Monday, March 09, 2009

proof of an unbridgeable gap?

A couple days ago over at rpgbloggers I clicked through to the post Keep Randomness Out of Your Encounters out of sheer disbelief at the title of the post. I don't feel it's my place to run down 4E or its adherents, but I just don't follow the logic behind minimizing randomness in encounters. Why even use dice at that point? To me the whole impetus behind using dice is the tension inherent in the possibility that the situation could spin wildly out of everyone's control.

"After a few rounds, we ran like little girls." isn't the sign of a mechanically broken encounter, just one that didn't go the PCs' way. Hell, a good ol' fashioned party route can sometimes be the best encounter of the night: the wide-open eyes of the players, the heavy breathing, the frantic mental search for a way their character can escape their doom, the high fives when its clear that the PCs made it through.

Times like this make me suspect that it's a good thing we've got shiny new titles like Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and Labyrinth Lord for our old versions of D&D. It's getting harder and harder for me to see any real relation between Wizards' product line and what I do. I'm not one of those dudes who scours the internet for stuff to get mad at, but when I stumble across something like Trask's article linked above I feel a little weirded out. Reminds me of a TV movie about Elvis I saw as a lad. As I recall old fat jumpsuit Elvis was watching TV, flipping through the channels. He happened across something like a New York Dolls performance. The King's brain broke a little when he realized you could draw a straight line from his earliest material to these guys.

Some days it feels like Gygax and Arneson invented Craps and these new guys are selling Go with a picture of two six siders on the box. That's a pretty weird situation even if you like playing Go.

84 comments:

  1. I was recentlty in a thread on EN World where the distribution of treasure 3E, 3.5 and 4E was being discussed. It was eventually explained to me that many young and modern players believe they are owed treasure of a certain type and value. Players will come to a DM with lists of the items they want for their characters. If they do not receive these items (either through adventuring or readily available at some convienent vendor) they accuse the DM of being unfair or even not playing by the rules (4E's notes on items and treasure are admittedly confusing in this regard).

    I am not a 4E fan and indeed I am not much of a D&D fan and haven't been for ages. I'm a SciFi guy first (Traveller, Star Trek), a Superhero guy second (Mutants & Masterminds, Champions) and a Fantasy guy last (Ars Magica, more folklore oriented indies). This conversation I speak of cemented my feelings ten-fold. The attitude of many players, GMs, the design sense of WotC and all have just made D&D the last thing I want to look at now.

    And its a shame. My faith in my old friend is salvaged only by this blog and those like it.

    AD

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  2. I'm especially concerned with what one of the commenters over at livingdice had to say:

    That is why \DME\ (Dungeon Master Empowerment) has been specifically encouraged.

    Since when do dungeon master's need "empowerment"? When a game has gotten to the point where the DM needs to be specifically reminded in a module that he or she has the power to change things on the fly to make things fun, that game has lost me forever.

    More proof that "newer" isn't always "better".

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  3. Anonymous8:58 AM

    It's posts like this that make me think that I'll never find a group of players that are compatible with my old-school gaming sensibilities. Well, unless I want to play online, which I don't.

    (Verification word "bratti", whatever that's trying to tell me!)

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  4. I began my old-schooly BFRPG last Saturday and the dice were these magical devices that led to all sorts of wonderful events:

    1) I randomly generated the spellbooks for the 2 MUs in the party. They didn't get sleep or magic missile and they still fou nd ways to participate, especially the creative use of Magic Mouth as an ambush draw and camp alarm.

    2) Wandering Monsters rule. The most exciting encounter is when I rolled up an ogre. Ogres being scary, I rolled the hireling's morale and one bolted. The 1st level party managed to save the hireling and the kill the ogre without a single loss because the archer rolled a crit and the ogre couldn't hit a thing the whole time.

    Bless Dice!

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  5. On the other hand, a good chunk of the feedback to the original poster is of the "what are you complaining about?" variety. And his defense, which seems to equate to "this is a Living Campaign, so success should be assured, unlike a tabletop campaign", seems to reflect on the one hand that his expectations are off-base in a "real" campaign, and on the other hand a failure to see that failure, surprise, and bad turns of fate are, in fact, part of what makes RPGs enjoyable.

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  6. Jeff, to help erase any residual effects from reading that post, you'll need to create at least a dozen or so random tables. And then post them. Yes. That will remove all the bad feelings. I promise. (Hopes this works...)

    I understand exactly what you mean by feeling a disconnect and sadness. Then again, even if the rules were all still 1E, I have a feeling we'd hit people like this in our games. I still think our games reflect our society, and the evolution of D&D can track some societal changes in the past 30 years.

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  7. I like old D&D AND new D&D, planning shit out AND rolling shit randomly. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm alone in this.

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  8. Chgowiz, I don't think we can speak much of "evolution" in D&D lately. Rather speak of Hyborean-style degeneration.

    Seriously now, my 2 cents. When 4th Ed came out and the inevitable Edition Wars were re-ignited the one argument I kept seeing over and over again in defense of 4th, that actualy sounded solid was:

    "Wether you like 4th or not, it is a good thing for the industry/hobby because it will bring more people into roleplaying."

    However, if these "new people" are anything like that dumbarse who bitches and whines on a public forum because his party is forced to make a strategical retreat...then the argument above falls flat.

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  9. Ignore him, he is participating in a Living Forgotten Realms campaign.

    You will see this issue in ANY type of RPGs that involves a mass of players going through a shared setting. Whether it is a living table-top game, a MMORPG, or a Live-Action RPG.

    The basic issue that the game needs to be fair for all participants that the only difference between the encounter is the skill of the player not the random elements.

    The problem is that Wizards has let the concerns of the convention and living campaign influence too much of the design of 4e.

    Regular Table-top have totally different needs compared to that what is needed for conventions or living campaigns.

    This problem has bedeviled D&D from the get go and was a driver of the creation of AD&D.

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  10. First of all, while I don't agree with my buddy Trask in this circumstance, he's certainly not a "dumbarse", and to those of you who are ascribing it to just being 4e thing, there are many ways to play different systems. 4e easily could have wandering monsters, random tables, and all kinds of randomness. At the same time, I'm sure you could have completely meticulously planned out encounters in every older version of D&D that the party would always triumph over. It's easy to blame the system, but for me, it all comes down to playstyle.

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  11. Ignore him, he is participating in a Living Forgotten Realms campaign.

    You will see this issue in ANY type of RPGs that involves a mass of players going through a shared setting. Whether it is a living table-top game, a MMORPG, or a Live-Action RPG.

    The basic issue that the game needs to be fair for all participants that the only difference between the encounter is the skill of the player not the random elements.


    Then isn't elminating all die rolls the obvious logical step for these folks?

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  12. On the other hand, I've got a pretty fair idea that of the 30+ other non-D&D based RPG systems sitting on my bookshelf at home, not too many of them have "random encounter tables" in them. In fact, probably none of them. As best as I can tell, this is an idea mostly isolated to D&D and its derivatives.

    If you're coming from a system like White Wolf, or Savage Worlds, or Feng Shui, or more generic systems like GURPS or Basic Roleplaying, this idea that the DM/GM should be randomly rolling for and dropping "stuff" (and potentially overly-lethal "stuff" too) into the middle of the adventure doesn't seem to exist - or at least, if you're going to do it, it's entirely the job of the GM do design those rules for their own game.

    So maybe this doesn't apply to the specific situation / post you came across, but I imagine if you're a gamer who's never played in a RPG system where random encounters are part of the core rules (increasingly likely these days), and random monsters just wander around and suddenly turn up in the middle of the adventure, this might seem strange and/or annoying.

    I guess my point is, from a D&D-centric point of view, taking out random encounters is deviating from the "spirit of D&D". But when viewed from outside of the D&D sphere of influence, it might just be considered putting the game more in line with other modern semi-generic core RPG systems.

    Whether or not this is a good or bad thing, I have no opinion. I don't use random encounters, and if I do decide to drop some baddies into the middle of a boring trek through the woods on the way to the real fun, I decide what shows up and when, not a chart. But that's just me and how I game.

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  13. Off the top of my head Gamma World, Traveller and James Bond 007 all benefit from the inclusion of some random encounter tables.

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  14. "Off the top of my head Gamma World, Traveller and James Bond 007 all benefit from the inclusion of some random encounter tables."

    JB & GW being TSR games, I'm not surprised. Traveller being 32 years old, I'm not too surprised either.

    I wonder what the odds start to look at if you look at a non-TSR rpg less than 20 years old...

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  15. James Bond was from Avalon Hill, but I'll grant you the point that somebody keeps forgetting to include the wandering monster charts in modern designs.

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  16. Is it because that wandering monsters, in serving the purpose to guide the game in a specific direction, instead just annoyed enough people because they had failed experiences due to wandering monsters?

    As a kid learning to DM, I never fully grokked what wandering monsters were about. I would drop them in and sometimes would get close to a TPK. It's only recently that I've understood that they help enforce an old school adage - if you dawdle around too long, you're going to lose resources and time. You're in enemy territory. Although it may be metagame knowledge, if I see a party taking too long or doing things that could cause wandering monsters, I will suggest hints to them about their behaviour, or talk about it after the game.

    That is, BTW, a very nice idea from Gary & Co that I picked up - offer comments and accept critiques after the game.

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  17. "James Bond was from Avalon Hill, but I'll grant you the point that somebody keeps forgetting to include the wandering monster charts in modern designs."

    My bad - I was thinking of Top Secret S.I. rather than JB 007.

    As for the forgetfulness...no comment.

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  18. Then isn't elminating all die rolls the obvious logical step for these folks?

    I think that dice rolling is too much of a sacred cow. And predetermined rolls are a pain to implement.

    Look at the Judges Guild tourney mod. Skull and Scrapfaggot Green. I believe there is a page of nothing but random die result that the referee is supposed to use. So he starts at the top and check off each result as it's occurs. I will check it tonight and post a scan. So I have to say they tried doing it back in the day but dropped it.

    In Live-Action Roleplaying that is pretty much true. But not because of fairness because of the fact the one of the main points of LARPs is ACTION! so anything stopping action is considered a bad rule unless it is for safety. NERO used fixed damage and throwing a bean bag for spells.

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  19. Look at the Judges Guild tourney mod. Skull and Scrapfaggot Green. I believe there is a page of nothing but random die result that the referee is supposed to use. So he starts at the top and check off each result as it's occurs. I will check it tonight and post a scan. So I have to say they tried doing it back in the day but dropped it.

    In all fairness, that's an old wargamer's trick in the case of having to do many multiples of dice throws. I may not want to throw 10 to 12 four sided dice to calculate HP of a band of kobolds, so I'll use the charts. It's a nice timesaver.

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  20. I don't understand why the blogger in question doesn't just play Amber Diceless or Nobilis, or another diceless and 'non-chaotic' system. There's nothing wrong with hating randomness (though I can't understand why myself), but if you do, why play a game that even in its current iteration involves so much of it?

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  21. "Then isn't eliminating all die rolls the obvious logical step for these folks?"

    And replacing them with, oh, let's say a series of card draws from a pre-selected deck... ;-)

    I kind of found myself bemused by the article. What I took away from it was that a mediocre DM was fudging a railroaded module in a Living FR tourney game, and that a resultant near-TPK was somehow the fault of the *dice*, rather than of the poor standard of play at the table.

    Did I miss some key killer point somewhere, other than that the DM in question displayed no common sense at all?

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  22. First of all, while I don't agree with my buddy Trask in this circumstance, he's certainly not a "dumbarse".

    Since he is your buddy I will take your opinon with a fistfull of salt. :)

    It's easy to blame the system, but for me, it all comes down to playstyle.

    Of course, and as we all know the system as absolutely no bearing at all in the playstyle.

    Right?

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  23. The problem is that Wizards has let the concerns of the convention and living campaign influence too much of the design of 4e.

    Convention play has exerted an unfortunate influence over D&D since the beginning, unfortunately. That's not unique to 4e (I realize you're not saying it is), but it does seem to loom ever larger in the design than it did in earlier editions.

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  24. I'll grant you the point that somebody keeps forgetting to include the wandering monster charts in modern designs.

    Now I want to draw up a bunch of random tables for the Vampire game I'm semi-sorta-planning. A random feeding table is obvious -- generate the type of mortal, and any complications, based on location -- as is a more general random encounter table," both for city flavor and "you get hassled by Vampire X's goons" type incidents. And some kind of territory generation/faction generation would be handy.

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  25. Yes, the "It's not fair" warcry of modern society (she said, being careful not to use the taboo words 'young hooligan whipper-snappers')

    When life is fair, you can expect a certain amount of reward or retribution based on your actions. It's a game of Chutes & Ladders in which all you need to know how to do is count and let a grown person tell you what happens to you...but even C&L has a die roll to randomize the game..so imagine playing without the dice. You just put your pawn on the spot that will get you the best results possible and you'll never get a chute.

    And the game would be unbelievably boring.

    Life is much more interesting when you sometimes wake up to find an unexpected check in the mail..or win a free dinner for two because you were the one-millionth customer at the Kwik-Mart..or you find a +2 magical axe after slaying three lousy kobolds on the first level of a dungeon.

    Such happy events of course are counter-balanced by the proverbial s**t that happens..such as losing a family pet, losing your job, or finding yourself in the middle of a huge and growing swarm of dire rats. Sometimes you have to regroup, recollect, roll with the punches, butch up, buck up, or run like hell.

    And in the post linked to, one person whose name eludes me made the bright observation that unlike real life, the DM is empowered to intercede if the game seems to be tilting unjustly out of the PCs favour.

    "Life is for the one who is not afraid to die."

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  26. blizack said...

    "I like old D&D AND new D&D, planning shit out AND rolling shit randomly. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm alone in this."

    You're not alone, since I feel very much the same way. I can see why many players (and DMs/GMs for that matter) envision this situation as a binary opposite that pivots on the use of random encounters--either use random encounters or don't roll dice--but I don't understand why this has to be a game-wide, mutually exclusive dichotomy. What if the game calls for randomly generating player characters, but the narrative of the game itself works better with active engagement with a character's skill sets, and within a setting that is completely planned out (by the DM or author) based on the contextual elements of the campaign world? Sometimes even rolling random encounters is itself a scripted element of the game. So to me, the game doesn't exist on either end of this continuum, but within the gap itself.

    I also don't know why this perceived dichotomy has to be equated to an "old-school" and "new-school" generational divide. Certainly games from past to present have had varying degrees of randomness and scriptedness, so it seems like we would be remiss as DMs/GMs to implement an "all or none" rule regarding rolling, since so much depends on each individual realization of game mechanics.

    I hate to add another dimension to this, but don't we have a similar issue with using miniatures in the table-top dimension? Did Gary intend miniatures to be used, or was the game designed differently? Somewhere between the realms of intent/design and application/mechanics, all of these issues get somehow muddled...

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  27. I also don't know why this perceived dichotomy has to be equated to an "old-school" and "new-school" generational divide.

    3d6 chargen. Wandering monsters. Save or die. Rust monsters eatng my sword. Level draining. Random treasure (possibly no treasure). Dave the Game may be right and what I'm talking about is a 'playstyle' issue, but the playstyle that I learned from D&D is no longer one supported by D&D. That's why it looks generational to me.

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  28. I mean, I get what you're saying and that makes sense, so fair enough (like I said, I understand the divide when it concerns a shift in what the dice do or do not handle). I just tend to see the various editions of the game as far less "fixed" or "static" in and of themselves, so I guess that means we're using the word "generational" differently in this context.

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  29. Anonymous12:42 PM

    I find it baffling that what is basically a complaint over the randomness of a single power as applied by a Living judge has become "People who play 4e want no randomness in their game and want assured victory in everything... oh, and they suck as people too." Wow.

    Firstly... the Living rules are special (in many definition of that term). They do not represent what a standard home game is or does and have had issues since long before 4e, and will continue to have issues until this is all done with advanced AI systems over the computer. :P. They represent a compromise between those rules and the controls you need in place to account for the varied players and GMs that any given group will have during that con game. And, unfortunately for many, this will represent the closest thing they can get to a real campaign if they have no one to play with as a group.

    Secondly... there is randomness and then there is randomness. I don't think the original poster wants to remove dice from his game. The randomness of damage and crits is one thing to factor for. It can still only take some much damage, and make some many actions a turn. But as soon as you give the ability to generate more creatures, with more actions and more HPs and more of everything a creature can do... it gets hard to balance for. And I think that's an important distinction.

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  30. Randomness forces ingenuity and creativity, and ingenuity and creativity are fun!

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  31. Anonymous12:48 PM

    "3d6 chargen. Wandering monsters. Save or die. Rust monsters eatng my sword. Level draining. Random treasure (possibly no treasure)."

    You know... I've been playing the game for somewhere upwards of 20 years now and I have to say I hated rust monsters, 3d6 in order, race as class, level draining and wandering monsters since I started playing. Maybe I was born into the wrong gaming generation... but this whole "it's these new young gamers" and "they are gaming wrong" mentality really does ware on the nerves.

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  32. But as soon as you give the ability to generate more creatures, with more actions and more HPs and more of everything a creature can do... it gets hard to balance for. And I think that's an important distinction.

    Why does there need to be balance? If I see a tidal wave heading my way, I'm not going to complain about balance. I'm going to find something that floats or someway to get away, then figure out how to go on?

    Challenges, even "insurmountable" challenges are part of a game. I'm not always going to win. I don't need/want a game or mechanic to be balanced. I want the referee to be fair in his rulings. If I can't get it that these rats keep coming, and maybe getting the hell away is a good idea, then I deserve to die.

    In the end, it's a game. Even with a character that is played with for years. A game.

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  33. I find it baffling that what is basically a complaint over the randomness of a single power as applied by a Living judge has become "People who play 4e want no randomness in their game and want assured victory in everything... oh, and they suck as people too." Wow.

    Within the context of the overall changes in the game I don't find it baffling at all. An overreaction? Probably. Baffling, no.

    Firstly... the Living rules are special (in many definition of that term). They do not represent what a standard home game is or does and have had issues since long before 4e, and will continue to have issues until this is all done with advanced AI systems over the computer. :P. They represent a compromise between those rules and the controls you need in place to account for the varied players and GMs that any given group will have during that con game. And, unfortunately for many, this will represent the closest thing they can get to a real campaign if they have no one to play with as a group.

    The easiest place for Wizard's to go for feedback is the RPGA, so the Living Whatever play style is going to have a disproportionate impact on design.

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  34. You know... I've been playing the game for somewhere upwards of 20 years now and I have to say I hated rust monsters, 3d6 in order, race as class, level draining and wandering monsters since I started playing.

    Now it's my turn to be baffled. Have you been playing D&D those two decades? There are other games on the market with a distinct lack of rust monsters, random chargen, and level draining. I don't go around saying "I like football but it should be played inside, the goals should be small circles, and the ball should be spherical." I'd just watch basketball instead.

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  35. Anonymous1:22 PM

    Challenges, even "insurmountable" challenges are part of a game. I'm not always going to win. I don't need/want a game or mechanic to be balanced.

    Again, part of the issue here is arguing from a home game standpoint vs. the Living rules. You only have so much flexibility as a player in the Living rules. It's a flaw, truely, but it has to be accounted for. Thus, you need to worry about "balance" of encounters, and powers, because you aren't just dealing with you and your players. You are dealing with a mass of players and GMs and individual interpretations of those encounters and rules. And, from my experiences with the living rules, you don't have many options beyond "Win". You have 4 hours to get through everything in that module, or you loose out. If a combat is determiend to be the way it works, that is what you have to do. Out thinking it is only going to work with the most liberal of GMs, and probably not even then because they have rules to follow. At least, that was the way it was back when I tried it a few times in ye olde 2e days.

    And beyond that... "balanced" doesn't mean "I win" as I think you are implying I mean. Balanced means "I have a decent shot at getting past this encounter and on to my end goal.". Maybe that means killing the creature, or maybe it means out thinking it, or figuring out a way to survive that tidal wave...

    "Have you been playing D&D those two decades?"

    Have I played DnD exclusively for the past 20 years? No. I took a break sometime in the late 2e days and moved on to playing various other games (Earthdawn, Vampire, Shadowrun, Alternity). 3E brought me back to the fold for a while... ran a FR game for a quite awhile. Got tired of base 3E, moved on to try out Iron Heroes, Arcana Unearthed, Exalted, some of the new world of darkness stuff... Currently I'm running a Pathfinder Beta rules game (which is about to wrap up), and am looking forward to my friends 4E game which is set to start after we wrap up with Pathfinder.

    Why do you ask?

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  36. @anonynos - I apologize, I should have said that my comments are about role playing in general. I've only played one RPGA game, many moons ago, and I've recently seen them discussed, so I'm aware that there are differences.

    And most of the times, "balanced" is used for the "it's not fair, I must always win" crowd. To be honest, I don't even care if I don't have a fair shot sometimes - sometimes it's not always going to work out. I learn a lot in failure just like most of us do. I won't have a fair shot of killing a dragon as a first level guy, so if I see one, I run. I may note his location for later...

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  37. Why do you ask?

    You mentioned hating a bunch of stuff that comes up fairly early and often in D&D. I was curious if you tweaked the game to cut all of it out or moved on to something else.

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  38. Anonymous1:55 PM

    "I won't have a fair shot of killing a dragon as a first level guy, so if I see one, I run. I may note his location for later..."

    In my own game experiences, I tend to base my sense of "balanced encounter" on whether or not the group as a whole will be able to progress. That progression might be to retreat and go another way. It might be to beat the creature/encounter. It might be to talk and negotiate. And most importantly the outcome has to be fun... which is incredibly subjective.

    "I was curious if you tweaked the game to cut all of it out or moved on to something else."

    It's not so much an OR as an AND. Even when I run my games tend to be modified. I resisted to a large degree with Pathfinder because I was trying to give the beta a shot as written, but I find that I am dissatisfied with it still, and if I continue running it I will need to slap on my house rules. I may also just move onto another system (again). I've not made a choice yet, and we've not had our post-play wrap up and talk that will help me decide once I get a better feel for how my players are feeling about the game.

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  39. Anonymous3:03 PM

    Who was it that called 4e "D&D for people who don't like D&D?" (Melan, maybe?) What first seemed to be pithy and apropos hyperbole may be more literal than it appeared.

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  40. You only have so much flexibility as a player in the Living rules. It's a flaw, truely, but it has to be accounted for. Thus, you need to worry about "balance" of encounters, and powers, because you aren't just dealing with you and your players.

    You are right, and it applies to any type of RPG where you have a large group of players in a single setting.

    The point you are missing that Wizards been getting most of their feedback from people playing that style. That especially for 4e the focus of the rule been setup to support that style of play. To exclusion of being able to run the older style of D&D.

    The elements that make a game a RPG gives it a great degree of flexibility. Just about any RPG can be used to support any play style.

    However if all you are finding are players how like the living campaign style. All the add-on products basically support the living campaign style. Then the game has a lot less appeal.

    In the first case you are not finding players that use those rules to play the game you like.

    In the second case you have to write everything from scratch to support how you play. As much the old school revival celebrates the "do it yourself" mentality there is only so much time in the day. It is nice to have some support.

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  41. Who was it that called 4e "D&D for people who don't like D&D?" (Melan, maybe?) What first seemed to be pithy and apropos hyperbole may be more literal than it appeared.

    Actually, that was me. And I said it about 3e.

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  42. Since he is your buddy I will take your opinon with a fistfull of salt. :)

    Right, because the fact that I'm friends with somebody means I'm not objective about a game issue.

    Of course, and as we all know the system as absolutely no bearing at all in the playstyle.

    Right?


    Sure, but one post by one person about what he did not enjoy in a game does not make the game (or his opinion) wrong.

    Honestly, I had hoped when I created the RPG Bloggers Network that it would bring people of all different system and play style preferences together in some way, but I see more and more edition/company war type stuff, and it just bums me out. I'm not personally interested in much specifically "old school" things but I also don't make posts about how such things are "wrong"- they're just not my style and not what I look for in a game.

    Fortunately, Jeff's blog is usually free of that kind of thing, and almost always entertaining.

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  43. Random encounters went away as play moved from exploration-based adventures to story-based adventures. Random encounters are critical to exploration of a location, but distraction to a story. Also as the rules complexity of combat is increased, the 'pain' of random encounters increases as well, further sidelining them.

    The average modern "generic" RPG probably means to be used to be used with both story and exploration play, and all kinds of settings. Therefore a random encounter table would not be universal enough, but instead should appear in the setting and location being explored. If you run Griffin Mountain with GURPS, you still use wandering monsters.

    Whereas older games have random encounters in the core rules because combat was faster and setting-based play was more likely assumed, and they weren't trying to be generic.

    Note the Final Fantasy games continue to have random encounters. That's because they have "exploration" modes that are not constrained by consuming up the precious hours of shared group time, and a computer to crunch the numbers.

    My sole RPGA experience had a token attack by bandits in the forest, and when it started everyone was joking about "oh here comes the generic thug attack right at the beginning of every module!" and proceeded about it in a rather bored fashion. I'm not a fan of the scripted, faux wandering monster type crap.

    RPGA play, and frankly a ton of modern D&D play, is story-based play pretending to be exploration based play.

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  44. Wow. I can feel the "get off my lawn" vibes rising.

    I've been playing since 1979. I've played the hardcore 'exploration game' style, random-everything, and enjoyed it. I've played the hardcore 'just sit back and watch the story unfold' style, too. And (admittedly, less often) enjoyed it.

    But mostly, I've played something in between. Because it sucked to get TPK'd just when things were getting interesting, and it sucked to feel like a spectator.

    What the hell is up with all the fundamentalism (and frankly, egregious straw-man caricatures of anything less than hardcore old-skool) in the Old School blogosphere of late? Seriously, I love the creativity, I love the nostalgia, I love the deep reservoirs of gaming knowledge and experience. And I love taking them to my 4e table and using them. I can do without the stupid tribalism.

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  45. Hold on everyone! I was just moaning about an encounter that I thought was badly designed. I do not care if the party dies or the encounter is "fair." I have no interest in removing dice from the game and do enjoy the random component they bring to the table. My post is more of a cautionary tale about creating encounters with some forethought on they they will play out on the table. Honestly, it saddens me to see "edition wars" break out yet again.

    Trask

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  46. "What the hell is up with all the fundamentalism (and frankly, egregious straw-man caricatures of anything less than hardcore old-skool) in the Old School blogosphere of late?"

    It's inevitable, especially in regards to a product as iconic as D&D, that significant changes will cause tensions to arise between proponents of the old way and proponents of the new. Never mind that the "new way" here goes beyond "significant changes" and sails recklessly into the realm of "packaging an entirely new product under an old brand."

    I wouldn't say it's fundamentalism - that's a bit much, IMHO. But this game is something many of us grew up on. And for many of us, helplessly watching it undergo such radical changes is bound to make us a little hot under the collar. There's nothing much more polarizing than seeing something you love become - from your perspective - twisted into something nearly unrecognizable. The feelings of helplessness and betrayal that come with that experience can be quite powerful.

    So that, IMHO, is where the "fundamentalism" is coming from.

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  47. There is a lot of ignorance of the "modern" editions of D&D in the comments here by the old schoolers. If you have the passion to rail against "those damn kids and their punk-D&D" it wouldn't hurt to at least learn a little about it first. That's much the same reaction we faced as kids when we started playing in 70s and through the hysteria of the 80s. How many times did you just wish all these people proclaiming the game to be evil would just actually give it a try or at least read what they were criticizing.

    But what do you expect, this whole discussion is taking one random blog post from some random guy who is not in any way affiliated with Wizards or a reprsentative of 4e and using his paragraph rant as an excuse to denigrate everyone who doesn't play the game like you do. It's sad really. I've played every single edition of D&D and loved every single one. The game is the same now as it was then, just a few numbers are in a few different places. That's not the game though. It's way past time to just live and let play, folks.

    Don't worry, I'll get off your lawn now.

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  48. Settembrini1:12 AM

    Jeff,

    they DID eliminate all dice rolling. 4e is now officially not a game anymore. As they tossed out all background, all is lesft is feeling awesome by being told one is awesome. Want proof?

    Check the current Dragon-editorial, it´s also readable (via link and full citation)) at my current blog entry, bottom.

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  49. The game is the same now as it was then, just a few numbers are in a few different places.

    Thasmodius, if you trully mean that then your level of self-delusion is of impressively cosmic proportions!

    Please think a little before you type next time.

    And BTW? That "get off my lawn" crap is starting to get so old as to be called ancient. Not only that, it's offensive and ageist.

    And that coming from someone who is whinning about apparent mistreatment of gamers due to their tender age.

    You might want to check the word "hypocrite" on a dictionary.

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  50. Right, because the fact that I'm friends with somebody means I'm not objective about a game issue.

    Considering you jumped right back at a comment I made about him mentioning he is your friend, I would say, no. You are not being objective at all.

    Sure, but one post by one person about what he did not enjoy in a game does not make the game (or his opinion) wrong.

    Of course. And nowhere did I say otherwise. I fail to see your point.

    Honestly, I had hoped when I created the RPG Bloggers Network that it would bring people of all different system and play style (...)

    I've just very recently discovered it, am having loads of fun with it and was considering joining if possible.

    However, I don't think you should expect members to limit themselves only to discussions you find palatable.

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  51. And BTW? That "get off my lawn" crap is starting to get so old as to be called ancient. Not only that, it's offensive and ageist.

    More offensive or less offensive than calling people "dumbarse" because you've misinterpreted them?

    Just curious.

    You might want to check the word "hypocrite" on a dictionary.

    Indeed.

    I'd agree with Thasmodius, actually. The game is pretty much the same as it was when I started playing it. (Well over two decades ago, to preempt the inevitable cheap shot...)

    The mechanics are different, but if one feels that the mechanics are the game, then one might as well be playing one of those computer games that members of certain circles like to look down upon.

    Mechanics are important, of course, but there are so many things that are so much more important -- and so many of them have changed so much across various editions -- that the import of mechanics is limited.

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  52. It's worth mentioning that 4e does allow for rolling of attributes (I think it's 4d6 in any order). It's the very last option in the list, and they go out of their way to say it's a bad idea, but it's in there.

    Also, I don't see why you couldn't put together a random encounter table in 4e. It's not in the rules, but it's easy enough to bolt on.

    Of course, there's a further issue. If the designers aren't even presenting randomness as an option, gamers are going to get weaned off it and find it alien and strange, but then again, that's what the gaming community is for, someone to tap these guys on the shoulder and say "Have you tried..."

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  53. Am I the only one to like all versions of D&D because they have different playstyles?

    I like the old D&D's for their free-stylin' ways.

    I like 4E for it's tactical crunch.

    When I DM, I pick the ruleset to provide the experience we're looking for. When I play, I only join games that interest me, be that an old-school hex map crawl, or a combat-intensive 4E story path campaign. And if I don't like it, I gracefully bow out to make room for someone that does.

    Hatin' on any RPG is silly if you have an alternative. And we do, in abundance.

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  54. Philotomy said...
    Who was it that called 4e "D&D for people who don't like D&D?" (Melan, maybe?) What first seemed to be pithy and apropos hyperbole may be more literal than it appeared.

    I have done that, although it is certainly not an original concept. On the other hand...
    The Tyranny of Fun? Check.
    The fetishisation of official gaming? Check.
    Game system catering to tournament-style hardcores? Check.

    Scary, eh?

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  55. I thinks it's interesting that those who do not subscribe to Jeff's gaming preferences still read his blog (or at least were linked/directed to the blog by someone who reads his blog.) Something of a compliment to Jeff!

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  56. Random encounters have no place in an adventure that I'm GMing.

    I prepare my adventures, either creating them from scrap or canalizing someones else. In either case I know what I want to happen in the adventure.

    There is no space for a random encounter in my plot lines. I don't want to accidentally kill my party on some non-plot related pointless fight.

    If I want the players to fight something, I will put in the adventure. However, I enjoy random encounters in other people's campaigns.

    Random encounters only fit in some campaigns and game systems.

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  57. There is no space for a random encounter in my plot lines. I don't want to accidentally kill my party on some non-plot related pointless fight. - This is likely the main cause of so much contention - is the particular campaign or game you run a story/plot driven game or do you rely on the Players (through their Characters) to create the "story?" In the former random encounters are very likely a distraction or potential game ender, in the latter the random encounters are story kernels.

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  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  59. Hey Jeff- Just wanted to chime in and say I totally agree with you, 3e went too far IMO, and 4e is, well, something else entirely.

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  60. "The game is the same now as it was then, just a few numbers are in a few different places."

    That's wonderful! You can spread the good news about how there's no sane reason to shell out $105 for 4E, and instead recommend one of the less expensive alternatives such as Labyrinth Lord!

    (Deleted post covered too many points already made.)

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  61. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  62. Chgowiz, you ornery cuss, are you trying to spin-off an old school edition war of your own? The PDF of Labyrinth Lord is free as well.

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  63. The PDF of Labyrinth Lord is free as well.

    Oh, is it? Oh crap, sorry. No, no... no edition wars here. I'm just emotionally tied to S/W right now because it's the first time my artwork has been published. I'll go delete the previous comment and say:

    You can spread the good news about how there's no sane reason to shell out $105 for 4E, and instead recommend one of the less expensive alternatives such as Labyrinth Lord!

    Or the completely free but fully supported and updated ones, like LL, OSRIC and Swords/Wizardry - all in PDF glory.

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  64. No need to apologize, Chgowiz. I didn't really think you were up to no good.

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  65. I know, I felt really like slapping the forehead because I *knew* that, but I've gotten so used to seeing the Labyrinth Lord display at my FLGS, that I keep forgetting it's free as well. Just dumb. :P

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  66. Anonymous10:24 AM

    Random encounters have no place in an adventure that I'm GMing....I know what I want to happen in the adventure...I don't want to accidentally kill my party on some non-plot related pointless fight.
    To my way of thinking, random encounters aren't pointless (especially dungeon wandering monsters). They're another form of challenge to be overcome, and a danger that can be reduced through good play.

    Of course, I don't have a predetermined plot ("adventure paths" are so not my thing). Instead, player choices drive the plot. The story develops organically, in play, with the players doing their thing in the world I'm presenting, and me responding to their actions. In fact, sometimes a random encounter has led to an unexpected story or plot-line that I didn't plan at all.

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  67. Your FLGS stocks it?

    Mine seems to have an aversion to actually selling games, unless they happen to be CCGs, WotC D&D, Rifts or Vampire.

    Maybe not those either, to judge from the pile of 3E stuff gathering dust.

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  68. @Dwaynu - yes, they do. Games Plus (http://www.games-plus.com/) in Mt. Prospect, IL. It's in a really good spot to, in an old Hackmaster display that is it's own separate display. It's right next to the d20/3E stuff but it's in a trafficked area of the store. I should take a picture...

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  69. Anonymous12:38 PM

    @Randolph
    I thinks it's interesting that those who do not subscribe to Jeff's gaming preferences still read his blog (or at least were linked/directed to the blog by someone who reads his blog.) Something of a compliment to Jeff!

    Because on the whole Jeff's a good guy with inspiring thoughts. I love the random tables found here for their goofiness, but wouldn't use it in my game.

    However, there's a lot of world-building, plot-making and adventuring advice here. And despite the, apparently irreconcilable, differences in editions, somewhere underneath it all it's still a game about killing things and taking their stuff (whether by rolling dice, or pure storytelling, or tactical wargaming).

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  70. I'd agree with Thasmodius, actually. The game is pretty much the same as it was when I started playing it.... etc.

    These are the kinds of statements that completely blow my mind. What is a game besides the rules? Nothing. What differentiates football from baseball? Chess from checkers? It's the rules. You change the rules, you change the game.

    Anyone who says the game is still "basically" the same has either never actually read the rules or is being intellectually dishonest.

    O.K., now cue the 4e fan who lists the 7 or 8 things new D&D still has in common with old D&D (and three dozen other fantasy role playing games).

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  71. More offensive or less offensive than calling people "dumbarse" because you've misinterpreted them?

    Well, less of course. I haven't offended anyone. The dumbarse hasn't complained, that I know of.
    And even if he did that's hardly worse than insult a whole group of gamers.

    Also I haven't misintrpreted anyone, thank you very much. I understood perfectly what the person meant and think it's a load of wankery.

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  72. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Never used random encounters, they're the antithesis of good DMing for all the reasons described.

    Obviously randomness in resolving actions is important.

    Havent done random chargen in god knows how long - even stats.

    Can't see how this can possibly be an old-school new-school thing, since I dumped all those ideas around about 2nd ed and most DMs I speak to (even DMs whose game settings I consider very boring or strictly rules bound) got rid of these ideas because they're patently reckless (and DM-disempowering).

    Agree with the other commenter, random chargen and random encounters are a TSR/traveller thing, particularly god awful in traveller, and thank god modern games don't use them.

    I think disputes over systems are fun, and systems to affect how we play, but this is not why.

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  73. Obviously randomness in resolving actions is important.

    The Amber fans seem to be doing okay without randomness.

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  74. These are the kinds of statements that completely blow my mind. What is a game besides the rules?

    See, that's the kind of statement that blows my mind.

    What is a play besides the script?

    What is the whole besides the sum of its parts?

    How can it be argued that old school is superior because it purportedly encourages creativity and improvisation more than recent editions, if the rules are all that's important?

    The rules are the least part of the game. And if you play D&D like you play chess or checkers, I frankly feel sorry for you.

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  75. "Go with a picture of two six siders on the box."
    HAHA.

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  76. Settembrini10:04 AM

    Dear Jeff,

    look what 4e has done to the most upbeat place on the web.

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  77. Anonymous12:15 PM

    This is bullshit. All of it. No, not 4E. You people. Ignorance, fear and irrelevance.

    I actually know the encounter the guy is talking about. Most of you guys have misinterpreted it.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with randomness, and not a whole lot to do with 4E, either. I doubt anyone will put aside their superiority complexes and smugness long enough to listen to it, but I feel bad when you guys look like this.

    This is an encounter near the end of "Many Hands Make Light Work" which is a Living Realms adventure. The encounter essentially contains a wererat in his sewer lair, and he can summon giant rats. He can do it *almost* every round, if he rolls a 5 or 6 on a 6 sider. That is random, right? If he summons a rat, he can't attack, but it places a new monster in the encounter.

    The same encounter could be created in any edition. OD&D, AD&D, Basic D&D..

    However, This situation would never be allowed by the D&D3E CR system. So it freaks a lot of players of previous editions out.

    See, the point is, you're supposed to kill the summoner, or run away, or figure some other way to shut the summoner down. Roleplaying, a silence spell.. something.

    All you guys that are bitching and slandering the poster here, are actually talking about someone used to 3E. He's a guy who is obviously very used to the old way it worked in 3E.

    If you didn't have these complaints under 3E, why now?

    DME (DM Empowerment) is also a specific term used by the Living Realms campaign. The old Living campaigns were very strict and specific that DMs had to use the same rules as the players at official tournament games. There could be no fudging or house rules. A DM who makes a rules mistake in 3E, or fudges something he isn't sure about, could be complained about. Again, this is in 3E. If it helps, I can bold it or put in italics or use profanity, if you like.

    In 4E that situation has completely changed and DMs are allowed to in fact change the encounters (in fact allowing for them to be easier or harder), make up their own rulings on the fly, and are protected from any complaints as long as the game was fun.

    Ho ho, 4E has no randomness. Ho ho, dungeon furnaces.

    The unbridgeable gap is between your fucking ears. Goodbye.

    -Abyssal

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  78. The unbridgeable gap is between your fucking ears.

    Why do I see Horatio Caine donning his sunglasses while delivering this line?

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  79. Settembrini1:11 PM

    Abyssal, what´s your take on Cheater-Chris?
    Oh, and all your "irrelevance" talk is really, really a boomerang. I respect you too much to go into details, but beware this argument. It might explode in your face one day.

    Oh, and I´m astonished you´r e not burnt out on DMing 4e. Kudos to you, I was wrong it seems. I´d have thought the tactical illusionism would have curbed your enthusiasm by now.
    Actually I know two guys who have already burnt out on 4e because of exactly that part of the game.

    I also give it to you thatmost 4e detractors are morons, Stormbringer the most.

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  80. Trask wrote: Hold on everyone! I was just moaning about an encounter that I thought was badly designed. I do not care if the party dies or the encounter is "fair." I have no interest in removing dice from the game and do enjoy the random component they bring to the table.

    Wait a minute.

    You don't get to say, "Keep Randomness Out of My Encounters" and then say, "I have no interest in removing dice from the game." You clearly want to remove at least some randomness from the game.

    Nor can you say that you don't care about party death or the "fairness" of your encounter when, in fact, your entire post is dedicated to saying that party death shouldn't be allowed to happen and that all encounters should be fair.

    Chris Tegenza: In either case I know what I want to happen in the adventure.

    Which may be fine for you and your players, but I have no interest in playing on your railroad tracks.

    faustusnotes: Never used random encounters, they're the antithesis of good DMing for all the reasons described.

    This based on the assumption that random encounters, unlike other encounters, aren't designed.

    That's a really stupid assumption.

    From a gamist standpoint, random encounters play an important role in balancing an adventure. They're a penalty for wasting time, discourage hanging out in dangerous areas, and the like.

    From a simulationist standpoint, they're a quick and efficient way of handling the movement of NPCs within an area. In some scenarios I'll achieve a similar effect by literally tracking the movement of every NPC in the complex in a real-time fashion. But that's complicated at the best of times and, in some situations, completely impossible.

    From a dramatist standpoint (which is probably where you're coming from), random encounters probably have a much narrower range of use.

    But claiming that immersive sandboxers are "bad DMs" is just narrow-minded idiocy of the worst sort.

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  81. Anonymous7:22 PM

    Justin, none of your defences of random encounters warrant their being random. If you feel the players are dithering, throw an encounter at them by all means - but why roll up an encounter which doesn't suit either your sandbox or the level of the characters, when you can just pick one and its context? Random encounters are generally a lax approach to adventure design, useful for throwing xp-carrying-vessels at the PCs but not so good for encouraging creative dungeon design.

    Similarly for random sounds, smells, etc. in those interminable tables in the earlier edition DMGs. By all means read through the tables for ideas, but don't roll up a random setting. If you want to generate a decent environment, a decent adventuring context and a decent story, you need intentional design. Otherwise why bother with a DM at all? Just get together with your mates, roll up a dungeon, and let the slaughter begin.

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  82. but why roll up an encounter which doesn't suit either your sandbox or the level of the characters, when you can just pick one and its context?You're right! I should just pick one. Or maybe two just to keep my options open and creative muscles flexed, and then pick the most interesting one. I can even save the other one for later.

    Oh! I could do that before the game, to save time. And if I do that, I could prep maybe a dozen or twenty different encounters, and pick from them as necessary for the adventure! All perfectly tailored to the context and sandbox.

    Hm. But how to keep it spontaneous, retain just that little element of surprise? Keep myself from unconsciously re-using that tired "bandits attack in the forest" idea that I really like? I know, I'll put them in a table, and put "1" through "20" beside them. Then I can use this neat icosahedron thingy to help me pick one. If I don't like it I can reroll, or maybe I'll be inspired to grab a different one while I'm looking up what I just rolled.You're brilliant!

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  83. I just realised that I shouldn't have just left the comment at that. (Sarcasm works so much better in person.) My intention was to point out that random encounters can be used well, and when they are they're not very different from the intentional design that you advocate.

    I rather like random encounters, as I wrote in the post I linked above. They make the world feel just a little bit more "alive" for me as the GM, and I hope so for the players too, because nobody knows exactly what's up that hill. I know that there are hobgoblins in that keep, but the party's been hanging around in the forest below for a day now. I could just press the issue by sending out a patrol, but trying to figure out how to weave "1d3 faery dragons" into the story-so-far is an interesting challenge to me.

    That kind of thing tends to result in nicely emergent play, which is a huge part of why I roleplay. I don't have a taste for running pre-determined plots (I get bored GMing them, and only slightly less playing them), so I use things in my "spice rack" that make the game suite my tastes. Random encounters are one of them.

    Not everyone likes the same food, but nobody says, "I can't understand why you'd use Hungarian paprika in your scrambled eggs--it doesn't play well with the wasabi I like in mine!" It's the same with gaming.

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  84. Settembrini said...

    I also give it to you thatmost 4e detractors are morons, Stormbringer the most.
    Seriously? You come all the way over to Jeff's blog to insult me?

    Pathetic. I will send you a picture for your creepy stalker shrine to me.

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