The Nail Of The Dragon

2008 March 17
by Vanir

As I’ve mentioned before, since I’m a simulationist and I like it when things that happen in-game make a reasonable degree of sense, I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the idea that 4e is going to streamline a lot of stuff in the name of gameplay. Now, I’m all for gameplay — but when stuff doesn’t make sense, it tends to take me out of the game. Even when I’m being completely ridiculous and off the wall, what I’m doing generally tends to make sense in the game world unless I’m being deliberately anachronistic or something (as with my bard Bat Loaf, who prays to Sammy Hagar for spells). But that’s intentional). When I watch a bad movie because it’s a bad movie, I have fun. When I go to a good movie and I discover halfway through nothing makes sense, none of the plot or the characters mean anything to me anymore and I hate that like the sun hates the night. And don’t kid yourself, the sun despises the night.

I’m not the only person out there who thinks this way, and WotC knows it. But it’s not that they’re ignoring us. The guys at Critical Hits recently did a great interview with Rob Heinsoo, lead developer of the 4e core rules. In reference to us simulationist types, he said “You know what, don’t tell them that they’re wrong. They’re right, in a simulationist world, the system they want to use is RIGHT. That is exactly what happens in real life, but guess what, it’s a real pain in the ass.”

I suppose I can see that. The first thing that comes to mind that I really hate is camping and deciding who has what watch and how many hours of sleep everybody gets. Yes, it’s a fantastic simulation of figuring out who sleeps when. It’s also as fun as having my teeth drilled. I hope they severely gloss that part over in 4e. But combat? The new, more-official, very World of Warcraft-y combat roles they’re rolling out with 4e make me a little nervous. Making me more nervous is that they want to make what you do in combat “cooler” and “more like the movies”. This to me throws up about ten red flags that say “stupid things are about to happen that don’t make sense”. You know, like in almost every movie.

How A 500 Foot Monster Taught Me How To Love Again

I find the less I know about something, the more fun I have when I watch it. Sometimes I hate being a nerd. I saw Cloverfield a couple months ago, and shortly thereafter I read a very interesting article about what it might take to actually take out a 500 foot monster. Well, naturally that got me thinking about dealing with other giant monsters recently and how the lance our paladin hit the Tarrasque with wouldn’t have done much damage at all and eventually my mind wandered back to a scenario I always wondered about ever since I first started playing D&D:

How in the HELL does a 6 foot tall adventurer take a wee (albeit powerful) little sword and kill a dragon that stands ten times his height? All he could realistically reach would be the dragon’s feet! Maybe he could climb on there and attack an ankle. I don’t know. But most plate-mail-wearing fighters aren’t gonna pull a Legolas and climb and flip all over everything. Right? They’re gonna wade in there, hopefully dodge the fiery death and razor sharp talons the dragon throws at them, and try to cut the dragon until it dies. Somehow.

Uh oh. It seems my desire for “making sense” has painted me into a corner. At this point, the only way to kill a dragon that really makes sense is that he hacks the dragon’s toenail completely off. Hopefully the dragon is a hemophiliac, and bleeds out really fast before it gets a chance to have an order of fresh, delicious, flame-broiled Adventurer Nuggets.

It seems the concept of hit points has already abstracted out most of the battle for me. Because a fighter that winds up on top probably didn’t just do 400hp of Toe Damage. He probably did a lot of really incredible things to make that dragon keel over dead. Things that set dragons to bleed, princesses to swoon, and bards to write furiously.

It seems what I was worried about had already come to pass — several years before I was born, when D&D (and hit points) were created. And the world didn’t end.

So Now What?

This revelation gave me the ability to handwave some of my fears about the upcoming fourth edition of D&D. But I’m not cured completely. I still want everything to make sense, but sometimes it’s better if I don’t know all the details. Or if those details get somewhat exaggerated. With the things our characters do, we’re doing epic, legendary things. And let’s face it — a lot of mythology doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I guess my chainmail panties are only in a half-twist now.

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