amnesiack: (uber die)
[personal profile] amnesiack
The more I play D&D, the more I dislike the racial ability bonuses. More often than not, the race/class parings I'm really interested in are completely sub-optimal because the ability bonuses don't line up with the necessary abilities for the class. While it would be completely possible to just build the character that way anyway, I find it really difficult to divorce my thinking away from the tactical nature of the game, and that +2 to two abilities can end up making a pretty big difference in a character's effectiveness.

One Bad Egg (RIP) addressed this problem via their Hard Boiled Cultures supplement, suggesting subcultures within each race that had their own unique ways and corresponding bonuses. That's fine, if the players/DM accept it and someone wants to put in the work to create it. But what I really want is to just do away with race-based ability bonuses all together and just let players assign a +2 to two abilities at character creation, just like they do at levels 11 and 21. The races would still be diverse mechanically via their racial attributes and feats, but it would be way easier to play a wide variety of race/class combinations without sacrificing effectiveness.

Date: 2010-06-18 05:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Speaking as a game designer, I'm actually against this idea. See, if you set up a game world where, or example, humans are supposed to be bad at magic and therefore never become wizards giving them a racial bonus of -2 to magic is a good solid way of making sure that 9/10ths of everyone who plays the game isn't a human wizard. When world building it's all very well to say, "there are very few (blah)" but unless there's a mechanical reason for it, it simply isn't going to be true. (For example, there are never any good Drow.)

This gets to a philosophical debate a friend and I had years ago. It effectively boiled down to: does effective equal fun? Personally, one of my favorite characters was an ogre I made (in a game world where ogres were big dumb brutes) who wanted to be a wizard. He sucked at it, and sucked hard. The thing is, when even the smallest spell worked, it was a triumph, and he was just smart enough to know how to bluff. Was he effective? Not really, and this was in a MUD setting, so I didn't have a number of people relying on me (to be honest, making something this extreme probably wouldn't have been acceptable if I was just dead weight to the party). My point is that playing against type can be a blast, but I personally believe that it should actually be against type for a reason and that should be reflected in the rules. Playing a big dumb ogre who wants to learn magic should be ridiculous and ineffective.

Like I said above, you shouldn't sacrifice effectiveness if it's going to upset the rest of the group. Fortunately, our group is of a broad enough level of experience that you could handicap yourself a bit an it wouldn't be an issue.

Date: 2010-06-18 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It depends on what you're all about in play. One of the character types I tend to enjoy a lot in fiction is the person who overcame X disability/background in order to become the best Y in the land (the blind swordsman who can beat the snot out of you, the sickly albino who becomes a sorcerer king, etc.)

The trouble with heavily mechanically prescriptive games is that they make it literally impossible to create characters like these, because someone else can always create a character with the exact same bonuses and none of the penalties if they so desire. If being blind means always taking a -5 to your attacks, then the blind swordsman can never be as good as an equivalent swordsman who isn't blind. Likewise, a Dragonborn who spent his entire life in a monastery studying martial arts can never be as effective of a monk as an elf built along the same lines.

I am always willing to sacrifice faux "realism" for coolness and fun.

Date: 2010-06-18 10:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I see where part of our disagreement lies. You say, "...the person who overcame X disability/background in order to become the best Y in the land...", but in my mind, if there's no penalty to being blind, it isn't really a disability and you haven't really overcome anything. I guess the question is, did your character overcome it before you as a player ever got there, in which case it's just backstory, or did you actually overcome it during the course of the game (by learning skills/feats or acquiring items/rituals that counteracted the penalty).

If Sighted Joe fights Blind John, the smart money should always be on Joe. If John has the training, etc. to overcome his blindness it should be represented by something on his character sheet. This is why you generally get points for taking a disadvantage like blindness.

As for your example of the elf and dragonborn monks, yes, along strictly monkish lines, the elf will be more effective. However, if they jump off a cliff while running from the advancing army and the dragonborn spreads his leathery wings, odds are he'll be more effective. Also, when he kicks you in the face, he can follow it up by breathing lightning on you. Just depends on what you want to do.

Anyway, this is D&D. In another month and a half I'm sure there'll be a book with Dragonelfborns in it.

Date: 2010-06-20 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmm. As a DM, I tend to go for a "give me a good reason" and if it's not crazy (more of a swap) I'm fine with it.

I don't spend a huge amount of time worrying about game balance. If the party as a group tends to operate at level + 2 effectiveness, ok, fine, throw that level of monster at them.

I'm usually a lot more worried about the "fun" being spread around the table. It's the one person plays Buffy, one person Xander problem - what makes it fun for Xander?

In my experience, the +2 here or there are nice, but it's the party blowing it from a strategy standpoint that actually loses a fight (as opposed to, say, just having the fight drag on). Of course, I always know what happens if the party loses any given fight before starting the fight. ;)

Date: 2010-06-19 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I believe Pathfinder addresses this, but I don't know.

But look, D&D is all about tactical effect. It's a list of dungeon themed problems and a big book of potential solutions. You are rewarded for solving the problems, and the rewards is better kit and more XP, which let you go into deeper dungeons, kill bigger monsters, and so on.

If you aren't bought into the cycle then D&D isn't really going to work for you. And if all the solutions were equal, then there would be no point in the extensive choices you have to make.

Well, no point beyond getting to play a character you think is awesome and tell the story you want to tell.

Compare with Dogs in the Vineyard, where you can build someone whose attribute: "I can overcome my blindness" can have near equivalent game impact to "I'm a great swordsman." Dogs in the Vineyard rocks as a way to play exactly the kind of characters you want to play and to tell really thematic stories about them. It sucks as a system for solving problems tactically.

(Plus, I really want to run a half-troll bard.)

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