Imagine a restaurant, a really nice restaurant. The servers are pleasant and efficient. It has the food and drink you like. The seats are comfortable and they don’t allow smoking (or they allow it, if that’s your preference). It’s close to your house and the prices are good.
Then they put up a sign. From 5-7 they’re going to serve Mexican food, from 7-9 they’ll have Italian, and from 9-11 you can get sushi. It seems a little strange, but you like the place, so you decide to roll with it.
One day, you stop in on your way home from work and ask if there’s any way you can get sushi, as you really want some, but have to be up early the next morning. The server replies, “No. This is the time we serve Mexican.” Frustrated, you decide to go somewhere else…
and suddenly that restaurant doesn’t seem quite so nice.
Much as I hate speaking in metaphors, I think this illustrates the point I’m trying to make. When Monte says,
“Some players like low-level, gritty, “where am I going to get two more silver pieces to afford to eat today” kinds of games.”
he’s making an unnecessary connection between rules and theme. If the game stops feeling gritty and realistic because the mechanics explicitly change the feel, then the player who prefers that style – or who dislikes the open-ended, Vancian style that is presented as the opposite – has no choice but to stop playing and start over. Similarly, the player who likes a freeform, narrative game with grand scope is restricted to high-level play. There’s also the mechanical consideration that the “gritty” players can never have complex characters and “epic” players can never have simple characters.
I also think it’s especially toxic to associate “realistic” with martial and “epic” with magical. If a wizard can teleport us across the universe, I want my fighter to karate-chop a mountain. Creating “epic” powers for a fighter might be harder than for a wizard, but I have faith that the creative people from Wizards can do it. I think they should want to do it.
If Next is going to accomodate both styles – and I think it should – it needs to do so over the entire lifespan. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having two versions of the wizard – one that is for people who are gung-ho about play balance and one for people who have other priorities. It could be as simple as saying, “If you’re in a ‘gritty’ game, you can’t take these spells.” That way, the GM can tune the mechanics to provide the best fit – and the most fun – for the group.
ADDENDUM: I reserve the right to feel frustrated and irritated when Monte tells me “I don’t get it” when I disagree with his assertion that epic play should be fundamentally Vancian. It’s very possible to prefer a different flavor of epic play and it’s perfectly acceptable to advocate for its inclusion. Orthodoxy arguments are, by their very nature, divisive.
I think this gets under my skin because he’s doing exactly what so many people said about 4e, in that the lack of open-ended powers and non-combat mechanics mandated a “correct” style of play that was quintessentially balanced and dry. I feel that he’s saying that the people who care about power and agency balance in high-level play are wrong because high-level play is definitionally unbalanced.