Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Culture of Pluses

I'm an avowed follower of D&D blogs, particularly old-school ones, and there were a couple things on the Gamerdome blog (link disabled) that struck me.

One was a post on the Sphinx in 4e, and how it was metagamey rather than relying on cleverness, and how you could turn it to a more narrative device like the original source material. Another was a post about how D&D has turned into a "culture of pluses," squeezing every last bonus out of the books to make your characters more efficient. As Propogandroid says in the Sphinx post: "What happened to the days when players were supposed to be clever instead of just relying on dice and character sheets to do everything for them?"

Which has been my problem from the start. The page after page of rule after rule in 3E makes the unified d20 mechanic something of a joke. It's like it was written for 10-year-olds who had never run a game before, by making a rule on page 456, paragraph 3, subsection 7 that farting while moving gives a +.001" to movement. What was even worse was the 3300+ Feats that cropped up, plus the insane amount of Prestige Classes, making it, well, not so prestigious to be in one. Somehow, real roleplaying and storytelling got tossed to the side of the road to hitch a ride on another game.

The Gamerdome's author has done away with the unified mechanic to cut down on the culture of pluses. I propose something a little different. Whether it is more or less radical than Propangandroid's solution remains to be seen.

In Daniel Bayn's excellent Wushu, the players describe what's supposed to happen, then they roll to advance the scene to its end. They have a certain number of successes needed within a certain time limit to end the scene well. From the core rules: "everything happens exactly as the players describe it, when they describe it...The player is within rights to describe never "failing", or to never describe "succeeding", but regardless their character can still advance a scene towards it’s end."

In our re-tooling of the D20 mechanic, you describe your action as well as whether you achieve your goal or not. The bonus you get to your action is based on how well you describe your action. The player's description can be (and often is) more than one sentence. Each cool thing that happens could give you +1:

"The character eases her blade from her scabbard (+1), sunlight glinting from it as it clears the sheathe (+2). She drops easily into attack stance (+3) and prepares to skewer the sweating soldier (+4)."

Then you roll a d20 and add your +4 to it, or however much you gained from describing your action. You could even put a hard limit on it, like level +3 or something.

Handling failure could be more than simply "you missed." It could be something where the character's foot slips while dropping into attack stance, it could also be a gradual thing like damage being reduced, for example, "You missed by 2 so that's -2 to damage."

In my opinion, way better than Feats and Prestige Classes. You use your imagination while fighting, rather than calculating AoO. I've got a way to handle Feats and Prestige Classes,too, but more on that later.

Unfortunately, since I've written this it appears that Gamerdome has been hit with a Trojan, and it's not safe to go there. My avast antivirus gives me all kinds of grief when I try. I wouldn't suggest going there for a bit.

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