Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hey Mearls! Are You Kidding?

For those of you interested in the Wizards Legends and Lore column, Mike Mearls appears to have resumed his narrative duties.

There are a couple of interesting items (minor rant follows).

So he's running an office B/X campaign, the interesting part is at the end, "As I plan the campaign and (eventually) run adventures, I plan on making house rules, adopting rules from other editions, and shifting the rules to match how the game moves along [GG: all that sounds pretty good, who doesn't?]. In some ways, it's a reality check against the ideas I see proposed for the next iteration. Would I want them in my campaign?"

So what exactly does that mean? It's this type of cryptic language that irks people about these articles. Why would you need to run B/X as a baseline unless the Design Team has gone off in a different direction? That's just a strange statement and leaves us guessing.

The article is devoted to the save or die mechanic. Mearls makes TWO big mistakes here.

1) It appears his gut is telling him to leave it alone - but he's not listening to his gut. Instead, guess what, he makes it more complicated! Yes, lets give something else for the DM to track. Let's make save or die kick in at lower hit points! That is completely ridiculous. It doesn't matter at all whether you have 15 total hit points or 5 - save or die is save or die. Don't make the DMs life any more difficult than it already is. Why is the default position of game designers to make life more difficult for us? Just KEEP IT SIMPLE and rejoice in the gameplay freedom that emerges.

2) He overstates the case that save or die ends game nights or campaigns. He writes, "On the other hand, the save or die mechanic can be incredibly boring. With a few dice rolls, the evening could screech to a halt as the vagaries of luck wipe out the party. A save or die situation can also cause a cascade effect. Once the fighter drops, the rest of the party's inferior AC and saving throws can lead to a TPK."

It's this simple Mike, if you have the mechanic in the game (and you'd better) have the intestinal fortitude to stick it out. Don't dilute save or die for all the whiners out there. Also, since we art talking B/X D&D, TPKs are part of the story of the game that develops through play. Go and read The Big Book of the Dead. Hell, I had a player on Sunday night critical miss and kill himself - shit goes down when you play D&D. Don't try to make the game something it isn't (i.e. 4E) - embrace the suspense and dramatic mechanics like Save or Die. These are the things that make the D&D the unique game that it is. Don't reject your inheritance.


  1. If your PC can't die, or if you ALWAYS have so much warning about death that your PC will always take action to avoid death (except where you are willing to let your PC die), what's the point in calling it D&D?

  2. "reality check against the ideas I see proposed for the next iteration"

    I don't find that cryptic... to me it means he's running a game and gets to try out rules and see if they feel right in his game. I'm not sure what is cryptic about that.

    "embrace the suspense and dramatic mechanics like Save or Die"

    I dunno that suspense is the word I'd use for save or die.... annoyance perhaps. While I get the general notion that there needs to be risk of death for their to be satisfaction (not a premise I agree with 100%, but I'll go with it for this), personalty I find the prevalence of death (or at least the seeming prevalence, as according to the amount of talk TPK, and character deaths per session that occur in the OS blogs) to just be... disengaging. If I should count on failure and death of my character, why should I get engaged in the game at all?

    Though I do agree he's making it to complicated... as much has I dislike save or die effects, complicated save or die effects are worse.

    1. Because you shouldn't "count on failure and death" of your character. Through smart play and luck, your character can make it to high level.

      The uncertainty of that proposition is what makes the game engaging for me.

  3. "reality check against the ideas I see proposed for the next iteration"

    I don't find that cryptic either.
    Even if "the Design Team has gone off in a different direction" maybe he wants to compare the play results (how things played out, how situations were resolved) against a B/X baseline.

    Does Next lead to roughly the same results, and what is different?

  4. Not even remotely cryptic.

    When playtesting "Buffy" I compared play to what I felt was the "Gold Standard", C.J. Carella's WitchCraft. When I wrote Ghosts of Albion I did the same thing. I wanted a certain feel and you can write all the rules, prose and text you like, but the proof is in the playing. I needing some things to have the same feel (Classic Unisystem/WitchCraft), but work within the mechanic I had (Cinematic Unisystem/Buffy).

    It means simply this. D&D.Next needs to be able to do a good job of running/playing a D&D B/X like game within the mechanics they are writing right now.

    On the second point I not a fan of save or die either. But I don't sweat about it, I ignored it in B/X/AD&D and I ignore it as needed now. I have more interesting things to do than say "Marcie get out of here. You're dead!"

    If the mechanic is in the game, chances are good I am going to ignore it anyway. If it is not, but the situation calls for it then I might use it.

    1. To my mind there's nothing more interesting :)

  5. Your 4hp Wizard is hit by a Goblin spear for d6 damage. He has a 50/50 chance of dying. The DM rolls the dice.

    Your 7hp Cleric is bitten by a poison spider and needs to *SAVE OR DIE*. She has a 50/50 chance of dying. The Player rolls the dice.

  6. The whole game night doesn't grind to a halt unless it takes hours to make a new character. If the rules support the kind of simplicity that can have a newly generated party back in the dungeon 5-15 minutes after a TPK, then it's all part of the fun.

  7. I've been using 'save or die' for a long time; never have I seen a session or campaign grind to a halt because of it. As Paul pointed out above, if you're playing real D&D you can be up and running with a new character in just a few minutes.

    Furthermore, a few unlucky rolls can cause a TPK in any combat encounter. Once the fighter drops, regardless of whether he was run through with a spear or failed his save, things will start to go badly for the party unless they cut their losses and haul ass.

    1. Well, "real D&D" is a pretty loaded and condescending statement. Even when I played these editions of the game back in the 80s, I put a lot of effort and thought into characters and their back stories. And while I never saw a game grind to a halt over character death (and I'm not certain I've ever actually encountered a TPK, since it's not a style of gaming we tried for), I /have/ experienced the fun of an evening grind to a halt over death (particularly the fickle nature of Save or Die effects).

    2. While Sean can speak for himself, I don't personally take issue with his use of "real D&D."

      To me it's obvious that he is referring to the time difference in character creation. With "Real D&D" you will be up in a matter of minutes as he states, compared to later editions.

      Hell, if I'm not mistaken, WotC offers a character generation program as part of their DDI subscription. You mention putting a lot of effort into your characters in older editions, but did you need a computer program to help speed the process? That is just not "real D&D" and I hope that is not taken as a condescending statement.

    3. My reference to real D&D is not meant to be condescending, but a statement of fact. In the Dungeons & Dragons game and its descendants (i.e. Holmes, B/X, AD&D, etc.) it is possible to roll up a new character in minutes. In later games, which have been called D&D by WotC, but are not related to the originals in either mechanics or style, character creation is a time-consuming process and losing a character can put a player out of the game for the rest of the session.

    4. Hey Instantapathy, you should try gaming with the Red Box Vancouver group. Character survival is so low some guys don't even name first level characters. Haha! Rock on RBV!

    5. But why would I want to play a role-playing game if the role I'm playing is so meaningless s/he doesn't even have a name? At that point I'll just load up Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, at least then I don't have to pitch in for pizza.

    6. Jeff, do you honestly think they would play 100 sessions if their style of play was meaningless?

      You need to make sense dude.

      They've played that many sessions because the play is meaningful. That struggling to get a character leveled is a HUGE fricking deal. Speaking from experience, if you level a character that is a skin on the wall.

    7. "but did you need a computer program to help speed the process? That is just not "real D&D" "

      I'm not sure what to take from this... to answer at face value no, I did not. But then I don't "need" one for 3e or 4e either... does it make it easier? Sure, but I have made numerous characters by hand, and of the two personal groups of friends I play with I'm the only one who's used DDI at all. But I love programs, cause I hate trying to write on tiny character sheet lines...

      "My reference to real D&D is not meant to be condescending, but a statement of fact"

      *sigh* See, that's just it. "Old D&D" isn't the only "Real D&D", and to then say "It's a fact" is... misguided.

      "Character survival is so low some guys don't even name first level characters."

      Yeah, I guess I just don't see the appeal of that. I might as well be paling that old Dungeon board game where you were "Elf" or "Dwarf" or "Fighter" and it was all just random encounters based on a deck of shuffled cards.

      There are times I wish I was close to a Red Box thing so I could go and see it in action, and hope that there is something that is magical in the moment, but I have a hard time finding "old school" to be appealing as it's told to me.

    8. *sigh* See, that's just it. "Old D&D" isn't the only "Real D&D", and to then say "It's a fact" is... misguided.

      Why? Why should some company that acquired some intellectual property be able to redefine something that has a rich cultural history?

      I say this, by the way, as someone who is currently running a (hacked) version of 4E, so I don't think I'm locked in some nostalgia trap.

    9. "But I love programs, cause I hate trying to write on tiny character sheet lines... "

      I'm not a luddite that believes technology can't be useful. I concede that I poorly (if not horribly) represented how I was expressing my thoughts on the obtuse nature of the WotC D&D mechanics.

      Simply put, the "real D&D" rules provide a quick method of character creation and the "other D&D" does not.

    10. I play Dungeon! as often as time allows (which sadly isn't often as my kids are still a wee bit too young). Having said that have you played that game recently? If you have great, if you haven't then get after it. A great "Gateway band" into "real" D&D. haha! :)

      Your problem Instant, is that you are accustomed (it sounds like) to putting "story" ahead of "play". For those of us that play early TSR D&D, play comes first and the story emerges from the play experience (read the session reports, I literally can't make that shit up in advance). Do I like the odd railroad module? Sure, but it is a more restrictive form of play. So it isn't something that we do often.

    11. Since it was topical, I thought I'd share these "dungeons" I came across today.

      Holmes: http://blueboxerrebellion.blogspot.com/2012/01/infographic-holmes-character-creation.html

      2E: http://blueboxerrebellion.blogspot.com/2012/02/infographic-2e-character-creation-as.html

      3e: http://blueboxerrebellion.blogspot.com/2012/01/infographic-3e-character-creation-as.html