Thursday, May 15, 2008

The 4E Economy

Many in the grognardosphere are abuzz about the recent post by WotC concerning how they think treasure should be spread out in the new 4.0 version of the game.

I, however, am somewhat more concerned about the second half of the article, which has gleaned not nearly as much attention, which deals with "civilization" and how the implied 4E economy operates.

I should point out here that one of my chief objections to 4E lies not with its mechanics (although I do have some problems with those), but rather with the assumptions it makes regarding setting. Specifically, it forces certain assumptions on settings which, by rights, should be setting specific. The lack of half-orcs and gnomes, and the forced inclusion of tieflings is only one example, and a rather cosmetic one at that (although its one which will turn the Forgotten Realms upside-down in just a few months, and some FR fans are justifiably upset). The "points of light" assumption is one which has much greater implications when it comes to Greyhawk, and to date I've not yet seen anyone argue against a 4E treatment of Greyhawk on that basis.

But specific to this post are the explicit economic assumptions that are built into the new game. First and foremost is the notion that magical items have but one of two destinies. Either they will be sold off for 20% of their value, or the PCs are expected to melt them down through a "disenchanting" ritual (woe betide the party that doesn't have a magic-user who can perform the proper ritual) and gain gold or X.P. that way. Concomitant with this is the notion that magical items will be available for sale; the article states so outright (although I have to wonder if the author really knows where the City of Brass is supposed to be located; doesn't 4E do away with the Elemental Plane of Fire?).

I must wonder also at the notion that there are scattered tiny villages, each with its own inn (which implies a thriving traveling culture), which are visited by wandering merchants (which has its own raft of implications). Does this really jive with the stated design philosophy of 4E, which is "islands of light in a sea of darkness"? Is trade really so lucrative that merchants are willing to brave not only the normal bandits and brigands that a traditional D&D world possesses, but the monster-ridden wilderness that spreads between those tiny outposts of civilization? The above-referenced article implies that adventurers are the primary customers; the implications inherent in THAT are manifold...

A Glaring Irony

I think one of the vast ironies of "old school" A/D&D is that we were never given an example of how the game was actually played in its earliest formative years.

That is, all of the modules that TSR came out with early on were, by necessity, tournament modules. They were linear, with a defined goal, and the proverbial Boss guarding the Treasure Room. This, I think, is where Goodman Games gets their inspiration from; modules like the G or A series.

However, as is clear from reading not only accounts of the Greyhawk, Maure Castle, etc. campaigns, as well as the PH and DMG (as well as the LBB's) is that the original original campaigns were centered on a single, vast dungeon complex with no particular singular goal (at least, none that was immediately known to the PCs; to wit, the "slide to China" on level 13 of Castle Greyhawk). PCs were left to formulate their own goals and pretty much wander about the place killing things and taking their stuff. Smaller self-contained modules (such as S3) were side-treks, rather than the central focus. Yet we never got any model for the mega-dungeon concept back in the day; it was all tournament modules. I think this lack has colored a lot of folks' idea of what "old school" campaigns were like.

I've been thinking that there might be a market for modular mega-dungeon levels (or groups of levels) that could either be inserted into a DM's own mega-dungeon complex or pieced together to form a singular whole. Seems to me that would be a lot more genuinely old-school than most of us realize...


The world needed just one more blog about old-school gaming, and darned if it didn't get it.

As the name implies, I'll be posting on topics related to gaming. Specifically, old-school type gaming (in my particular case, AD&D), the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting(tm), and on occasion the state of the gaming industry including the latest version of the D&D line, 4.0. At the time of this writing, 4.0 hasn't been released, but we've been given a lot of previews (and I personally got to play in a preview game at a convention less than a month ago) and I must confess I am not only unimpressed with the system, but I am filled with bile-to-the-top-of-my-throat-dread at the prospect of what shoehorning my beloved Oerth into the new version of the rules will do to the setting.

Anyway, off we go!