Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I know there's nothing new under the sun, and everything, but blimey, I really thought I had an original idea there.

My 'take' for OzCthulu is going to be different, but still, imagine how galling it was to find a link to the above product and read this:

TERROR AUSTRALIS includes three roleplaying adventures, "Old Fellow that Bunyip," "Pride of Yirrimburra," and "City Beneath the Sands," as well as extensive information about the Aboriginal inhabitants, their mystical concept of Dreamtime, inhabitants of the Dreamtime, Australian history, transportation in the 1920's, contemporary Australian slang, famous hauntings, and a special chapter analyzing the Dreamtime (Alcheringa) in roleplaying terms. Intended as a roleplaying supplement and useful in for any roleplaying game, TERROR AUSTRALIS also contains many pages of illustrations and maps to intrigue any Australia buff.

Bloody Chaosium. Why do they have to be so darned creative? Oh well, I'll press on with LL OzCthulu regardless.


In other news, there's been a bit of talk about a section of Dragon Magazine #364, in which the 4e design team are quoted as saying:

In past editions, we'd describe things like cave slime as if the DC of the Acrobatics check to avoid slipping in it were an objective, scientific measurement of its physical properties. "How slippery is cave slime? It's DC 30 slippery." But setting a fixed number like that limits its usefulness -- cave slime would be too challenging for low-level characters and irrelevant for high-level characters. In 4th Edition, we tell you to set the DC to avoid slipping based on the level of the characters, using the Difficulty Class and Damage by Level table. So when 5th-level characters encounter cave slime, they'll be making a check against DC 22, but 25th-level characters have to make a DC 33 check.

Does that mean that high-level characters encounter Epic Cave Slime that's objectively slipperier than the Heroic Cave Slime they encountered in their early careers? Maybe. It doesn't matter.

I'm getting so sick of the double speak from WotC: "In past editions, we'd describe things like cave slime as if the DC...." No, in past edition, singular, you would have. It's like they can't resist the opportunity to take sly digs against older versions of the game, even if it means being economical with the truth in the most obvious ways, like acting as if 'past editions' and '3.X' are the same thing. (It reminds me of that awful article on Treasure in 4e, which I happily can't find a link for, where about half of the word length was devoted to painting a patently ridiculous picture of 2nd and 1st edition in a snooty and obnoxious way.)

Having said that, I really don't know what to make of this intelligence. It certainly ruins verisimilitude, but then again, since when has there ever been true verisimilitude in D&D? My major concern is that, well, a 25th level character is practically a demigod. What sort of a demigod slips on cave slime?

Does this mean that, for example, a 1st level and a 25th level rogue who want to climb the same wall have to use different difficulty checks? Or that a 1st level and a 25th level fighter who want to kill the same goblin have to use different 'to hit' targets (or whatever 4e uses)?

Concerning times in Dungeons & Dragons land, my friends. Concerning times.


  1. I thought you already knew about Terror Australis. Otherwise, I'd have mentioned it to you.

    On the question of challenges in 4e, you have to remember that the much-vaunted math of the game is all about ensuring a consistent, even feel of play throughout all levels from 1-30. That means everything slides in difficulty relative to what your current level is. 4e can't say that cave slime is DC 30 because that'd make it hard or easy in an absolute sense -- hard for lowbies and easy for high-levels. 4e's not about absolutes at all, because then play would be uneven, with highs and lows independent of what level the characters are. That's not fun, so it's been banished to the void.

  2. I used to play quite a bit of Call of Cthulu at one time, but never even suspected the existence of Terror Australis. This was before the internet was widely available, though, and we were just impoverished teenagers.

    On the subject of 4e and fun, have you read this thread on This all feeds into what the thread-starter there has dubbed 'The Tyranny of Fun'.

  3. I thought you already knew about Terror Australis and were inspired by it in the first place. Interesting that your ideas took you to the same place as Chaosium however many years ago.

    Still looking forward to your vision of that kind of setting...

    As far as 4e and fun go, that thread is a little hard for me to swallow since much of the criticism of 4e and the "tyranny of fun" comes from people that haven't played 4e and may not even own the books. (I haven't played it yet, myself).

    Aren't games supposed to be about fun?

  4. Aren't games supposed to be about fun?

    The "tyranny of fun" is Melan/Gabor Lux's shorthand for the systematization of the play experience. It's not that he's opposed to fun so much as he's opposed to the rejiggering of rules to ensure that every time you play D&D you're guaranteed X amount of fun, as if it were something quantifiable. 4e is clearly designed so that the play experience is roughly similar regardless of the talent of the DM or the players involved; it's intended to ensure a bare minimum of "fun" no matter what and reduce the likelihood a jerk DM can't ruin it for you, even if that also means the game is flatter and more "even" than some of us would prefer.

  5. Kevin: Games are supposed to be about fun, and as I posted a few days ago I'm sure 4e is fun to play. My main objections are:

    1. It seems like we're constantly being told how 4e makes things better and more enjoyable, but this is mostly achieved by the designers, 4e fans and marketing people giving reasons why older editions of the game weren't very good. Was all the fun I had with 2nd edition and Classic D&D just an illusion, then?

    2. Fun is good but there are lots of different ways of attaining it, and it seems 4e previleges certain kinds over others. For one thing, combat sounds like a lot of fun, but non-combat doesn't seem to get any attention at all.

    The designers also seem to have conceptions of fun that I just don't share. For example, all classes are now just as useful in combat, or meant to be - whether they are a Wizard or a Fighter. But I knew a lot of people who played Wizards because they didn't care about combat. Were they wrong for doing that? It seems like the 4e designers think they were.

    Same with the idea of giving all classes equal amounts of powers and abilities, so that they are more balanced and hence more fun. That doesn't work for me, because I liked the simplicity of the Fighter in D&D; that's why it was my favourite class. I didn't have to worry about memorizing anything or doing anything complicated. I just had to hit stuff. But my style of fun isn't supported in 4e because Fighters have just as much complexity as Mages now.

  6. I'm starting to think that WotC is not very good at explaining their game. They just keep yelling "Challenge! Combat! Fun!" and I keep wondering if they've actually played their game. Why don't they ever mention teamwork in combat, or how they've given DMs a better idea of how game elements will actually behave at the table?

    But no. They just keep going on about how older editions were weird and not "fun." I like 4e, but that's not going to stop me from picking up OD&D or a retro-clone or something, because there are some things I think they'd do better, and certainly do differently.

  7. Was all the fun I had with 2nd edition and Classic D&D just an illusion, then?

    Excellent point. I think what might be at work here is that quirk of human psychology in which 100 good experiences are roughly equivalent to 1 bad one. As I'm sure you've experienced, you can be the sweetest person in the world, but do one thing out of line and the hammer comes down.

    Applied to D&D, sure those old editions were (and still are) fun, but they could also be frustrating at times. So all the good times you had were overshadowed by those stymied efforts or confusing rules.

    Just a thought.

  8. I knew about Terror Australis. I didn't mention it because I didn't think it the least bit relevant. I want to see your D&D take on OzThulhu, not Chaosium's old CoC stuff.

  9. re Terror Australis
    Yeah, Chaosium, like Palladium with Rifts, has released a supplement for just about everywhere. But your conception is very different from the 1920s Chaosium setting though, isn't it? Both are Dreamtime meets Mythos, but isn't your supplement to be set in the Stone Age? Or perhaps some lost civilization?

    re Wizard v. Fighter in 4e
    Not only is the fighting man more complex, the wizard feels sort of dumbed down, mostly about blastering with practical spells sharply limited (This is just based on rolling up a PC, not actual play or a thorough reading of the rules).

    Tangentially, the whole rituals v. powers system struck me as a very inelegant replacement for Vancian magic. Magic Missiles once per round? That's "fun" and therefore easy peasy. Magic Mouth? Er, now subject to Utilities Tax. Gimme ten minutes, and 10 gp worth of components.

  10. sirlarkins: That's definitely the root of it. I'm actually just reading Fooled by Randomness in which the author talks about how bad experiences outweigh good experiences by certain ratios.

    jeff rients: I'll try not to disappoint. Still, I might take a gander at Terror Australis, even if just to make sure it doesn't look as if I'm lifting stuff directly.

    Max: Not to mention the lack of spells like Charm Person.

  11. The WotC excerpt on this post amuses me so much! These persons are patting themselves on the back for discovering gunpowder on the 21st century.

    Certainly, if what you want is to level difficulty across the board and simplification why not just say anyone stepping on slime has a 30% chance of slipping or something?

    Gamers have been doing this sort of thing for decades...