4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and Game Variety

Chris Dias, publisher of the “Amethyst” GSL campaign kindly agreed to guest blog during my convalescence. Here are his thoughts on variations within the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons world.

An interviewer once asked me what got me into role-playing games.  I answered quickly and thus truthfully…being fat.  Even when I molted the pounds in the late 90s, any chance of a social life had vanished the instant I created my first homebrew rule.

So let’s set the Way-Back-Machine to the early 1980s (my age revealed more so by the subtle Tron reference I just gave).  I had succumbed to the temptations of the dark dungeons promised by Jack Chick and his gospel (Google it…I’ll wait).  It began with the red box D&D Basic Set.  Being young and always confused, my group had mangled the rules to such an extent that we were casting death spells every round, killing red dragons like they were monkeys on the receiving end of a bone club.
Strangely enough, D&D didn’t last long in my circle.  After a few years, we had moved onto other systems, Star Frontiers and Gamma World.  Regular campaigning had to wait until the adoption of Palladium Robotech.  That unfortunately lasted most of high school, why I have no idea.  D&D always kept in geostationary, parked above everything we did.  Occasionally, we would divert into a module but never for more than a few months.  The first long-term campaign didn’t emerge until I found my regular group in a space-based GURPS game called Pathfinder.  Created eight years before Whedon’s Firefly for those who check, Pathfinder marked the first time I seriously dove into a wholly fabricated setting with no relation to an existing one.  This game ran for two and a half years before collapsing under player conflict.  As a result, I bowed out of gaming until 2002, when a Pathfinder player encouraged me to return to D&D.  Amethyst was the result of this.

You had to know this was eventually going to turn into self-promotion.  I’ll avoid the link for the moment and explain myself.  Amethyst (later known as Amethyst Foundations) was an example of the type of games 3.0/3.5 was encouraging.  I had created a setting different from the canon world presented in the core rulebooks.  With the release of the Open Gaming License, companies around the world embraced a thought unheard of until then–that we could all freely use the same system, and it was D&D no less.  It didn’t take long before everyone and their idiot-savant brother was releasing their own variant settings along with new rules and mechanical alterations.  We were introduced to Kingdoms of Kalamar and Midnight.  Even D&D principal Monte Cook offered his own variant rules with Arcana Unearthed.

And let’s be honest, 3rd Edition D&D wasn’t a great system.  It was brilliant at the time, but there were huge Canyonero-sized flaws in the core structure (addressed recently under Paizo).  I once created a ninja at 15th level with six attacks that couldn’t do more than 10 points of damage a hit.  Our group went up against golems with DR10/adamantine.  My friend was a Half-dragon samurai that did less damage a round than I did.  He killed a sixteen-headed hydra in one round with great cleave.


Regardless of its vulnerability to power gaming, these rules became the lingua franca (Google, I’ll wait again) for nearly all role-playing game companies.  All bets were off.  We could do what we wanted.  We did so. Apparently, this stopped two years ago.

I didn’t get the memo.

It may sound inflammatory, but it has been two years since the release.  A lot of critics and commentators are wondering when these new third party developers will attempt to take the risks these previous companies had founded their reputation on.  I am not implying it’s mandatory, but looking upon the store shelf of my local gaming saloon, very little stands out amongst the forgotten  and discontinued titles from the previous generation.

Part of this blame could fall upon the limitations of the stricter Game System License, but I personally don’t buy it.  For one, the GSL never stated that a rule couldn’t be removed, just not altered.  They defined a definition, so create new ones.  You could add definitions to existing entries, which proved immensely useful in my applications.
So where are the games?  Well, some of these older companies jumped ship.  They returned to their houserule systems or kept with their 3rd Edition foundations.  This left emerging companies to stake a claim.  I half-expected a land run of speeding carriages and conestogas ridden hard by desperate people with red flags firmly in their grips.  Turns out bowling alleys by the start line was enough for most of them.

The constant shift of direction from the wizards didn’t help either.  Three erratas.  Rules revised.  A steady power creep with each  book.  Then came the design philosophy.  Some games (some…not mentioning anyone specific) were criticized for actually breaking from the mold formed by the paragons above.  So perhaps these third party companies could step from under the shadow, but it’s probably best that they don’t.  I never liked drawing within the lines.  I rarely ever ran a game from a published source.

As I wrap up this initial post, I wonder about some of the ways game developers could break from the accepted bible, stepping away from the altar so to speak.  Can we have a class that has two roles?  Could there be a rule that actually changes a class, shifting the attack attribute of a fighter from Strength to Dexterity?  Could we use healing surges to inflict damage?  Can a paragon path be generic and not tied to a class?  Why can’t certain powers automatically reset upon reaching a milestone?  Could there be attack powers that inflict no damage?  Could you create a class with only utility powers?  I wonder if we could work in a way to make every daily power automatically hit and have the concept not be broken.

For those still waiting for self-promotion, I’ve done every one of those.



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

5 thoughts on “4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and Game Variety

  • September 29, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Chris, Amethyst is great. You can stop bothering about people who can’t think outside the box. Redirect complains against Amethyst to Dark Sun and Essentials. Everyone with a bit of creative imagination should like to thinker with the rules.

  • September 29, 2010 at 6:31 am

    I’m extremely fond of Amethyst Foundations. It’s by far the best third party product out for 4e right now, and I can’t wait for more books to show up in the line. I haven’t had the pleasure of running the game yet however it’s quite likely to be the setting for our next 4e game. In fact it’s currently the only thing on my exceptions list for 4e books. In that I’ve stopped grabbing additional ones. (I feel like I’ve got more than enough at this point…) However, anything in this series I’m likely to get right away.

    It is sad that more developers aren’t producing content for 4e. I think it’s a lot of things coming together this time though rather than any one thing. I think WotC burned a lot of bridges with how restrictive the GSL was starting out, and in some ways still is. I also fear that while the DDI tools are fantastic, not having third party content in the builders could deter some players. I fear I might have to push my own group a little to get them to warm up to a 4e game without them even. Though I think they’ll find it worth while once they do.

    • September 30, 2010 at 2:29 am

      Thanks for the awesome support. Stay tuned for details on some upcoming projects.

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  • October 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    By the way, I know that the Way-Back-Machine is actually “Wabac Machine” references Rocky & Bullwinkle, not Tron. I am not THAT old. 🙂

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