18 September 2010

Alright, Mr. Rude.

Somehow, fautus left a comment which isn't showing up on my blog, which is fine, because it's still in my email. Here it is, his response to my post yesterday:

There are two problems here two start with: 1) egregiously offensive claims of superiority, and 2) rhetorical fail. 

1) Egregiously offensive claims of superiority

You don't get to decide what "fantasy" is. If you don't like a RPG, fine, say so, but you don't get to claim that it is or isn't fantasy. Similarly, you don't get to say that you (or you and your mates, as is usually the case in the OSR) are the arbiters of what is or isn't role-playing; you don't get to say you're better at it because you don't roll dice for intimidate. That's rude.

2) Rhetorical fail
The piece of text you quote (from me) above is my response to a strong claim made in the OP, that D&D 4e is only about combat because all the rules are about combat. My response was to point out to the OP, and to Paladin in Citadel, that D&D 4e has more non-combat rules than OD&D, and that by the rhetoric of the original post, OD&D is more about combat than 4e. As an example I gave stealth and social skills checks.

There is no claim intended that this makes D&D4e better, or that you can't adjudicate stealth in a system without stealth rules. It's a response to a rhetorical claim, pointing out how stupid it is. That is all.

The logic of the OP and Paladin in Citadel was:
1) a game that is only about combat is not role-playing
2) D&D4e rules are entirely about combat
3) therefore D&D4e is not role-playing

Putting aside the extreme rudeness of claiming to be able to define what role-playing (or "good" role-playing is), this rhetoric is bullshit, because it's obvious on an even cursory examination of any D&D rule system that the further back you go, the more combat focused the game gets. Hence my comment about a glorified wargame with some acting tacked on.

Now, it seems that in response to this there is an alternative claim being made, that the more non-combat rules there are, the less the game is about role-playing.

To which, I say - shifting the goalposts much? I also say - what is with this OSR obsession on setting the boundaries of role-playing for everyone else? And I also say: if you can't see how to turn a skill or stealth check into a role-playing opportunity you're not being very imaginative. And I finally say: if you make up a rule on the spot to adjudicate stealth or social checks (morale, anyone?) then you aren't running a system without rules for stealth - you're running a system with arbitrary, shit rules for stealth. Which simultaneously hoists you on your own petard, and gives you a shit stealth resolution method to boot.

Finally, I didn't say "it's not fair to tell me that just because I disagree with you, I'm wrong." I said it's rude to tell me that because I disagree with you I don't understand the game, which is exactly what Paladin said. It's a hallmark of the adolescent debating style of the OSR, incidentally. But that's another story. 

Firstly: You're confusing two different things. One, my claim that 4th edition isn't fantasy, and two, my claim that relying on the game mechanics to tell you what to do in every situation isn't the same as freeform roleplaying.

On the first point, sure, I'll concede that it's not very nice of me to say that 4th edition isn't fantasy. But it certainly doesn't feel like fantasy to me. Of course, this is entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, so you'll have to pardon me if I don't feel like defending my differing tastes in fantasy.

The second point, of course: I certainly can claim that relying on game mechanics to tell you what your character is doing isn't roleplaying, because it isn't. It's that easy. See how fun that was? It's really a fairly old argument, if you weren't aware, and very famous. Essentially, when the dice determine the outcome of a situation that one could have handled with "role-playing," then it's not roleplaying any more than rolling up your characters' stats is roleplaying. Hell, I'll even go so far as to admit that if you roll "Interrogate" and succeed, you can roleplay out the scene where you successfully interrogate the guy. But you'll notice that regardless, when you're roleplaying you're not rolling dice. The dice and you are on a separate level of play, if you will, and your social interactions don't need to be affected by the dice.

And this is beside the point. You're arguing that because I said that game mechanics aren't needed to tell you how to roleplay, that therefore I am the absolute judge of roleplaying. That's a very rude claim to make. I don't believe that adding more systems weight to the game to handle things that don't need mechanics enhances your experience, and I certainly don't believe that it's a shit resolution. You don't need rules for everything, and there are some things that, when they have rules, are a little bit silly. To use your example of stealth, I fail to see how asking the player where he hides and then deciding if the guardsman on patrol sees him is a shit resolution system. It's almost the exact same thing you do when you roll dice, except that it cuts out the part where there's random chances of failure and success and replaces them with actual thought.

I know it can be hard to think that other people have different opinions, and it can be hard when some of them aren't nice people, or when they're having a bad day. But see, it's for sensitive souls like yourself that I find every other sentence being "but that's ok," or "I've got nothing against GAME X but I dislike SYSTEM Y." In this case, it's "I don't like having systems for social mechanics, stealth, or anything else that can be handled without dice." It's really that simple.

In your system, for example, we'd roll opposing SOCIAL dice (or whatever), and then the highest guy would win the argument, or something. Then, sure, you could roleplay out what happened according to the results of the dice, but why bother with the results of the dice? I know you're probably going to take this out of context, but older editions of D&D didn't have systems adjucating social interactions or roleplaying or whatever because you don't need game mechanics for them, not because they're ignored entirely. You could argue that older editions had more combat focus by the comparitive number of rules, but honestly, I'm not sure that's true. I have the 4th edition books, and the entire Monster Manual, most of the Player's Guide, and an inordinate chunk of the DMG are entirely about combat, terrain, and powers. But I digress.

One more bit, then I've got to go: It's entirely fair to tell you that because you disagree with me that you don't understand the game, because what we're disagreeing on is whether or not older edition games are primarily about combat, and whether the newest edition of game is combat focused. These aren't really up for debate, as the documents are still around, and able to be inspected. As a comparison, I've read complaints on various forums about the length of combat in 4e. Does that or does that not speak to its focus, that people are unsatisfied with combat resolution because it takes up nearly the entirety of play?

As a final thought: If I've missed anything, feel free to let me know. As I've said before, I welcome your thought, but try and make them a little more mature next time. I'm tired of having adolescent arguments with people who don't understand the difference between my opinions and facts.


  1. When I wrote it that comment appeared on your blog, but first there was a weird "URL Too large" error.

    So you concede that setting yourself up as the arbiter of what is fantasy is a little over the top, then go straight on to tell me what is or isn't role-playing.

    Now, once again, I have to remind you that in the previous thread (that you lifted my last comment from), the claim was made by an opponent of 4e that that it was not role-playing because it was "all about combat." This has shifted - there and here - to the opposite claim, that it's not role-playing because it's got all these non-combat skill systems.

    So which is it to be? I'm pretty sure that in the other thread Paladin in Citadel was arguing that OD&D has lots of non-combat rules, but here you're arguing that those bits just aren't role-playing.

    Anyway, to the meat of the argument, this insistence that rolling dice to determine actions is not role-playing. Do you roll dice to determine the outcome of combat? Morale checks? Your stats? the damage done by a spell? Saving throws?

    Why do you bother? If your interest is role-playing, and dice rolling is the antithesis of this, why do you roll dice? Would it not be better to describe the battle directly?

    I bet you even consider a GM to be superior if he or she describes the outcome of the dice roll. Do you think that's role-playing? Why is it okay with combat but not with stealth?

    But in the end this is all swings and roundabouts in your rhetorical fail. My original comment was a simple response to a claim that 4e rules are more about combat than 2e. I pointed out they're not, and in your "digression" you can't really dispute this. So by the logic of the OP, where does that leave you?

    Your final snarky points about me not understanding the game kind of fall apart when you can't definitively say for yourself whether 4e or 2e has more combat rules. But I digress.

    Finally, if you need tips on how to use role-playing to enhance skill checks, there are lots of quite interesting games you can branch out to that will give you pointers. Just by the by, the method you're suggesting isn't how it's done. But I'm sure it's true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, eh?

  2. I have nothing against 4e. How people have fun at their gaming tables is no concern of mine, I'm just happy they're having fun and engaging their minds in some active capacity.

    I've played every single edition of D&D up and including 3.5. I've never played 4e, but I've read the core books several times and talk regularly with people who do play it.

    I have developed the perception that 4e is more combat-intensive than older editions, but not necessarily because of the prevalence of combat rules vs. non-combat rules. My perception is based on the likely (and reported) length of 4e combats. Low-to-mid-level combats in older editions are relatively short, and 4e combats seem to be longer.

    (My evidence is secondhand as to 4e. It's not secondhand as to 3.x, where combats were often a slog, and a single combat with mid-level PCs and multiple tough opponents could eat up a chunk of the night.)

    With older editions, combat just goes quicker. An OD&D or B/X combat can be resolved in a very short time. Whether that's because of elegance or lack of options is for others to argue.

    (And hell, a lot of old-school groups just use the fact that combat is quicker to fit in more combats.)

    Anyway, like I said, no axe to grind with 4e. People are obviously enjoying it, and more power to them as long as they're not coming to my house and slapping the old books out of my hands. I didn't really like what I saw of the 4e core books, but I've seriously considered picking up the Rules Compendium and the first Heroes book. (One never knows.)

    But it seems to me that a time-intensive combat model necessarily crowds into time devoted to other pursuits. Is that incorrect?

  3. Holy craphat, I've got a lot of writing to you both, and I think I'll split it into two comments, as much as I hate to artificially inflate my comment count.

    Here we go:

    @Scott: I've got nothing against 4e as a game. Honest! I don't particularly care for it, as it's a little weighty for my tastes.

    That said, you're absolutely right about 4e being more combat-heavy because of the length of the combat as opposed to the length of the rules. The length of the rules themselves don't apply to the combat length- you could very well make the longest combat ever by deciding that two guys are trapped in an unescapable deathmatch, they both have 100 hit points, there's a 1% chance to strike each other, and each hit deals one damage.

    And also yes, when you spend more time fighting by the rules of the game, there's less time for other things. But also, in this case, the rewards in the game are for engaging in combat, so you have an fairly time-consuming set of mechanics that the players are rewarded for engaging in. By the rules as written, the game's going to take longer than I like. And like I've said in previous posts, that's fine for some people, but it's not why I game.

    To reiterate, in case it matters: 4e isn't my cup of tea. If other people like it, cool. My only real beef is with people who either insist on things that are rediculous (like saying that 4e is more combat-focussed than older editions), or people who seem to be inalienably grumpy. And in all fairness, these people seem to be attracted to any game indiscriminately.

  4. @faustus:
    Blogger ate my post, but let me give you the basics.

    Your comment is almost entirely composed of strawmen or arguments ad absurdum. Therefore, I'm going to ignore most of what you say and concentrate on discussing what it is I think you're trying to get at.

    Re: The precise number of combat rules in 2e vs 4e: If they're so important, feel free to count them. I'm sure they're terribly important to the discussion at hand.

    Re: Diced vs Diceless: This is where most of the silliness was, so I'm simply going to state: Don't be an ass, you already know the arguments for and against diceless roleplaying, and the arguments for and against rules-light games. If you don't, feel free to educate yourself.

    Re: The actual argument: If you insist that I haven't argued the point, let me make this quick and to the point. I don't play 2e, so I have no idea whether or not the game has more combat rules than 4e. I play B/X and Labyrinth Lord, where the entirety of the combat rules takes up a couple of pages, and you get experience primarily from looting. Sound an awful lot like the game's not about combat, doesn't it? It's almost like the game penalizes combat by having it be dangerous, short, and deadly, and granting menial experience. But what do I know? I can't even be bothered to count pages in two different books. It's certainly not like I've played the both of them and have any idea what I'm talking about.

  5. I'm coming back to this late due to travel.

    Scott, I don't think length of combat is an indicator that a game is combat-heavy, just that the rules are badly designed. For example, Warhammer 2nd Edition is famously combat-lite, due to the nature of the setting and the lack of healing; but combats take a lot longer even than 3.5 edition D&D (I have a statistical comparison of this on my blog). As you observe, shorter, more easily handled fights enable you to have more combats in a session, so it doesn't mean anything.

    Ultimately how combat heavy a game is depends on the GM and players, and to some extent on the complexity of combat - typically games with heavy combat rules will encourage people to eschew combat due to the complexity. But if people want to fight for a living they will.

    N. Wright, asking you why you roll dice for combat is not argument ad absurdum unless you think combat has a special place in role-playing. Why do you think only combat should be handled by rules? What makes it special? Why can you abstract combat but not speech-making or trap-making or stealth?

    I think it's funny that you accuse me of arguing with straw men after you lifted my comment from another blog, and then refused to engage with the rhetorical point it was addressing.

    It's also pretty rich to claim you have no problem with 4e and "if other people like it, cool" while claiming it's not role-playing and thus - by insinuation - that those people with whom you are "cool" aren't actually doing role-playing. All in a sneering tone of course, rich with allegations of people lacking imagination etc. It's of a piece with the holier-than-thou tone of the OSR-o-sphere, of course, but it ain't pretty.

  6. Hi all;

    As you observe, shorter, more easily handled fights enable you to have more combats in a session, so it doesn't mean anything.

    It sure does if your game isn't about combat! If you hope to run through a couple of tension building encounters and then have an exciting brawl, Moldvay-Cook will leave you with almost your whole evening to head back to town and glory in your accomplishments, spend your loot, sing your songs & drink your ale.

    Why would you assume that anyone would just pack their session with fights if they are shorter?

    typically games with heavy combat rules will encourage people to eschew combat due to the complexity

    Doesn't this make the case against 4E's systems? Mightn't they cause people to eschew the game itself in favour of earlier editions... cutting out the middle man of having to deal with the system making your prefered style of play difficult & time consuming?

    Why do you think only combat should be handled by rules?

    I think that's one of those "straw men" I keep hearing about. B/X has light, nice & tight rules for all sorts of things.

    An RPG's rules are like congressional legislation-of their own accord they simply grow in both number (extent) and itrusiveness into the PCs lives (scale).

    It takes real discipline to let players (DMs among them) have the most freedom possible as long as the their game will work.

    I have complete confidence in the players of my preferred edition and, more importantly, I value their freedom more than my vanity.

  7. Vincent, you said
    Why would you assume that anyone would just pack their session with fights if they are shorter?

    I don't assume that a game is about combat. I'm responding to a suggestion that shorter fights are a sign that a game isn't or is about combat. I agree entirely that whether a game is about combat has very little to do with the rules. However, the assertion that my original comment was responding to was that, since D&D 4e has more combat rules, it must be more about combat.

    You then said
    Doesn't this make the case against 4E's systems?
    and I say, certainly it does. I don't play 4E because I think it's boring and I don't like various aspects of it (posts on my blog many moons ago make my points).

    What I object to in the OSR is the claim that it's not about role-playing.

    I think that's one of those "straw men" I keep hearing about. B/X has light, nice & tight rules for all sorts of things.
    Well, if this is the case it's precisely the opposite opinion of the claims made here, and this goalpost shifting is something of a problem for me. Lawful Indifferent seems to be claiming that the presence of non-combat rules is a sign that a game is not about role-playing (it's "rollplaying.") You are saying B/X has lots of non-combat rules. So, which is it to be?

    Lawful Indifferent seems pretty clear on the idea that only combat should be handled by rules - stealth, social interactions, trap-making, anything else needs to be "role-played". I want to know why combat is special.

    If, for example, RPG rules are like congressional legislation, why do we have to have rules for combat at all? Why not return to a state of nature?

    And what is the difference between making up rules on the spot to allow players freedom, and having those rules pre-written?

    I have complete confidence in the players of my preferred edition and, more importantly, I value their freedom more than my vanity.
    I'm glad for you, but your players' freedom and your vanity or lack thereof are not what this argument is about. It started off being about whether D&D 4e discourages role-playing because "it's all about combat." Lawful indifferent has stripped this context from his subsequent arguments, but for the record: I'm uninterested in whether 4e or b/x is better. I just hate the OSR's claims that only B/X or (insert pretentious author-named book) or (insert plagiarized clone) is role-playing and anything written after (insert writer's 18th birthday here) is not.