Saturday, March 26, 2016

WotC vs. TSR

[from another conference]

The main card gamist/WotC influences I see in 5E, relative to 2nd edition, are that:

(1) Every capability has a reified name. Whereas TSR might have written "a bard's companions get +1 to saving throws vs. charm while the bard is singing," WotC will write, "Countercharm: as an action, the bard can begin a song... non-hostile creatures get advantage vs. charm..."

(2) Capabilities are defined primarily in gamist terms. WotC will think up a mechanically-cool ability like Bardic Inspiration, Cutting Words, give it a snappy name per #1 and a place in the action economy (bonus action/reaction), and give absolutely no thought to roleplaying considerations such as just how exactly a bard is using one mouth simultaneously to give an inspiring speech to a companion (bonus action Bardic Inspiration), insult an enemy (reaction Cutting Words), and cast a spell (action Fireball) using his kazoo as an arcane focus, all in the same six seconds. As I recall 2nd edition, there was no such strong distinction between "fluff" and "crunch" (unused terms back then) because the fluff was primary: if the bard can spend an hour giving a rousing speech to his companions which heartens them against fear and boosts their morale, we know exactly what he is doing in-universe. He's not "spending his bonus action to give them a d8 Inspiration Dice" that they can later expend.

(3) There's an implicit structure to capabilities, and the writers avoid going outside the box. Capabilities are strictly-defined to avoid potentially upsetting mechanical balances, even when it's probably not necessary. Contrast 2nd edition's Tarrasque which caused fear in anything that could see it (no range limitation, although higher-level/HD creatures were less vulnerable) to 5E's Tarrasque that causes fear within some ridiculously tiny radius (120'?) that WotC writers probably think is a large radius. Is there any reason why the Tarrasque's fear should have such a small radius of effect? Were they genuinely concerned that it would be bad if the Tarrasque caused fear in things a mile away? I don't get that impression. I think they're just used to thinking of 120' as an appropriate radius for a high-level creature ability (ancient black dragon breath goes 120') that allows easy access to a "typical" medium-sized battlegrid. It's not so much, I think, that WotC would have found unlimited-range Tarrasque fear a balance problem as that they simply have no reason to break their own pattern here; 120' is enough for the scenarios they're thinking about. They're not thinking in terms of an infinite-resolution roleplaying world, they're thinking primarily in terms of their own gamist jargon.

All three of these aspects remind me of card games.

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

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