Sunday, August 24, 2014

5th Edition: W(h)ither Creativity?

While I haven't gotten a chance to play some 5th Edition yet, one aspect of it that bothers me a bit is the the lack of explicit creative thinking instructions that we see in the game. I call this "sheet blinders".

This is something that I've noticed when running 4th edition. Your powers list some very specific things you can do. Much to my shame, when running a one-shot 4e game years ago, a friend of mine was still thinking in older D&D mode (or non-D&D mode?) and asked to push an enemy through a window. My response was something along the lines of: "Use one of the powers on your sheet. Do you have one that pushes?"

I think it's the same thing when I play some games with folk back home and people instinctively reach for the d20 and roll perception before the DM has a chance to describe the situation. The book or your sheet explicitly says its an option, so you better do it. And you don't always think beyond the options listed on your sheet.

While I've ragged on cantrips before, I really feel this in cantrips and some of the cantrip-like powers. Look at druidcraft, prestidigitation, and thaumaturgy. They give you a relatively fixed set of options that you can do, with a bit of leeway in "harmless sensory effects". But the tinker rock gnome has the same problem. They can craft one of three little mechanical devices. Can they instead create small clockwork traps? Can ray of frost freeze things? Can I light a candle with flame bolt? Even 13th Age, which has some options of giving the wizard an array of cantrips that do things based on your spells prepared has them only do harmless effects, but what about useful ones?

Maybe other editions didn't call out as many imaginative possibilities like this either: I'll have to do some comparisons. But I think the designers missed an opportunity when the Dragonborn and Tiefling descriptions (or the uncommon races sidebar) didn't suggest variants: If you don't like the concept of Dragonborn or Tieflings as major races in your game, you could still let players play them as unique characters. Maybe half-dragons or half-fiends could have a place in your story (Inu Yasha style?) as rare or unique individuals when the description of the race as a whole doesn't fit? That's one little side-bar from the 4th edition Dark Sun setting that I think would have been well placed in the new PH.

I hope the new DMG has some of this advice stuck in it, but I suppose I can see listing very specific minor effects as a way of keeping things saner in organized play. I just hate that it might lead someone to say "no, your cantrip can't do that" rather than "yeah, but its not quite powerful enough to do all of that." Which is sad, because last summer with the playtest rules, I loved the creativity of players trying to tip bookcases over on enemies when they went Against the Cult of the Reptile God. All the talk of OSR games and such, that's one of the key elements that I want to get back into D&D. Somehow I didn't feel like that level of creativity was absent in Fading Suns or Vampire or other storytelling/indie games, but maybe the lack of creativity is one of the elements that made 4e feel a bit more like a videogame than a tabletop RPG.

That said, even if the DMG doesn't tackle this, it seems like something that a little foresight and planning can help alleviate: just tell players to think outside the box (and the bullet points in power descriptions).

No comments:

Post a Comment