Monday, June 9, 2014

Off the Grid

I posted the following over on a couple days ago but expect it will be buried deep in the middle of a long thread on why we all hate the grid/mini mechanics. Started, of course, by one of the 4E fans who doesn't understand why people might have issues with the 4E methodology, or why a system which gives you an immensely elaborate combat system and then skimps on everything else might seem a bit weighted toward a certain style of play. preserve my response, I offer it up here:

I never, ever used minis for any game prior to D&D 3.5, and only then it was because I started a group with an emphasis on minis gaming that went back many years. It was my first experience with a group of D&Ders who saw minis as an essential component of the play experience in 2003, and it was quite a contrast from the way I had played the game for two and a half decades, in which the only time I ever gamed with or knew anyone who ever used minis for anything was an occasional old crusty DM at a convention using his ragged tape-bound 1E AD&D manuals. Still, 3.5 seemed to need it, so I worked minis in to the experience and even got into collecting the prepainted ones.

My experience from that period (2003-2005) was a mixture of fond memories of the overall game coupled with what I considered an unavoidable slowdown of the actual game experience due to the time and energy that setting up and carrying out the grid combat took. Battles were no longer a part of the story, they were a separate deal unto themselves. Still....I got used to it, even though I felt like I had migrated to a different universe where my favorite game was strangely different and a bit hostile toward the way I wanted to enjoy it.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into 4E because it made the grid combat more fun (at least for the first few levels of play) but it was a "solution" to a problem that was artificial: it "fixed" 3.5 grid based combat by getting rid of the possibility of gridless combat entirely and making every rule, ever, about the grid. I could still do gridless with 3.5 so long as my players were up for it; I couldn't do it in 4E without serious house-ruling and chucking out entire swathes of the game design.

Still, 4E worked great as a grid/minis RPG but it became apparent after a while that the game's focus on elaborate combat was at the expense of everything else; it was a game about combat, with other stuff getting lip service. It had a minimalist skill system, few rules or guidelines for how anything worked outside of battle and a ritual spell system that was onerous in its application, discouraging players from using it to resolve conflicts. It was a game about providing all sorts of solutions to 3.5 problems that were only problems in the first place because 3.5 ignored the more pragmatic older edition methodology in favor of its own codifications.

As a non grid/minis example of how 3E chucked out old design limits that were effective: the spell caster as all powerful quadritic wizard phenomenon was created because of this. One of the reasons wizards got so tough in 3E was because the game effectively stopped paying attention to preparation times and the real, actual cost of spell ingredients that had been a requisite to casting so many spells in 1st and 2nd edition. These were in-game story limits, so they didn't fit with the design theme of 3E, but they were very, very good limitations when correctly enforced.

Anyway.....I am now of a mindset where I am used to a map and minis and we play Pathfinder fairly fast and loose, using the board when it makes sense and resolving other combats when it does not. However, the prospect of a 5th edition D&D where I can run the entire game the way I used to do AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, without ever once seeing a solitary miniature except for general tracking purposes, has me utterly smitten. I can hardly wait!

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