Tag Archives: game design

D&D 5e Ongoing Random Replies

So, yet one more “I posted something on WOTC and I’m posting it here, too” post.

Here’s the original article I’m replying to.

Read it? Good. Here’s my reply:

Mike, I completely agree with your philosophy of rules design and its role WRT the DM, but the current iteration of 5e, and the stated design goals, go in exactly the opposite direction. Forcing the DM to make up rules on the fly for every trivial action doesn’t make things easier, and it leads to inconsistencies and circumstance modifiers that come and go randomly, based on if the DM or the players remember if he took thus-and-such into account the last time this situation came up. (“Hey, last week, you didn’t care if the dwarf was wearing plate armor, and this week, you’re saying the same thing is harder because I’m wearing chainmail. What’s up with that?”) You are absolutely 100% correct that a DM must be there to rule in edge cases and odd situations, and that the rules should be clear enough that it’s obvious and easy to extend them to cover those conditions. Hell, I’ve written that exact same rant myself a dozen or more times. The current design philosophy, though, doesn’t lead towards a solid foundation of rules the DM may occasionally need to extend or build upon; it’s more like “Here’s a basic game mechanic, just fill in the rest of the game.”

I also agree with the second part of your post, and again, what you need to consider is that the more tools one class has over another, the more an equally clever player will exploit them. Sure, a clever fighter with a pliable DM can do a lot of “creative” tricks, but that same clever player, running a wizard, has far more tools to be creative WITH. The idea that fighters are balanced by “player skill” is bogus, because there’s nothing that keeps wizards from being played by creative players who like to think outside the box, too. (Likewise, dumping all the work of deciding how Spell X interacts with Effect Y, or how hard it is for a fighter to push over a statue, or what the effect of that will be, onto the DM, to make up on the fly, violates your first point.)

Oh, I am actually hard at work on Part II of the Hackmaster piece. I’ve just found out how many siblings I have. With luck, I’ll be posting that later today, but for now, I’m going to work. (Yeah, I work on Labor Day. Part of what I sacrifice to work at home is paid vacation time.)

Common Law vs. Statutory Law

Common Law vs. Statutory Law

(I thought I posted this ages ago, but no searches return it. Weird.)

One of the best things I’ve seen that helps spell out a lot of the rules style debates on RPGs was pointed out to me by someone whose name I forget on RPG.net, namely, the difference between Common Law and Statutory Law.

In Common Law, disputes are settled primarily by judges and magistrates, who look to prior cases and try to apply the same decision to the same facts. There is no body of formal law, just an accumulation of cases, and the practice is to look through prior cases and use them to reach a conclusion. In different regions or different nations, different sets of precedents evolve, and there’s no great need to reconcile them, as it’s believed they reflect the beliefs of the people who live under the law.

Statutory Law relies on well-documented laws that specify what rules apply to what actions and what penalties to apply. In the event that a specific law can’t be found, or the law is ambiguous, the judge is supposed to interpret the laws that are written to reach a conclusion that is consistent with prior law. This also forms a body of precedent, but the precedent is a record of how laws have been interpreted (and is often an impetus for the laws to be formally clarified), and is not the basis of the law itself. Consistency among different regions is very important; conflicting interpretations will be brought to higher and higher courts until a final decision is reached.

Those who want “rulings based” games like Common Law. They want a few broad guidelines, and they run their games based on their past rulings of situations. Two different DMs may rule very differently on the same action, but they are then reasonably consistent going forward in their games. They want game companies to provide guiding principles and a few examples, from which they’ll build their body of precedent. They often want to pick and choose which facts may be relevant to a given case, and ignore what seems unnecessary.

Those who want “rules based” games like Statutory Law. They want a well-defined set of rules that spell out as many situations as possible. They recognize no set of rules can be complete, but they see the role of the DM as finding the closest possible rule and extending it just enough to cover the situation, and this then creates a new rule. They want game companies (the “legislature”) to correct poor rules or provide final and absolute answers to contradictory rules. They want a clear listing of all factors to be considered when applying a rule.

Neither of these is likely to be absolute, and neither is “better” or “worse”, but they satisfy different needs and appeal to different people.