Qualitative design and quantitative design are not a dichotomy

First, two definitions guidelines.

Quantitative design is design in which the numbers (quantities) change.

Example: In 5th edition, a greataxe does 1d12 slashing damage whilst a greatsword does 2d6 slashing damage. They both have the keywords ‘heavy’ and ‘reach’.

The only real difference is the dice you roll for damage (though the greatsword is also a bit more expensive) – only the numbers change so the design is quantitative.

Qualitative design is design in which the qualities change.

Example: Suppose an axe and a mace both hit for 1d6 damage, but the axe can cut through wood effectively, whilst the mace can pierce plate armour effectively.

The difference here is the qualities that the two items have, so the design is qualitative.

Pictured: an Ancient Greek Bronze Age axe head

There is definitely something fun about optimisation, noodly mechanics and quantitative design, but only at an appropriate time.

I like it when I’m playing Magic: The Gathering, Slay the Spire or Terraforming Mars.

For these games, noodly optimisation IS the game.

I don’t like it so much in my roleplaying games.

I prefer qualitative design because

  • It decreases the chance the game will get bogged down
  • It guides player thought towards the world they are in and the role they are playing
  • It pushes the game towards choices that matter

Numerical changes can be qualitative

Dwarves have a base movement speed of 25ft.

Humans have a base movement speed of 30ft.

This means humans are 5ft per round quicker. This is quantitative.

Humans are quicker than Dwarves. This is qualitative, and flows logically from the previous statement.

A change of 5ft – which is a numerical, quantitative change – results in a change in qualities.

Pictured: A Mycenean bronze and gold sword

But it depends on the situation

Changing a fireball spell from having a 30ft radius to a 35ft radius is another 5ft change.

However it is only quantitative. The qualities of the fireball are still the same – its a large explosion of fire.

Changing a fireball spell from having a 30ft radius to a 100ft radius is both a quantitative and qualitative change.

It has gone from a large explosion of fire to a massive explosion of fire. From engulfing a house to a whole street.

Summary: Quantitative changes are also qualitative changes when the quantitative change is qualitatively appreciable.

Glog spell as a reward for reading

Unyielding Hair

Range: Touch

Duration: [dice+sum] seconds

Pluck a hair from your head and bend it to the desired shape. The hair will stay in that shape no matter how much force, pressure, stress or torque is applied for the next [dice+sum] seconds.

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