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Drunken Review: 4e DMG 2
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:49 pm    Post subject: Drunken Review: 4e DMG 2 Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I passed the Intensive Care exam, so now it's time to whip out the booze and terrible books of yesteryear. In this case we'll be going back to 2009, when 4rries still angrily insisted that 4th edition D&D was taking over everything and that the people who didn't like it were just grognards who couldn't get with the times. This is the time when the 4th edition development schedule is still crunching along, but has just hit a major snag... it's the time when they release the DMG2.

This would be in the style of an OSSR, but of course the 4e DMG2 isn't really old school, in that it is just four years old. 4th edition D&D was essentially stillborn, and the people at Wizards of the Coast thrashed around a lot in a vain attempt to get things going. Ideally, the DMG was supposed to be a yearly journal of Dungeon Mastering, where a new DMG would be made every year and filled with the latest and greatest ideas of running a game. The first three DMGs were scheduled to be mostly about the first three "tiers", with the DMG2 scheduled to primarily focus on "Paragon Play" and the DMG3 was to be focused on "Epic Play". I don't know if the DMG4 was even concepted, as even the DMG3 never saw the light of day.

The DMG2 represents the first identifiable point of absolute panic in the 4th edition D&D design staff. 4th edition was supposed to be the next big thing and it just... wasn't. In the runup to 4th edition, the designers had made a series of pitches to Hasbro detailing how they were going to grow the brand to a multi-million dollar revenue stream, and when they not only failed to do that but even produced a new line that no one seemed to want to buy... shit got real. People got fired. In fact, the head of D&D got fired every single year for the entire length of 4th edition's ill-fated run. And the DMG2 is where shit has just started to hit the fan. Rob Heinsoo and David Noonan have been let go, and while Noonan appeared to land on his feet (writing for MMOs, as was his true calling), Rob Heinsoo to this day is doing the game design equivalent of turning tricks in the back alley: hawking derivative third party 4e clones to the remaining 4e fans when they hold their conventions at the salad bar of Red Lobster. So the new 4e staff was justifiably running scared: they knew that if they didn't stop the ship from sinking that they'd be out of a job as well.

This book represents the first major attempt to bail out 4th edition. The works before had been commissioned too far in advance and were stuck on the old plan. It was hoped that this book could change course enough to save the line and save Andy Collins' job. As it happens, it is a historical fact that it did not. Andy Collins was out of a job within the year. The next man in the hotseat was Bill Slavicsek and his changes were even more drastic (but ultimately equally insufficient to save the line or his job). But watching what they were willing to do to try to salvage things in short order once they saw the sales figures and got yelled at by upper management is historically interesting. So grab yourself a glass of mead, because Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin, it's time to read The 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide 2.



A Note on Conspiracy Theories
While the dude who got the boot for the failure of 4th edition to right itself in 2009 was Andy Collins, his contributions to the actual flagship rulebook of the new direction was fairly minor. The main designers were James Wyatt, Bill Slavicsek, Mike Mearls, and Robin Laws. Robin Laws was a mercenary brought in because he is acknowledged in the industry as the man whose is the absolute best at writing things that sound like sagely wisdom on the subject of MCing a game. That's why they brought him in on the 3.5 DMG. The point as far as conspiracy theorists are concerned is that Mike Mearls and James Wyatt had a fair amount of impact on the new direction, but for whatever reason their jobs weren't on the line. Make of that what you will.

Introduction
The introduction of this book is a two page affair that begins by shilling the PHB2 and MM2. The introduction is signed by James Wyatt, and to this day I have no idea how this man has managed to avoid getting fired through all of the layoff rounds that happen every year. Rather than describing what the book is about, the introduction is an attempt to sell you on the book. Wyatt promises us "juicy rules bits" and also "expert advice" - in that order. Problem is of course, this is actually the opposite order from how they appear in the book. This means that he starts to give us a chapter breakdown that goes "chapter 2, chapter 4, chapter 5". That is fucking retarded. It is a fucking two page foreword, it is inconceivable to me that a professional author couldn't work the text of their description of the text it around the actual order of the material in the finished product. I need another drink.

Then Wyatt plugs D&D Insider, and notes that a bunch of the material in the book has been pulled from web columns by Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Mike Mearls, and... James Wyatt. He tries to make this sound like it means you need to get yourself a D&D Insider account, but really it makes it sound like two of the guys who weren't going to get to get fired if this book crashed and burned submitted a bunch of recycled bullshit blog posts instead of doing real design work. The introduction ends with an admonishment to use little snippets from lots of different books so that you have to buy more books.


James Wyatt can haz design work.

Chapter 1: Group Storytelling

Most of this chapter seems to have been written by Robin Laws. I make this guess because it looks like it could have been copypastaed from other Robin Laws books and explicitly keeps itself speaking in generalities, story structure, and table dynamics. In short: something that could be written by someone who honestly doesn't know the 4th edition D&D ruleset and doesn't give a fuck. It's interesting to note that there are little text boxes here and there which contain references to rules, page numbers, and other books. These text boxes are clearly the work of a different author, which makes me wonder how much editing this book could possibly have undergone. K and I have made it difficult for people to tell where my writing ends and K begins or vice versa, and we don't even have an editor. Writing style shifts this abrupt within a published product are weird to me.

But it's not just that the text boxes are obviously written by another author. They are written by another author that vehemently disagrees with what the author of the main text is saying. This gets to its most surreal in the section on incorporating player input into the campaign world. The author of the main text (that is: Robin Laws) makes this utopian point about how when someone gives an idea of how to make the campaign world that you should try to incorporate the idea in at least an attenuated form. You know: the basics of cooperative storytelling. Then the compiler of the book (that is: James Wyatt) directs you to a piece of boxes text that furiously backpeddles all of that with this weird tirade about how if you took "Necrotic Damage" out of the game, then everything would collapse. And because apparently the game is so fragile that it can't persist without sputtering and collapsing if you combined two obscure damage types, you have to be prepared to shut those fucking players down if they suggest having a campaign setting where such obscure bullshit is dispensed with.

Laws essays are fun to read, and while I don't always agree with him, he does tend to sell his ideas well. In this case, the primary point he seems to have been asked to make is that as a DM you have to provide ways for the story to move forward even if the player characters fail. This is a point I find rather obvious, but was probably demanded quite early in the design specs for this book because the Skill Challenge rules in the DMG 1 involve players failing like all the damn time at everything they do. One of the more intrusive sets of boxed texts takes you through an example of play of deciding to play a game of D&D. This is a huge waste of space.

Despite the fact that it's a fairly decent read, this chapter is fairly bad for the book in my opinion. It's the first chapter, and it's basically not about D&D. It's about the philosophy of role playing, and it is difficult for me to imagine going to read it as a reference. Having it take up space in what is nominally a core rulebook is questionable, and leading with it is downright counterproductive. This book is supposed to be making the case for the reader to give 4th edition D&D another chance after the disastrous catastrofuck that was the initial set of releases. And it doesn't. This chapter presents a vision of collaborative storytelling that is enticing, but completely and unabashedly unrelated to the 4th edition rules.

Then, on page 20 the book segues into a Save My Game article from the web. It appears to be put in essentially unmodified from the original context, and it both repeats some of the points just made and also counteracts some of the advice from earlier in the chapter. Either this really...

...or the compiler of this book (James Wyatt) is really fucking lazy and wanted an extra page and a half of text and couldn't be fucked to find something that actually fit the flow of the book. Considering that the next half-page is taken up by boxed text containing a reprint from a blog entry of James Wyatt talking about how he reskinned a tiefling rogue into a fire monster from the Monster Manual because his son wanted to play one... I'm guessing it's the whole lazy as fuck thing going on. The blog entry not only doesn't even remotely belong with the text before or after it in the book, it actually serves to highlight how boring, flavorless, and limited 4th edition is as a game.

Several pages later, after we get a discussion about vignettes and a discussion about using polling data to craft campaign directions, and a bunch more chunks of boxed text padding, we actually get to something that could credibly be called related to James Wyatt's blog post about jerking his son around: a piece about "Companion Characters". This is the first part of the book that is really about the rules of the game, and it is an absolute train wreck. See, one of the places 4th edition really failed hard was in making the rules for player characters completely non-transparent with the rules for monsters. So naturally, any discussion of monsters who are on the same team as the players has to straddle those two incompatible rules systems - and the results do not compatiblize in this case.


Shortly after the printing of this book, they did a wholesale errata rampage where they changed all the NPC numbers by edict. I have no idea how that would impact the "quasi-NPCs" described in this sub-chapter. Then they have a set of rules for playing characters of different levels in the same party, which is a ham-handed attempt to fit City of Villains style sidekicking into the game. Apparently they felt that 4th edition wasn't being compared to an MMO often enough or with enough disdain, and that people who openly mocked it for shitting on verisimilitude so hard didn't have enough ammunition. So they implemented a system by which higher level characters took big "for no reason" penalties for hanging out with lower level characters in order to not overshadow them while leading them through newb zones.

Note: despite the fact that this is "The Paragon Play" book, the entire first chapter has pretty much nothing to do with Paragon play. It actually mentions the word paragon a few times in the boxed text, possibly to remind you of how much the primary chapter author didn't give a flying rat's ass about 4th edition rules or conventions. But these so-called "paragon" events are almost wholly irrelevant to the label. Example:
James Wyatt wrote:
Previously in the campaign, the paragon-level PCs had begun exploring the Underdark. They know of a dwarven stronghold that they hope to make their base of operations for their delving, but encounters with dwarf patrols have warned them that the dwarf king is unstable.

Does that sound especially paragonal to you? They have "begun exploring the Underdark"? How could that not be a 5th or even 1st level lead? I mean, it's not even that they are veterans of the Underdark, apparently this is something they have just begun doing. That counted as Name Level back in the GDQ days, but now Drow are in the basic book and you can fucking play one. Certainly, if you are in the part of the Underdark where there are fucking Dwarves and not gateways to the Demonweb Pits, you are hard pressed to convince me that this is a particularly high level concept.

That's it for Chapter 1. Five more to go, and the next one is Chapter 2: Advanced Encounters.

-Frank
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Red_Rob
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 12:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've never actually read any 4e, mainly due to the lukewarm reception it got here, but I'm interested to see what they were putting out under the banner.

So far it seems the book is remarkably light on actual useable info you couldn't get by reading various GMing blogs. What was the 'hook' for this book, general GM advice or additional rules?
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

4e is weird. I actuallh know a long time gamer that prefers it over 3.x and 2e. He played through both those transitions.

The couple times I've given it a try, my group of friends and I have had fun.

That aside, I love these reviews.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Quote:
Does that sound especially paragonal to you? They have "begun exploring the Underdark"?

In the 4eD&D framework, they did set up Underdark as "here be Paragon Tier"



I like most of the basic ideas of 4e (tiers, a set idea of level appropriateness)
I like the multiclass feat and hybrid classes. I don't like the execution though (same power schedule for everyone, bloat, and so on) But if I embark on a "D20 Fantasy Heartbreaker" project, I'd take 4e as the skeleton over 3e.
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Kaelik
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:57 am    Post subject: Re: Drunken Review: 4e DMG 2 Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
In this case we'll be going back to 2009, when 4rries still angrily insisted that 4th edition D&D was taking over everything and that the people who didn't like it were just grognards who couldn't get with the times.


Don't they still do that in the SA forums?
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ScottS
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:03 am    Post subject: Re: Drunken Review: 4e DMG 2 Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin
Not just scorn; biblical scorn...
Quote:
Robin Laws
Still looking for proof that this guy isn't actually meh. ("Feng Shui is awesome" doesn't count.)
Quote:
Does that sound especially paragonal to you?
That was probably an awkward callback to the fact that in their arbitrary tier breakdown, "being in the Underdark" meant that you were Paragon... (I ran the underground part of Night Below for 4e 14-20, and most of the printed stats for crap like purple worms, kuo-toa, mind flayers etc. all fell pretty much exactly in that level range.) Why is he talking about dwarves? Dunno.
Red_Rob wrote:
What was the 'hook' for this book, general GM advice or additional rules?
The hook was "We're fixing skill challenges... ferrealz this time!!1!11!1"
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Red_Rob wrote:
So far it seems the book is remarkably light on actual useable info you couldn't get by reading various GMing blogs. What was the 'hook' for this book, general GM advice or additional rules?

I didn't really get what the appeal was supposed to be for the 3.5E DMG 2 or Paizo's GameMastery guide either (which were also a rambling mix of general GM advice and optional campaign rules).

Has there ever been a really successful GM-only splatbook?
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fbmf
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hogarth wrote:
Red_Rob wrote:
So far it seems the book is remarkably light on actual useable info you couldn't get by reading various GMing blogs. What was the 'hook' for this book, general GM advice or additional rules?

I didn't really get what the appeal was supposed to be for the 3.5E DMG 2 or Paizo's GameMastery guide either (which were also a rambling mix of general GM advice and optional campaign rules).

Has there ever been a really successful GM-only splatbook?


Maybe the blue books in 2e? I didn't keep us with sales figures and the like back then; if it appealed to me I bought it.

Game On,
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Josh_Kablack
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Robin D Laws is really good at sounding like he knows what he is talking about, and has a reasonable idea what players tend to actually do at their game tables
.
By the elitist, perfectionist standards of the Den, that's not much - but compared to several other hacks who manage to work in the RPG industry, those are actually pretty rare talents and deep insights.

For other decent games he's been involved in writing, there's Gumshoe and Over the Edge.
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

fbmf wrote:
Maybe the blue books in 2e? I didn't keep us with sales figures and the like back then; if it appealed to me I bought it.

What blue books are you referring to? (Presumably they couldn't have seemed that popular to me if I'm not sure what you're talking about. Smile)

To be fair, I'm not sure I could even define a "GM-only splatbook" if you pressed me for a definition.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hogarth wrote:
fbmf wrote:
Maybe the blue books in 2e? I didn't keep us with sales figures and the like back then; if it appealed to me I bought it.

What blue books are you referring to? (Presumably they couldn't have seemed that popular to me if I'm not sure what you're talking about. Smile)

To be fair, I'm not sure I could even define a "GM-only splatbook" if you pressed me for a definition.


Books like Of Ships and the Sea
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Fuchs wrote:
Books like Of Ships and the Sea

Looking through some of the title, "The Complete Book of Necromancers" looks vaguely familiar, but that's about it. I think the GM was using it mostly as a source of extra bad guys, though.
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RobbyPants
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hogarth wrote:
I didn't really get what the appeal was supposed to be for the 3.5E DMG 2
Yeah, I can't remember off hand why I bought it when I did. I can say that it's by far the least-used book in my collection. About the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I liked was the Saltmarsh city setting.

About all I can think about other than that is the "interesting" NPCs (50-50 split multiclass NPCs that all suck terribly) and the NPC-only traits with prohibitive LAs if players insist on using them. Was that the book that handled mentoring/apprentices?
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

RobbyPants wrote:
hogarth wrote:
I didn't really get what the appeal was supposed to be for the 3.5E DMG 2
Yeah, I can't remember off hand why I bought it when I did. I can say that it's by far the least-used book in my collection. About the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I liked was the Saltmarsh city setting.

About all I can think about other than that is the "interesting" NPCs (50-50 split multiclass NPCs that all suck terribly) and the NPC-only traits with prohibitive LAs if players insist on using them. Was that the book that handled mentoring/apprentices?

Yes, it had the mentor/apprentice feats. I think the only things I ever used from it were the feat retraining rules (sometimes) and, on a single occasion, one of the apprentice feats.

What really boggles my mind is that Pathfinder is coming out with Ultimate Campaign, which will essentially be a DMG 3!

DMG 1 = Core Rulebook
DMG 2 = GameMastery Guide
DMG 3 = Ultimate Campaign

I think they're starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for ideas...
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Fuchs wrote:
hogarth wrote:
fbmf wrote:
Maybe the blue books in 2e? I didn't keep us with sales figures and the like back then; if it appealed to me I bought it.

What blue books are you referring to? (Presumably they couldn't have seemed that popular to me if I'm not sure what you're talking about. Smile)

To be fair, I'm not sure I could even define a "GM-only splatbook" if you pressed me for a definition.


Books like Of Ships and the Sea


From what I recall, those books pretty universally sucked balls. The Castle Guide was decent, but I found the economics a little fucked...besides, I had the 1E DMG and the old BECMI stuff, which had prices for castles and shit that I liked better.
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TarkisFlux
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hogarth wrote:
Red_Rob wrote:
So far it seems the book is remarkably light on actual useable info you couldn't get by reading various GMing blogs. What was the 'hook' for this book, general GM advice or additional rules?

I didn't really get what the appeal was supposed to be for the 3.5E DMG 2 or Paizo's GameMastery guide either (which were also a rambling mix of general GM advice and optional campaign rules).

Has there ever been a really successful GM-only splatbook?


I have fond memories of the DM Option: High Level Campaigns book from late in the 2e run, but I was 16 or something stupid when I got it and I have no idea if it aged well. It's got a sketch of the 'epic' advancement that later showed up in 3e, including the 'create your own epic spells' thing. I should probably do that one after I get around to reviewing BATTLESYSTEM.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 7:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Chapter 2: Advanced Encounters

This chapter begins with a picture of a couple of Grimlock warriors and a Drow cleric crossing a rope bridge in a menacing fashion. I'm pretty sure this is supposed to show us that we are in Paragon Territory now. This really just shows how sad the 4th edition concept of advancement is. Grimlocks are just biggish dudes with greenish skin and sharp teeth who happen to be blind, wear no armor, and use only stone tools. I mean, think about how that is different from an Orc: he can't see, he doesn't wear armor, and his ax is made of stone instead of steel. Everything that you can describe as being distinct from the "Orcs run across the bridge with axes" encounter you had at first level is something that makes them sound weaker. And yet, in 4th edition this is the defining point that we are supposedly having a high level adventure... the fact that our enemies have lost metalworking and their eyeballs.

This chapter opens up telling you that they are going to cover a lot of ground. What this actually means is that they are going to ask you to put a lot of fiddly bits into encounters. This is because 4e encounters are, to put it bluntly, pretty boring and simplistic. The DMG2 attempts to work around this by basically suggesting that you put a lot of stuff into each battlefield that has special rules. The Players still spend a half dozen rounds using the same at-will ability over and over again (because they only have two at-will abilities and one of them is going to be more appropriate), but if the DM is juggling enough things on the table, then at least hopefully something interesting is going on. This information is delivered in 8 mini-chapters.

The first of the mini-chapters is about "Encounter as Story". This is the part where they tell you that random encounters are less meaningful than plot-based encounters. While basically true, this advice is almost exactly what 4e doesn't need. 4e is already too railroady, too combat centric, and not world-driven enough. Telling DMs to go about doing high drama and plot exposition during the encounters just makes those encounters even more so. For bonus points, the examples are almost all in terms of fighting a group of Orcs, which really reinforces the "always fighting Orcs" feel that 4th edition has going.

The second of the mini-chapters is about working "player motivations" into the story. If that sounds like it doesn't really have fuckall to do with encounter design, you're pretty much right on. This is another tired "Men are from Neptune" style of arbitrary classifications of players into broad groups, with suggestions ranging from inane to insane about how to appease them. Apparently a player who is an "actor" might be interested in monsters having personalities and might even want to be able to impact NPC actions with social skills. It really says something deeply terrible about 4th edition as a game, where they start thinking that influencing NPC actions with social skills is something players might want to do after the game has been out for a full year and the original lead has gotten his ass fired. There isn't really a proposed social system here, just a hilarious admission that some players would probably be happier if there was one. Go go gadget Rule Zero! This part incidentally has sidebars not only from James Wyatt "dungeonmastering for dummies" reprints (yes, really) and dungeonmastering.com and shit, it also has a text block from Robin Laws, who helpfully points out that the usual D&D setup of villains showing up only once and getting killed is less satisfying than having them show up a couple of times before they are finally defeated. He has zero suggestions of how to do that in 4th edition rules, which continues to reinforce my suspicion that Robin Laws doesn't know 4th edition rules and doesn't give an actual fuck what they are. I think it important to note that the classification of players is the same bullshit list as from page 8 of the 4th edition DMG1, just padded out to be much longer. What was just over 2 pages of bullshit about how some players are powergamers and some players are watchers is now expanded to 8 pages of this tripe.

After that, we get something that is actually about encounter design and 4th edition rules. Specifically a two page tirade about running with larger or smaller parties. The larger party advice is good (throw in more monsters and bigger battlefields rather than increasing the power of the individual monsters), and the smaller party advice is kind of shitty (use more minions or add those non-functional Companion Creatures to the party so that half the battles are the DM masturbating himself). Apparently, most of this is "adapted" from a "Dungeon Master 4th edition for Dummies" book, which says a lot about this book and 4th edition generally.


4th edition has a really really bad encounter pacing problem. The game is set up so that a paragon character has 3 Daily abilities and one action point that can be used every other encounter. Other abilities are usable either at-will (2) or once per encounter (4). The encounter powers are used up quickly in every single encounter, and the rest of the battle is spent spamming an at-will or drawing upon one of the extremely limited number of Dailies. So the mini-chapter on encounter attrition is basically fucktarded from the get-go. It suggests various models like "the spike" where the characters use "all" of their resources in one major encounter and "escalation" where the characters use more resources in each subsequent encounter. But we're still talking about the spending of three distinct Daily abilities! So three encounters of "spike" are "0,0,3" while three encounters of "escalation" are "0,1,2". That's it. That's the only available difference, because 4e characters don't have fungible resources that they can attrition or not in response to challenges being harder or easier. What's really weird is that when 4e came out, they said that the entire point of scrapping the first version (on which the Tome of Battle was based) was because they drew an absolute line in the sand that Dungeons and Dragons had to be all about encounter attrition. And the encounter attrition they actually gave us was total bullshit. And the four pages they devote to discussing the possibilities for attrition of resources in the DMG2 are fucking hopeless.

Movement in 4th edition is basically pretty stupid. Characters by default can move diagonally without cost and AoEs are giant squares. If you move 6 squares west, there are 13 different squares you can end up in and 729 possible paths you could take. This spectacular degree of options doesn't make movement tactically deep, it makes things extremely shallow. If there's some enemy between you and where you want to go, you can just go around them, usually at no cost. If there's a lava pit or a column of stone, you can just go around it. For all of 4th editions extremely numerous piles of pushing and hopping and shifting, it doesn't usually make fuck all difference because basically people can go wherever they want and being a few squares north or south doesn't actually matter. The DMG2 addresses this in two sections back to back, which are about "Creating Movement" and "Terrain" respectively. Basically this can be summed up with the idea that by having a ludicrously cluttered battlefield that has a bunch of extremely narrow choke points on it, that you can force peoples' movement to actually matter.

The actual terrain they produce to accomplish this is actually incredibly insulting. To fit with their "always fighting Orcs" motif and their "encounter treadmill", they have shitty terrain like "Boltstone" that is "lightning infused rock" that electrocutes you every time you step on it. The kicker here is that the boltstone does more damage to higher level characters. That sounds like a parody of 4th edition's encounter treadmill bullshit, but that's actually how it works. When you are higher level, you have bigger bonuses to stand on slippery surfaces, but the difficulty of slippery surfaces goes up, so you never make any real progress. 4th edition's treadmill is absolutely insane and totally infuriating. I have no idea why they do this shit.



Traps have always been weird and kind of shitty in Dungeons & Dragons. on the one hand, pit falls & bolt traps are a classic genre trope. On the other hand, that shit gets old fast. Having traps be in any way interesting in the game is just really hard. Veteran caution makes for a good visual in a movie or description in a book to show that a character is hard boiled and bad ass, but it just takes a fuck tonne of table time to describe in a game and is mostly metagame fuckery in any case. The DMG2 has a discussion about traps, but it mostly boils down to shitty lists of how much damage a dart trap should do at different levels so that it's properly 4th edition in that it never feels like the PCs are making any real progress relative to their environment despite the fact that their numbers keep going up. This goes on for more than 10 pages, with example encounters where one monster is replaced by a trap over and over again. It's brain melting.

The final bit of the chapter is just a couple of pages of wrap-up that is itself partially outsourced to web articles and largely filled with a description of a sample encounter with some devils to try to pretend that this is a big explanation of encounter design rather than a couple pages of hack work to fill space.

Chapter 3: Skill Challenges

The Skill Challenges of 4th edition were one of the most highly anticipated ideas of the edition and without a doubt the biggest single fuckup that any edition of D&D has ever had. The concept was that you would have a system for combat challenges, and a system for out-of-combat challenges. And the non-combat challenges system was called "Skill Challenges". People really liked the sound of having a unified non-combat encounters system, but what actually got delivered was... not good. In fact, it was so terrible that it was clear that the system hadn't been mathhammered or even ever actually played before it got released. It was less than worthless. I could go on for hours and pages about that particular clusterfail, but as it happens I Already Did! Seriously, if you need a refresher on how awful Skill Challenges were at release and even how awful they kept being after their numerous errata in the first few months, read that old thread.

So with the DMG2, the authors were in quite a situation. Even after having shat on the open mouths of their waiting fans, there were a fair number of people desperately hoping that Skill Challenges could be made functional. The concept, if not the execution, was still popular. Lots of fans held out irrational hope that the magic game designers were deep thinking this problem and that they would pull the nugget of gold out of the nuggets of dingleberries they had so far been offered. People wanted the designers to succeed at this. Lots of people were ready to accept any statement from the designers that they had fixed it at face value and run off with whatever the DMG2 handed them to get their heart broken all over again if it turned out that the offering was another failure.

As it happens, this is a fairly frequent situation for a game company to find itself in. You have a mini-game which is popular in abstract, but which is currently written up as an unplayable mess that can only stagger forward after being patched together with mind caulk at each table. I leave it as an exercise for the reader what a company or a game designer should do in such a circumstance, but what they actually did was to throw a bunch of garbage at the wall and hope something sticks.

Sure, that sort of "throw out some game mechanics and hope players will make something out of it on their own" system is used fairly often. But this chapter really goes the extra mile. I have literally never in my life seen a taller or more jumbled pile of incoherent mechanical ideas. This chapter has nine authors. That is not a joke. It should be a joke, but it's not. This chapter alone has nine authors in it. Minimum. It may actually have more than that, because some of the pieces aren't credited.

It's twenty four pages long and presents literally dozens of wholly incompatible suggestions for how you might want to run skill challenges. It gives examples of play right next to descriptions of possible rules variants that don't match up in the slightest. It throws out toggles of changing skill inputs, group skill checks, sectioned challenges, and all kinds of other crap that doesn't address the fundamental issues.

This is without a doubt the largest attempt to achieve balance by sleight of hand that I have ever seen. I complained when Skip Williams had two incompatible readings of Polymorph that he switched between in order to fight off criticism from two different directions. But this is like twelve times that.

But with like, thirty cards. Also, no Ace.

The core issue that tracking group failures inherently means that contributing less than the most contributing player means that you are contributing negatively to the group if you do anything at all. This is an unforgivable, and extremely easy to fix piece of bullshit. And they don't do a fucking thing about it.

That's I think the weirdest part of this chapter. With all the garbage they threw at the wall, their real fundamental problems really weren't all that hard to address. They could have fixed Skill challenges in just a couple of pages and spent the rest of their wordcount on examples of play or sample scenarios or some shit. Instead they just printed up two dozen pages of the previous year's scrawled ramblings by nine different people who weren't talking to each other, and the result is so disjointed that we can't even call it a result. And it's all bad. Horribly, unforgivably bad.


They try so hard to be sexy...

-Frank
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 7:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank Trollman wrote:
When you are higher level, you have bigger bonuses to stand on slippery surfaces, but the difficulty of slippery surfaces goes up, so you never make any real progress. 4th edition's treadmill is absolutely insane and totally infuriating. I have no idea why they do this shit.

It's certainly poorly explained, but the idea behind it isn't that unusual: Some skill tasks get easier with levels and some don't. The ones that don't automatically get easier instead require a higher attribute or a feat or a class feature in order to improve your chances.

In 3.5E (which has fixed DCs), that's modeled by having a PC able to invest skill points in Climb but not able to invest skill points in Strength checks to break down doors. So you have master climbers but not master door-break-downers.

In 4E, that's modeled by adding the PC's level to all checks, and keeping a fixed DC for skills that are expected to improve (e.g. climbing a cave wall is an Athletics DC of 15) and using variable DCs for checks that are not expected to automatically improve.

Of course, they didn't just come out and say that, so it looks like gibberish the first time you look at it.
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Krakatoa
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank, what it's it like being so profoundly wrong? Does it hurt? Is ignorance really bliss. Do tell.
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erik
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Whoops. Don't worry folks, I got dis.

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fectin
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2013 11:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:

The core issue that tracking group failures inherently means that contributing less than the most contributing player means that you are contributing negatively to the group if you do anything at all. This is an unforgivable, and extremely easy to fix piece of bullshit. And they don't do a fucking thing about it.


That's only true without some sort of limit on how often each player can roll (e.g., time limits, and checks take time).

Is there really no such limit?
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Here's a fun target for Major Creation: hydrazine. One casting every six seconds at CL9 gives you a bit more than 40 liters per second, which is comparable to the flow rates of some small, but serious, rocket engines. Six items running at full blast through a well-engineered engine will put you, and something like 50 tons of cargo, into space. Alternatively, if you thrust sideways, you will briefly be a fireball screaming across the sky at mach 14 before you melt from atmospheric friction.
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ScottS
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

fectin wrote:
Is there really no such limit?
Nope. (It's still X successes before 3 failures as of 2010/Rules Compendium/Essentials. There was an alternative rules set called Obsidian which did pretty much what that other Den thread suggested: tallied up total successes over a fixed number of rounds, rather than end it as soon as you get 3 fails. But those changes didn't find their way into 4e.)
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ishy
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Krakatoa wrote:
Frank, what it's it like being so profoundly wrong? Does it hurt? Is ignorance really bliss. Do tell.
For those of us not in the know, what is Frank wrong about?
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Bigode wrote:
I wouldn't normally make that blanket of a suggestion, but you seem to deserve it: scroll through the entire forum, read anything that looks interesting in term of design experience, then come back.
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Koumei
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

In a few months, his prediction about Czechia will likely turn out wrong. There's something where we can point and say he's objectively wrong. If you want more, you'll need to dig into the threads of arguments (F vs K crops up a lot) and pick a side.
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shadzar
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:41 am    Post subject: Re: Drunken Review: 4e DMG 2 Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:

A Note on Conspiracy Theories
While the dude who got the boot for the failure of 4th edition to right itself in 2009 was Andy Collins, his contributions to the actual flagship rulebook of the new direction was fairly minor. The main designers were James Wyatt, Bill Slavicsek, Mike Mearls, and Robin Laws. Robin Laws was a mercenary brought in because he is acknowledged in the industry as the man whose is the absolute best at writing things that sound like sagely wisdom on the subject of MCing a game.


Robin Laws? The moron who couldn't check copyright to find out a vastly popular game existed with the name Hero Quest (copyright Milton Bradley/GW), when he renamed his crappy RPG from Hero Wars, to the existing product name to cause confusion, is supposedly a good writer?

is this the twat you speak of?
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good read (Note to self Maxus sucks a barrel of cocks.)
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