Author Topic: Rulings, not Rules  (Read 3267 times)

Elven Doritos

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2017, 04:02:05 PM »
Also, this appears to be a common topic in gaming philosophy, and at the risk of re-inserting the outside source conversation that started this, some extra reading might be helpful to understanding additional design philosophy perspectives:

https://fate-srd.com/fate-system-toolkit/rules-vs-rulings

http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/sage-advice/philosophy-behind-rules-and-rulings

http://johnwickpresents.com/games/rulings-not-rules/
Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night
For it was all ripe for dreaming
Oh, how we danced away all of the lights
We've always been out of our minds
-Tom Waits, Rain Dogs

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2017, 04:30:07 PM »
Steerpike, I honestly found your previous post kind of irritating. I don't even know what you're trying to say any more.

I mean, you're rattling off a list of Fate terminology and seemingly acting like the fact that Fate has unique terminology and you have to learn it in order to play is somehow some bizarre Fate thing that makes it this weird abstract game that you can't get immersed in. Levels, hit points, hit dice, squares, spell slots, ability modifiers, proficiencies, feats, inspiration... what's your point? Every system has words that it uses to describe the concepts that you need to know how to make the system work, and those are often pretty abstract things in whatever system.

I'm sort of getting the feeling from this discussion that you have a number of severe misconceptions about how Fate actually plays. Creating advantages is definitely not a "super complicated rule." It's a little strange for someone not used to how Fate works, I'll definitely concede that much. So let me try to explain more simply. All that really happens is that creating an advantage lets you create a new aspect, or rename an old aspect to be more beneficial to you. You also get a free invocation of that aspect. That's seriously all it does. Approaches are not really relevant because they're specifically from Fate Accelerated and aren't even a thing in most versions of Fate.

Also, you're acting like the process of looking up and following the rules as written in your example is some kind of awful burden... and yet by your own reckoning the whole process takes under 1 minute. There are some egregiously bad rules in Pathfinder, sure, but this isn't one of them. You're correct that if you prefer to consistently ignore a large portion of the Pathfinder rules, you're better off not playing Pathfinder, but it's overly extreme to derive the idea that you "consistently ignore the Pathfinder rules [as a whole]" from a suggestion that you don't necessarily always have to follow the Acrobatics DC guidelines precisely. Saying "you don't always have to follow the rules if they don't work for you" isn't the Oberoni Fallacy, either. I mean, it would be if you said "there's nothing wrong with the Pathfinder rules because you don't have to follow them if they don't work for you," but I never claimed there was nothing wrong with them. The reason I'm so ardently in favor of things like the list of sample DCs for Acrobatics and whatnot is because I do like them and they do work for me, as a matter of fact. You're absolutely right that OD&D doesn't even have a standardized way to determine if you succeed or fail at a given task, but that's an extremely low bar. Coming up with a standardized set of DC's that model a world relatively consistently takes a fair bit of design work, and I think you're trivializing the task. I appreciate that Pathfinder (and D&D 3.x) have it and I miss it in 5th Edition and consider it a significant failure on the part of the designers.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2017, 05:49:34 PM »
I'll grant that I have not played nearly as much Fate as you have, and that if I played a lot of it the terminology might seem less opaque. But I'm a bit confused by your response, because I thought it was the very abstractness of Fate that you were praising, in contrast with the "vagueness" of something like 5th edition D&D. Are you in fact arguing that Fate's rules aren't abstract after all? Or are you arguing that 5th edition D&D is actually abstract, not vague? It's possible we're just at cross-purposes because of definitions.

I figured we were characterizing the rules systems more or less like this:

Fate: abstract (a few abstract rules are used as the basis for decisions)
Pathfinder: precise (lots of specific rules are used as the basis for decisions)
5th Edition: vague (a few loose rules are used as the basis for decisions)
OD&D: practically non-existent (so few rules, and such incredibly vague rules, that you're basically at sea)

Obviously these are very broad characterizations, but would you disagree with that taxonomy? I understand there are some abstract things in 5th edition and that not everything in Fate is absolutely abstract, but this is how I was organizing the different systems in my head. Please do correct me if this is not what you had in mind!

I was listing Fate's abstractions because I thought we agreed it was a very abstract game, in contrast with something like 5th edition, which I thought by your terminology is not abstract but vague. Is it mostly the way I see abstraction in tension with immersion that is giving you pause?

Quote from: sparkletwist
Also, you're acting like the process of looking up and following the rules as written in your example is some kind of awful burden... and yet by your own reckoning the whole process takes under 1 minute.

It's not just that one thing though. It's not just one extra minute. Those judgments and lookings-up and mullings-over add up. Pathfinder combats compared to old school combats are quite long.

Quote from: sparkletwist
The reason I'm so ardently in favor of things like the list of sample DCs for Acrobatics and whatnot is because I do like them and they do work for me, as a matter of fact.

That's great! I'm not trying to convert you to playing 5th edition, honestly! I'm not trying to get you to admit that rulings are objectively better than rules. I'm not trying to tell you that the Pathfinder approach is wrong. I'm not trying to tell you that Fate's approach is wrong. I'm not trying to tell you that my preferences are superior to yours. I'm just trying to explain why I like to play the way I like to play, why my particular preference for long-term games isn't for a system predominated by abstract rules or a system with lots and lots of specific rules but one with loose, adaptable rules.

That's really my only goal. If it seemed like I was implying anything else, I sincerely apologize. And I'm sorry if I got a little snarky about Fate.

I also don't think that 5th is perfect. I agree with you that more sample DCs for tasks would have been very, very good to include. But I think there's a difference between sample DCs and what Pathfinder does, which is require a whole series of micro-judgments and modifiers to figure out how to resolve tasks. Individually looking these rules up and calculating and applying them may not seem like a big burden, but it does add up. There's a reason 3.X-4 are considered slower than other editions of D&D, and that's linked to the hyper-granularity and specificity and raw quantity of their rules.

EDIT: I am still curious about the adjective ladder in Fate and the DC guidelines in 5th. They feel so similar to me that I am puzzled by your praise of the former and dislike of the latter.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2017, 08:41:48 PM »
To clarify a bit about the Fate terms and why I'm rattling them as a list of abstractions: it's not just that Fate has a lot of nouns used in very specific ways, it's that the mechanics and ideas attached to those nouns are for fairly abstract concepts.

To compare/contrast using some of the core terms from Fate and D&D:

Aspect: "An aspect is a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to."

Ability Score: "Is a character muscle-bound and insightful? Brilliant and charming? Nimble and hardy? Ability scores define these qualities—a creature’s assets as well as weaknesses."

Of these two, for example, "aspect" seems far more abstract to me than "ability score." Ability scores describe particular physical or mental qualities possessed by distinct individuals.

Aspects encompass a whole range of possible attributes and qualities and ideas - everything from a belief to a profession to a relationship to something as abstract as a problem or conflict or objective. And they don't just adhere to individual characters, they can attach to places and objects and situations, some of which are themselves quite abstract. And some can also be "boosts" (or, rather, boosts are a sort of variant of them), which are "temporary, free-floating invocations that happen when you get a momentary benefit that isn’t lasting enough to be an aspect" - and sometimes those boosts can be promoted to become aspects - and also consequences, which "[are] more permanent than a situation aspect, but not quite as permanent as a character aspect."

So there's this whole range of different kinds of aspects ranging from a personal code to a physical quality that can adhere with different degrees of temporal persistence and in different sorts of categories to different kinds of things in the game, not all of which have any "real" existence in the actual world (like, there's no such things as "scenes" in real life - this is another abstraction, a "unit of game time lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour or more, during which the players try to achieve a goal or otherwise accomplish something significant in a scenario").

To me at least, thinking about a character's ability scores seems intuitive and relatively concrete, even if there's some degree of abstraction or generalization going on, whereas aspects feel holistic and sprawling and interconnected and tied into the narrative and dramatic fabric of the game in an important way.

It's not that Fate makes me throw my hands up in the air hopelessly, or that it's unplayable. My problem here isn't comprehension of the rules, and my point isn't that these rules are objectively bad or difficult to use. It's that the rules make me think about things in very abstract terms, which makes me aware of the game qua game, which draws my attention to the act of playing. Instead of thinking about the details of what's going on and what characters are doing to an environment and how the world responds, I'm thinking about narrative arcs, objectives, histories, personal beliefs. I'm thinking about intangible things, about demarcating scenes. I'm thinking whether to use a compel. I'm thinking at a meta-level. I tend to find this somewhat tiring, but also I find it undermines a quality I like in the sorts of games I play regularly, which is verisimilitude - the appearance or feeling or illusion that the imaginary world of the game is real.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2017, 10:55:50 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
I'm a bit confused by your response, because I thought it was the very abstractness of Fate that you were praising, in contrast with the "vagueness" of something like 5th edition D&D.
The issue I was having was that it seemed like you were just rattling off a list of Fate terminology, and using that to make the point that it was somehow too abstracted to you. My point was that every system has certain abstractions. For example, I don't think it's particularly fair to pick on stress and consequences as being abstractions if you play with a system that has armor class and hit points. Sure, Fate is more abstracted, and I do see that as a strength... but I feel it's a strength largely because it's not egregiously so.

Quote from: Steerpike
Obviously these are very broad characterizations, but would you disagree with that taxonomy?
I might describe 5th Edition less favorably... :P but I don't disagree with the basic taxonomy you're using.

Quote from: Steerpike
Is it mostly the way I see abstraction in tension with immersion that is giving you pause?
I don't disagree that when you're thinking about abstracted game mechanics it's a lot harder to be thinking in-character. However, this process has never really felt any worse in Fate, at least for me. Part of this could be because, as my preference for specific rules might suggest, even in systems like Pathfinder or D&D 5e without so much abstraction I'm still going to be thinking in terms of mechanics more often than you may be.

Quote from: Steerpike
Those judgments and lookings-up and mullings-over add up. Pathfinder combats compared to old school combats are quite long.
That's true, but, as I said before, there are plenty of other things that could be done to speed resolution other than simply throwing out formal mechanics and seat-of-the-pantsing it, and I think those options are sometimes overlooked. For example, modern (i.e., 3e, 4e, and 5e) D&D AC is just plain easier to use than OD&D/AD&D AC, so the hit resolution portion of Pathfinder combat is actually quicker and easier than in old school D&D. Pathfinder's CMB and CMD has its problems, but it's more streamlined than how maneuvers worked in D&D 3.x. And so on.

Quote from: Steerpike
I'm just trying to explain why I like to play the way I like to play, why my particular preference for long-term games isn't for a system predominated by abstract rules or a system with lots and lots of specific rules but one with loose, adaptable rules.
That makes sense, and I certainly don't begrudge you your own preferences. I'm not trying to say that a certain way of playing is better for everyone all the time, or anything like that. However, just because you like something and it works for you, that doesn't mean that it's perfect, of course. There still may well be room for improvement. I mean, you may like one thing, but there may theoretically be some other thing that you like more. In pointing out the flaws of doing things with a "rulings, not rules" approach, I'm not trying to promote one true way or anything like that. You might, at the end of the day, just not care about the problems it introduces, because the effect those problems have on the fun of your game is negligible. But maybe there is some thing you never thought of that could make your game even better, who knows.

Quote from: Steerpike
I am still curious about the adjective ladder in Fate and the DC guidelines in 5th. They feel so similar to me that I am puzzled by your praise of the former and dislike of the latter.
I talked about this a bit in the 5th Edition thread, but it comes down to two things. Firstly, Fate's guidelines are actually more specific, and, secondly and more importantly, I think that it's apples and oranges anyway. Fate is a system based around scenes, narrative, aspects, and such, and the main role of the mechanics is to drive the narrative. The difficulties are being set from a "narrativist" perspective. On the other hand, in something like D&D, the game is driven more by events and DCs are supposed to be based on circumstances. For example, in Fate, it's very likely that there could be some door that doesn't normally even merit a roll but, as a result of a compel, suddenly becomes Good (+3) opposition. That kind of hand-waving magic doesn't happen nearly as often in D&D because it's not that sort of system, so more or less objective DCs are more important to have.

Quote from: Steerpike
It's not that Fate makes me throw my hands up in the air hopelessly, or that it's unplayable. My problem here isn't comprehension of the rules, and my point isn't that these rules are objectively bad or difficult to use. It's that the rules make me think about things in very abstract terms, which makes me aware of the game qua game, which draw my attention to the act of playing. Instead of thinking about the details of what's going on and what characters are doing to an environment and how the world responds, I'm thinking about narrative arcs, objectives, histories, personal beliefs. I'm thinking about intangible things, about demarcating scenes. I'm thinking whether to use a compel. I'm thinking at a meta-level. I tend to find this somewhat tiring, but also I find it undermines a quality I like in the sorts of games I play regularly, which is verisimilitude - the appearance or feeling or illusion that the imaginary world of the game is real.
I guess that makes sense, though I don't really agree with it. Personally, having a list of character aspects helps me define and play a character better, while in other systems I may be grasping a bit to really "feel" the character. Situational aspects are good descriptors for an environment, too. I generally don't dwell too much on the meta-constructs that these things create, so they don't really hurt verisimilitude. That said, my idea of immersion is probably pretty strange anyway because I have no trouble at all playing two or more characters at once.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2017, 11:35:53 PM »
Quote from: sparkletwist
The issue I was having was that it seemed like you were just rattling off a list of Fate terminology, and using that to make the point that it was somehow too abstracted to you. My point was that every system has certain abstractions. For example, I don't think it's particularly fair to pick on stress and consequences as being abstractions if you play with a system that has armor class and hit points. Sure, Fate is more abstracted, and I do see that as a strength... but I feel it's a strength largely because it's not egregiously so.

Fair enough, I got into a bit of rant-mode, and wasn't being very clear. I totally understand why you see it as a strength, and in a certain sense I think it is a strength, at least insofar as it runs a particular kind of game, the sort you really like, and which I myself do enjoy now-and-then.

Quote from: sparkletwist
However, this process has never really felt any worse in Fate, at least for me. Part of this could be because, as my preference for specific rules might suggest, even in systems like Pathfinder or D&D 5e without so much abstraction I'm still going to be thinking in terms of mechanics more often than you may be.

I think this cognitive difference is at the heart of it. I know you have quite a mathematical mind, and I think this might be part of it too. I'm reasonably good at math, but it doesn't come naturally to me. The math and mechanics tend to fade away a lot when I'm playing, and for my everyday games I like it when they're very unobtrusive.

Quote from: sparkletwist
That's true, but, as I said before, there are plenty of other things that could be done to speed resolution other than simply throwing out formal mechanics and seat-of-the-pantsing it, and I think those options are sometimes overlooked. For example, modern (i.e., 3e, 4e, and 5e) D&D AC is just plain easier to use than OD&D/AD&D AC, so the hit resolution portion of Pathfinder combat is actually quicker and easier than in old school D&D. Pathfinder's CMB and CMD has its problems, but it's more streamlined than how maneuvers worked in D&D 3.x. And so on.

I'll agree with that. I'm certainly not in favour of throwing out all formal mechanics entirely, or of going entirely ad-hoc, or free-form.

Quote from: sparkletwist
There still may well be room for improvement. I mean, you may like one thing, but there may theoretically be some other thing that you like more.

Totally. There was a time when I was very set-in-my-ways with Pathfinder, for example. But I gradually became aware of the things about it I didn't like - it's emphasis on system mastery and balance, on level-appropriate encounters, the density of its rules. I also realized that my favourite moments in playing Pathfinder were moments where my players went "off-book" and started rigging up crazy traps or pursuing schemes and strategies the rules didn't anticipate - when they stopped just using class features and started thinking outsider of the box ("off-sheet"). I increasingly found myself ignoring big swathes of the rules. The sorts of items I was coming up with weren't the sort of items Pathfinder expected PCs to receive. The sort of encounters I was planning weren't the ones Pathfinder expected PCs to face. I was very skeptical of 5th edition, but it really won me over. It's deeply flawed, but like you said, I find I can overlook a lot of its rough edges.

Quote from: sparkletwist
I talked about this a bit in the 5th Edition thread, but it comes down to two things. Firstly, Fate's guidelines are actually more specific, and, secondly and more importantly, I think that it's apples and oranges anyway. Fate is a system based around scenes, narrative, aspects, and such, and the main role of the mechanics is to drive the narrative. The difficulties are being set from a "narrativist" perspective. On the other hand, in something like D&D, the game is driven more by events and DCs are supposed to be based on circumstances. For example, in Fate, it's very likely that there could be some door that doesn't normally even merit a roll but, as a result of a compel, suddenly becomes Good (+3) opposition. That kind of hand-waving magic doesn't happen nearly as often in D&D because it's not that sort of system, so more or less objective DCs are more important to have.

This is an interesting point. There is a bit more scaffolding in Fate, but the "apples and oranges" idea is interesting. I'm not sure 5th or even the old school as a whole is totally at odds... like a door might not always merit a roll in 5th because the characters have a lot of time and aren't under any pressure and can just break it down. Or, for example, on page 236 of the DMG, they talk about how "the players might describe how they search for a secret door, detailing how they tap on a wall or twist a torch sconce to find its trigger. That could be enough to convince the DM that they find the secret door without having to make an ability check to do so." But maybe if the PCs are stuck or in a hurry you do allow a roll. It's not quite the same thing as the way Fate handles things - Fate is probably more abstract still, and it's more that the world itself is being reshaped on-the-fly - but is this a difference in kind, or degree?

Quote from: sparkletwist
I guess that makes sense, though I don't really agree with it. Personally, having a list of character aspects helps me define and play a character better, while in other systems I may be grasping a bit to really "feel" the character. Situational aspects are good descriptors for an environment, too. I generally don't dwell too much on the meta-constructs that these things create, so they don't really hurt verisimilitude. That said, my idea of immersion is probably pretty strange anyway because I have no trouble at all playing two or more characters at once.

Yeah, I think this is really interesting - it's not just that different systems produce different sorts of experiences, it's that different players will experience different systems differently.

It's interesting that while 5th doesn't have aspects it does suggest that characters choose a background with a personality trait, ideal, bond, and flaw, and the backgrounds do have some mechanical heft. It's not the same as aspects and nowhere near as extensive, but I do think 5th is probably the most "narrativist" of the D&D editions.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #21 on: January 14, 2017, 04:45:00 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
The math and mechanics tend to fade away a lot when I'm playing, and for my everyday games I like it when they're very unobtrusive.
I find this hard because the math and mechanics are ultimately the way that the characters interact with the world. I mean, they interact through the story as well, so the story is important; I'm definitely not the tactical sort of gamer that just doesn't care about roleplay at all... but, on the other hand, any point in the story where there is going to be danger or risk is going to probably involve a die roll, and then it becomes something quantifiable, and I like to know what those numbers are going to be, or at least have a good guess.

Quote from: Steerpike
I'm certainly not in favour of throwing out all formal mechanics entirely, or of going entirely ad-hoc, or free-form.
I didn't even mean anything that extreme. I meant more that the solution to lacking rules, bad rules, or badly presented rules isn't always to just decide "rulings, not rules." I mean, imagine, hypothetically, that you managed to collect all of the rulings and various judgments that you made in a game into a formalized and elegant set of house rules and stored them in an index as well organized as d20pfsrd.com at its best. In this hypothetical game, you'd probably rely on your rules as written a lot more and on rulings a lot less. In the real world, you're not going to be able to do this, but the fact remains there's also a place for improving rules and improving the presentation of rules that sometimes gets neglected because just leaving it to on-the-spot DM judgment is easier. That's the core of my complaint with 5th edition; the designers slacked off on a lot of design work and just pushed it on the DM to make a ruling.

Quote from: Steerpike
I also realized that my favourite moments in playing Pathfinder were moments where my players went "off-book" and started rigging up crazy traps or pursuing schemes and strategies the rules didn't anticipate - when they stopped just using class features and started thinking outsider of the box ("off-sheet"). I increasingly found myself ignoring big swathes of the rules.
I got my start with AD&D and V:tM, neither of which were particularly strong on strict rules. So crazy improvisation and going "off-book" were never a big thing for me, rather. I was actually kind of a latecomer to the whole D&D 3.x way of doing it. So, instead, the big thing for me was Fate, which had abstracted mechanics and meta-points to adjudicate that ephemeral crazy stuff that was, in other systems, just up to the GM to decide.

Quote from: Steerpike
I'm not sure 5th or even the old school as a whole is totally at odds
Definitely not. Fate actually harmonizes pretty well with the rules-light spirit of the old school, and the emphasis on player creativity over raw mechanical power. I've run some old school dungeon crawls using Fate rules and the experience was quite fun for everyone involved. The big advantage of Fate, to me, was that it provided abstracted mechanics to adjudicate situations that would be left entirely to DM fiat in OD&D or have only vague rules in 5th edition.

Quote from: Steerpike
It's not quite the same thing as the way Fate handles things - Fate is probably more abstract still, and it's more that the world itself is being reshaped on-the-fly - but is this a difference in kind, or degree?
Another way I think that the setting of difficulties in Fate works differently is the interaction with the narrative power inherent to Fate aspects, which makes the difficulties set relative to the character's own power. For example, let's say that we're playing a superhero game, there is a tall building, and the heroes are needed on the roof. A superhero with super-athleticism, supported by appropriate aspects, tries to leap to the top of the building. He probably has an Athletics skill of at least +4, possibly boosted by a stunt as well. The GM is probably going to make this challenge have opposition of around a 4, to make it potentially risky but not really a big deal for our super athlete. On the other hand, I don't feel like this difficulty of 4 is at all objective in the way that a D&D DC usually is. By this math, a mundane person with an Athletics of 0 has a 1% chance rolling all +'s and leaping to the top of this building.... which is still way too high.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #22 on: January 14, 2017, 05:38:25 PM »
Quote from: sparkletwist
I find this hard because the math and mechanics are ultimately the way that the characters interact with the world. I mean, they interact through the story as well, so the story is important; I'm definitely not the tactical sort of gamer that just doesn't care about roleplay at all... but, on the other hand, any point in the story where there is going to be danger or risk is going to probably involve a die roll, and then it becomes something quantifiable, and I like to know what those numbers are going to be, or at least have a good guess.

This is understandable, and up to a point I agree. Obviously you do need math, and math absolutely helps to model the way characters interact with the world. How much math you need and how granular or specific that math needs to be are the questions where we might part company.

Quote from: sparkletwist
I mean, imagine, hypothetically, that you managed to collect all of the rulings and various judgments that you made in a game into a formalized and elegant set of house rules and stored them in an index as well organized as d20pfsrd.com at its best. In this hypothetical game, you'd probably rely on your rules as written a lot more and on rulings a lot less. In the real world, you're not going to be able to do this, but the fact remains there's also a place for improving rules and improving the presentation of rules that sometimes gets neglected because just leaving it to on-the-spot DM judgment is easier.

I do see what you mean, and I don't want to let the 5th edition designers totally off the hook. But on the other hand a lot of the time these rulings are relatively one-off. One of the things I like about old school play is the way it tends to emphasize using your environment or objects at hand and outside-the-box thinking rather than relying primarily on-the-sheet character abilities. So imagine we come up with 5th edition rulings for the following situations, all of which are the sort of things I could potentially see happening in the kind of games I like to run:

- A character is trying to tip over a huge, heavy cauldron of acid in such a way that it hits a particular group of enemies. Also, another character is using a fire spell to boil the acid and so make it even more deadly (maybe a Strength check to tip it, and then a Dexterity saving throw to avoid, and then I'd have to figure out extra damage from the boiling could work).

- A character is trying to escape a rapidly swirling whirlpool and another character has tossed a rope to try and help them; meanwhile, enemies shoot crossbows at the swimmer (so I'd probably go for an Athletics check, plus a Dexterity check from the thrower - on a success, the swimmer gets advantage on the roll; also, I'd have to determine the number of rounds it takes to be sucked under; also, probably disadvantage to the ranged attackers).

- A character is trying to light a giant's match as big as a large, unwieldy spear, and then hurl the resulting "ranged weapon" to light the tail-fur of the giant's enormous pet cat on fire (some maybe Strength to strike, then a ranged attack allowing spear proficiency, fire damage on a successful hit, then give the kitty a Dex saving throw on subsequent rounds to put the fire out).

- A character is trying to re-program an ancient civilization's mind-switching device so that instead of switching two consciousnesses around it creates a duplicate of a character's mind and "overwrites" the second consciousness; they're using comprehend languages to figure out the alien glyphs on the control panel (probably some crazy Arcana check with a high DC, but with advantage due to the spell).

I mean, yes, we could write all these down in a compendium and have a big codex of house-rules, but how often are these sorts of situations going to be repeated? Is it realistic to expect 5th edition to provide detailed rules for such circumstances? I think that some of 5th edition's rules really are too vague, and I'd have liked more example DCs for common tasks, sure, but it's the above kind of thing that really requires rulings beyond figuring out whether a given check should be DC 10, 15, or 20. When you have loose, easily adaptable rules on the level of "just make an ability check" or "just make a saving throw" or "add advantage," these sorts of rulings, I think, become easier. You could totally also do these things in Fate using a narrativist or abstract system, but if you're not using that system for various reasons, I'm not sure very precise rules actually help much in these sorts of instances.

Quote from: sparkletwist
So, instead, the big thing for me was Fate, which had abstracted mechanics and meta-points to adjudicate that ephemeral crazy stuff that was, in other systems, just up to the GM to decide.

This definitely makes sense to me.

Quote from: sparkletwist
He probably has an Athletics skill of at least +4, possibly boosted by a stunt as well. The GM is probably going to make this challenge have opposition of around a 4, to make it potentially risky but not really a big deal for our super athlete. On the other hand, I don't feel like this difficulty of 4 is at all objective in the way that a D&D DC usually is. By this math, a mundane person with an Athletics of 0 has a 1% chance rolling all +'s and leaping to the top of this building.... which is still way too high.

I'll grant that this is a significant difference. D&D would probably handle it by giving him a much, much greater bonus and setting the DC crazy high.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2017, 09:41:30 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
I mean, yes, we could write all these down in a compendium and have a big codex of house-rules, but how often are these sorts of situations going to be repeated? Is it realistic to expect 5th edition to provide detailed rules for such circumstances? I think that some of 5th edition's rules really are too vague, and I'd have liked more example DCs for common tasks, sure, but it's the above kind of thing that really requires rulings beyond figuring out whether a given check should be DC 10, 15, or 20.
It's not realistic to expect 5th Edition (or any system, except maybe GURPS...) to provide detailed rules for such specific situations as a whole, but I also think that most of those maneuvers could be abstracted at least partially into a series of simpler tasks that should be represented in the system because they are the sort of things that come up in gameplay all the time. I'm not just bashing on 5th edition here, but you used it as an example so I will too, because it illustrates pretty well where the culture of "rulings, not rules" falls flat on its face for me. It's perfectly reasonable to expect the DM to make a ruling on which simple semi-abstract task (that is explained in the rules) best suits the situation, but it's not reasonable to say "just make an ability check" or "just make a saving throw" without indicating what stat to use and what the DC should be in even a generalized way, because then the DM is forced to make up some pretty extensive ad hoc game mechanics.

To use your given examples-- for the cauldron of acid, there should be a general rule to push heavy objects (including some specified DC's) that the DM can use to make a ruling, because pushing heavy objects is a common enough adventuring task it should probably be represented in the rules.  There should be rules to swim around in very turbulent water, because that's also likely to come up. Tossing the rope seems like it'd be just a help action, which actually is a thing, but it works differently from the way you suggested in that it doesn't require a roll at all, so I don't know if that's an intentional divergence or that you're just so used to 5e not having rules for things you didn't even check. Using weapons that are the wrong size for you should probably have some sort of a rule, because this will come up often enough. Reprogramming an ancient civilization's mind-switching device is a rather specific task, so in this case I'm actually fine with the DM just winging a DC, although winging a DC would of course be easier if there were example DC's given so you had some reference point. These "building block" mechanics are the cases where better rules would benefit a lot more than just saying "rulings, not rules." That feels like a cop-out to me. There really should have been more underlying design work by the people who made the system.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2017, 11:26:52 PM »
Interesting analysis. Let me ask a follow up question. Apart from maybe the rope thing and the Help action (see below), do any of my rulings seem wildly arbitrary or off-base to you? Obviously there are specific DCs to set, which I haven't included, but is it fundamentally the DC-calculation process where the problem lies, or is there anywhere in my list of rulings where you think I've made some obviously unfair or counter-intuitive use of the mechanical elements (i.e. ability checks/skills, advantage/disadvantage, saving throws, proficiency)?

I mean I agree with you that a system should have building blocks, it's just that that's what those things feel like to me. When 5e tells me that I should use a Strength check to "model any attempt to lift, push, pull, or break something," that feels like a building block for tipping the vat of acid. When it tells me that a saving throw "represents an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat" and that Dexterity is used to "model any attempt to move nimbly, quickly, or quietly, or to keep from falling on tricky footing," those feel like building blocks for how to avoid the acid.

Basically, does it come down to DCs, or do you feel there are more "structural" problems in how those rulings function? Does the choice of abilities or skills or when to apply advantage/disadvantage feel wildly off?

Quote from: sparkletwist
Tossing the rope seems like it'd be just a help action, which actually is a thing, but it works differently from the way you suggested in that it doesn't require a roll at all, so I don't know if that's an intentional divergence or that you're just so used to 5e not having rules for things you didn't even check.

I'm aware of the Help action, and had it in my head when making the ruling, but added the check due to the particularly crazy conditions. I could see an argument for just letting the Help action proceed without a check, though.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #25 on: January 16, 2017, 03:23:24 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Basically, does it come down to DCs, or do you feel there are more "structural" problems in how those rulings function? Does the choice of abilities or skills or when to apply advantage/disadvantage feel wildly off?
Well, I wouldn't say wildly off, and I will say that choosing the DC is going to be a significant issue here (and, as I've said before, I think you may be trivializing the task of choosing consistent DCs a bit) but, yes, there are some problems beyond just choosing a DC. For example, with the acid, how much damage does it do? Should the save be for half damage or no damage? And, yes, what's the save DC, and how is this determined?

I'd also say that these are relatively intuitive skill uses, and not every skill works this well-- there's no indication given what skill or save to use to oppose social skills like Persuasion and Intimidation, for example. Perception and Investigation are both called out as skills applicable for finding hidden objects, which is certainly a common adventuring task, and no explanation is given as to when to use each one. On the topic of hidden things, the Stealth skill has a bunch of problems, but I've already delved pretty extensively into that.

Anyway, the big problem I have with advantage and disadvantage is that the criteria for when to apply advantage or disadvantage are pretty vague and the ways they interact with numerical bonuses are often unclear. To go to back to the example of the acid cauldron, what if a character ducked behind a heavy piece of furniture to try to avoid the deadly acid? This seems like it might be a case for advantage, but it's actually not-- this is probably best expressed as three-quarters cover, which grants a +5 bonus to the save. Your case where the ranged attackers had disadvantage because they were shooting into the turbulent whirlpool might be valid, or it might count as half cover which would be a -2 penalty. Who knows?

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #26 on: January 16, 2017, 04:11:20 PM »
Yeah, for acid damage I'd probably use the spell acid splash and/or throwing an acid flask as a rough model, so 2d6 acid damage, but with a larger area near the vat - any creature within roughly 10 feet, and then I'd add 1d6 fire on top of that for the heat. Save would be to totally avoid. The save DC is just another DC to calculate.

I'd agree that there are some skills in 5th that work less well than others. With social skills I will usually give players more latitude as to what skill to use on someone and then just make an opposed Charisma check using the same skill. I do think there could be more scaffolding for this. That said I tend to be pretty generous if people can sound convincing or intimidating without rolling well.

Like I've said before, I think a list of sample DCs would be a fantastic addition to 5th. I'm picturing basically a big page - or two, or three - with lots of tasks on it, organized either by difficulty or by the type of task, so that we know that breaking down a wood door is DC 10 and a metal one DC 20 or whatever. But I don't think we need lots of granular, individual, precise rules for figuring out exactly how big a penalty slipperiness should impose. The thing with the DC list is, there's nothing magic about the judgments of the designers - there's no sense in which the DCs they'd come up with would really be more accurate than the ones I do. So while yes, it would be just great to have that list, I personally don't feel its lack deprives me of something essential I need to make the game work. It adds a slight cognitive burden to rulings when I have to pluck a DC out of thin air, but in general I will pitch DCs low in such cases, to facilitate the PCs doing cool things and to avoid a feeling of unfairness. I might go higher when I'm prepping ahead of time and have thought a lot about how difficult a task should be.

Quote from: sparkletwist
Anyway, the big problem I have with advantage and disadvantage is that the criteria for when to apply advantage or disadvantage are pretty vague and the ways they interact with numerical bonuses are often unclear.

I tend to say that advantage/disadvantage covers anything where there isn't an obvious numerical bonus instead. But your examples are productive to consider from my point of view. Maybe we could consider the whirlpool half cover, or the piece of furniture three-quarters cover, or whatever. But if you compare those to advantage/disadvantage (statistically + or - 4) they're all pretty close. We're talking about a difference of 1 or 2 here, and obviously any sort of cover mechanic in virtually any game is going to be pretty rough anyway. So a lot of this stuff falls under the "close enough" umbrella for me. It's a very easy-to-use mechanic. It's sloppy, but it's easy. What are the real consequences of this sloppiness for the actual experience of players and DM at the table? Those consequences have to be weighed against the consequences of a more complex, precise set of rules, and/or a more abstract set of rules. Do we prefer a slightly less-consistent game that asks DM to make more judgment calls, or a more consistent but slightly slower one that requires a bunch of smaller decisions and consultations of the rulebook? I'd prefer the first and you'd prefer the second, at least if we're playing some variant of D&D.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #27 on: January 16, 2017, 05:13:28 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Like I've said before, I think a list of sample DCs would be a fantastic addition to 5th. I'm picturing basically a big page - or two, or three - with lots of tasks on it, organized either by difficulty or by the type of task, so that we know that breaking down a wood door is DC 10 and a metal one DC 20 or whatever. But I don't think we need lots of granular, individual, precise rules for figuring out exactly how big a penalty slipperiness should impose. The thing with the DC list is, there's nothing magic about the judgments of the designers - there's no sense in which the DCs they'd come up with would really be more accurate than the ones I do. So while yes, it would be just great to have that list, I personally don't feel its lack deprives me of something essential I need to make the game work.
There's nothing "magic" about the judgments of the designers, but, at least in theory, they've put a decent amount of effort into creating a functional system. They're going to be very aware of how their world works and how the math works that drives the game representation of their world, so they can create a coherent and consistent model and have DCs that fit that model. They'll have researched what the 50th percentile of mundane humans can actually do, and, if they were attempting any sort of realism, made sure that DC 10 tasks in the system roughly corresponded to this. There's a good analysis here about how well the numbers in 3e actually tend to fit together. If you think you can do this well on the fly, Dunning and Kruger would like a word with you. (As an aside, the same guy who wrote that other thing also has a rant about rules vs. rulings that I rather like)

All that said, in practice, you're probably right. 5e is lazy and slipshod. Enough of the DCs that they do provide are nonsense, so maybe any comprehensive list of sample tasks with sample DCs might well be incoherent garbage anyway, and if it existed, I'd just be ranting about how it makes no sense. Oh well.

Steerpike

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #28 on: January 16, 2017, 05:31:32 PM »
Man, you just have such exacting standards for DCs compared to me. These days I definitely am not remotely that simulationist when it comes to things, despite a preference for verisimilitude. The vast majority of DCs I'd put would be 10, 15, or 20. Is there a ton to be gained from deciding that a door is DC 13 to break down instead of DC 10 because it's made of slightly-harder wood or it's swollen with water? Is it vital that I know a vat of acid weighing X number of pounds should be DC 21 or 23 or 18 or whatever to push instead of DC 20? I dunno, for you I guess so?

I actually ran into the Alexandrian piece awhile back. I don't particularly buy his account of old school versus new school players, like his suggestion that the new school player is as likely to employ the old-school description-heavy approach to searching for traps, or his suggestion that rulings and talking between players and DM are simply identical with GM fiat. But there's a lot of ways in which I just really differ from the Alexandrian in my whole approach to gaming. He can be an interesting read, but his way of approaching the roleplaying process - scenes, "bangs," frames, story-beats - is a bit alien to the way I tend to DM.

sparkletwist

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Re: Rulings, not Rules
« Reply #29 on: January 16, 2017, 10:23:17 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Man, you just have such exacting standards for DCs compared to me. These days I definitely am not remotely that simulationist when it comes to things, despite a preference for verisimilitude. The vast majority of DCs I'd put would be 10, 15, or 20. Is there a ton to be gained from deciding that a door is DC 13 to break down instead of DC 10 because it's made of slightly-harder wood or it's swollen with water? Is it vital that I know a vat of acid weighing X number of pounds should be DC 21 or 23 or 18 or whatever to push instead of DC 20? I dunno, for you I guess so?
I think it's fair to say that the actual numbers that are generated by the game are more important to me than you, at least on some level. I mean, it's not as though the fluff is unimportant to me, but it's the mathematical outcomes of rolls and such that often model how important events turn out, so I do tend to focus on them a bit. I don't think it's misrepresenting anyone's position to say that I care more about the, for lack of a better term, "mathematical integrity" of crunch than you do. So, when contemplating a game's systems, I try to give them inputs that are consistent and coherent. This means that there is something to be gained, at least for me, because reducing everything down to three multiples of 5 only gives you three possible difficulties for the world, and I'd usually prefer it if things were more nuanced (or at least had finer granularity) than that. I also feel like this helps with verisimilitude, actually. If the DC of a door or hazard or whatever can basically only ever be 10 or 15, that rules out a lot of incremental possibilities in between.