Monday, January 16, 2012

You're Right, Monte, It Does Sound Crazy

Monte Cook's first post-5E-announcement column is up, and it gives a broad view of what the folks at WotC are doing with the new version. It basically confirms the speculative chatter of the last week, that 5E will be modular. Fine, I get that. Options for simple, moderate, and complex combat, skills, etc. No problem.

What I can't seem to wrap my head around is this:
Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won't believe it right now—we're designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options. Again, imagine a game where one player has a simple character sheet that has just a few things noted on it, and the player next to him has all sorts of skills, feats, and special abilities. And yet they can still play the game together and everything remains relatively balanced. Your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn't want or need. Or vice versa. It's all up to you to decide. 
What he seems to be saying is that the players can choose which of the modular parts of the rules they want to play with, and that it won't matter which ones are chosen, since they'll all be inter-operative at some level. I'm dubious.

If I'm at a table, and I've got my stripped-down character sheet with 6 stats, hit points, and how much damage my longsword does, I don't want to have to sit through a lot of "I'm using my crushing blow attack and delivering a sarcastic denouement using my witty banter skill while casting dire meteor swarm because my character is following the mage-blade paragon path." I just want to roll a d20 to hit, and I want you to do the same, because you're slowing down my combat with your crappy add-ons.

He says that all this is going to be balanced (oh, that word!), but I can't help but think that someone who spends hours fine-tuning a character with dozens of options and add-ons and fiddly bits is going to be expecting some in-game bennies for doing so. If so, then we'll see an instant arms race that renders the rules lite players completely out of the competition. If not, then aren't the rules-heavy players going to resent doing all that work for naught?

Plus, it makes me wonder how all of this is going to affect the DM. Is he going to be responsible for knowing and using each and every little fiddly bit that some player at the table decides he wants to use? Or is the same modularity principle going to apply to the game at the level of the DM? If so, am I as a DM going to be able to run a stripped-down rules lite game while some of the players at the table are playing a rules-heavy characters? Again, I'm dubious.

So yes, Monte, it does sound like you just escaped from this video. But I'm still willing to give it a thorough look-see when the playtest version is released. Maybe you've come up with a miracle of game design elegance that will be a model for generations of game designers to come. Nobody will be happier than I if that's the case.