Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It's funny how the nature of a game can shape its goals.  In the original D&D, the purpose of the game is mainly survival for the first few levels.  You're no hero, you're just a schlub that happened to pick up a sword or a spellbook and stumble from adventure to adventure.  The mortality rate is shockingly high, so high that you wonder how desperate life must be in that world that adventuring is considered a viable career.  You start out with essentially no difference between your player and your character, and over time, you build the skills you need in order to become the person you want to be.  Over time, this evolved, to the point where in 4e, you begin the game as about the equivalent of a fourth or fifth level version of your 1e character, and build to godlike status as you go.  Correspondingly, the goalposts shift from mere survival to legendary quests.  It's sort of like how bank robberies, once the staple of comic books, have been replaced by near daily threats to the universe - that sort of thing just doesn't cut it for today's audience.  Going to the caves on the outskirts of town to find a lost child and bring them back isn't fit for a 1st level 4e character, unless there are firebreathing kobolds that have kidnapped them.

Not trying to turn this into an edition war post, just that as the game evolved, so did our expectations for what a game of D&D means.  4e being more combat heavy that previous editions, focuses all of it's powers on building the better kobold-killer, whereas I remember spells in 2e that were ludicrously useless, but added to the flavor.  I think that the NonWeapon Proficiencies were some of the greatest things ever introduced to the game, because it forced the characters to think about what their characters did when they weren't killing things.  I hope that when 5e comes around, they put some thought into that, and, now that they have devised an incredibly well balanced, finely tuned combat system, can turn to the role playing aspects of the game.

Move the expectations for a game of D&D beyond character advancement, bring them into the realm of character development!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your points about 4e's starting character utility and mechanical focus on combat, but I see the "flavor" situation in a different manner. The design philosophy seems to expect individual players and DMs to add their own distinct flavor, a creative interaction with the ruleset that rewards player imagination.

    In terms of combat powers the reflavoring of the power text is fairly easy. For instance, I played a fey-pact warlock with a "magic apple" theme and, without altering any of the baseline mechanics, described power usage in terms of throwing, eating, or manipulating apples. So, I didn't need a specific 1st level spell called "Flaming Apple Toss" when I could just reflavor "Witchfire."

    Out of combat, the situation requires more creative thinking. Players can propose a course of action through either the skill challenge mechanic or the "stunt" rules to attain their noncombat goals. Just as 2e nonweapon proficiencies enable the players to explore the game setting without killing things, so too does the character skill set.

    I think that the game designers made a mistake in burying both the skill challenge and stunt rules in the DMG because most players seem to have no awareness of their existence or utility in game play. Moreover, both systems are buggy and have been subject to numrous erratas to finesse their applications.

    Hopefully, that'll be fixed up when 5e comes around. :-)


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