Friday, March 2, 2012

My Advice

Life's too short
Life's too short for life-expectancy calculation
Life's too short for focus-grouping
Life's too short for approving your race and your class just yes you want a jaguar man ok let's go
Life's too short for building the statblock from the ground up
Life's too short for but that guy is 3d6 and this guy is 4d6-drop one
Life's too short for oh no rolled a wimpy fighter tough mage
Life's too short for Let Me Copy Tolkienprose
Life's too short for but will the dumb people get it?
Life's too short for is it exportable?
Life's too short for No. Appearing
Life's too short for typofixing
Life's too short for whiny sad cleric
Life's too short for balancing
Life's too short for boxed text
Life's too short for Fixing Your Themes
Life's too short for Ok My Guy Is Like This Guy And He Was In The War Against Cleumeunathrian OrcTrolls And He Has A Special Bow And...
Life's too short for the set piece where you wanted the set piece to be
Life's too short for proper supported
Life's too short to look it up
Life's too short for anything but whatever pen is there and yes a pen not a pencil fine go
Life's too short for expecting stuff
Life's too short for do they even make that kind of dice?
Life's too short for pixelbitch puzzle
Life's too short for practice
Life's too short for glossy or matte or...
Life's too short for watching how a master does it at work for 75$ a day
Life's too short for calculating the masonry density
Life's too short for Oh Fuck There is No Number 7
Life's too short for negotiated
Life's too short for the cryer
Life's too short for OMG WHICH SYSTEMYEARSTYLE???
Life's too short for OMG WHICH SETTING THAT'S VANILLA???
Life's too short for That Initiative or This Initiative
Life's too short for figuring all out on the first day
Just get in there just go just do it
You have two hours find your friends run go play now!
Do it wrong first. Do it wrong nine times. Why not? Just go. Now. Go. Fall. Fail. Start over. Learn. Go. Play. Go. Play. Monsters. Go.

Just say like Look Hey I'm the GM I'm Going To Do It Wrong But You All Are In For Maximum Fun, Yes? All of you? Helping? All the fun you can? Ok We must Be Good Then, Don't Worry. And then yeah go.

That's what I decided.


Anonymous said...

Life's too short for typofixing

Life is NEVER too short for typofixing!

Oh and by the way it probably should be "typo fixing" or "typo-fixing". :-P

Zak Sabbath said...

whatever David Macaulay, every single day you get mixed up with that The Way Things Work guy is a good day

Anonymous said...

He has my sympathy, he's famous and no one ever spells his name right either (except when you did it just there).

Hmm, perhaps Life is too short for spelling Macauley correctly?

Tavis said...

One thing I see with storygames is that they're designed for two hours of maximum fun, but you get creative fatigue if you play them for an all-day session like you can with D&D. And roleplaying with a young kid is exhausting in five minutes because their life experience is way too short to wait while you pretend to look at a book while the next idea hatches, they want Story Now! Getting to spend a whole day thinking about Number Appearing can be a luxury, and beer can get you to the same place as hard liquor with more time to enjoy the process.

Tedankhamen said...

"Life is too short to look it up" was all you needed to write, Zak. But thanks, you may have saved a large despondent part of this fractured 'community' who needs to realize we are not a community, just a bunch of folks deriving fun from the same old game.

Steve Lawson said...

I love this, partly because it seems like whenever I comment on something, Zak and I disagree. And I hate that because I admire Zak's writing so much. This is a reminder that when it comes right down to it, life is too short to worry about what Zak thinks, since he's not at my table. I'll do things the way it makes sense to me, and if Zak's approach is better than mine, I'll find that out soon enough through play.

Black Vulmea said...

I'm with ya on everything but "No. Appearing."

I've gotten a lotta good play out of No. Appearing.

Unknown said...

I'm not so sure I agree with you, Mr. Smith. In particular, your advice that balance, statblocks, "fixing themes", etc isn't important.
Assuming this is meant to be directed towards the consumer of RPG products, then it doesn't really matter one way or another how balanced you run your games, because you aren't at my table. That's something unique to RPGs which never will, and never should, change! However, if you are directing this at game companies like WotC, which I believe you are, then I disagree with a great deal.
A game company that wishes to market their product to a wide variety of players, or, god forbid, expand their player base, requires a set of concise and balanced rules. It is really discouraging to new players in a 3e game to hear that no, they shouldn't play a fighter because they'll be overshadowed by the wizard within half a dozen levels, or to tell a new 4e player that putting less that 20 into their primary stat is going to gimp their to-hit rate at high levels. By having a solid set of balanced core rules, it makes it so that a brand new player can sit down with their DM and have a character that is competent enough to stand on his own (excepting "player skill" of course).
This extends to stat blocks. I think the unified math behind items and monsters in 4e is one of the best decisions WotC could have made. It makes the job of the DM so much easier. Don't get me wrong, I don't think every encounter needs to be carefully calculated out according to the XP budget system, but by having the math behind a monster actually make sense, it means that I can throw any group of level X monster at my party, and know, based on their level y, how difficult the encounter will be. There is much less of a chance of accidental TPKs, or accidentally having the big bad evil guy turn out to be a cake walk. Sure, the DM can just fudge dice rolls behind the screen, but that isn't something that should need to happen with any regularity. With a solid system behind the monsters, a new DM can come up with an encounter in a matter of minutes with confidence.
Now look, I'm all for house rules, and frankly, I'm a big fan of WotC's "module" idea for 5e. If you don't want things to be balanced, throw in the Vancian Casting module to buff the casters, and the Gritty Grimdark module to weaken the martial characters. That is fine, but it shouldn't be core. Dungeons and Dragons is in a unique position as "the" RPG. The tone and style of a game should be up to each individual table, but the core system should be balanced so that everyone can use it as a base for their game.

Zak Sabbath said...

"However, if you are directing this at game companies like WotC, which I believe you are...l."

I'm not.

Remember: when you cetera

Zak Sabbath said...

I really hope you clear up this "What is Tavis talking about and why?" thing before the game, otherwise I am going to be really confused.

Unknown said...

Ironically, B/X, by your definition, is a lot more balanced than the later editions that made a concerted effort to actually balance the game. You just roll some stats, which don't usually have a very big impact on the game, and then it mostly comes down to whether you do something stupid and get killed by a poison needle or a wandering cyclops. Of course, any game is only as fair as its referee.

Zak Sabbath said...


Seriously you two want to have a conversation about which published edition of a game is more balanced?

If I pay for a 12-pack and a birthday clown to go over to your house and entertain you two for a couple hours will you guys do that instead?


Unknown said...


Did you just call me an ass? Jesus, no wonder you get called out in Grognards.txt.

Unknown said...


I actually do feel like 4e relies too much on ability scores, and it is far from perfect. However, my post was not about edition wars, it was about general game theory.

Zak Sabbath said...

Did you just assume a bunch of shit and then write 6 column inches about it before just asking me instead?

Fonkin said...

Agreed. Life is too short. I find myself tunneling down that OCD-DM's wormhole all too often. Hazard of the trade I guess.

On the other hand, if you LIKE some of those things and your group does too (or at least they don't mind it or if it happens where they can't see it), then why not?


Seth S. said...

does anyone want to play?

Zak Sabbath said...

They do:

Unknown said...

I only assumed the intended audience, and even then, I addressed the possibility that I might be wrong. I had expected either no response, or your thought on the importance or lack of importance of balance in RPGs. I certainly did not expect to be insulted.

Zak Sabbath said...

Ok, Monster

Can we see this as a marvelloulsy quick, clean textbook case of how these little misunderstandings occur and move therefore somewhat on to more interesting topics?

wrathofzombie said...

Once again I get surprised at how people can get huffy and puffy over something. Zak is sharing his view on shizzy, whether you agree with it or not.. how he does it. May or may not work for you, but it sure as hell does him.

I agree that life is too short and that there are definitely trivialities that take up game time, especially when life is full of "grown-up" responsibilities (like changing my underwear).

In the end life is too damned short and it comes down to maximizing fun at your game table how you and your group want to do that :) So to paraphrase Firefly, "A GM's job is simple: Getcher self a crew, getcher self some dice, keep playin'."

Unknown said...

Sure, Zak. In the interest of smoothing things over and having a discussion on my original point, Ill ignore the hostility.

So, then, how DO you feel about balance in RPGs? You have touched on the topic before (combat as war vs combat as sport, player skill vs character skill, etc) but, with the dialogue regarding 5e right now, it seems an approprite time to address it. I wont confescend to give a summary of what I have interpreted from your posts, and I also want to explain that Im not here looking to argue about it. I enjoy you blog, and while I dont always agree with you, I am genuinely interested in your insight on the topic.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think it's a complicated topic because, essentially, it rests on the players/GMs assumptions about how you define the field of conflict.

Like if the game is regularly played by a group in such a way that the thief can (regularly) climb a wall and get to a bucket of boiling water or a window or another unusual resource and the charismatic cleric can persuade people to help (regularly) then the DM and players have one kind of assumption about the size of the field of conflict and charisma and wall-climbing (and many other skills) are something that goes on the scale when "balancing" the game.

If the players and GM basically assume that the fights will usually take place in a less...mmm...affordance-rich environment (r one where those affordances are just sometimes there and sometimes not) -and, indeed, that fights are mostly what you do-then those skills count less and the game has to be balanced a different way.


Unknown said...

But that only addresses balancing combat based on style. How about things like 3.5s infamous 'caster supremacy' in which the players are (alledgedly) unbalanced amongst themselves? How about balancing other things, like monsters or items? Should a level 9 Roc provide the same level of challange as a level 9 Gorgon?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daren C said...

Nice poem dude!

Trent_B said...

Life is too short for most of what mostyone is talking about in the comments!

(ps mostyone = almost everyone. It's a thing im doing now.)

Unknown said...

And seriously, I just want to hear your input, I'm not trying to lead you into a my cunning word trap or anything.

Zak Sabbath said...

I thought I _was_ talking about how players are balanced among themselves. Like: if the PC's charisma and wall-crawling and sneaking counts in a fight, that might be considered to begin to "balance" against the mage's fireball. If the group plays in such a way that it doesn't, then it doesn't.

SMITH said...

I totally needed to see this just now! ROCK!

Unknown said...

Oh, my apologies then! I see your point, but I'm not sure I agree. After all, can't a caster just use Spider Climb or Charm Person to replicate the same effects that the wall climbing thief and the charismatic priest accomplished? Between Spider Climb, Knock and Invisibility, isn't a wizard just a better thief?

Unknown said...

My point wasn't to start an edition war, by the way. I've played every edition except 2e and I enjoy all of them. Just meant to point out that it's basically impossible to "balance" a game and still make it fun. D&D is not Super Street Fighter II Turbo Championship Edition Xtreme Peanuts or whatever, and it never will be. The more the rules try to emphasize balancing characters amongst each other and the monsters they face, the more highlighted the problem becomes. Sorry if I brought any flame war shit around here.

Unknown said...

Only mentioned B/X at all because I think it's pretty much acknowledged as being unbalanced, even by those people who play and enjoy it, whereas a game like 4e is generally not (at least in my experience). In hindsight I can see how that might come across as trolling though.

Unknown said...


Whether Spider Climb, Knock, and Invisibility make a wizard a better thief depends on the referee. If they're able to do the whole 15-minute-adventuring-day, then yes, wizards outclass everyone even at fairly low levels. But if the referee gives you time sensitive goals, wandering monsters, or other things that will force the wizard to actually manage his resources, he'll save his knock spell for when the party really needs it.

And this is my whole point about balance. Unless the game is like a video game, where encounters are carefully controlled according to certain expectations, the only way to actually balance the game is to make every character exactly the same. If everyone /only/ played adventure modules, perhaps the former would be an option. But, again, each module would have to be carefully balanced, which is difficult because you can never really predict what players will do. If you're not doing that, the problem you run into is that a character's skills are not quantifiable in any easily expressed way.

How does a character with a bunch of points in Comprehend Languages compare to a character with a bunch of points in Escape Artist? How does a cleric who shoots healy-beams at you compare to a fighter who can stand on the front lines and cut down 10x 1HD bandits? I seriously don't know, and I haven't seen a unified theory that would solve this issue, either.

Zak Sabbath said...


I personally think the thief could be written better than s/he is in most versions of the game in terms of balance but is not actually hopelessly unsurvive-y.

I mean, I play a completely sucky thief and it is _not_ balanced and what happens is the wizards and fighters engage, I sneak around and attack from cover and backstab and, oddly, though I am mechanically weak, everyone else knowing that and assuming my PC is the weakest and so taking different roles actually means the thief survives (longer than anyone else) and has a lot to do in combat.

However, I do think this playstyle could be mechanically supported better than it is and made less GM-dependent.

Zak Sabbath said...

I mean, not like nobody else survives--but my point is he survives and gets to do stuff all along not so much because of mechanical balance but because of his default role.

Anyway, point is: balance is, to me, sooooo dependent on playstyle that I have a hard time deciding what's balanced in a game until I know who is running it and how.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...


That last statement pretty much sums it up for me. I mean, we're talking about a game where there's literally a different guy /in charge/ of each game, whom the game designers have more than likely never met, and who is guaranteed to be different from every other guy sitting at any other table running a game. Once you have someone like that, any notions you as a designer have about balance are pretty much moot.

Zak Sabbath said...

I guess I don;t think it's moot.

Like I think 4e is balanced _for the playstyle that I think is assumed in 4e_

But if you don't use that playstyle it;s harder to say. Like the 4e Vornheim stats are done so there are "holes" in the stats and the monsters are unusually vulnerable to certain attacks. But there's no way to know that beforehand so it's part of it is trial and error.

Zak Sabbath said...

(which is, obviously, not how most 4e monsters are built)

Unknown said...

This is, I think, the fundamental problem with Dungeons and Dragons, not as a game but as a brand. When it comes to basically any other roleplaying game, the game is balanced to a particular playstyle, and people with that playstyle will play the game (just like you say there's a certain playstyle assumed in 4e). The problem with Dungeons and Dragons is that people don't respect the fact that a game can really only reasonably balance itself for a particular type of play.

But people want Dungeons and Dragons to be everything, even if there's a game out there already that would suit their playstyle better. Call it nostalgia, some sort of factor of brand visibility, I dunno. I'll be interested to see what, if anything, is accomplished by the modular approach.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well, it's only a problem if you're worried about balance.

D&D was the first RPG, so it's like pandora's box: the first game in history where you can do ANYTHING!!!!

It's just, out of the infinity of this "ANYTHING!!!", only like 4 things are well-supported enough for the beginning or time-crunched GM at any given time.

It's kinda like: Hey, here's a whole supermarket. P.S. here's 4 recipes you can make.

Most later games were like: Ok, ok, we will onyl give you eggplant if we include an eggplant recipe.

Unknown said...

Yeah so, then you've got a bunch of people on one side who really want to play D&D and they don't care if it's balanced or not, and then you've got another group who wants it to be balanced one way, and another group that doesn't think that's very fair at all and why can Wizards climb up walls that's ridiculous.

The truth of the matter is that all of these groups should probably be playing /different games/ that support the way they want to play. But they don't want to play different games, they want to play D&D, because they don't know what else is out there or because they think hey guys who wants to play deadEarth just isn't gonna get them a group, who knows.

Zak Sabbath said...

Or, one could argue, the intractables are a vocal minority and the rest of us are moody and like all this miscegenation and it builds hybrid vigor.

i.e. the edition wars are just the boring outliers and the rest of us like a cosmopolitan vibe.

Unknown said...

Yeah but does it matter if they're a minority when they're vocal enough that game designers actually listen to them? Granted, when it comes down to it, it's true, on an individual level, if you enjoy a game, play that game. Hell, there's probably some group out there for whom FATAL is the perfect realization of their aesthetic and ludicological philosophies (and all the better if it keeps them at home). But I still think it's a problem for the community as a whole when you have a minority that's vocal enough to be basically inescapable, to the point where WotC actually has to listen to them.

Unknown said...

Just look at this thread. Even though it was neither Ian's nor my intent to actually talk edition war shit, we got bogged down in it anyway because it's an assumed facet of the rpg community that people will bitch each other out about which elfgame is better and why rather than having a reasonable and potentially enlightening discussion. That's probably a bad thing.

Unknown said...

I completely agree that Dungeons & Dragons is trying to be too much. I also agree with Zak that simply by having something unbalanced is not synonymous with something not being fun.

However, I definitely disagree with you, Jack. Not only are you being unnecessarily dismissive when you say "doesn't think that's very fair at all and why can Wizards climb up walls that's ridiculous" but it also ignores the issue. Whenever a spell caster overshadows another player, it is not giving that player a chance to contribute. And there is simply no way to avoid the fact that in most editions of DnD, the wizard could overshadow all other classes. Especially 3/3.5. At least the earlier editions attempted to provide balance by requiring material components and things like Wish aging the caster, or the flight spell that had a random duration which I cannot remember the name for.

Second, you claim that 4e has an assumed style. Do you feel the same way about other editions of DnD?

Unknown said...


I agree that wizards tend to be pretty spectacularly broken in 3e and I didn't mean to be dismissive of your complaint because, yeah it's a valid one. I was just using a particular ability of the wizard that you happened to state to illustrate a point that was entirely separate from balance. Sorry that it came off that way.

Also it was Zak who said 4e had an assumed style, not me. But I do agree, and I agree that that's true of other editions. For example, the assumed style of 0e is that you're probably going to die a lot and not level up very often. The wizard is never going to get to level 10 so his power is never going to be so enormous as to invalidate all the other characters. That's how the 0e wizard was balanced. But yeah I agree that 3/3.5 is especially unbalanced in that way, especially since the assumed playstyle of 3/3.5 is "give encounters that are relatively balanced and don't make a big deal out of resource management."

Unknown said...

Which is an example of how overbalancing eliminates balance. The assumption in 3e is that the wizard /will/ get to level 10, but I guess they failed to consider that at that point he will just shit on everything.

Unknown said...

Sorry for the misattribution of the quote! Anyway, I actually do agree with you that old school DnD did have a style, and it was reflected in all the published adventures and supplements. However, I do not think that this is true today. Ever since the explosion of material in 2e, there has been so many different settings and articles on styles that DnD is a tool kit to run anything you want these days. A lot of people look at the skirmish combat system for 4e and assume that the entire game is based around fighting. I'm not saying that you do, but I head this all the time.

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I haven't played in any 4e games that relied on combat any more than 3e or 2e games. It has as much of a chance to be super deadly as early editions (the Dark Sun Encounters season was famous for a fight with kobolds that did 4d6 damage to first level characters), especially for people who like to houserule in stuff like's Fourthcore. And while you can absolutely cite the 4e Dungeon articles or published adventures as being too heavily focused on combat encounters, can you honestly tell me that other editions didn't suffer from the same problem?

Unknown said...

Well firstly I don't think that the stylistic difference between 4e and other editions is that 4e is more "combat-focused." A lot of other bloggers have talked about it in terms of "combat as sport vs. combat as war" but I don't think that's quite right either.

I think 4e assumes that you will come to the game with a character and a backstory. Your character will be exactly what you want him to be. If he's not a hero already then he will become one. If your character dies, he will be resurrected quickly and easily, and it will become another heroic chapter of his saga.

Obviously not all 4e games are going to be run like that. When it comes to Fourthcore and deadliness, it's something different. It's a game that is not vanilla-4e nor is it 3 or 2 or 1. When it comes down to it most people are still going to point-buy their character and use tactical grid based combat, but now it's a game where your party will probably die. On top of that, it's much harder in 4e (in my experience) for a single party member to die; more often than not either everyone survives or it's a TPK. So it's something different from all the aforementioned games.

The reason I don't play 4e actually has nothing to do with any of this though. I don't play 4e simply because it's a pain in the ass to DM. Balancing encounters, parceling out treasure (which you have to do correctly or it breaks the math), setting reasonable DCs for skill challenges, etc. For me I find this doesn't give me a whole lot of room to improvise when I run a game. I've played in 4e games and enjoyed them, but running them is just not worth the hassle for me.

Zak Sabbath said...

To me, reading Ptolus--especially th edungeon at the end--was a real eye-opener about what the assumed playstyle for 3e was.

Unknown said...

That's kind of a weird thing I hadn't thought of. We have a very good idea of what the assumed playstyle for 0e and AD&D were because Gary Gygax made the game and also wrote a bunch of the most famous modules that everyone had. Whereas Monte Cook was mostly writing (or at least, publishing) variant rules and such.

Zak Sabbath said...

If you read that dungeon the "buff upon buff upon buff" arms race is clearly the way he wanted to run it.

And that was, apparently, _his_ groups actual campaign, so it seems pretty legit.

scrap princess said...

when these monkey shit fights from nowhere (MSFFN) happen I have this vivid mental image of an mutant cornish farmer yelling "theeee curse its theeee currrsseee again youuuuu foooolss!"

Devin Parker said...

It's a good reminder of why I always liked that whole "Go Play" thing a few years back.

I would consign stat blocks to the Pit, I hate them so; but then I catch myself doing time-wasting things like taking Jonathan Chappell's Labyrinth Lord Monster Cards from Dragonfoot, putting them into Photoshop, and trying to make them look more like something Games Workshop might have published back in the 80s.

Because in the end I am my own worst enemy about this stuff.

Dungeon Smash said...

hey zak how come you didnt go to DDXP

Zak Sabbath said...

@dungeon smash

The most obvious reason that presents itself is I don't know what that is.

Dungeon Smash said...

its the "Dungeon & Dragons Experience", aka "The In-Industry Expo for D&D". they just held it like a couple weeks ago, and they invited all kinds of bloggers and thinkers and stuff to go playtest the new edition before it gets opened for playtesting to the regular douchebags. you totally could have gone i bet, if you were like "oh hey i'm zak s that dude from playing D&D with porn stars oh ps i have like literally one thousand followers from the notoriously small and hardcore grognard crowd who like to listen to me talk every day doo do doo doo doo"
neither here nor there at this point because PAX East is coming up and they're gonna open it for playtesting to everybody at that point i guess

Geoff Nelson said...

@ Zak: Yes. Go play. Nicely done.