Dave Noonan on Classes

Dave Noonan, former writer for 3E/4E at WOTC, has a blog and has recently been posting on class issues. As an OD&D player it's a rather unsettling read, kind of like dealing with a foreign-language speaker with a lots of cultural differences between us. Just one example is that he doesn't even use the word "class", but rather the WOW/4E-jargon of "roles" (those being an overlayed concept on top of classes).


Here's a few quotes which I'll present without commentary. From the section "Let's Talk Psychographics":

Wizards R&D certainly believes that there are differences in player psychology that manifest themselves in role choice. In other words, some players are naturally drawn to play a leader, others a defender, and so on. I'm pretty sure that the Blizzard devs believe the same thing. And certainly some players are convinced that "you know, healing is really what I'm good at."

From the section "Set the Wayback Machine for 1982":
The other characters start standing in front of the magic user...and thus the traditional front-rank/back-rank tactic is born. More interestingly, the other characters start doing everything they can (attacks, verbal insults, silly/weird antics) to keep the monsters from focusing their attention on the magic user...and thus aggro management is born. If magic users were as durable as, say, the D&D thieves, I don't think either behavior would have become so pronounced.

From the section "Whither Healers?":
The simulationist in Gary followed a very reasonable line of thinking: If you get stabbed nearly to death, it should take you days or weeks to recover... But as anyone who has run a long-term campaign knows, long recuperation times can be hell on the ongoing narrative... It's worse if some players need to recuperate, but others don't; that's a recipe for splitting the party. And those long recuperation times wreak havoc with any sort of time deadline before the Great Evil Event happens. As a DM, you want that tool in your toolbox.


  1. With regards to healing, I've always read the whole "1 HP recovered per day of rest" to signify the time between sessions. If you get really hurt one week and rest at the end of the session, the next time we play I rule that the party rested for about a week, you get 7 HP back, and we hash out what might have been done in the intervening time.

  2. That is to say, if you play a weekly campaign. If you're playing a West Marches style campaign where each player has another PC or something like Sham's "party" system where you could take control of a hireling, it becomes even less of an issue.

  3. It reads a bit like revising history in order to justify the current state of affairs. That's human nature, sure, but doesn't tend to result in an accurate portrayal of the past. The resulting insights in the status quo do tend to be useful, at least until such an insight relies on accurate history.

    The thing I like about D&D is that is has always been played in such a huge variety of ways, each of which bring different pressures on the players and their choices. Noonan seems to be saying that D&D was only ever played in one way—the way that happens to correspond to the current fighty-fight-fight playstyle that predominates in 4e.

    Sure, if you're playing D&D in the way that Noonan describes, certain tactics emerge from the pressures that playstyle puts on the PCs and players. If you play in a different way though, those particular roles don't emerge. It follows then that 4e roles aren't going to suit everyone's game.

  4. I'd agree that the basic sentiments are likely true, however I don't like the path that leads from those 'conclusions' to what we see today in 'gaming'.

    As for the grit-level of 1 hp/day recovery v. 'narrative' and 'splitting the party', I don't see that as a necessary function of the rules to dictate, but rather, as Verhaden suggests, a matter for the Referee/GM and the play group to decide upon.
    --Ken St. Andre used an 'about 2 or 3' points recovered each day of clean, calm bedrest in town in 5th ed. T&T. I generally used Con modifier in addition, unless that brought the total to 0 or lesss --1point being the minimum.

    Back to the rest: Tactics have always been a part of the hobby, since it was derived from minis warfare. In some ways, although distastefully executed, the modern combined arms model of squad warfare can be seen in the new versions, with rough analogies being drawn to riflemen, grenadiers, squad-support weapons operators, and heavy weapons, all overseen by combat controllers with an overview of the situation on the ground.
    --To think that this couldn't, or more importantly, wasn't practised by more martially-informed players in days of yore in the RPG front, is ludicrous and indicative, IMO, in a post '82 general lack of education in such matters, as well as a more literature-driven mentality to gaming than that of explorers (scouts) and infiltrators (special-ops) that lend themselves rather well to both complex-crawls and facility-securement.

    I'm perhaps odd in using 'funny voices' and 'character depth' in addition to such tactics in my games, both as player and Referee. A sort of middle-ground between the two eras, I suppose.

  5. Sadly, none of this is surprising. Noonan's made similar statements in the past and they revealed both a misunderstanding of the history of the game and a over-eagerness to look to video games, particularly MMORPGs, for inspiration.

  6. To think that this couldn't, or more importantly, wasn't practised by more martially-informed players in days of yore in the RPG front, is ludicrous and indicative, IMO, in a post '82 general lack of education in such matters, as well as a more literature-driven mentality to gaming than that of explorers (scouts) and infiltrators (special-ops) that lend themselves rather well to both complex-crawls and facility-securement.

    Quite so, and Gygax said as much, as I recall, saying that he viewed magicians as artillery and so on. Have to dig out the ENWorld quote on that matter.

  7. What's even worse is reading James Wyatt's blog, located here: http://blog.aquela.com/

    Remember, he's one of the principle authors of 4th ed. Can you spot the theme in his writings?

  8. Seen elsewhere on the internet today and presented for your consideration. A thread title:

    "(4ed) Predator Druid as a Striker"

    I recognise the words, and I'm sure that they mean something in the jargon of the edition in question. But the combination in which they are utilised - and indeed the whole discussion this (gnomic) title prefaced - has almost no relation to my own understanding of our hobby.

    *grumbles, mines the lawn*

  9. "What's even worse is reading James Wyatt's blog, located here: http://blog.aquela.com/... Remember, he's one of the principle authors of 4th ed. Can you spot the theme in his writings?"

    That's great, enormously telling.

  10. Sorry, I find this to be garbage. The idea of party "role" is lifted directly from MMORPGs, especially World of Warcraft where players are defined by their "expected duty" in a group ("DPS," "Healer," "Tank," etc.).

    Simply more evidence that 4th Edition attempts to turn a paper-n-pencil game into a table-top video game. Retarded.

  11. These roles were created not in WoW or Everquest but in the MUDS that became Everquest.

    MUDS had their own peculiarities of combat based on their nature:

    1) Limitations of Zork model. The unit of space is the "room". There is no position; if you're in the room with the monster you are fighting toe-to-toe with it. This is where taunts come from, because position disappeared.

    Also, tanking is not just about protecting weak characters, it is about concentrating damage in one place to make it easier to heal back up.

    2) Limitations of player lag! Remember this was back in the days of 4800 baud. To be playable over the network, combats became drawn-out affairs with many more rounds and hit points so that players would have multiple decision points about what proc or attack to use (and time to decide to flee if hit points got too low). The vulnerability of wizards was gone; all combat became an efficiency game against balanced opponents.

    (Anyway, the idea of a more fragile unit that hits a little harder is in the atmosphere, it's one of the first things that will occur to you when you monkey with a combat system.)

    3) Unity of time. Time runs at a constant rate, so healing time is downtime, and downtime is boredom is hell. The real penalty of death is having to replace lost experience which means repeating fights which means repeating downtime.

    4) Programming limitations. It's a lot easier to build on the numeric framework of hit frequencies and damage amounts and hit points than it is to account for wacky spell effects and free-flowing tactics. Hence emphasis on buffs and healing and a jillion levelups and treadmills and so on. Also the nature of the text interace made a big difference too; it was hard to select specific enemies or to connect specific actions to specific enemies.

    I could really go on and on.

    MUDS were strongly influenced by D&D but they made lots of design decisions all on their own. Many MUDS happily, exuberantly abandoned the D&D classes and stats and started their own things, but hardly any moved away from the basic toe-to-toe slow motion slugfest nature of combat which was due to the nature of the multiplayer network text game -- not D&D.

    So I think it's those design decisions which most influence the way WoWsers see D&D, not stuff that was inherent in the LBBs.

  12. I think that's good stuff, K. Bailey.

  13. Agreed on finding the secret history of MUD roleplaying fascinating, K. Bailey! I also see Fred Hicks and the commenters on his Evil Hat blog talking about lessons learned from MUDs concerning social engagement with gamings. My own involvement with MUDs back in the Bitnet days was very shallow, but I dig retrospectively delving into these histories of play. Can you recommend a good source for reading up about MUDs?

  14. There's also a strong sense of authorial control in Noonan's commentary - "you want that tool in your toolbox."

    This suggests a different approach to narrative than I would associate with the Old School Renaissance. Even Glenn Blacow in his Different Worlds #10 article thought of "story-tellers" as those gamers who had overarching plot arcs - but in a more abstracted sense than this kind of direct GM control (which I find disturbing, actually).

  15. I agree that this is disturbing.

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned in this post yet is the player skill at husbanding resources.

    Let's say a group of PCs encounter some wandering monsters. The PCs could attack or leave them alone.

    If the PCs attack, they stand to gain a little XP from the combat, but no treasure (which is after all the main goal here). They also stand to lose health and expend resources (spells, arrows, hirelings, potions, charges, magic item uses per day). Healing wounds is a further expenditure of resources.

    Not only is it possible to expend spells to heal wounds, it's possible to rest. But time is a resource too, one that can be spent to recover other resources (spells, item uses per day).

    But the downside of using up time is that you might encounter further wandering monsters, which will drain your resources even more.

    And so the beginning of the spiral downward begins with the first choice of whether to attack the wandering monsters in the first place.

    Now of course attacking the treasure-guarding monster, say one in its lair, is much more worthwhile and it's smart to spend some resources on that endeavor.

    Note too that the tactics of combat can minimize resource usage, thus aiding the strategy of the adventure-going in general.

    But to the extent that your game eliminates rest periods, it eliminates the time resource, and de-emphasizes management of that resource. And as time management is de-emphasized, so is resource management in general, until little forward-planning (or perhaps we could say wisdom entirely) is required at all.