Monday, July 14, 2014

The Labyrinth Strikes Back, Edition Logic Bomb

Welcome back Labyrinth readers...if there are a few of you out there still. Missed ya all! I'm back and ready to dish out more wisdom from the depths of the maze that is my GM brain.

First up a few things happened: 1. Life. (Have Baby Daughter, will busy.) 2. GM burn out. (It happens to best of us, you take a break and get your mojo back.) 3. House. (Have New House, will busy X2.) And so it goes. But things have improved and I worked out my issues, mostly, and I'm ready to talk gaming.

Let us start the new blog post talking about D&D 5th Edition. It's out, well the Basic version, it's new, it's pretty. I like it for many reasons which I will now list: It is like a greatest hits of D&D (which is good imo), the math is way easier, I love advantage/disadvantage in play so easy to make rulings on, proficiency can be used in so many creative ways thanks to backgrounds, and the class builds are like a playful 3.X/Pathfinder/meets 2E and a pinch of 4E thrown in. Puggly as it sounds it's really, really smooth and easy to eyeball things. Great for GM prep and session play.

The catch for me is a classic problem. Vanilla game meets fringe play style. I'm a weird GM. I enjoy kitchen sink games set in Eberron, or really grim Dark Sun sessions, etc. The Players Handbook will offer me fun class types like the Warlock, Chaos Sorcerer, and the tactical/arcane fighter builds. So there is that. AND, the DMG will have Warforged as a playable race. So, options. Not ALL the options I'd like, but it is far better than I expected.

But no Psionics yet. Give me my Psionics! You hear me Mearls! Mind Powers Wowza! Need it! Soon! Thanks.

*ahem*

But the launch of 5E brings about Edition Waring and a lot of sour grapes from those with an agenda. For me it makes the forums of many sites very very painful to read. What else is new eh? There will always be a very vocal group of players who want to complain to someone that either the new edition didn't meet their exacting requirements, or steps away from Edition X they like, or some random weirdness only they seem to have issue with. But there is one key element that seems to drive the most common issues and that is they don't grok the Edition Logic behind the changes.

Edition Logic you say? What are you talking about? Well to put it simply each new edition has a set of desired results during the development phase. This defines how the edition will launch and most often the earliest product will interact with it. For example:

Exalted 2nd Edition was an attempt to reign in multiple action economy and social power use to allow for some amount of control when NPCs went up against the meat grinder that is Exalted Characters. Combat was focused into ticks, with very specific keywords in play, social combat (if half formed and very confusion to some) was there to keep PCs and NPCs from jumping off bridges at simple commands. Etc. It grew out of the Power Combat options from 1E, an experiment at adding very fiddly rules to charms and actions so tighter rulings can be made. It kinda worked and kept the action bloat from getting too crazy, the issue came later in the game lines development (lets say around the time the martial arts book came out that lazy writing or editing allowed for 1E logic charms to be reintroduced into 2E math) which allowed for crazy action bloat to return, and strange overly specific but very popular paranoid combat options to rule the table.

What does that mean?

That new writers, old players, and other folks will forget the core Edition Logic (design bible, whatever you call it) of the game down the line and start developing/talking about a way different concept of the game down the line. This is a natural process and is the reason why new editions happen. The expected style of play begins to change from the baseline and the rules have to be updated. That and to make money.

I don't envy Mr. Mearls and WotC tightrope act they have to walk from a PR perspective, but from a design side I like what they did. If I was to guess the top 3 bits of Edition Logic and why they changed D&D the way they did, it would be as follows:

1. Inclusive Rules - And so a LOT of 4Eisms must be sacrificed. Easier math or no, a lot of D&D plays like 2E and 3.X. Which means roles are dead as we knew them (See the Essentials Experiment). Saves come back, but are now more varied (a half and half 2E to 3.X idea), a lot of 4E classes are ripped apart for features. 3.X/2E class features are RETURNED to the base class. Druid reabsorbs the Primal classes. Cleric/Paladin dissect the Avenger/Profit, etc. Monster stat logic works like 3.X. Etc. The character and monster options need to cover the majority of published works and 4E is a serious outlier.

2. Easier Math and Character options - This is why we get back the vanilla Fighter. Mind you Casters are a lot more fragile this edition (more like 2E casters). But the Linear Fighter/Quadratic Wizard arguments return. But this also does away with 'everyone is the same' issues of 4E build logic. Proficiency rules seem to be a compromise between 4E/2E skill system. The very overly fiddly 3.X skill system is dead in favor of a very general you are good in X system. But unlike 4E it is way more class/background specific. Which works, easy to judge if proficiency exists and you are done. The bounded accuracy in 5E also makes higher level play not break as easily. Fighters do more later in combat and the 'sweet spot' of play gets extended wider than a 5-10 level range like 3.X or earlier editions. I'm not sure WHERE the math breaks, but I'm sure I'll start seeing it once the PHB drops. And like any cool headed GM I'll make houserules to fix it.

3. Nostalgia Farming - Eh? Hate to say it, D&D is a brand. And just like the Transformer and GI Joe movies they are trying to market to old fans. Why? It's not just to pander to 40 somethings with money (but it is in part) but they want the game to be something new fans can walk into hearing the stories of the old game sessions and find the materials there to play something like those old games. Hear Dad talk for hours about his Ravenloft game? Why look, core books and the Ravenloft setting book! And look, a start up adventure set as well! Who cares that it's written by a 3rd party under the WoTC license. (Hint, hint, this is what I feel the new 'ogl' will look like.) It's there so you can have your d20 apple pie and know what to expect. This means a lot of vanilla options in the books published with fringe material showing up in conversion guides and much later in the publishing schedule.

So walking into 5E we are going to have a lot of players from previous editions using old Edition logic guidelines they learned though play. Eventually they'll come around but by the time that happens the team working on D&D may have new Edition guidelines they are pushing for. Or maybe the Evergreen idea behind 5E will keep going. Doubtful, but eh weirder things have happened. Expect 5E players to have their expectations and new Edition Wars and Warriors to flourish. Keep gaming and ignore it the best you can.

Next up? Swankier battles, Fringe D&D and You, and other fun topics. Till then Gamers!