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I enjoyed being wrong about Fourth Edition D&D when it first came out, I really did.  After sitting down at the table and giving it a try, I found out that it significantly reminded me of the old D&D from the Red and Blue boxed sets when I first started playing back in the 80s.  There was room for roleplaying without rules interfering, there was fast action that still had a dangerous thrill to it, and there was fun at the table.  It was absolutely amazing.

I loved the way it structured everything as a modular power in a mix and match setting.  I saw that people would instantly think you couldn’t do something unless a power said so, and have made sure to tell all my players that if they come up with a cool idea, to suggest it, and we would come up with a way to do it.  There was still so much room for improvisation and inventiveness in the game.  It was great.  I knew there would be tons of new splatbooks coming out for the classes, and new classes coming out as well.  I looked forward to it.

Well, now that it has been out a few years, there is a huge glut of powers out there to choose from, making it a seriously flooded option pool.  That is easily remedied, really.  What I have a real problem with is power creep.

Power creep is the tendency for a system to become overpowered over time as the designers try to come up with new and fresh ideas, and end up overdoing it.  It comes in the form of more powers and increased effect behind the powers, thinking it is improving something that works fine as is.  This has happened in a large number of games I have seen, time and again.  But this time, D&D is really overdoing it.  They really are.

I realize there are a lot of reasons why power creep occurs, not the least of which would be audience.  My disdain for the majority of what passes for gamers anymore is well documented.  There is the rare diamond in the rough that really catches my eye and impresses me, but more and more, gamers want big numbers and quick kills, instead of enjoying challenge.

The most recent form of power creep for D&D comes in the form of character themes.  Introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, they were a way to flavor about any character, and offer new power options.  They also gave a character a free encounter power.  That’s right, another power.  Another one.  It’s too much.  When you do this, as a game designer, you are tipping the balance of the game over, causing more and more problems, and decreasing challenge.

The themes were so well-received (given that most of the players just salivate like Pavlovian Puppies at the ring of a damn bell when offered another power) that they have decided to adapt it to the rest of the game, making it an overall powercreep now, instead of an isolated one in Dark Sun.

Now I can hear you all calling foul on me, citing that it’s optional.  You’re right, it is.  But how many have you have had to argue with a player or players about excluding a ruleset?  Isn’t it kind of like arguing with a damn toddler about why they can’t have a certain cereal?  You bet it is; they whine, cajole, wheedle, bitch, moan, and generally make a scene.  The problem is that most of them (note I didn’t insinuate all of them) think that more powers = more fun, and they miss the fun in a challenge.  To them, winning is the goal, not having a good time.

I have the same problem with Backgrounds.  They have turned bits and pieces that should only be flavor into mechanical points, just as they have done the whole way along.  What’s next?  Aspects?  Quirks?  Give a character another boost to a skill or a power at first level?  Just for the hell of it?

I have read a number of players bitching about what they call a “Feat tax” that is all about getting a benefit to attack, damage, or the like, by spending a feat.   Characters can spend a feat to change their Basic Attack attribute.  This to me is a very powerful thing, as it takes something of the strength out the abilities of Fighters and the like to make melee basic attacks.  I can see a Weapon Finesse feat that allows certain weapons with, say, the Finesse quality , to be wielded using Dexterity for basic attacks instead of Strength.  But Charisma?  REALLY?!

Look, there is nothing wrong with giving your players some of what they want, but you have a responsibility to preserving the game as well.  And when you allow power creep like this to consistently accumulate, you are not being responsible.    And GMs, you have a responsibility to outlaw the bits and bobs which overpower these games, in order to preserve the game as a whole and the challenges it can offer.  This goes for magic item distribution, power allowance, player indulgence, and the like.

Stop power creep, and I think everyone will be much happier with their games.

What do you think?


One Comment

  1. I agree with you, but I’m on the flip side of the coin. I give the players whatever they want, if it makes them feel cool. I just adjust everything else accordingly.

    A combat should take about six rounds or so. Hit points don’t really concern me too much. My monsters die when they need to, regardless of player prowess. The bard/warlord adds 10 to everybody’s initiative, every encounter… so I add 10 to all my monsters. Easy ‘nough.

    Does this make me a bastard? Maybe, but every one of my players has fun, the kind of fun they want to have.

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