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Rule-of-Three: 09/26/2011
Rich Baker

You've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D's Rich Baker to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about… with some caveats.

There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.

1 Besides writing the L&L column, what endeavors will Monte Cook be involved in? Is he full time staff or a consultant?

Monte occupies a role very similar to Rob Schwalb, in that he is a staff designer who works remotely. The commute from Milwaukee to Seattle is a bit tough to handle on a daily basis. We’re conferencing with him several times a week via phone and Google Plus, and he’s visiting the Wizards offices frequently. I’m afraid I can’t go into much detail about the specific projects Monte is working on for us, simply because the products are still a ways out. That said: Monte is working on D&D, he’s doing design work as well as consulting, and we’re delighted to have him on board.

2 With Monte Cook back is there any chance we could see a Dungeon adventure or Dragon article set in Sigil?

Monte isn’t working on Dragon or Dungeon online Planescape content at the moment. We don’t have any immediate plans for any articles focused on Sigil. However, there’s no reason we wouldn’t entertain a Sigil adventure or backdrop that came to us through our submission process. We’re Planescape fans too!

3 Abstraction vs. Rules realism is a big point of contention. Any plans for articles explaining how to work with abstraction?

Abstraction versus simulation is one of the toughest decisions we make in producing RPGs. Naturally we prefer simple, intuitive mechanics that accurately describe game situations and measure the important contributing factors for resolving any test or challenge. For example, when a hero wants to attack a monster in melee, contributing factors might include the hero’s training with his weapon, his natural aptitude or physical power, the weapon’s magic, the type of attack he makes, the monster’s skill at defense, the monster’s warty hide, the monster’s defense tactic, how effective the weapon should be against that kind of target, all sorts of things. Abstraction is simply the process of ignoring the least important contributing factors; highly abstract systems choose not to measure differences that simulation-heavy systems pay attention to.

I have often felt that highly abstract systems can appear simple but actually increase the cognitive effort to play the game. For example, imagine that D&D tackled magic by telling the players to describe what they want to happen, and then costing the effect afterwards. The problem is, a player doesn’t even have a notion of what to wish for in a system like that—you don’t know what the boundaries are, or what sort of things should be possible. A crunchy system consisting of a hundred discrete, defined spells to choose from is easier to play in many ways.When “abstract” comes to mean “undefined,” the game becomes a collection of jurisprudence—a body of past rulings by the DM winds up serving as the rules of the game.

Hmm, I think there was a question in there I didn’t quite address. Do we have plans for articles on how to work with abstraction in general? Not per se, but we’d entertain an article submission that examined a specific subsystem of the game and dialed up or dialed down the abstraction for a specific purpose.

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