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D&D: No, you shut up [Feb. 11th, 2010|12:35 pm]
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One problem I noticed a few days ago when mulling over character ideas for a friend's D&D 4e game is that if I want to be able to talk to people, I need to play a Charisma-based character. Because if I don't, I'm basically hurting the party every time I open my mouth. Notice one thing about Charisma-based classes? They barely have anything to do -except- talking -- and have a bunch of nearly redundant social skills, all based on Charisma. Intimdate, Bluff, Diplomacy -- all three basically do the same thing; get an NPC to do what I say. And all of them are based around charisma.

Sure, charisma is the social stat (except that it now does other things, like increase your Will defense and such). But that said, I do think this is a design flaw, and a case of some of the design lagging behind the concepts involved.

One of the big advantages to 4e overall is that it avoids marginalizing characters.

Everyone gets to fight. Unlike 3e, where Str and Dex were the fighting stats, in 4e, they may be the -default- fighting stats, but between classes with melee attacks based on every single one of the 6 attributes and the excellent feat Melee Training, everyone gets to play.

And, of course, skill challenges are conceptualized such that everyone gets to participate if they want.

Even in microcosm, there are some nice bits of pseudo-redundancy here. The mobility/stunt skills are Athletics (Str) and Acrobatics (Dex), so anyone with either stat can have a way to move around in non-obvious ways, even if the particulars are different.

However, in social situations, we're back to single-stat land again, unfortunately. Which is a big shame, given that what this means is that when you're in a social situation, the mechanics are telling you (if you're not playing a high-charisma character) to shut up and let the people with social skills talk--which in those situations is every much as bad as telling the 1e thief that this is a monster, not a trap, so he should sit back and let the fighter handle it, or to have everyone sit on their heels and let the rogue and druid explore the dungeon for a couple of hours. Yes, you can construct skill challenges that allow options other than talking -- and, of course, clever players can work Int-based knowledge skills into a conversation and try to substitute Arcana or History for Diplomacy or Bluff. But when you get down to it, players being left out of the conversation is still a very big deal--moreso when effectiveness in combat often means -not- putting any points into Charisma if it doesn't do anything for your build.

Moreover, having all three different (3, in fact) social skills under Charisma involves huge amount of redundancy. Clearly, the best of the skills for social situations is Diplomacy. It's nearly always applicable, and extremely flexible in approach. Bluff is a good complement -- and of course has some good combat applications. Finally, Intimidate is the social skill you don't want to have to use -- it's got several interesting (if usually to be avoided) combat applications, and has an entire set of fighitng abilities that require it, but both by flavor and typical challenge design, it's the narrowest and worst of the social skills.

So, what we end up with here is that anyone decent at social stuff has a high charisma and Diplomacy and/or Bluff--and nearly all builds with a high charisma have Dip/Bluff as class skills, and Intimidate is hard to get to a high level -and- is the weakest of the bunch.

Now, what if, rather than going with "Cha = social impact, so all direct social skills go under Cha", the three skills had been placed in different stat trees? Drop Intimidate in Str (or Con, as how "tough" you are), Bluff as Int (coming up with good lies as opposed to being generally likable) and keep Diplomacy under Cha. That way, nearly everyone would be able, if they wanted, to have a good score in a social skill -- but your class would constrain -how- you interacted with people rather than telling you to shut up please and let the charasmatic people talk.

An interesting alternative would be to have an even more direct parallel to the class structure (for AC/attack) -- have classes that get off-stat social skills often use alternative skills as basis for those skills. So fighters would get the feature "use Str as a basis for Intidmidate", Shamans would get to use Diplomacy via Wisdom, and so on.

Either way, it's a damned shame--and something that's going to constrain my choices whenever I'm not ok with playing characters that have to shut up and let the good-looking folks talk.

[User Picture]From: londo
2010-02-11 06:08 pm (UTC)
I like 4e as a miniatures-skirmish system, but anything involving social interaction or actual roleplay is... atrocious. Skill challenges, as I have experienced them, make me feel more powerless than anything else I've ever done while gaming.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-11 06:51 pm (UTC)
I think it depends a lot on how the game is run.

I've played through a lot of skill challenges in LFR, with different GMs, and between GM judgement and careful player use of abilities that let them mess with die rolls (including the lfr cards), they've ranged from "OK" to "very good".

What were the problems you ran into with them? There's -huge- variation in how GMs can run this stuff (sort-of unfortunately).
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[User Picture]From: selki
2010-02-11 07:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, I really like your idea!

I think good GMs make some allowances anyway, though.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-11 09:08 pm (UTC)
Of course. But a "hard" system like D&D works best when it's underlying play rather than relying on the GM to make it fit play anyway.

I do like the idea that anyone can have a decent general social skill -- but that which one you've got varies your optimal approach; Diplomats want to be nice and non-specific; Bluffers want to perform (not necessarily lie, but put on their gameface), Intimidators want their strength and dominance show through their conversational style--we'll get along as long as you know whose boss.

Of course, if D&D had as much crunch devoted to conversation as combat, you'd then have features (feats, backgrounds) letting you use a nonstandard conversational style for your class as your main, or giving you a second conversational skill and thereby getting more range in preferred approach.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-11 09:46 pm (UTC)
The problem with this is that while it covers the "everyone participating in a skill challenge" case (except that Aid is too powerful in skill challenges unless they've got a round clock or you limit it to 1-2 aids per check), it does nothing to deal with my real complaint -- which is that unless your character is built for talking, you don't often get to participate in dialectic talking in play; sure, you can "participate", but I'm the kind of player who enjoys playing out conversations as much as I enjoy playing fights, and whispering in someone's ear just doesn't cut it for me.

Basically, 60-80% of the interesting builds in 4e have characters who, if they open their mouth, had better direct things to an area of expertise, which doesn't cut it for me. Needing a particular style, sure; that's just a character note.
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[User Picture]From: bryant
2010-02-12 01:39 am (UTC)
I try and reverse that -- I encourage the diplomancers to throw the aids while the people who have RP reasons to talk, talk. But that is not actually a solution to the underlying problem, it's a GM-guided bandaid.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-12 04:00 pm (UTC)
Exactly. The mechanical problem -- and this isn't unique to D&D, it's just more obvious there (and it is an issue with class systems) is still there.
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[User Picture]From: agrumer
2010-02-11 09:23 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of how I was thinking that the Intimidate skill in Fate could be demoted to a Stunt that lets you do Composure attacks with one skill. Big muscle guy uses it with Might (as he smacks one fist into the other hand), corrupt corporate guy uses it with Assets or Contacts (as he brags about his squadron of vicious lawyers, or the Senator he helped get elected), and the wiry street punk uses Resolve (the hard, cold glint in his eye tells you that if you cross him he won't rest until his knife is buried in your gut).
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-12 04:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, absolutely. The same for other social trappings (skill uses), really.
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[User Picture]From: bryant
2010-02-11 09:26 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of using different stats as the base for social skills; I'll probably steal that for my Greyhawk game.

The revised skill challenge mechanics mean that you aren't doomed to failure if you try an untrained skill. At level 1, assuming a 10 in the governing stat, you've got better than a 50% chance of succeeding at a moderate difficulty skill roll. It gets easier at level 2, stays the same at level 3, returns to a 55% chance at level 4, and so on. I see you've been playing LFR too -- I imagine we're having similar experiences with this.

On the other hand, there's no denying that the party is better off letting the talky person talk.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-11 09:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, sure, you're not doomed to failure with an untrained skill -- though you are disadvantaged. And my Avenger, at 8th level can actually manage a respectable d20+9+d6 Diplomacy check once per day, despite a -1 charisma modifier (due to the shaman multiclass--though given that I haven't played since I levelled, and apparenlty lfr added a "full respec every level" rule, I should switch my dump stat to dex. I don't think I get anything out of it--not even initiative!).

But remember that skill checks actually go up faster than an off-stat skill does. At 8th level, you lose a + to an on-stat character; at 14th level the same, and by 28th level you're at -3. So that skill that had a "slim" chance at low levels rapidly slips towards "none" as you go up in levels, and the "ok" chance, without extra work, slips towards "slim" -- at least without a scaling crock like the shaman "Speak to Spirits" that goes up at the same rate.

I have fewer issues with this in LFR, mostly because the mods are fast enough and the GMs variable enough that I don't mind that much not playing a talker and having to think carefully before talking. But I've got a lot more issues in a campaign game where conversation is much more of the game (and I've certainly run into issues in LFR -- although a decent roll and the possiblity of the Deva racial power helped a lot when I wanted my character to befrend a child).
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[User Picture]From: bryant
2010-02-11 10:04 pm (UTC)
I'm looking at the DMG2 here, hm. At level 1-3, a moderate skill check is difficulty 10, so your fighter with a 10 Charisma and untrained Diplomacy will make it 55% of the time. At level 28-30, a moderate skill check is difficulty 28. A level 28 fighter has a +14 to the skill, and an additional +1 because he'll have 12 Charisma by then... yeah, you're right, that is off by a bit.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-11 11:04 pm (UTC)
Yup! The at-level difficulties are balanced around your using an on-stat skill and not spending extra resources to make it stronger -- so you can fairly trivially get auto-successes at high levels by spending enough resources on an on-stat skill (Speak to Spirits will do it by epic levels), and off-stat skills will fall over time as the skill drops relative to the "base" character.
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From: kyrielle
2010-02-12 04:05 am (UTC)
Interesting. That does seem like it would work better...but the spreading of the wealth is pretty much why I read (bits of) a quick-intro book/scenario and shook my head. I never loved D&D anyway, but when the way they describe things made whatever class is the fighting-magic class and the rangers sound basically interchangeable as far as game effect, and left supplying the flavor up to the whims of the players?

I'd play it with my local group if they wanted (but our most frequent GMs are unimpressed, except one who simply loathes it, so that's unlikely) because I trust them to actually roleplay despite the system seeming to not reward it / make it pointless, but....
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-12 04:16 pm (UTC)
I dunno -- I mean, I'm hardly about to propose D&D as the "king of systems", but I think they do a good job of making the classes distinct while still having distinct "roles" that help players get a handle on how they're intended to work together.

For instance, the fighting magic class (swordmages, unless you're thinking of something else -- which are actuallyd defenders, like fighters and paladins are) fight with a sword, have a "mark" that makes it harder for their target to get around them and attack other characters, and have a way to punish the target for violating this -- just like fighters and paladins.

But the mechanism for how this works in play is very different.

Fighters are all about positional control and getting in your face--they hit you, and then keep hitting you whenever you try to get away.

Paladins call out a challenge and have to show some bravery (like standing next to you, or throwing something at you or attacking you), but don't have to pay as much attention as fighters do--and they don't hit you for violating their mark, their god does this (unerringly) instead--and while they're not as good at controlling your movement as fighters are ("sticky"), they've got healing abilities to effectively let them retroactively protect their friends, and better defenses than fighters.

Swordmages enspell you, making a magical connection -- and then ignore you entirely, preferring to engage an entirely different group of foes with magical bursts of fire and lightning, as they teleport into the most advantagous position. But you're left between the choice of getting into trouble trying to follow them -- or violating their mark and having them either nullify your attack, teleport in and attack you, or teleport you somewhere convenient for them and inconvenient for you.

Similarly, the "striker" types are really only common in doing decent damage and having some way to make sure they can pick targets of opportunity rather than only engaging the front lines. Rogues and rangers use (to varying degrees) stealth, ranged attacks, mobility and flanking; sorcerers do good damage to multiple foes at once, barbarians charge madly about the battlefield and go into rages, warlocks pick a target and make their life hell, and enshroud themselves in shadow to make themselves less of a target.

Re flavor, I'm actually in favor of more crunch and less flavor, as I'm happy to provide flavor in play and read gamebooks for crunch and novels for fiction. But I'll note that wizards has been sliding the dial more towards flavor in the more recent splatbooks--Primal Power has lots of info on how the primal, nature-chanelling classes are intended to play on a flavor level; a big change from the early splatbooks that were all crunch and tactical advice.

Edited at 2010-02-12 04:19 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kokoinai
2010-02-12 09:46 pm (UTC)
Insight is already wis based and almost always useful in social situations (if you dislike its 'passive' nature, allow players to make things up about the NPC and talk about them with insight, so the insight check can be something like "See, the proof may be suspect because you don't trust elves, but at heart isn't your mistrust based upon your dealings with clan Alan'zevir, which is completely unlike the clan we're dealing with here?"). This still doesn't solve the no physical stats in social situations thought: if I were redesigning the system I'd make Diplomacy Wisdom-based (for careful, calm, compromises), replace Bluff with Charm (generally useful social skill: does everything Bluff does, but I think Bluff is too specific), and make intimidate strength based (social skill for non-mental statted characters, and it's ok that it's somewhat more limited than the others). With knowledge checks, this gives every stat except dex and con a role in talking skill challenges, so the only class that would be screwed over by this system would be one that's dex/con (and I don't think there is any class like that).

I can understand the paucity of feat support for non-combat stuff: as a friend pointed out, one of the big mechanics in 3E was trading off combat usefulness for non-combat usefulness. 4E tries to make everyone combat useful, and I suspect didn't want people trading that off for better out of combat skills (this isn't completely true, since there are some feats and powers where you do make this trade-off, but it's much more limited than in 3E). That said, there should be options somewhere for customizing your out of combat behavior, if not necessarily to the extent that you can customize your in-combat behavior.
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[User Picture]From: mneme
2010-02-12 09:54 pm (UTC)
Indeed and exactly. It's fine that some character types are a bit limited in approach--not so fine that they're out in the cold when the player wants to talk and is willing to stay in character.

In terms of the paucity of feat support--I think 4e does enough in terms of forcing players to have at will, encounter, and daily attack powers to make sure all characters are at least reasonably competent in combat (also, items; if a player gets one item near their level in every category, they end up with somewhat appropriate bonuses; they can't pick a neck slot item that won't increase their defenses, etc) -- so it's ok to have players choose to spend most of their feats, utilities, and spare item slots on out of combat resources (they can do that now anyway if they want--start with linguist, and get a bunch of skill foci).
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