Saturday, January 5, 2019

5e: How [sic] to Play

So here we are on page 6 of the 5th Edition Player's Handbook.  The heading reads, "Using This Book" ~ but in fact, the words below don't say anyting about actually using the book, but rather provides a fast overview on the contents.  I'm not a fan of overviews at the start of a book; they feel like filler to me.  But sometimes a publisher has a third of a page that has to be filled with something, so ...

We're told "Part 1" is about creating a character, and it lists off various races, classes, backgrounds, equipment, etc.  It's clear from the way the passage is worded that the publishers are well aware you already know how this stuff works.  It's sad to me that at the same time the introduction (which we're still reading) can at the same time go into spastic flourishes about the amazing game we're going to learn about, while simultaneously, patently, recognizing that you've already played it.  Meh.  About what I expect.

"Part 3" tells me we're going to use the last third of the book for spells again.  Spells take a lot of space.  Easily half the pages on my wiki are spells ~ though that's because I have the list ready made and I'm just trying to hammer out the rules surrounding those spells to make them clear, and to help the players use the text to keep me honest.  There are so many spells, I can't possibly remember every one ~ that is why we make law books, so that lawyers can go to the book and not to fallible human beings to find out what the law actually IS.  And still, when I read that part three will be about spells, I think, "Ugh. Spells."

"Part 2" is the most interesting; I'm guessing I will be coming back around again to this paragraph.  Let's quote it:
"Part 2 details the rules of how to play the game, beyond the basics described in this introduction. That part covers the kinds of die rolls you make to determine success or failure at the tasks your character attempts, and describes the three broad categories of activity in the game: exploration, interaction and combat."

Apparently, the introduction has been providing "the basics" for game play.  I surely hope the book is going to provide the rules for how to play.  I surely hope the die rolls are going to be covered.  I surely hope that the book will describe the three broad categories of exploration, interaction and combat.
[Damn.  I feel the need to point out that the quote above is not exactly the same as the words in the book.  I have taken out the Oxford comma, just as I always do when I quote stuff.  I hate the damn thing, just as I hate all mechanical additions to content to supposedly make writing clearer, when in fact the best way is to write better.  The thing eats shoots and leaves is a perfectly clear sentence, if you don't put a comma after "eats."  Why would you?  It if bothers you that much, why don't you say the thing eats sprouts and leaves, or leaves and buds, or it has a diet of shoots and leaves?  Unless, of course, your actual goal is to write a pedantic dumbfuck book with a catchy title that works on people who don't know how to fucking write.  Okay, okay, sorry.  This is about the tenth Oxford comma I've removed from this text and it gets to me]

I don't know if this book IS going to live up to these promises.  We'll just have to see.

That brings us to another wide-ranging promise, where we are told, "How to Play."  I am keen to learn.  Let me start by saying, I agree: the process does start with the DM describing the environment, though I prefer the word "setting."  The environment is a massive biophysical construct that actually describes more than what's immediately visible, but rather everything that exists, as an interdependent gross system that perpetually exists in a state of flux.  A setting is a specific location and place with a specific identity attached to that point on the map.  I get the feeling that this distinction isn't known to the editor, who probably treats these words interchangably.  Many people do.  In any case, setting is the more common word used with establishing a narrative, so we'll use it instead of environment.

And yes, the players do describe what they want to do.  Having obtained the setting in their minds, they act decisively according to how they feel they can best manipulate the setting, and the circumstances surrounding it.  I find the language a little goofy where point 2 includes the phrase [p.6, top right], "the DM listens to every play and decides how to resolve those actions."  I don't see how the DM is resolving anything.  The player searches the chest and the DM describes the setting inside the chest.  The player examines the esoteric symbol engraved on the wall and the DM describes the wall as the player sees it.  A third player keeps watch for monsters and the DM describes if anything appears.  What resolution?

[yes, I see what point 3 says below about narrating results; we'll get there]

The next paragraph tries to explain what's meant by "resolution":
"If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the DM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task."

I'm sorry, but this makes no sense.  It seems to have jumped the perspective to the player, as from the players' perspective the DM might say anything.  But it is clear we're talking about the DM's part, so ...

If the door IS locked, there's no "might" about what the DM will say.  The DM will say the door is open if, and only if, the door is open.  If the door isn't open, the DM will never, ever say the door is open.  The DM is supposed to know if it is or isn't.  We assume that when we put the DM in the position of describing the setting.  So what the fuck goes here?

On top of that, no one in this example is completing a task.  A task is a form of work that needs doing ~ as in, something that has to be done, usually for someone else, as tasks are often assigned.  No one here is doing anything like a task.  They are opening a door.  They are examining a chest.  They are looking down a hallway.  These are not tasks.  They are hardly work, unless we want to define the word according to physics.  Okay, their hearts are working.  But it would be stupid if I were to turn to you in a hallway as you looked at a wall motif and said, "Hey Bob, getting that task done?"

Look, I'm not trying to nit-pick ... but this is the English language.  And it is implying stuff that isn't there. Which makes it pretty damn hard to identify just what the hell it is trying to say.  Look at this sentence immediately following, finishing off the 2nd paragraph:
"In those cases [resolving the task], the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action."

Yes, that's true.  Except here ... are we really going to say that the DM doesn't know if the door is locked until the player tries to open it?  Or if there is a trap in the room until after the players walk across the floor?  Me, when I describe an environment, I'm clear about what's there before the players get there.  I would think we'd want to encourage DMs to know.  This seems to imply that the DM has no clue at all, not until the players actually show up, and then the DM thinks fast while the players are looking at chests and hallways and wall symbols, thinking, hey, "I wonder if there's a trap here?  I better throw a die."

So, does the DM resolve the players' actions ... or does the die resolve the players' actions.  Because the way this paragraph is written, it sounds like the die.

We can't be clearer than this?

Okay.  Let's pick up point 3.  But first, I'm going to rant about something else.
[remember earlier in this series I talked about the publishers' decision to call the players "adventurers" and not "characters"?  I said it was pretty dumb at the time, since we're already used to calling them players.  Well, if you look at page 3, it is fairly clear that the publishers couldn't make up their minds whether or not to embrace the "adventurers" rebrand. Point 1 says, "The DM tells the players;" and point 2 says, "The players describe;" and then point 3 uses the phrase: "The DM narrates the results of the adventurer's actions."  Now, apparently, "adventurers" also means "players."]

At point 3, the wheels really come off this cart. The so-called resolution that the DM has made about the players' actions now mysteriously inserts the phrase "decision point" without any explanation. I don't know what this is supposed to mean in this context. The paragraph that follows returns to the old pattern, discussed before, of dangling adventure ideas in front of the reader without details or purpose.
The paragraph after that ... well, I'll have to quote it:
"Often the action of an adventure takes place in the imagination of the players and DM, relying on the DM’s verbal descriptions to set the scene. Some DMs like to use music, art or recorded sound effects to help set the mood, and many players and DMs alike adopt different voices for the various adventurers, monsters, and other characters they play in the game. Sometimes, a DM might lay out a map and use tokens or miniature figures to represent each creature involved in a scene to help the players keep track of where everyone is."

What in the motherfuck is this?  Sorry, some of you in bloomers coughed a bit there, didn't mean to startle you.  But what in the moth--

Step one: the DM describes the setting.  Step two, the Players take actions ... and the DM resolves them.  Sort of.  Step three, stuff to do, voices, miniatures, creatures in a scene.  There you go, clear as can be.

What the fuck is a decision point?  Oh well, no time for that.  Time to talk about dice.  Well, that's fine for the book but I'm still stuck on the above.

Very well, I take a crack at explaining this myself.

Create a setting.  Describe the setting.  Explain to the players that the setting works just like the real world; you can walk up to things and examine them, you can walk up to intelligent beings and talk to them.  When you're bored with what you can see, pick a direction and start to travel.  Watch the world unfold in front of you.  I will describe each place as you come to it.  If there's something that interests you about that place, interact with it.  With those who can answer, ask questions.  If you want to intimidate people, threaten them.  Show them your weapons and beat your shield.  If you want people to like you, put your shield and weapon down and speak nicely.

You can interact with anything.  And pretty much however you want.  If you ask me, your DM, a question, I'll answer if you've taken the steps to deserve that answer.  Turn a stone over and I'll tell you what's underneath.  Ask a being a question and I'll give their answer.  Crawl into a hole and I'll describe what's inside.

This is a die. But don't worry
about that now.
If you try to do something where there's a doubt of success, we'll roll a die.  Say you try to throw a rock at a tree.  Well, you might either hit or miss.  We'll roll a die and see.  You might try to kill someone. They'll try to stop you ~ so we'll roll a die and see who goes first.  If you get a chance to use your weapon, we'll roll to see if you're successful with it.  If you're not, and the other guy is, you could die.  We'll roll a die for that too.

Of course, all this dice stuff is tricky.  So we'll leave that for our next post.  Toodle-oos.


JB said...

I wasn't able to leave a comment on this the other day (phone issues), but what I wanted to say was:

While I found the textual instruction here to be hopelessly garbled, I was willing to chalk it up to the several stout beers I had put away while cursing at the football game on my television. Then I read the final four paragraphs of your post with perfect clarity.

Just causes me to shake my head.

Drain said...

Despite misnomers and misconceptions, contemporary DnD is actually a simulation where the guy at the head of the table unwittingly signs up to be a beleaguered tour guide; hilarity and surprisingly realistic heartburn ensue when the tourists don't get the experience promised by the brochure.

Alexis Smolensk said...

[adopting a nasal voice]

... and if you'll please draw your attention to the wall on the rear of the group, you'll see that a gelatinous cube has already begun to devour the old grandmother I earlier warned to keep up with the group. Draw a little tighter now, as we move forward through this door ... this part of the dungeon was built about three hours ago, by a 30-year-old pimpled man living in his mother's basement. We're walking, and we're walking, please mind the green slime - I warn you not to touch anything as we move through this part. There, see, I did warn that small boy. Move along people, move along, plenty to see. But not through this door; we'll be opening the medusa's lair now, so I'll ask all of you to tightly cover your eyes for the next forty five steps. Please ignore any sounds of eating you might hear, unless you feel an acute pain in one of your extremities. If you don't finish the tour, there is no refund. Move along, we're walking ...