Thursday, July 3, 2014

Right from Wrong

"It also occurred to me . . . that the characters customization of 4ed that I use in my campaign might feed into this self-centered play. My players characters are too specific and uniquely capable. Maybe from the start, focusing on a group goal would always be secondary to these characters?"
- Barrow 

As I understand it, the purpose of 4e was to solve a specific problem, called 'balance.'  Players bitched and moaned because the other players sitting around the table were more powerful than their fighter or druid or thief or whatever other fool thing they were running in 3.5, an imbecilic selfish childhood tantrum that the makers thought was a perfectly reasonable complaint, so they built an entire system to address it.  Having now played 4e, I can see that the solution was to have every player use functionally the same mechanic in combat, but to use a lot of different words to describe it, so that the player on my right is casting a 'spell' while I am performing a 'slick threat through my butt crack move' with whatever weapon works for that. Damage?  Fairly interchangeable.  Character differences then became engineered to display believable, cosmetically developed marketed identities, sort of the way that 'blackberry' and 'i-phone' are TOTALLY different platforms for taking pictures, playing games, searching the internet, texting and phoning. Completely, utterly different things.

And now DMs are strangely confused when players - preached at to pander and whine about their personal status, insisting that 'me, me, me' operates as a game application, have trouble working together towards group goals.  There is a point where I address this in my book, arguing the case that the DM must make the players understand that what they can accomplish as a group outweighs what they can accomplish as a rabble of self-interested persons.  The weakness there is, of course, that many DMs are rabidly self-interested persons, who then have no idea how to explain to someone else that self-interest is a bad idea. How far does a fish get in teaching birds how to fly?

Admittedly, I don't cover the flaw in the book.  The book seeks to give DMs the benefit of the doubt, and therefore does not assume they are all hopelessly selfish.  Where I say that we should help players see the wisdom of working as a party, I have chosen to assume the reader is not a functioning sociopath who has found that running games offers unrestricted power over pathetic wannabe players.  I've chosen to let the book assume the reader can tell right from wrong.  A reach, I grant you. But the book has a higher standard than this blog.

Well,  I can't wait to see what player complaints 5e has chosen to succor.  Should be interesting.


JDJarvis said...

The "balance" in 4e made everything equally boring and robbed a lot of character classes of their original differences.

digging into the new basic rules pdf for 5th editions and it looks like they have gone with increased survivability (compared to 3e and earlier), a lot of the power tripping actually looks diminished but I've still done little more than skim the pdf.

Barrow said...

My plan is to make a new campaign after reading your book and dropping all of the house rules and 4ed that I inherited from my group. The classes would be based around generic professions: farmer, trapper, squire, deacon, etc... There will be no levels. Everyone gets use of basic attacks. Players can choose what they want their first or next power to be, no matter what it is, and I will assign an exp point value they need to cash in to get it. Still a lot of work ahead in development.

Tim said...

Some time ago, when I had the energy to deal with the selfish anonymous people of the MMORPG phenomenon, I read an article saying that MMOs were doomed in the west (as opposed to the east, where they were growing) probably by some guy on Kotaku or another similar gaming site. MMOs are clearly a dangerous place to be for this behaviour: without one's real identity exposed, the average player has no sense of accountability for being an ass.
And as always, your blog has allowed me to notice a connection between this problem and the selfish D&D players.

With all the preaching about being an individual/special snowflake/iPerson that goes on in the west, the communal drive for success as a team has fallen by the wayside. Would selfish players be a problem in a society which values teamwork? Even in terms of other entertainment, players who may be looking to delve into more fantasy may find it hard to be involved in anything beyond D&D which has more than one participant. Skyrim and its family of copycats and predecessors perhaps exemplify the western one-player fantasy mentality most strongly, and to be honest it's quite deluding. Human endeavour is never the work of a single mythological person: the inventor of X did not receive divine understanding of X from God; he or she worked with a team for years to achieve the goal. The commemorated 'hero' never works alone, and when you have five people trying to be the 'hero,' you can count on them struggling to reach group goals.

If WOTC cared enough to actually go beyond succoring superficial complaints, they would encourage players to work together in group play. One of the few fantasy games which has co-op play, Lord of the Rings: War in the North, does this through the extraordinarily simple mechanic of 'combos.' Hit your button when they hit their button for a boost: about the same amount of cooperation required as in Portal 2, another good 'couples game.' If you want your players to change their ways, it seems like the trick is to pull out the carrot on a stick. Combos, more experience for working together, encounters that require teamwork: when life itself is not a solo adventure, it is odd seeing people trying to make art one (given the deductive reasoning that stories are art; D&D is a story; ergo D&D is art; art imitates life; ergo D&D imitates life).