Game design

I really like something Mike Mearls posted in his Legends and Lore series, and was refined by Monte Cook. It addressed something that has long troubled me about D&D in particular – an issue of what I call escalation. Since the current skill (and most other) systems has character’s skill escalate with level, even a fighter in platemail would eventually be able to swim (even in full plate) – unless the DC for doing that scaled upwards as well. To me that is a pretty flagrant breach of realism. Shouldn’t the difficulty of doing that remain constant (and in fact, Impossible)? I want to extend those ideas into a complete skill system that could run in parallel with the rest of 4e in your game right now.
The proposed system turns the skill system around. Instead of skills having tasks that they enable, tasks require an ability to overcome. For example, climbing would (always) be a strength check. A character can also be trained (in a specific ability based skill) – which would add a bonus to that activity – so for example, a trained climber can add 5 to their effective strength (or any other relevant ability) for climbing purposes. Examples of other abilities used in climbing would be: hanging on to a ledge for a minute:- Con. Swinging cleanly through a window on a rope:- Dex.
Raw ability should not let you do Expert tasks. Mike goes on to suggest that training be in (named) levels. Then essentially, the ability would be the measure of how good he is within that capability band. And perhaps the character gets to add the training bonus to the raw stat when rolling.
Trained level DM to relevant ability check Activity you can accomplish with DC 10
0 – untrained -3 You have no training at all.
1 – Novice 0 Novice tasks
2 – Journeyman +3 Journeyman tasks
3 – Expert +6 Expert tasks
4 – Master +9 Master tasks
I deliberately make untrained characters suffer a negative – this is for niche protection. Character classes would give Novice training in every class skill. Then the character can add a few more points to skills as desired.
Task level (relative to your expertise) DC
One below (eg: you are Journeyman, task requires Novice) 5
Equal 10
One above (eg: you are Expert, task requires Master) 15
Two above 20
Three above 25
Four or more above Impossible
So, if the DM tells you the task requires a Journeyman, and you are trained to Journeyman level, and your ability + modifiers = 11, then a simple check with a DC of 10 will accomplish the task – you could do it by taking 10. If the task was a Novice task, you would get +5 to accomplish it (meaning an effective DC of 5), if it normally require an Expert – then an effective DC of 15 would be required.
Note that you can always accomplish a task within your capability (by taking a 10, essentially). Novice tasks likewise would not normally require a roll (and will be even easier to accomplish if a roll is required).
As before, some tasks would require training to perform – and so no amount of ability would let you perform them untrained. As described above, training adds 5 to your ability to accomplish the specified task.
What I like about the above system is that training will trump raw ability, but raw ability remains important (and will decide between tow characters of the same training level). A trained Expert with a Dex of 10 will be able to do tasks that require no training as better than someone untrained with a Dex of 18. The same kid with 18 Dex will not be able to perform tasks that require training at all, never be able to perform Master tasks, and will need a 15 or more to do an Expert task (one that can be performed untrained).

Game Hackers

I recently followed a link to the Code Project’s Lounge, where the following was posted:
“I’ve been enjoying online games for about 12 years. 

In every online game I’ve played sooner or later someone develops a hack (aimbot, speed hack, etc) and makes a little bit of money marketing it to other players. For a recent example see the Mass Murder hack for Battlefield 3: Mass Murder[^]

There are a couple of things that I understand:
1: I understand developing such a hack can be a fun challenge.
2: I understand that the hack has a humorous side to it.

That said, in the end a bunch of paying customers for a company are having their entertainment ruined by people who obviously have no interest in playing the game with any integrity. Time and time again I’ve seen hundreds, and even thousands of people, disrupted because of these sorts of hacks. This seems to be a threat to real people’s livelyhood and it ruins the fun for many paying customers.

I know it seems draconian, but I’d like to see hard jail time for the people who develop these programs. Somehow, I think if I could program McDonald’s coffee machines to spray the interior of restaurant that I’d get some jail time for that behavior. If I could program Ford automobiles to flash their lights randomly or cause city buses to be late there would also be severe punishment.

Maybe I’m getting old – but one thing I really dislike about the internet is the sub-culture that seems to feed off making other people’s lives miserable. It would be nice to read about these “shops” getting busted up and some hacker kiddies getting slapped around a bit. I realize the hacks are not dangerous and these are games, it’s just the opportunistic mindset of a n’vr-do-well that bugs me to no end.

It’s like they wake up and think: Oh, a new game. How can I ruin it for thousands of people?
Weeding these folks out of the gene pool would be good for the long term success of human kind.

Too harsh?”



It seems pretty clear from the diversity and tone of the replies that there are two camps here. One of people who have become frustrated by a poor online experience, and the other who seem rather blase about it, to the point where I would have to assume, since they see nothing wrong with the practice, that perhaps they too have used these hacks. 

Aside from the likelihood that the hack-users are probably losers in real life (since one can only hold down a decent job for so long as an active fraud), they are also diminshing the community they play in. The most affected are those who are not themselves extremely skilled – who are also most likely newer players. If you deter newer players, then you shrink the hobby. If you shrink the hobby, then you end up with less places to play, and less opponents to face, until you are in a pool with nothing but other hackers.

Perhaps that is punishment enough – but it fails to address the real money and time invested by people trying to enjoy the hobby without cheating.


Gaming goodness

As many who know me know – I love most anything related to gaming. I Love Pendragon (but can’t find players), Traveller (which I “play by mail” on Obsidian Portal), and Dungeons and Dragons 4e (which I both play and run a campaign in).

One thing I don’t much care for is the notion of having to create separate “camps” of people who feel that in order to like one game, or version, that they must somehow vilify the other version. I like what I like and I have my reasons, I am sure others feel the same about different things for their own reasons. Frankly, I would rather play Pathfinder than have no game, but given a choice, I play 4e.

That said, there were things about 3.5 that I miss. Somehow the character generation and advancement system were seemingly more organic. By this, I mean that one could internalize the process, and create new characters by combining bits of this and that, and get (usually) something that would feel right. However, this flexibility came at a price. If one cared about the power of the character (typically as measured in a combat situation), one would either choose a pure spell-caster, or mix a bunch of martial themes. Spell-casters were always diluted by multi-classing, whereas single-class martial characters could always be out-powered by the judicious admixture of multiple martial classes.

One other thing I miss by proxy, was the possibility of outright simplicity. In 3.x, a player who loved the story, but did not give a wit for tactics could play a fighter, and be quite content to close with every foe, and standing toe-to-toe, beat it until it was dead. In 4e, one has a role in a parger party. To succeed against the “recommended” challenge levels,  one has to fulfill ones proscribed role within the party, as well as play well tactically. This may involve judicious movement during combat, and careful timing of when to use ones various powers. This means that some of my friends – who do not revel in strategy or tactics, and perhaps prefer the role play to the wargame aspect of D&D are left somewhat cold by this, indeed they might find that their skills are called into question by their adventurer colleagues for such crimes as being the defender and neglecting to mark their foe, or for winning initiative and leaping into combat before the wizard gets off his area effect into the assembled hoard.

One of the things that bothers me with 4e is that the promise of faster game play is only true by a modest margin. There are too many conditions to track. Even an excellent DM can miss some things, and having ones attention divided between tracking all the conditions and statuses can blind one to tactical opportunities – such as remembering to use some “setup” power at the right time. The conditions issue gets even worse when one considers how monsters are being built as the game ages. It is very, very tiring to fight a bunch of creatures that combine being insubstantial (take half damage), with a controller that weakens (the victim does half damage). Even more irritating from a player perspective is action denial, for example playing against monsters that stun, daze or dominate. When the game has become so tactical, having ones options in a turn denied to one is extremely frustrating. Of course every combat should have some pain, some risk. However, playing in a game where it seems that everyone will most likely survive, but only at the price of rounds upon rounds of heavy slogging, where a significant part of ones time is spent missing turns waiting to make a save against some effect is really not so much fun.

On the other hand, some 3e classes, such as the rogue were dreadfully nerfed. Somehow, everything he did could be done better by a Wizard (from about 7th level onward). Additionally, everything he did became a lot less likely to succeed at about the same time (foes become undead or constructs, monsters have tremor-sense or undefined anatomy). I could never enjoy a straight-up rogue in 3e.

The existing 4e hybrid system to me is a bit of a mess. Some of my friends love it mostly because they can find munchkin corner-cases of awesome power, but for the most part, I find it produces under-powered characters, even when building what was a “traditional” multi-class theme.

I hope that the new edition (and I don’t know whether I will play it, but I suspect I will buy at least the rule books) will be able to weave the strands back together. That there will be some classes that are as simple to play as the 3.5 fighter, yet will be reasonably balanced with arcane characters. That typical martial characters will have far _fewer_ condition-causing powers for everyone to track. I think it is just fine that controllers can cause many different conditions. it has always been so. Less so for fighters and rangers.

I hope that common (frequently encountered) monsters (especially the weaker ones) will cause conditions far less often. That there is a recommendation to DMs to use condition-causing creatures judiciously so as not to “bore” players with them. It used to be a thing of terror and fascination that the medusa, or the gorgon had these awesome abilities. I don’t want every Tom, Dick or Kobold to slow down the game with their multiple synergistic conditions combos.

I also hope that – as a result of simplification of (most of) the martial classes, that multiclassing will become easier and more organic.