Thursday, January 27, 2011

Assumptions in RPG designs about challenge and competency

Last night I ran into Dave at the Starbucks in Seomyeon.  After he introduced me to his buddies and they peeked over my shoulder at my netbook and I explained what I was doing (working on Flying Swordsmen RPG actually), Dave and I started talking shop.

Mainly we were discussing the way that 3E to some extent, and 4E to a great extent, are written as if the DM is a moron.  For example, the monster write-ups in 4E give tactics and advice for exactly how to use each monster.  Modules include the rules again in them to remind you during play.  Every mechanic, whenever possible, is boiled down to a 'universal mechanic' so you don't need to remember anything.

Maybe we were over-reacting, but it definitely is something that's there.

I don't think it's so much an Old School vs. New School thing, it's more of a marketing thing.  Yesterday I was reading a thread on Dragonsfoot about how every Basic Set TSR put out was more dumbed down than the last.  And can anyone seriously believe that a 500+ page RPG like Pathfinder is an easy read?

But there's an assumption in more modern RPGs that the DM can't, or at least won't, learn all the rules.  Or be able to figure out how to use a monster. 

We focus a lot on the challenge given to players in RPGs.  It may also be time to think about the challenge to the GM. 


  1. It's because WotC wants *everyone* to feel like they can, and should, DM. Because DMs might buy more "stuff" than those who just play. DMing - real DMing - is something that not everyone will want to do or be good at, but that is simply not good for WotC, since it's a factor they can't control, and might limit sales. Hence, the game itself is changed so that literally anyone can DM (the bar being lowered on what constitutes a DM's role, and a "good" adventure or campaign.)

  2. Astute analysis, anonymous (how's that for assonance?).

    Of course, it's ironic that WotC at the same time abandoned TSR's model, which was to produce stuff mainly for the DM (modules and supplements for campaign building) in order to produce stuff mainly for the players (supplements for character building).

  3. When they designed 3e, a lot of the people they talked to said that inconsistencies from inexperienced were a problem. So, they intentionally wrote it to “take the DM out of the equation”. DMs would almost always have a rule to fall back on...if they wanted to.

    The result was pretty complex. All those rules designed to make things easy on new DMs actually made it harder. Even a number of experienced DMs felt the need to stick to the rules and thus found their job to be harder as well. Those groups complained. So when they designed 4e “make the DM’s job easier” was a top priority.

    There’s a few things going on here. Some DMs (and players) don’t seem to realize that they should use bits if they find them helpful and not use them if they don’t. Wizards seems to listen too much to the squeaky wheels and underanalyse the issues raised by them. And their solutions tend to be overcompensations. (Although, those are probably just symptoms of deeper issues in the Wizards RPG group.)

    Anyway, that’s my armchair analysis. It is an oversimplification at best and might be completely off-base at worst. ^_^