the fairness factor in tournament play. In this case, it was a downright bummer for those guys when their milk-run scenario turned into a life-threatening encounter, but maybe that is why I'd not care to play tournament style. In a perfect world, the tournament score would take into consideration how the PCs react to the random threat..but that might be considered too subjective.

satyre said...

Unbridgeable? Really??

It comes down to whether you're cool with the scenario and if you want to tweak/hack accordingly - if you think the random encounters suck then you can re-write on the fly or (shock) just ignore them!

You may have a dungeon section where wanderers just don't go (say a dragon's lair). As long as the presence of random monsters makes internal sense to the game, who cares whether it's old school or new school?

@Dave The Game: Play style can also be divided within a game group. Imagine the fun with that.

And yes, I too love megadungeons.

Unknown said...

I am just stunned that my 500 word post generated such interest. It is just me ranting about bad encounter design. Where all of the "edition wars" "game play style" stuff came from is beyond me. For the record, I am not opposed to randomness in an encounter. I just wanted to vent about an annoying encounter I thought was badly designed.

Yes, we can all agree we love megadungeons!


Anonymous said...

First off: Mega Dungeons Rule!

I'm confused by the title, Unbridgeable Gap. Why is it a gap and not just a simple choice? Some players enjoy fantasy based games other enjoy sci-fi settings, but I don't consider it a gap if they don't play both. I agree with Dave that its based on playing style and a gamer's group goal than system based.

I also think expectations of a situation need to be considered. If I am in a tourney style setting then I adjust my game play than when I am playing in Rob's homebrew.

I think Unbridgeable Gap is a melodramatic title and calls more attention to the subject than needed.

Anonymous said...

Vic, its funny how it can take a life of its own. I agree with you about bad encounter design. I think many gamers are ready to take a shot at 4th ed when they see a chance. Granted I am not a huge fan of it, but it cannot be ignored if you are a serious gamer. It has definately created a lot of talk that wouldn't normally be happening. And if for nothing else, that is a good thing.

Dwayanu said...

Trask's complaint of "bad encounter design" appears to be based on a single run of the encounter.

Did the power recharge more frequently than average?

What, really, are the odds? And how many times has the encounter been run, globally?

Whenever there's an element of chance, it's just a matter of time before someone "wins the lottery."

Is a 1 in 100 chance "bad design?" How about 1 in 1,000? 1 in 10,000?

Dwayanu said...

Play long enough, and you'll see luck go the other way as well. Sometimes the PCs swat a key bad guy like a fly!

There are no dice in Chess -- but there are the vagaries of life. Sometimes, a player's just not at his or her best.