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D&D 3E
4E Epiphany. 
15th-Nov-2007 10:27 am

Anyway, I've been reading the Paizo forums, and the Concerns & Criticisms forums at the WOTC boards, and I've come to a number of realizations, resulting in this morning's epiphany.

The way they're marketing this change is to very slowly and carefully poison the well, by occasionally pointing out a 3.5 mechanic which doesn't work, has never worked, and they're not going to fix. As it so happens, the things they have identified have been things I've had problems with in my campaigns, so it's mostly not new information, and the only unwelcome part is when they point out that these issues are so integral to the game system that they can't fix it without completely changing the game system and if you thought people were whining about a 4.0 upgrade, how do you think they'd complain about 3.6? Yikes.

So, I don't have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is that they're proposing to release a new version of the game system which I may not want to run. Also, not so much of a problem with that--other game systems I've played and enjoyed have evolved outside of the sphere of my enjoyment. However, if they do that by first making me not want to play 3.5 any more... that's not so good.

Anyway, the big epiphany of this morning is that if they release 4.0, and it's similar enough in rule system & concept that I can use all my 3.5 supplements with it, I will feel absolutely no interest in buying any 4.0 supplements. On the other hand, if they release something so different from 3.5 that 3.5 stuff can't be used with it, then they will have written an entirely new game system that I may have no interest in playing, in which case I will also feel no interest in buying any 4.0 supplements.
15th-Nov-2007 05:23 pm (UTC)
Can you cite some of the mechanics they say were broken? I'm curious.
15th-Nov-2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
The idea of having four encounters per day to be a reasonable challenge for the party overall--each one uses up a quarter of the party's resources, with the idea being to test the party's long-term strategies. The way this ends up working in most compaigns, however, is three boring fights followed by one life-or-death fight, which isn't what they had in mind. In my campaigns, it means the party stops to rest after the 3rd fight of the day, so that all the fights are non-challenging. They're only earning XP/Treasure at 3/4 speed, but hey. No dying. And if I start throwing random encounters at them while they're resting? They stop to rest after the 2nd fight of the day. And if I make the first fight of the day tough enough to challenge them? They say the campaign is too hard and quit.

The idea that in order to create a decent character, you have to map out the first 15 levels to make sure you have all the right skills, feats, classes, BAB, etc., in order to qualify for the right prestige classes at the right time.

The idea that a 15th level fighter is probably not as effective in a fight as a 15th level wizard. Or that a 10th-level Cleric/10th level Wizard is nowhere near as powerful as a 20th level Wizard. Or that a melee character with spellcasting abilities kind of sucks, unless you're using ToB, which is what they're going to make 4.0 look a lot like, and that's the point where I start to wonder whether or not they're going to create a game system I don't want to play, because ToB didn't exactly ignite my toes with excitement.
15th-Nov-2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
And on a related point, Wizards that are Commoners at all times except between 9am when they have prepared and 9.05am when they are tapped out (which is think is slightly pandering to players who don't know how to pace their spell casting to last the day; players who do pace themselves will be doing fairly boring stuff with crossbows on the rounds when they could be tapping themselves out though). In 4E everyone will be able to do something cool all the time, just some things will be limited to once per encounter or once per day. For wizards this looks to be something like your best spells once per day, your lower level spells once per encounter and the lowest level spells at will.
16th-Nov-2007 01:50 am (UTC)
Eh, wizards only get tapped out for spells for the first three levels or so - then they start having enough spell slots that they have a hard time using up all their spells.

Especially since combats get resolved in fewer and fewer rounds as you go up in level.
15th-Nov-2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
I realize I may be preaching to the choir, Colin, but I still like a good argument. Dissenting opinions, when civil, are welcome.

That first one's a bit of a conceit. I've not run into it really in campaigns that I've run -- although to be fair, I've only run two. The first one went from first to 20th level over the course of several years, and the second one is going on now (currently 3rd level).

The "four encounters per day" assumes the DM throws encounters at an equal EL to the party's average level. By using lower ELs (or CRs) creatively, you can get a better "burn" of abilities and whatnot. It may require a little more prep work on the DM's part, but I find that work worthwhile, and it's rewarding to me when the players overcome a situation through a combination of force and ingenuity. The "using one quarter of the party's resources" was never meant as a rigid measure in my mind. If you add the will to live to your critters, you can even throw a little more at the PCs, armed with the forethought that they'll retreat after taking so many casualties. If the PCs do something clever/effective to grease the whole lot, great! Bonus XP.

The decent character is the one you have fun with. Quite honestly, in all the time I've played/ran 3.X, I've seen one, maybe two prestige classes actually being used. It doesn't hurt to map out a character concept, with the idea of picking up a set of feats or a PrC further in the campaign. It's a good goal to shoot for. At the same time, game play might force a change in those plans whether it's for mechanical or RP reasons.

Think a 15th level fighter isn't effective as wizard? Try seeing how long the wizard lasts without one between him and the bad guy. Character classes have certain roles/specializations, and not everybody needs to have the exact same moment in the spot light. A little planning and story mapping goes a long way to give each character their "hero time." Multi class characters may not have the raw power as a single classes counterpart, but they got versatility. Yeah, that 10Clr/10Wiz may not be able to Disintegrate the enemy, but watch him Dimension Door into the zombie mosh and crank some holy turning, followed up with a CCW-slap to the lich controlling them. Then making the Fort save if the lich slaps back. Or when that rogue nails some foes with a color spray and gets his sneak attack on the ones that failed the save.

Yeah, I put Tome of Battle back on the shelf after leafing through it. It looked waaaaay too overpowered for my tastes.

Oh, and SparkyMark is right in that pacing (and crossbows) can be a Wizard's best friend. It keeps a smart adversary guessing.

But Colin's right in that it sounds like WoTC is saying, "3e is a broken mistake." Most of the mistakes were made, IMHO, when they kept adding rules materials to the game in the form of all those "Complete" books. If you've read the coffee-table retrospective (with that foreword by Vin Diesel), you'll see the designers saying they ran into a problem in 2nd ed with power escalation with the same sort of line then. I have this feeling they didn't learn their lesson from previous development history.
15th-Nov-2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
On the 4-encounters-per-day bit:

Yes, it is possible (and not even all that hard) to work around the intended layout so that all fights are fun and challenging. But that just means it isn't a fatal flaw. That kind of game design (4 encounters per day) isn't very good, as it requires games to occur in a certain way, and seems to fall apart in the majority of cases (what if the players are traveling and so won't expect to run into more than 1 fight per day? What if my dungeon has more than 4 rooms?)

Even if you can work around it, that doesn't mean the system isn't broken--or at the very least, could be improved. So that's the ultimate goal.

As for always having something to do... well I fail to see how being reduced to a constant magic missile is much better than being reduced to a constant crossbow attack. Frankly one of my favorite memories is of when my wizard ran out of spells and had to fend off a troop of goblins with his quarterstaff. That was very enjoyable. But I do understand what they're going for, and I think I like the idea that the system can be designed to support different quantities and lengths of encounters, even if such a think was workable under the old system (if not supported by the design).
16th-Nov-2007 01:13 am (UTC)
The thing about workarounds is that it's nicer to go straight through with ease.
16th-Nov-2007 03:43 pm (UTC)
These are all good points, and things that I have seen successfully used in other peoples' campaigns, but the basic tactic of "modify everything" doesn't work too well for me. I'm not sure what it is, but my best GMing comes when I run a module, as written, by the rules, as written. If I modify things, it goes very wonky, very fast. So, for me, the rules are kinda important to the success of my campaigns, and if they're unworkable at some fundamental level, I've got a problem.

A variation on my main fear with 4.0 is that they will publish a rules version that works, but only if I buy $200 worth of books a year. I don't want to pay that much money to run D&D.
16th-Nov-2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
One key point to DM'ing is adaptability. The last campaign I finished was a "by the book" kind of game, although we did have to make an adjustment or two for clarity or common sense. But then again, I speak as someone who's been playing this game in particular for over two decades, so my approach to RPGs is going to be a bit different. Your mileage may vary.

And I started out with running modules as well (no shame in that) with my 3.X campaign so I could focus on getting more up to speed on the rules. It just takes time and practice and learning from mistakes -- if you want your DM'ing style to head in that direction.

As for the encounter thing, what I do isn't a "work around." Again, that four encounters per day is not a rigid measure. I make adjustments to encounters within the system to make them more or less challenging.

Edited to add: My concern about 4e is this whole "online version" thing. You don't get a PDF of the rules, but a password to the WoTC D&D website so you can read the the rules online with automatic errata and updates. Since I'm the only one who uses a computer at the game table (d20srd.org and an Excel spreadsheet as a DM's toolkit), I can imagine the potential arguments when the books are out of sync with the online docs:

Me: Aaand the rules say this....
Player: That's not what my PHB says on page 104. You sure about that?
Me: Let me check my book... crap they changed that on the web site.

Edited at 2007-11-16 04:30 pm (UTC)
16th-Nov-2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
Again, what you're doing probably works great for you. I know it wouldn't work for me; I've figured that out in my 3 decades of GMing. So, I'm adopting a wait-and-see attitude, and I really hope the writers at WOTC know what they're doing.
16th-Nov-2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
Like I said, mileage varies. And there's definitely nothing wrong with what you're doing (despite my comment about adaptability -- that doesn't have to extend into tweaking rules and modules, but being able to respond to when the PCs pull out plan "Q" when you were expecting plan "C").

I'm a little shaky on WotC knowing what they're doing. IMHO, they made the same mistakes with 3.X products that they did in the 2nd edition days. This is a generalization, but all I saw come out -- until the recent "Expedition" series of material -- was either FR source material or new rules(Races of * or the Complete *). What they should have done was provide better support for at least one more realm (I was a Greyhawk fan before converting to Kalamar) and more modules. I have a lot of old modules, several of which I adapted because for one reason or another I was stuck or pressed for time.
17th-Nov-2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that WotC has said that Errata will continue to be freely available. So my understanding is you will be able to continue to use the errata in the same way you do now.

And really, isn't it the same thing as when the d20srd.org (which includes errata) differs from the printed book?

But yeah, buying online access to a book instead of getting a copy I can use offline means that I will stick with buying physical products (assuming I switch to 4e).
19th-Nov-2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
The problem is that WoTC just plans to "update" the online books as the errata hit, which makes sense -- why waste time with errata pages that need to be referenced all the time when you can just edit the source as fixes come out?

If they do on the fly updates, then it behooves WotC to follow some orderly rules of change/source control, one element of which is clearly communicating to the players (proactively) what the changes are.
19th-Nov-2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Yes. I don't see how that's a problem.

There is an errata document for people who don't have the pdfs. If you do have the pdfs, you don't have to check the errata document because it's already included!

You seem to be assuming that WotC is going to only do one or the other for some reason. I'm saying that they claim they'll do both. And I'm willing to believe them. Hence, no problem.
19th-Nov-2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
I'm not making that assumption. I'm guessing in how they communicate the changes, which is a different issue entirely.

The thing is -- and this is how I heard it -- is that they don't have pdfs, but just password protected web pages that have the rulebooks, and they'll be updating those "on the fly." If they choose to include errata releases for those who have "dead tree" versions, great, but as far as I have seen, WoTC has never sent emails saying, "hey there's an updated errata sheet." Now they may do that for "subscribing" members, but they already have access to the online books. Odds are, they'll post a blurb saying "new errata" if they do even that.

The problem arises from lack of communication: Odds are WoTC will just edit the updates in the online books and put an errata pdf file on the site for download (whether or the errata is in the pay section is another issue). My players, who -- for sake of arguement -- are not subscribers, come to my game with their "dead tree" books. See, I don't foresee everybody at the table with their laptops. (As an aside, I'd have to buy a bigger hub to support them or go wireless) So, they're looking at their books, and may or may not have the errata (I don't have it now). And then I make a ruling based on the online book (because I do use a computer where I sit) that contradicts with what my players have in their offline books.

I don't log on to the WoTC website in general to begin with, so constantly policing it for changes is a bit of a time sink for me. And if they don't properly document their changes to the online material for the customer, then they'll end up with frustrated players because the rules keep changing and they can't keep track of it.
19th-Nov-2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
I say again, how is this different from the following current scenario:

Your players each have a 3.5 PHB. They look up the rules for something that has been errata'd--say, polymorph or wild shape. You, on the other hand, use your computer and look at d20srd.org or something. So you make a ruling based on the online errata'd source, which contradicts what your players have in their offline books.

Or, better yet, you've printed out the errata pdfs from WotC, and so you make a ruling based on that, which contradicts what the players have in their books (since they didn't print out the errata).

But if I understand you correctly, you're saying that the issue is that you may use the errata'd online books without realizing that you're looking at an errata? Okay, fair enough. But that isn't any different than the kind of arguments that come up now. Its a problem inherent in the idea of "errata" for a game--the fact that it is online or not doesn't make a difference. So the fact that stuff will be put online won't change anything, for better or for worse.
19th-Nov-2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
Ah, but here's a couple of points.

To clarify (and I should have stated this in the first place) I use d20srd for quick reference on the common things, critter stats, and the like. For example, if I have an encounter involving multiple types of critters, I'll call them up on d20srd.org, using tabs in Firefox. That allows me to look up stats for base line critters. Anything I modify I tend to go through the books and write things down. For player rulings, I check the books.

However, your argument IS valid if someone uses the online source for rulings. My gaming habits are a little different. But, if I downloaded the errata and decided to use some or all of it, I'd shoot an email to my players saying, "Hey, I'm using this." In other words, I actively communicate, and that's something I can't say WotC will do or if they'll keep the habit.

And the fact that it's online does make a difference. WotC discovers an error and come up with a fix. They release an errata sheet listing the fix, and they change the content of the online book. They're not tacking the errata to an appendix -- they're changing the text of the book itself. If they don't actively communicate with their subscribers with a direct message to them saying, "Hey we changed stuff," then the chances a subscriber won't notice the change until it becomes pertinent to a game situation go up. Mind you an active communication can be block by a spam filter or deleted by mistake, so you'll still have that frustration in some -- you'll just have it in greater quantity if you don't communicate.
19th-Nov-2007 07:54 pm (UTC)
Ah okay. I see your point now. However, I still don't agree that it will be a problem of any significance. But everyone is entitled to their opinion. Hopefully everything will work out.

15th-Nov-2007 10:12 pm (UTC)
4 encounters/day: The Eberron campaign setting and premade adventures has the right way of dealing with it -- they encourage fewer, but far more exciting encounters.

As far as Tome of Battle is concerned, I thinks it's full of win. Everyone I know has been incredibly impressed by the way it gives warriors exciting options AND increases their powerlevel to be more in line with spellcasters.

And while the Reserve Feats from Complete Mage are a little "meh", I think that's definitely the sort of approach we'll see in 4th edition. If so, it should be a relatively trivial matter to "backport" the ideas to a 3.5 campaign.
16th-Nov-2007 07:57 am (UTC)
My thoughts on this: the first one is easily worked around/fixed by the DM, and the second two are, in my opinion anyway, the conceits of powergamers. I've looked at optimization threads on the Order of the Stick forums, and they do nothing but give me headaches and make me not want to think about the game for a while. I haven't mapped out many of my characters, and while realistically they could all have benefited from a bit of mapping, it wasn't necessary, and certainly they didn't need to be mapped to the degree that WotC is suggesting. As to the last one, I have a friend who says Mystic Theurges suck, because they sacrifice high level spells. That may be the case, but it's the rare 20th level Wizard who can cast heal spells. For that matter, a Cleric 10/Wizard 10 will have greater versatility and better hit points, and a Mystic Theurge will have twice as many spells as a single class caster of around the same level. It's all a matter of what you want. In my opinion, doing something interesting trumps pure optimization, because when you get down to it, pure optimization is nothing but a lot of number crunching. Yes, it's fun to be able to do something cool and uber, but without anything else the game, for me at least, loses its luster fairly quick.

And, I guess this is all stuff you've probably thought of already. Anyway, my advice is to not pay attention to 4E until it comes out, not that I'm following that advice terribly well myself. As has been said many times before, there are things wrong with 3.5, but there were also things wrong with 3.0, with 2nd Ed, with 1st Ed, and there will no doubt be plenty of things wrong with 4.0. My two cp.
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16th-Nov-2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
I thought about this post for a while as I read all the comments. It seems that there is a lot of focus on whatever the problems are with D&D 3.5 and not really with the fact that Wizards of the Coast is doing everything they can to tell us all that we're playing an inferior version of the game to get us to buy the new game. From where I am sitting, that doesn't motivate me to troll the hobby shops for the new edition of the game hoping for the answer to all my campaign woes. Why would I feel good about the message that tells me: "What you're playing now sucks. What we're offering next year is going to rock your world." I might have felt better about a message closer to: "What you're playing now is great. But we're tweaking the game and making it better."

Except, I don't personally feel that the 4th Edition is going to be any better. I don't think that the mechanics that they're attacking are as cocked up as they are telling us. The EL rating is a guideline, as everything else in the game is. It is a tool that a DM should use to set the level of challenge of any single encounter and that is all. Who says you need to have four encounters in a single day? The story should direct how encounters go, not whether you're getting in four encounters in a day.

Anyway, just my thoughts on it.
16th-Nov-2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
I was more refuting that they weren't problems to begein with. Personally I don't care for the context of WotC's message and the fact that they lied (IMO) about the development of 4e for several years.

Personally, I don't plan on making the jump to 4e, although I do reserve that statement prior to actually looking at the rules. However, it's gotta rock my socks off and be flexible enough to run the sort of games I like to run.
16th-Nov-2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
Ah, I misunderstood that. I am with you there. I was initially jazzed because the first things that leaked out about what WotC planned to do sounded like good tweaks. But, then, they started talking about going back to the AD&D way of statting out monsters, and I became a bit disenchanted. I also don't find the same problems with the rules mechanics that they've pointed out were too hard. The AD&D 1st Edition grapple rules were tough. Percentage dice with 1% increment modifiers that took two pages to peruse to run a grapple. Ughhh! But, really, how tough is it to remember BAB+STR+size modifier and oppose the check? How tough is it to keep up to date with the status of grappled versus pinned versus freed? I didn't think it was that tough, really. Nor convoluted.

And I run a low-magic game anyway. My complaints aren't that wizards are useless at low levels. It is that they get too much magic capabilities in comparison with the development of the other classes. And that isn't a 4th Edition problem but rather a setting vs. mechanic issue. If anyone publishes 3.5 compatilbe OGL stuff after 4th Edition is released, I will support that, rather than buy 4th Edition supplements. But, I think I'll leaf through the core books to see if they're better than I currently believe they'll be.
18th-Nov-2007 12:45 pm (UTC)
But, really, how tough is it to remember BAB+STR+size modifier and oppose the check?
You forgot the touch attack and the AoO (and the Close Quarter Fighting response) :-)

Here's an extract from a mail I sent one of my players that I
had just ruined with an Advanced Tiger...

While the tiger could do a BAB-affected number of grapple-rolls to do damage (like it did) as an alternative to its natural attacks, the damage for that is for a creature of its size (1d4+7,1d4+7) not the bite and claw damage I was rolling (2d6+3, 1d8+7) (About the same on average, but the latter has a higher top end that I think I rolled into: I think I rolled 15 on the bite!).

Also, the the SRD Rake description says that the two Rake attacks are in addition to the "attack at -4" for attacking with a single natural weapon, and the FAQ distinguishes grapple checks from attacks (though you do get one grapple check for each attack you are entitled to).

So I think the Tiger could not have raked you.

Roll on 4E

How tough is it to keep up to date with the status of grappled versus pinned versus freed?

I always suspected this was something Americans had more of a problem with than Europeans who have had more of a culture of time-shifting with video recorders, which develops an innate understanding of a state machine. I've no evidence for that though.
19th-Nov-2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
I didn't mention the touch attack or the AoO simply because it is common sense. Any attack you attempt requires an attack roll. Since a grapple isn't an attempt to penetrate armor, all you have to do is make contact with the target to attempt a grapple. But, since your empty-handed attack is not a lethal attack, it also leaves you open for an AoO. Really, it isn't that hard. And I still had a DM at DragonCon 2003, playing 3.0, who has endless iterations of AoOs before actually resolving the touch attack and the grapple. It was the gayest combat I have ever witnessed.
19th-Nov-2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
But, since your empty-handed attack is not a lethal attack, it also leaves you open for an AoO. Really, it isn't that hard.

By this reasoning if you have Improved Unarmed Strike or have natural weapons then your grapple would not provoke an AoO. But it does (unless you are grappling someone who does not threaten). Unless you have Improved Grapple or Improved Grab...unless the the creature with Improved Grab tried to Grapple rather than attack and grab.
19th-Nov-2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
Grappling mechanics aren't that difficult once you've read the rules. That said, I'm probably on the far end of the curve in that I try to read up as thoroughly as I can on the rules of the game. And by that I mean the PHB and the DMG.

Like you I'm running a low magic game (set in Kenzer & Co.'s Kalamar setting). Another concern I have about 4E is that with all the powers and magic and such, running an fairly earthy, low magic game might not be possible.
19th-Nov-2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
As DMs, it's our responsibility to read the rules intently, not only to understand the rules as written, but also to evaluate whether a house rule to fit your game is in order. I am often shocked by the number of DMs who have not read the rules intently and just "wing it."

Kalamar is absolutely awesome. It is very role-play intensive, and the mechanics actually do a good job of supporting role-playing. I've played a couple of Living Kingdoms of Kalamar adventures in the RPGA and wished I could have played more. It's my understanding that Kenzer is moving up to 4th Edition right along with WotC, which kind of sucks because I'd like to see more quality publishers like Kenzer at least offer a line alternative to the 4th Edition based OGL stuff that is going to end up getting force-fed down our throats for the sake of selling more books.
19th-Nov-2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
I've seen DMs "wing it" like that before. Like allowing a player to cast Hold Person on a gargoyle. This was at a tournament no less, and a friend of mine cited the page and paragraph in the PHB stating that gargoyles were an example of what was NOT affected by the spell. (Said friend is a DM too) It makes me wonder if the "simplification" of 4E was sparked by the loud complaints or players and DMs who just didn't read the rules.

I loved playing Living KoK. The best was this one module by Dan Donnolly (did I spell that right), where we had to run a series of comically recursive "get the McGuffin" quests in a single module set in a Wizard's school.

And the party consisted solely of Fighters and Gladiators. Dan was at that con and rigged our table that way just to see how silly it could get. :)

Actually, the last I heard on the Kenzer & Co. boards, their future Kalamar products are going to be (system neutral), just like the old times. For me that's great, because I don't have to worry about having more rules with every book -- just more material for me to build the campaign with.
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