Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 22:06 on 14-01-2012, Michal
Well, that exploded.

The above being Liz Bourke's review of Theft of Swords, wherein some folks in the comments contend that historians are not qualified to review fantasy novels. Or academics in general.

I guess I'd better change my career path...
at 18:20 on 14-01-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
To be honest, Finbarr, I would not get my hopes up. Insensitivity on House's is a given; this is a character whose core philosophy has always been "everybody lies." More than that, however, is the fact that House has come to bits over the past two years. Last season was dominated by a House/Cuddy romantic arc that really didn't make much sense in terms of the characters and was handled quite poorly all around. Assuming that the writers of the show could handle an issue like this with delicacy and tact is probably a losing bet.

At this point, the only thing really left to do with the show is to keep your expectations lowered, ignore the Patient of the Week, and enjoy the interactions between the main cast.
at 17:34 on 14-01-2012, Andy G
House has been pretty misanthrophic and offensive right from the start, so I doubt this is anything new.
at 16:56 on 14-01-2012, Fin
so, i haven't seen a lot of house, but from what little i know about the show i've gotten the impression that house isn't allowed to be wrong. i'm just wondering if that's an erroneous impression, because someone just directed me to this preview of an upcoming episode and i'd like to have some hope that it won't be made of too much fail.
at 16:17 on 14-01-2012, Dan H
I confess that I wouldn't have been able to swear to the correct spelling of "just des(s)erts" either.

I think it's what Language Log would call an eggcorn - the alternative spelling makes a kind of intuitive sense if you imagine dessert as being the reward you get for eating your main course, then it follows that "just desserts" would mean "the reward or punishment you deserve for your actions, be they good or bad." Also it creates some absolutely *adorable* mental images. "For your crimes, you are sentenced to EVIL PUDDING."

It's also one of those strange two-word phrases you get in English where an otherwise *totally obsolete* word ("desert" as a noun meaning "thing which is deserved") is preserved as part of a collocation. Like "woe betide".
at 13:25 on 14-01-2012, Shim
It's another one of them blasted homophones caused by nicking words off other languages. I can't decide if it's more or less annoying than having a tiny vocabulary.
at 07:44 on 14-01-2012, valse de la lune
Random: I right-clicked for synonyms for "desert" in MS Word. It gave me:

just reward

Boggled I googled it up and discovered "just desserts" is the incorrect phrase and that I've been using it wrong all this time when I should've said "just deserts."


(Yes yes, "deserts" etymologically rooted in "deserves," but...)
at 17:13 on 13-01-2012, Andy G
Did anyone ever play with the SAGA card-based system? I was released for Dragonlance and it seemed rather neat and elegant, though I never actually used it for a game.
at 01:36 on 13-01-2012, Michal
Wow, D&D is so complicated. Just listening to this discussion, it sounds like you need an undergrad-level understanding of calculus just to build a character.

That's why we have Lady Blackbird. It was specifically designed to play while getting progressively more drunk through the evening, I think. And if that was the design goal, it succeeded beautifully the one time I played it.
at 22:43 on 12-01-2012, Axiomatic
Savage worlds! It's a game!
at 20:23 on 12-01-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Wow, D&D is so complicated. Just listening to this discussion, it sounds like you need an undergrad-level understanding of calculus just to build a character.

Well, at least it isn't Starfleet Battles, which requires a comprehensive set of range tables just to fire photon torpedoes.
at 11:03 on 12-01-2012, Shim
Agreed. Precisely balanced classes at all levels is one of those things I find largely unconvincing, and I do feel the 2E approach might be better. I suppose one idea would be, if you have Linear Warriors Quadratic Wizards, why not linear and quadratic levelling? But realistically I can't see them dropping the fixed XP levels, nor multiclassing.

One thing I find interesting is how the rogue has developed from being mostly the traps and locks guy, through the 3E hotchpotch stealth/assassin/trapfinder/whatever but totally not always a criminal, to being a skirmisher in 4E. I'd like them to have a more concrete idea of what they're doing with it, which is not to say lock it down, but think it through. The 3E version attempted to offer every "rogue" archetype through skills and abilities, but had core abilities (agility, sneak attack and trapfinding) that only made sense for certain archetypes. Even alternate ability builds (he says, checking Pathfinder) always retain sneak attack as the core of the class, which says a lot to me. The other three main classes are a lot less locked down, I feel, though monks, barbarians and druids have the same sort of specificity.

I can see an optional skill system working. The yes/no model and the granular model probably balance out overall, and the other one could just be "5 points for Moderate Interpersonal Skills" (60% pass) or some such so they're fairly equivalent. I suppose the other option would be to just pick an allocation of skills and have the chosen ones level up with you, effectively ignoring skill points.
at 10:31 on 12-01-2012, Arthur B
I'd be interested to see how they handle skill stuff in 5th Edition. If they make the skill system optional then they'd really need to either give characters broadly equal access to it (and bolster the thief somewhat in comparison to 3E to compensate for loss of the "I'm the guy with all the skill points niche"), or back away from the idea that the classes need to be balanced.

On the other hand, I think it's more likely that skills won't be optional - but the precise skill system you use might be, if you see what I mean. So everyone gets an allotment of skill points whatever happens, but depending on precisely which skill system you're working with you might be using them to buy nonweapon proficiencies of a fairly simple "either you have 'em or you don't" model, or to buy levels in a number of broad skills covering a wide range of pursuits, or to buy levels in a bunch of very granular skills geared mainly towards dungeoneering.
at 07:45 on 12-01-2012, Shim
@Dan: True, skills are intrinsic to 3E and that does affect their use. The fact that skill points end up being a factor in class balance is a major difference, and highlights how central the devs considered them. I suspect it's because they seem to offer a neat way of tying together lots of disparate activities rather than having unique rules for each. Want to swim across a lake? Make a suit of armour? Pick a lock? Intimidate a bandit? Roll skill. But as you say, it becomes a ruletrap. The 4E introduction of explicit skill challenges mechanically rewards skills as opposed to just combat, which is nice in some ways but further cements the idea.

The skills for dungeoneering are certainly finer-grained than Profession: Butler. As a matter of interest, assuming you were going to use the 3E skill system for some reason, what non-dungeon skills would you like to see? From things you've said previously I get the impression you wouldn't want to get into "social combat", for example (correct me if I'm wrong). Just a finer breakdown of existing ones, or something else?

However! My point was allegedly that 3E wasn't the first complicated skill system out there, and I think that stands regardless of whether NWPs are intrinsic or not. When they wanted to discuss how you did stuff that wasn't combat, the 2E devs offered a complicated set of rules for "skills" and their use. Certainly my impression of reading the 2E rulebook was that their take was: "here are the NWP rules, but if they look like a hassle, you could wing it using broad skill categories, or just use player knowledge", rather than "BTW here are some other rules you could find useful but we don't expect you to use them really". They just were careful not to make them compulsory. However, someone found NWPs sufficiently useful and well-used to make them core for the next edition. I suspect it's one of those examples of Ruleset Creep you sometimes mention.
at 03:37 on 12-01-2012, Michal
*Looks up*

*Blinks a few times*

*Goes back to playing Tunnels and Trolls*
at 18:24 on 11-01-2012, Dan H
Re: Skill systems

At the risk of sounding like a complete pedantic dick, I actually think there's a major difference between NWPs and a Skill System, even though Nonweapon Proficiencies were designed to provide rules for things which would normally be considered "skills" in another game.

Crucially, I think the big difference is that Nonweapon Proficiencies, because they were optional, were not an assumed part of the play experience and that had quite profound consequences for the way they wound up working in practice. "Gets lots of nonweapon proficiencies" wasn't a class feature the way "has lots of Skill Points" is for Rogues in 3.X, for example. By the same token, 3.X (and even more so 4E) carried with it the assumption that "using skills" was supposed to be a core feature of gameplay, which by extension meant that the skill list became a kind of short list of the sorts of things players were expected to do in the game.

This is very much one of those "bug/feature" things but it's one that is often misunderstood. When 3rd Edition was released, a friend of mine complained that adding a skill system made the game *more* dungeoncrawl focused, because most of the skills were things which were specifically useful in a dungeon.

Some games use skill systems to good effect to foster a sense of the game (Cthulhu does this quite well with its huge list of prosaic, ordinary-person skills) but I always found the 3.X skill system limiting because it made such narrow assumptions about the sorts of things I would want to do in a Fantasy RPG.
at 08:38 on 11-01-2012, Shim
@Arthur: I wasn't beating on 2E so much as noting that 3E was not the start of intricate skill systems. I didn't know that until I wondered mid-write how 2E handled non-combat activity and cracked the rulebook. 2E offers three optional ways to handle it, including NWP. The advantage is flexibility, but it means deciding which option and they all have downsides (which are clearly noted in the book). 3E just has skills and assumes you're using them.

Core 3E doesn't have any optional subsets, just lots of individual variant rules. I'm not sure I'm bothered by the lack of major subsystems that I have to decide on; I like things pretty simple TBH and since the 2E options are basically "here are some rules" or "make it up yourself" I'll take the former. But you're right, 3E & (I think) 4E don't explicitly highlight that entire subsystems can be dropped for homebrew ones, though in 3E at least it's possible.

Basically the later editions are more polished-and-boxed for you. They assume that in buying the game, you're after a ruleset that tries to explicitly cover everything and has established defaults; the older ones offer suggestions for things that might suit you, but assume that a lot of the onus will be on the DM to choose subsystems and invent ad hoc "rules", not just to manage the world, devise adventures and handle NPCs and monsters.
at 00:39 on 11-01-2012, Andy G
Of course, there *is* a lot of customisability in the 2nd ed optional rulebooks. I used Skills and Powers as standard which has a much better proficiency system (and more options for classes/races) than the normal 2nd ed rulebook. But adding customisations onto 2nd ed just makes everything more baroque and absurd IIRC. Except combat, where all the 'parry' rules in the world won't change the fact that your only real option in combat will always be "hit it till it's dead".
at 00:34 on 11-01-2012, Arthur B
@Shimmin: True, but the 2E rulebook also includes the magic word "Optional" in large letters next to the non-weapon proficiencies bit - and it actually goes into a little detail about what to expect from them and whether they're right for your campaign. I don't recall any comparatively extensive subsystems in the 3E or 4E player's handbooks which are marked as being optional.
at 00:31 on 11-01-2012, Andy G
I guess what sometimes frustrates me with 2nd ed (and sometimes charms me, because it feels more like a believably counterintuitive messy real world) is just how little *sense* some of it makes. First level fighters are no better at combat than anybody else; Intelligence is basically useless for mages but Wisdom is AWESOME for clerics; there are 5 saving throws (only 1 or 2 of which ever get used) divided across four classes that progress in ways that make no sense whatsoever; really important rules are hidden deep within dense paragraphs while pointless topics cover pages and pages; there are almost no good 2nd level Wizard spells; Druids suddenly stop levelling up normally at some arbitrary level; gnomes can be cleric/thieves but nobody else can ... [ad infinitum]

I only play about once a year so 2nd ed works fine for me, but I think for regular play I would go for rationalised 2nd ed (which is more or less what the Baldur's Gate games seem to run off).
at 23:44 on 10-01-2012, Shim
I've twice had to pick a D&D ruleset to introduce new players, but otherwise have no P&P experience (CRPGs only). The first time I picked 4E; this time I went for Pathfinder.

I initially picked 4E because it was new, appeared more accessible to wary newbies, and it's more forgiving than older rulesets. Over the course of play, I found the combat tedious, the power system narratively unconvincing, and the high-powered nature of the gameworld not to my taste. Also, I felt like I wasn't giving a fair introduction to RPGs: my group were great, but the game emphasised "have you got X?" and its combat-heaviness distracted from RPing. I'd also started running Call of Cthulhu, with its sparse and flexible rules and complete lack of boards or tactics. So for my new game, I introduced people to 3.5E, with its straightforward combat and more narrative approach to situations. After one scenario, I'm in the process of switching them to Pathfinder, because I've come to believe that it'll streamline some clunky aspects of 3.5E, somewhat rebalances the classes, and better defines their differences. However, the sheer complexity of the character sheets (in both versions) is daunting for some players.

I think one way of looking at things is as a progression of options. 2E has quite specific class and race options, built in particular ways and with no mechanical way to adapt them. Splatbooks offer a load of alternative specific builds, but little individual customisation. On the other hand, this approach leaves a lot to the imagination because there aren't specific mechanical representations of things. 3E builds in lots more explicit customisation rules and a looser approach to archetypes, particularly in multiclassing. The rulesets here let you build almost any character you want, but there's a constant supply of new and more specific classes, feats and races to get exactly the right feel, and of course it can't all be balanced, so some builds end up much stronger or weaker than the game expects. 4E pushes this a different way: powers turn "I attack" into an array of different attack powers, technically giving you more options. However, this itself tends to subtly lock down your options because without a suitable power, how do you do something?

Incidentally: Use Rope as a skill isn't that excessive, given that climbing, tying up, untying and balancing are fairly important to adventurers (what about Track and Forgery?). A glance at my 2E rulebook displays a vast range of Nonweapon Proficiencies ranging from Direction Sense, Rope Use (!), Astrology and Tightrope Walking to Ancient Languages and Running, with individual class-related modifiers.
at 19:47 on 10-01-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Spiders in real life aren't that bad.

Perhaps, but they don't win many points in my book with that whole "inject their prey with paralyzing venom that can also digest them from the inside out" thing. But, yes, it's a phobia on my part. (Curiously, I don't have any problems with scorpions or crustaceans, aside from coconut crabs, which I still think look like they should be tearing their way out of someone's chest cavity. Snails freak me out, but that's Junji Ito's fault.)

Still, I know they're valuable to the ecosystem and all that, so I don't actively hunt them down or bother them if they're small and/or are going to scurry out of my sight immediately.
at 18:56 on 10-01-2012, Fin permalink