On Why the Character Build Restricted Role-Playing from the People

I like girls. Do you like girls? How about your friends? Do you like them?

@rjbs said...

Can you elaborate on the comment that "The issue of 'Character Builds' is eliminating millions of people from playing Dungeons and Dragons."?

Sure.

We're going to play a game. I think this game is so cool. It's more fun then any game I've ever played.

However, before you start to play, you must make a dozen unchangeable choices, with many options that are explictly more poor then others, without knowing all the different things these choices can affect.

Or, to be more percise. The entry expereince for a first time player. i.e. what I have to take them through if I meet cool people and want them to play in my games.

0e
Roll 3d6 6 times
Pick Class
Roll HP
Roll Gold
Purchase equipment
Go

3.75e
Distribute point buy (with no information or idea on all the various things stats can affect)
Pick Race
Pick Class
Pick Feats (from four pages of feats)
Pick Skills (from a long list)
Roll Gold
Purchase Equipment
Go

The first has a new player rolling dice in seconds, and a complete character in about 5 minutes, and then playing, using their own life experiences and skill for success.

The second is several hours of explaining options and talking about stuff that is unengaging to the player while they look at lists and lists of stuff that has no meaning for them.

35 comments:

  1. Now my 'home' game is 1e, which adds in the complexity of race/class, level limits, and weapon proficiencies. We also use ACKS proficiencies.

    This adds a few minutes to the process. Race is selected, then we discuss classes and level limits. Then when buying equipment I remind them they can only use a few weapons. I let them leave proficiencies blank until they decide what they want during play. Not quite as fast as 1e - still hitting play in under 20 minutes for a new character. And they will never discover later on that they made a wrong choice that will doom them to being less effective then their peers.

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  2. Good idea on deciding on proficiencies within play - eliminates that horrible "damn, I really wish I had that skill" syndrome.

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  3. A couple of interesting quotes:

    "while I had enjoyed being a participant in a fantasy role-playing adventure, I wasn't ready to do the work needed to set one up... if only the concept could be translated into a format that would require no laborious set-up and no referee—a game that could be taken out of the box and played instantly, yet be different every time."

    Terence Donnelly, on The Sorcerer's Cave.

    "I had it in mind to come up with a way we could have all the excitement of a role-playing adventure without all the hard work of creating characters and drawing maps."

    Bob Harris, on Talisman.


    From the perspective of players of well-known 'family' board games, rolling 3d6 seven times then making a whole bunch of decisions (and rolling for Hit Points) is a lot of stuff to do before you can start playing.

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  4. Character "building" was one of the biggest turn-offs for me when I started playing 3.5 (my first RPG experience), so I do agree with the point of this post. And I'm proof that what you're saying about creating characters is doubly true for new players.

    On the other, and this is more true for old players than new ones, new school games with a large character building element actually don't seem as horrible if you start to look at them as about character building rather than role-playing, or at least as more about character building than old school games are. If you listen to players of 3.5, they talk about their builds a whole lot, in some cases more than their actual game sessions. Two of my players in my S&W campaign enjoy creating builds for 3.5 characters a whole lot. Now, that's absolutely not my cup of tea, but I don't get so mad at 3.5 and other systems that require character building when I accept that, the way some people play it, it's really a game about creating character builds, with role-playing being more about testing your build than being the actual point of the way they play the game.

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  5. @anarchist: That may be so, but D&D also requires a somewhat higher minimum threshold of mental energy during play than does, say, Monopoly. If someone isn't willing to expend even the effort needed to create an OD&D character, then it's doubtful they'll get much fun out of the game anyway. I wouldn't invite those people to play something like Diplomacy with me, either.

    Even so, if you wanted to there's no reason you couldn't strip the game down further. Get rid of classes, everyone's a fighting-man. Get rid of ability scores, you can do without them. Don't buy equipment, just make sure there's useful stuff lying around in the dungeon that they can pick up. Without fundamentally changing the game, you can theoretically reduce character creation down to:

    Pick a weapon (optional)
    Roll hit points

    Everything else can be reintroduced without much trouble over time as the players get used to the game.

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  6. Perhaps the 3.X grouping of games could be improved by enhancing the starting package system. Skills & feats are already taken care of, so the only thing which is added is the race selection, which is largely flavorful anyway.

    Also, while I know it's not this way in 4e, many/most I don't know any 3.x player who doesn't still roll for his stats. Though 4d6 is more common.

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  7. That is why you talk a new player and find out what character they want to play and make most of the character for them. Leaving some blank spots to be filled in during play even.

    The mechanics are fun for some people, but most people just want to play a fun imaginary character, especially at first, and are not that interested in the nuts and bolts of character creation. So why burden them with it?

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  8. @seaofstars Why should I "build" a character for a player? I'm not any more interested in the nuts and bolts of character creation than they are. Clearly it's not adding anything to the game for either of us, so why bother with it at all?

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  9. You can get the best of both worlds with a well-designed template system. In theory.

    In my experience, though, a dozen templates or so represent the most useful builds, and you start to wonder why you still have the full build system around. Though it depends upon the granularity of the system. In GURPS you’re more likely to find a worthwhile variant from the “norm” than in d20 D&D.

    While I’m not crazy about build systems anymore myself, I’m not to the point of writing them off entirely. But, I avoid using them when there are new players in the group. Even if you try to get them to use the templates, I find many of them get tempted in to wanting to dive in and end up frustrated.

    For me, though, it comes down even more to the fact that I’m always trying to reduce the number and effect of mechanics in my games. Complex builds mean that I want to make sure those player decisions mean something by using all the mechanics the builds attempted to leverage. When, what I want, is for the players to be thinking about the situation instead of about mechanics.

    Now, life path character generation...that’s a more interesting topic to me.

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  10. Thanks for the extended explanation. I agree totally that chargen is out of control. Throwing together a high level PC for a one-shot is incredibly painful. I spent hours doing it for my players so we could mess around for a night. This was in 4E, where it's *much* worse, because there's "powers" selection for every class.

    I was confused because when you said "character builds" I thought you meant the suggested builds within a class, which exist specifically to alleviate the pain of chargen. I think they're a real red flag that show that the game is too complex.

    (Meanwhile, I liked 2E kits, which worked the opposite way; chargen remained dead simple, and if you wanted you could pick a very thin layer of complexity to lay atop it.)

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  11. I remember when I first played D&D (with the Holmes booklet), you rolled the dice and then the DM (who was the only one who had played before) helped us choose our characters. Being able to choose from dwarf, elf, halfling, cleric, fighter, magic user or thief seemed like a LOT of different choices at the time.

    I don't like the complication/non-random aspect of 3e character creation, but I'm the only one in my game group who feels that way. One of my fellow players says that he doesn't like that there is nothing that makes one fighter much different from another on paper in earlier versions of the game, and I guess I could return with that old chestnut about "how you play it" can make all the difference in the world, but that begins to sound like a pretty canned response.

    One of the things I have decided is that even though I don't like 3.5, Pathfinder, etc., they are not editions that were made with me in mind --- but, like a lot of things in life, other people love them so it must answer SOME desire on the continuum of what people want. Most of the players in my area loved 3,5e so much that they switched to Pathfinder when Wotc went to 4e simply because they LOVE the skills and feats and whatnot you get when you level. Maybe its the age/interest of the people I know who play D&D, but almost none of them play anything other than Pathfinder when they play "D&D." Which is sort of funny and sad to me, but, whatever.

    One of the things that one of the earliest DM's I played with did was assign skills like 'swimming' as we went along. So if a player character fell into a pit trap with water in it, the DM would say, "There is an x percentage chance that your character knows how to swim." If you rolled and succeeded, you could write, "I can swim!" on your character sheet. I don't know if he had these rules written down or just pulled them out of his ass as he went along, but he seemed to have some sort of logic to them... i.e.: if we found blacksmithing tools in the dungeon and wanted to repair or make something like a grapple hook, he would say, "Since you are a dwarf, I'll give you a +25% greater chance of knowing the basics of metal work..." so it seemed to have some logic to it.

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  12. In light of this post, I spoke with one of my coworkers. A couple months ago I ran a D&D 3.5 game for him and his ladyfriend. Neither of them had ever played before.

    So I asked him "Do you feel like removing the skills and feats would have streamlined, or limited the process of rolling your character?"

    His first question was how he would perform skill based tasks. I told him that some (such as lockpicking) would be relegated to only certain classes, others (such as knowledge checks) wouldn't be available, but that most (swimming, intimidate, balance, etcetera) would be based off of his ability modifiers.

    His second question was "Then how do I get better?"

    In the end, he said he felt it would do both. That it would streamline the process, but also result in feeling limited.

    Now, obviously this is not a scientific study. It's one guy's opinion, and I only have his opinion from *after* he'd been exposed to 3.5. (What one knows first, one likes best.)

    However, I would hold that more options is good. It allows players, as they become more advanced, to become more involved in their own character's development if they choose to. While GMs can spend their out-of-game time working on the next game, players get to spend some of their out-of-game time scrutinizing how to level their character.

    However, I would agree that it is necessary for characters to also be simple enough for a player to have one completely ready to play within a few minutes. The process of character creation needs to be streamlined significantly. I think I'm going to devote some time to seeing what I can come up with later.

    @Limpey The way your GM handled skills is amazing and awesome. There is certainly a large appeal to more random elements to play...but I can also understand a player wanting more control.

    As you suggest, I think this is a matter of different schools of thought which are equally legitimate.

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  13. "One of the things that one of the earliest DM's I played with did was assign skills like 'swimming' as we went along. So if a player character fell into a pit trap with water in it, the DM would say, "There is an x percentage chance that your character knows how to swim." If you rolled and succeeded, you could write, "I can swim!" on your character sheet. I don't know if he had these rules written down or just pulled them out of his ass as he went along, but he seemed to have some sort of logic to them... i.e.: if we found blacksmithing tools in the dungeon and wanted to repair or make something like a grapple hook, he would say, "Since you are a dwarf, I'll give you a +25% greater chance of knowing the basics of metal work..." so it seemed to have some logic to it."

    I think this is pretty awesome, and in actuality has the side effect of making a much more 'realistic' character than pre-selecting a handful of abilities. People throughout history have had a lot more knowledge and 'proficiencies' than 2e-4e give them credit for. If you're going to do any pre-selected ones, I think the previous career thing from 1e is the way to go, then augmented by the system Limpey mentions (kind of like languages in Flame Princess)

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  14. “His first question was how he would perform skill based tasks.”

    How this question is answered is key. In the past, I probably would have answered similarly to LS, and that’s probably a big reason I left D&D for Warhammer FRP, GURPS, Rolemaster, Hârnmaster, etc. It’s probably part of why d20 D&D appealed to me at first.

    Today, however, I’d answer it differently:

    The DM determines the chance of success by weighing the situation, the character’s level, the character’s ability scores and the character’s background. This is aided by a short discussion with the players about what the chances should be. (Rulings instead of rules, as they say.)

    But the DM has the final say for two reasons. (1) Because he may know things about the situation the players don’t. (2) We’ve chosen giving one participant (the DM) the final say as our way to settle disagreements.

    “His second question was ‘Then how do I get better?’”

    Find a teacher and convince them to teach you. Or if you can find a book on the subject, that might help. Or you could just try figuring it out on your own, but that’ll take longer.

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  15. His first question was how he would perform skill based tasks. I told him that some (such as lockpicking) would be relegated to only certain classes, others (such as knowledge checks) wouldn't be available, but that most (swimming, intimidate, balance, etcetera) would be based off of his ability modifiers.

    What about the way in which 1e or OD&D handles skill-based tasks; as a negotiation, so to speak, between the player and the DM? You can't argue that 1e is more limiting than 3.5, even if you don't necessarily agree with its methods.

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  16. I think I'm missing what this has to do with anyone liking girls or friends. They are also too hard to build? Outside of that I symapthetic to your argument though I haven't played later editions of D&D (I have played other build-heavy games).

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  17. One shouldn't over generalize. I have indeed seen a woman literally be reduced to tears over the choices to be made to create a 3.5 character. It was an 8th level character starting from scratch, but this woman was an engineer with roleplay experience.

    One the other hand, I have had another woman decline my game because C&C didn't give her enough character build choices. We were over-full at the time (running two concurrent sessions with two DMs) so I didn't suss that out completely.

    The difference in build time becomes more relevant when you're creating higher level characters. With old school, there is little additional time required (unless you're a spellcaster). With 3.x, each additional level is another round of picking skills and likely feats.

    Worse, 3.x allows many "suboptimal" choices, and what you pick one level will restrict your choices later. The complicated system of prerequisites and lousy choices is really 3.x's worse character building sin. Hackmaster takes time as well, but your current choices in placing build points don't restrict your future choices - allowing you to just pick and go.

    That said, while I would never run 3.x again, I did try a few sessions of a 3.x campaign. I went back to searching various character development forums and using a spread sheet to "plan my build". Sheesh. In retrospect I'd rather be playing and building my character by making roleplaying choices.

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  18. @Robert Fisher

    As I've mentioned in another thread, I tend to worry that I will unconsciously alter the difficulty of tasks based on whether I want the character to succeed or fail. While I might want them to easily be able to swim across a river, I may not want them to swim across a moat with equivalent width and depth. Providing the characters with a simple structure which attaches a number to how good they are at given tasks prevents that.

    But I would like to point out that I'm not saying 1e/OD&D is inferior to 3.5/Pathfinder in any regard. I don't know anything about 1e/OD&D, but they sound awesome. I want to learn from them.

    However, I fully agree that 3.5/Pathfinder needs some method of faster character generation for all levels.

    @John I would never say 3.X/Pathfinder is better than 1e/OD&D, because I've never played the latter. I want to. Grabbed some PDFs of the woodgrain box the other day, but my reading list won't give me time to go through it for awhile yet.

    Any suggestions on the best reading to learn 1e would be much appreciated.

    @Red There are people out there who take the game that seriously, but neither I nor any player I've ever had in the years I've been playing has ever done anything but choose what seemed like the most fun / most in-character. And I've never had a player whose character was useless.

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  19. As I've mentioned in another thread, I tend to worry that I will unconsciously alter the difficulty of tasks based on whether I want the character to succeed or fail. While I might want them to easily be able to swim across a river, I may not want them to swim across a moat with equivalent width and depth. Providing the characters with a simple structure which attaches a number to how good they are at given tasks prevents that.

    I can understand that. My problem was that, when I did that, the results too often seemed off. Because a mechanical system that is simple enough for tabletop play lacks the detail to keep wonky results to a minimum. I could fix that with ad hoc modifiers, but that’s just rulings in disguise.

    And while rulings may—in truth—give just as wonky results as rules, since they’re made by my group and me, they’re the kind of wonky that fits our expectations. ^_^

    That said, what works for you works for you. I’m not trying to say my way is right. Just trying to explain why my way works for me.

    My point was that what system works for me has changed as my approach has changed. When you talked to your friend about taking the “character build” away, you still presented a similar approach. This leads to a mismatch between the system and the approach. That’s even where the “character build” came from. It was created because the older game didn’t match the approach some players were bringing to it. (And I was one of them.)

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  20. @Robert Fisher

    Thanks for clarifying. I love how active commentators are on this blog. I'm learning as much from other readers as I am from -c.

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  21. This is the most over generalized and biased post I've read on the subject in a long time.

    You start your 3e steps off with point buy. That isn't the only option for generating stats. MANY if not most people still roll. The PHB dosen't even mention the point buy method until after describing the different methods of rolling stats.

    Secondly, picking skills is typically easy as your class description tells you your class skills and it is assumed you will use most of those. But you get the fun of dipping into less stereotypical skills for your class if you choose to do so.

    Feats, I believe there are only two pages (although the section with actual descriptions is longer) are easy to pick as well since you typically only pick ONE at first level.

    There are many different ways to play 3e+. In my game I use the skill method introduced in the 3.5 Unearthed Arcana book which suggests doing away with skill points. For a class skill you roll a d20+level+relevant modifier. For a non class skill your roll a d20+modifier.

    As for the race and class thing, there are VERY few people who still play with race as class even when playing older editions. I think that stopped a long time ago.

    If you take the hour or so to actually learn 3e character creation you can do it for the rest of your life within 15 minutes for every character. That's nothing.

    I think a lot of this kind of talk comes from the DM's side of the screen, where simplicity and streamlining is king. But the players, who don't get the joys of creating their own worlds, may derive a lot of joy out of adding little tidbits to their characters from time to time that separates them from the rest of the classes that are just like them. Sure this is accomplished by role playing as well, but it's nice to know that your ranger can shoot two arrows instead of one without having to make up some on the spot rule that may change from situation to situation.

    That brings me to another point. The argument that 3e+ rules are too abundant and weigh the game down, I have to disagree. For starters, you don't have to use them all, this has always been made clear. But it's nice that they are there for you to pick and choose from instead of having to come up with new rulings for every situation that may not be consistant. You can just grab the book and get a good idea of how to handle the situation.

    And this is all coming from a guy who really enjoys 2e and C&C, as well as 3e. I believe a happy medium between the two must be found, and this is made VERY easy and fun to do in 3.x with the abundance of material and home-brew out there.

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  22. @Ozreth: Since I specified Pathfinder (3.75e) I was explicitly not talking about 3.0 (which is better in this regard) or its earlier derivatives.

    The baseline expectation in pathfinder is point buy, there are no penalties to taking cross class skills (opening them up - though there is a bonus to taking class skills), and as far as your race and class comment, over half of the games I've participated in the last year (5) have used race as class (3).

    Just because you don't play in a lot of games with race as class doesn't mean people don't.

    We have a player that knows the rules and has been playing pathfinder for over two years, and he still regularly takes 5 hours or so to 'build' a character.

    Also: Your assumption that you have to have some huge list of feats and skills to add little tidbits to your character is incorrect. I can add what is inside those traits, skills, and feats to any old school character, you just have to ask if you want them, not spend the whole evening picking it out.

    If you read the earlier articles in the series, you can see the proof that design by limitation and a unified mechanic means that if I ad hoc rules, I am literally dis-empowering player agency, since so much agency is built into the 'build' of the character, and not play.

    I think you are responding to an old argument - not the argument that I am making.

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  23. @LS: When you read the original set, make sure to do so in the right context - i.e. as limitations and guidelines placed on freeform roleplaying and problem-solving. I've encountered the problem of a player coming from a later edition of the game thinking he couldn't do anything, because there weren't specific rules for combat maneuvers and suchlike, when, of course, the idea is that he could do anything, and breaking down that "tactical infinity", as one blogger coined it, into discrete rules instead of case-by-case adjudication would only limit his options.

    It's the number one misunderstanding I've seen between editions. 3.5 has an inclusive set of rules; that is, they try to be comprehensive and cover all possibilities, the players act according to what's in the rules, and they gain agency by knowing the rules and being able to use them.
    In the 1e DMG, Gygax recommends that the players be kept as ignorant as the rules as possible so as to "preserve the wonder" - that is, to preserve the total freedom of choice that comes with not acting according to any set of rules. The players act, and the situation is adjudicated according to their actions, the DM using the rules in the book as, when and if appropriate.

    Thus the misunderstanding. Late-edition players joining a 1e game tend to see having more rules as empowering, because they think having more rules means there are more things they can do. 1e players tend to see having fewer rules as empowering, because it means there are fewer limitations on what they can do.

    You might know all that already, but it's something I'm always eager to restate. I feel like if more people recognised the disconnect, a lot of arguments could be avoided.

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  24. @John I had a sense of that, but it's good to have it spelled out. Thanks.

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  25. If you want to learn about 1e/OD&D, you could always join a game through Constantcon, if you've got the spare time. I haven't myself, yet - busy, lazy, antisocial, prisoner of mundanity and all that - but playing an actual game has got to be more enlightening than listening to twits like me ramble.

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  26. John said:What about the way in which 1e or OD&D handles skill-based tasks; as a negotiation, so to speak, between the player and the DM?

    That was always one of my favorite things about older versions of D&D... the players often describe how they are doing something and the DM generates a ruling based on that. All of the games I had played before that had all sorts of restrictions on what you could do within the parameters of the game... but in D&D, one could create new parameters --- for example, crossing a pit by building a bridge out of furniture looted from other rooms. When we played 'Clue,' there were suits of armor, books on the shelves, etc., all drawn on the map... but you couldn't USE any of these things... they were just decorations. D&D was the first game I played that changed all that. If there was a picture on the wall, you could steal it, destroy it, look behind it, ignore it, etc.

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  27. I should add that I don't think 3e, Pathfinder, etc., specifically prohibits the process of action resolution by negotiation, but it just does not tend to happen as much in those games based on my experience of them. Part of that is probably that a lot of the 'tell me what you do' part has been codified into skill rolls (like search and knowledge rolls).

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  28. @-C: You've got to stop using such exaggerated speech to try and add weight to your argument, such as "you just have to ask if you want them, not spend the whole evening picking it out." I've never seen or heard for a person spend an entire evening picking out a feat or two. That problem would most definitely lie in the player, not the system.

    Also, I should clarify that I know you are mostly talking about PF, but when I say "3e" I mean all of it, since 3.0, 3.5, and PF are about as close to each other as AD&D 1 and 2.

    The thing is you still have to use your brain in 3.x. You still have to try unordinary things and think outside of the box, but now there are stronger guidelines to help with resolution, a resolution isn't just made up on the spot.

    A lot of old school games end up having a list of house rules to help figure out resolutions of unordinary tasks. It seems to me that once you have your own list in place, it is just the same as having the skill and/or feat list in 3.x. Any edition of D&D is nothing more than a list of house rules anyways : p

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  29. @Ozreth: See my post re: misunderstandings. To resolve unordinary tasks in 0/1e, you don't need house rules. You decide by consensus, negotiation, fiat, and when it's necessary to introduce risk, dice rolls adjudicated as per the situaton. You're not making rules up on the spot, those are the mechanics by which you resolve problems. If you find yourself writing down house rules to deal with an in-game problem, you're doing it "wrong" - that is, you're not doing it the 0/1e way. Certainly 3.x players' decisions are still meaningful, it's just that since the rules can't be infinitely complex, they're always going to bracket together and otherwise limit the players' options compared to a completely dynamic means of resolution.

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  30. I've never seen or heard for a person spend an entire evening picking out a feat or two. That problem would most definitely lie in the player, not the system.

    I have seen it happen. I’ve even done it myself. ^_^ I could concede that the problem is the player, but that just reinforces for me that there are players for whom 3e isn’t a good choice.

    A lot of old school games end up having a list of house rules to help figure out resolutions of unordinary tasks. It seems to me that once you have your own list in place, it is just the same as having the skill and/or feat list in 3.x. Any edition of D&D is nothing more than a list of house rules anyways : p

    Very true. I saw people playing “old school” games in ways I wouldn’t call “old school” long before 3e or even GURPS. That’s why I say the new school is as old as the old. To me, the biggest failing of the old games was that they didn’t seem to do a good job of getting some of these ideas—like “rulings not rules”—across. Or maybe I was just too dense to get it.

    That’s part of the difficulty of this. These things aren’t black and white. You can play newer games in an older style and older games in a newer style. (Though, as I said earlier, I think it works best when you have a good style/system match.) It is hard to phrase things in a watertight manner. I think it is important that we try to understand the gist of each other’s statements whether any percieved hyberbolé was intentional, rhetorical, or unintentional.

    (And, for what it’s worth, I have also played in a number of race-as-class games in recent years.)

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  31. @Ozret:
    "I've never seen or heard for a person spend an entire evening picking out a feat or two."

    Because it's never happened to you does not mean it never happens. (argumentum ad ignorantiam)

    It happened at the start of the pathfinder game I'm currently in, and from the examples above, it clearly happens. IMHE, it happens more often then not.

    What's more, the whole point of the post was about gaming with people who are new to gaming, new to even the idea of it. Some of these people did not like school and the throught of reading many pages of skills and feats causes their eyes to gloss over.

    If your point here is that you can just change the way character creation is handled to speed the process along for new players, then that is engaging in the rule 0 fallacy. Just because you can fix a rule by changing it doesn't mean the issue isn't a problem in the first place.

    "Also, I should clarify that I know you are mostly talking about PF, but when I say "3e" I mean all of it, since 3.0, 3.5, and PF are about as close to each other as AD&D 1 and 2."

    Composition fallacy: I made a statment about pathfinder. Addressing my arguments by talking about different versions doesn't address the argument.

    To address the new point you made
    "The thing is you still have to use your brain in 3.x.", the codified rules system works against this very fact - since it is so comprehensive, it leaves people, especially new people, feeling like if it isn't codified within the rules then they can't do it.

    "A lot of old school games end up having a list of house rules to help figure out resolutions of unordinary tasks."

    This is an assumption that this is the only way to resolve things. see noisms post about the Yoon-Suin game for an example that I play in.


    All that aside, I appreceate your comments. I think many of them are missing the point however, which is why is the fun so hard to get to for new players? And what do we gain by obfuscating the fun that much?

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  32. @LS
    "As I've mentioned in another thread, I tend to worry that I will unconsciously alter the difficulty of tasks based on whether I want the character to succeed or fail. While I might want them to easily be able to swim across a river, I may not want them to swim across a moat with equivalent width and depth. Providing the characters with a simple structure which attaches a number to how good they are at given tasks prevents that."

    The thing that jumps out at me from that quote is the DM's pre-conceived notion of what s/he wants to happen. This isn't the only time I've seen this creep into justifications of skill systems and it strikes me as very much cart-before-the-horse.

    The castle has a moat. The player wants to cross the moat. The owner of the castle does not want people to cross it and has taken precautions (the moat itself, the guards on the overlooking wall etc.) The DM's desire is not important here. His/her role is to referee the PC's attempts and the NPC's counter actions.

    I do think that the whole structure of DCs and feats in later editions is based on the idea that the DM is constructing a sort of probabilistic puzzle through which the players are going to attempt to thread a needle. Skill challenges are the epitome of that approach. But it's SO restrictive and so disconnected from the experience of the characters as people in a world that I can't imagine what the attraction is or could be as a role-playing experience.

    The 0e/1e approach to these situations is a lot more fluid. The dice are used, but IME mostly as a quality grader, not an arbiter of a binary success/fail choice. The biggest factor in deciding success and failure is the player's description of what the character is doing to ensure success. If the DM thinks that not enough has been done then perhaps the dice are rolled or perhaps s/he says "that won't work" and if enough has been done then perhaps s/he just says "that's fine; you're across without any difficulty".

    The player should be interacting with the environment, not so much with dice and numbers. Unless you're playing "Intellecto, the human calculator" the numbers are a distraction and a necessary evil, not something to be welcomed. I think a lot of 3e+ players and DMs (and publishers) forget just how many people really hate dealing with numbers.

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  33. @Nagora

    I appreciate what you're saying. If I may be so bold, though, if players, GMs, and publishers are all agreeing to 'forget how many people really hate dealing with numbers,' aren't they agreeing that they don't mind dealing with numbers? Is there some fourth group which needs to be happy with the role playing experience, besides players, GMs, and publishers?

    As I said though, I appreciate your point. How much preparation a player makes before attempting a specific task should affect the DC. Players should be more involved in what goes into their skill checks, rather than simply rolling to see if their character 'figures it out.' I think the best solution available to me, as a Pathfinder GM, is to modify my approach to skill checks.

    Also, I would lastly point out that I said "unconsciously." I would never, as a GM, actually allow myself to root for or against my players. It is my job to be an arbiter.

    That doesn't mean I don't have a preferential outcome I'm suppressing.

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  34. "Is there some fourth group which needs to be happy with the role playing experience, besides players, GMs, and publishers?"

    Sure: non-players. Isn't that what this blog post is all about - how to get new people into the system? Until they join in they are neither players, GMs, nor publishers. But without them the hobby will die as the current players age and leave/die.

    "How much preparation a player makes before attempting a specific task should affect the DC."

    But then you're back to the 1e model of the player saying "I do x,y, and z" and the DM either agreeing that it's enough on its own or deciding that you need to beat an arbitrary number s/he's picked based on what's been said. And at that point you've negated the intended purpose of having all those numbers on the sheet.

    My own thinking has been a lot like -C's in recent years. In a class-based system, I don't see what purpose tracking individual skill levels serve other than to muddy the water. If you *want* to formalize the ability to improve at your skills, then simply link them to the character's level and their normal training. If you're an 8th level fighter who's trained in landscape gardening, then you're an 8th level landscape gardener too.

    But, ultimately "tell me what you're doing and I'll give you a chance" works just fine.

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  35. This is the reason why we gave up on 3rd edition and returned to B-X/Labyrinth Lord.

    Chargen needs to return to simplicity.

    But just like surgeons like to use knives, guess what game designers like to do? lol

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