Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quotes from 5e Devs, and Starmada Next Fighter Firing

A few aftershocks of the D&D 5e announcement.  EnWorld has a news aggregator up here; this is pretty standard for them with new editions (the site was initially created as a news site for 3e during its development, then developed forums during the Third Age which persisted through its coverage of 4e).  Currently it's mostly little soundbites from the lead devs, but a couple of them look fairly promising (all credit to EnWorld for gathering these):

"The new edition is being conceived of as a modular, flexible system, easily customized to individual preferences. Just like a player makes his character, the Dungeon Master can make his ruleset. He might say ‘I’m going to run a military campaign, it’s going to be a lot of fighting’… so he’d use the combat chapter, drop in miniatures rules, and include the martial arts optional rules." - Mike Mearls
This is a nice idea, though one that might make life difficult for the players during character creation.  It does, however, suggest that the supplement treadmill may be stoppable by DM fiat; if he doesn't choose rulebases from other supplements, then you're good.  It may also eliminate the Grapple Problem - the existence of gross, annoying subsystems that nobody really wants to deal with.  Make 'em optional, and then they're not problems.  Final point here is that miniatures / grids may be optional, rather than required (as they were in 4th and basically were in 3rd for adjudicating AoOs).  Sweet.
 "I don't think 'requiring someone to be a healer' is a sacred cow, but having healers in the game is. I wouldn't want to see D&D do away with healing, but I don't think there's anything keeping us from exploring a version of D&D where players can simply play anything they want, ignoring concepts like role and function when putting together their party. To do so, we would need to take a serious look at the way player resources are allocated in D&D, and make some adjustments to the assumptions behind the design of everything from adventures to encounters to monsters." - Rodney Thompson
This reminds me a lot of Iron Heroes, which was another Monte Cook / Mike Mearls project.  In IH, you had a pool of Reserve Points with a cap equal to your max HP, and you could convert a reserve point into a hit point with one minute of resting.  This creates a dynamic similar to healing surges, but not in-combat and somewhat more realistic.  Healing, by skills or magic, added to your reserve pool, rather than to your HP, so it was useful in terms of extending combat endurance, but not a combat activity, and having a dedicated healer was not a necessity.  Healing was something that you could choose to pursue, but that 1) you didn't have to, and 2) you didn't have to make your sole specialty if you did.  And that was cool.  I hope they draw on IH for inspiration here.  'course, that was what I said during 4e development, too (also by Mearls), and look how that turned out...

Ignoring role and function is also a neat idea, and something we've seen to a limited degree in our Traveller games; sometimes you go "Man, we need an engineer badly", but then when you try to roll an engineer, you often get someone who can engineer, but is also an awesome hacker or ninja too (or all three plus sniper, in the case of Jared's character last campaign).  You're not constrained to your class / career, and everyone from the same career is just a bit different from everyone else.  Contrast with D&D, where if you're the fighter, pretty much all you can do is fight.  Classes in D&D serve as hard limits on the things you can do; in Traveller, careers serve as soft guidelines, where it's not hard to pick up some pretty oddball skills (Thief Remote Ops?  Really?).
 "We'll have more information on the GSL as it relates to the next edition in the near future. Personally, I have a copy of 'The Cathedral & the Bazaar' on the shelf at work.  From my days as a programmer and as a freelance RPG designer, the bulk of my work involved open platforms which did a lot for a game that relies so much on individual creativity." - Mike Mearls
This is good for two reasons.  First, it looks like the devs at least are in favor of something resembling the OGL or opensourcing.  Second, it's an interesting cross-cultural reference to we programmers.  However, Mearls is being really vague here, and it wouldn't surprise me if WotC's legal department got the final say on this one.  On the third hand, the era of D&D's greatest success was marked by the OGL, with the more restrictive GSL significantly decreasing third-party support and arguably sales, so maybe WotC legal will learn from it.  Time will tell.

In non-5e news, got a confirm from Underling on the sequence of actions in the next edition of Starmada here.  When I read the alpha core review rules, which contained no mention of fighters, the change to "all damage is applied immediately during sequential firing" immediately suggested to me that fighter firing could be rolled into the ship firing phase, with an activation being usable either for a squadron of small craft or a single ship.  Turns out I was correct, and Underling also confirms that under alternating movement, an activation can likewise be used on either a ship or a fighter squadron (which makes great sense, when you make alternating movement the default).  I believe that the primary advantage of fighters now will be their ability to move without regard for the Newtonian thrust rules; combined with their (expected) short range weapons, this means you'll probably want to move them last-ish.  This again mixes up the traditional order of movement employed in alternating movement games, as I discussed previously, that you usually want to move your fast, light things first and then move your slow, heavy hitters last.

The most important thing about this change is that it makes point-defense weapons / anti-fighter batteries potentially useful.  If the entire enemy fleet is fighters, and you only have ships with AFBs, you're no longer SOL like you were in AE, where you'd get mauled by the fighters before you had a chance to fire.  Now, they'll attack you, and you'll get a chance to attack back before more of their fighters get to attack.  This also creates an interesting tactical problem when you have a mixed fleet of ships and fighters - do you fire with the fighters first before the enemy gets a chance to fire their AFBs at them, or do you use your ships first?  Probably situational, but it's an extra wrinkle in a system where this wasn't even a question before.

So, I like this change a lot.  First, it simplifies the rules by removing the fighter phase.  Second, it solves the much-maligned AFB problem of the previous edition.  Third, it introduces an interesting choice or series of choices, which the game really needs more of.  Finally, I like being right in my predictions.  When I said back in December that I expected the new edition to fix fighters, this is exactly what I had in mind, and MJ12 has not disappointed.

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