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I know I have been silent for a rather long time, but the semester ended up taking a lot of my attention towards the end.   But, with the most recent announcements of WotC about the work on the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, I find myself torn.  Fourth ed worked alright, but I am very worried about the general downward trend Hasbro/WotC is taking with their roleplaying games.   I have signed up to be a playtester for the new edition, and hope to make some kind of decent impact on the new iteration of the game.

In pursuit of this, I have been watching the developer blogs closely.  I came up with this one this afternoon: http://community.wizards.com/dndnext/blog/2012/01/20/mechanics_supporting_story.

Monte Cook, one of my favorite damned game designers of all time, takes a very short amount of time and text to deal with something I do find problematic: Should a flavor factoid for a race, or of any kind for that matter, provide a game mechanic bonus?  The example given by Cook is how dwarves favor axes and elves favor bows.  Should they necessarily receive a mechanical bonus to attack just because they are the stereotypical weapons for the race?

My answer to this is a firm No.  Think about it: just because a race favors a weapon over others doesn’t mean they all attack better with them.  In addition, rulesets like this create a problem.  I call it the No Child Left Behind Effect.

Follow me on this.

When No Child Left Behind came around, it was discovered that teachers were told by administrators to teach the test materials in an effort to secure greater funding for the schools.  In essence, they stopped teaching comprehension and began teaching rote memorization.  All for a bonus.

Now, when you tell players that al dwarves gain a +1 to attack with all weapons considered axes, you are, in essence, telling them that if they play a dwarf, they better use an axe.  After all, to do otherwise is to miss out on a mechanical loophole that makes you a better warrior.  This causes players to, at least 19 out of 20 times, follow the stereotype in order to min/max their character.  You are encouraging a decrease in creativity instead of offering chances for your players to break out of Tolkienian molds in order to blaze new trails and ideas.

One of the things I alternately offered was called a Proficiency Downgrade; certain races treated certain weapons as being one category lower for proficiency purposes.  Dwarves would treat Axes as part of this, meaning that in Fourth Edition, an Urgosh, normally a Superior Weapon, would be treated as a Martial Weapon for proficiency purposes.  By the same token, a battle axe would be treated as a Simple Weapon instead of a Martial Weapon.  This shows that the Axe is a weapon favored by dwarves, but mechanically speaking, there is no bonus to attack or damage offered.    Sure, many players will opt into Axes still, but it dramatically decreases that amount.

Personally, if I wouldn’t face absolute rebellion by doing so, they would be a simple thematic element.  Dwarves like axes; big deal.  Most dwarves you run into will use them, but not necessarily every PC.

What do you think?

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One Comment

  1. I have to say, I never looked at it that way. I just went along with the dwarf axe/elf bow thing as just “part of the package” when one chooses to play one of those races.

    There is a racial feat in 4th edition that I know one of my dwarf characters took that made him proficient with all two-handed axes and and warhammers, in addition to the normal axe bonus. Perhaps that is more of a way to go? So rather then “forcing” a character of that race into a pigeon-hole from the get-go, and those thematic pigion-holes eating race design space (Elves have to get a bow bonus, dwarves axe, etc and other races need to “balance” against that), if a player of a given race chooses, of their own free will, chooses to embrace the weapons of their people, then yes, they can get a slight advantage over other races, rather then be penalized for not using those weapons. A dwarven proficiency in all axes vs. just a certain type of axe, as a racial feat, for example. If the player doesn’t choose that feat, they could still choose something else. It’s not “dead space.”

    This type of design also eliminates the “all these other races have neat bonuses, so let’s make humans get more CHOICES to offset that” thing, which is a personal pet peeve of mine.


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