On Complexity vs Options

Sometimes, when I argue that we need to keep and maintain simple classes in D&D (and usually this comes up in discussions over the current D&D Next Fighter), people mistake that desire for simplicity with a desire to not have options. When I argue that there’s no need for a fighter (or indeed any class) to have a massive list of abilities to choose from, I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t have that option, just that they shouldn’t have to take those options to be effective. I did a little bit of math on this that I think exemplifies my point.

Lets say you sit down at a table with a bunch of players. You hand them the primary rule book and say “We’re going to run an adventure here, roll up a character you want to play, start at level 10.

If you were using Labyrinth Lord, your players would need to read and parse 42 pages of material, assuming that they read all the equipment lists, and all the spell lists. If you wanted them to choose some magic items from the treasure tables, add another 16 pages for a grand total of 58. At the minimum they would need to read a mere 18 pages if they didn’t review the spell lists.

If you were using Advanced Edition Companion from LL, they would need to parse (including all spells and equipment and magic items) 96 pages, and a minimum of 24 pages (including multi-classing) if they didn’t read through the spell lists or treasure.

If you were playing Dark Dungeons (a Rules Cyclopedia clone) and including all the weapon proficiencies, skills spells and treasure, 110 pages, with a minimum of  22 pages without skills, WP, spells and treasure, or 48 with skills and WP.

If you were playing OSRIC, 155 pages, including all spells and treasure. A mere 31 pages without spells and treasure.

So what we have so far is

  • LL – 18 / 58
  • LL AEC – 24 / 96
  • DD – 22 / 48 / 110 (depending on whether you play with out without skills and WP)
  • OSRIC – 31 / 155

So what does it look like for a new player of 4th edition? 20 pages of basic character information, 17 pages of races, 125 pages of classes and their mandatory powers, 13 pages of skills, 19 pages of feats, 45 pages of equipment and 19 pages of rituals. A whopping 258 pages of material that a new player must read through to make a character. If you drop the rituals (as only some classes use them) and the equipment (including magical) you’re down to a minimum of 194 pages just to get started on the game. And unlike previous editions where skills or weapon proficiencies were truly optional rules, 4e doesn’t work if you don’t take powers and feats and such, and so you have to parse all of that.

  • D&D 4e – 194 / 258

That is why I support having simple classes, where powers, feats and special tricks are optional, rather than mandatory and baked in. In my ideal dream system, characters would level as normal, perhaps with general bonuses to hit, damage or stats. As an option, players could choose from among lists of powers, and each of these powers would make the character a bigger specialist in something rather than making them all around better. So as a quick off the cuff example, When leveling from 9 to 10, the fighter would normally get +1/+1 to hit and damage. Instead, the fighter might choose to take the skill “Crushing Blow” where in some limited number of times per combat, the fighter can choose add an addition weapons worth of damage when using any heavy weapon. Under such a system, players who chose the standard leveling method would still be able to hold their own at level 20 against a character that took specializations.

Now other may argue that this ignores places where the games could be alternatively complex, like variable weapon speeds, or THAC0 or other such early fiddly systems that have been improved over time, and they’re right. But I don’t argue that D&D needs to bring back those fiddly bits, I argue that D&D needs to bring back simpler classes. Let’s keep the improved other systems and bring the character complexity back down as well.

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