17 thoughts on “Angry Rants: You Don’t Need a System

  1. This whole rant seems rather silly. What if I want a system for conflict between kingdoms because I also want players to one day engage with that system? I want player actions to feed into a greater whole that isn’t just me making shit up?

    • I think having a system for determining that stuff that players can feed into is the important part of the question and is not addressed in his rant. In Rise of Tiamat for example there is this whole underlying goal of gaining favor with various factions to help you in the final battle. Every decision you make from who you help to what you do with quests hinges on pissing some people off and gaining favor with others, and if you play your cards right you can have nearly everyone on your side for the final battle.

      That’s all very well done, but the problem is that it’s a giant army vs army conflict and it doesn’t really effect anything the players do during the final conflict. It was all just kinda handwaved as “yeah you did good enough i guess”. It’s not as interesting or as important as the guerrilla mission the PC’s make to stop the final ritual. So why do I even -need- these people on my side if I can stop it myself?

      The system isn’t rewarding the players for skillfully and cleverly making deals and decisions to get all of these factions on my side.

    • As long as the player don’t engage in the system, the system is irrelevant. Then, if the players actively help a side, the outcome should be simple enough: They succed in helping it, it should win, they fail to help it, it should lose.

      You don’t need a system to determine the outcome of offscreen battles and conspiracies, if the outcome is uncertain in your game world, let the players settle the matter by their actions.

    • You being the player’s GM is -basically- them and their actions feeding into you making shit up. The fact that you came up with a table to back it up doesn’t make the conflict more or less “some shit you made up”.

  2. being the author of said question, I must say that there is a slight misconception in your answer:

    I asked you about your own personal way of figuring out the outcome of backstage interaction, not for a “system” that does it for me…
    I do understand that your point with this Rant remains true either way, but I feel like you must be doing something a bit more complicated than “yeah, let’s take a coin toss on which faction is going to call the shots in this major city…”

    anyway, the article was very enlightening!

  3. As an inherently lazy DM, I tend to agree with you, that simulation rules are kind of silly dice masturbation. I need to have flimsy reasons for my players to stumble across the set pieces that go into my plot points – cramming that around stuff happening out of my control sounds like more work than just going “Yup, there’s a siege going on in this city, fix it.”

    That said, I can’t help but think of the prospect of using Civilization to simulate the background noise of a campaign now. That does sound kind of fun. Still silly, but fun.

  4. I fully agree that these kind of things are best served with writing, as opposed to dice. However, if people out there need materials to work with, they could check the 1991 d&d Rules Cyclopedia, chapter 12, “Strongholds and dominions”, on page 134. I’ve never used the chapter, but it’s just full of charts and mechanics for running all maner of settlements and armies and whatnot. It’s old, but easily adaptable with a little… I’d hate to mention the word but, work.

  5. I can’t see the meaningful difference between random treasure/monster tables, and rules that randomly determine the outcome of political or military conflicts off camera. The DM can obviously handle both by following some mechanistic/randomized process, or he can just decide what is best in keeping with the campaign.

    These are the only two sources of decision in d&d. The DM can make a reasonable choice in keeping with the fiction, or he can ask the dice. And the DM deciding himself is not “making shit up”.

    What I will agree with Angry about is that this kind of process is mostly to please the DM – the work put into this does not reasonably match up with an increase in player enjoyment. So long as you are honest about that, who cares what you do to fill your free time?

    • While all of them can be used for generating content, random encounter tables can also be about controlling pacing, and making decisions meaningful with respect to time allocation.

      Also, let’s not forget the scope of the question Angry was addressing. I, also, enjoy random generators for things that are random, such as weather or other events outside the control of the players and NPCs. But Angry was specifically talking about interactions between NPC organizations.

      In my view, organizations should make decisions according to their own knowledge, goals, and preferences, decisions which make sense to them. They can respond to random events, but in my view, such responses should be in character, not random.

      You should also be flexible about using the results of your campaign system. For example, I recently had an on-line “discussion” with a DM who had been running the same homebrew setting for 30+ years. He is a zealous creator of campaign rules, and had been systemizing technological levels for cultures in his world, such that for a given technology level, a culture would have access to a defined list of technologies, with no exceptions.

      This DM was lamenting the fact that he had certain cultures which had already been encountered, and which were at variance with the rules he had created. My suggestions was that (a) it was likely impossible (or at least impracticable) to create a system that could accommodate all of the already existing facts about his world, and (b) he should not worry about the variance. He took the position that if it was not accounted for in his campaign rules, it could not exist in his world. His response was sufficiently unpleasant that I stopped reading the blog and don’t know how he resolved the conflict, if he ever did.

      My point is, if a campaign system is used to replace roleplaying NPCs, or if you are slavishly adhering to the output of a campaign system at the expense of other elements of the campaign (like continuity or logic), then you are doing your players a disservice.

      To extend the metaphor, you can enjoy your dice masturbation, but you should not allow your masturbatory habits to reduce your partner’s enjoyment.

      • I’m not 100% sure how your comment addresses mine, it seems to be it’s own thread. Anyway, if a campaign system is coming at the expense of other elements, it’s time for a new campaign system. And when looking at humanity writ large, random elements become very prevalent. Any halfway decent DM can fold the random results into the campaign in a reasonable way.

        NPC systems can be useful if used well. B/X and other older editions of d&d all had a ‘reaction’ roll, which was essentially a randomized system for determining initial NPC reactions to the PCs. For an example of a useful NPC system that can aid or replace standard “wing-it” NPC roleplaying by the DM, look at the Hack & Slash articles on gameable NPCs: http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/2012/12/on-gameable-npc.html. He has a book that does it better.

    • Dingdingdingding! You win a prize.

      You’re absolutely right. If the GM is honest and admits “yeah, I’m doing this because it’s fun for me,” there’s nothing wrong with it at all. It’s your time, waste it how you will. I’ve certainly built my share of overly complex useless systems just for funsies.

  6. The purpose of randomization, at any level of D&D, is twofold, and you seem to be missing one of them. One is to add an element of uncertainty. The other is to remove DM bias, either for or against the players. Randomization of world event is an attempt to addresses both. Of course, it helps if the randomness wasn’t designed by the DM. Such as weather in the 1e Wilderness Survival Guide. Or 1e’s Oriental Adventures’ Events and Encounters tables.

    Of course, if which result doesn’t matter at all to the players, and the only reason for the world events is a back-drop to help immersion, then yeah, you don’t need to randomize. Or if you’re running a heavily narrative game instead of a wargame, then you *want* DM bias. But in a Neutral DM-referee game, you want as little DM bias as possible.

    • Bias is a made-up issue. There is nothing inherently wrong with GM bias. After all, no one complains that the system itself is biased toward the players. And systems that the players will never see or interact with don’t add player uncertainty or erase the appearance of bias because PLAYERS NEVER SEE OR INTERACT WITH THEM.

      • Lots of players I play with if the system or DM is excessively biased towards the players. Because it removes challenge, and you challenge is how you win,

        And the players may not see the system, but they may very well see the results of the system. If their kingdom that they’ve carved out of the wilderness is invaded because the neighboring king took a disliking to them, and this happened because the DM wants to create a narrative plot line, that’s one style of play. If it happened because the system determined it, that’s a completely different style of play.

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