Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Keep Disagreeing

The last Disagree-a-thon was successful and the conversation broadly has failed to get better, so it has to happen again.

Put your Takes You Expect Someone Else ReadingThis To Disagree With in the comments, and be prepared to be selected and defend them in a separate blog entry in a few days.

-Z

p.s. There are a few orphan takes that were left in the comments of the original Disagree-a-thon post undefended and are officially and objectively wrong until someone steps forward to claim and successfully defend them:

Luca Lorenzon said...

The long descriptions of npcs in 2nd Edition products aren't useless, even if generated with the word/money ratio in mind (but are you sure they were?). They add to the depth of the npcs even if they are just here to be fought.


OCTOBER 14, 2021 AT 8:36 AM



DM Critic said...

Spellcasters in 5e should have access to cantrips.


OCTOBER 14, 2021 AT 10:05 AM



Denim Chicken said...

Ettin did nothing wrong.


OCTOBER 14, 2021 AT 3:00 PM



ZCE said...

Adam Koebel did nothing(egregiously) wrong


OCTOBER 16, 2021 AT 2:35 PM

 


Hans Vermhat said...

Mandy did nothing wrong.


OCTOBER 17, 2021 AT 2:42 AM

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Tracking Systems vs Reliability Systems

If a dragon can breathe fire once every three rounds that's a tracking system.

If a dragon can breathe fire in any round that they roll a 1-3 on a six-sided die, that's a reliability system.

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Or:

If a spell puts someone out of the fight for 4 rounds, that's a tracking system.

If a spell puts someone out of the fight every round until they save, that's a reliability system.

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Depending what you're trying to do, there are good reasons to use either one. Tracking systems and reliability systems often appear side-by-side in the same games, used for different things.

Money in traditional D&D is on a tracking system: you get gold you write down how much, you get mugged by kobolds and lose some you subtract it, you buy a horse you subtract some more, you write down the ups and downs of your bank account, you track it.

This makes sense in especially low-level D&D where the adventure is meant to be the drama of scrambling for resources in an attempt to build up from zero to hero (or at least to Scary Person W/ Expensive Armor). The accumulation of resources is part of the main drama of the early game.

Money in Marvel Super-Heroes (aka FASERIP) is on a reliability system--your character gets a Resources stat at character generation and when you try to buy something you roll that stat vs the item's price stat and see if you can afford it that day.

This makes sense in a genre where the main drama is not the accumulation of resources but rather the idea is that you have this person going along living a non-adventurous life until trouble occurs, and the adventures you go on are interruptions to-, and not necessarily related to-, the business of collecting resources in your daily life. The skrulls might attack on payday, they might attack when you were broke.

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In the original DC Heroes game by Mayfair, gadgets had "charges"--like Batman's sleeping gas capsules might have 3 charges, meaning he could use them 3 times per day. This meant if you were playing Batman  you had to keep track of a lot of things.

In the 2nd edition of DC Heroes they changed it so gadgets instead had "reliability numbers"--if you rolled below a certain number when using a given gadget, it was jammed or out of ammo and you couldn't use it again until you addressed the situation. A bad reliability result on Batman's sleeping-gas capsules would indicate he hadn't packed them that day (and instead presumably packed something else), or they'd gone stale from not being used, etc. A bad reliability result on a gun would mean it was literally out of ammunition or had jammed (important for the GM to decide which in this game, but presumably in a more gun-heavy genre than super-heroes the mechanic itself would specify which).

This 2nd edition mechanic combined the use of a reliability system with another mechanic, whereby the "reliability roll" was actually just part of the normal to-hit roll associated with the thing.

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A get-out-of-jail-free card is a tracking system. You have the ability to escape a given danger or you don't, you know in advance, you can use it a known number of times (one per card).

A saving throw is a reliability system. You don't know how many times it'll work or even whether it'll work, you just know the odds that it'll work.

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Traditional (non-RPG) card games almost always involve an element of tracking but can also involve reliability.

Traditional (non-RPG) dice games almost always involve an element of reliability but dice can also be used for tracking.

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Tracking systems often, but not always, involve a species of resource management (for an example where they don't: it's debatable whether it's helpful to call the dragon's-breath example above a kind of "resource management").

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Vancian magic (a spell can be used x times per day) is a tracking system and you can see why many people prefer it to a reliability system. Being limited in how many times a day you can cast a thing can be annoying but in many circumstances it's less annoying than the reliability-system version: taking your wizard's turn to cast a spell and then it does nothing (this may be why so many early edition spells have no save or a save that only limits the effect: the magic-user at least gets to use their turn to do something).

A wizard on a Vancian system who is out of spells at least knows they're out of spells and can start thinking what to do in any given round from there rather than taking turns all about failing over and over.

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There are lots of reasons to use one or the other kind of system in a given situation, but that would require making the article longer than most peoples' attention span, so I'll stop there for now.

The main thing is: if tracking something in a game gets annoying, you might want to switch to a reliability system, and if a reliability system gets annoying, you might want to switch to a tracking system.

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Friday, January 7, 2022

Don't Be Any Of These People


I'm not the biggest fan of Watchmen but it occurs to me that one of its strengths is that it presents an oddity in heroic fiction: a compelling and differentiated cast of characters who are all wrong.

At least from their creators' point of view. We know this was intentional because neither Dave Gibbons nor Alan Moore are exactly quiet about their beliefs or their takes on the characters.

Watchmen arguably says a lot of things, but it unarguably says these:

  • Don't be Rorschach--don't be so focused on whatever injustices blows across your windscreen that you become a right-wing crank blind to finding ways to fix the bigger picture.
  • Don't be Adrian Veidt--don't be so arrogantly obsessed with your clever solution to the bigger picture that you are willing to ignore the horror and injustice right in front of you that it creates.
  • Don't be Dr Manhattan--if you have the cleverness and power to fix things, think about it and then help fix them, don't just pull a technocratic Pontius Pilate and go along with whichever of those other two assholes moves first.
  • Don't be Laurie and Dan--yes, you get to go home and be in love and have weird sex and act normal and relatable in your quiet home--but you let millions of people die because you want to pretend all this interdimensional squid-murder is over your head and too big to take on.
I have met all these people in the last three years, honestly, and they are different monsters. It has been important to know that.

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We now know for a scientific fact that, at least so far, fictions where you're personally asked to try to model the good guy don't make people who play them any better. We also know for a scientific fact that reading and enjoying Watchmen hasn't made people better or more thoughtful either.

However, the richness and plausibility of its moral grays does, at least, seem to give it a better chance at entertaining smart people than a fiction whose main selling point is reminding them that good things are good.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

Another Cube World available!

 

This one is a mass battle set in the Lands of the Southern Daimyos--get it in The Store.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Computer RPGs vs The Other Kind

  • More disagreeing going on. Adam says "CRPG's are better than tabletop RPG's". Tough room for that take. but here we go:


  • Zak

  • Hey Adam

  • Adam

  • Hey Zak

  • Zak

  • So I was going to say TTRPGs were better than CRPGs because TTRPGs involve other people more BUT then I realized the exact same argument could be raised against reading books. And reading books is great.

  • So then I started thinking about the idea of niches, like, of all those three things I'd probably rather play a ttrpg any day of the week, but realistically that can't always happen and when you're alone on the bus, books fill that niche better than a lot of things. So then the question for me is: Is there a situation in the world when the crpg is ideal? Probably, yeah. But: Better? Really?

  • Your turn.


  • Adam

  • A good start! I also had a similar thought, that it's the people that make a difference. But if you consider multiplayer CRPG's such as World of Warcraft, then you are playing with other people.

  • As for CRPG's being a better experience, I would say that they are a step up from a linear activity, such as reading a book, because you are interacting with the game and the game's story. Presuming it has one. A well-crafted CRPG can be like reading a choose your own adventure, but better because you can have random factors involved. Plus a more visual and audio experience.

  • A CRPG is also a finished product, with a very tight constraint on what activities and actions are possible. This is of course the nature of computers; they can only do what they are designed to do. If something happens the designer/engineer didn't expect, which is called "emergent behavior" at times, it's actually a bug. The fact it may have a favorable outcome is irrelevant. A lot of proceduerally generated games, dating back to Rogue and it's successor Nethack, to current games like Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, and No Man's Sky, look great but if you play them long enough you can see the constraints and the limits of what it can do.

  • So why are limits good? Because they let you test and ensure the given product works and works well. You can write a battle test simulator and run your CRPG engine through tens of thousands of battles and test every permutation. I actually found with my CRPG work that statistics was probably one of the most overlooked and sorely needed mathematical skills, because you want to ensure that game challenges are balanced and well spread out. Even with a year of manual testing I still didn't find everything, but with statistical models I could feel reasonably confident that it was playable and not too difficult.

  • With a TTRPG, you can certainly do things NO computer ever could do. No computer could ever off-the-cuff decide to just say "+2 to the roll". At the same time, though, a computer could take into account many hundreds of more factors and formulas than is possible in a table top game. All of the complex combat rules that AD&D 1st edition proposed like weapon speed, armor and weapon types having different AC values contextually, etc. could be easily done with a computer. In some ways, looking at older TTRPG's such as Rolemaster with the thousand different charts, a lot of game designers of the early era dreamed of such a system.

  • Zak

  • All of those mathematical factors seem less important to me than: graphics, music, the quiet of interacting with a story alone. And those are the things that I'd weigh against the fun of interacting with other people in a ttrpg.

  • "But if you consider multiplayer CRPG's such as World of Warcraft, then you are playing with other people."--yeah but absolutely not  in the same way. Like, they aren't generally in the room and it's more fun if they're in the room.
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  • A 2-4 person CRPG that you play splitscreen, that I can see competing with a TTRPG in the same niche.
  • (This looks great)

  • Adam

  • Funny enough, in the early 80's the first CRPG my brother and I played was Tunnels of Doom, which was a party dungeon crawl type game. And we'd take turns moving each character around, just both sitting at the computer at the same time. You don't see that happen these days anymore.

  • Zak

  • Realm of Impossibility was a 2-player crawler. I suppose Gauntlet was like that, too.

  • The closest I can think to a modern 4-player RPG is Mario Party and--honestly--sometimes that is as fun as a TTRPG. 



  • Adam

  • Cooperative play being a key, I think. Competitive play is just another "me verses them" type game, less interesting.


  • Zak

  • I dont mind competitive, I just like having friends in the room.


  • Adam

  • Had not heard of Realm of Impossibility before, very cool, gotta check that one out.


  • Zak

  • I like a party, but I also like books.

  • But given a choice: isolated fun is, like, less rare. You're always going to have time to be alone with a game or a book, you won't always be able to get a bunch of friends over for a game.


  • Adam

  • So you feel the crux of what makes TTRPG's more fun is that you participate with other people.

  • And that the fact it's not easy to get people together, even if a pandemic wasn't going on, makes it a rarer form of fun.


  • Zak

  • I think that's basically the size of it.


  • Adam

  • So maybe that's the big difference. I like TTRPGs but I like that I can play a CRPG without other people more. It may just come down to a preference for entertainment.

  • My brother is the opposite. He likes CRPGs but he has run TTRPGs weekly since he was a teenager.

  • Part of it for me is when TTRPGs are bad, they are really bad. Killer or egotistical DMs, selfish players who want the game to revolve around them... people can be both the best and worst part of the experience.

  • Where a computer, well, it can be boring and badly written or buggy, but you can turn it off and do something else without hurting feelings or causing drama.


  • Zak

  • That honestly just sounds like you saying you can't find a group's worth of people that you like.

  • Adam

  • True. It may be that the preference of a computer over people is basically a failure to find a good gaming group. Or just an introvert's philosophy. A person can hurt you but with a computer it's not personal.

  • For the record I do play in two TTRPGs a week. One my good friend runs, Runequest for the last 3 years but we are doing Traveller (Mongoose) for a bit. And my brothers game, 5E for a long while but we switched to GURPS 4th for a lark yesterday. We played a LOT of GURPS in the 90s

  • So I got gaming groups. I just still like CRPGs more. Which I suppose is a commentary on the quality of my gaming groups.

  • Zak

  • Well in those games do you experience "Killer or egotistical DMs, selfish players who want the game to revolve around them."?

  • Adam

  • I do not. DMs are good, players are not selfish. I enjoy the sessions but I would burn more hours on Skyrim in a sitting than I would in one of the tabletop sessions.

  • Zak

  • Ok, so, cropping out all those problems then: Does that mean you'd -rather- play Skyrim? Or is that just how the logistics turn out?

  • Adam

  • Hmmm... well given that tabletop RPGs are, as said, not on demand and require timing and organization, whereas you can play a CRPG anytime, I think it is a case that the entertainment that is harder to do is worth doing over the one that is doable anytime.

  • With the caveat that the tabletop game is up to scratch. If it's boring or frustrating and feels like a waste of time to participate in, that can change things.

  • Zak

  • Let's simplify the scenario:
  • Let's say we're both professional ttrpg playtesters working for a fantastically diverse and laid-back game company. Our orders are "Play any of our many trpg games you want, whenever you want, we'll pay your friends to play with you--but this is a fixed salary no matter how much playing you do. If you notice anything: great, tell us, but no rush, no need to fill out any forms."

  • So, the idea here is: you and your friends can tabletop all you want with no logistical difficulties and no time-management problems. In this world, I assume we would probably also want to be alone with a game sometimes and not do this work (we're on salary, so more work =/= more pay). But how often?

  • Personally, if I could always play a tabletop game when I wanted I might check out a CRPG once a year.


  • Adam

  • Hmmm...

  • Zak

  • also, for the sake of argument, let's say the CRPG is ALSO part of the job--just to make it simple

  • Adam

  • Ah so either qualifies for the paid feedback?

  • Zak

  • Yeah. You live in a game paradise. Logistics are not a thing, you want a game you got one.

  • Adam

  • I would probably be like 65/35 CRPG/TTRPG in that scenario. And that is partly because I am at heart a software engineer. I do that for a living and when I was a kid I wanted to write computer games for a living. I wouldn't want to exclude TTRPGs because they do have value. Both as a social thing and because I recognize you can do things with them no computer can do.

  • And diversity is critical to learning. More often that not the best inspirations for things come from areas that aren't commonly explored.

  • Like reading a different genre of books for ideas to write a story in a divergent genre. It's the only way to break out of tropes and overused ideas.

  • Zak

  • All that makes sense: you're saying you're a software engineer so the CRPG is inherently going to make you want to, at the minimum, spend more time with the CRPG than the TTRPG just because of your interests. I think that it's fair to say that, yes, for you, CRPGs are more interesting, or could be.

  • I can't dispute that.


  • Adam

  • Exactly. When I first saw a CRPG I wanted to know how they drew those graphics, how they made a story engine that could support multiple paths, how they managed a complex battle system, and so forth.

  • Mind you, I envy the artist who can draw with their hand the image in their brain. My own drawing skills are laughably juvenile. I had a high school art teacher tell me my brushstroked signature looked like a 1st graders.

  • Given as a lefty my handwriting was always horrid, it's no wonder I gravitated towards a keyboard. Which doesn't judge or care how you write or draw.


  • Zak

  • I often think it'd be nice to know how to make a computer game.

  • Adam

  • It is a challenge to be sure but one that is not impossible for anyone. People are are so intimidated by computers (and math) they think they can't do it. One of the reasons as a software engineer I make six figures a year. I am always honestly surprised by that.
  • And like drawing, it's all about practice. You just need to do a lot of it until you get good at it.

  • And as for math, algebra and sets & logic are the only real requirements. Calculus helps, mainly the idea "You can make your own formulas, you don't have to rely on other people's stuff" is the biggest takeaway.

  • Zak

  • Well I don't have the time. But I'm glad some people do.

  • Adam

  • Fair enough. I for one wish I could draw something that doesn't look like a child's scrawl. Maybe after retirement I'll have the time to practice.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Alignment Talk

Still disagreeing about things. Today Jose is attempting to disagree with me about the thing that is hardest to explain on the character sheet: Alignment. Specifically he said "Any D&D campaign loses a lot of flavor and depth by not using a system of alignment. "

Zak

Ok, so alignment.

I feel like, with a new player, when you are trying to explain alignment and stick it on a PC you have done way more to explain how D&D works than you have done to describe the character. In real life, people want things--they want to think of themselves as kind and they want a creme brulee and they want to not go to Hell, etc--and they want some things more than others and that's pretty much all of morality.

If you use alignment, you're trying to shoehorn a pretty simple thing to explain (what does your PC like?) into an artificial scheme for no real benefit. It's not just unrealistic, it seems like a system-specific piece of work you're doing which, on the other side, doesn't automatically spit out interesting results.

Your turn.


Jose

I prefer to approach alignment as the classic conception of where is the PC positioned in a struggle between cosmic powers rather than just as a mere moral compass (although the side you pick has moral implications, of course). On that note, I think, that the way the alignment is treated in a specific campaign helps to convey that campaign's flavor and overarching "cosmology" better than pages and pages of info dump. That's why I encourage people to use their one system of alignment if law-chaos or law-chaos-good-evil doesn't do it for the idea they have in mind.

Also, having alignment as a mechanic has the advantage of giving enemies, magic items, and such one more trait you can play with that is widely used and compatible with other people's stuff (if you use the vanilla version or one that is easily convertible).



Zak

1. that seems to assume a cosmology with only two poles: the Good god and the Bad god. That seems quite poorly adapted to a world where Zeus could easily pick a fight with Odin

2. The knock-on effect on compatibility with classic D&D modules and supplements is an issue, but in most cases these are easily replaced with equivalent bits that refer to allegiance rather than alignment. So instead of a Lawful Good-aligned sword you get an Odin-aligned sword, etc


Jose

Yeah, that's why I too prefer a broader conception of alignment. Be it Norse Gods vs. Greek Gods vs. Egyptian Gods, civilization vs. barbarians, red vs. blue vs. green, or anything of that sort. Which is why I am mostly in favor of alignment mechanics rather than the classic one or two axis system of alignment of D&D. Again, I think they are a quick and efficient way to deliver setting information and add depth to the mechanics.

But I am also not against the classic use of alignment, which is cool if you want something with a big good vs. evil thing going on, Moorcock style; but it's not a cure-all and a lot of times it's been shoehorned into settings where it works to their detriment. But that is not a problem with alignment, it's a problem with not being able or willing to use alignment better.

And I am against using alignment to police the behavior of the PCs. I think it should be a suggestion and they should be mostly in line with it, but sometimes it gets ridiculous. I think the turning point was the addition of the Paladin in 1e and it's only gotten worse with the years.

Zak

If you prefer a "broader conception" what do you mean?

Like, not 9 alignments?

Jose

Yeah, I think there are more ways to do alignment that can serve a given campaign world better. Things like having a numbered scale from law to chaos, or the 5 colors of Magic the Gathering, the colors in Carcosa (people do like using color for this, huh?), or the different realms of power in Ars Magica, or just having 12 deities with different relationships and having everything be aligned with one of them. These all-encompassing cosmic factions can also arise organically as the game progresses, but I think having a general idea laid out from the beginning with game mechanics is useful.

Zak

Ok, tell me more

Jose

Well, I don't think this would have to apply to every game, but D&D, at the end of the day, is about being part of an archetypical pre-modern world from our viewpoint. Of course the real Middle Ages were a lot more complex, but this is still an elf-game. And a huge chunk of the way we perceive that world is one of great cosmical struggle, God vs. the Devil in Christian Europe, for example. And it was something everyone was very aware of and also felt as something deeply personal. That's why I think alignment as a mechanic usually makes a D&D campaign better: if you want the players to care about something in an RPG, the best way to do it is to give it mechanics that affect their success. And having them involved in some kind of confrontation between cosmical powers right from the beginning does a lot to sell the fake Middle Ages.

Or any other pre-modern-like setting.




Zak

Well it seems the issue has split:

1. The  traditional 9-point or 3-point axis. You seem to be down on that, like me.

2. A different things: a faction system, only cosmic and with rules. You seem to like that but what would it be for D&D?

3. Then there's the advantage of being able to use old materials with zero translation--which use the 9 or 3 pt system. But your preference in 2 above seems to preclude that

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So: what's going on here?



Jose

Well, I think the 9/3 point-axis alignment is serviceable and I do use it. The problems I have with it are mostly ones of implementation.

The first one being that it is used to heavily monitor character behavior; for an alignment system, I prefer one that tells you certain things you cannot do or that you should do, much like the Shugenja taboos in Oriental Adventures or just having the cleric having to make some sacrifice or ceremony to regain spells and having them differ by alignment or forbidding you from collaborating with people of the opposite alignment, or, as D&D already does, making you the objective of certain magical effects.

It think that has more flavor and produces better game than expecting for a player to do something that falls outside a very loosely defined moral system and then say "aha! You lose all your powers".

So that's the way I would implement it in a certain campaign, even if you use good ol' Law/Neutrality/Chaos, sit down and think about what behavior you want to reward and punish for each of the three and what would be the actual "dogmas" for that.

The fun part is that, this way, what the players actually want in the short or long term can be in conflict with their alignment, so they have to choose one or go around it. And having concrete rules makes it more engaging than just having the paladin leave the room while you torture a guy. Also, it adds a new level of strategy, since everything has an alignment and it means they are bound by the same rules. So if you steal the Scepter of Orcus and want to sell it back to him, you know he won't be able to accept the deal if there is a rule that says that no Chaotic entity can buy or sell from a Lawful one, but you can still find workarounds, like hiring a neutral third party as a go-between. That kind of things.


Zak

That specfic implementation that you just described though--it has the same problems we were discussing before:

1. You have to describe the PC, at creation in terms of a game system rather than in terms of what they want or who they're allied to

2. It lumps Zeus and Odin (or other affiliations) together

Jose

Yeah, that's why I think customization is key in this regard. If you want something more like the medieval world or Moorcocks' multiverse, the 9-axis does fine. But for things that go deeper into polytheistic territory (as vanilla D&D has been steadily doing throught it's history), I would certainly refocus alignment to give more focus to different pantheons and adapting their respectives "dogmas" and interrelations. If we are going full age of mythology, you could have each pantheon (Greek, Norse, Demons and devils, Elf gods, etc.) being one axis of the alignment and good-evil being the other, so Odin and Loki are not lumped together either. But that is one example, of course, if you played something inspired by the Polynesian Mythos, for example, it would have make a bit more sense to have a scale between pure and impure. At the end of the day, yes, it makes the classical alignment hard or impossible to adapt, but it is a trade-off, not unlike banning certain classes or races from your campaign or making new ones to fit.

Zak

So how is that much different from just having factions and loyalties (as I was describing) but with numbers pinned on?

Jose

Yeah, at the end of the day, I'd say that's very much my definition of alignment. With the concrete behavior component added in.

Zak

So you like the numbers. Or at least specific categories. So, quickly--just re-rundown the advantage of the numbers.

Jose

If you want players to care about something that abstract as alignment, the best way to do it is to make mechanics for it, so it can affect them in day-to-day play. Having everything have an alignment and being aware of it is important, of course. But also using the stick and carrot of taboos and obligations to make the players act according to what the universe expects from them. Otherwise, it tends to devolve into the kind of play where everyone has to guess what's the DM's definition of "good" and "lawful" and have long winded arguments about it without getting anywhere.


Zak

Ok, but why not just have specific taboos, like 3 per faction?

Seems more concrete, memorable, enoforceable. "Devotees of Odin cannot flee bad weather" etc

Jose

Yeah, that's what I had in mind, but maybe because my concept of alignment is a tad too broad. But one important thing is that I would still require everyone to choose an alignment, much like a clan in Vampire or the like. So it's not just the cleric running into thunderstorms while the rest of the party just sighs.

Zak

So you want some kind of factional choice with an attached rule--doesn't have to be numerical?

Jose

Yeah. And I'd say that, if it is on a cosmical level, not just mundane politics, I would call that an alignment. What can be numerical, if desired, is the alignment itself, with some actions pushing it in different directions.

"Well, you killed all those children, you are 3 points closer to evil".

But that is just one way of many.

Zak

One strike against that is that it requires new players to be familiar with the cosmology of the game

If it's not super-obvious or borrowed from a familiar mythology, you're back to having to explan the minutiae of the game rather than jump right in

Jose

I think it's the opposite. I think the good thing about having alignment is that you can just tell them "look, there are these 2~10 factions, this is roughly what they are about, what they can offer you and what they want you to do". And I think that is more concise and engaging to the players than a long block of test about the setting almost no one wants to read to play. And later, as you organically find out more about them, you can possibly change your mind.

Zak

I mean without an alignment system you can just do neither though. No text, no score, just roll stats and go,

Jose

You can always start without alignment and let them decide later on. 0-level funnel style where you don't even have a class or letting them pick extra languages later as they find out what languages are important. But, in the end, I think the main reason why alignment is cool it's because it is a tool for immersion. RPG players are (on average) western, born in the XX or XXI century, middle-class and of high education. That's not the type of person that can easily tap into the kind of magical thinking that makes for great fantasy gaming (among other things).

Zak

Well I like the idea of starting with no knowledge of cosmology or faction and easing players into it

However, how would you actually do it, if alignment required numbers and stuff--when would you have them make the choice?

Jose

Well, if you are not an alignment fundamentalist like me, you could just let them choose whenever they wanted to start having the benefits and drawbacks. In the most basic way it could be like Dark Souls: you find a powerful NPC of that faction and it offers you to join. Other options include forcing them to choose at level 2 or any time they go up a level. If you are specially lawful evil, you can give them the boons of their alignment every time they go up a level, so, the more time it takes them to decide, the less they will get.

This discussion is actually very interrelated with another one "how and when does the cleric choose their deity".

Zak

Ok, but which position are you arguing for? You said you're a fundamentalist--so you obviously have a preferred position. What is it, specifically?

Jose

Well, I was joking, but I prefer doing it at char gen. Mostly because I think that, even if the players can discover other things about the world by play, I think usually most of them would have some notion of what the alignments are. I mean, even the animals have one.

Zak

So what exactly is the alignment system you use?

Jose

Well, it depends. For example, one campaign I am DMing is kitchen sink D&D, so I use the classic 9 axis alignment with clear descriptions of what good and law are in that particular world. I have different pantheons, but since it is very pulp-y, I have settled for the fact that alignment is more important for the gods than who belongs to their pantheon or not.

On the other hand I also have a campaign set in a magical version of medieval Spain, where I use 7 alignments (the mundane, God, the Devil, magic, myth, the supralunar and the underworldly) and I give players extra powers and taboos by belonging to one or the other. God-aligned or Devil-aligned characters have to be always extra good or evil, but they get the coolest stuff. Underworldly characters only have to do minor things like being underground if they can, but only get small perks like always knowing in what level of a dungeon they are. But the ones that are not mundane or with God or the Devil can actually find patrons of their alignment later on that give them more powerful stuff... for a price.



Zak

Ok, so your original statement was:

"Any D&D campaign loses a lot of flavor and depth by not using a system of alignment. "

But the asterisk seems to be that "sytem of alignment" is a pretty flexible phrase that could encompass anything from good-bad to factions so long as it has some rules attached

Jose

Yeah, that's why I covered my bases saying "a system".

Zak

I suppose I buy it on some level, but is simple greed an alignment?



Jose

I would argue that simple concepts can be alignments, such as civilization vs. barbarism. But the thing is that you need to give it an structure with many NPCs that are all about greed to really make it a faction. And you need other powers to go against greed directly or indirectly. Otherwise it wouldn't be really an alignment in the literal sense of the word, you have to be align with someone or against something.

Zak

I mean simply: lets say (as is often the case) you have a bunch of PCs who are all out to just get lots of xp in the form of gold.

That's their goal. Have we lost a lot of flavor and depth by just letting them be that? Do they need allegiances? Or is that just a nice option?


Jose

I think that you would lose flavor and depth yeah. Both in the setting and mechanically. But I don't think it's necessary, much like political factions or wilderness travel or beholders. You can remove them and some campaigns clearly don't need them, but it adds a lot to most.

Zak

I'm not denying it adds meat--I think you're right that factions are interesting as are a cosmology. I just don't know where the line between "nice to have" and "you lose so much more than you gain you should definitely have it" is.

Without a mechanical faction/alignment system, things are simpler and faster and easier to pick up. With one the world is more interesting and you have a wider variety of interesting choices. Each has an advantage.

Jose

They do. I personally think the benefits of having alignments are superior to the speed lost in chargen, but that's probably personal preference. To make a counterpoint against myself, what I really think that balances the two choices is the fact that D&D as is doesn't support alignment that well mechanically, so the DM has to do a lot of stuff from zero to make it really shine.

Zak

Well I think we've nailed down what's important. Anything to add?

Jose

Yeah, I think alignment is like wilderness travel, in that sense. Before the OSR, it was really shitty and nobody knew how to do it, so most people didn't or didn't do it right. But, with the years, a lot of smart people started thinking about it until the procedures mostly got sorted out. I think allignment might be in that same larvarian stage right now, it just need a little more cooking.

And I think that's mostly it.

Zak

Alright! Thanks Jose!

Jose

Thanks to you!