Posted by : David Guyll March 24, 2014

So in other, more concise words, gear "packages" derived from your background and class are the norm, while buying with a budget is optional.

Not that I see anything particularly wrong with this—3rd and 4th Edition both had packages, after all—but does purchasing gear really take that long? I guess it might take awhile for new players, but after a few characters if you actually paid attention you should have a good idea of what stuff you need and tend to use.

Plus, it is not like every game session starts with character generation, but even if it does then you should have no problem memorizing most of it.

I guess I see no reason for the flip: in 4th Edition if I want to get the game going quickly, I could just have the players pick the packages. They would still need to actually read the book to figure out what everything does, and since character generation is not the normal pre-game activity it does not sound like it is going to save a meaningful amount of time. But you know me: it took them this long to arrive at this conclusion, it is funny how the default removes choices, doing basically what was done before, blah blah blah.

In 3rd Edition this standard would have been more beneficial, as it had a lengthy equipment list that included lots of useless—or at best highly situational—stuff like sticks of chalk (I eagerly await comments on how you use chalk sticks all the time, and they are pivotal to success), a sewing needle (but strangely no thread), a bell, fishhook, and an iron pot, but 4th Edition's was actually pretty concise: it took up less than half a page, had a pre-bundled adventurer's kit, and stuck to tools that adventurers would likely need to bother with.

Even when Mordenkainen's Magical Emporium introduced more adventuring gear, like ball bearings and iron shavings, it still provided a mechanical punch, and most of it was thematically bundled.

As nice as 4th Edition is, I personally prefer how Dungeon World handles adventuring gear: your pack has x "uses" (five is the default, but presumably you could have more bags of gear), and each time you pull something out of your bag that reasonably could have been in it, you spend a use. That is it. No having to note many pitons, coils of rope, lamp oil, etc are stored inside; you just declare you are pulling something out, and mark off a use. It is basically a quantum sack that makes it very easy to deal with all the crap you are lugging around without getting bogged down in all the minutiae.

Now if they really wanted to streamline character generation while still allowing at least descriptive flexibility, they could take a page from Gamma World, where the efficacy of weapons and armor is based on a category (light, heavy, one-handed, two-handed), 13th Age, where the damage and AC bonus is based on a combination of class and type (ie, fighters deal more damage and benefit more from heavy armor than, say, wizards do), or Dungeon World, where damage is based on class and there are only three types of armor.

Oddly in their quest for making character generation as fast as possible, they are introducing a table of "random, weird trinkets" for you to roll on. It reminds me of Numenera's oddities, just maybe less...incohesive? If you never played Numenera, oddities are basically random trinkets that you can find that do not inherently convey any mechanical benefits. Though you might find a creative use for some of it, or even be able to trade/sell them later on, a lot of them are just kind of...there, like the crystal that shatters and repairs itself: how much mileage are you really going to get out of that?

Personally my group never cared about oddities. In most cases if the characters found one, I described it, and then they either did not bother to pick it up, or did and promptly forgot about it because they were busy finding objects that actually did something. A mirrored cube or goggles that tint everything green? Why the hell would I care about any of that when I have a laser or a device that can create force fields? You might find a use for a pen that writes in invisible ink, which only appears at a low temperature, but I challenge you to find a meaningful use for a two-headed cat fetus in a jar (or, to cite an example from the article, a candle that cannot be lit).

The last part, about setup times, is a bit confusing. I agree that a board game with a fast setup time is more likely to be played: I find myself wanting to get my ass handed to me in Mansions of Madness, but it can take awhile prepping the board and seeding cards. What I do not get is the comparison. Well, okay, I get why he makes the comparison: he is trying to justify why they stripped out almost all of the meaningful decisions, it just does not make sense because board games and role-playing games are two different things, and people expect different things from them.

Maybe my perception is skewed from playing games like Rifts, Shadowrun, and Mage: The Ascension, but Dungeons & Dragons has never really had "long, intricate, character creation sessions", unless 10-20 minutes is considered long and intricate, or I try to do some collaborative world/party-building with the players. As I have said plenty of times before it is nice and all that they are trying to create a version of Dungeons & Dragons that is easy to pick up and play, but there are ways to do it while still allowing the players to make decisions.

For example they could have taken a page from their somewhat different approach to your starting gear by giving each class one or more builds, which they also did in both 3rd and 4th Edition: groups who want to start playing quickly can pick one, write everything down, and start playing. Over time they can read the books and inject more customization, like you could in 4th Edition. Or they could just build characters before the game starts. In other words the game could have very easily supported fast character generation and actual customization.

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Chalk is used for marking where you have been while in a maze. It especially helps if the maze has teleportation traps.

    And this article sounds like detailed item lists is not for your group...but there are many groups that absolutely love that sort of thing. Of course, those are not the sorts of people who want a package set of items.

    Realistically this is nothing but WotC designers responding to the "complaint" that character creation takes "too long". Those who complain point to the retroclones as being fast. I'll agree that this is an unnecessary step, but in the big picture it doesn't really mean anything. Use it or not, it doesn't affect the mechanics or game play.

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    1. Which is why I also qualified it as highly situational. I have heard people say that is is useful in mazes and such, but in games I played when we even went into anything remotely resembling an old-school dungeon (which I do not think we ever did) it was never so labyrinthine that we could not find our way out, and we had a mapper (me), which would have made it pointless.

      Likewise, while I have heard about dungeons with teleporters (or sliding walls, rotating rooms, etc), have been playing D&D for almost 20 years, from whatever you would call the set that had Zanzer Tem's Dungeon (Basic?), largely skipping 1st Edition, up to 5th Edition, using both my own dungeons and published ones, and have never even seen a dungeon that had one.

      I am sure one exists, but again none of those things seem to be a dungeon standard (not even inclined paths), so I doubt a meaningful number of players have ever kicked themselves over for not having chalk.

      Anyway, while I prefer how Dungeon World handles it (it makes it way less likely that you are going to forget something that your character probably would not have), I do not really mind having to track gear. To a point: I would have my players write down chalk, instead of how many sticks (just as I do not enforce an explicit amount of non-costly material spell components), because who cares?

      I think that if they wanted to prevent players from taking a long time combing through gear that they could pare the list down (as in 4th Edition), or at least move some stuff to a non-adventuring gear section (abacus, really?).

      But as you and I both said it does not affect anything at all. It is just...strange.

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