Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Justification for Simulationist RPG Rules

Yesterday the tortured Unclebear who's qualities as a gamer and as an individual are without peer posted a link to probably the most eloquent game design articles I've ever read at the Forge which is an RPG game design forum that I've never known about until now.

The article explains the differences between Simulationist, Gamist and Narrative Role Playing. These I don't think are official terms but in my experience they should be. Most gamers I know of fall into those three categories and writing off what this article states when designing is a bad idea.

The best part of the article is here:
  • "Gamist. This player is satisfied if the system includes a contest which he or she has a chance to win. Usually this means the character vs. NPC opponents, but Gamists also include the System Breaker and the dominator-type roleplayer. RPGs well suited to Gamists include Rifts and Shadowrun.

  • Narrativist. This player is satisfied if a roleplaying session results in a good story. RPGs for Narrativists include Over the Edge, Prince Valiant, The Whispering Vault, and Everway.

  • Simulationist. This player is satisfied if the system "creates" a little pocket universe without fudging. Simulationists include the well-known subtype of the Realist. Good games for Simulationists include GURPS and Pendragon.

Here I suggest that RPG system design cannot meet all three outlooks at once. For example, how long does it take to resolve a game action in real time? The simulationist accepts delay as long as it enhances accuracy; the narrativist hates delay; the gamist only accepts delay or complex methods if they can be exploited. Or, what constitutes success? The narrativist demands a resolution be dramatic, but the gamist wants to know who came out better off than the next guy. Or, how should player-character effectiveness be "balanced"? The narrativist doesn't care, the simulationist wants it to reflect the game-world's social system, and the gamist simply demands a fair playing field.

One of the biggest problems I observe in RPG systems is that they often try to satisfy all three outlooks at once. The result, sadly, is a guarantee that almost any player will be irritated by some aspect of the system during play. GMs' time is then devoted, as in the Herbie example, to throwing out the aspects that don't accord for a particular group. A "good" GM becomes defined as someone who can do this well - but why not eliminate this laborious step and permit a (for example) Gamist GM to use a Gamist game, getting straight to the point? I suggest that building the system specifically to accord with one of these outlooks is the first priority of RPG design."

The game I'm working on is Simulationist through and through, and even more than that we're going for utter realism as well which is ambitious. However my conceit is such that I honestly believe the game can appeal to Gamists and Narrative gamers as well. The mechanics are tight enough that even though things like combat have the potential to be resolved extremely quickly with a few simple player aides so Narration isn't impeded, and our rules are encompassing enough that we can accommodate an extremely wide variety of weapons, equipment, vehicles and overall trickiness in a manner that allows for a Gamist to fulfill the desire to aquire and exploit.

Ultimately I believe that a system based on simulationist foundation is superior to a system that only emulates. The reason for this lies in immersion - which is a Narrative principle. Immersion is where we as players get caught up in the game and lose track of reality to a degree. Immersion keeps people engaged in the goings on of the game. One of the ways a game can lose immersion is when a player is forced to realize that what he's trying to have his character do in the game is not the result that he expected. This might be because the Player's logic was flawed, but sometimes the simple fact is that the mechanical result of the action in the game is not what would have occurred in reality. When a player is confronted with these deviations in how the game world functions with how reality functions there can be a break in immersion.

Now some deviations from reality are preferable, things like magic for example, but magic too should be based on certain principles rooted in reality, if they aren't then again immersion breaks. An example of this is where in the game system, being trapped inside a burning building is somehow less harmful than being hit by a magic fireball because inside the building the flames are "mundane fire".

A similar argument for simulationist principles can be used in modern video games regarding physics engines. The general consensus is that physics engines help give the gamer the feel that the world works on realistic principles and helps him get into the game more. However there is an additional proponent that has only come to light recently because of game modders who are creating new scenarios and adding in additional ideas to games independent of the developer's original vision. When these unique ideas interact with physics engines often the results are quite interesting and beyond what the developer had ever considered. In this the addition of physics principle creates something greater than the sum of the developer's product + the modder's additions. Tabletop role-playing always works like this because players are not confined to what is possible within the computer script, so there will always be unexpected interactions with mechanics. This is a good thing and should be encouraged and facilitated wherever possible.

I think that one of the barriers to entry into tabletop gaming comes from people finding it difficult to swallow the rules of the new realities presented in most games. They feel like they'll be seen as incompetent by their peers because they didn't understand that his big 8 foot tall, barbarian character that's built like a brick-shit-house at 1st level can't even hope to win in a fight against the 4'7" little elf at 10th level. This is something most gamer's take for granted as fact, but someone not familiar with the rapport could become confused and frustrated by such an incongruity. This is why I advocate simulationism and make a case that it has more worth in games than many of my peers. Because I feel that a game that functions on familiar terms - no matter if you're an experienced role-player or a new girlfriend trying to find out what her geeky lover makes such a big deal about - is going to be more fun and immersive than otherwise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Plug to Geek's Dream Girl and More on Sex!

Today E. Foley from Geek's Dream Girl contacted me to let me know that I won my very own Player's Handbook 2 for D&D 4th Edition, so I thought giving her a plug was the least I could do in exchange.

Geek's Dream Girl is in my opinion a great and unique site set up by an online dating profiler geared at helping nerdy folks find love. The idea of marketing dating advice to that specific market is really a stroke of genius and I see her brand going far. We geeks need more helpful souls like her.

In that theme I'll offer my own bits of advice which E. is more than welcome to repost if she wishes.

I myself don't actually need the help E. offers because I've been blessed with the fortune to find the love of my life already and I suppose I've been doubly blessed by the fact that she has become an expert on sexuality and helps run a love boutique. I've learned many things from her and I'll share some tips on how to impress a girl with a few helpful sex toys.

When people talk about sex toys, they think vibrators and dildos and the general consensus is that they’re just for women and even then only for self pleasure. Most of us guys don’t seem to have a problem with that. Let the women have their free-rotating, 8-setting, glow-in-the-dark thingamagingies, all we need is some porn and a private space.

However, we gamers all know the difference having a few pieces of equipment can make to the success of a campaign, so I'm going to detail a few choice things you can use in that other battlefield they call the bedroom.

I’ll start with the most basic and most important: Lube.

Lube keeps things running smoothly, we’re guys, we know this. We keep the fluids checked on our cars for this very reason, but most of us probably don’t know what works for sexual lubrication.

For sex, there are really only two options, water-based lube, or Silicone lube. Water based is preferable for just about every purpose and cheaper than Silicone. Water based lubes are clean, odorless, edible, won’t stain your LARP outfit and can be used with any toy out there. The down-side to water lubes is that they dry-out and lose their slickness eventually.

Silicone based lubes generally provide a longer-lasting smoothness than water lubes can, however they may stain those silk breeches slightly and isn't edible. Silicone lubes are also potentially harmful to certain realistic toys, but is completely safe to use with latex condoms.

What you should NOT be using for sex are oils like vegetable or massage oil, and Vaseline or KY Jelly will erode any condom you choose to use. Any oil-based lubricant will attract bacteria, which could cause an infection and that will not reflect well on you.

Ultimately, it’s a good idea just to have a water-based lube in your sock drawer, if it’s flavored that’s one less potential hurdle to getting some wild head, and it can still be used to smooth your initial entrance, and if you're girl is just as nerdy as you, you can call it your +1 potion to lovemaking.

Next we come to bullets, and no you’re not loading any guns with these ones.

Bullet is the term used for a small vibrator that’s not designed for penetration; they can be about the size of an egg or smaller and vary in intensity and capability as well. Bullets are generally used by women to stimulate the clitoris, and can be used during sex for clit-stim to help get her off before you.

When you're shopping for bullets at Ye-Ol Erotic Magic Shop don’t be afraid to ask the shopkeep about them before you buy. The main thing to watch for is how well it vibrates, not all vibrations are equal, but lucky for you boutiques are not like department stores and any good clerk will show you what kind of vibration your toy has before you buy it. A good test is to put it to the tip of your nose. The tip of your nose is the part that has the 2nd most nerve-endings in your body, (you can guess where the first is) so it’s a good gauge to how it’ll feel for her.

Once you’ve got a bullet, keep it in a cool dry area of your house. Sock drawers are nature’s ideal location for all sex toys, so keep it there. Bring it out during sex and you can control it if you’re going down on her, but let her handle the positioning when you’re inside her. Women know what feels good and letting her control this aspect of the whole sexual act will only reflect better on you later. One thing though, it's not good form to share a toy with multiple partners (unless they're in bed with you at the same time).

Cock rings like enchanted ones in fantasy games can have a dramatic effect on your performance, and there are a wide array to choose from, some act as sleeves for your penis with stubs or pocket to hold a bullet for extra stimulation, and some are basically a noose for your tool. I prefer the latter, here’s why:

The general advantage to a cock ring is that it restricts blood-flow from your penis as well as tightens around the vas deferens to hold back the orgasm. This is a multi-layered benefit. The first and most obvious change once a cock ring is on and tightened is that the penis gets thicker and the veins all throughout it become extremely pronounced and ridge-like. To your woman, this is a GOOD thing, you become bigger thicker and bumpy, it’s like giving your penis a strength potion. The next thing is that of course it let’s you go for longer and because of this the orgasm is considerably more intense when it does come.

With any sexual toy there is an additional factor that is very important, cleanliness. I mentioned sock drawers twice already and there is a reason for this. Sock drawers are dry, and clean. However you still need to use additional cleaning methods. Most boutiques will offer some safe suds for your toys to keep them clean without damaging them. Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners because they will often damage or weaken the item, and toys aren’t overly cheap so it’s in your best interest to keep them in good condition.

With a few of these items you can impress your lover with your desire to please and knowledge of advanced sexual techniques, and with any luck will help fill the world with more little geeks and we can take over the world more quickly. So if you've got any spare change after picking up the latest supplement, stop by a boutique and pick some up, your dream girl will thank you.

Recommending Burn Notice and Applied Problem-solving in RPG's

There's one TV show I recommend to all gamers. Not because it encompasses anyone's game perfectly or provides inspiration, no this one I recommend for instructional purposes.

Burn notice is into it's 3rd season now and besides the fact that it has Bruce Campbell in it and is probably one of the most entertaining new shows out there currently, you should be watching it because it will teach you how to be a better gamer.

How is this? After all, it has nothing to do with dice rolling or building a character, and isn't even set in a fantasy world which is where 90% of all RPG's are set. All this is true, so how does Burn Notice teach people how to game better?

In a nutshell, it is an instruction manual on how to do sneaky stuff, often with little or no resources.

Burn notice is about a spy named Michael Weston, at the start of the first season he gets "burned" or blacklisted from the spy biz. All his assets are seized, his contacts alienated and he's dumped off in Miami with a few broken ribs and a very grumpy ex-girlfriend. The meat and potatoes of the show is about him trying to figure out who burned him, while gathering new resources and occasionally helping his wacky family out of the occasional bind, but that's not what makes the show such a great instructional tool. The most awesome part is that usually just before the action starts or a plan is put into place, Michael does a little internal monologue. This monologue usually amounts to shop-talk, or why he's about to do what he does, it's almost always common sense and can be applied to so many situations no matter the setting.

Need to get into a guarded building? Get a messenger uniform - here's how.
Need to know a fast exit from overwhelming odds? - Burn notice has a few good tips.
Need to defeat someone without violence? - Create leverage over them, it's surprisingly easy.

The show offers some great tips on how to apply creative logic to common problems that come up in games. These aren't so much about specific techniques but overall common sense approaches to handle them. The first step to handling a challenge in-game is having a plan of action, it's not until you declare that action that the GM will require a die roll, so having a smart plan is often more important than having a good roll.

Don't believe me? Here's an example of a common situation that can be made easier with a better plan that having higher skill will have no effect on:

Say you're in a dungeon and you you know you're about to come into a room where bad things are guarding the loot you're after. There's no back entrance and no way you can sneak into the room without alerting the guards. You're going to have to fight your way through them. So what do you do?

You might have the thief pick the lock while the mage and cleric cast their buffs which is standard. But Burn notice teaches us that if you can't sneak upon your enemies the best approach is to go in with as much fanfare as possible. Make noise as you break in, break the lock rather than picking it, that way all the guards will turn to look at the door. Then cast a blinding flash spell (or in a modern game use a flash-bang grenade) through the hole and blind all your enemies just before your tank kicks the door down and you make short work of your blinded enemies.

See what I mean? Only an extremely generous GM would tell you to do that approach after making a skill roll, but such a simple approach is the difference between a tough fight and a relatively easy one. This is what Burn Notice has to offer and is why I recommend it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Transcribing Hardkore Sex Rules

Those of you who know me better than just from what you've read of my past 2 posts here know that I'm writing out a game system currently. The majority of the development was worked on by a good friend of mine Dixon, between '98 and '03. The long development cycle was due to his drive to perfect the system leaving it perpetually unfinished until a computer crash wiped out most of his work. In 2008 though Dixon found a CD backup of some of his work, and I persuaded him into letting me take over and finish the project so that it can be published. It's been a year since I've taken over the project, piecing together incomplete editions of multiple iterations of a game that I playtested 5 years ago has been alternately nostalgic and frustrating, but now finally I'm starting to see a playable game taking shape.

The working title of this game is called Hardkore and it's designed as an adult simulation-based Role Playing Game. I can't disclose much more about it than that at this point but today I'm transcribing an old page of one of the features that made Hardkore an adult game, the sex rules.

Sex has never been well represented in RPG's in my opinion. In most cases it's ignored outright by game developers, and even when attention is given to one of the most basic instincts of humankind, it's looked at with an immaturity akin to a bunch of junior high kids giggling at a porno-mag. Something I find rather astonishing considering role-playing is about telling a story, and better than 80% of all stories are essentially derived from 'Boy meets girl...'

I understand that it's pretty awkward to sit around a game table with a bunch of your buddies and act out a romantic scene. In most cases I wouldn't want to, so our sex rules attempt to abstract all the sweaty moaning and whispered sweet-nothings into a bit of a narrative summary that I feel is quite realistic. However there's one thing that you might have picked up on that's missing and that's how can an RPG approximate that basic human desire to get layed? Sure we know it's there, but what makes players actually want to use these rules?

Well... that I can't tell you yet, but rest assured it's there and I think it's suitably awesome.

So now I leave you with Dixon's original introduction to the Sex chapter, which brought back a bit of nostalgia for me. Enjoy.

A Brief Rant on Sex [Or Lack Thereof] in Gaming

"What the fuck? Sex in RPG's?"



Because your character should have realized by now that they have to take life to the edge and live every minute to it's fullest... you never know if it might be your last.

Because sex is a big part of countercultures and freedom movements, and this is an adult-orientated game based on counterculture and a freedom movement.

Because game writers are willing to write 20+ pages of detailed descriptions of how to maim and kill people, but are either too terrified or too puritanical to write even one lousy fucking paragraph about sex or romance in RPG's.

But mostly...

Because we can.

You see, we think there is a place for sex in gaming, more-so if you intend to play your character with any degree of humanity to them. Do you have to use these rules? Of course not, that's why they're optional.

These mechanics will allow you to flesh out a character, bring a new level of detail and depth to your character's relationships with their romantic partners, and (hopefully) enhance your roleplaying experience. It will also allow social oriented characters the opportunity to strut their stuff in that other battlefield we call the bedroom.

You know, love and war and all that...

That said, our position is that if it might enhance your roleplaying experience then there isn't really any reason not to include mechanics for romantic activity. If you or your GM is uncomfortable with gaming this aspect of life in detail, then don't. It's no big deal.

~Dixon Steele

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Understanding Exalted

I get the distinct impression that D&D players don't like Exalted which might have more than a little to do with the fact that I know 90% of Exalted players hate D&D with every ounce of their black little hearts. But why is this?

I think anyone who reads this blog will be familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, but maybe not Exalted. Both are Tabletop RPG's and both are fantasy but from there the similarities end. I'll try to lay out some of the differences in the two games.

D&D is somewhat of a generic system, meaning that it's rules are designed to be used in any number of fantasy settings. However certain core elements of D&D such as Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and the like take their origins from JRR Tolkeen. Thus every fantasy setting using D&D's system will always be Tolkeen-based.

The exalted system is derived from White Wolf's Storyteller but is specifically designed for the Exalted setting, it is not generic. Exalted is not Tolkeen Based it does include Elves, Dwarves and Goblins but they're rooted in the actual mythologies of such creatures. Elves for example are a combination of Celtic Fae Creatures and Arabian Djinn, and goblins are their servants. There are no Character Races, in exalted. Race is an issue very much like it is in real life, simple mutations of humankind, some of these are natural and some very unnatural. For the purposes of making a character though nothing changes, you simply decide you want your character to be a particular race and stat him accordingly.

D&D is a level-based system. This isn't an official term but in a nut shell it means that it develops characters in "levels" which are basically broad platforms of character development. They allow players to easily understand what they need to accomplish a given task. IE: "To learn the spell that burns people up I need to be Level 8."

Exalted is a point-based system which means the character's stats, skills and the like have a value in points. To develop these traits you spend the appropriate amount of points and develop them individually. This allows for an increased degree of customizability and a more constant development of one's character.

However the biggest difference between D&D and Exalted is context. In Dungeons and Dragons the Player Characters are better than the average person because they've gained levels, which is too abstract to quantitatively explain within a setting or a story. This often means that world around the PC's becomes a "higher level" as quickly as they do in order to keep challenging them. Which from a gameplay perspective is fine but starts to break down when applied to a narrative.

Exalted on the other hand put's the power level of the players in context to the rest of the world setting. Most character to start are vastly more capable than the average person in the world setting because the gods have chosen them to be champions for them. This can be daunting to GM's because the average encounter that would challenge a normal person or PC is often child's play to an Exalt. Balance comes through a more etheric concept involving indirect consequences of one's actions. An example of this would be in that your character could certainly show his power and beat up someone to take over his house, but then everyone in town would know it and while they might not be able to fight you individually but they can make your stay unpleasant or call in someone who can kick his butt.

This difference in context is what I think makes Exalted unappealing to D&D players. Exalted makes no bones about the PC's being extraordinarily powerful and able to do extremely epic things. At first glance it comes across as a power-gamer's wet dream and the power gamer gets a very bad rap because they're the player that exploits the mechanics to be untouchable which makes things unfun for everyone else.

D&D on the other hand is disdained by Exalted players for being overly focused on combat mechanics, and unable to quantify what the players can do within the narrative and setting. To Exalted players this disconnect between the story and the resolution mechanics impedes immersion which in turn limits the capacity to role-play.

Honestly though I'm just an Exalted player starting to venture into a blogging community full of D&D players and not quite understanding why more Dungeons and Dragons people haven't tried it, and if they had, what exactly turned them off?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Setting out to Break D&D 4.0 - Instead it Breaks Me

It seems like the vast majority of gaming bloggers around are D&D players, so they constantly discuss the merits of D&D 4.0 and for some incomprehensible reason they seem to like it. Some might say D&D is an "acquired taste" but I think it's more like if you've only eaten gruel all your life when the makers of gruel brought out porridge you might need to take a few weeks to get used to the texture but now that everyone is eating porridge instead of gruel you've come to like it. Me on the other hand... I was eating home-grown vegtables since I was a toddler have been dining on roast beef for the past 3 years and now I'm feeding my very own cow fermented corn to create kobe beef... and for some reason everyone is going on about this new porridge called Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.

Actually I'm wrong. Porridge is the wrong analogy for what D&D 4e is to me, it's actually pablum. Elements of real RPG pureed into a paste that can be fed to infants because they're incapable of chewing anything with substance. Lately among role-players there's been circulating an arguement that strong game mechanics are incompatable with strong narration. D&D 4e certainly does nothing to invalidate that arguement, that is if you believe that it has strong mechanics; I don't. What Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition does have is extensive mechanics, however these mechanics are entirely geared towards killing things with dice, everything else is an afterthought and a poorly realized one at that.

My distaste for D&D is no secret, I've been a staunch critic of it since Hasbro bought Wizards and they released D20. I vowed that I would not even accept a D20 product on my hard drive as a PDF even if it were given to me by a friend for free. (Yes illegal and irrelevant because I kept my vow all through 3rd edition.) However the industry seems to be coming back from the D20 OGL that afflicted it and I don't see the new one effecting it in the same way so I thought maybe it was time to bury the hatchet, after all; gaming is my favorite hobby and Dungeons and Dragons is the original from which all others have spawned. So I put aside my original distaste for the overall product and decided to give it a try and use and abuse it in ways that no one else really would.

I've not played many actual sessions of D&D truth be told, currently in my 13 years of gaming the count is up to 4 and a half (the half being made a character and did a 10 minute prelude but never actually played beyond that). But one session that I remember having some fun while simultaneously being annoyed at was a session where I got to play a 2nd level Bard in 3rd edition that was loaded up with skills. The scenario was that we had come upon a small town that was being terrorized by a necromancer (the cues being a dismayed populace and a really big graveyard) this of course was to lead to our group venturing through the sewers through hoards of skeletons raised from the ancestors of these poor townsfolk, smashing their bones to dust, killing the vile necromancer that animated them and then taking any grave goods that might have been collected in the process as our own.

I decided to take a different approach. I felt that it was obvious that the town council must be corrupt to let the people of this town be terrorized so, and that these people needed to be free from such tyranny. I describe carefully how I as a 2nd Level Bard would go to the neighboring monastery and explain to the Paladins there about how the council of this town was letting such a horrible thing occur. I requested that these paladins help me expel this corrupt council and help me with installing a more benevolent one, in exchange I would set up a tithe from the town taxes to send to the monastery as a protection fee, and probably end up being mayor in the process.

As a Bard I had the means to do this easily, my social skills were well up to the task because D&D didn't really have a way to counter good social skill rolls. So I was about to become mayor of this town get tax money for doing so as a 2nd level bard before the rest of the group had even decided which entrance to take into the sewers.

One of the players however was insistent that what I was doing could not be possible because I was only 2nd Level, and that was stuff that higher level characters did. The DM too was balking, not because he could find fault in my plan but that it would thoroughly derail the game which was barely even starting, so in good grace I acquiesced to their requests and went into the dungeon and fumbled around as bards are known to do, the next session I found other things to do that weren't D&D and that was fine with everyone. But the niggling thought remained with me long afterwards:

Can a well-played social character break the game?

I believed it could because Charisma is the only social ability and by-and-large considered a dump stat by D&D aficionados. Plus there were really no rules governing what a person swayed by force of personality would do.

There's a web-video circulating where during a game of D&D one of the PC's meets a girl. The conversation between the DM and the player goes like this:
PC: "Will she have sex with me?"
GM: "Um... roll your Charisma."
PC: *Rolls coming up 18* "Sweet!" *Then in a singsong voice of triumph declares:* "18-plus-four. That means I SCORE!"

Me... I've actually slept with women in real life, so I figure I can put together a bit stronger rationalization than that, and if I'm packing a character with a character with +15 to his Diplomacy skill I should be unstoppable. With those two things on my side I'll be ruling the world in under 5 sessions barring the DM doesn't have a panic attack and ban me from the game before the 3rd one.

So when the Players Guide 2 came out I borrowed it from a friend and attempted to make that uber-social bard that would break the game. My strategy was build a character with as high a Charisma as I could get, get a high Wisdom to counter other characters like myself, pump lots of points into diplomacy, and bluff and then find out what point the system broke down where I could convince kings and emperors to do my bidding.

To the game's credit, it doesn't break like I thought it does. I managed to make my bard have a diplomacy bonus of +17 at first level, but skill base is determined directly by level - meaning high-level characters will resist a low level character's Bluff attempt, and diplomacy has no hard and fast rules for resistance which means after I abuse it more than twice the DM can just assign a difficulty of 50 and I'm derailed. Not that buying the DM beers and using some sound rationale can't get past that, but it's not the game breaking results that I was looking for. However this does reveal a deeper problem which I find much more disturbing... single focus gameplay.

99% of all the mechanics in D&D are geared towards you killing something. Now I'm not some liberal pacifist gamer that believes killing is wrong or anything but if I want to kill things with my fancy avatar I'll go play an MMOG! When I want to actually play a character and triumph through cunning or fail from lack of it I turn to tabletop games. Unfortunately Wizards of the Coast doesn't believe gamers like me exist, because there is no room for cunning or nuance in D&D's mechanics. Charisma is not a social stat, it is a combat stat that emphasizes feints and ways of killing your opponent by talking at them.

For example: The bard spell Fast Friends on Pg 69 of the Players Guide 2 says you leave your opponent in Reverie for a round but all this does is make them skip their attack. No social implications at all just a combat effect... Or Blunder on the same page it Hazes your Enemy's mind, something that would have all sorts of creative applications, but the effect once again strictly combat.

All this reminds me of an old game called Warhammer Quest which I wouldn't define as a role-playing game but more of a wargame/board game hybrid. You placed down tiles to represent the dungeon you marched through encountering monsters along the way until you killed the boss and got the loot. Then you left the dungeon and rolled to see if you went to a village a town or a city, the difference in the three was how easy it was to find buyers for your special loot. Then once you'd sold your loot and bought training for your next level you'd go back to squashing monsters in the next dungeon. This was a fun game and I enjoyed it immensely but it was not a role-playing experience, it wasn't trying to be.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition has that same single focus on fighting things in tight quarters and it really seems like the times between the dungeon fighting is just supposed to be glossed over so that the players can go back to their regular Vitamin D deficient lifestyles. This seems wrong to me because D&D has spawned some extremely rich fantasy settings; why have a Forgotten Realms setting when the game is obviously only meant for you to be crawling through it's sewers smashing at rats like a cameraman filming Dirty Jobs? Why create these rich vast vistas of gameplay opportunity if the only way you can effect them is by fighting off the randomly spawning threats that pop up within them?

Why would D&D give me a corrupt town if it never meant for me to become it's mayor?