Posts Tagged ‘professor’s desk’

The Professor doesn’t really run a game blog, per se, but the most recent post touches on an issue that I think is A Problem for RPGs, and especially endemic in 4th Edition D&D and probably in 5th Edition, too.

That post is about “support roles” and how there’s a push to “fix” them.  It mentions games like City of Heroes, Team Fortress 2, and then Dungeons and Dragons.  The idea if that there are “primary” classes and “support” classes, where primary classes are defined by their ability to “solo” the game, and support classes are more indirect and make their team mates “feel more awesome.”  These games, though, have tended towards balancing support classes so that they can make a better direct showing in combat, to the detriment of their ‘support’ abilities.

As I said in my (excruciatingly-long-in-hindsight) comment over there, this is appropriate for games like TF2 and CoH.  Those games have a somewhat static ecology to work with and a default engagement method — namely, “kill all of the things.”  Because of this, classes are measured by how well they can contribute to combat.  TF2 is a team game by default so there’s room for a bit more specialization (compare Heavy vs Sniper vs Engineer). MMOs like CoH and World of Warcraft assume team play (on some level) but don’t enforce it; players will occasionally not want or be able to find a group, and so either all classes can make some measure of progress alone or they risk a stale experience (and losing customers).

If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’d have to admit that D&D began life with a similar default of “kill all of the things,” but at the time there was more emphasis on “and take their stuff,” than on the killing.  I’m told that OD&D gave out experience points for every piece of gold you found, which would encourage <i>avoiding</i> fights if it means (1) you could get (most of) the treasure any ways, and (2) it let you save resources so you could kill more things later (and take their stuff).  Regardless, D&D definitely grew from there to the point where, in D&D 3.X, combat may have been common and expected, but it wasn’t the only approach to the game.  Knowledge, skills, and personality could get you places that a sword and a strong arm couldn’t (depending on your DM and what kind of game you were playing). Characters don’t need to shine in combat so long as they can shine somewhere else, and I think that’s a great strength that tabletop RPGs have over (most) video games.  If the rogue or wizard was terrible in combat that was fine, because the fighter would be useless when a trap had to be disarmed or some ancient runes needed to be deciphered.  If the men-at-arms characters could handle the combat the others were free to hang back, and they’d get their spotlight with other challenges.

One of the most common complaints about 4E (in my experience) is hat it essentially threw away decades of legacy for the “new hotness” of MMOs.  Personally I think there’s some truth in that, but (1) I think it’s the natural result of forces that began acting long ago and (2) for what it was I don’t think they did a bad job.  The thing is that years before 4th Edition became a thing, D&D players and designers got caught up focusing on Combat and aiming for Balanced Encounters.  Fourth Edition really just codified that in the system; for better or worse, it’s something we did to ourselves.

To that point, though, I’d say it’s “for worse.”  Fourth and Fifth Edition both seem to assume that combat is the default method of engagement and everyone should contribute to it equally (or at least consistently).  It’s forcing a homogenization that I think is bad for the game and for the hobby. Tactical miniatures are fun games (I play Warhammer 40K myself, when I get a chance), but they’re different from RPGs and they satisfy different desires.  ‘Fixing’ the classes and the systems so that everyone acts like a Wizard and fights like a Fighter limits the hobby, and frankly other games do those things better already.