Wednesday, January 9, 2019

5e: Game Dice

"The game uses polyhedral dice with different numbers of sides. You can find dice like these in game stores and in many bookstores.
"In these rules, the different dice are referred to by the letter 'd' by the number of sides: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20. For instance, a d6 is a six-sided die (the typical cube that many games use).
"Percentile dice, or d100,  work a little differently. You generate a number between 1 and 100 by rolling two different ten-sided dice numbered from 0 to 9. One die (designated before you roll) gives the tens digit, and the other gives the ones digit. If you roll a 7 and a 1, for example, the number rolled is 71. Two Os represent 100. Some ten-sided dice are numbered in tens (00, 10, 20 and so on), making it easier to distinguish the tens digit from the ones digit. In this case, a roll of 70 and 1 is 71, and 00 and 0 is 100."

These are popular posts, and as I don't have anything else ~ except monsters ~ that's ready to go just now, I'll venture into the world of dice from the 5th Edition Players Handbook.  If at all possible, I'll try to resist the nitpicking of the last post ~ but I have to say, it is very, very hard not to point out when people who are supposedly professionals have so little idea how to express their subject material.  Anyway, we're still on page 6, bottom right.

I just had to use this phenomenal, super-quality high-
resolution image from this book published by a
subsidiary of Hasbro four years ago.  We don't see
this kind of quality work from a former Fortune-500
company every day.
Two quick points on the above, and forgive me if I'm already breaking my promise to not nitpick.  Throughout the introduction, there are seveal points where the makers have clearly relied on the reader to know something about RPGs, since what they've said would make so little sense to a newcomer.  In the above, however, suddenly the reader needs to be treated as a pre-schooler.  Let's be honest.  Most people who have bought this book will be unable to see the wall of dice that surrounds every cash till in every game store, everywhere.  What gamestore clerk won't ask, "Do you want dice with that?" like a MacDonald's employee asking if you want fries?  I grant that some children will have this book bought for them ~ presumably by parents who already know their kids are into this ~ but still, I'm sure the dice will be in the Christmas stocking with the book.  The passage above, therefore, is written solely for the few people who are buying this book completely blind ~ who have no one to tell them what a d20 is.  I understand how that is a thing in 1979.  But today?  With the internet?

But I pity the makers of the book having to explain 10-sided dice "numbered in tens."  It takes a whole long paragraph to explain the d100 and it is agony.  From the moment I first saw them, I hated those fucking two-digit d10s.  I put up with them because they're everywhere ... but they absolutely fucking suck.  I am content to use two ordinary ten-sided and identify one as the 10s.  But we know ... we fucking know ... how these two-digit dice came to be.  Assholes.  That fucking guy who would dig in tooth and nail that on this one occasion, the green die was the 10s and the blue die was the 1s ~ though we knew as a DM that every other fucking time it was the reverse.  This two-digit tens thing was to subvert that bullshit.  Everyone knows it.

The book spends an entire page discussing dice here and says not one word about etiquette.  Now, I've deliberately not read ahead in the book.  I don't want to know what's next.  This is part of the fun for me, writing these posts.  So if we talk about dice cheating later, that's great, but it really ought to be here in this section.

After we learn how the dice work, we begin with the heading, The D20:
"Does an adventurer’s sword swing hurt a dragon or just bounce off its iron-hard scales? Will the ogre believe an outrageous bluff? Can a character swim across a raging river? Can a character avoid the main blast of a fireball, or does he or she take full damage from the blaze? In cases w here the outcome of an action is uncertain, the Dungeons & Dragons game relies on rolls of a 20-sided die, a d20, to determine success or failure."

I suppose it would be quibbling to say that we use the other dice to determine uncertain outcomes; I do think they're trying to say that where a physical/mental attempt is being made of some kind, we'll use the d20.  2nd Edition laid the groundwork for this and 3rd Edition went nuts with it.  Since what I remember from people playing 3rd Edition was how dependent the game was on this singular feature ~ and how annoying it was to calculate it ~ I'm surprised to find it remains part of the game.  This is part of what makes me think of 5e as the child of 3e, and not a return to the old game ... but admittedly, I haven't read the book yet so let's reserve that opinion.

I think in game terms, it's a mistake.  I see the "common sense" in thinking, let's make a random check to see if the ogre believes this ~ but in practice as a DM I've always taken the position, "Would anyone in this position, with their agenda and responsibilities, at this time, looking at these player characters, believe this mound of shite?  To which the answer ~ particularly if a bluff is "outrageous" ~ is NO.  Absolutely not.  But players, I know, adore the success of really ridiculous lies, and consider this one of the great triumphs of the game ... and so I know that when I say I'd slam that door, many readers would cry foul, DM fiat, etcetera.  But here's the thing.  If you reward a particular kind of behaviour with a die roll that has a reasonable chance of success, you encourage that behaviour.  And soon, every interaction with every NPC becomes a challenge in how outrageous can we make the lie.  That, for me, isn't the game.  For me, the challenge shouldn't be, can you pull your shit out of the fire with a poorly inspired yet die-dependent fabrication?  The game should be, can you avoid getting your shit in the fire.  If you need a brobdingnagian lie to get out, you've already fucked up ... and you deserve the consequences.

Yes, that is my word for the week.

However, for 5e, circumstantial bonuses and penalties are the order of the day ... because every action deserves a pass/fail die roll.  And that is based on some time-honored features of the game.  Combat was built so that there was always the chance that Bard the Bowman could hit the target he needed at that moment in time.  The fireball was built to do half damage to the lucky ones, because it was reasonable to argue that fire, and the way it behaves, would rush into existence as tongues of flames and not as a perfectly distributed gaseous cloud of eradication.  Fireball was built that way because it was a 3rd level spell and, while the inventor wanted effectiveness, it needed to be tempered in a way that would annoy the player's mage when the fireball didn't kill the adversary, and please the player when the player's character didn't actually die.

3e took that to the point where "chance" got, well, silly.  If my character can swim, the player argues, then surely there's a chance of swimming across this raging river.  The problem with that logic is that, *if you knew anything about swimming, you'd know better than to try.  You'd know that a raging river is full of kinetic energy and rocks, and if you plunge into that, you're gonna die.  It takes an idiot to think they can swim a river like that.

The player, however, will argue, "But lots of expert swimmers and skiiers drown!  That proves they thought there was a chance."  Actually, no.  We have a little thing in human behaviour called "hubris."  It is a disease very common among a particular kind of expert, who does get themselves into a place where, as a swimmer or a skiier, they think they can do anything.  If we're going to invoke it, we should understand how it works.  If your character looks at a raging river that is going to kill them, and thinks, "I can swim that," then go on, plunge in.  You will die.  Because there's no way that river isn't going to kill you.  But if your character thinks, "I think I can swim it," then you're not suffering from hubris.  As a DM, that's when I step up and so, you can't, because that river is going to kill you.

It is very, very rare for a swimmer to misjudge their abilities ~ because that's what being an expert means.  Knowing your abilities.  In reality, if it is possible for you to swim that river, and you look at it and ask, "Is it possible to swim that river," then the chance of swimming that river is 99.9% or better.  It isn't 50/50.

But these are fine points.  Too fine for most players, who want to handwave actions, thoughts, patters of behaviour, abilities, skills, limitations and what else, usually under the rubric of "fantasy" and sometimes under the heading, "fun."  The bonus/penalty pass/fail model was voted by the fans of 5e's launch because it is insanely popular with that kind of player that wants to play craps with a character's life and win.  For all the people who claim "role-playing" and not "roll-playing," this one overarching feature gets a pass.  Don't tell me MY character can't swim that river.  I have this strength, this dexterity and +5 of that!  Give me a die!

Nor can we solve the problem by making the rivers placid and slow, or the animal's skin marshmallowy and paper-thin, or the bluff plain and iron-clad in its logic.  We still have to roll.  That's the humour of it.

Those examples, however, are not nearly as much fun to quote when discussing how the dice work.

Bringing us to Advantage and DisadvantageI can't say much.  I've never played by this rule; I've heard it expressed hundreds of times in online game play.  The sheer proliferation of the skill makes me suspicious.  I will have to wait until chapter 7.  But ... in case I forget to mention this later ... why isn't there a chance to have a super-advantage, where you roll 3 dice?  What about a hyper-advantage, where you roll 4?  Or a mondo-excessive-adjectival-califragilistic advantage where my character gets to roll twenty 20-sided dice.  That would be cool.

I'm winding this down now.  There's this passage that follows ... it has nothing whatsoever to do with dice, but the heading indicates it is included in the dice section of the introduction.  So, editorial faux pas there.  Anyway, it has the quote, "If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins."  There's no attempt to define the difference between a "general" rule or a "specific" rule; just a reference to each.  The example given: "... many adventurers don't have proficiency with longbows, but every wood elf does because of a racial trait," isn't actually a conflict of any kind.

I can write a grammatically similar sentence: "Many people don't know how to cook, but every qualified cook does because of education," and it can be seen immediately that what many people don't know how to do is irrelevant.  No rule has been broken.

The next example is the same: "... an adventurer can't normally pass through walls, but some spells make that possible."  Yeah.  They're spells.  That's how technology works.  People can't normally fly, but airplanes make that possible.  Magic isn't an exception.  It's a feature.

I know I haven't read this book.  Did the writers?

3 comments:

JB said...

"Most people are not trained writers, but some are given jobs writing rule books anyway."

I have to say this post...especially the last three or four paragraphs...made me laugh out loud.
: )

Ax said...

Regarding the contradicting rules, I'm reminded of propositional calculus. A charitable interpretation could read something like:
[Adventurers] use [long bows] => False
[Wood elf adventurers] use [long bows] => True
and the specific/general descriptor is a relative one where the rule with a more specific selector takes precedence.

To your point, it's poorly written as presented, as if it started with a useful heuristic that was mutilated by a committee into the messy pablum on the page.

Were Teddy said...

I've never understood where the whole "there's always a chance to succeed" idea came from in regards to 3e. It's certainly not supported by the rules. It and the splatbook culture are the two worst things to come from the edition, and both have infected the player community of 5e too.