Posts Tagged ‘e6’

I’ve been mulling over this post for a little bit now, but John Arcadian at Gnome Stew just made a post about running a no-character-advancement game which has spurred me to actually put pen to paper and say what I think.

The Gnome Stew post talks about the idea of playing a campaign where characters do not advance in level, or alternatively only advance during downtime between story arcs.  It lists a number of benefits to this approach, not the least of which, in my opinion, is eliminating the sense of “my character will be awesome at Level 5.”  Your character is awesome now.  John makes a few other good points and it’s worth a quick read; this post is more about the assumptions and expectations of rewards in D&D.

One of the trends that bothers me about D&D rewards is that it seems like the expected reward, from both players and DMs, is experience points.  When characters complete some goal — rescue the princess, kill the goblins, solve the puzzle — they might get some treasure, they may get some in-game renown, they could open up previously-inaccessible areas.  But across the board it’s expected that they’ll get Experience points.  The concern and the danger is that the difference in power from one level to the next is a bit more than most people expect, and the assumption of Experience-as-default-reward will tend to move you quickly up that scale.  If “regular people” are 1st or 2nd Level and “historical legends” are 4th and 5th Level, an assumption that has characters advancing to Herculean-tier power in a handful of adventures is problematic.

Because of this, I think that reigning in experience rewards in favor of gold, magic items, renown, and influence over the game world can lead to a richer (heh) gaming experience.  I almost always run my games with Pathfinder’s “slow progression” XP scale, which is about 150% of the standard scale, but even before reading the Gnome Stew post I’d considered removing XP rewards entirely and tying Level Advancement directly to story-arc milestones and accomplishments.  If going up in level means developing skills beyond a character’s professional peers, or at the mid- and high-end of the scale becoming more than human or even godlike, it makes sense to tether that to a pivotal moment when the character accomplishes some feat or destroys the Big Bad.  Hitting 4th Level because you killed your 47th Goblin just feels wrong.

Of course, I’m not sure I care for a game with no character advancement, but that’s something that should be seasoned to taste.  As John says, if you start in the sweet spot, when your character is awesome and the situations you face and interesting and challenging, who needs character advancement?

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There are a couple posts I read today about alignment, and since alignment is something I care about quite a bit, I wanted to toss my two cents in.

Alignment in 4th Edition

The first post is from the Dungeon’s Master, where he questions the importance of Alignment in 4th Edition.  He notes that 4E pared down the long-held Nine Alignments to five, and that two of those five are explicitly barred from Player Characters.  He goes on to note that there are no penalties to changing alignments, and that the alignments that remain are so broad and all-encompassing that it’s unlikely that a character would stray from them any ways.  He wonders if alignment even matters in 4th Edition.

To that I think I would respond that no, alignment doesn’t matter in 4th Edition.  That’s not to say that I think it can’t matter in a campaign using the 4E system — it can, and like the Dungeon’s Master I think it should — but it’s my opinion that 4th Edition has a drastically different perspective on what D&D is than it’s predecessors did, and that different perspective doesn’t care much about alignment.

D&D has grown and changed over the years; this becomes more and more apparent as I read up about Chainmail and OD&D compared to the 3.X that I was introduced to.  It was a war game that turned into an adventure game that became a role playing game.  And as a role playing game, alignment aid the player in getting into they’re character’s head.  It informs the player what their character’s morals and values are, and that should be used to inform the decisions and actions he makes.  Why must a Paladin be Lawful Good?  Because those are the values someone must hold before they would take up such a calling.  Why must a rogue be non-Good?  Because you can’t burglarize people on a regular basis and hold values focused on “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  These aren’t straight-jackets or lists of things your character can’t do, they’re things your character wouldn’t do and the perspective he has on the world around him.  I believe the penalties associated with changing alignment in 1e and 2e are just ways of making the game care about alignment; they look like pretty ham-fisted ways from my point of view, but they’re the proverbial stick to encourage the player to consider his alignment before acting.

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One of the biggest take-aways from Justin’s Calibrating Your Expectations is the meaning of levels.  He says that he began writing the post in part to address all the people who said that “D&D Can’t Do Conan” because making a Level 20 Barbarian gives you a guy who can do things the actual Conan never could.  Or “D&D Can’t Do Einstein” because a Level 20 Expert would have way too many hit points for a frail old math geek.  The argument he makes is that people are looking at Level the wrong way, and they’re expecting Level 20 (or Level 5, or Level 12) to mean something that it doesn’t.

Justin makes the argument that pretty much everyone you’ve ever known would be a Level 1 character.  Really exceptional people might be Level 2 or Level 3.  Level 4 characters are some of the most talented and accomplished people in the world, and Level 5 characters are the people who get written about in history books.  From there he calls 6th level superhuman, a 10th Level character is challenging gods to contests of skill, and a 20th Level character is essentially a god themselves.  He bases his argument off of skill bonuses available at level 1 and DCs attached to certain activities.  But there are other clues, too.

A 5th Level character is taking on manticores, trolls, and young dragons; the exploits of Beowulf.  Heroes of Greek myth fought a minotaur (CR4), a hydra (CR4), and Medusa (CR7).  At Level 10 characters are fighting Greater Elementals and huge extra-planar spiders. Above level 15 characters a fighting high-level Angels and Demons, and when they reach level 20 they are literally beating up gods and taking their stuff.   Think that those who have made creatures higher than Level 20 are well-meaning but misguided, and I personally believe that Zeus himself can be built as a Level 20 creature. (It gets futzy when you’re talking about CR versus Level, though.)

The long and short of it is as Justin puts it at the end of his post: the 3.X system expects that you’ll move from one power level to an extremely different power level as you level up, but people expect there to be a much more uniform performance from Level 1 to Level 20.  They bend over backwards trying to make the system fit that expectation, so that a 20th Level character can be treated as King Arthur instead of as Thor.  (As an aside, this is precisely why the trend of D&D 5E worries me; they’re trying to flatten the playing scale so that a 20th Level character is still threatened by orcs.  You lose a lot of variety in what the system can model when you do that, and it isn’t necessary.)

And of course, these kind of expectations are really harmful to the game.  If you expect that Aragorn is Level 15 instead of Level 5, then that colors what sorts of adventures you can have at low levels.  You spend the first 5 (or more) Levels of D&D killing rats and goblins and bandits, instead of leading armies, storming castles, and fighting Nazghul.

I’ve been putting off writing a D&D Next post, partly because I still feel like I haven’t fully digested the materials, partly because my group only got a half-hearted playtest in, and partly because I’ve been interested in pursuing other things, like hexcrawl mechanics and fixing feats.  On Friday, though, my post on DCs got mentioned on Friday Knight News, and I figured I should go ahead and address 5E directly. (As an aside, the FKN posts look to be neat aggregate posts, and I think I’ll keep a closer eye on Game Knight Reviews generally, as some neat thoughts are floating around there.)

So, what are my thoughts on 5E?  Firstly: this. This a thousand times.  I don’t think anyone wants or needs a 5th Edition, and the genesis of one is something of an ill-conceived reaction to the fact that 4E lost a lot of players and Retro-clones and Pathfinder has been eating WotC’s lunch for several years now.  The answer is not to give us another franken-system, the answer is to give us what we want, and produce new and updated material for the four systems everyone’s already playing.  We don’t all have to buy the same product, and WotC should be more concerned that we’re buying their product than which product we’re buying.  I’m no publishing industry insider, but it seems to me that the realities of publishing have changed a lot, and I for one would be likely to buy material for each D&D system if WotC would let me (ask my wife: I’m still buying 4E producats and I don’t even like that system).

Anyways.  On to the actual 5E stuff. It gets long.

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As I mentioned in my first post, a big part of what caused this blog to come into being was articles I read on The Alexandrian. What I read there prompted me to think about playing and DMing in ways that hadn’t occured to me before.  One of my first and favorite posts there is “D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations.” something that had bothered me for a long time was the way that D&D characters “weren’t cool” until you were in the higher levels of play, and by that point you’d out-leveled a lot of my favorite monsters (notably goblins; I love goblins).

There’s more I can say there and maybe I will in a later post. The point is that the post established Level 1 as “regular people” and Level 3 as “Figures of Historic Note,” with Level 5 settling somewhere around “Mythic and Legendary Characters.” This fit a lot better with my desires for D&D, and Justin had enough argument to convince me that’s what was intended.  Since then I’ve decided that my preferred form of D&D is E6 (where Level 6 is the cap and Epic rules come in to play).

I’m currently running a campaign appropriately titled “Expectations,” with my goal being to emphasize how cool low-level play really is.  There are actually two things I’m working against here: player notions of what their characters are capable of, and all-too-prevalent world-scaling found in most D&D games I’ve played in, heard of, and even run myself.  The two are, I think, strongly related and problematic, but I’ll set them aside for a separate post.

Expectations is the campaign that prompted me to really start looking at game structures and the lack of tools that I currently have at my disposal.  I’ll probably refer to it from time to time, and I intent to test a lot of the thoughts I share here in that game.