Open letter to Jason Bulmahn: in defense of simplicity


Alpha Release 1 General Discussion


Dear Jason,

Please accept my sincere apoligies for such a corny thread title. I am indeed trying to grab your attention.

My reason for doing so is that after having read your alpha version, I do not think you've paid enough attention to simplifying the game.

3.5x is a great game but I believe it would benefit greatly from some simplifaction. To illustrate my point, I would like to point to you your cover rules which are overly complicated.

Also, when I look at your races, there are all those little +2 bonus that I find a pain to track. Seriously, how often does your dwarf get bull rushed? Not that often I suppose. So why the need to give him this +2 to resist bull rushing? Same with the visions. Managing light sources in D&D has become a nightmare between those who see things and those who do not.

Your approach is I fear to pile rules on top of a system that is already quite complexe and slow. I suggest the reverse. Make the game easier for the DMs out there who are swamped under the book keeping involved with 3.5x.

Best regards

Sovereign Court

That why I like the CMB a lot. And skills have been simplified too, in a way that i quite like.

Some of the racial extras are a bit odd though. Simplifying to Perception and then adding bonuses based upon type of perception seems a little odd to me.

I also wonder how this will interact with magic items such as boots of elvenkind.


I do like CMB and the skill list a lot though in the skill section some more work could be done (all those knowledge skills). May I aslo point out that spellcraft looks unecessary when we already have caster level checks. More work could and should be done.


GeraintElberion wrote:


I also wonder how this will interact with magic items such as boots of elvenkind.

Not to threadjack, but ...

In my campaign, I combined Move Silently and Hide into a Stealth skill quite some time ago. When my PCs find boots of Elvenkind, for example, I halve the bonus that it provides, since it only helps with half of the stuff that Stealth covers. I do the same for Cloak of Elvenkind. Thus, if a player had both, the total bonus would be equivalent to the original individual bonuses on each skill.

I recommend something similar when converting 3.5 to Pathfinder.

O


That's a good point (though wish I knew what CMB was).

If you can keep the gameplay good while simplifying the rules, then you achieve elegance - certainly a worthy design goal.

Adding complication without greatly improving play, or adding simplicity to the detriment of play (ie. 'dumbing down') are not good.

The move from d20 Star Wars to Saga Edition was a great attempt at this (though, in my opinion, was a little more 'dumbing down' than elegance). The move from 2nd Ed D&D to 3rd Ed D&D did it wonderfully.

3.5 to PathfinderRPG is another chance to do likewise.


Arcesilaus wrote:
GeraintElberion wrote:


I also wonder how this will interact with magic items such as boots of elvenkind.

Not to threadjack, but ...

In my campaign, I combined Move Silently and Hide into a Stealth skill quite some time ago. When my PCs find boots of Elvenkind, for example, I halve the bonus that it provides, since it only helps with half of the stuff that Stealth covers. I do the same for Cloak of Elvenkind. Thus, if a player had both, the total bonus would be equivalent to the original individual bonuses on each skill.

I recommend something similar when converting 3.5 to Pathfinder.

O

Does making up item-specific rules or exceptions (in the context of the 'bonuses of the same (non-dodge) type do not generally stack with one another' rule) actually simplify things?

The Exchange

I am a huge fan of simplicity in design. John Maeda's book the Laws of Simplicity and Robert Hoekman's book Designing the Obvious guide my professional life in a deep and meaningful way (along with Don Norman, Edward Tufte, and Alan Cooper).

I think the same can be said for my taste in games. I do not play Star Fleet battles but I have enjoyed Federation Commander. The latter too the structural complexity of the former and added a layer of abstraction that kept the basic feel of the game alive without the operational complexity.

One of the reasons I am looking forward to 4E is to see if they could take the structural complexity of 3.5 and make it simple to operate while keeping the complex structural elements operational.

As I read and the play the alpha this is my main concern as well - keep it simple while maintaining an elegant link to the structural complexity.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

I like the sense modifiers to perception, sure it's a little more book keeping, but it makes sense now to have a halfling foot taster vs a half orc.

Alertness can be changed simply.

Alertness [General] Pick two senses (sight, hearing, taste, scent, touch) you get a +2 bonus to these two sense based perception roles.

Special: You may take this feat twice. The second time you take it, the other three senses receive this +2 bonus.


crosswiredmind wrote:

I am a huge fan of simplicity in design. John Maeda's book the Laws of Simplicity and Robert Hoekman's book Designing the Obvious guide my professional life in a deep and meaningful way (along with Don Norman, Edward Tufte, and Alan Cooper).

I think the same can be said for my taste in games. I do not play Star Fleet battles but I have enjoyed Federation Commander. The latter too the structural complexity of the former and added a layer of abstraction that kept the basic feel of the game alive without the operational complexity.

One of the reasons I am looking forward to 4E is to see if they could take the structural complexity of 3.5 and make it simple to operate while keeping the complex structural elements operational.

As I read and the play the alpha this is my main concern as well - keep it simple while maintaining an elegant link to the structural complexity.

Would it be fair to try to make a comparison (in terms of a game with simplicity but overall structural complexity) to Chess?

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

I have to admit, I don't quite get the complaint that I've seen several times on these boards, regarding that all of the racial bonuses are hard to track. In my experience, I just write them on the character sheet near whatever they pertain to, and I've never had a problem.

I guess I'll just have to chalk this up to "different people think in different ways" and that what I find to be not a big deal, others have a hard time with, and I'm sure there are similar things that I have a hard time tracking that they don't.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

GeraintElberion wrote:
I also wonder how this will interact with magic items such as boots of elvenkind.

Rather than having to keep track of the pluses, make them negatives.

Boots of elvenkind give a -5 penalty to listen based perception checks to detect the wearer.

Cloak of Elvenkind gives a -5 penalty to sight based perception checks to detect the wearer.

Or keep them positives "Adds a + 5 to sight based stealth checks."

Scarab Sages

I agree with Tabla that the Cover rules are cumbersome at best and will slow game play considerably. The chained-feats will also put an undue stress on the DM that will have to keep track of which of his bad guy mob used what feats last round. This will quickly become a DM’s nightmare of bookkeeping. I'm very happy that you have released the Alpha Document to the public so that we could provide some feedback on the game system.

I don't know about the racial stuff as much as a lot of people seem to have an issue with the way humans are over balanced in 3.5. I never noticed it much but then again I've only played humans so far. Not because they are the best mechanically to play but I came out of 2nd edition where there was no reason to play a human at all. So for me it was a great opportunity to see them become playable again.

By the way Ki the CMB is Combat Maneuver Bonus P.41 which is replacing the Grapple, Bull Rush ECT.

The Exchange

Charles Evans 25 wrote:


Would it be fair to try to make a comparison (in terms of a game with simplicity but overall structural complexity) to Chess?

Sure. You can teach a five year old the rules of chess but it takes a lifetime to master. That is one way to look at it. The other is the concept of AC in all editions of D&D. AC is abstraction that takes the stopping power of your armor, your ability to parry, your ability to dodge, some of your luck, your size, and your agility and mixes it into a simple target number.

I happen to like games that expand the concept of AC into multiple mechanics like RuneQuest where dodge is a skill, parry is a skill, and your armor actually blocks damage but that complexity can be cumbersome as well.

In 3.5 you have an elegant mechanic like AC and to hit rolls yet you have a much more complex set of rules for grapple? They feel like different games. Pathfinder alpha seems to simplify some things like CMB but then it creates complexity in determining cover. I would hope that all of the rules will operate at a similar level of abstraction except when complexity is unavoidable.


My point is not so much about cover or races. It is that simplicity should in my mind rank as high if not higher than giving option to players in terms of design goals (which I still would like Jason to flesh out in a nice sticky post with a list of priorities).

I am a DM and I approch the game from this angle which may completely differ from the angle taken by players. On this topic, I strongly invite players to spend some time behind the screen to better understand what I mean.

When I read the alpha for the first time, I did not get the impression that we were heading for the land of simplicity but rather that we would be piling rules on top of even more complexe rules.

Liberty's Edge

Ki_Ryn wrote:

(though wish I knew what CMB was).

Combat Maneuver Bonus. Now there is a set number when attempting what is called "special Attacks" in 3.5, ie overrun, trip, grapple. It gets a little more complicated if you have a feat like Improved Overrun, which grants you a higher CMB when attempting an Overrun, but otherwise a much easier blanket system vs a set DC instead of opposed rolls.


Reading through the Alpha set, I notice that some mechanics have been sensibly simplified (skills for example) while other mechanics have been not so sensibly made more complex (combat feat chains). I agree with the OP that ALL new changes should err on the side of simplicity rather than complexity.

Grand Lodge

I'm with the original poster on the simplicity of the system.

3.5 gave us a lot of rules for almost any situation, but in doing so presented multiple different mechanics to produce its desired effect. this made the game overly complicated.

4e peaked my interest when they attempted to simplify the system but it went too far.

I would point this discussion to the Saves vs Defense Values thread.

This system dramatically simplifies the game and it put me on the fence with regard to the whole 4e switchover thing.

What I feel Pathfinder could achieve is a happy medium that provides the simplicity of 4e without loosing the feel of the 3.5 game experience.

Pathfinder could become the new 3.5 system for the OGL market. Instead of saying "If you don't like this rule use the one in 3.5" you could be saying "If you dont like 3.5 use these rules!" and I believe Paizo has the talent to pull it off.


This would probably constitute asking for a whole new game, but I'd love to see a general game philosophy of "only one modifier per roll." From looking at the boards, it's obvious some people like complexity, which is fine. But could a Basic "Pathfinder RPG for Dummies" booklet be produced that strips down the rules and only goes up to like level six? (Don't forget to put a blue dragon on the cover.) Essentially, something to teach the game to brand new players.

There's already a Basic Fantasy RPG available for download, but it's a little too retro for me and doesn't have a more complex version to graduate to.

The Exchange

jdh417 wrote:

This would probably constitute asking for a whole new game, but I'd love to see a general game philosophy of "only one modifier per roll." From looking at the boards, it's obvious some people like complexity, which is fine. But could a Basic "Pathfinder RPG for Dummies" booklet be produced that strips down the rules and only goes up to like level six? (Don't forget to put a blue dragon on the cover.) Essentially, something to teach the game to brand new players.

There's already a Basic Fantasy RPG available for download, but it's a little too retro for me and doesn't have a more complex version to graduate to.

Why "graduate"? Why not make the game fun to play without all of the unnecessary mechanical complexity? Why complexity for the sake of complexity? I understand that some enjoy rules that are complex but does that actually add anything to the roleplaying experience?

Contributor

A system of choice would be good:

Heroic fast game method
Slow complex heavy skills method

Huzzah!


Ryan. Costello wrote:
Ki_Ryn wrote:

(though wish I knew what CMB was).

Combat Maneuver Bonus.

Oh yea (smacks forehead). I read that part, really. For some reason I just thought this was a reference to a book title - some rule system that was an example of streamlined combat (which is why I wanted to know what it is). Guess I was overthinking the problem ;)


"Graduate" was probably the wrong word on my part.

Not sure about the policy here about linking to other sites, but if you search for "Basic Fantasy RPG" you can find the game and read it for yourself. It's 1st edition with 3rd edition rules.

Just looking over the boards here, it's clear that no one game system could satisfy a majority of players, even in the very narrow category of just fastasy-themed RPG.

To Mr. Bulmahn, what kind of RPG player do you see as being most happy with what you envision "Pathfinder" will be? (If you answer, please don't say, "all kinds." I'm sure you know what types of players there are better than I do.) I know the rules are in a state of flux right now, but I assume there's a target audience. And to reiterate the thread topic, can there be a simpler version of that game?

Paizo Employee Director of Game Design

Hey there all,

As for simplicity, I am all for it, to a point. Allow me to explain. I do feel that the rules of 3.5 have become too overburdened with complex subsystems (grapple, odd rules for flyers, skills, etc), this is a game with a certain amount of inheirant complexity built into it. While I want things to be simple to understand, I also want the system to have enough complexity to keep advanced players interested, looking for new crannies and corners of the rules to explore.

As for the target audience. To be honest, that is the people posting on these boards. We are aiming this at average gamers, both those who have been playing for decades and those who have just started. I know that sounds a bit like "everybody", but I don't believe that it is.

Jason Bulmahn
Lead Designer


Too much simplicity turns off a significant subset of players who prefer to focus on character building rather than running amok. Too much complexity turns off the people who just want to play the game. An easy fix to keep everyone playing is to make simple default rules and provide more complex options.


Thank you for your reply Mr. Bulmahn. I get where you're coming from. I do not envy you having to professionally look over these boards with so many ideas and theories, many in direct opposition to one another.

Whenever you've gotten the Pathfinder rules more or less settled, please consider some kind of Starter pdf: very basic combat and skill rules and character creation, 1st level pre-gens of all the character classes, one level of a dungeon with a few monsters (including a parley encounter), under 40 pages. Something painless and unintimidating people could use to try out the system with. (You know, like what WOTC should be doing with 4th edition, instead of a $25 book.)

Good luck with the game.


Thank you for your kind answer


I'm leaning more towards keep it as it is but understand the simplicity issue. My greatest concern is keeping Pathfinder backwards compatible enough to where I can still do what I am doing right now.... playing the game with my current 3.x books. Of course, keeping it simple could mean avoiding a great deal of new, complicated material...
I also must admit that I'm one of the few fans of grapple and wish to keep it in. (Yes, slap me)

The Exchange

hallucitor wrote:

I'm leaning more towards keep it as it is but understand the simplicity issue. My greatest concern is keeping Pathfinder backwards compatible enough to where I can still do what I am doing right now.... playing the game with my current 3.x books. Of course, keeping it simple could mean avoiding a great deal of new, complicated material...

I also must admit that I'm one of the few fans of grapple and wish to keep it in. (Yes, slap me)

Does slapping you provoke an attack of opportunity? :-)

I agree ... to a point. In another thread Erik Mona said that you can look at a 3.5 stat block and with little to no tweaking you can use it for Pathfinder. I think that is the hallmark of backwards compatibility.


The various +2 bonuses for various applications of perception did seem a little complex, as did the extra rules for cover, but the CMB idea was such a simplification, as were a few of the skill consolidations. I'm not worried that the overall product will be too complicated, but I wouldn't be too sad if those areas (cover, multiple applications for perception) might get cleaned up a bit.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

KnightErrantJR wrote:
The various +2 bonuses for various applications of perception did seem a little complex, as did the extra rules for cover, but the CMB idea was such a simplification, as were a few of the skill consolidations. I'm not worried that the overall product will be too complicated, but I wouldn't be too sad if those areas (cover, multiple applications for perception) might get cleaned up a bit.

Different strokes I guess. i like having a unified Perception, then modifiers based on senses

The Exchange

Matthew Morris wrote:
KnightErrantJR wrote:
The various +2 bonuses for various applications of perception did seem a little complex, as did the extra rules for cover, but the CMB idea was such a simplification, as were a few of the skill consolidations. I'm not worried that the overall product will be too complicated, but I wouldn't be too sad if those areas (cover, multiple applications for perception) might get cleaned up a bit.
Different strokes I guess. i like having a unified Perception, then modifiers based on senses

This is a great example - does the complexity add to or take away from game play. Then there is the corollary - is there a simple mechanic that can work in place of the complex mechanic and still feel right.

The Pathfinder cover rule is very precise but complex. It can be replaced by a simple rule that works.

Perception skills that involve separate skills would be simple to use but the sophisticated application of sense specialization really adds to the game. I like that dwarves have a keen sense of touch. That adds to the game in a meaningful way.


To be honest, this is one of the reasons why, even though I'm giving my initial impressions, we're trying to use the rules as much as is as we can, because it may be that none of this is an issue, and it will run just fine.

Last session everyone converted their characters over. That actually only took a little bit of time, but we didn't get to playing since everyone wanted a shot to look over the rules, and I only had enough ink to print out one copy, with another copy on the lap top.

I'm not dead set against it if it works fine and doesn't cause any issues.


My first thoughts when I saw thie thread were a bit different than what the OP intended. The OP talked about simplicity in design, and that's a fine goal. But with this game, particularly given the goal of backwards-compatibility with 3.5, there's another aspect of simplicity to consider: the fewer changes the better. In other words, the simpler it is to switch from straight 3.5 to the Pathfinder rules, the better.

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