John Wick on RPGs, Game Balance, and Roleplaying

Here’s an interesting article on RPGs by John Wick. I always like hearing what he has to say, even if I don’t 100% agree with him. (I admit that his way of thinking has persuaded me in my shift away from D&D and the development of Five Moons RPG.)

4 thoughts on “John Wick on RPGs, Game Balance, and Roleplaying

  1. It’s an interesting read, if a bit “ranty.” I agree with the spirit of the message, but find the body of the message baffling. Character class/option balance is important in an RPG. It just requires different methods and precision partially because games like D&D and CoC are team games.

    I also feel like he misses the point of weapon lists, which give players options on what flavor of awesome they want their fighting character to have. (And 4th Edition had a pretty awful weapon list as there were few weapons and each of them were largely the same).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like “Garrick Williams” here, I too find grave issue with the article itself, albeit I can get some spirit of it.

    First off, the article starts out on a misguided premise, nevermind improvised/Unarmed strike semantics, the capability of those moves can be represented by Sneak Attack in D&D, or otherwise some ability of the character taking out a likely lower level (in capability) opponent. Like in prior articles, I’ve mentioned my support of more Vague weapons with a defining ability or two, and that can be found there:

    “(Call of Cthulhlu) well, you actually violate the basic tenant of the game:

    ..But if you try playing games such as Vampire or Pendragon or Our Last Best Hope or World of Dew or Deadlands”

    As I recall, not an actual rule, not much actual gameplay to that game, or least ones that work or see use. Secondly, due to the culture surrounding here, hear far more often how people Michael Bay everything, and burn books, but I digress.

    I can’t comment for all those games, but certainly Vampire, and/or Deadlands, you can quite easily “not” roleplay for. Deadlands is a game of Wild West folk going on adventures, fighting supernatural threats and other like, there’s even adventures in conventional RPG formats! Vampire, though its gameplay engine isn’t very exciting for it, can get easily played w/little roleplay, LARP aside of course.

    “In a roleplaying game, game balance does not matter.”

    This here is my Strongest Point of contention, that I disagree wholeheartedly and would find idiotic to espouse in this modern era of ours. Balance in fact does matter, especially for a new game, it’s simply inexcusable these days to deliver a product that is unbalanced & shoddy (fact that still continues today doesn’t make it excusable). No, having an Art budget does Not count in that regard, but is still vital. If I’m buying a GAME, and its unbalanced, and I’m having fun in-spite of the ruleset opposed to “because of it”. Then as a new product, it’s not all that useful, and possibly a waste of money if its something I could’ve done for free. Its likely there is a poor conceived notion of what “balanced” is, as some think 4th edition did so (it didn’t), and that it’s making things all the same (also inaccurate). As its making sure the various options for your characters in that game, are viable, and can perform the various activities your game is going to have. In D&D, it’s that they all have level appropriate abilities, and are consistent with the Encounter system, contributing to the team, and not being someones sidekick. Balance helps counteract existence of trap options, and people having under performing characters (In the activities the game regards) that will eventually, harm the fun of the player and/or group.

    Point is, part of the point we buy games, aside from newer experiences, is for the rules which will deliver that, with minimal need for houseruling to get that experience. If balance isn’t going to be a priority, especially for a New FANTASY Game, then what’s the point of it?

    “If you want to get good at roleplaying, guess what?, you roleplay.”

    This is also very much quite unfair, games should not have arbitrary “barriers of entry” like this that’ll just deter people from our industry in its elitism. Given this is a social activity (usually) played by friends, but there are going to be plenty less silvery-tongued, outgoing Type A personas playing. The rules are our interaction with the game world, and people should be encouraged to use those to play the characters they want. Part of the wonder in this hobby is getting to be something your’e not, I’m not heroically strong, but I shouldn’t be expected to be a weight lifter to play a strongman. Nor should I need to play a Musical instrument, write a poem/song to play a Bard, to be Religious to play a Cleric, or even know Guns/martial-Arts/Cars to play a character that’s an expert in those fields. Given, doing those things can make the experience more compelling, but by no means am going to force work on people for a hobby. Far as Social stuff goes in binary pass/fail system, I’m fine with Players giving you a gist of what they’re trying to say, or the intent of the check itself, sometimes wording will be lost in a caffeine/alcohol filled night, or we don’t have the benefit of good writers who have years of experience coming up w/good dialog.

    Lastly, nothing personal to the guy himself, but bad ideas deserve to be condemned, no matter who you are (similar reverse for good ideas).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find much to disagree with in the post, but one thing I do agree with.

    Time in the spotlight is what matters. Give each player a chance for his character to shine in a way that is fun for that player.

    The examples he gives are from movies. What can work well in a movie or a book often does not work well in a roleplaying game. Think of all the problems there are in shifting from comics or a book to a movie or play. The differences in the media has an effect on the storyline and what works to create that story. What works well in a movie is referred to as ‘railroading’ in roleplaying games. Another difference is that the size of a typical ‘cast’ in a roleplaying game is huge in comparison to what a movie can support.

    The weapon charts that he dismisses actually do have a place in certain types of roleplaying games. They establish the physics of the world you are playing in. Some games allow you to easily dismiss small arms fire and potentially be able to shrug off even rockets while others make a two on one fight against people with knives deadly. The difficulty of jumping from one horse to another while both are at a full gallop depends on the type of world you are working in. The game mechanics can be useful in creating that environment.

    They also help the game master arbitrate player actions in a more consistent manner. The ability to provide consistent arbitration allows for things such as Pathfinder Society play. Proper mechanics can enhance the player’s ability to determine what is and is not possible in a way that is consistent going from one game to the next. Simple mechanics allow you to make the transition into a new roleplaying game easier.

    Time in the spotlight also isn’t the same for every player.

    If we must talk about tea cups, let’s talk about how players want to use them.

    Some would much rather do a tea ceremony and discuss mutual interests with the NPCs. They may want to explore the social aspects of the shared world and welcome the opportunity to talk with various NPCs. They may be attempting various types of social engineering in order to shift alliances, trying to find a source for some sort of specialized or unique equipment, or maintaining a relationship with an important NPC.

    Some would see it as an opportunity to case the joint before a heist. It isn’t the talking that matters, it is what their character notices and how that effects their ability to plan around the defenses that the NPC has in place.

    Finally, yes there are some that only see the tea cup as a potential improvised weapon. They are ready to jump in and make sure that the group survives if things suddenly turn deadly.

    In my experience, the best roleplaying experiences happen when the group has an opportunity to take any of those options plus others. It isn’t always the same character that determines which path is taken.

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  4. I agree with I agree with Bret, Aryxbez and Garrick Williams whose posts are all excellent, so no need to repeat what they have said.

    The article is interesting, but what it all boils down to is “you are doing it wrong, so now I’m gonna teach you how to do it right”.

    Maybe the Pizza I like isn’t what a pizza originally was all about 1000 years ago, but I don’t care. I want my pizza “topped with tomato sauce, cheese and various toppings.” I don’t care if someone can point out to me that the original pizza didn’t use X or Y.

    I fail to see the comparison between D&D and Call of Cthulhu (CoC). I play both games and love both games. When our current Pathfinder game is ending, we are actually going to start playing a 7ed CoC game.

    Just as the other posters have pointed out the I agree with the spirit of the message, but the text got some serious issues. One is that it is condescending, another is that it misses the point with D&D and the third is that it is flat on CoC in some aspects, and finally it is wring in comparing CoC to D&D.

    There are so many fundamental differences between D&D and CoC that they are not comparable.

    Both are role playing games, but CoC focus on the story and in that story the character isn’t really important. Getting your character killed isn’t a problem in CoC. In fact, that is almost the norm. As a player or GM you don’t invest a lot of time or energy in the PCs and leveling up in CoC isn’t a big deal because CoC isn’t a level based game. Also and balance is of no issue in CoC. You can mix a party with characters that has “leveled up” 10 times with a character that have leveled up only one time. You can have a party you played with for a whole year and have a new player joining with a new character without a problem. CoC isn’t a level based game.

    D&D is a level based game. It is a game that focuses on character development and game mechanics. It is more or less impossible to add a level 2 character to a level 10 party. The game focuses just as much on the characters as they do on the story/plot. It is also a game that focus a lot in magic and magic items.

    Yes, I know that D&D is a role playing game with numbers attached to it so in many aspects it is indeed a roll playing game spiced up with some role playing. The fact is however that you roll the dice in CoC as well. You can’t role play that you destroy Cthulhu, no more than you can role play that you rolled a natural 20 in D&D. So CoC actually also suffers from “If you don’t have X you can’t win”.

    I agree that CoC focus more on role playing than D&D. I also agree that D&D could do with more focus on role playing. Also, I think tying rules to everything actually kills cool ideas, the Pathfinder feat strike back is a good example of this, but both games are role playing games with numbers.

    Would I like a D&D game with more focus on role playing? Yes, That is why I’m here :D.


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