Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Questions

I'm in the midst of preparing another series of cover critiques, this time of the Monster Manual covers. In reading the 4e MM, two questions crossed my mind that I hope someone out there can answer for me:

1. Are there stats elsewhere in 4e for "normal" animals? The Monster Manual has stats for Gray Wolves and Riding Horses, for example, but none for dogs or cats or boars (or lions or tigers or ...). Most of the "normal" creatures in the volume seem to be not merely of the giant variety -- of which there were many entries in the 1e MM -- but of a specially trademarked variety. Thus, we don't have stats for panthers simpliciter but instead for fey panthers or spectral panthers. I can only assume there are additional animal entries in the 4e PHB or DMG and I missed them in my read-through of those books.

2. What's with all the recycled art? I'm frankly a bit surprised to see so many illustrations I recognize from the 3e era. 4e was clearly a big project for WotC and one they've invested a lot of money in producing and promoting, so why does it re-use art?

Thanks.

20 comments:

  1. D&D must establish a unique IP. Vanilla "wolf" isn't distinct enough fit into the branding scheme. In the same vein, I expect the next iteration of the Indiana Jones game will have Bloodrager Nazis.

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  2. Nope, no plain ol' animals. Not in an appendix or in the DMG.

    I suspect this due to a combination of reasons: animals aren't sufficiently "awesome" as opponents for these super-heroic 1st-level 4e characters; there are no druids to care about the fuzzy forest creatures; rangers don't care about animals anymore (just being "fighters with bows", since Fighters can do that anymore); and WotC needed more room for the piles of monster variants that each creature exploded into in 4e.

    I'm sure that, coincident with the Druid's finally joining the 4e party in the PHB2, the MM2 will include such animal varieties as "Pack Wolf", "Pack Leader Wolf", "Flame-breath Canid Lord", "Sly Biter Furball", and so on. They'll be able to do backflips and use Wolfpack Cunning Assault to slide PCs 1d4 squares before getting +2 to hit from the Pack Leader's Ferocious Leadership aura. Or something.

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  3. Yeah, I thought the recycled art was a bit odd too, especially as the art style for the new edition is so different to what went before.

    Of course, the new art style is eye-bleedingly awful too, so the recycled stuff is a welcome salve for my withered eyeballs.

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  4. 1) No.

    2) Lots of people have been asking that question, too. Personally, I think it's because idiots are running Wizards of the Coast.

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  5. I think Saxifrage has the gist of it: the lack of a druid or animal pal ranger in the PHB makes them inessential. Perhaps they were also seen as too ordinary for the thrills 'n' chills, action hero game style that was a design priority. Note that there are dire animals included.

    Frankly, speaking of dire animals, they're one instance where I wish WotC had recycled 3e art. They are consistently drawn with what appear to be painful bone spurs poking through their hides. No wonder they are so cranky.

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  6. Dire animals can't be the official property of WotC. A dire wolf is (or at least was) a real animal. Of course this hasn't stopped them from trying to brand "dire" changing its meaning from "prehistoric and large" to "bizarre spikes sticking out all over".

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  7. There are a few. Horse, wolf, and hyena all have entries for the normal animal. Nothing else, though as far as I can tell.

    Other notes that might horrify you: 1. Succubi are devils. (This wasn't such a big deal for me, they always seemed more diabolic to me)
    2. No metallic dragons. (Or Gem *sad*)
    3. Dryads are short angry treants with wooden tits.
    4. No water elementals. And all the elementals there are are hybrids, not even using the old paraelemental system
    5. Only two golems (Flesh and stone. Not even clay, the original mythological source!)

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  8. I think that in addition to normal animals not being considered as impressive to fight, there's also an issue of, well, perception. Since D&D PCs are now supposed to be Heroes with a great big capital H (but not illuminated - that would be too archaic), encouraging violence against ordinary wolves who are, in our world, endangered and really just want to be left alone... I guess there's a perception out there that the players would feel like jerks if they kicked around some wolves.

    I have to admit, I've always felt some ASPCA-driven guilt about some of the critters my players have put to the sword in years past. Somehow it's hard to separate these fantasy conventions from my actual world-view. We might look on this as a natural outgrowth of the same compulsion that injects gender equality into pseudo-medieval landscapes.

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  9. As an aside, one of the many things I enjoyed so much about the new Batman movie "Dark Knight" was their willingness to look past this "ASPCA-driven guilt" in our society odrook mentions and portray dogs as the very effective weapons that they are.

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  10. @odrook and @Andrew I very much agree. And while this strays off-topic, it is important to the foundations of OD&D.

    I found it very frustrating that GW/GR felt it necessary to "apologize" to readers on the opening page of Knights of the Grail, a WFRP sourcebook, for the "second-class status" of women in their fictional land of Bretonnia.

    Whatever.

    Historical fact: Women were very much second-class citizens in much of Europe for centuries.

    What I disapprove of is that an apology is even necessary; an apology aches of a wish that history could be rewritten, or we somehow are guilty of history and need to apologize.

    What should not need to be said is that the behavior is one any of us subscribe to today. Putting a wholly imagined wolf to the sword is not the same thing as condoning such behavior in our backyards. The argument that they are equal is likening the game console player destroying the Nazi tank in Call of Duty 4 as somehow a murderer. After all, the tank had a "crew." A crew with families and/or parents. Where is the compassion for the Nazi doing his job driving the tank! His wife and child in Berlin. I, personally, shed no tears and A-B that tank to oblivion, relishing in the bazooka round's fiery destruction. As I do when I watch my players roll to hit the wolves biting at their calves. I grin with each bite that hits, and they cheer with each critical hit that decapitates, or mortally maims, a wolf.

    And I believe this applies to racism or any other socially offensive behavior in a game world. Otherwise, the game you play is utopia, and utopias don't have Underworlds.

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  11. Somewhere in Seattle, a WotC guy is thinking to himself, "Man, we were just saving the critters for the Druid/Ranger splat. :("

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  12. Somewhere in Seattle, a WotC guy is thinking to himself, "Man, we were just saving the critters for the Druid/Ranger splat. :("

    Hah! Yes, I'm not sure that the lack of "normal" monsters in the 4e MM can be attributed to anything more than the "serialized rules" approach WotC seems to have adopted to string its customers along as long as possible. Even so, it's hard not to think it does represent a shift in philosophy. After all, so much else in 4e strikes me as a shift away from the traditions of earlier editions. Why should the lack of animals also not herald a similar change?

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  13. I'm sure that, coincident with the Druid's finally joining the 4e party in the PHB2, the MM2 will include such animal varieties as "Pack Wolf", "Pack Leader Wolf", "Flame-breath Canid Lord", "Sly Biter Furball", and so on. They'll be able to do backflips and use Wolfpack Cunning Assault to slide PCs 1d4 squares before getting +2 to hit from the Pack Leader's Ferocious Leadership aura. Or something.

    You just made my day.

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  14. Personally, I think it's because idiots are running Wizards of the Coast.

    I don't know. They have some very smart people there, but maybe they're not the ones calling the shots. I can't shake the feeling that, while 4e is the best game that RPG R&D could make, given the constraints they were under, it's not the game they would have set out to design if they'd have had their druthers. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, I don't know.

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  15. Other notes that might horrify you: 1. Succubi are devils. (This wasn't such a big deal for me, they always seemed more diabolic to me)
    2. No metallic dragons. (Or Gem *sad*)
    3. Dryads are short angry treants with wooden tits.
    4. No water elementals. And all the elementals there are are hybrids, not even using the old paraelemental system
    5. Only two golems (Flesh and stone. Not even clay, the original mythological source!)


    I've read the whole 4e MM, so I'm familiar with all these changes. Most of them don't bother me as such and I can certainly see justification for them, but they all strike me as inappropriate for a game that calls itself Dungeons & Dragons. After all, once you've abandoned all the idiosyncratic lore that's built up around the game, all that's left are game mechanics and 4e so thoroughly rewrites those that I can't see how anyone can claim this isn't a new game with a brand name slapped on the cover rather than the latest entry in an unbroken chain stretching back to 1974.

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  16. I found it very frustrating that GW/GR felt it necessary to "apologize" to readers on the opening page of Knights of the Grail, a WFRP sourcebook, for the "second-class status" of women in their fictional land of Bretonnia.

    Whatever.

    Historical fact: Women were very much second-class citizens in much of Europe for centuries.


    Being fiction, and fantasy fiction at that, it doesn't need to adhere to Earth history. You wouldn't expect a Jew to choose Dachau: The RPG of Being Beaten and then Burned in Ovens as their weekend entertainment. Similarly, women don't want to always be confronted with modern and historical injustices against them with the hobby they love. GW's choice to portray women that way in a fictional creation does deserve acknowledgment on their part.

    That's not to deny that there is room in RPGs for deliberately portraying societies that have injustices and to explore that. The problem for women gamers is that it's generally not done deliberately, and is rather just the sexism of their normal lives bleeding unnecessarily into their hobby.

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  17. I've been digesting this a little, and particularly my own stance. I think I'm totally okay with doing away with fighting wolves and cougars and whatnot. Certainly it's got history in the game and it's got history in the assorted fiction and folklore that helped inspire the game, but I honestly don't see that it contributes anything irreplaceable, or that the game - or the hobby - suffers for its lack.

    I guess that in my mind, most animals like wolves just don't have a reason to interact with PCs on any meaningful level, and if I want my players to be menaced by some slavering predator or to cope with half-feral guard-beasts, I have plenty of other options from which to choose that stir my imagination more.

    I don't know if old school gameplay put more value on making more fantastic encounters a delayed pleasure, something to aspire to while coping with more mundane foes, so maybe this is a generation gap here. I've been playing since '87 or '88 and am doubtless more a product of the new school than the old, but my bias is definitely toward getting into fantastic and amazing things right off. Of course, my first RPG was the original Star Wars, and there's still a part of me that believes that PCs who are content to ride mere horses just aren't trying hard enough, so make of that what you will.

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  18. The MM was by far the worst of the three new books. It's ugly. The layout is awful. It's all crunch - not as much description of any creature as even the old First Edition AD&D Monster Manual. Go read the "balor" entry and see what you learn. "They're mean demons!" No, really?

    They don't even have a written description any more. And what is up with the no animals thing? It's not like you "grind wolves to level," but at least in the non-"uber" games I run, lower level characters have reason to hunt, to worry about mean wildlife...

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  19. but I honestly don't see that it contributes anything irreplaceable, or that the game - or the hobby - suffers for its lack.

    In the abstract I agree with you. However, if you're interested, as I am, in honoring and preserving the roots of D&D, I think you lose a lot by not including "mundane" monsters as viable -- and expected -- opponents for the PCs. When people look at me funny and ask how I can possibly believe that D&D was inspired by the tales of Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, when they rarely faced "monsters" in the D&D sense, it's precisely because those opponents have been slowly eliminated from the MM. I think that's a shame and it contributes further to the forgetfulness about this game's roots.

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