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Grids Again — 4 Comments

  1. In terms of designing D&DNext, there are a couple of issues with some big disagreement. Grids are one, another is the idea of power balance (between different classes and between PC’s and monsters). If they want to support both, which way is easier to design? I think it’s easier for somebody to abstract a gridded system than to grid an abstract system. Likewise it’s easier to ignore the suggestions on a balanced system than it is to add balance to an unbalanced system. Please note that this is based on the design considerations, not the way the rules are presented.

    • I don’t think the designers will ever make a deliberately unbalanced system, in the sense of “Screw you, Fighter! You suck! Ha ha!”, but I think they’ve recognized that balance is fuzzy and that trading a little imbalance for a lot of flavor is a good thing. Given that, I don’t think that we’ll ever see something in the rules like “If you want fighters to suck, take out this ability, or let wizards do this.”. I think what we will see is that all of the iterations of the classes (simple to complex, within each broad class) will have roughly identical strengths relative to each other within in each module. Or, in other words, Basic Fighter will remain in the same position, balance wise, relative to Basic Wizard as Advanced Fighter is to Advanced Wizard.

      Am I making any sense?

      I also strongly agree you can “degrid” easier than you can “grid”; I suppose we could have stat blocks which contain basic stats, and attacks or powers which might be tagged as being useful only if you’re using specific modules, or even varied levels of defined special abilities — for example, you could have a very basic “Trip” attack (“Target is knocked over, -2 to attack rolls and defenses, stand as a move action”), with more details if you want to use those modules (“Target is knocked prone, -2 to melee attack rolls and -4 to ranged attacks with thrown weapons and bows other than crossbows, cannot use slings, standing consumes 10′ of total movement, -2 to AC and Reflex defense except vs. area or burst attacks.”).

  2. Over at Critical Hits, there is a pretty good article about this same issue:
    http://critical-hits.com/2012/04/13/the-easily-lost-explorers-guide-to-dungeon-crawling/
    I thought the approach presented was pretty good… but I hadn’t really considered the design problems you lay out here. I am a miniatures and battlemat player, but you are right, if the game is designed for primarily theatre of the mind play, the monsters won’t be up to snuff for interesting tactical encounters (10 of the same kind of orcs with uncomplicated attacks and combat effects become pretty boring pretty fast). I still think that Critical Hits’ approach might work – but by taking a middle ground it might not make the threshold of convincing the disparate groups of D&D players from uniting.

    Also – this might seem really strange, but am I the only one getting a kind of apocalyptic, make it or break it vibe from the way that Wizards’ is approaching this? Like Hasbro gave them an ultimatum that if they don’t bring all the D&D players back with this edition that they’ll kill the brand. I don’t know, maybe I’ve just been watching too much 2012 stuff (and the Muppets)…

    • I don’t think Hasbro will kill the D&D brand — it’s too valuable — but they might gut RPG development. There’s no way they can ignore the fact Paizo is the first company to compete with D&D in its own space — heroic fantasy — and they’re doing it with a rules system WOTC decided to abandon.

      The issue with monsters is just one of those things I never noticed consciously before. I think back on all the AD&D 1e/2e games I played, and with a handful of occasional exceptions, our encounters were “10 orcs” or “2 medusae” or “1 dragon”. The most common variant would be “10 orcs and a blackguard leading them” or “1 dragon and 2 ogre guards”. As I said, there is a feedback effect. Spells had exact ranges, but (as someone on Critical Hits noted), the in-play reality tended to be more based on abstractions of “near”, “far”, “really far” rather than exact feet. The ranges for bows were such that, if you could see it, you could hit it. Until the grid became the default, and gridless became an option, few abilities relied on exact positioning, and those that did (like a thief’s backstab) often generated disagreements, which led to people at least using markers on a chess board to keep track of things.

      Obstacles on the battlefield become more important with a grid, not just for cover or LOS, but distance… if I have a move of 30 feet and I need to use 15 feet of it to dodge around a statue, it’s important. This rarely happens in gridless combat because it’s hard to be 100% sure that there isn’t a straight-line path; as I note, the position of objects tends to be virtual/relative, and in anything but the simplest combats, it’s hard to have a consistent mental map which definitively states you have to detour around a particular object and it will cost you exactly 10 feet of movement, or whatever. It’s even more rare for the mental map to be detailed enough to note that Fred has to run around the statue, but Charlie doesn’t; it tends to be an all or nothing thing, with the statue blocking everyone’s path or no one’s. (The flip side, of course, is that you can be more dynamic with your narrative when objects and distances are fuzzy, and this is the advantage to it for many players. There isn’t a right answer.)

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