Monday, 30 January 2012

More Than Individuals

 I am the Warden!!

Yesterday's D&D game wrapped up a little early (only because the DM figured we couldn't possibly complete the massive encounter he had in store for us with only 2 hours of game time left), so we did what all 40-year old gamers do: we talked mechanics. As you can imagine, we talked about the next version of D&D.

Each of us took turns reminiscing our favorite editions, moments, and characters, reflecting back on the changes over the years and any optimism or pessimism each had for the future of the game. What struck me as odd was how everyone talked about individual characters and not about the team dynamic. "Fighters are designed to swing a sword or an axe, not use powers." "My mage used to do this..." "It was so hard to play a 1st-level character because you'd die with just one hit." All of these statement reflected how every individual piece of the puzzle - the characters - worked within the game. Yet the game is built around the concept of an entire party of heroes defeating evil... so why isn't there enough team mechanics in most RPGs?

Nearly every RPG is built to suit the needs of every player first, making teamwork a second priority. Understandable though this concept may be, it's always baffled me how egocentric these games can be and how a plural concept can be so foreign.

Initiative is the biggest example. While it's completing understandable why this particular mechanic exists, it does defeat the intent behind a party of characters. Everyone rolls individually and act according to their own roll and only be moving yourself further down the list can you "co-ordinate" your actions to work with (or against) another. Once that roll is made, you're pretty much locked there unless you need to move further down the list again. So to use 4E parlance, if you have a defender rolling the lowest in the party (and after the monsters), everyone else has to rush in without him while he saunters forward and goes last or everyone delays until after the defender (and the monsters) to get a beating put on them before casting your first spell.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few group mechanics involved in our popular games. Experience points, for example, are split evenly amongst the whole team regardless of the outcome. It keeps everyone at the same level, progressing at the same rate, and allows all the players to feel as if they're evenly contributing. To me, it's a token reward.

It's a flaw I wanted fixed in the Optional System. RPGs are a team activity, not an opportunity for spotlights and glorious moments of solo asskickery. The team has to come first.

In this game, the entire Team acts as one. Within that Team, the individual members can act as freely as they or want to without the restrictions of who rolled what 15 minutes ago. When you think about it, the odds are stacked in your favor when you act as a Team: what are the odds the entire group will fail their rolls? So long as a single Teammate succeeds, the entire Team stands a chance of gaining the advantage, even in the Optional System version of initiative. All it takes is one character to make the higher Sense roll and her entire Team gains the Edge.

It's ironic. My opinion may be biased, but I'd pit the assassins in my Killshot home game against the heroes of any D&D game when it comes to teamwork any day of the week.


  1. 4E was actually really good about teamwork. Sure a player could make a "solo" character, but there were a lot of synergies that caused a party that worked together to become stronger as a whole.

  2. It was better, for sure, but I've always been thrown by how locked in stone initiative is treated in so many games. Immediate actions were a great way to cheat. My own tastes always wanted an option to improvise when danger hits.

    What got me off on this thought months ago was an ally caught up in a broken floorboard trap. He could grab on for dear life and avoid falling, but had no Strength bonus other than his half level and only a few hit points left. I was standing right next to the trap, but because of my initiative result, I was powerless to help out until it was my turn. In my head, I could just picture my character standing there with a befuddled look on my face as he fell to his doom.