I’m still not going to be all the way back yet, but reading Mearls’ most recent Legends and Lore got under my skin. Part of the reason I wanted to take a break is because I felt that too much of what I’ve been doing here is bitching about Next. I would much rather be writing about something positive, but obviously we’re in the doldrums between editions. It’s worse in this transition because they killed 4e so far in advance of Next.
Let’s skip to what I consider the money quote:
“If the five-minute workday bothers you, you have the tools to judge its effect on your game and can take steps to fix it. If you don’t care or have never noticed the issue, we don’t make it one for you.”
I happen to think that this is exactly the wrong perspective and it’s emblematic of Next development. If I think that the 5-minute workday is a problem – and I’m hardly alone in thinking that it is – I shouldn’t have to cut things out of the core game to fix it. The Vancian play style is distinctive enough that it should be an optional module. They’ve gone to tremendous lengths to avoid offending the Grognards, but I’m going to make a radical suggestion:
Why not avoid offending any substantial segment of the population?
Take the gridless “Theater of the Mind” combat. Yeah, the majority of the community is probably going to use a map and minis, but having tactical combat live in an optional module means that people who want it can make that choice. When they announced that tactical combat wasn’t going to be the default, there was a certain amount of panic and then the community wrapped their brains around the notion. Some people who hadn’t considered trying it gave it a shot. This is exactly what we want. Moving the Vancian play style to a module makes it a deliberate choice, rather than the default option, and prevents us from having to carve into the base system to root it out.
“We do not want groups to feel that they must rest after a single battle. If you’re exploring a dungeon, we want to make sure that you feel like you can make good progress each day. We’re also aware that classes that need to rest to regain spells are the main source of this pressure, though hit point loss also plays a role. Since the game balances the fighter’s and rogue’s staying power against the wizard’s and cleric’s spell attrition, it’s important that the “workday” last long enough for the rogue and fighter to shine.”
There’s so much wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. How about:
Do NOT define one class’ cool by the absence of someone else’s power!
No offense , but this is one of the stupidest concepts I have ever heard floated about in a design discussion. It’s LFQW, but in reverse and at the encounter level, so the players are experiencing it all the time. No game should be designed so that the GM has to artificially extend the time between rests so that certain characters can “shine.” What happened to allowing the story to progress organically? Worse, this is hard-coding in a specific style of encounter design, a style that is questionable at best. If the Vancian classes are doing their job, they will have considerably more center-stage time than the non-Vancian classes.
I can tell you right now what will happen if this design philosophy persists. Vancian players will complain that the things they get to do when they’re out of spells suck too much. People will design more exciting at-will abilities to compensate and the non-Vancian players will get an even smaller share of the coolness pie.
Further, I still have major issues with the notion that someone that does big, flashy things some of the time is no more exciting or rewarding than a character that does less powerful things all of the time. Do you really want the Rogue to turn to the Wizard and say, “Neener! You didn’t get a chance to memorize your spells! Guess this fight sucks for you!” Obviously I’m exaggerating, but I think the point is still valid. Having to wait until the cool kids run out of ammo before you get to shine sucks donkey balls.
“What does this mean for the five-minute adventuring day? DMs will have a crystal clear guideline on how many rounds of combat a group should tackle before resting. If the group spends less time in fights, casters grow stronger. If the characters spend more rounds fighting, the fighter and rogue grow stronger. The solution to the problem rests in the DM’s hands, who can use the tools and guidelines that we provide, plus keep track of how long fights take and adjust adventures accordingly.”
It’s a bug, not a feature.
If you want to truly understand how ridiculous and useless that statement is, imagine that you’re an experienced GM and you have to explain this concept to someone just taking up the mantle. Look, I get that you want to teach GMs how to tweak their game. That’s the main purpose of this blog. When I talk about tuning, however, I’m not talking about spackling over a fundamental imbalance between characters – when you have to “add rounds to combat” so that certain classes aren’t awesome all the time, you have a balance problem.
“That means that during the typical adventure, we expect the average party to defeat X levels worth of monsters over Y rounds of combat. In other words, we’re assuming that an adventure includes a certain amount of combat, and this amount is defined in terms of rounds and enemies.”
Is anyone else confused by the use of the word “adventure” where we would expect to see “day”? Maybe that’s just me.
Anyhow, the problem I have with this is that it seems to be an oblique fix to a concern that hasn’t seen a lot of discussion: Vancian characters have traditionally enjoyed a profound edge over non-Vancian characters in what they can do outside of combat. Rather than giving every class equal access to abilities in the Interaction and Exploration pillars, they’re mandating that you provide enough combat that people don’t feel left out. I don’t have a problem with assuming that combat will happen. I do have a problem with telling GMs that they have to include combat to make the system work.
There’s actually a fairly simple solution to this problem and, as an added benefit, it’s even classical. Why not grant non-Vancian characters access to certain things in the interaction and exploration arenas as part of their advancement?As an example, Fighters used to get men-at-arms at certain levels. Rogues used to get guild connections. At the very least, give me a module that allows me to empower the Fighter and the Rogue in non-combat situations.
 – Most of the time where someone says “no offense”, what they really mean is, “I’m about to say something insulting, but I want to cockblock you from being offended.” That’s not my intent here. I have respect for Mearls. I just think that this is a very destructive design philosophy.