Friday, January 27, 2012

today's experiment

I want to talk a little about today's game outside of the usual "here's what the drunken henchman tells you" context.  As you may have heard one of the claims being made about the new edition of D&D is that it will accomodate characters from previous editions.  My impression from the early presentation was that you'd be playing a 1st edition assassin and your buddy next to you would have a 4e warlock and it would somehow all hold together without the DM going insane or you lusting after the warlock's feats and powers.  I think the folks at Wizards have backed off this claim slightly in the past couple of days.  The real deal seems to me that the default PC will look a lot like a 1st or 2nd edition character, but lots of 3e and 4e fiddly bits will be available as options.  I dunno.  I have no direct info.

Either way, I got to shooting my mouth off about wanting to try running characters from divergent editions side by side, as sort of a control group.  Can an ordinary DM make this work without benefit of a 5e rulebook telling him how to get it done?  Zak made me put up or shut up, so here's the roster from todays game:

Niles Calder ran Louie le Mouche, a 3rd level rogue made under 2nd edition Advanced D&D
Arthur Fisher ran Clark Clarkson, a (2nd level?) half-orc cleric of Hieronymus Bosch, a 3e character
Zak Smith ran Vortullak the Untamed, a 1st level Warlord made with 4e
Mike Fernandez ran Tufi, a 1st level Gungan Jedi made with Star Wars Saga

Mike was a last minute sub.  Originally Peter Robbins was going to play a character from the World of Azamar, a fantasy rpg I know nothing about, but he had to cancel.

The real trick to making this hodgepodge group was deciding which mechanics were owned by the PCs and which were owned by the DM.  For example, when the dragon breathed fire everyone used my save chart.  What their Reflex save was didn't matter one bit.  But when they cast spells they used the rules for their own edition as best as we could.  The only place this felt strained was when Zak used one of his Warlord powers to swap places with a giant golden spider that was trying to kill them.  That felt really dissociated and like it had nothing to do with my game.  I explained it away as some sort of secret anime powered weeaboo magic, but it still felt a little grating.  Zak's potential damage output was also hella higher than the 2e and 3e guys.  The jedi just sliced through all kinds of shit, as would be expected.  He came real close to beheading the dragon.

So anyway, I'm now convinced that something like WotC's plan is feasible, assuming the 4e stuff is toned down a bit to bring the numbers more in line with previous editions.


  1. So anyway, I'm now convinced that something like WotC's plan is feasible, assuming the 4e stuff is toned down a bit to bring the number more in line with previous editions.

    From what they're saying now, this seems like a good assumption.

    Not that 5e D&D (or any D&D) is GURPS, but GURPS 4e pretty much does this. You can make a straight up guy out of the Basic Set, and use only those rules, in the same game as a guy using additional stuff from GURPS Powers, GURPS Martial Arts, etc. The additional books give you more options, more fine-tuning, and more ways to model precisely what you want. But they don't dial up the power. And by design the options don't make the Basic Set rules obsolete. I have one player who barely knows some of the combat options in later books exist, but he's kicking as much ass as the guy who does and who built his PC to leverage them. And both are having fun. So the idea of different levels of rule detail in the same game isn't crazy at all.

    I think the issue with later D&D books was escalation that was hard-coded in. You had to know how to leverage the rules or get left behind, so you couldn't co-exist usefully. Each new power, feat, splatbook, etc. ramped up the power until a vanilla Player's Handbook fighter just couldn't inflict or take the damage necessary to compete. IME, anyway, not that I played that much later D&D.

  2. I guess 4e's 26 HP helped that PC survive the encounter. I also liked how the playtest used a frickin Dragon instead of a 1hd goblin. And thanks for the dissociated link - very interesting read.

  3. Why didn't you let the 4e character use his Reflex against the dragon breath? Just curious.

    And where did you get that cool robot with the wizard hat?

  4. Because my screen has the saving throw chart used in my campaign. There's nothing about Reflex on it.

    IG-666? David Deitrick whipped up the drawing for me. The photo is an original Kenner IG-88 with a Sculpey hat and craftfoam cape.

  5. Frank Mentzer said many times, that he DMs very much like this. He can DM any mix of characters from 1st edition, any edition of Basic and 2nd edition. Of course there was no talk about 3rd or later editions though.

  6. On the difference between what is on the DM and Players side it struck me things would be simpler and the players more active if most of the dice rolling was on the players side of the screen.

    If beasties and NPCs were just flat numbers or always took 10, 15 or 20 (or whatever) instead of rolling a die the GM/DM could just focus on running the adventure. Thus the players have to roll to hit and also have to roll to avoid being hit, roll to save versus effects and roll to inflict their effects on others.

    1. The GM's rolls are useful in a myriad of ways. The loss of potential randomness is always a bad thing, imo.("remember the time when that (A) (B)'d? That was AWESOME! ;-) ) Plus, it's fun to roll dice! Why should the players have all the fun?(Or more mechanics offloaded on to them, for that matter...)

      'If beasties and NPCs were just flat numbers or always took 10, 15 or 20 (or whatever) instead of rolling a die':
      TSR's Dragonlance: The Fifth Age did something like this, except it used the godsawful Saga playing card system. :-P

    2. Okay maybe I should have been more specific. I was referring specifically to encounters and what not. Minimizing the rolling done by the GM whilst maximizing the rolling done by the players... but then we'd lose the whole "oh carp, the GM just rolled a dice and is checking his notes..." moment. Meh.

    3. 'then we'd lose the whole "oh carp, the GM just rolled a dice and is checking his notes..." moment.':

      This in itself what be a great loss in many groups, I'd warrant. But there's all the chance and happenstance during 'encounters' generated by the die that isn't replicated by a player-centric pass/fail mechanism.(I speak from experience, btw. I hope that doesn't tarnish the Old-School credentials. It was a fad and I was weak! ;-) )

      'Minimizing the rolling done by the GM whilst maximizing the rolling done by the players...':

      I don't know of any players that would WANT to do the GM's work for them, honestly. And I certainly don't find die rolling to be a chore or to 'break immersion'.(That's what Iphones and Laptops are for, to bring you out of the game for some Twittering... ;-)) Within reasonable limits, of course. (22 would be too much at one time, for example.... Arkham Horror, man... ;-)) YMMV.

      Thanx for your response.

  7. Anonymous1:10 PM

    I have always had this skill, running for characters from different games. Codifying it would be interesting indeed. Like to see what they come up with.

    - Calithena

  8. As long as the referee is okay with running PCs of different levels, I don't see what the problem would be. A first level 4E character is approximately equivalent to a fourth or fifth level B/X character. I agree some of the forced move, teleportation powers, and marking can feel narratively odd, but to be honest they feel odd to me in a straight 4E game too. I think it's just a matter of style.

    I always start out new PCs at first level (unless the player is taking control of a retainer or NPC as their new character), and trust in the pseudo-exponential nature of the experience progression to even out the levels quickly. So different levels in the same game is a given for me.

    The real trick to making this hodgepodge group was deciding which mechanics were owned by the PCs and which were owned by the DM.

    Yeah, that's a really good way of putting it. I tend to use many different kinds of rulings anyways, even within the bounds of a "single" rule set, so I don't see how this is much different. Sometimes I call for a save, sometimes a d6 roll unconnected to the character sheet, sometimes a dexterity check, etc.

  9. Here's the rub:

    " Can an ordinary DM make this work without benefit of a 5e rulebook telling him how to get it done? "

    I don't think most proponents of later-era crunchy & focused design would classify you as an "ordinary DM".

    1. They'd probably be wondering: 'What's in his drinking water?' OR if some hitherto-unknown Gonzo Righteousness Switch *clicks on* in their head, 'How can I become *awesome* like him?'.

      Oh, and I'm not one of those laser-foused rules and unified mechanics guys(to say the least!), and *I* don't think Jeff's an 'ordinary' DM/GM. I'd tack on an 'extra' before that! ;-)

  10. Anonymous2:19 PM

    Quoth beyond the black gate:

    If you ever got a chance to sit in one of his convention games, he would pull out a pile of pregen characters - a hodgepodge of sheets from different editions and versions of editions. At one session, I received an 8th level D&D 3.0 Cleric, and the fellow next to me had what I am pretty sure was some sort of OD&D ranger. When one of the players, obviously confused, asked him what edition we were going to be playing, Dave grinned at him, held out his hand for a shake, and said "Hi, I'm Dave Arneson."

  11. I wholeheartedly approve of this experiment. As others have said, as long as you're okay with differing power levels among the characters...and have players that won't feel the need to nitpick every ruling...this seems like an awesome way to game.

  12. Woah. 5e predictions aside, this is INSANE. :D

    "The real trick to making this hodgepodge group was deciding which mechanics were owned by the PCs and which were owned by the DM."

    And therein lies the secret to this craziness!
    Very inspiring. :)

  13. Ah, two other notes: Maybe this is the point at which the term Ampersand gaming becomes appropriate.

    Also, I would love to see how the Azamar character would fare, especially if it was created using the Open D6, skill-based system that the setting uses (Cinema6). I've thought for a while that D6 characters could function pretty easily in D&D's various editions simply by converting (X)D6 rolls to d20+(X).

  14. Oh, BTW this game was hella fun.

  15. Good on ya for attempting to show how this unenviable task *could* be accomplished. Wizbro should be paying you and Zak consultancy fees. Or at least in swag.(If there's any of the current stuff you guys want. Maybe there's some older stuff lying around thy could give out, tho...)

    I have mixed and matched PCs from various and sundry game systems(Palladium, GURPS, Fighting Fantasy, WFRP, SLA Industries, and more...) in B/X/LL, BRP, T&T 5.5, R. Talsorian's Dream Park, and my homebrew, and I found little to no issues 'modelling' races, powers, skills, abilities, et al... and my groups seemed ok(if not enthusiastic, in some cases!) with the results. And shit was generally WAAY more gonzo than the example Jeff gives above.(Though not Encounter Critical Awesome, unfortunately.) It's kinda hard to believe mixing Editions is more difficult!

    And, hey, maybe once this whole intra-Edition smashup is done(hopefully Wizbro will abandon its dependence on'planned obsolescence'), we can get some kick-ass adventures again. Or... Maybe... Campaign Settings! :-)

    A Cleric of Hieronymus Bosch!
    AND a JEDI!
    This. Wins. Hard.

  16. I think that the key to grokking Powers is that they're
    a) a pre-packaged stunt
    b) a combo of two or more moves (because after 3E character get to do more things per round).

    In his recent post about good DMing, Zak wrote: "Want to trick the catpegasus into charging the wall? I use d10 + stat vs. d10 + target stat. High roll wins. Other people might just use chances on a d6."

    A similar thing would be "I dodge the attack and lounge forward" or whatever.

    So that place-switching thing above is really: "Ok, so I trick the big golden spider into leaping on me, and when it does I dodge under its belly to where it used to be."
    It's much less disassociated if you describe it that way. There are still loads of Powers in 4E that are completely mind-boggling in regard to how they are supposed to work in the fiction, but most of them can be narrated anyway.

    The trick is that instead of the player saying what he's doing and the DM calling for the roll, the Power pre-packages the mechanics of it.

    This reflects the trend in design that the players have come to expect they'll get cool shit when they level up, and the powers are like this guarantee that they'll get to do that cool stuff, because it's on their sheet, it's like a badge or something. And they know what the result (should they succeed) will be, because it's spelled out on the power. So they can orient their tactics based on what results they want.

    In regard to 5E I think the intention is clearly not that you can play a 1E character alongside a 4E one, but rather that a basic, core class in 5E will feel and play much like a B/X character (and be potentially compatible) but as you add on more modules/rules options/levels/complexities it becomes more and more like 3E/4E (grid combat, skills, feats, combat moves etc.)

  17. If you want to play Rifts, you should just go get the book and be done with it...

  18. Anonymous12:50 PM

    I think Gregor is right- The warlords powers weren't meant to be magic, it's just a maneuver.

  19. I let one of my players in my Mutant Future campaign run a 4e character alongside the mutants and it went seamlessly.

    I personally have always felt that the biggest differences between the editions occurred outside of the actual game session, in character generation and leveling up. Once the game is running, it is up to the DM and players to decide what gets rolled for and what gets role-played.