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Thread: Miss 4e D&D

  1. - Top - End - #91
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    But of course if somebody does something that shortcuts it (either way!) then that takes precedence.
    That's the actual explicit rule, too, incidentally.

    EDIT: It is not a straight-up rule, but is endorsed in the text.
    Last edited by Waddacku; 2024-04-06 at 01:36 PM.

  2. - Top - End - #92
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    Quote Originally Posted by Waddacku View Post
    That's the actual explicit rule, too, incidentally.
    Where is that specified? Neither my copy of the 4e PHB or the 4e Rules Compendium have any guidance about that.

    EDIT: Since I'm questioning this, I should bring receipts. Here's where I'm looking:

    Dungeon Master's Guide
    In the 4e DMG, under Skill Challenges, there's a section called "Reward Clever Ideas". However, it's only about rolling unexpected skill choices:

    Quote Originally Posted by 4e DMG
    In skill challenges, players will come up with uses for skills that you didnít expect to play a role. Try not to say no. Instead, let them make a roll using the skill but at a hard DC, or make the skill good for only one success.
    Even within these fairly narrow rules, it's generally a bad idea for a PC to use a skill outside what the DM expects, because it's likely to have a difficult DC, which is at minimum a +7 bonus to the DC over picking some moderate DC that the DM expected. Beyond that, the game doesn't mention shortcutting a success, or even shortcutting a skill challenge.

    I believe the only place where the players circumvent any part of the SC in the DMG is in the first skill challenge example, a negotiation which gives an automatic failure if you try the Intimidation skill. No automatic successes of any kind seem to be noted.

    Rules Compendium
    In the expanded 4e Rules Compendium there's also a sidebar that's nearly a page long (digression: if it's this long, can you really call it a sidebar?) detailing "ways for the adventurers to gain an advantage of some kind." This also only applies to skill checks, by translating some rolls into different results. The entire list is just four ideas:

    Quote Originally Posted by 4e Rules Compendium
    • A success against a hard DC counts as two successes: a success against both a hard DC and a moderate DC.
    • A success against a hard DC removes a failure that has already been accumulated in the challenge, instead of counting as a success.
    • A success against an easy DC counts as a success against a moderate DC.
    • A success against a moderate DC counts as a success even though the adventurer making the check has already used the same skill to gain a success against a moderate DC.
    Later on, it also mentions that players can suggest skills, but they should be treated as "secondary" (i.e. can only grant one success, or provide some secondary benefit to future rolls). Neither of these sections suggest granting automatic successes or failures, or circumventing the skill challenge.

    In General
    I'd suggest that this actually makes sense in the framework of 4e. A skill challenge is meant to replace a couple monsters when used in a combat, or replace a combat entirely at a high complexity. An automatic success in a 4e skill challenge is like one-shotting a level-appropriate (non-minion) monster in 4e combat: it's so much stronger than any other option, a player would be foolish not to go gunning for that option over and over. Circumventing an entire skill challenge is that magnified a dozenfold. The 4e designers wanted creativity, but only within the bounds of picking a skill and narrating how it gets used.

    There's nothing wrong with circumventing this. If I'm running Cairn of the Winter King and one of the players want to skip that sail-rigging skill challenge by spending telekinetic lift, I'm gonna let 'em. But I don't believe the 4e designers actually want that to be part of their game. They paid some lip service to creativity, but at the end of the day they wanted everything funneled into skill checks.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2024-04-03 at 01:51 PM.
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  3. - Top - End - #93
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    Double-posting, apologies. Trying to keep these separate since they're both pretty long & about different topics.

    Quote Originally Posted by RedMage125 View Post
    It seems a lot of people treated Skill Challenges like they were some sort of "mini game" that interrupted the course of the regular game (like Final Fantasy does), after which the players return to business as usual. I never treated them like that, and so my players never felt like that.
    So by the original 4e DMG, skill challenges are meant to be mini-games that interrupt the regular game. Unless they're explicitly integrated into combat, the normal freeform flow of the game halts while players take turns rolling skills in initiative order. The original rules require you to "Begin by describing the situation and defining the challenge", and even require the DM to frame the encounter alongside what skills will be used for it:

    Quote Originally Posted by 4e DMG
    You canít start a skill challenge until the PCs know their role in it, and that means giving them a couple of skills to start with. It might be as simple as saying, "Youíll use athletics checks to scale the cliffs, but be aware that a failed check might dislodge some rocks on those climbing below you." If the PCs are trying to sneak into the wizardís college, tell the players, "Your magical disguises, the Bluff skill, and knowledge of the academic aspects of magicóarcana, in other wordsó will be key in this challenge."
    So you're definitely not playing as the writers of the original 4e DMG intended. Your method sounds more akin to what the Rules Compendium says, but the Rules Compendium is very vague:

    Quote Originally Posted by 4e Rules Compendium
    The DM either informs the players when the challenge begins or lets it begin quietly, when an adventurer makes a skill check that the DM counts as the first check of the challenge. As the challenge proceeds, the DM might prompt the players to make checks, let them choose when to make checks, or both. The DM might tell the players which skills to use, let them improvise which ones they use or both.
    Of course the Rules Compendium also has a list of mandatory skill challenge features. To use kyoryu's example, a skill challenge of "about five rolls" isn't actually allowed! The minimum number of rolls a party can make in an RC Skill Challenge is six, because a Complexity 1 SC requires 4 successes while allowing up to 3 failures. The RC also mandates a number of "Advantages", strongly pushes for a split between prescribed Moderate and Hard DCs, and has a pre-specified list of primary & secondary skills. If you've ever used a skill challenge that requires 8 successes without using 2 Advantages, you're not really following the RC skill challenge rules. If you run a low-complexity skill challenge but allow 10-ish skills to apply to it, or you don't allow players to repeat primary skills, or you require players to roll, or you don't grant XP, you also aren't really playing an RC skill challenge.

    This is where I think kyoryu's comment is most relevant:

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu
    It's a guideline, not a straitjacket. It's really something I use to make sure that I'm playing fair and giving players a reasonable chance, and keeping things moving in a reasonable way.
    I think 4e skill challenges are the opposite, they're actually a really frustrating straightjacket, whether we're talking about the original DMG rules with players forced into initiative, or the later RC rules with its list of advantages & DC distributions.

    Skill challenges work best when we throw out all the straitjacket parts, while keeping the underlying game system. That leaves us with a solid, flexible resolution method, but it isn't a skill challenge. It's a couple of progress clocks, with "fail forward" consequences for clock failure.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2024-04-03 at 04:56 PM.
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  4. - Top - End - #94
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    It's also about pacing - how long do we want to focus on this problem? Combat provides hit points as a guideline, but non-combat doens't have the equivalent. So if I say "yeah, this should be about 5 rolls" then that's just the amount of focus I want to give it. It means that any action either should progress the situation about 1/5th of the way, or shouldn't be rolled. But of course if somebody does something that shortcuts it (either way!) then that takes precedence. It's a guideline, not a straitjacket. It's really something I use to make sure that I'm playing fair and giving players a reasonable chance, and keeping things moving in a reasonable way.
    Well, of course it is a guideline and not a straitjacket. The issue is that it guides DMs in the direction that they probably shouldn't allow player creativity, but if they allow it in the first place, they should limit or minimize its impact. The DMG offerst the guidance that creative ideas should get a (much) higher difficulty than standard solutions, and that they should only work for a single roll, and that they probably shouldn't count as a full success.

    Yes, all of that is guidance. It also guides DMs into a direction I dislike. In my opinion, good DMs will ignore therse parts of the guidance. Essentially, the DMG guides towards points A, B, and C; and your posts indicate that you take the guidance towards A and ignore the guidance towards B and C. There's nothing wrong with that. It should not surprise you that other DMs may decide to take the guidance towards B and C, and ignore the guidance towards A.

    Conversely, it would help if the DMG provides guidance on when players try to use a power or item in a skill challenge. But it does not; it is completely silent about them. So most DMs I've met are guided into either disallowing powers or items (essentially, you're now in a minigame where you can't do that), or they rule that you can spend your power or item, but you have to make a skill check anyway (and, as noted above, at a higher difficulty). So now the PCs spend limited resources to make things harder for themselves.

    Quote Originally Posted by Just to Browse View Post
    in Slaying Stone there's a skill challenge where you have to convince a dragon to give you a magic item called a slaying stone which is critical to the entire adventure. If you fail, the the adventure just... softlocks? There's no guidance for what happens if you fail to get the slaying stone despite its paramount importance.
    I note also that the latest official rule (RulCom/DMK) is that the plot proceeds the same way regardless of the outcome of the SC; the only consequence for failing is that the PCs lose healing surges or take a penalty the next combat. That was how WotC chose to "revamp" their adventures.

    Again, this is guidance that I don't like; it guides in a direction that whatever the PCs do is not actually relevant to the outcome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beoric View Post
    I think what this boils down to is you need the structure for non-combat encounter in organized play, where you need all the DMs adjudicating in more or less the same way.
    Interestingly, the 4E Organized Play team (who often appear more clueful about the rules than the devs) disagrees. Org Play gave the GM a lot of leeway in changing the adventure to make it more fitting to the PCs and/or more fun - and that includes changing the SC structure. Because also in Org Play, many GMs and players found SCs an unnecessary restriction.
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  5. - Top - End - #95
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurald Galain View Post
    Well, of course it is a guideline and not a straitjacket. The issue is that it guides DMs in the direction that they probably shouldn't allow player creativity, but if they allow it in the first place, they should limit or minimize its impact. The DMG offerst the guidance that creative ideas should get a (much) higher difficulty than standard solutions, and that they should only work for a single roll, and that they probably shouldn't count as a full success.

    Yes, all of that is guidance. It also guides DMs into a direction I dislike. In my opinion, good DMs will ignore therse parts of the guidance. Essentially, the DMG guides towards points A, B, and C; and your posts indicate that you take the guidance towards A and ignore the guidance towards B and C. There's nothing wrong with that. It should not surprise you that other DMs may decide to take the guidance towards B and C, and ignore the guidance towards A.

    Conversely, it would help if the DMG provides guidance on when players try to use a power or item in a skill challenge. But it does not; it is completely silent about them. So most DMs I've met are guided into either disallowing powers or items (essentially, you're now in a minigame where you can't do that), or they rule that you can spend your power or item, but you have to make a skill check anyway (and, as noted above, at a higher difficulty). So now the PCs spend limited resources to make things harder for themselves.
    Like Just to Browse said it's paying lip service to creativity when what they really want is for you to do the skill checks they set in front of you. The rules actively disincentivize creative solutions to such an extent that any DM running SCs as written and being clear about the rules is pretty quickly going to teach their group that doing anything except the stated answer is just trying harder for less results.

    Discouraging creativity in one part of the game, where it's an easy possible solution to the problem and is instead being portrayed by the rules as objectively worse than what may very well be a slower and more difficult method, just leads to feeling like trying that creativity elsewhere is probably going to be similarly punished. Avoiding that is possible but it requires going against what the rules actually want, at which point the only reason to even hold onto the rest is if you really want to make players roll for it.

    I note also that the latest official rule (RulCom/DMK) is that the plot proceeds the same way regardless of the outcome of the SC; the only consequence for failing is that the PCs lose healing surges or take a penalty the next combat. That was how WotC chose to "revamp" their adventures.

    Again, this is guidance that I don't like; it guides in a direction that whatever the PCs do is not actually relevant to the outcome.
    It's the kind of writing I honestly expect out of 4e in general, to a lesser extent 5e and Pathfinder 2e as well. They have a goal in mind that is central to the campaign's story and since it's so important they can't just give it to you. Problem is it really is central to the campaign's story so they can't let you actually fail to get it either, if that happens the entire thing falls apart, so they keep a challenge so you still have to "work for it" but since failure is absolutely not an option the challenge is just to determine if you continue the story as planned or continue the story as planned but with a temporary penalty.

    The obvious answers are to either not write themselves into a corner where a single point of failure can end the whole campaign and give alternate ways of getting the item if the SC fails or admit that they really need you to have it and that the arbitrary SC to see if you do or not was pointless and just have the Dragon realize it's important and give you the thing like they were always going to do for the plot to progress. Issue is the system already has "but our way is the right way" built into how SCs work by RAW, as much as it disincentivizes player creativity it also pushes for the writers to not really spare the introspection on whether an SC is actually needed in the first place because "SCs are there to make the players put in effort for big things so they should be present for any big things that aren't handled with a fight" beats "but this is such a big thing that failure torpedoes the plot and that's so obvious it even makes sense to notice in universe."

  6. - Top - End - #96
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    Quote Originally Posted by MonochromeTiger View Post
    It's the kind of writing I honestly expect out of 4e in general, to a lesser extent 5e and Pathfinder 2e as well. They have a goal in mind that is central to the campaign's story and since it's so important they can't just give it to you. Problem is it really is central to the campaign's story so they can't let you actually fail to get it either, if that happens the entire thing falls apart, so they keep a challenge so you still have to "work for it" but since failure is absolutely not an option the challenge is just to determine if you continue the story as planned or continue the story as planned but with a temporary penalty.
    I am 95% sure that one of the big drives for 4e was a push towards M:tG style Organized Play. And i think that's where a lot of the codification of things really drove from, and the hyper-mechanistic description of abilities. It's really trying to apply M:tG lessons to D&D (which, surprise, i think is a terrible idea).

    So for OP, you need to control the experience. That means that you can't let GMs really improvise too much, since different GMs will improvise in different ways.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    And when I talked about having a set number of rolls... the point isn't that I "need" them. I've been running these silly games for forty years. But it can be nice, especially for newer GMs, to have some guidelines to prevent falling into one of the common probability traps that people do fall into - the most common being "roll until you succeed" and "roll until you fail".
    Ok, but a mechanic that only works property by either relying on DM skill and experience and experience to force it to work, or relying on DM skill and experience to houserule it, fails both as a mechanic and as a teaching tool.

    I mean, it sure seems like the people who don't use skill challenges, and the people who say they are using them successfully by tweaking or ignoring bits, are essentially doing the same thing. I'm seeing no daylight between "I'm not using skill challenges, I just prep situations" and "I'm sorta kinda using skill challenges except when they stop making sense in the situation."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beoric View Post
    Ok, but a mechanic that only works property by either relying on DM skill and experience and experience to force it to work, or relying on DM skill and experience to houserule it, fails both as a mechanic and as a teaching tool.

    I mean, it sure seems like the people who don't use skill challenges, and the people who say they are using them successfully by tweaking or ignoring bits, are essentially doing the same thing. I'm seeing no daylight between "I'm not using skill challenges, I just prep situations" and "I'm sorta kinda using skill challenges except when they stop making sense in the situation."
    To an extent, though, this is how folks do combat... you use the combat rules, but you also recognize when something needs to pre-empt the mechanics as written. If the wizard Disintegrates the dragon, then it's 5d10+Intelligence damage, ongoing 10. What if they Disintegrate the keystone of the ceiling? The building collapsing is going to take things out of combat and into another kind of challenge entirely.

    A skill challenge works well with stages and contributions building towards a whole, and I would bet that where many DMs run into trouble is breaking up a challenge into describable steps, where your History check and his Thievery check both contribute in intelligible ways... but so does Athletics or Perception.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beoric View Post
    Ok, but a mechanic that only works property by either relying on DM skill and experience and experience to force it to work, or relying on DM skill and experience to houserule it, fails both as a mechanic and as a teaching tool.

    I mean, it sure seems like the people who don't use skill challenges, and the people who say they are using them successfully by tweaking or ignoring bits, are essentially doing the same thing. I'm seeing no daylight between "I'm not using skill challenges, I just prep situations" and "I'm sorta kinda using skill challenges except when they stop making sense in the situation."
    That's not what I'm saying.

    What I'm saying is:

    1) as a GM that's played these silly games for decades, the general idea of SCs is pretty close to what I've built to as best practices.
    2) scaffolding like this is a useful tool to help people figure out how to run non-combat challenges without having to go through decades of experience.

    I'm not saying that "they work because I have decades of experience".
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    Quote Originally Posted by LibraryOgre View Post
    To an extent, though, this is how folks do combat... you use the combat rules, but you also recognize when something needs to pre-empt the mechanics as written. If the wizard Disintegrates the dragon, then it's 5d10+Intelligence damage, ongoing 10. What if they Disintegrate the keystone of the ceiling? The building collapsing is going to take things out of combat and into another kind of challenge entirely.
    I'm not sure I agree with this. In a game like 3e and 5e, disintgrate will tell you exactly how much material is disintegrated by the spell, and 3e will even tell you how much damage broken pieces of ceiling deal if/when they begin to crumble. In both editions, the expectation is that you can still run everything with the same resolution system. 4e is the only edition here where the game gets segmented out into its various buckets of Combat, Skill Challenge, & Everything Else.

    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    2) scaffolding like this is a useful tool to help people figure out how to run non-combat challenges without having to go through decades of experience.
    If the scaffolding is what's valuable (and it sounds like it is, since the useful stuff here seems to ignore the SC's straightjacket rules, like Advantages, mandatory initiative, etc), then I'm not sure it's useful to call these Skill Challenges anymore. Personally, I'd rather have new DMs learn the scaffolding from a game that doesn't include all that extra baggage, like Blades in the Dark or Fate.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2024-04-05 at 05:33 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    That's not what I'm saying.

    What I'm saying is:

    1) as a GM that's played these silly games for decades, the general idea of SCs is pretty close to what I've built to as best practices.
    2) scaffolding like this is a useful tool to help people figure out how to run non-combat challenges without having to go through decades of experience.

    I'm not saying that "they work because I have decades of experience".
    Ah, but I was not commenting on what you do. I was commenting on your assertion that the mechanic can be good for other people to learn from.

    As near as I can tell, nobody here who says they use skill challenges is describing their use of skill challenges as by the book. Everyone who uses them has made a tweak. Most of those tweaks look very similar, and are much more flexible than the guidelines in the rulebooks suggest.

    As far as I am concerned, if the mechanic and guidelines are almost universally houseruled, then the mechanics and guideline are a failure. And pretty much everyone involved in this conversation has a better idea of how to adjudicate these situations than what was created as the skill challenge mechanic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurald Galain View Post
    Interestingly, the 4E Organized Play team (who often appear more clueful about the rules than the devs) disagrees. Org Play gave the GM a lot of leeway in changing the adventure to make it more fitting to the PCs and/or more fun - and that includes changing the SC structure. Because also in Org Play, many GMs and players found SCs an unnecessary restriction.
    I would have said, "Tellingly, 4E Organized Play team (who often appear more clueful about the rules than the devs) disagrees."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Just to Browse View Post
    Where is that specified? Neither my copy of the 4e PHB or the 4e Rules Compendium have any guidance about that.
    It took me a while to find it again, but I think the bit I was thinking about is in DMG2, p. 82: "Is there a chance that a really good idea could completely trump your skill challenge? Don't fret! That's a good thing."
    There's more relevant context around, and to be fair it doesn't specifically call out ending it early, but...

    In general I'd recommend anyone interested in the ongoing discussion here to read the DMG2 on skill challenges. The initiative thing is gone already by then, of course, because it's stupid and no one likes it, but besides the touch-ups to the rules it also has a ton more discussion and advice than DMG1 offers, and I would argue it makes it clear that the straitjacket interpretation of the rules is not intended, but that it's a structure for the DM to embellish as they see fit.
    Power and ritual use is also furthered strengthened on p. 86. DMG1 mentions utility power and rituals enabling alternative skill uses and granting bonuses, but also rituals in particular granting an automatic successes or removing failures (DMG1 p. 74). DMG2 goes so far as saying relevant ritual or daily power usage deserves at least 1 automatic success. It also introduces the rule of thumb to treat non-skill use (powers, resource expenditures, for instance) as secondary skills in terms of benefits gained from them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Waddacku View Post
    It took me a while to find it again, but I think the bit I was thinking about is in DMG2, p. 82: "Is there a chance that a really good idea could completely trump your skill challenge? Don't fret! That's a good thing."
    There's more relevant context around, and to be fair it doesn't specifically call out ending it early, but...

    In general I'd recommend anyone interested in the ongoing discussion here to read the DMG2 on skill challenges. The initiative thing is gone already by then, of course, because it's stupid and no one likes it, but besides the touch-ups to the rules it also has a ton more discussion and advice than DMG1 offers, and I would argue it makes it clear that the straitjacket interpretation of the rules is not intended, but that it's a structure for the DM to embellish as they see fit.
    Power and ritual use is also furthered strengthened on p. 86. DMG1 mentions utility power and rituals enabling alternative skill uses and granting bonuses, but also rituals in particular granting an automatic successes or removing failures (DMG1 p. 74). DMG2 goes so far as saying relevant ritual or daily power usage deserves at least 1 automatic success. It also introduces the rule of thumb to treat non-skill use (powers, resource expenditures, for instance) as secondary skills in terms of benefits gained from them.
    To argue a slightly different point, DMG1 came out June 6th 2008. DMG2 came out September 19th 2009 one year and three months later. Wizards of the Coast was already no stranger to the idea of errata, one year was plenty of time to clarify things if the straightjacket approach wasn't intended, but on the contrary if it was and if there was enough pushback against it (like you acknowledge for the initiative part already) a new DMG trying to make the new products sell better is a great opportunity to say "haha no that was just people reading it wrong promise" especially when all it really costs is a few lines of text on something people will buy. It doesn't admit any fault, it doesn't look like backing down, and it's getting released in a full product so people have to pay to even get it.

    If it was their intent and just miscommunicated that badly in the original then that's pretty much half the point of errata. It's there to fix things that are broken or to clarify things that were unclear, a complete 180 in how to approach creative player solutions is absolutely the kind of thing you'd want to immediately get some errata on then follow up with reinforcing the correction later instead of letting it sit for a year. Trying to drop something that isn't well received on the other hand is the kind of admission of fault that most people would be hesitant to draw attention to, much less release an outright "we were wrong or we said this wrong" via errata when it's much easier to just change later and rely on the fact that people tend to just buy the newest version of something anyway so DMs and players coming in might end up never even seeing the original take on it.

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    I'm not going to dig through every round of errata to see when when exactly it was changed, but it does remove the initiative order, requirement to take action, and limit to how often a PC can use a secondary skill from the DMG skill challenge rules.
    I don't understand what point you're making, though. I think the DMG shows the same fundamental intention as the DMG2, but if anything actual use showed they needed the emphasize creative freedom more and encourage DMs to be less restrictive in their rulings. The DMG tells the DM to be careful about is that actions should make sense in the in-game situation, and lean toward allowing things. It doesn't actually matter to me if they really changed directions or miscommunicated a vision.

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    To get a little more context, here is the relevant quote bit from the DMG 1:
    Quote Originally Posted by 4e DMG
    Itís also a good idea to think about other options the characters might exercise and how these might influence the course of the challenge. Characters might have access to utility powers or rituals that can help them. These might allow special uses of skills, perhaps with a bonus. rituals in particular might grant an automatic success or remove failures from the running total.
    That's it, three offhand sentences, and no attempts to integrate this despite the several pages dedicated to examples later on. That's why I call it lip service.

    Quote Originally Posted by Waddacku View Post
    In general I'd recommend anyone interested in the ongoing discussion here to read the DMG2 on skill challenges. The initiative thing is gone already by then, of course, because it's stupid and no one likes it, but besides the touch-ups to the rules it also has a ton more discussion and advice than DMG1 offers, and I would argue it makes it clear that the straitjacket interpretation of the rules is not intended, but that it's a structure for the DM to embellish as they see fit.
    Before I launch into another essay, I just wanted to say I agree with your second comment here -- I don't particularly care if 4e took a year (or two or three) to get SCs right. If they eventually did make a flexible, useful game structure, the designers deserve credit. That said, I disagree with the idea that the DMG2 rules are good representative of 4e SCs.

    First, the DMG2 is not the first word on skill challenges (that's the DMG1, with fixed initiative, forced action, lip service to rituals), nor is it the final word on skill challenges (that's the Dungeon Master's Book and the RC, with mandatory Advantages and nothing on utilities, rituals, circumvention). It's hard to say that the DMG2 rules are the true intended experience, because the designers chose to take this flexibility out of the system when given the chance to revise SCs again. As far any of us can tell, they may have considered automatic ritual successes just as much of a mistake as SC initiative.

    Beyond that, the DMG2 applied a few of its own straightjacket requirements, arguably some of the most difficult straightjackets of all. In the DMG2, the designers realized SCs were pretty boring, so in the DMG2 guidance they ended up adding a ton of extra work for the DM:

    Restriction 1
    Quote Originally Posted by 4e DMG2
    Each skill check in a challenge should accomplish one of the following goals:
    • Introduce a new option that the PCs can pursue, a path to success they didn't know existed.
    • Change the situation, such as by sending the PCs a new location, introducing a new NPC, or adding a complication.
    • Grant the players a tangible consequence for the check's success or failure (as appropriate), one that influences their subsequent decisions.
    This actually inserts a dramatically larger amount of effort into designing SCs. No longer should a DM assume that the game will take "about 5 skill checks" like kyoryu does, where we roll and the DM does a quick narration, then we roll again. Instead, every skill check must change the context of the scenario in some significant way, even if one of the PCs is choosing to just use Nature three times in a row.

    Restriction 2
    Quote Originally Posted by 4e DMG2
    The characters should always be the active party in a skill challenge. [...] It's best illustrated with an example.

    The characters need to escape from a group of pursuers. It's easy to default to have the PCs making Endurance or Athletics checks to see if they can stay ahead of the chase, but that situation pushes them into a passive role. The guards are the active party: They chase the PCs, and the PCs make checks to avoid capture.

    In this example, you might allow PCs to make checks to outrun the guards, but that should be one option among many. Even then, it's best to flavor that option with a sense that the PCs are the ones creating obstacles that the guards can 't overcome. An Athletics check doesn't mean the PC is simply running really fast. Instead, it represents a character dodging through a crowded street with ease while the guards struggle to push through.

    Placing characters in the active role has an important effect on your design, your presentation, and the players' engagement. It forces the players to step up and make plans rather than sit back and react to your NPCs. It also compels you to create multiple paths and options. When the PCs are the passive group in a challenge, it's too easy to allow logic to dictate that one repeated skill check is the best way to plow through the challenge.
    DMG2 SC rules require actually tossing out large swaths of what I consider common skill uses, because it leads to "logic [which] dictate[s] that one repeated skill check is the best", i.e. the DM should obfuscate the mechanics of the skill challenge to prevents players from flogging a single skill over and over when it would be mathematically optimal. Note that the result from the players side is mechanically the same (they roll Athletics), but the DM has to do extra work (they must define what Athletics is in an active way, or they shouldn't include the skill in the SC).

    Restriction 3
    The DMG2 also adds a bunch of structures on top of existing SCs to specifically handle certain scenarios. For example, if characters can "succeed in one of two ways", you are supposed to use a Branching Skill Challenge, which requires tracking two separate exclusive goals. For example, say you're in a diplomatic negotiation. If you praise a politician, bribe someone, write a moving speech, etc, you must pick one of the branching success conditions and apply your success to that (or the DM must do it for you). When one of the goals is met, the other goal is ignored, no matter how many successes were earned on it. If that seems totally ridiculous, consider that "diplomatic negotiation" is the first idea they bring up for a Branching Skill Challenge.

    But the Examples Tho...
    Now weirdly, the DMG2 examples ignore a lot of the straightjackets (and sometimes ignore the rules entirely). Here are a few examples:
    • The Rushing River example has a bunch of passive checks like "see the boat ahead" and "stay alert".
    • Chasing the Bandits has skills where the PCs "[concentrate] on running as fast as possible" or "move more slowly" but explicitly prevents the PCs from separating from each other, removing any tangible consequences (aside from "guess incorrectly that this is a Branching Skill Challenge and waste your skill checks")
    • Moving Through Suderham throws away the core pacing mechanic of tracking successes (in fact it does basically nothing with successes). It just requires PCs to make checks based on whatever their goals are, with escalating penalties for failures. You might wonder why this is considered a Skill Challenge when it eschews the most fundamental element of Skill Challenges, and... the book doesn't really answer that question.


    I think if we ignore the actual skill challenge advice in the DMG1, DMG2, DMB, and RC, and base our understanding of 4e SCs purely off the DMG2's example section, it sort of implies a combination of two flexible design tools: progress clocks and level-to-DC tables. And I'll agree that this is a good combination of things. The 4e DMG2 skill challenges, despite many of them being pretty boring, can be used to infer some useful gameplay systems.

    But what I don't get is why this "makes it clear" what the designers were thinking. It requries (1) assuming the 4e SC rules were canonically correct in 2009, despite being overwritten within the year, and (2) ignoring the rules themselves, which at times contradicted the contents of the examples. I'll gladly praise Moving Through Suderham for being cool, but I don't think it represents Real(tm) SCs. I'd argue it showcases the weakness of SCs, because the designers had to perform a massive surgery on their core non-combat tool (getting rid of complexity, success-tracking, and XP rewards!) to create a compelling gameplay structure.

    Bringing it Full Circle
    I've harped on this point a couple times, but I think it bears repeating: there are already gameplay structures that deserve more credit for these innovations. Fate 2e had an actual, flexible gameplay structures in its Static and Dynamic Challenges back in 2003, when WotC was still working on D&D 3e books. BitD distilled the success and failure tracking systems into the far more flexible Progress Clock system 6-7 years ago. Whether you want to credit the progenitor of this idea or the game that did it best, 4e isn't on the list either way, and its legacy is sullied by the 3-4 functional variations on the system which ranged from literally unusable to frustratingly narrow by-the-book.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2024-04-08 at 12:40 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Just to Browse View Post
    First, the DMG2 is not the first word on skill challenges (that's the DMG1, with fixed initiative, forced action, lip service to rituals), nor is it the final word on skill challenges (that's the Dungeon Master's Book and the RC, with mandatory Advantages and nothing on utilities, rituals, circumvention). It's hard to say that the DMG2 rules are the true intended experience, because the designers chose to take this flexibility out of the system when given the chance to revise SCs again. As far any of us can tell, they may have considered automatic ritual successes just as much of a mistake as SC initiative.
    DMG1 skill challenges no longer feature those things, as per errata. It also bears some consideration that DMG2 isn't a replacement for DMG1, but an expansion with further advice. DMB and RC on the other hand are new basic rulebooks for the Essentials line, and the SC sections are quite procedural. The advantages look like a good way of making a player's options more mechanically distinct and interesting, I don't really like that the norm for failure seems to have changed to "success at a cost" rather than a switch in directions (obviously the sensible thing is that either is possible depending on context), but with the way the Essentials line basically always strove to make everything as boring as possible I'm not surprised that they cook it down to choo-choo tracks. Also there aren't rituals in Essentials.
    But to respond to the main point: there's nothing that makes DMG2 advice inapplicable to later SC rules.

    Beyond that, the DMG2 applied a few of its own straightjacket requirements, arguably some of the most difficult straightjackets of all. In the DMG2, the designers realized SCs were pretty boring, so in the DMG2 guidance they ended up adding a ton of extra work for the DM:

    Restriction 1


    This actually inserts a dramatically larger amount of effort into designing SCs. No longer should a DM assume that the game will take "about 5 skill checks" like kyoryu does, where we roll and the DM does a quick narration, then we roll again. Instead, every skill check must change the context of the scenario in some significant way, even if one of the PCs is choosing to just use Nature three times in a row.
    This is just saying every roll should be for actually doing something, though. Some of that might be preplanned, but equally it also just points back to the need for actions to be described in meaningful terms in-game. Especially the third one ("Grant the players a tangible consequence for the checkís success or failure (as appropriate), one that influences their subsequent decisions.") is basically a catchall saying actions should have consequences. To "just use Nature three times" doesn't make sense because you have not specified how or why you're using Nature.

    Restriction 2


    DMG2 SC rules require actually tossing out large swaths of what I consider common skill uses, because it leads to "logic [which] dictate[s] that one repeated skill check is the best", i.e. the DM should obfuscate the mechanics of the skill challenge to prevents players from flogging a single skill over and over when it would be mathematically optimal. Note that the result from the players side is mechanically the same (they roll Athletics), but the DM has to do extra work (they must define what Athletics is in an active way, or they shouldn't include the skill in the SC).
    Your interpretation here is just strange, casting the entire text into some kind of adversarial vibe where the DM is trying to trick players into playing badly. It's just saying that framing the situation in a way where the PCs are proactive is more engaging and less likely to be repetitive than one where they're passive.
    And yes, of course you should have an idea what the skills you're including at the design stage could actually be used for, that's just how it works. Likewise, it's not on the DM to say what the Athletics check means, the player should not be rolling if it's not clear what they're trying to do with that roll.

    Restriction 3
    The DMG2 also adds a bunch of structures on top of existing SCs to specifically handle certain scenarios. For example, if characters can "succeed in one of two ways", you are supposed to use a Branching Skill Challenge, which requires tracking two separate exclusive goals. For example, say you're in a diplomatic negotiation. If you praise a politician, bribe someone, write a moving speech, etc, you must pick one of the branching success conditions and apply your success to that (or the DM must do it for you). When one of the goals is met, the other goal is ignored, no matter how many successes were earned on it. If that seems totally ridiculous, consider that "diplomatic negotiation" is the first idea they bring up for a Branching Skill Challenge.
    Okay, so first things first: it doesn't say anywhere you're supposed to do anything. It says you can use a branching challenge for a scenario with a multiple possible successful outcomes, and in such a one you simply track successes per outcome and whichever one happens first happens.
    You would be choosing which side your success will be applied to when you choose what you're doing. None of your example actions make sense without a goal for your PC to succeed or fail at. Which politician are you hyping up? Who are you bribing to do what? What is your speech arguing for?
    As for ignoring the other goal, I'll point to the Stages of Success section, as well as that the rolls for losing outcomes are still rolls that happened, and whatever was accomplished by those are still things that were accomplished. In this case the example specifically mentions either party's success is mutually exclusive with the other. That could be e.g. a dispute over which side a piece of land belongs to.

    But the Examples Tho...
    I can't read over these now, I'll try to take a look at them later in case there are any specific details worth discussing.

    I think if we ignore the actual skill challenge advice in the DMG1, DMG2, DMB, and RC, and base our understanding of 4e SCs purely off the DMG2's example section, it sort of implies a combination of two flexible design tools: progress clocks and level-to-DC tables. And I'll agree that this is a good combination of things. The 4e DMG2 skill challenges, despite many of them being pretty boring, can be used to infer some useful gameplay systems.

    But what I don't get is why this "makes it clear" what the designers were thinking. It requries (1) assuming the 4e SC rules were canonically correct in 2009, despite being overwritten within the year, and (2) ignoring the rules themselves, which at times contradicted the contents of the examples. I'll gladly praise Moving Through Suderham for being cool, but I don't think it represents Real(tm) SCs. I'd argue it showcases the weakness of SCs, because the designers had to perform a massive surgery on their core non-combat tool (getting rid of complexity, success-tracking, and XP rewards!) to create a compelling gameplay structure.
    I think it makes it clear because they keep telling the DM to be flexible, consider various ways of structuring their SC, cautions to ensure that rolls are meaningful and sensical, that consequences are meaningful and sensical, and then provide a bunch of examples that play with those structures in various ways. You claim they're breaking the rules, I claim they show SCs are meant to be extremely customizable, which aligns with my reading of the preceding sections.

    Bringing it Full Circle
    I've harped on this point a couple times, but I think it bears repeating: there are already gameplay structures that deserve more credit for these innovations. Fate 2e had an actual, flexible gameplay structures in its Static and Dynamic Challenges back in 2003, when WotC was still working on D&D 3e books. BitD distilled the success and failure tracking systems into the far more flexible Progress Clock system 6-7 years ago. Whether you want to credit the progenitor of this idea or the game that did it best, 4e isn't on the list either way, and its legacy is sullied by the 3-4 functional variations on the system which ranged from literally unusable to frustratingly narrow by-the-book.
    I assume anyone who thought 4e's were the first or particularly exceptional simply wasn't very familiar with games outside of D&D. I just think it's a flexible tool that has gotten an undeserved bad rap, and I want to spread my understanding of the game and the spirit of the rules.

  17. - Top - End - #107
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    Quote Originally Posted by Waddacku View Post
    DMG1 skill challenges no longer feature those things, as per errata.
    I just think it's a flexible tool that has gotten an undeserved bad rap,
    I'm just noting these two things you say here. SCs got a bad rap after DMG1, and there was errata. This means that regardless of what you personally think about that rap, WOTC thought that it was deserved, and tried to fix it with errata.

    And they tried to fix it again with the DMG2 (noting that PHB2/DMG2 attempt to fix several other things that 4E was criticized for) and they tried to fix it a fourth time with the RulCom/DMK. That suggests that the errata didn't make the bad rap go away, so they tried again. And again. The downside of this approach is that (1) people who only read the first books (which is usually a big majority) are stuck with the version that WOTC knows is flawed; and (2) to people who do read all the books, having multiple sets of errata looks very sloppy.

    So this boils down to insufficient playtesting (of this part of the game) before the first publication.

    It's clear from the PHB1/DMG1 that they put a lot of effort in creating engaging, tactical, and balanced combat; and they've largely succeeded at that. Unfortunately, everything in these books that's not about combat reads as if it's hastily thrown together as an afterthought. That includes SCs, rituals, and a few other sections. WOTC would have gotten much less criticism and controversy if they'd have put a little more effort in those parts rather than try and fix it several times later.
    Last edited by Kurald Galain; 2024-04-08 at 06:03 AM.
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  18. - Top - End - #108
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    Quote Originally Posted by Just to Browse View Post

    Restriction 2
    Originally Posted by 4e DMG2
    The characters should always be the active party in a skill challenge. [...] It's best illustrated with an example.

    The characters need to escape from a group of pursuers. It's easy to default to have the PCs making Endurance or Athletics checks to see if they can stay ahead of the chase, but that situation pushes them into a passive role. The guards are the active party: They chase the PCs, and the PCs make checks to avoid capture.

    In this example, you might allow PCs to make checks to outrun the guards, but that should be one option among many. Even then, it's best to flavor that option with a sense that the PCs are the ones creating obstacles that the guards can 't overcome. An Athletics check doesn't mean the PC is simply running really fast. Instead, it represents a character dodging through a crowded street with ease while the guards struggle to push through.

    Placing characters in the active role has an important effect on your design, your presentation, and the players' engagement. It forces the players to step up and make plans rather than sit back and react to your NPCs. It also compels you to create multiple paths and options. When the PCs are the passive group in a challenge, it's too easy to allow logic to dictate that one repeated skill check is the best way to plow through the challenge.
    This language reminds me of another issue I have with the way SCs are portrayed. The implication isn't that the players are choosing an approach to the situation ("I run as fast as I can to keep ahead"), and letting the DM decide what skill matches the player's approach (depending on the situation, keeping ahead could require Athletics or Endurance). "[Y]ou might allow PCs to make checks to outrun the guards" implies that the players are choosing the skill, and framing it that way IMO makes players think about skills, not approaches, let alone unorthodox or creative approaches.

  19. - Top - End - #109
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    RE: Miscellany
    Quote Originally Posted by Waddacku View Post
    DMG1 skill challenges no longer feature those things, as per errata. It also bears some consideration that DMG2 isn't a replacement for DMG1, but an expansion with further advice. DMB and RC on the other hand are new basic rulebooks for the Essentials line, and the SC sections are quite procedural. The advantages look like a good way of making a player's options more mechanically distinct and interesting, I don't really like that the norm for failure seems to have changed to "success at a cost" rather than a switch in directions (obviously the sensible thing is that either is possible depending on context), but with the way the Essentials line basically always strove to make everything as boring as possible I'm not surprised that they cook it down to choo-choo tracks. Also there aren't rituals in Essentials.
    Just wanted to add my own opinions here:
    • Yeah, they put out a massive functional errata (iirc) Aug 2008 and put the basics in the DMG2 alongside the DMG2's straightjacket stuff. But if a person opens up a copy of their DMG1, they're going to see initiative & mandatory participation on top of the usual lip service to rituals & general inflexibility. IMO if we need to caveat our praise of DMG1 SCs with "just read the rules alongside the functional errata that significantly changes those rules (but not version 1, errata version 3)"... we should just throw the thing out instead and go back to praising Progress Clocks.
    • Gonna disagree that the Rules Compendium tried to make the game boring. I think they just dropped the DMG2 rules because players complained (IMO, rightly so, the replacement also just kinda sucked).
    • Worth noting my experience with RC Advantages is that they make for a boring guessing game. But you are right, neither here nor there.


    RE: Hacking DMG2 into RC
    But to respond to the main point: there's nothing that makes DMG2 advice inapplicable to later SC rules.
    This doesn't particularly matter. You can hack DMG2 rules into Advantages or the DMG1 rules if you want, but the RC is intended as a replacement for the DMG2 rules just the same as the DMG2 is intended as a replacement for the DMG1.

    RE: What Does Rule 4a Mean?
    This is just saying every roll should be for actually doing something, though. Some of that might be preplanned, but equally it also just points back to the need for actions to be described in meaningful terms in-game. Especially the third one ("Grant the players a tangible consequence for the checkís success or failure (as appropriate), one that influences their subsequent decisions.") is basically a catchall saying actions should have consequences. To "just use Nature three times" doesn't make sense because you have not specified how or why you're using Nature.
    Yes, every skill check should have consequences that change the context of the scenario in some significant way. The section later makes comparisons to combat, telling you that the consequences should be on par with positioning, targeting, and enemy death, three massively consequential elements of 4e combat. The DMG2 expects that each roll in each SC creates changes of similar scope.

    And sure, let's errata my comment from "just use Nature three times" with "just use Nature three times with slight variations in description each time". The point doesn't fundamentally change.

    RE: What Does Rule 4b Mean?
    Your interpretation here is just strange, casting the entire text into some kind of adversarial vibe where the DM is trying to trick players into playing badly. It's just saying that framing the situation in a way where the PCs are proactive is more engaging and less likely to be repetitive than one where they're passive.

    And yes, of course you should have an idea what the skills you're including at the design stage could actually be used for, that's just how it works. Likewise, it's not on the DM to say what the Athletics check means, the player should not be rolling if it's not clear what they're trying to do with that roll.
    You're misreading my comment. This isn't adversarial or about tricking players, it's about the DM writing SCs that the designers don't think are boring. Unfortunately this rule doesn't just require DMs to "have an idea"; in fact the section is explicitly pushing back on that. Just "an idea" is no longer good enough! The idea must always make the characters the active party in the SC, and the DM is ultimately responsible for ensuring those ideas & skill checks line up. The section references the DM "implementing" the flavor for skill checks here, then tells the DM to "set up the [example] skill challenge" this way, then tells the DM it's their job to "flavor [the] option", then tells them to "[place] characters in the active role". This is DM advice in the DMG! It ain't telling the players squat!

    RE: The Rules for Branching Skill Challenges
    Okay, so first things first: it doesn't say anywhere you're supposed to do anything. It says you can use a branching challenge for a scenario with a multiple possible successful outcomes, and in such a one you simply track successes per outcome and whichever one happens first happens.

    You would be choosing which side your success will be applied to when you choose what you're doing. None of your example actions make sense without a goal for your PC to succeed or fail at. Which politician are you hyping up? Who are you bribing to do what? What is your speech arguing for?

    As for ignoring the other goal, I'll point to the Stages of Success section, as well as that the rolls for losing outcomes are still rolls that happened, and whatever was accomplished by those are still things that were accomplished. In this case the example specifically mentions either party's success is mutually exclusive with the other. That could be e.g. a dispute over which side a piece of land belongs to.
    Spoiler: A digression on what is "required"
    Show
    This section uses "you can" instead of "it's best" (the way they do a couple paragraphs later) or "an effective way" and "give some thought" (from earlier). These snippets are all roughly the same thing: a variation on "this idea is a good idea and you should do it because it is a good idea", which has to be shaken up so the text reads naturally.

    I guess if we want to analyze this like it's the Talmud, this is very technically not required, but at that point nothing in this entire section seems to be required because the designers drop "might" and "guideline" and "general rule" everywhere they go. The only hard rule is apparently the number of mandatory successes and XP, which I suppose makes it funnier that the designers threw those out in Moving Through Suderham.

    The thing about branching paths is that you should not always choose where you success goes. All of those actions are intentionally open because they can be applied to the goal of (1) moving diplomatic negotiation towards a specific side, or the goal of (2) moving diplomatic negotiation to a middle-ground where neither side wins. The bribe can be used for both! The speech can be used for both! And yet once we're in a Branching Challenge, neither bribe nor speech should be used this way!

    It's very frustrating to be instructed to use a game structure that supports potentially-divergent outcomes, only for that divergence to be mandatory by the rules. You can try to patch that with other SC structures like partial successes, but "The target that is reached first determines the outcome of the challenge" is pretty darn unambiguous about the designers' intended ends for Branching Challenge. (also, the designers also definitely don't talk about a land dispute; if we're gonna analyze the text closely with all its "cans" and whatnot, let's avoid assuming examples that are not present in the text.)

    RE: Obligatory repetition of our central theses I suppose
    I think it makes it clear because they keep telling the DM to be flexible, consider various ways of structuring their SC, cautions to ensure that rolls are meaningful and sensical, that consequences are meaningful and sensical, and then provide a bunch of examples that play with those structures in various ways. You claim they're breaking the rules, I claim they show SCs are meant to be extremely customizable, which aligns with my reading of the preceding sections.
    I'm not sure how you can see that. The DMG2 SC rules have these weirdly strict instructions about consequences that defy sense, awkward game structures on top of the basics that push back on reasonable consequences, and "customization" that requires throwing out one of the core mechanics of SCs just to function. Any system can be considered customizable if customization involves throwing out the core of a system and replacing it with new rules: I hack game structures into 5e's anemic rules all the time, but I'm not giving the game credit for its weak rules, I'm giving me credit for googling "progress clocks blades in the dark" and implementing the darn thing myself.

    I assume anyone who thought 4e's were the first or particularly exceptional simply wasn't very familiar with games outside of D&D. I just think it's a flexible tool that has gotten an undeserved bad rap, and I want to spread my understanding of the game and the spirit of the rules.
    I'm glad they work for you, but hopefully you can see why I and so many other folks think the opposite. 4e's various iterations of SCs (including the final word in the RC!) have frustrating straitjackets that make it difficult for me and other GMs to run the flexible games we want to run. The SC structure was errata'd and reinvented and reinvented again because it was a weak, inflexible system that both players and GMs disliked. The pieces it was built on top of (Progress Clocks and Level Benchmarking) are both fantastic flexible tools without all that baggage, and they deserve way more credit than they get.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2024-04-11 at 12:13 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garfunion View Post
    I miss this version of D&D. Iím really hoping that with what is going on with the franchise that they would come back to this version of the game, make some tweaks to it and rebrand it as Dungeons and Dragons Tactics. Because what Iím seeing on these forms are people actually do want 4e they just donít want it to look like 4e.

    The best possible thing you can do to keep 4e alive is to offer to DM it.

    Also remind people that all editions have equal value but the company needed to sell new rules books . 3rd Edition is not worse nor is 5th Edition an improvement .

    A guy who laminated my paper maps said the local university had a 4th edition club .
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