... now with 35% more arrogance!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Follow-Up Rant: I Hate Niche Protection

I just managed to fix the Internet on my new (desktop) computer, which is much better for writing long blog posts and cross-linking to other posts. So, I wanted to continue the rant about niche protection and address a few of the issues raised in the comments. The important points to note in that post are:

  1. I mean "niche protection" in a very broad sense; and,
  2. Like so many things, the hate is about intentions rather than appearances.

The alternate definitions or applications some people gave for niche protection all specify narrower examples of what I'm talking about. For example, ProfessorOats defended niche protection in this circumstance:
You only protect those areas not every character should be doing. That's why the thief class is an issue: everyone should be picking locks, disabling traps or climbing walls!
So, in his view, if only one class can do some highly specialized thing that shouldn't be common, that's "niche protection" in its truest and most useful form.

Yeah, I hate that idea, too.

The reason is because of those intentions I mentioned. It's not the mere surface aspects of preventing someone from doing something; it's it's the intention of doing that to protect another class, for whatever reason: spotlight protection, encouraging group cohesion, whatever.

I'm all for designing classes and characters to be different. And I'm all for what Brendan referred to as "interesting trade-offs": making a class better at one or two things, but allowing other abilities to languish at "normal" levels. It's the way I think when I design my own classes. But you can play just fine with classes and with zero niche protection, as long as you don't have a whiner in the group. So why have niche protection?

Because somebody is elevating theory over fun.

When I tell new players "Magic-Users can cast spells, Thieves are good at stealth, opening locks, and things like that," I'm not telling them what they are limited to, or what other classes are forbidden from trying. I'm giving them quick package deals built around what they might find fun to do. Want to do a lot of magic stuff? Play a magic-user. Playing a fighter instead? Then if you try to do magic, you may find it very difficult, although not necessarily impossible, and you will have to work like a dog just to get anywhere at it. But hey, even by the book, there's a way to do it (Ring of Spell Storing.)

Or switch classes. That's something the niche protection racket never seems to address: if protecting players from having their gimmick "stolen" is so important, why have rules for switching classes? Answer: because doing everything should be hard, but not impossible.

And to finish up: no, Dante, the "you might make him cry" is *not* a straw man argument, or even important to the discussion of niche protection. It's satire. Because, from my viewpoint, all the rationalizations about why niche protection is a Great Thing basically translate to "someone, somewhere, might cry". People *have* bitched about the Knock spell making the Thief "pointless". Really? Because the M-U is going to waste a spell or scroll on opening a trivial lock that a Thief could open, instead of saving the Knock for the one lock the party must get past and the Thief can't seem to pick? If the M-U does, so what? The look on the party's faces when they find mostly worthless junk in the first chest they use Knock on is certainly worth the lack of niche protection, isn't it?


  1. In Dungeon Crawl Classics, anyone can try to cast a spell, but the odds are good that your warrior's spell check, made with 1d10, is going to fail. Moreover, 10% of the time, that failure will be spectacular. But, the way the system is designed, that warrior might once have been a wizard's apprentice (and thus use a larger die), or might burn Luck to succeed where otherwise he would fail.

    The thief is the best at sneaking, but only because the thief always sneaks against a static DC, while others sneak against oppose checks. And, of course, the thief gains a bonus and might be making his check on a larger die that most other characters.

  2. For the record, there's no intent on my part to keep players from crying or make sure they each get time in the spotlight. Those arguments, especially the one regarding the Knock spell, have always bothered me. If players want "to shine", it's up to them to solve the puzzles or come up with some strategy to win the day. The sort of "niche protection" I advocate isn't more than what one sees in OD&D: fighting-men hit better and are proficient in more weapons (you can still use weapons you're not proficient in, just not as well), magic-users memorize spells (though others can cast spells via other means, like the aforementioned Ring), etc. I don't see much use for thieves because many of their activities are things I want everyone to try. Remove traps is fine, but that hardly seems like a sufficient basis for a whole class. Just have the most dextrous character do it

    Honestly, I find even OD&D (at least without Chainmail) to be too protective for my tastes. I'd like everyone to use a cleave ability. Fighters should just be the best at it. Hopefully that clears things up a little. Not sure if you'd consider it niche protection or not, but I don't really care what the term is. What's important is conveying the idea

    As for multi-classing, I don't see any conflict with (my version of) niche protection. You're trading specialization for versatility. As much as I prefer older systems for other aspects of multiclassing, 3E really made that a tougher choice. Spellcasters weren't just one spell level behind. There were serious consequences! 'Course, that quickly changed with all those +1 spell level abilities from splatbooks and a popular variant in Unearthed Arcana