Chatty’s Initial Thoughts on 4e

I’ve decided that I won’t review the 4e Core Books. I will probably do a few ‘Chatty on 4e’ and ‘Chatty’s Debate’ posts on things in the core but I won’t review them.

Part of this is because my way of doing reviews tend to be pretty massive. I’d end up with a multi-parter series for each book that would take this way past the period people cared about it.

Secondly is that as much as I like reading it right now, I really need to play the damn game and make my own mind as I keep alternating between anticipation and slight irritation as I read things (Especially the DMG).

But heres a few of tidbits from what I gleaned so far.


  • Races are all cool, even the half elf (who gets to learn and use another class’ power)
  • The Magic Item “economy” is different. Anyone can buy magic Item, if you can work out how with your DM…If you can’t, well just buy a ritual and make your own! But buying and making it is the exact same cost (+ paying for the ritual). Selling magic item, or disenchanting it into components, yields exactly 20% of its market value.
  • The Vorpal weapon is awesome, You get a bunch of extra dice of damage on crits or using it’s daily power. On top of that, whenever you play max damage with it (not just while doing a crit), you get to reroll damage and add it up. You keep re-rolling as long as you play maximum damage. Here’s to hoping to see a player break the Bell Curve!
  • You get to a swap powers, skills or feat (max one per level) whenever you level up.

The DMG (partly read):

  • Written by James Wyatt, I don’t quite like his writing style but once I got over it I was okay. This is not Monte Cook (3.0 DMG) or Robin Laws (1st part of 3.5 DMG II) whose styles I’m more in line with.
  • The way he proposes to deal with Rules Lawyers is shocking but possibly quite effective (let him step out of the game, fading his character out, for as long as he looks in the book, missing out on the game without keeping others from playing)
  • Monster mod and creation is truly easy and useful. Templates take minutes to apply. NPCs can be full characters or Faked ones where simple stats and hand picked powers simulate a full character.
  • Random tables are gone. Make your own or start an Imprint and make PDFs full of random tables if you like them… If they are good you will make money.
  • Treasure attribution is highly structured (I’d say even clinical), see previous comment.

I had a 3 paragraph long rant about the absence of the second Rule 0 (1st one is: Everybody must have fun, it’s there all right) which is “Feel free to ignore rules and/or make your own”.

Then I decided to properly research my rant lest I get a (well deserved) stern remonstrance by my Winnipeg buddy.

On page 189, there’s actually a full section on House Rules and how to approach them (with quite sensible suggestion of thinking things throughly).

So Rule 0 is there, in the following form:

If you disagree with how the rules handle something, changing them is within your rights

More important, do the other players agree to the need for a change? You have the authority to do whatever you want with the game, but your efforts won’t help if you have no group.

While the suggestions above is sensible, the key philosophy of this book is that it does not try to picture the DM’s as a figure of authority but more like a partner and an interpreter of the rules.

I think that is a wrong move (or at least it paints an incomplete picture). As I discussed in my 4 stages series, the partner DM is a later, natural evolution of a norming gaming group. The more supervisor-like DM is a necessity earlier in the group’s ‘career’. The needs of less experienced, less cohesive groups should have been addressed.

Once again, it’s a question of style. James Wyatt and I are describing the same elephant from different angles. Not a deal breaker… but it is making my reading of the DMG more arduous than any GMing book I have read since the 2e DMG. YMMV.

It is filled with good, sensible DMing advice but somehow it seems to be smeared in brussel sprout paste and I need to digest it before seeing it for what it is.

I get to finally play Keep on the Shadowfell next Friday, I really can’t wait. We’ll use the pre-gens as this is going to be an exercise in learning the rules. Players are also encouraged to trade PCs between encounters to get to see what each one does. We’ll see how it goes.

So there you go… I managed to make it into some sort of review after all…sigh.

Have a nice week!


  1. Well that’s a lot more favourable than my initial impressions! They boil down to: I’m glad I hadn’t bought it as I’d have sold it by now.

    Despite my (serious) misgivings though, we’ll be playing it next weekend, and I hope it plays a darned site better than it reads. It’s a shame, as I was quite hopeful after reading through Shadowfell – that’s quite a neat, fun little adventure. To me, it’s big brother just doesn’t live up to the hype, and brings a whole slew of fresh problems to the table.

    We’ll see.

  2. Hooray for researching before writing! More people need to learn to, if only to avoid incurring my wrath. 😀

    That said, I don’t think your opinion is really all that different from the DMG one.

    A supervisor doesn’t order his workers to comply to something on a whim (usually). He discusses the issues, and reaches a compromise. Otherwise, we have a power-tripping supervisor with no employees.

    That’s the same thing that Wyatt is recommending, with one exception. It’s much easier to quit a D&D game than to quit a job. As such, discussion and compromise are all the more important.

    And yes, even for new groups. Too many potential players quit after a game or two because of group problems, including poor communication and bossy DMs.

    In addition, just because the DM is a partner and a player does not mean he isn’t the leader of the group, or the final authority on things. Hell, the best leaders are the ones who see themselves as partners in the project, working WITH the other team members. They use their power of authority only when necessary, so as not to abuse it. These are the most-liked, most-trusted type of leader around.

  3. What Graham said. The problem with the traditional “the GM is the boss” advice is that it leads to crappy group dynamics among teenagers who take it literally. Sure, once you develop real social skills, the limits are obvious, but if you are still learning what social dynamics are all about, strict statements about GM authourity can create tinpot dictators.

    And that’s only if you agree that new groups need that central authourity. I think that if you tell new groups that they should work together, and they haven’t been taught any other model, then they’ll work together. A lot of “GM is more equal than the other players” wisdom is just hand me downs from how it’s always been done.

    Linnaeuss last blog post..Recent Boardgames

  4. Saragon says:

    Honestly, I’m a real fan of the DMG and its suggestions on group dynamics and managing a group of players. I’d say it’s the best book of the three: It makes simple, clear suggestions on handling a lot of situations and personalities, is a good rules reference, makes customizing monsters INCREDIBLY easy, has great suggestions on maintaining the flavor of what could otherwise turn into a dry tactical-combat game, and is an all-around winner. This is the stuff that went into the DMG II from 3rd Edition, and is what’s really needed for a new DM. (I already have picked out a couple of things to try in the next session I run.)

    By way of comparison, I thought the Monster Manual, while generally interesting, was the weakest of the three books; I think WotC went too far in their efforts to simplify monsters. While they definitely got some of them right, others that used to be more interesting feel boring now. I could still put together an interesting encounter with them, but monsters that would previously stsnd out as truly terrifying are now just one more piece on the battle grid.

  5. Fair enough Graham, Linneus and Saragon.

    As I started reading chapters 3 onwards the brussel srpouts feeling went away some and I stared enjoying it more. 🙂

    Call me a crusty old DM… 🙂

  6. Seems goofy that magic items only sell for 20% of their value. If I meet a fellow adventurer in short supply, does he charge me five potions in trade for each one?

    Then again, the alternative is to prohibit the easy sale of magic items, which makes it a lot harder to buy new ones (unless you expect high-level treasure hordes to amount to a ridiculous weight in gold coins). I guess this is a compromise.

  7. Honestly, I was thrilled that the 4e design team was not afraid to change things and I still am, despite finding the result a mixed bag. I think the other blog entry discussing “Command” pretty much exemplifies the possible split between opinions on 4e.

    I really like the streamlined math, even more focus on action adventure but I think several changes actually defeat the improvements.

    For instance, what’s the point of streamlining things if you add so many options on top that it’s actually just as time-consuming and complex?

    When streamlining an entry like Command, do you really need to go all the way and throw the baby with the bathwater?

    Really putting some thought into the game/space element (grids and spaces and movements and maneuvers) is fine, but do you need to go so overboard that you actually sacrifice other parts of the fun? One great example of this is the very obvious decision to make “each player get X number of actions per turn for smoother flow”. This is something designers need to think about. But do you need erase any traces of animal companions, familiars, improvised two-weapon fighting, followers, leadership, etc?

    I applaud that the designers thought long and hard about the “game” aspects of a roleplaying game. Maybe throughout the late 80s and 90s several designers lost sight of that. But that is no reason to not only neglect, but actively seek to eradicate other aspects of this great hobby.

    Verisimilitude, genre-emulation, improvisation and a lot of other facets are part of roleplaying. I suspected they would be neglected in this edition because in the many years I have read Mike Mearls’ thoughts and interacted with him, he has shown outright contempt for some of that stuff.

    I just never suspected it would be actively scratched from the new design so significantly.

    And despite sounding sour, I’m not. And I’m still totally glad that the edition is at least a significant change. Why? Because while I prefer Basic and 3rd edition to 4th, I’d rather each edition be a significant change. Our old books won’t die. This is just one more option for gamers.

    Plus I think some of the innovations in 4e are damn nifty and can (and will) be easily ported to D&D clones and even some totally unrelated roleplaying games.

    So, I hope this edition is very successful but I’ll look elsewhere when I feel like roleplaying classic fantasy. 4th edition has chosen a path I cannot follow right now. I might play it with friends. But I can’t imagine running this thing as of now. Who knows? Maybe my opinion will change 🙂

  8. And the anti-rules lawyer hatred continues, now enshrined in the core rulebooks, I see. Sigh. Here’s a tip, guys: every rules lawyer has bought your books and read them – he has to, in order to qualify for the title – which is unlike many of your other more casual players who MIGHT buy the PHB if you’re lucky.

    Just a pet hate of mine – my entire group consists of Rules Lawyers, by most people’s definitions, and I doubt that getting all of us to sit out would be conducive to fun happy times. Also there is the slight disconnect between a “GM as partner” philosophy and a “GM as person who can kick you from the game just for correcting him on how much damage clubs do” philosophy.

    As far as the magic item economy goes – this too is ridiculous. What the hell are they so terrified of – that the PCs will stop adventuring and start churning out magic-items-for-cash? Have they made it similarly impossible to profit from mundane items, or do sword smiths have to pay as much in raw materials as they can sell a sword for? If they have, then their world is such that it could never evolve past the hunter gatherer stage as there is no incentive for specialisation. If they haven’t, then the PCs are just as capable of retiring to churn out swords/armour/bake bread as they would be of making magical items, so they haven’t solved any problems. The only possible way to stop players from doing stuff like this is to either enforce it as a genre constraint (heavy handed, but acceptable), or else embrace it and see where that takes you (perhaps instead of dungeon delvers your PCs will consist of craftsmen and traders, but that isn’t necessarily less fun).

    It looks as if my intuition that it would be “more of the same” seems to be justified – from the sounds of it, 4th edition is more a new coat of paint than a new engine.

  9. Gazza,

    While I’m not a fan of 4E in general as I literally could not run any of my usual campaign worlds without totally rewriting them (and worse, being forced to reshape the way the world works to match the way 4E assumes they should work), I really like hearing “rules lawyer control” is in the core rules.

    If everyone in the group is a rules lawyer and the group wants to play strictly by the book, rules lawyers aren’t a problem. However, if only one or two people in the game are rules lawyers, the rules lawyers can ruin the campaign for the other players and the GM by bringing the game to a standstill to argue the rules. While this is probably fun and very important from the point-of-view of the rules lawyer player, most players quickly get tired of it and the time it wastes. It even more annoying if the group as a whole isn’t interested in strictly by the book play.

    I’ve had anti-rules lawyer statements in my house behavior rules since the late 1970s. They aren’t nearly as kind as those reported to be in the 4E DMG.

  10. Nick T. says:

    seems things have evolved greatly since our GURPS sessions, eh?
    I’m just wondering, having not opened a RP rules books since the late 90s and the VtM stuff, is it time for these books to all become digital? Wouldn’t the now average Player and DM that are fully equipped with Laptops and PDA benefit from quicker character generation and dungeon crawling? I know this gets dangerously close to online RPing, but I just wanted to get your take on this.

    Cheers, and in hopes and I squeeze to Mtl time to grab a beer!

  11. @J. Drain: Selling loot other than monetary treasure as more or less been killed. Like in 3e, money mostly serves to purchase/manufacture magic items and and pay for rituals (including raising dead buddies)


    Verisimilitude, genre-emulation, improvisation and a lot of other facets are part of roleplaying. I suspected they would be neglected in this edition because in the many years I have read Mike Mearls’ thoughts and interacted with him, he has shown outright contempt for some of that stuff.

    I agree that verisimilitude built in the actual mechanics has taken a hit in favour of ‘fun/gamism’. However, Genre-emulation is unscathed as you can easily hack parts of the core to make it low magic more easily, higher magic and such. As for improvisation, a later chapter of the DMG talks about just that and takes a page directly out of Robin Laws’ book… so there I must say that it’s possibly the best improv tips I’ve seen in a DMG.

    Actually I’ll even go as far as saying that D&D 4e is perfect for sandbox games since stuff is going to be a lot easier to prep for and adjudicate.

    @Gazza and Randall: Yes if a group is made of all the same type, regardless of type, then no rules are needed to deal with the disruption caused. If Gazza’s group enjoys the arguing as a group, well good for them.

    I was quite shocked by the proposed solution, but I truly believe it beats a DM loosing patience and getting into a shouting match with a RL that won’t stop until proven right.

    But then again, I believe that a social contract is a better approach because people all agree to abide by it.

    @ Nick: Most of these books are now avaliable as fully searchable PDFs. Which many groups like. I use them extensively in prepping but I prefer a physical book at the table.

    As for online playing, the new D&D insider service will, supposedly, offer to full paying members access to cross-indexed rules, virtual mapping and online character management.

    If it does work as promised (Wizard’s track record so far isn’t stellar, but let’s see how it goes) it will allow players who aren’t together to play live.

  12. As I wrote in my post on my group’s initial thoughts on 4e it seems that crunch has definitely won out over roleplaying in 4e. My first opportunities to play 3e was through yahoo groups and online play. I am struggling to think how I could run a 4e game online without the D&D Insider which most people are not going to want to pay for. We are still in our testing phase but I think we’ll end up drifting back to 3.x edition or Pathfinder. It just seems to fit our style of play.

    As I have said, I want to like 4e but it just keeps through things in my way that makes that more and more difficult. I hadn’t heard that Mearls had such disdain for the roleplaying aspects of the game. Why was he put in charge of making the new rules set for the roleplaying game, then? Shouldn’t he have just done the minis game and been done with it?

  13. Thank you for the disturbing mental image of brussel sprout paste. Right as I was eating lunch, no less. The wife loves them. I hate them. I have no comment on 4e since I’ve already decided not to play.

  14. One thing to consider for magic item sales, is that you will no longer find bucketloads of +1 longswords in the game. Every item you find in a dungeon will be something new, higher level than you, and (if the DM does his job) useful to the party.

    As such, the economy has changed from “find a bunch of useless items, and sell them to buy useful ones” to “find a few useful items, use them for a while, and sell them only once you outgrow them”.

    As such, the 50% sell price is no longer needed. And the 20% sell price makes more sense for a “well-used” item anyways.

  15. @Deadshot and others-

    I’m confused.

    How do the 4e mechanics prevent roleplaying?

    How do ANY mechanics prevent (or encourage) roleplaying?

    Roleplaying is a purely non-mechanical entity. I’m not sure how a change in mechanics, edition, or even system can affect roleplaying in any way.

  16. Which one is that? Oberoni or Stormwind Fallacy? I can’t remember. I’m pretty sure it’s Oberoni. There are systems that encourage RP more than others, but no system outright discourages it.

  17. Neither, actually.

    Oberoni is that if something is broken, the fact that it can be fixed with rule zero does not make it not broken.

    Stormwind is that just because someone min-maxes or power-games does not mean they don’t also roleplay (and vice versa).

    So it’s almost Stormwind. but from a system perspective, rather than a player perspective.

  18. Graham
    With a sufficiently defined ruleset, you might get a distinct decrease in role playing. It is why I am leery of any rules that try to dictate the outcomes of social interactions. If your rules try to cover role playing situations too tightly your net result will be a decrease in attempts to role play. Sort of like the grapple rules in 3.x.

    To encourage role play, well, you could hardcode a series of RP rewards into your rule set. Either set experience rewards or some sort of expendable bonus (luck points karma points, etc) that you receive for good or emphatic or active rp.

    Oh, yeah, there are also ways to encode/encourage role play into your basic rule system. A lot of indy games these days are built on fascinating rp friendly mechanics. There is one where each character has a goal that is mutually exclusive with the rest of the party’s goals. Each character can, during the various scenes of the game, choose to trust another character. If you do so, that character gives you a significant boost during that scene for achieving your scene goals, but if you have trusted a character, then later on they gain the ability to betray that trust, greatly helping them achieve their own goals at your expense. The trust/betrayal mechanic is pretty rp specific, at least on the initialization side.

    Let’s see, The Adventures of Baron von Whosawhatzit (not the game’s name) has RP encouraging rules, as does Spirit of the Century, and My Life With Master. (MLWM is interesting in that the sequence of events in the game are pretty well set at the beginning. There is some mechanical stuff, but progression is mostly via role playing.

    Michael Phillipss last blog post..Geneology, what’s that

  19. @Graham

    I was rather vague on that point about how I find the 4e mechanics a hindrance to roleplaying. I found that it was difficult to build a narrative for the combat as we went along with all the various interrupts and additional things that characters could do that seemed to pull us out of the environment and out to the table looking at minis and a battlemat. Now, I am sure that some of this has to do with unfamiliarity with the rules and we will get better at the flow. It just seems to me that the game is much more focused on the minis and mat this time round.

    Deadshots last blog post..The Curmudgeons’ Initial 4e Experience Part I

  20. The hate on the 20% sell price just baffles me. Was selling magic items at 50% somehow more “realistic”? Were there tables in the DMG that I missed about running a shop that listed overhead costs, that somehow changed the dynamic when the sell price of items changed? I seriously don’t get it.

    Dave T. Games last blog post..Inq. of the Week: Campaign to a Close

  21. With a sufficiently defined ruleset, you might get a distinct decrease in role playing. It is why I am leery of any rules that try to dictate the outcomes of social interactions. If your rules try to cover role playing situations too tightly your net result will be a decrease in attempts to role play.

    True. This is why the 4e social challenge rules are actually LOOSER than the 3.X rules.

    3.X rules were that a DC 35 Diplomacy check automatically made anyone friendly. Anything over a level 6 Bard can actually hit that regularly.

    4e rules are that the players get to make a series of social skill checks, the results of which are dictated by the GM based on what the players/characters say and do.

    How on earth does the 4e system handle roleplaying encounters more tightly that 3.X?

  22. -Consonant Dude-
    Mike Mearls’ thoughts and interacted with him, he has shown outright contempt for some of that stuff.
    So I don’t doubt you, but do you have any public space examples you could link to?

    Michael Phillipss last blog post..Geneology, what’s that

  23. @Deadshot –

    Strangely, I found the opposite. During my demo game, I found that my character’s various abilities kept me more focused and active in the game, instead of being passive whenever it wasn’t my turn. The extra abilities actually pulled me further into the game, rather than out of it.

    One of the things that might be affecting your group, as well, is if they were playing a demo game or Keep on the Shadowfell with the premade characters. I find that usually brings me a bit out of the game.

  24. -Graham-
    How on earth does the 4e system handle roleplaying encounters more tightly that 3.X?

    I’m sorry I should have been clearer. I wasn’t talking to:

    How do the 4e mechanics prevent roleplaying?

    I was talking to:

    How do ANY mechanics prevent (or encourage) roleplaying?

    That is why my examples were all non-d&d systems.
    *chuckles* I actually almost included the 3.x Diplomacy check as an example of a mechanic that runs from RP neutral to discouraging RP.

    That is one of those issues I’ve struggled with as a GM. I love it when my players grab social interaction skills, but I mostly detest the roll system for them. (I’ve not often had a player who took the social skills and went solely for the mechanical aspects of their skills, but there was one particular half-elf bard whose player put in almost no effort to rp his diplomacy attempts. He’d usually state a desired goal and ask to roll. *sigh*)

    I do tend to think that the fewer RP related rules the better, though RP reward systems are nice. One of my top 5 times role playing was in a wargame. I played a convention game of Fuzzy Heroes once where I ended up running a Tasmanian Devil. Other than declaring actions, I stayed in character for the entire session. It had little effect on the outcome (though it may be part of what distracted the other side enough that, though they played better, they failed to achieve their win conditions. We were trying to get as many socks as possible, they were trying to get exactly half of the socks. They were busy responding to my character’s vocalizations and lost count, so my side won by default.

    Michael Phillipss last blog post..Geneology, what’s that

  25. Ah, that does make more sense.

    Yes, you’re right, there are some systems that encourage RP.

    I have yet to find one that strongly discourages it, though.

    From my experience, if you play with no social mechanics at all, you will have a default level of RP, let’s call it X.

    By introducing social mechanics such as 4e’s, you end up with a level of roleplay very close to X, but with mechanics help adjudicate things.

    Certain games will be able to boost it a little beyond X (though not all that much, as the level of RP is highly player-dependent).

    And certain ones will drop it a bit (like 3e diplomacy), though even in this case, not all that much. Those who would abuse 3e diplomacy don’t RP very much anyways, even without mechanics.

    So, okay, a system can have a minor effect on the amount of RP in a game.

    But RP is so player-dependent, this barely makes a difference. Players predisposed to RP will RP no matter the system. Players predisposed to not RPing won’t RP, no matter the system (or lack thereof).

    And you can’t really change that much.

  26. @Graham

    I agree on the pre-gen issue. The players didn’t like the layout of the sheets and had a hard time finding things. I think this week we are going to actually create characters to see how the generation process goes and hopefully gain more personal investment in the characters. Also, using a more traditional looking character sheet will help them with the mechanics aspects. Hopefully this will push them to the background more and the group can focus more on bringing out their roleplaying.

    However, one of my players has been spending more time digging through the PHB and he’s not impressed so 4e might be on borrowed time with our group.

    Deadshots last blog post..4e – One Player’s View

  27. My lessons learned so far of the whole 4e melodrama is… get the players to play the damn game! I’m sure the acto of playing it is necessary for players to decide if they’ll like it or not.

    I hope the same applies to DMing.

    Try to snag the Game Day adventure, it’s actually quite good!

  28. Mechanics to encourage roleplaying are quite debatable, unfortunately.

    Take Pendragon, for example. Knights in Pendragon have opposed Traits (such as Chaste/Lustful, or Valorous/Cowardly) that have ratings from 0-20*, and both sides have to add to 20* (so if you have Valorous 5, you automatically have Cowardly 15). The idea is that if the rating is less than 16, generally speaking you can do whatever you like, but as a result of your actions your traits might change. For example, you face a lion (which are much nastier in Pendragon than in RealLife(tm)). If you decide to charge at it, you might very well get an increase to your Valorous trait at the end of the adventure.

    If you have a trait of 16 or higher, though, then in any circumstance where it might come up, you have to roll first if you want to act differently. So if you had Cowardly 16, then you would have to fail your Cowardly roll to even be ALLOWED to charge the lion – at least at first. Likewise, if you had Valorous 16, you would have to fail a roll to NOT charge it (again, at least at first).

    This sort of system has a lot to admire, but it has been criticised (with some justification) as being unnecessary to good roleplayers and artificial for poor roleplayers, the reasoning being that good roleplayers would have their knight act in accordance with his personality regardless of any mechanical need, and poor roleplayers would occasionally act randomly due to the dice rolls, which is the sort of unrealistic result that the trait system is supposed to avoid. I don’t necessarily agree with these complaints, but on the other hand it’s not clear to me that the complaints are invalid either. (At the least, I’d say that these sorts of traits can be regarded as “alignment done right”; they’re a useful mechanic to measure things like honour or religious piety, even if you leave off the “roll if you want to act differently” part).

    Lots of indie games reward you with creative control for being cooperative, interesting, or whatever – but again, it isn’t necessarily going to be uncontroversial as to whether that constitutes a good mechanic. I think that even defining “good roleplayer” is sufficiently subjective that such mechanics are going to struggle for acceptance. Everyone agrees that if you want your guy to swing a sword at my guy, we need some sort of rule to decide whether I hit or miss (whether that be random roll, shared narrative, non-random comparison of attributes ala Amber, or whatever). But I doubt everyone agrees that we need a way to decide whether your portrayal of Glendor The Slightly Sober is accurate and entertaining to the group – in my experience, even handing out bonus XP to the “best” player in a session can cause resentment.

    Handing out XP for roleplaying in D&D is especially problematic. (Disclaimer: still ain’t got any 4th edition info; would be surprised to find these conclusions no longer valid, but it is possible). D&D levels are based on becoming better at killing things and taking their stuff; it doesn’t make sense to be able to practise roleplaying and get better at swinging a sword or picking a pocket. What Challenge Rating is a roleplaying experience? How do you make them harder as the characters get higher in level? My gut feeling is that if you have to “bribe” players with experience points to participate in your story, then you might want to consider carefully why they are so resistant as to require bribes – it might be an indicator that they are feeling railroaded.

  29. @GAZZA –

    That Pendragon system is problematic, since the “easiest” way to play is to have everything at 10, so you aren’t constrained in any way.

    As for XP for RP in 4e, there are a couple things. First, there is Quest XP, which you get for accomplishing objectives. You don’t need to fight to complete the quest, if you don’t wish to.

    Secondly, many social encounters and other noncombat encounters now have XP ratings. So overcoming a trap, sneaking around an orc village, and convincing the king to lend you troops can all give XP.

    And, finally, just as in 3.X, you gain XP by “defeating” an encounter. You don’t need to kill the monster to get XP from it. You can put it to sleep and sneak by, or you can negotiate safe passage. Either should give you XP for overcoming the challenge (though the XP values may be different, I don’t know).

  30. Graham – the constraints of trying not to dominate Chatty’s blog force me to be more brief than apparently necessary. From your comment I must assume that you’ve not played Pendragon and are therefore relying on my (too brief) description. So let me elaborate.

    Pendragon traits aren’t about constraint – they’re about measurement. True, in Pendragon if you have a trait that is 16 or higher, you have some constraints on your behaviour, but on the other hand Pendragon awards you Glory (kinda sorta like experience points) for such high traits, so there’s compensation. But I’ll return to that in a moment.

    Let’s say that your character has 10/10 Valorous/Cowardly. In order to maintain a 10/10 relationship, you would have to portray the character as perfectly balanced between these alternatives – either by never doing anything that was motivated by bravery or its lack, or else by balancing brave and cowardly acts. Instead, if your 10/10 dude decides to charge the lion, you’ll get a “tick” on Valorous because you’ve acted in a brave fashion (notice there was no roll – this was a result of your free choice to portray him in this way). During the Winter Phase – which is basically “downtime” between adventures for this purpose – you check all of your “ticked” traits (as well as passions and skills) to see if they increase. You’d roll a d20, and if it is higher than your current value (or a natural 20 in any case), then you increase it by 1 (and in the case of a trait, you also reduce the opposite trait by 1 automatically).

    So consistently having your character acting brave will result in a character that has a high Valorous score – as I say, it’s about measurement. While Pendragon adds a rule about characters with very high traits being bound by them (to some extent), were you to decide you liked the trait system enough to import it into another game you could quite easily ignore that aspect and only keep the measurement part. Why would you want to? Well, as I mentioned briefly, you could regard it as “alignment done right”; if you want to have spells, for example, that repel anyone not “stout of heart”, you could define that as “Valorous higher than 15”. Or religions could require that their followers have certain levels of traits in order to advance in their hierarchy (which is a particularly good idea for a game like RuneQuest).

  31. I really don’t mind comment length Gazza, my comments are open and welcoming as long as discourse remains on the level that we are used to. It gets emotional and/or winded at times but it’s all good.

    I have yet to see someone hit the ‘comment’ limit.

    Heck I let Michael Philips and Graham duke it out for a full night the other day and it was entertaining.


  32. I appreciate that, but people come here to read what YOU have to say – not me. 🙂

  33. That does make it more appealing, GAZZA, though referring to it as “alignment done right” seems to be overreaching.

    While I am fully in favour of a scaled system for rating various aspects of your character’s personality, that isn’t what I have a problem with in this system.

    The sole thing that bothers me here is that the system can (and will) dictate character actions.

    I mean, if we’re talking about systems that discourage roleplaying, or remove roleplaying, this is one of them. If it would be appropriate for your “Valourous 18” character to grab the injured party member and run to protect them, but you roll a 2, you charge the fucking lion! (Perhaps the game would rate protecting the party member as valourous, perhaps as cowardly. Ultimately, this would probably come down to the GM.)

    That’s not roleplaying. That’s removing roleplaying choice from the hands of the player.

  34. Most D&D games that make alignment important – such as the old Dragonlance setting, as opposed to just the core system where it only affects certain classes – tend to have some sort of graph that you track alignment on. Pendragon’s traits are a formalisation of that system (except that it’s a lot less controversial to decide whether an action is “brave” or “cowardly” than “good” or “evil”).

    As far as taking choice out of the hands of the player, there are two points to make here. Firstly, that element in Pendragon is could be dispensed with, as I say – you can keep the measurement and ditch the compulsion. Secondly, however, it’s not as if taking choices out of the hands of the player is at all uncommon. All RPGs impose restrictions like this. My fighter character can’t cast spells; your rogue can’t wear heavy armour without penalty, in neither case does the player have the free choice to ignore these restrictions. You could counter that they chose to accept those restrictions by deciding to play that type of character, but it could be argued that by consistently choosing the brave option you are choosing to accept similar trait based restrictions (indeed, in Pendragon I absolutely would so argue).

    It’s not like a charm spell; the player still gets the choice of HOW he wants to act bravely, he just isn’t allowed to act in a cowardly manner (my description of “charge the lion” was a simplistic example for illustrative purposes only). Having said that there is a lot of scope for having emotion based spells that temporarily adjust traits – there’s a lot you can do with this system if it’s the sort of thing that appeals.

  35. You could counter that they chose to accept those restrictions by deciding to play that type of character

    I could, but I won’t.

    Instead, I would argue that those are mechanical restrictions, rather than character restrictions.

    It’s like playing a game of chess. You accept that the knight can only move a certain way. This is mechanical. The Pendragon restrictions, on the other hand are more akin to, when the knight has the opportunity to take a pawn, having to roll a die to be able to perform any other action, including moving your king out of check, because the knight is brave.

    Sometimes taking that pawn is a stupid move. And, being a knight who has obviously seen much battle in order to be considered so brave, he would know that. The knight would choose to not take that pawn.

    Yet in Pendragon, the bravest knight would have almost no ability to resist his animal impulse to run in with no regard for the safety of his king.

    (And, yes, it comes down to GM prerogative as to what is considered “cowardly” and “brave”, but a GM could be quite justified in calling helping the king and running from the fight “cowardly”. It may very well be cowardly. But it’s smart.)

    Let me say again, though, that I don’t dislike the system of measurement itself. From what you’ve said, it is a decent way of measuring traits. I do think that “alignment done right” is overreaching, though. And I absolutely hate the compulsion side. But the base traits themselves seem to be quite good.

  36. To extend your analogy – if someone agreed to play a game of chess with the additional rule that if they moved a knight 5 times in their first 20 moves, they would have to continue to move a knight on every fourth move from that point onward, that would still be a mechanical restriction. I would submit that this is a better case of what happens in Pendragon. Nobody compels you to act bravely – but if you act bravely very consistently, then you are constrained from acting in a cowardly fashion because you have mechanically chosen a path that imposed such a restriction, in a similar though not identical way that deciding to multiclass your wizard as a fighter closes off higher level spells.

    There are cases where a player will play bravely most of the time, and then decide that when faced with a dragon or something, make the metagaming decision to run away when his character’s previous behaviour makes it clear that this is an inconsistent choice. Maybe you consider that a bad thing, maybe you don’t – but that’s the sort of thing that Pendragon is trying to model. Note also that I’m using Valorous purely for illustrative purposes; generally speaking, traits such as Chaste and Lustful are the ones that cause problems (a Lustful PC might not be able to resist the wiles of the queen, for example). In real life we’re not always in control of our emotions; sometimes in the cold light of day we regret our actions. Pendragon’s mythology is full of the consequences of such things – it is not inappropriate for the mechanics to attempt to represent this accurately.

    But if you’re utterly against any case ever where you don’t get a free choice for what your character does, then I can only imagine you’re opposed to saving throws. Virtually all Will save spells or effects in D&D (3rd edition) will involve losing control of your character to some degree, and often for a longer duration than Pendragon traits will require. Assuming that you don’t have a house rule such that PCs never get targetted by such effects/never fail saves against such effects, how do you resolve that apparent contradiction?

  37. Do note that I’m not faulting anyone who wishes to play with a system like this. I just don’t like it personally, and would not enjoy using it. I believe the compulsions are unfair and arbitrary, but I’ll never fault someone for choosing to play with them.

    There are cases where a player will play bravely most of the time, and then decide that when faced with a dragon or something, make the metagaming decision to run away when his character’s previous behaviour makes it clear that this is an inconsistent choice.

    I think the best way to respond to this is with a question.

    What is bravery?

    I bet your definition of what bravery is, and what is brave versus what is foolhardy, will differ from mine.

    Yet a player in a game like this doesn’t get to define what is or is not brave. The GM does.

    Is staying and fighting the dragon brave? I’d argue that it isn’t. It’s foolhardy. And being a fool doesn’t mean you’re being brave.

    Is running “cowardly”? I suppose it could be argued. But just because one option is “cowardly”, the opposite option isn’t necessarily “brave”.

    But if you’re utterly against any case ever where you don’t get a free choice for what your character does, then I can only imagine you’re opposed to saving throws.


    The distinction to me is that with a will save or a charm spell, something in the game is forcing your character to do something.

    With this system, the game itself is forcing the player to do something.

    There is no contradiction, in my view.

  38. In my opinion, the hair you’re splitting there is so fine as to make no practical difference. I guess we’ll just have to agree to differ.

  39. The hair, to me, is that when it’s an in-game force, the player still gets to feel like they have control of their character, or they at least can attempt control.

    When it’s the game itself, it is removing that attempt from the player’s hands.

    It is a fine line, but I believe it’s distinct, even if I’m not being clear in explaining it.

  40. Graham – are the character’s emotions and drvies not part of the fiction?

    I’d say that if characters making choices regarding the situations is central to the game, it should be left to the players, generally speaking. Now, if the game is built around a philosophy of balance and staying true to that philosophy is central, a rule like Pendragon’s could work very well.

    Tommis last blog post..Process of play

  41. From the sounds of it, though, Tommi, Pendragon is not built on a philosophy of balance, since it rewards higher scores in traits (and thus imbalance in the traits) with what GAZZA called “Glory”.

    I have no problem with using a system like this to describe character behaviour and tendency, but as you said, I’d like to leave a character’s decisions up to the players, and trust them to act in accordance with their character. This, of course, does not mean that they will do the same thing every time just because they did it before.

  42. Graham, I’m not particularly defending Pendragon here, just saying that the rules in questions can be used for good.

    (My Pendragon hack would remove the mandatory actions and replace them with significant rewards for following the trait in circumstances where the other road is attractive.)

    Tommis last blog post..Process of play

  43. Pendragon! I love that system. I think the mechanics are somewhat elegant. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve played though. But hearing you guys talk about it makes me want to play again.

    Pendragon is good for roleplaying Arthurian Fantasy. There’s nothing like a tourney and joust, with some courtly intrigue. Although I have never had the opportunity to play with anything but knights.

    The traits could be considered restrictive, but the idea in Arthurian fantasy is that your character is trying to be over-the-top in the Chivalrous traits. Glory is the greatest thing you can achieve, more than gold or power. If you are facing a dragon to save the princess, the game rewards you for challenging it. Hopefully, a GM has this in mind and will give you a way out when you get toasted, but it’s not about success or failure, it’s about the act. The lady is coming onto you, but you resist her charms. You could easily get away with a tryst, and it would benefit you, but Chivalry demands that you resist. So you have to make your check (I believe this would be a chastity check, as this is the action you are initiating). If your character has a history of being chaste, it will be easier for him to resist her beauty. But if your character fails, then he gives in to his emotions, he cannot resist her, and hilarity hopefully ensues when the queen’s other lover catches you.

    I forget if the GM can just outright declare changes to your traits in the middle of the game based on character actions. I know they can change in between in the winter phase, I just don’t remember if they can change during.

    The system would not work in a D&D type setting, at least not as written. D&D is a game about killing monsters and taking their stuff, and accumulating power. The goals of Pendragon are entirely different. I really don’t think we can compare them.

    Sometimes you want an apple, and sometimes you want a cookie.

    I really want to play some Pendragon now.

    shadow145s last blog post..long time no see…

  44. @Tommi –

    That would be a great hack.

  45. Tommi-
    Maybe something like Spirit of the Century’s Aspects?

    Michael Phillipss last blog post..Geneology, what’s that

  46. Michael; might work. I’d be inclined to use something native to the game, and barring such, points that are rerolls. Minimal changes are easier to explain.

    Tommis last blog post..Process of play

  47. That’s why I said “like”
    I don’t know how I’d work the bonuses since I haven’t even read the pendragon rules, but you could have a predefined set of aspects that the players had to pick from, each part of an opposing set. (You obviously wouldn’t pick one of each set, and you would have to be able to gain and lose aspects to show character changes akin to moving away from 10/10 in pendragon)

  48. Correct. In Pendragon your fame – or infamy – is more or less your “level”, and it’s inheritable. You’re rewarded in this way even for being Cowardly – what matters is that your behaviour is extreme, rather than whether it is extreme in a “good way”.

    I’m oversimplifying here considerably, of course – there are GREATER rewards for being a “Chivalrous Knight” (which means having a total of 80 or more in the 6 traits that are traditionally considered virtuous) – but that’s the gist of it.


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