Today's rant will be about something called 'Points of Light'. I expect most people who read this blog will be familiar with the phrase, but for those who aren't, it's a supposed design-philosophy thing the D&D 4th edition designers have dreamt up, which is meant to take the game in a new direction. Essentially it can be summed up like this:
The world is populated by a variety of intelligent races, strange monsters lurk on other planes, ancient empires have left ruins across the face of the world, and so on. But one of the new key conceits about the D&D world is simply this: Civilized folk live in small, isolated points of light scattered across a big, dark, dangerous world.
Okay, you're thinking. So far so good. D&D, and in fact most fantasy in general, has always been about that, right?
Exactly. D&D, and in fact most fantasy in general, has always revolved around "points of light" settings. It is absolutely not a new key conceit about the D&D world which has just come along for 4th edition; it is in fact The Oldest Trope In The Book. You're telling me the Conan stories, Ill Met At Lankhmar, the Chronicles of Amber, heck, even Viriconium can't be classified as "civilized folk [living] in small, isolated points of light scattered across a big, dark, dangerous world"? What about Middle Earth? You don't get much more "points of light" than that. How long were Aragorn and the hobbits travelling between Bree and Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring without seeing a single other person? It was weeks, I think. In fact, I would go so far as to say that thinking of a non-points of light fantasy setting in fiction is actually pretty challenging. Possibly those terrible David Eddings books... That's all I can think of offhand.
This is doubly true when you set aside fantasy fiction and just think about D&D settings, especially homebrew ones. Rich Baker goes on to expand on the brave new 'Points of light' world:
Most of the world is monster-haunted wilderness. The centers of civilization are few and far between, and the world isn’t carved up between nation-states that jealously enforce their borders. A few difficult and dangerous roads tenuously link neighboring cities together, but if you stray from them you quickly find yourself immersed in goblin-infested forests, haunted barrowfields, desolate hills and marshes, and monster-hunted badlands. Anything could be waiting down that old overgrown dwarf-built road: a den of ogre marauders, a forgotten tower where a lamia awaits careless travelers, a troll’s cave, a lonely human village under the sway of a demonic cult, or a black wood where shadows and ghosts thirst for the blood of the living.
This sounds like every D&D setting, homebrew or otherwise, which I have ever played in. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the above description pretty much sums up a D&D campaign. When were we not playing 'points of light' games?
It makes me a little angry sometimes. What do they take us for? And yet the majority of D&D fandom seems to have lapped up the phrase as if it actually is something innovative and unusual. Do none of them actually read fantasy fiction? Or remember the campaigns they played five or ten years ago? Or is it just really easy to pull the wool over their eyes? I've said it before: worrying times in D&D land. Worrying times.