Friday, June 14, 2013

You need a system for downtime?

Mike Mearls put out a new post about DnD Next this week talking about downtime.  It is very light on details and has no numbers but the essence of it is that when characters aren't doing traditional adventures they want to have a system for what the characters can do and how they can get things done.  The assumption is that characters are sitting in a town and each week they can perform one task such as crafting a sword, influencing a person, earning money, or working on a building project.  This is, of course, based on the assumption that the campaign follows a 'traditional' path of the characters wandering out to a dungeon, killing stuff, and then coming back to town to chill out safely for some time.  I think that model is bollocks personally but surely some people play that way.

The trouble with providing systems for things like "Make the noblewoman Elisha like you more" is that the system ends up being utterly silly and breaking immersion.  A single conversation doesn't take a week and if Elisha is actually important to the story then presumably the conversation with her is interesting enough to roleplay out, not roll out.  If Elisha isn't important then are the players really even going to know who she is?  Are they going to care about trying to make her like them more?  Is a numerical system to handle this going to be any use since you aren't going to show them the results anyway?  If they do upgrade her attitude from Neutral to Friendly they shouldn't actually know that for sure.

A weekly system of chores does actually make sense when governing things like crafting objects, doing a job for cash, or building a tower.  Unfortunately although it makes sense it still isn't any use.  If you do want to build a system that allows characters to do labour for money you also need to keep track of their trivial expenses.  Does anyone really want to spend the time to figure out how many copper pieces they spend on bread and their profit margins on a being a part time carpenter?  In a traditional game characters are so rich those sorts of things become irrelevant chump change by level two and in a non traditional game people aren't tracking their income from tradeskills.  You certainly can build a reasonable system to govern these sorts of tasks but I can't fathom why you would want to bother.

There are all kinds of weird economic systems in previous versions of DnD and the main thing about them is they were totally irrelevant until somebody abused them horribly.  People would try to hire thousands of soldiers to defeat dragons for them, abuse crafting laws to generate astronomical sums of money, or start magical item factories.  I have never seen those sorts of systems actually provide anything of use since it was so easy to simply roleplay through them instead.  Trying to do a combat in a heroic fighting game doesn't work without the numbers but that shouldn't confuse us into thinking that we need numbers for everything or that we need absurd structure for social interactions.


  1. Actually, a good system for social encounters is something that D&D type games have wanted for a long time. Although Next looks set to be about dungeon crawls in the great D&D tradition, it's not unfathomable that a campaign may require the odd bout of "social combat", which require *some* kind of rules -- in D&D those will inevitably be lumped into "not currently exploring" rules.

    Roleplaying out conversations may be enjoyable, but realistically people are not swayed by single converstations. That happens in movies and books, where space is limited and most authors don't want to bore their audience to tears. To achieve a single goal, a group of players may need to question dozens of people, threaten a few more, beg or buy assistance from powerbrokers, quell rumours that enemies are spreading about them...the list goes on, of course. To do all of this, it behooves a system to have adequate rules to handle these actions.

    Of course, you *could* just roleplay it out. But then what you really want is a system without social attributes and skills to muddle things.

  2. Even if characters are roleplaying out conversations I do like to have a simple system of social attributes and skills to help out. I generally get characters to roleplay things out and keep in mind their skill totals or have them make rolls to see just how successful they were. That way you avoid the issue of gregarious players always getting their way even if their characters aren't theoretically good at that sort of thing. I recognize that this is by no means universal of course; others do it differently.

    I think you can have a system where people influence others and build power but I don't think bolting it onto a crafting system is at all reasonable. The system as they describe doesn't work for me in general but if it was decoupled from other very different sorts of tasks I would have much less issue with it.