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RPG Systems, and two Schools of thought
by Chris Nonis on 03/10/13 07:57:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


If you're familiar with pen and paper RPGs, you may recall some heated internet discussion several years ago when Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition was released. 'Edition wars' are not a new thing and I won’t repeat the debate here. I do however want to highlight one of the more common complaints I noticed, which was the notion that D&D 4th was ‘too much like World of Warcraft’.

I found it an intriguing notion. I did end up liking 4th edition, but still kind of understood what these people were getting at. There was a definite change in how the game felt in play, but back then I didn’t have the vocabulary to properly express these concepts. And I suspect, neither did the majority of people involved that discussion, which resulted in folks shouting past enough other in the internet trenches.

Now that I have a little experience, I do.

Two Philosophies

Most designers should be familiar with the term ‘Aesthetic’. Broadly speaking, it refers to how a game or an aspect of a game ‘feels’.

Aesthetic is unrelated to technical competency. A game with photorealistic 3D graphics may be impressive technically but the lack of a creative spark may leave it ‘feeling’ hollow or derivative.

It can also refer to non-visual elements of a work such as sound, writing, presentation, user interface, or game mechanics. It was the mechanics of D&D 4th in particular that were aesthetically different from it’s past iterations, hence the different aesthetic.

To elaborate, there are two distinct methods of approach to game systems in an RPG, for video games or pen and paper alike. Think of them as two opposing philosophies or on opposite ends of a sliding scale.

The Abstract approach is when numbers and effects are arbitrary, and a means to an end for creating interesting gameplay first and foremost. Abstract RPG systems have less regard for context: an enemy is a group of numbers balanced first and given form later.

A good example that I’ll be using often is World of Warcraft, where players went from a maximum of 6000 health during the game’s launch to literally over 500,000 health during the recent Mists of Pandaria expansion.

The number is inherently meaningless by itself. Does this mean player characters are thousands of times ‘healthier’ than they were a year ago at launch? Or does the enchanted armor giving us that health increase in magical power thousands-fold?

No, the number is what it is to create good gameplay. Barring gimmicks, a boss fight will always deal enough damage to challenge - not completely destroy - a player’s group. Ancient Troll gods will deal damage in difference of hundreds of thousands, with the only difference being that one appeared in an earlier expansion.

Another hallmark of an Abstract system is unity, in the sense that the many varied effects in said system all fall under well-defined classifications.

For example: A strong degenerative curse, a vicious poison, or stepping in lava may all count as ‘damage over time’. A wizard’s freeze spell and a thief’s tripwire both stop the player, and thus both count as a ‘root’ effect. Despite the wildly different contexts, they equate to the same net effect.

So what are the benefits of this approach? Your mechanics and systems usually end up more sound and coherent to everyone. Since numbers and effects are codified, the overall the game can be better balanced and players can understand the rules with clarity.

It also leads to a more versatile system for creating gameplay. For example, you know that a player will have X resources and stats at a certain level or point in a game. You then know you need an enemy that deals Y damage per second to challenge them. You crunch out the math, then give it context later.

The downside is that the game-ness of your system is exposed front and center, which might hamper immersion if people keep thinking of your game as a game. There would also be more pressure on your mechanics and systems to be well designed, since they’re on display so much.

The Deterministic approach is when mechanics and numbers are a part of the fiction of the game. They have inherent meaning.

In D&D 3rd, elder dragons had an Armor Class statistic wildly out of proportion to their level, giving martial heroes an almost unfair challenge. Yet in the fiction of the world, dragons have incredibly tough scales and the Armor Class reflected that. That mechanical imbalance was itself a form of storytelling, reinforcing how dragons were just that badass and special.

Earlier editions of D&D took this further by having a set of statistics for characters called ‘saving throws’ that were reserved primarily for defending against spells. The ‘save’ system was clunky and difficult to grasp, but because its’ mechanics felt odd and arcane to the player, it lent that personality to the spells themselves, and as a result dealing with magic felt unique and special.

A Deterministic approach is great for giving a sense of place to the setting, by having your mechanics be a part of the actual fiction.

The downside to Deterministic systems is that they’re less flexible, especially for video games. It would be quite difficult to create a well-balanced team vs team arena style game if you couldn’t shift numbers as necessary.

You are also expected to have rock-solid internal consistency. New content cannot break the rules followed by previous content. If trolls in a part of the world had a certain amount of health, trolls in another part should be the same unless the fiction reflected that; perhaps harsh climes or a breed with harder skin, not merely they are a higher level.

Back to the Dungeon

So how does this relate to Dungeons and Dragons? D&D 4th underwent a drastic change in it’s mechanical aesthetic, swinging hard from Deterministic to Abstract. As an example, let’s take a look at how the player classes changed.

In previous editions of D&D, martial heroes (Fighters, Thieves, etc) were very restricted in their options in combat. There were a few - such as tripping or grabbing a person - but the rules were complicated and unsatisfying, and it was generally more practical to simply deplete an enemy's HP as fast as possible. This led to the martial player eventually declaring 'I hit him with my sword' every round of combat.

By contrast, magic heroes (Clerics, Wizards, etc) had a lot of tactical and strategic choice by being able to cast practical and diverse spells with many different effects. Every time a magic hero used a spell it was a meaningful choice, because that resource was extremely limited and effectiveness changed with positioning, enemy type, and lots of other circumstances.

In D&D 4th, martial heroes have the same amount of practical options as magic heroes. Instead of ‘spells’ they have access to ‘maneuvers’ or ‘tricks’. The context may be different, but the way the abilities operate are the same under the hood.

You can read this and think 'Great, they balanced the game! Isn't this a purely positive thing?'

It's true that in previous editions, the options and power levels of each class varied wildly. However, that very unevenness contributed to the overall character of D&D and is almost iconic of the franchise. By giving every class roughly the same effectiveness and amount of meaningful choice in combat, some of the game's uniqueness was ironically lost.

While I cannot say for sure, I can see good reasons for World of Warcraft's dev team choosing to have their systems lean towards the Abstract. It gave them greater freedom in planning their content and allowed the loot-based progression they have at the game's level cap to exist.

It was also more important for them to have a well balanced game. We need to remember that In pen and paper, a weak character or class was not necessarily a problem. The imbalance could result in interesting roleplay, or the game master coming up with some other way for them to be interesting or otherwise contribute to the game/story. In World of Warcraft, if you didn't bring enough numbers to beat the content's numbers, a player was dead weight.

Without a game master present to create a living story, what you had was a purely mechanical combat challenge with a light layer of context. And without a game master to tailor that challenge to the group, class balance became paramount.

I can also see why the designers for D&D 4th adopted the Abstract philosophy. The mechanics of earlier editions were messy, often hard to grasp, and yes, unbalanced. There was an entire grid/positioning tile based combat system that groups used or didn’t at their whim, and judged as a game system it was far from perfect.

Their overhaul worked - D&D 4th is quite mechanically sound - at the cost of changing how the game felt in play.

Further Inflection

I’m not here to pass judgment on which approach is better. Both are valid for different purposes and can be used to evoke different aesthetics of play. Most games also don’t fall entirely at either extreme end of the scale. A particular game will usually lean towards one approach, but throw in some of the other philosophy to add spice to the game.

Take Diablo 2 - an almost purely Abstract game. Boiled down to it’s core, Diablo 2 was a gear treadmill with numbers on loot climbing ever higher and higher. Yet the green-colored set pieces carried properties and abilities not reflected by merely higher numbers. These abilities could also be unique to only that weapon. This, combined with a flavorful name, lent a lot of personality to those set pieces and made them a truly memorable part of the experience.

No matter the approach you choose for your game, what is absolutely critical is consistency.

Once you have chosen where on the sliding scale your game system lands, stick to it. You still have to design your gameplay around the approach you've chosen, and having internal consistency will help you avoid pitfalls of all kinds. Besides being rule 1 of worldbuilding, a player masters game systems ultimately by experimentation and trial and error. If the rules of that system are not consistent, mastery is impeded and causes much frustration.

A favorite example of mine to use here is the 10 player dungeon of Karazhan in World of Warcraft. The first boss is an undead horse. Slightly challenging, but there were no outstanding gimmicks that required specific classes to beat. Any defender or 'tank' class could fight him with no problem.

And one day, the horse was no longer affected by bleeding attacks.

This makes no sense from either an Abstract or Deterministic point of view. Looking at Warcraft as an Abstract system, the immunity to bleeding hurt Druid tanks who relied heavily on said attacks to be effective. Even worse, other ‘damage over time’ sources such as fire spells or curses were not affected. By excluding an entire class/character build from contributing, this change created bad gameplay - inexcusable under an Abstract system.

Looking at it Deterministically didn't help either, as there were other undead horses in the game and they all bled perfectly fine. If all undead things were immune to bleeding across the game, this change would make sense, and groups could plan around this restriction with certainty.

In Closing

While I’ve used RPG systems as a context, the Abstract / Deterministic philosophies also apply very much to mechanics from other genres and even entire games.

Look at how Left 4 Dead implements their weapons, compared to a tactical sim like Rainbow Six. In Left 4 Dead, the guns have exactly enough ammo to support the action-zombie gameplay - 50 rounds in an M16’s magazine, unlimited pistol ammunition, and so on. Rainbow Six models guns on their realistic specifications - an M16 rifle had 31 rounds (30 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber), all the better to support the realistic tactical simulation-fiction they were trying to build.

Mechanics propagate throughout the industry very rapidly, be it a pen and paper RPG in days past copying D&D, or a modern shooter adopting the Left Trigger - Right Trigger dynamic of Call of Duty. Something that’s popular is always quickly picked up by others.

Yet at this point, I feel the industry’s matured enough that we as designers can start to recognize exactly how a mechanic affects the overall gestalt feeling of playing our game. We no longer should be copying or iterating blindly. An ‘imperfect’ mechanic may be iconic of your franchise, for better or for worse.

As the industry slowly transitions from creating ‘fun’ to creating engaging experiences,  recognizing and being able to describe aesthetic will only benefit all of us in the long run. At the very least, we’ll be able to better tell others why something is great/sucks, and that by itself is a pretty worthy thing.

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Simon Ludgate
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I don't think "deterministic" applies to earlier editions of D&D, really. Right from the get-go, D&D was based on abstract concepts like "hit points" and "levels" and later on had even more abstract concepts like THAC0. If anything, 4th edition is the most deterministic of the systems, in so far as it outlines the most rules and determines the most choices a player can make. In order to understand the reaction to (and raison-d'etre for) 4th Edition, I think a historical perspective of D&D is necessary.

D&D came about when two game designers, Gary Gygax (who was developing Chainmail, a system for fantasy miniatures wargaming) and Dave Arneson (who was developing Blackmoor, a system for cooperative wargaming). The two combined forces to create D&D, but the two ultimately had different ideas about what D&D ought to be. These differences manifested themselves in two branches of D&D: basic D&D followed the Arnesian ideal of creating a lose framework for storytelling, where rules were light and DMs were expected to come up with their own rules on the fly as players made up anything at all they wanted to do, whereas Advanced D&D followed the Gygaxian ideal of creating a rules-complete system, where a rule determined the outcome of every action a player or monster might try to take.

4th Edition arguably comes closest to that Gygaxian rules-complete ideal. It also brings the series back to its wargaming roots, with heavy emphasis on the tactical grid (such that powers and rules are expressed in terms of concrete grid squares rather than abstract shapes and sizes). The power structure for classes is merely the icing on the cake: a rules-complete expression of every combat action each class can take.

So, in previous editions of D&D, a fighter would say something like "I try to ram into the monster, stab him with my sword and push him back with my shield" and the DM would have to understand how to weave the story around that. Some DMs would. Many would say "uh, you can't do that. It's not in the books." In 4th edition, the tables have turned. Now the player says "I use Tide of Iron" and the attack and push happen, just like its written in the books.

But something about the abstract storytelling was lost. Players weren't role-playing in combat so much as they were using powers. The "theater of the mind" was replaced by a battle grid and miniatures. Combat would take longer to resolve because of the myriad tactical options available to players and the tremendous detail the game system paid on each attack, movement, status effect, and so on. From the Gygaxian perspective of wargaming, it was a dream come true, but from the Arnesian perspective of collaborative storytelling the FREEDOM to tell story was lost by the completeness of the rules.

So, getting back to the complaint about WoW, what made 4th Edition feel like WoW wasn't the power structure (at-will, encounter, daily) available to each class, but rather the completeness of the rule system and lack of role-playing flexibility. Just like in WoW, where you can't say "well, I don't have a button on my bar for jumping on the monster's back and stabbing him in the head, but can I do that anyways?" 4th Edition doesn't really provide options for story-driven actions that violate the actions available to the character (No, sorry, you can't do that, you didn't take such-and-such encounter power).

Lewis Wakeford
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I don't think he means abstract or deterministic in the traditional way you use those words in game design.

My interpretation was that abstract games are designed separately from the fiction, although they obviously have some connection to it while deterministic games have mechanics determined by the fiction. In the fiction of DnD people don't really have a set pool of abilities to choose from, that's an abstract concept invented for the sake of gameplay.

Graham Luke
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Yeah I got the same meaning as Lewis. You misunderstood what the original poster meant by deterministic. IMO deterministic is not a good word for what he used it for. Abstract vs Narrative makes way more sense.

Paul Ginger
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As a system designer I prefer everything relative to the systems, not the story, so I also had a little trouble with his use of words. Still, as with Lewis, I think you are arguing semantics with the columnist about the words Deterministic and Abstract in reference to game-play or as the author puts it ‘Aesthetic’. Basically the question is whether the words deterministic and abstract are relative to the story or to the systems, right?

Simon Ludgate
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I think the argument goes deeper than semantics. The original author seems to focus on the selection of class powers as the WoW-Like thing that makes 4th Edition different, but I argue that this is merely a superficial feature of the far more significant rules-completeness objective that drives 4th Edition's core.

3rd edition was "deterministic" (as the author uses it) only in so far as the players and DM determined it to be so. Fighters and Rogues were only as limited as the DM limited players from making up new moves. Spell resources were only as limited as the DM limited them (otherwise players just engage in the 5 minute adventuring day and get all their spells back after every encounter). These things were influenced by the theme of the world only in so far as the players embraced the theme.

4th Edition took the limits from the DM and put them in the books to make things more consistent. That itself isn't an abstraction from thematically-influenced world. 4th Edition Dark Sun still adheres to the theme of Dark Sun and adds rules for Arcane Defiling and innate Psionic talents, for example. The difference is that instead of merely providing the basic ideas, it also provides rules in a standardized and portable format.

Scott Soto
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The DMs I found who didn't appreciate the system had forgotten the most important rule, when you're in charge of the game you can throw out any rule you want to. Once they remembered that they could take what was a very modular system and sculpt it into exactly what they wanted it to be. If you knew how to handle your group it gave you the ability to summon new material from thin air, particularly if you had a strong hand at world building and were able to keep all of your thematic elements together.

Regardless of the semantics surrounding the authors choice of words, I felt his intent was to convey something more substantial about how thematic elements can be tied together to create an engaging world, that there's more than one kind of balance available.

Stephen Horn
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As a DnD4e player, I see the author's description of what made 4e more "abstract" as somewhat missing the point. I agree that 4e is more abstract, but not because of power selection. What makes 4e more abstract is that the character attributes feel consistent to the point of being meaningless from each other.

Whatever class you choose, from burly Fighter to conniving Wizard, you essentially have "Primary Stat", "Secondary Stat", and everything else is "Dump Stat"; except Con, maybe, which could be seen as a universal "Tertiary" stat. A character's uniqueness comes from their combat role (defender -> tank, striker -> DPS, controller -> crowd control, leader -> healer) and out-of-combat skillset. This is all very abstract, clearly driven by a desire to provide balanced mechanics first and narrative as a distant second.

I also agree that, semantically, "narrative" is a better word than "deterministic". 3rd and 3.5 clearly spell out a narrative setting first, and mechanics derive from that. I think word choice is important.

Limited spell resources is a bad argument, though, because nothing stops the 4e players from declaring that they're taking an "extended rest" after every encounter, and getting back their daily powers, except for the DM. In the exact same way, nothing stops the players from 5-minute adventuring days in previous editions. This wasn't newly codified; the 4e rules simply added a concept of limited resources that renewed more frequently than "daily". In MMO terms, a 5 minute cooldown as opposed to a "2 hour" (or whatever the "used once in a dire emergency" interval is for your MMO of choice).

Erin OConnor
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And in response to the 4th edition Paizo Publishing did a super massive "beta test" for its Pathfinder game. They took the D&D [3.0 and] 3.5 rules and asked the players to tweek the rules to reduce the negatives present in the ruleset. The end result is Pathfinder is generally considered a superior D&D.

I think Wizards of the coast woke up and are doing something very similar with their D&D next beta.

I must admit though. I am having a hard time going back to D&D after having played Marvel heroic roleplaying by Margaret Weiss Publishing. The rules are quick and dirty and the focus is almost completely focused on narrative. With the way the rules are layed out it works great. The homebrew sword and sorcery rules also work fantastic too.

And after playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire by FFG (Fantasy Flight Games) I am even more reluctant to play D&D. The force was with them when they made this. The narrative and game mechanics gel so well and support each other its just a joy to play.

Michael Brodeur
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All this does is make me feel glad I still have my AD&D 2nd Edition books. :)

Kevin Reese
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I think an interesting, untouched-upon closely-related topic that is also worthy of discussion is the interplay of influence between pen & paper roleplaying games and RPGs.

It's fascinating for a game nerd like myself to see how early computer RPGs derived much of their gameplay and mechanics from pen & paper games initially. And then, 20/30 years later, due to the market popularity of video games, then pendulum has swung the other way, with some pen & paper games following computer RPG game developments and simplifying their game mechanics to match video games. The prime example of this of course being D & D.

It's interesting to see this state of affairs reflected in modern C-RPGs. Let's say Diablo 3, for instance. Characters in this game have 4 primary attributes, like strength, intelligence, dexterity and vitality. But I see this is as an unneeded relic. Basically these four stats only translate into damage, mana points, to hit, and hit points. So why even have the stats presented to the player like this at all, if they are only representative of these four other things (hp's, mp's, defense), and have no other real applicable value?

In an old pen paper RPG, or a more advanced computer RPG like Fallout 1/2 as a counter example, a value like Strength would not only affect your damage in hand to hand combat, but would also affect things like, if you try to force open a door, it would do a strength check; or your inventory carrying weight would be adjusted to your strength, or it might help you resisting a disease, etc etc etc.

Not making a judgement call on whether complex or simple systems are inherently better than one another, but it is neat to look at how some mechanics in video game RPGs are so integrated into the design philosophies almost solely because of tradition (stretching back to the pen and paper games influence) rather than logical reasoning.

Andrew Quesenberry
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So the biggest problem I've had with 4th edition isn't because of the rules. I love the class system, and love the idea of the AEDU ability system.

What I don't like is how tough Wizards made it to create custom items, monsters, encounters, NPCs that players can fight, etc. It feels like it was built for people to just buy Wizards' campaign books rather than create their own worlds. Am I alone in this feeling?

Simon Ludgate
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I don't see how Wizards made it hard to customize monsters, given the online Adventure Tools make it very easy to customize existing monsters (eg: level them up and their stats automatically change) or create new monsters from scratch (including importing powers and traits from other existing monsters).

As far as making monsters on the fly, that's never been easier, especially with Monster Manual 3 on a Business Card:

Items are harder in so far as you can't do custom items with the existing online tools, but nothing stops you from custom items inside your own campaign worlds. All magic items are based on the same sort of building block principles; once you have a grasp of those, you can really just come up with any feature that doesn't already exist. Balanced...? well, good luck ;)

Actually, I have the opposite problem that you have: I find Wizards has left too much to DMs to make up and have woefully under-provided campaign content. Aside from the 9 original adventure books (H1 through E3, which were published pre-MM3 math and are largely unusable as written), Revenge of the Giants (also pre-MM3), and a few other bits and bobs, there have been scant few open-and-run published adventures. Dungeon magazine has provided a lot of material, though it's major adventure path (Scales of War) also suffers from pre-MM3 irrelevance and the rest of it focuses more on fragments of story than powerful meaningful combat encounter-driven adventures.

Not to mention the campaign settings have gotten no love at all. Forgotten Realms has 2 adventures, Ebberon has 2, Dark Sun has 1, and none of them are higher than level 5.

The big problem with the published D&D 4th Edition adventures is that combat is far more important and tactical in 4th: you can't just say "a room full of orcs" and expect the DM to make it work, any more than a WoW developer could say "a room full of orcs." Just like how WoW's success derives from very carefully crafted and tuned combat encounters that deeply engage players, 4th Ed requires carefully crafted and tuned combat encounters, not just the monsters but the area where the fight takes place and the features that players engage with. This area has been severely under-served by existing published work by Wizards.

Nick Lee
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No, you are not alone. If I suddenly wasn't able to create custom things anymore I'd probably stop DMing.

I haven't personally played 4th edition, but I DM for Pathfinder. I pretty much only homebrew, because it lets me tailor genuine experiences for my players. I don't have to follow the rules and books, I can make up whatever I want as long as it works in a positive way. Even though I spend a lot of time homebrewing, I don't have to spend a ton of money on something that I don't cherish. Being able to shape your own memorable story is extremely important to me and my players.

Andrew Quesenberry
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Ah, I believe I quit before MM3. If everything was simplified, I apparently missed it ^^; Specifically, the last book I read through was probably the Player's Handbook 3. Also, don't you need a Paid-DDI account to get to the adventure tools? My paid account was the only reason we weren't fighting the horribly cliche monsters they give you in the MM1.

At any rate, I also agree with you that they under-provided content for campaigns, and had a disturbing tendency to split books up unnecessarily, providing less content per book (Example: you needed both the FR Campaign guide and player's guide to have things like Drow, Genasi, and the Swordmage class, similar for Eberron). Wizards also lost a lot of goodwill among my Roleplaying group when they started to shift everything toward essentials, and now, apparently with the MM3 as well, invalidating or completely revamping old classes making them outdated.
I don't even mind the whole Essentials thing, more that I feel like I'm being bled for trying to keep up with Wizards in this case.
Personally, I've been looking into d20 derivatives like Sacred BBQ and Rule of Cool's Legend, among others to get my d20 fix.

Simon Ludgate
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Well, the Essentials line of products is an entirely different kettle of fish. Apparently core D&D 4th was too confusing for players, so they made a simplified version, with the marketing people trying to sell it as compatible with the existing D&D 4th products even though, in all honesty, it wasn't. It's like trying to mix and match 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition stuff.

D&D Next is a further simplification too, trying to emulate all that made original D&D agony to play. In any case, it's a shame they basically bailed on 4th Ed. In my opinion, they should continue both lines of products: D&D Next for the Arnesian role-players and AD&D 4.5 for the Gygaxian wargamers.

I won't dispute the fact that 4th desperately needs a thorough revamp in terms of re-standardizing everything because of all the changes and "patches" along the way, but I hold that the underlying structure of the game is very strong and sound and, with a bit of work, could become a very good product.

Andrew Quesenberry
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removed duplicate

Chris Clogg
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Ps I like the nod to Diablo 2. I guess this is a bit unrelated to the article, but man D2 has so much going on with items. The way you could combine runes, find uses for white items and blue items even amongst rares and uniques... it's great to read around lol :)

David Konkol
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4th edition isn't really like Gygaxian D&D to be honest.

Google 'Old School Primer' to see what I mean

Simon Ludgate
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Well, I think there's a difference between Gygaxian D&D and the Gygaxian ideal for what D&D should be. Gygax was clearly driven towards the type of rules complete system that 4th Edition represents.

Discussing the original split between D&D and AD&D: "Almost from its inception, differences of design philosophy caused this dual marketing approach to go awry. Gygax, who wrote the advanced game, wanted an expansive game with rulings on any conceivable situation which might come up during play."

Ben Sly
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That's still really not that Gygaxian. It's true that that simple philosophy of "A ruling to every situation" applies to 4th edition's combat, but in a much different style than the exhaustive approach that early D&D did. 4th edition simplified the base combat rules and turned them more abstract to keep their consistency; the Gygaxian ideal had specific rules for each exception to the basic rules. 4th edition was afraid of collapsing under its own rules; the early D&D editions were afraid of running into situations that the rules couldn't handle somewhat realistically.

Outside of combat, there is very little parallel. 4th edition abandoned rules outside of combat almost completely; outside of vaguely defined skill challenges and rituals, there are few real things that a player can do that don't rely on a DM's ruling. Utility spells were replaced with rituals that were carefully designed to prevent use outside of their intended use, and every one had a monetary cost tacked on to it. That is emphatically different from
the march in early D&D towards non-weapon proficiencies, of spells of all different kinds and use outside of combat, of the twenty different rules for twenty slightly different situations that cropped up in the game.

Gygaxian D&D was about creating a rules system complex enough to model a "deterministic" fantasy world, and writing every rule possible down that could fulfill that. 4th edition cared much less about fitting the rules to the setting because it was trying to make a consistent and elegant ruleset over a comprehensive one. I really don't see them as similar goals.

David Konkol
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Sorry about the double post folks!

Daniel Erickson
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Thanks, I enjoyed this. I agree that the labels may need work but the theory is sound and makes it easy to separate the two.

Robert Nesius
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Thanks for the great article. I think you nailed the fundamental shift of 4th ed.

Also, I think it's worth noting that spells in the AD&D were really unbalanced when you broke them down in terms of mechanics. When you look at what some of the lower level spells could really do - crazy. Such as Hold Person - essentially a CC/stun lock that could take someone right out of the fight. Web - mass crowd control/snare. These were low-level spells that had an exponential impact on encounters relative to what a fighter or thief of the same level could do.