“Optional” is a myth.

Hi all, and welcome to Rule Zero (or whatever we’re going to wind up calling this thing)!  You’ll notice the site is in the neonatal stage atm.  But you’re not here for pretty graphics – you’re here for nerd content, so let’s deliver that right away.

I’m Matt, and Jason and I will get to our introductions, philosophies, and backgrounds soon enough – but I want to get this out in the wild, while people are still talking about it.

(clears throat)

Fortune Cards are optional.

Essentials are optional – if you don’t want to use them in your game, don’t.

Errata is optional – if you don’t want to take the time to update your books, you don’t have to.

These are fallacies – and they’re often repeated.

I mean, they’re true statements in the way that everything is optional.  If you want to outlaw drow PCs in your game (and you should) – that’s an option.  If you don’t like tabletop gaming – you have the option of going outside to play kickball.  If your DM is a jerk, you have the option of throwing a tantrum and storming away from the table.

Everything is optional.

However, if you want to play in organized play, you have to make concessions.  Me?  I play LFR and Encounters more than anything, and in these campaigns you agree to make certain concessions for the overall game world.  Personally, I don’t think warforged PCs should be in LFR (sorry Anthony) – but I deal, because that’s the how the campaign is.  I think it’s wrong that only the Heroes of… books are allowed in Encounters, but that’s WotC’s rule.

You know what else is WotC’s rule?  Fortune cards are legal.  When I’m DMing LFR or Encounters next season, I’ll have to take it and like it when a player puts down a fortune card.  Yes, I can DM-Empower myself to do whatever… but the players that show up are trusting the DM to adhere to the codified rules.  I have an issue breaking that trust.

So please – stop it.  They’re only optional as much as every other houserule is optional.

There ya go, first post on yet another D&D blog.  Jason and I are going to introduce ourselves to you soon.  In the meantime, feel free to join the discussion – tell your friends, or just ignore us altogether.


About Matt Savage

Matt Savage once had a torrid affair with a gelatinous cube.
This entry was posted in Dungeons & Dragons, Encounters, Essentials, Fortune Cards, Houserules, Living Forgotten Realms. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to “Optional” is a myth.

  1. I think you are doing as much as a disservice by calling them fallacies. You choose to play organized play and the organizers decided to include or exclude certain things. The problem at that point is not the products themselves but the organizational structure.

    • Matt Savage says:

      Plenty to talk about regarding the organization structures, I’ll grant you that.

      But I’ll need you to explain to me how the above-bolded statements are not fallacies – which one do you disagree with? How are fortune cards any more or less optional than psionics (to use Jason’s example)?

      • Nothing in the core rules of the game states one has to allow these things into one’s game. Nothing in the core rules state one has to update said core rules. In fact, the core books of the game suggest that one make changes to the game to produce the experience he/she wants.

        On the other hand, organized play leaders decide to allow and disallow certain things. The people in charge of that have decided what parts are optional or not for the games being run under their banner and the people who choose to play those games agree to use the rules the larger organization implements. Those items aren’t optional only because the people playing in those games agreed to let someone else make the decisions for them.

  2. Jason says:

    I think calling them optional is more of a dismissive easy out. The PHB3 came out and introduced psionics and mindshards. Do I want them in my game? Not really. But if I’m participating in a public game and someone really wants to play one (or both) I’m kinda stuck with it.
    It would be a dick move (what’s the non-colloquialism version of “dick move”? Is there one?) for me to tell the player to just take a hike.
    Sure, the bartender at the Mos Eisley cantina can yell and point at the droids and say “We don’t serve their kind here!” But that was a dick move, too.
    What we’re trying to do with organized play (like Encounters, which I run at my local store) is encourage people to play D&D. You do a disservice to the hobby, to the store, to your and their enjoyment of the game by just saying “those are optional and I dont’ want them”.
    Wizards said they’re legal and therefore they’re legal. The DM’s hand is kinda forced in that instance.
    I’m not saying it’s ultimately evil or bad but it is what it is.

  3. So people shouldn’t have a product that they want because, for a certain portion of games, some people might be stuck playing at a table with said product?

    • Matt Savage says:

      I’ve seen players requesting things like a DMG for epic-tier play, a VTT, etc.

      I haven’t seen any great demand for fortune cards.

      Hey look, I don’t care what people do in their home games. If they’re having fun, that’s great. I’m not going to say you’re having wrongbadfun if you play something I don’t care for.

      But we can’t call these things optional. They exist. You can ignore them in your home game, but WotC’s going to force their use in organized play. Yes, organized play is optional too (I should have included that) – just as much as anything else is.

      • Actually, I’ve heard about as much demand for fortune cards as I have for an epic tier DMG. Quite a few people like the twitter buffs and use them in their home games, especially when the games happen on a Wednesday night.

      • Jason says:

        That’s interesting. This is directed at those people, not you, but the Wednesday night buffs are so specific (frogs jumping out of a pond and causing difficult terrain) how do those people make those relevant?

        “Thunderclouds rumble above. For the rest of the encounter, the grass is slippery.” What? I’m in Athas! 😉

        Again, in a home game, I get offline-twitter buffs. I think I’ve said that. What I wouldn’t want in my game is Cardy McPimplepants and his unbeatable deck of game-alterment.

        THAT sucks for a DM. Growing up, I had a player who had a wizard that ruined the game for all of us. He took over the show each and every time without fail.

        If something opens itself up for exploitation someone will exploit it. That’s just a fact.

      • Because you don’t have to use the flavor if you don’t want to.

        It’s true, people will exploit anything. But that doesn’t mean that the product shouldn’t exist for people who like them. I don’t see anything like this amount of controversy for similar products made by 3rd parties. The issue here is that the people playing feel powerless because the company making the products is tied to the group making the rules for organized play. And that emotion is leading to some pretty broad statements that, in my opinion, don’t hold up to logical analysis.

  4. Scribble says:

    Boo Friken Hoo?

  5. Jason says:

    I’ve never said “Ban Fortune Cards!” but what I see is an opportunity for some people who have the means/interest/time to game the system. Maybe they’re uber-tweaking their character’s powers and feats. Maybe they’re building a deck of cards that has so many pluses and bonuses that they can steam roll over all the monsters and most of the other players at the table.
    Adding this kind of imbalance to the game is what I’m most concerned could happen.
    Hey, I could be totally wrong and they’ve already taking steps to prevent that. I honestly don’t know about Magic the Gathering — is there a situation where a player can build a deck that he can sit down at a table and just trounce a newbie?
    Is that what we want to happen to D&D?

    • D&D already presents many “opportunit[ies] for some people who have the means/interest/time to game the system.” Players who purchase DDI subscriptions, for example, have access to powers, feats, items, and so on that players working only with a printed copy of Heroes of the Fall Lands don’t have. Players are already “übertweaking” their characters’ powers and feats. There’s a whole forum on the Wizards Community dedicated to character optimization. Min-maxing has been around for a long time without any assistance from fortune cards.

      As for “building a deck of cards that has so many pluses and bonuses that they can steam roll [sic] over all the monsters and most of the other players at the table,” we should keep at least the following two things in mind.

      First, WotC has already considered this problem and has already addressed this issue, albeit quite briefly an in fashion that assumes people will use the product as intended (which, of course, can actually be enforced in Organized Play settings like D&D Encounters). In fact, they addressed this issue at the very moment they first announced the product! Go back to the Tome Show’s August 7, 2010 episode—part 1 of the GenCon product announcement seminar—and skip forward to 41:42. You’ll hear Bill Slaviscek, Steve Rouse (I think), and Mike Mearls talk about the fortune cards, and they address this issue specifically.

      Second, D&D is not a competition between the players like M:TG and other “dueling” games are. In D&D, all players benefit when other players use their characters’ abilities and options (including backgrounds, themes, fortune cards, or whatever) to the full.

      Personally, my opinion of fortune cards has not changed significantly from the opinion I expressed when the product was first announced.

    • Matt Savage says:

      You can absolutely build a newbie-trouncing deck in Magic.

      • eudemonist says:

        Yeah, being “better” than the other guy is pretty much the whole point of Magic. D&D, however, is theoretically a cooperative exercise.

        Fortune cards are randomized packs that are supposed to be opened at the table, aren’t they? Not really familiar with them.

  6. Jerry says:

    Personally I think a hobby as free form and open for interpretation such as D&D has no room for such “organized” play like LFR, encounters maybe. WotC has a lot of products that can benefit from sanctioned play that have hard set rules without room for gray area: MT:G, Axis & Allies, etc. I just don’t see D&D as one of them, therefore I could give two shits about the fortune cards, I won’t be buying any but if one of my players does I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

    • eudemonist says:


      Are you at all familiar with the Living Greyhawk organized 3.5 campaign? Having players worldwide all playing in the same campaign is AWESOME. Each real-world geographic region corresponded to a region in the campaign, with associated storylines and major events, which were influenced by how players played the different modules. HUNDREDS of players took part in the fight against Iuz, here in the Bandit Kingdoms, and their choices changed things on a pretty grand scale.

      Having a chance to be part of a great story, to adventure in a dynamic world, populated with other characters? To gain reknown, perform heroic deeds, and game in a vibrant and living campagin world that stretches beyond the boundaries of one’s living room…that’s incredible!

      It ABSOLUTELY has a place as part of the hobby. I would even go so far as to call LG the greatest expression of what D&D “should be” to date.

  7. Jerry says:

    PS: I’m loving your new blog and how you’re pushing the envelope here with just coming straight out and saying how you feel and then having the balls to flat out disagree with people. If I could buy you a beer, I would.

    • Matt Savage says:

      Thank you, sir. Jason and I will buy each other beers and toast in your honor. I’ll spit in his when he isn’t looking.

      I’m a fan of the gazebo. Your encouragement means a lot.

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