While pondering the darker reaches of a parent’s anxiety and trying to think of something else, I came upon a post by user Blackeagle on EnWorld’s board.
It’s so good and it touches so many things I was thinking about 4e that I decided to repost it here.
Instead of making a Chatty on 4e post on the same subject, let’s make this another debate as it will take my mind off things for a while.
Here’s the post, see my debate starting questions afterwards.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and after Lizard’s epiphany thread I decided to post about it.
The “simulationist” label has gotten thrown around a lot in some of the recent arguments about 4e (the recent minion thread for instance). However, I don’t think the simulationist label gets at why some people don’t like what they’ve seen of 4e. I think some simulationists can like elements of 4e that drive other simulationists crazy (see Lizard’s epiphany, for instance). The real distinction here is how willing a person is to accept a the change from a process-response model to a black box model, particularly for character and monster development.
Black box vs. process-response is one way scientists classify different models. In a nutshell, a black box model tells you what happens, while process-response model tells you how something happens. How is generally a lot more difficult to figure out than what, so process-response models are usually a lot more complicated. If you want a more scientific definition (lifted from this article):Quote:
Originally Posted by NASAIn a process-response model, the components and process of cause and effect are explicitly represented. A black-box model represents the relationship between cause and effect but does not explicitly account for the process. A graph of the relationship between traffic volume and average speed on a highway is a black-box relationship, whereas a simulation of individual vehicles and driver behavior is a process-response model.
Process-response models tend to be more complex, but not necessarily more realistic because process-response models depend on accurate depiction of the underlying mechanisms whereas black-box models can be finely tuned to the outcomes that one is trying to model.
In general, 3e leaned towards process-response models, particularly when it comes to modeling characters and monsters. If you wanted to make a more powerful version of the regular monster, you had to advance it to more hit dice, or give it character levels, or give it a template. Each of these is complicated and has all sorts of side effects. In 4e, from what we’ve seen, you slap on a more powerful power or two, add some hit points, compare it to an existing elite or solo monster and say, “looks good”. The monster’s “internals” don’t matter, all that matters is the stuff that interfaces with the players. This is a classic black box model. When the D&D designers talk about exceptions based design, what they’re really talking about (at least when it comes to characters and monsters) is moving from a process-response model to a black box model.
Another area where the 4e rules moved from a process-response model to a black box model is the grappling rules. In 3e, if you try to grapple someone, you provoke an AoO, you make a roll to grab, you make a roll to hold, you move into the target’s space. Then next turn you’re presented with a menu of actions you can choose from with detailed rules for each. It’s definitely a process-response model with a nice little chain of cause and effect. In 4e you make one roll to grab an opponent. If you succeed you can hold on. Much more of a black box model, we don’t care about all the details of the move, just whether you managed to latch on or not.
So, 4e black box models allow us to jettison a lot of the complexity that goes along with process-response models, but at the cost of not being able to see the internal details of the model. I think a big part of whether or not a person (particularly a “simulationist”) is going to like 4e depends on whether they think this is a good thing or not. Do we want to know about the internal workings of a monster or the minutia of a grapple check badly enough to deal with added complexity? Do you want to model characters and monsters, or the interactions between characters and monsters?
Is Wizards of the Coast’s move from a “process-response” to a “Black Box” model a good move for D&D’s future?
If not, and especially if you are bothered by the 4th edition, is this the main reason why?
My take on it:
This is exactly the move that I was waiting for. While I loved seeing the engine behind 3e, with time, my needs as a DM pulled me toward making things simpler, faster. I didn’t need to know the actual workings of the engine. As long as I can tinker with the outward components (monster attacks, powers, hit points) I’m happy.
I really feel that 4e returns to the roots of the game (1e) which was black box, but now I know the mechanics are unified, built logically and relatively exempt of dissimilar subsystems.