Monday, January 23, 2012

You Might Just Learn Something

Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition took a page from 3rd edition's Eberron Campaign Setting and created more setting appropriate names for dinosaurs. A velociraptor in Eberron was called a clawfoot though it was still officially a dinosaur. With the release of D&D 4e they used the name behemoth as a more flavorful in-game term instead of dinosaur. In the D&D Next Playtest News for the Week of January 16th, Greg Bilsland asked the question whether fans prefer the term behemoth versus dinosaur.

As of 23 January 2012, dinosaur is winning the vote at 1,035 votes compared with 464 votes for behemoth.

Dungeons & Dragons grew out of Chainmail and Chainmail grew out of miniatures war games. There is a strong component of time period accuracy in military miniatures gaming for everything from soldier uniforms through tank armor values. Fantasy used to be more heavily influenced by (romanticized) medieval facts. Many of the authors of roleplaying games were fans of historical wargaming. In order to set themselves apart visually, games like World of Warcraft have established strong identities that are quite a bit more fantastical and stylized than traditionally found in D&D.

It used to be that you could learn tidbits about world history from roleplaying games. Well, more than just that weapons kill and armor protects you. D&D was educational. The things we learned from game books weren't particularly useful. I've never needed to list Norse mythology for a job interview or tell the difference between Norman-Saxon armor and Shogunate attire. Even though it wasn't practical knowledge it still contributed to a more well-rounded, classical education.

You can't have a generic setting that is completely made up in look and culture. People don't have enough of a reference. The points of light setting was supposed to be so generic they wouldn't even give it a name and, other than races, it had no cultures, no nations, no landmasses, &c. There was very little link between points of light and anything with which players had experience. Dungeon Masters and players had to fill in the blanks because points of light was just a sketch of a setting. That process of filling the gaps is made easier when you can draw on other knowledge such as world history but the D&D setting in 4th edition felt so unrealistic that it was a big leap to connect the two.

An image that blends traditional elements with fantasy has a bedrock which people new to the brand can identify with while they learn to identify with the Dungeons & Dragons brand itself. I'm not suggesting that we go back to the good old days. Still, the core game books were more approachable to new players when they were more reality-based.

In a campaign setting you have the opportunity to deviate more from standard medieval fantasy because you take the time to flesh out all the details. You can invent societies like the drow in Forgotten Realms. It works even better when you build cultures into your fantasy world that aren't generic fantasy populations but are, in fact, distinct from each other.



  1. Nice. I loved the detail in T&T's weapon Glossary The fact that all the illustrations in the featured the actual arms and armour from the equipment list was great too.

  2. I've been working on something along those lines--a proposal for a line of D&D Next "culture books", similar to Oriental Adventures, but covering all the cultures in the world:

  3. Hey, man. That's my art! I can't believe you used that... It's so old. If you check this, please let me know. I am extremely delighted to find my art used to illustrate an argument I constantly make about the failure of more recent roleplaying games to connect with the real world, thus making it very difficult to suspend disbelief and establish a firm grounding from which to build culture and player experience in games.

    1. Hey Justin, I haven't been paying much attention to this 5 year old blog but today I saw your note. I love your art piece. The bear in armor fantastical element contrasts nicely with the relatively realistic human warrior.