Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Rules vs. Role Playing

So once again we stall a game over rules instead of just role playing out a scenario. In this write up I want to address both the ability to identify magical items found and how wish is handled. (Possibly touch on power building)

When done reading, come back to this. . .
To do this we can look at rules as printed and try to interrupt them with their contradictions, grey areas and what others on official forms think they mean. We can look at how other groups handle these issues, what they do and look back to our own history on how they were handled in other rule sets as well as why they are important to the integrity of role playing as whole.

The purpose is to satisfy the player out of game while not breaking the immersion of role playing in game by using terms that are meant to be taken out of game. 

Putting identify in the hands of a major NPC helps to fill a role as a reliable source of information for the PC’s and a useful tool for the DM for passing information and quests as well. This NPC would become more and more known to the PC’s making them seem almost real or like an old friend. Heading back to town with a bag full of unknown loot the PC’s would talk about wanting to visit this NPC to get their items both identified and to have them research the items so when they are ready for pick up they get both the joy of what they’ve discovered as well as possibly an interesting story about an item or two that may lead to further quests or investigation. 

Now our game feels more immersive, more real, like role playing. We have NPC’s who we are interested in on a personal level (their day, their issues, what they are up to), we have a reason to haul all that loot back to town, and we have the joy of discovery when we find out what it really is in town where it can be sold, stored or equipped. 

But we forgot, what if we have a mage ourselves. Back in 3.0 or 3.5 we used to visit our house for some downtime. This downtime was again used for the mage to be studding the items after purchasing the needed pearl dust to identify a set number or items over the course of eight hours. That’s what these studied old mages do, they hold up in their workshops and study magic! 

So far we’ve talked a bit about why it’s important for identify to remain in the hands of NPC’s and also why it works as the perfect role for the mage during their downtime. 

Quick examples of NPC's. For UPM Gaming it's always been Morgan. Morgan was there at the start of the game some 14 years ago known as the mage who lived in a large black stone tower on the side of the city where the merchants were. She had an adopted young apprentice who helped with the studding as needed and a counter for purchasing limited magical trinkets. 

The PC's visited Morgan on many occasions over the years and followed her one some adventures as well as rescued her from another plane and had a story arc about saving her apprentice Charlotte from The Shadow Queen. Morgan always identified the magical items for the PC's as well as was the only one who could study and research artifacts for the party. She required a pearl of at least 100gp and could identify a number of items up to her level over the course of 8 hours which sometimes required more visits.    

We followed the adventures of Morgan even when the PC's went 16 years into the future after battling the king lich in his floating fortress and found her later as a grown woman who had retired. As such with her family we learned that each apprentice was required to also see a new apprentice upon becoming a master and of age. This lead to Morgan's apprentice Charlotte becoming a master and having an adopted apprentice of her own. 

Fast forward from 535cy to 571cy and we find a new historian mage named "Mercedes" a descendant of the house of Morgan. She is the fourth master who's come of age and claiming the mages tower as her own. She is now in need of her own apprentice (which is being worked into 5th edition d&d and started on the plane of the Fey Wild as the PC's see a painting of Mercedes after visiting her to get information on a mysterious cult that worships an egg found below a mansion.)

This is our campaign's legacy.


Let's jump over to something famous, from California and visit a man called "Gilmore".

If you don't know the long running major NPC who sells the PC's magical items and identifies their gear and helps them is named Gilmore and he is far more than just a random NPC he is also their friend, who they visit from time to time. They go on quests which he play's a major role and acts as an ear for downtime heavy hearted drama from the PC's. If the PC's could just roll a dice and get all their answers we would never have met the inspirational and charismatic man.

The NPC is so well known he has spawned T-shirts, dice boxes, etc all named after him and his famous shop known as "Gilmore's Glorious Goods". I won't list his entire history, but it is safe to say the DM is using Gilmore in the same way that I used Morgan. 

The story is so much richer when characters are brought to life and intertwined in the PC's story. The PC's we must remember are not in a black box isolated by rules, but rather in a living, breathing world. If there were no one to interact with the world would be flat and dull, unbelievable and fake. It would be like playing a game by the rules like Monopoly where there is no room for storytelling or imagination. At this point why would you not just play alone on your computer? 

Well I have now shown you two major NPC's who would not have existed if it were just a roll in a book to uncover the secrets of magic rather than a social interaction between PC and NPC. But let's get to some rules comparison's between rule set's and see how this evolved and came to be different from 3.0 to Pathfinder. 

Back in the days of 3.0 it was pretty simple. Get a pearl worth 100g, smash it up into dust, mix a cocktail and identify a number of items up to your level. Of course this only got you some of the abilities and the command words. For higher and more thorough inspection you needed a 6th level spell "Analyze Dweomer" this allowed you to get more abilities out of an item, but still not an artifact and still required 8 hours, a gemstone worth 1,500gp and targeted one object. This was why it was best left to an NPC to do items over time. 

Jumping forward to 3.5 we see a major change! As I open my book to page 243. I see identify now takes one hour and can only be used on one item. It still needs that 100gp pearl powder making it now way more expensive, as before you could do multiple items for that price. So for comparison we now see analyze dweomer does a number of objects (not just one anymore) per level and still has that 1,500 gemstone cost.

This is quite the difference and cost! It still hasn't eliminated Morgan, choosing to take the rules over the person, but it has made the PC able to identify something quicker. I believe that back in the day we even chose to keep the 3.0 version due to the taking 8 hours make more sense for something to be fully researched. 

Now we chose to jump to the final incarnation of the 3.0 rule set, Pathfinder. Here is where it gets even more bizarre. In an attempt to combine multiple skills into one James Jacobs (Author of the Pathfinder Core rules) explains that spellcraft was meant to answer questions based on crafting and knowledge was meant to answer questions based on magical theory (how things work).

The mass posts on the forums indicate that the community is quite confused on just why there are skills and spells used in combination for the purpose of identifying items. Here below is just one such example.

There are many posts, but this one shows some of the confusion players in the community are finding when trying to interpret James's rules. What was meant by the designer to be an easier solution has escalated into a math problem.  

Wow! Really, we need to do all this during the adventure to tell what a +1 sword is. Hmm I am sensing that something is a bit off here, but let's continue down this thread.

Now were not even getting command words, charges, and curses! What a headache, no wonder there are so many threads on this simple thing, but wait . . . where is our beloved NPC in all of this? When the calculators, books and push pins with thread come out to join one skill to one spell to one other spell who are we talking to? What size is the room were standing in? What is the weather like? Hmmm I think we just lost our immersion, our role playing, unless of course we are role playing reading a rule book and solving math problems.

Now I present another post to spin our world back. James Jacobs back in 2009 said it worked well to use the two skills and tie in the magic and in 2012 he says . . . 

The post is too large for the blog, so zooming in by clicking the photo may help. Here is the key words to this. "There's already a mechanic in the game for knowing about magic items - Spellcraft. I know that skill says you have to have detect magic going to identiy an item, but I personally feel that's a remnant from an earlier design philosophy that we should have dumped. The mystery of identifying magic items is relatively abandoned in modern gaming."


What the fuck . . . wait, what? 1. The rules say this but I feel fuck that. 2. The mystery (unknown ancient magical powers that you unlock and are wowed by) are not needed in today's gaming? So just give the player the stats and move on? 3. Remnant from an earlier design philosophy? When he says back in 2008 "I think the solution works out pretty good", when talking about using both detect magic, and knowledge skills?


 Here are some follow up posts from that thread.

This post is close to home, it talks about a player who has no knowledge of any of the past but simply put skill ranks into spellcraft because James Jacobs told him if you do, you simply identify magical items. However this post goes on to contradict it's self by saying okay add in a knowledge check cause if you don't the PC's will miss out on crucial story info. Well no shit dummy, if you use a check to unlock the unnecessary mystery you dumped you stats not story. Now if your a rules guy, at this point you are like "Ha see, the skill makes me win." 

But sadly then you see this . . . (*massive content reply removed to get to his words*)

 "One of my big hopes for a new edition would be to build the game to start to give the power back to the GM, to allow the GM to be able to make rules adjudication without the players using the core rules as a bludgeon to argue with. I love how the d20 system has rules for so much you might want to accomplish in the game, but hate how people get obsessed with adhering exactly to the rules, because it starts to ruin the game designer's ability to present a fun adventure or encounter if every single word needs to have only one specific definition."

So you wrote your rules, then decided they were not working in the modern gaming world, then took the role playing out of role playing, and now are mad that modern gamers who play but the rules only want to adhere to those rules? What a fucking joke, you did it to yourself. 

Wow that was quite the interesting time and I only did a small search on James Jacobs and identify. There are many, many more! So what did I learn from all that personally? The role playing is missing dammit, the NPC's are gone, the world is gone, it's Magic The Gathering with it's specific rules! This card does this period. No goddammit, this is d&d, it's fucking role-playing.

So let's back up to where we were to post about how Pathfinder handled identifying a magic item as it was back when it was released. (As a side note, here is a good article about how stupid another GM finds it: http://www.paperspencils.com/2012/10/08/identifying-magic-items-in-pathfinder/)

It's posted above but let's do it again from the massive reddit post. 

Got that? Having fun yet? Do you feel immersed in a fantasy world with the wind in your hair? No? Me either. Having spent over two hours writing up just the pathfinder part and researching online all the forums, posts, arguments, endless debates, designer double talk . . . I can finally say. What was wrong with 3.0?