Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #73: Fifth Edition's Digitalism

 Four hexes southeast, one south of Alakran.


More dry desert, more smack talk about the world's most hegemonic roleplaying game.

Many roleplaying game designers fall into the trap of uplifting "digitally" described bonuses at the expense of explanation. As I explained here, it's not just magic items that can benefit from having their function described in terms of concrete effects rather than generic bonuses.

Although I had some good words for the current edition's nod to analog monster descriptions in development (over 10 years ago now!) the ethos doesn't carry through consistently in the final product. I was exposed to some of the worst offenders through having a cleric and a bard in the Band of Bronze. Both have frequently usable abilities that manifest as soulless, generic bonuses to skill checks (or other rolls): Bardic Inspiration and Guidance.

To be fair, our bard did not use Inspiration often -- but if he did, I would have leaned on the ability's one analog element that is often forgotten, the requirement that speaking or music must be involved. This would create two drawbacks -- advertise the party's presence when they would rather be discreet; and, in social situations, advertise that the party is trying to exert influence, possibly leading to reactance.

As for Guidance, I made the following house rule in an attempt to make it relate more to the actual divine aid that would apply to any given skill:

Guidance Cantrip: Will not work except for certain kinds of skill checks, and no d4 roll is needed. Must be announced before the roll is made (the rule as written goes against my policy of announcing TN openly)

If the skill check has a literal connection to the portfolio of the deity invoked (that is, a literal manifestation of those aspects would help the task), give +3.

Example: The True Sun is a deity of truth, light, and warmth. If someone is trying to interrogate a lying suspect, determine whether an artifact is real or fake, investigate a dark room, or start a fire, the True Sun can literally help at +3.

If the skill check has a metaphorical connection to the portfolio of the deity invoked (without over-stretching), give +1.

Example: The True Sun is a deity of truth, light, and warmth. If someone is trying to remember a fact (a "truth" although there is no lie, or "shine a light" on the past), shed further "light" when investigating an already-illuminated scene, or convince someone of their friendliness (metaphorical "warmth"), the True Sun can figuratively help at +1.

If there is no connection, guidance does not apply. Puns and forced metaphors do not count as a connection.

Example: The True Sun is a deity of truth, light, and warmth. Its guidance cannot help someone who is climbing a wall (making the person "lighter" here is a pun only) or attempting to tell a lie ("alternative truths" or "burning a sucker" are not in the spirit of the metaphor).

Yes, making abilities and effects analog requires more skill in game mastering, more knowledge of how analog elements reasonably interact in the real world. I can see why the mass-market 5th edition went for digital options here and there, but at the same time, we are talking about a game that is already very complex. Why not have some of that complexity invested in rules that can create unexpected and vivid interactions and boundary conditions in the fantasy world, rather than simple glowing numbers on an invisible heads-up display?


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