Ted's RPG Rant

A place to rant about RPG games, particularly the Temple of Elemental Evil. Co8 members get a free cookie for stopping by. Thats ONE cookie each, no seconds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Rules Change in the Reaches

A recent "rules vs story" debate got me thinking (you all know the one - and no, I am not going to rehash or reignite it here. Well maybe reignite, though its not my intent).

Long term D&Ders will remember the doors issue. Monsters could stroll through doors, PCs had to roll to see if they opened 'em with their shoulders.

Bizarre. Ridiculous even. I don't remember even playing that rule.

DM: "You get to the first door of the dungeon".
Lead Player: "Our strongest character puts his shoulder into it".
DM: "Ooo bad roll, the door remains firmly stuck."
Lead Player: "Ummm?"

Silly. It got changed, of course.

But it reflects something in D&D that is worth considering - the rules were always meant to be different for the PCs.

More recent rules incarnations have done somewhat to erase this. For instance, now humanoids can finally level like characters, rather than DMs just arbitrarily saying, "the Kobold chieftain is so big he has THREE HD and is so large, for a Kobold, he can ride a horse" (Hobbit joke). It stands to reason that if humans and cutesy humanoids can level, so can ugly monstrous humanoids if they have the brains and cultural structure. Makes sense and makes the game easier and more consistent which, to a lot of people, makes it more fun (certainly for me - nothing bugs me in any game more than finding the rules don't apply to the monsters. Remember that thread about how salamanders can throw fireballs around corners and over any distance to hit their target?)

But when I say the rules are not meant to apply to the NPCs the same way, I am not suggesting 'monster cheating'. Rather, I am thinking, what is the purpose of the rules, and what is the purpose of the NPCs who are governed by them?

The nature of adventure is that it deals with things out of the ordinary. People, places, events. Supervillains or boss monsters are MEANT to be different to every one else - play by their own rules, so to speak. Interesting NPCs likewise are out of the ordinary.

Lemme give you an example from GG himself. Jinnerth the tailor in ToEE (a favourite talking point of mine) is a puny little runt of 2hp. BUT he "is an expert at throwing a knife and shooting a crossbow, both of which he has, using them at 7th fighter level and causing +2 damage when a hit is scored". Nowdays we might say he has Greater Weapon Specialisation (I notice he has a 10 dex in protos.tab - Orion! Kwik, fix it!).

However, this is UTTERLY against the rules. ToEE doesn't even try to implement any of this: it makes him a Fighter 1 with Point Blank and Precise Shot (doesn't even give him his 3rd feat ). Because ordinary lvl 0 or 1 characters (do they have lvl 0 any more?) don't get multiple feats for multiple weapons of specialisation, or however you want to work it.

BUT we need to have characters like Jinnerth, because they are interesting, and they are real life. You don't have to be Sgt York to know there are ordinary folk out there who for one reason or another would have better 'adventuring' skills than the trained folk. There are farmers out there who go pig-hunting, who could outshoot a soldier (ditto sporting shooters - do you really think the average Army sniper could match it with an Olympic Gold Medalist? In certain combat conditions, of course - in others, probably not). There are locksmiths who have none of the other requirements to be a 'rogue' (jewel thief or whatever) but have better lockpicking skills. There are folks who grew up in the circus who could throw knives / dodge arrows or whatever like a high-level character, but would for all other purposes be an ordinary lvl 0 person. Thats life. These people exist, and encountering them is what make adventures interesting, what make them adventurous.

Why have rules at all? Because while such people are there, you CAN'T have the PCs claiming such things. They can't say, "well my character's dad was in the CIA (in this case, the Verbobonc Shadow Company?) and he learnt everything the dad knew, therefore he should get bonuses for interogate, bluff, intimidate, unarmed combat and picking up rumours". Obviously, EVERYBODY would come up with outlandish reasons to have hordes of bonuses, and the game would become ridiculously unbalanced. (Who, in AD&D, didn't hope their Elf would roll 'armourer' for their background so that he could craft himself Elven Chain? I know I always did!)

Therefore there are strict rules. X number of skills at start-up, X number of feats, and no more til you have the experience to get more.

But these rules are there for the players, NEVER for the NPCs. For the NPCs they are guidelines, again to stop things getting unbalanced, but NEVER to inhibit the creation of interesting, different, out of the ordinary characters that are the spice of rpg life. GG's work happily and consistently uses the rules as guidelines, knowing full well that it is the strength of the story, not the pedantic adherence to the rules, that is what makes the game fun to play.

If we forget this, then the NPCs simply become shadows of the PCs, and the players may as well 'play with each other' so to speak. :


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