July 20, 2008

3E Rules Lawyers Are Back In the Fight

I love lurking in forums. Occasionally, I'll post something too - making myself something else I suppose. One of the forums I've been a lurker in for year is the official D&D forums; now run by "GleeMax" (dumbest name for a company, ever). In particular I've always enjoyed (as in laughing out loud) the long drawn out discussions / flame wars between various muchkins, rules lawyers, and power gamers about some small isolated rule applied to some particular situation. Sometimes these arguements in 3rd Edition were seemingly endless. It was exhausting to read them.

4th Edition is supposed to make the game "faster, stronger, better" by sacrificing realism for playability and fun. Combats run smoother, rules are adjudicated by the DM more swiftly, the players are (supposed to be) more easy going about judgements, and in general the game is aimed at being more cinematic.

I recently came across a LONG post where the author makes the argument that the new 4E rule system plays like a tactical board game. I threw my comments into the thread and argued that the new 4E rules play combat more straight forward and swiftly so that you can get back to the ROLE PLAYING part of D&D: yunno - the part where there's a story to develop, a mystery to solve, or some other interesting aspect of fiction that that the players are helping create. The thread raged on to end with it being LOCKED after 52 posts of people bitching that 4E > 3.5 or vice versa.

Then today I read a very long and drawn out discussion about the rules of being prone. Yes. You read that right. A long and drawn out, hotly debated, point - counter point, debate on being prone. As in laying down. And, more specifically, how laying on the ground affects game play and what you can and can not do while laying down. I thought this was real funny for some reason, so had to chime in. Basically - here's a copy of my post (full thread is here):
So... to summarize? You get knocked prone, adjacent enemies get CA against you. Once prone, you can
  1. crawl away (using your move action, and provoking an OA from adjacent enemies)
  2. stand up (no OAs, no more CA, but it uses up a move action)
  3. attack (at a penalty)
  4. do something else...
It seems that, in the spirit of 4E, things should be more 'cinematic'. I generally rule that characters can use their Acrobatic skill to perform a Acrobatic Stunt (as a move action; PHB p.180) to move/shift and remain prone. Moreover, I may even allow for a character to use this same skill to jump to their feat as a free action. This, of course, all with a level appropriate DC for it to be 'hard' (like a DC20 for L1 characters; DMG p.42).

I find that players LOVE IT when they can do cool stuff in combat. It makes the battles more memorable, and everyone has _fun_. Imagine the coolness when Ripsaw the Sabermaster gets knocked prone by some silly wolf, then jumps to his feet like Jet Li and slices the dog into bits.

I was a huge fan of 3E and 3.5E -- but i think the rules of the game started overshadowing the fun -- rules lawyers and munchkins and power gamers would all gather in secrete cabals and figure out how the rules would make them SUPER heroes -- as a DM/GM, it made running the game sometimes a pain because I was constantly working to out think my players on the rules front instead of the game front. The main point of 4E is that things are not supposed to be 'super realistic' - they are supposed to be cinematic and fun. I'm not saying it is unimportant to understand the rules; of course it is... i'm just saying the 4E is a breath of fresh air IMHO.

Ok.. i'm shifting out of here before someone OA's my behind...
How are these two topics (tactical board game like play styles and arguements about being prone) alike? Well... it just seems like the CORE MECHANICS of the new 4E rule system is designed to bring the outcomes of dice rolling back into the storyline faster. I keep using the term "cinematic" becuase a Patent Lawyer Friend of Mine used the same term about the Star Wars Saga rule system (of which 4E is based), and once I played 4E I immediately could see what he meant.

So... understanding the rules is of course important; but it comes to a point where you need to keep the spirit of the game in mind. Think big, think creative, and then make a skill check to see if you actually DID slide down the stairs using your sheild as a sled to knockdown a host of orcs that had you cornered on the second floor.

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