Thursday, February 14, 2013

Not Optional

I have been reading my DnD 2nd edition manual for ideas and amusement.  It is fun to read over old rulesets and laugh at what sort of information was provided and what was left out.  For example, there are rules on how you get away from enemies you have engaged in melee but those rules leave out how you know if you are engaged, how close you have to be, how many people a combatant can engage, whether you engage someone if you just move past them, etc.  The simplest questions like "what happens if I walk past that guy to get next to that other guy?" are not at all answered.  On the other hand you have precisely 18 different kinds of polearms, each of which has detailed instructions on its historical uses and origin and a punching and wrestling chart that has 21 different results.  Because obviously massive selection and backstory of polearms and fracking punching charts are more useful than knowing *how to move around*.

One thing I did notice was that there are an awful lot of optional rules in the old DnD and they didn't feel particularly optional most of the time when I was playing back in the old days.  We used pretty much everything and doing so really increased the complexity of the game.  We used hovering on death's door, spell components, encumbrance, the entire proficiencies chapter, individual initiative, parrying, and more.  The notable exception to our "use it all!" mentality was the complex, awful, and ridiculous weapon type vs. armour type rule.  Barring that one outlier optional rules simply weren't optional; even when two choices were presented we always went with the more complex option.

I think this tendency for players to always gravitate towards the most hardcore game possible is something that appears across genres.  Look at WOW, for example, where the complaints that everyone cannot complete the most hardcore content were never ending.  People were never satisfied to play the game that suited them but rather wanted to play the biggest, baddest game around and often would quit if that game wasn't what they wanted.  Even if a game they would like was available they weren't interested unless that was the premiere game.  I saw tons of people complaining that the Brutal setting on SC2 was too hard even though there was absolutely no necessity to finish it whatsoever.  I felt like Brutal was a challenge, but quite a reasonable one really, and why would you complain when you can always just do it on Hard instead if that is more your speed?

I think this is going to present massive problems for Wizards in their concept for DnD Next.  They want a massively tiered system with gajillions of optional rules and dials that can be used or not all bolted onto a very simple game.  Somehow they think they can balance this and make simple, no decisions characters work alongside massively customizable characters in a system where the rules are mostly unknown.  This is a disaster waiting to happen.  Nearly everybody is going to use the most complex rule system that gets published and incorporate every optional rule they can possibly stuff into the game.  They are going to end up with a really complex, intimidating ruleset that has been bastardized so that a simple ruleset that doesn't get used lies somewhere within it.

Don't make a game that is a heinous mess of optional rules.  Don't make a game with so many settings that balancing things is impossible and don't make a game that sacrifices being good for being nostalgic.  Just make one good game.


  1. This makes me think of all those Torchlight 2 mods that make the game super easy that people install so they can play it on the hardest difficulty. There's some kind of lack of critical thinking in there somewhere.

    Fun fact: I never finished SC2 campaign on brutal. It's that last Protoss mission - I never even started it. I find that mission really boring (it was all well and good the first time, but it's got no replay whatsoever) it takes a long time, and if you are going to fail you are going to fail right at the very end. The idea of sitting through it with the possibility of failing just so I can say I did it has no interest for me.

  2. Interesting... I found that last Protoss mission hard, but I was actually pretty intrigued by how much better I got at it as time went by. Initially I wasn't sure how I would ever win but eventually I got it down so well that I went 1000 kills past the victory line on my first winning attempt.