Monday, May 16, 2016

G.K. Chesterton's Fence, AD&D 1e, and What Happens When You Don't Understand What You Are Changing - A Varied Rant

  The subheading on my blog warns you about my rants.

  G.K. Chesterton was a prolific writer of the early 20th Century who once told a parable about reform and a fence, which I will paraphrase

  Two men are enjoying a pleasant stroll through the country when they come upon a fence barring their way. This rather stout, well-maintained fence stretches from the thick forest on each side and completely blocks the trail.
  The first man looks at it and declares,
  "I do not understand why this fence is here; I will tear it down so I may continue to enjoy my stroll!"
  The second man replies,
  "If you do not understand why this fence is here you certainly should not tear it down." "What if it prevents a mad bull from running wild? Go, research and think about it and once you understand why it is here, then you might still want to tear it down."

  This is a simple concept - understand why before you remove or change - that seems to escape a lot of people. Especially some in gaming.

  In high school I had a friend named George who ran a game of AD&D 1e. We had two players that were in both groups and he and I spoke about the game fairly often. One of our 'shared' players, a guy named Brent, loved to play elves but hated, hated, hated, the level limits on elves. He argued with me often that he should be able to go to any level he could as an elf. I always said no.
  George said 'ok' and removed all level limits on all demi-humans. Then he removed all class limits. Then he removed all characteristic limits from demi-humans. He had removed alignment restrictions to classes before any of this.
  Then he was wondering why there were so many half-orc fighter/assassins in his game. Never mind the slew of elven fighter/magic-users with castles. And no human PCs.

  They did not understand the why of class, level, and stat requirements in AD&D 1e and they tore them out without understanding them. As a result, they had a wild bull get loose.

  If you look at the 1e limitations on demi-humans you see some interesting things:

  1. Only Humans, Half-orcs, and strong Dwarves are establishing domain fortresses
  2. Only Half-orcs can't establish a thieves guild
  3. Only Humans, Half-elves, and Half-orcs can be cleric PCs and only Humans are any good at it

  Not only do these restrictions make guys who can, say, wear armor while casting Lightning Bolt rare and therefore more interesting, it means there are great reasons for playing humans - the domain game.

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  In 1e half-elves and gnomes have access to classes other demi-humans can't be: half-elves can be rangers, gnomes can be illusionists. Half-elves are (in my experience) popular because they have so many possible multi-class combinations but gnomes have that sweet niche of being illusionist/somethings. Who doesn't want a fighter/illusionist or illusionist/thief in the party?!

  In 3e there was a decision to let any race be any class. Sure they tried to give a sop to things by saying some races were 'better suited' to certain classes, but especially for gnomes that changed around a bit, etc.
  When 4e came out I remember reading a statement from one of the designers about why gnomes had become 'monsters'. He said [paraphrased] "Well, they were just a lot like dwarves and we really didn't understand why anyone would play them or what they were for."
  OK, leaving aside the different flavors of elf available, the reason that gnomes had nothing special about them because the designers of 3e removed what made them special! Team A tore down a fence they didn't understand and that resulted in Team B not really grasping why those post holes were all over the place.

  Half-elves and Half-orcs are, as I mentioned, the only demi-humans that can be cleric PCs. Despite the low level cap this works out to be an advantage because this makes these races the source of multi-class clerics, combos that are always welcome in any party. If you let every demi-human be a cleric and expand the access to multi-class combinations there is no reason to play a half-elf - after all, if elves, who have better bonuses, etc., can do the same thing being an elf makes more meta-sense than being a half-elf.

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  There are plenty of other examples. The most common one I see is 'Gee, I don't understand alignment, so I removed it' followed by 'why do all my players play murderhobos?!'.
 It's a puzzle.

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At the end of the day (and near the end of my rant!) the radical changes by some who want to 'fix' level limits, racial class restrictions, and even alignment where these limits are replaced by nothing reveal mainly two things about the people making the changes: they don't understand the why of these game elements and they don't grasp that Gary was actually a competent, good, even great game designer.

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End Rant.