Where has all the fear gone?

Posted on August 28, 2012 by

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I’ve said it before: Fourth Edition is a system that is almost impossible to make scary. Tyler is going to disprove me soon, I believe, but his is a very particular horror. For one, its going to be a psychological horror. For two it’s going to go against the system a bit (not saying anything else, he’s told me a bit and I don’t want to give anything away). And that’s really the only way you can do it: By violating the system. Which is fine! It’ll be better with Next, which has way more adaptability to make the game you want. But for now, we have to break the system to instill even the slightest bit of fear.

But beyond the horror game, D&D has completely lost it’s sense of risk. Characters have grown far too powerful to every be threatened, where as monsters have been completely neutered.

Fourth Edition made the monster stats far more manageable, easier to build and edit and adapt. They did so by regulating everything so its uniform. Uniform types of attacks. Uniform statuses. Uniform math. Uniform saving throws and defenses and abilities. It did an amazing job of changing a very unbalanced, complicated system, and making a very fun one. But in making the best, most enjoyable monsters to run, it paradoxically destroyed monsters. They no longer inspire fear. They just might inspire the use of one of our precious fucking dailies.

“Damn it! Look what you made me do! There goes another daily.”

You know what I want? A godsdamn Dragon. A real, fucking, scary as shit Dragon. One that makes everyone on the party shit themselves , that radiates fear just by being there, which melts armor to molten and flesh to ash. I want the party to spend an entire session trying to figure out how to kill this fucking monstrosity; setting traps, plans, scouting the terrain, etc. Yes, at higher level the fighter should be able to lift his magic shield and kind of avoid being completely burned to death. But just barely. What I don’t want is a dragon that shows up, hits them with his breath for a Healing Surge worth of damage, then spends the entire fight being stun-locked and knocked prone. Sure, I can make my solo immune to stun/daze/immobilize/dominate, but even still, it’s just an encounter. I want a dragon that the players think might kill them even after they’ve spend a week resting and buying magic items and preparing and learning where the dragon’s hoard is and  what its greatest weakness is.

I want a Dragon that eats heroes and shits their magic items out as gold coins to sleep on.

Pictured: A 4th Edition epic level dragon.

Other monsters that have been mostly castrated by 4th edition: Mindflayers, Beholders, Pit Fiends, Balors, Medusas, Rust Monsters (yeah, them), Vampires, Liches, Gods, and Archdevils. I want them to take revenge on the heroes for growing fat and indulgent off 4th edition.

Because while monsters have gotten weaker characters have gotten stronger. And I’m not just talking about powers, I’m talking about the ability for a dwarf to be hit full in the face by an Ancient Red Dragon’s fire breath, and take a minor action to fully heal. I’m talking about saving throws. Dominated by a Mindflayer? Don’t worry, you can save at the start of your turn, and you can only use your at-wills to feebly attack your allies anyways! Forget being turned into a permanent thrall of the mindflayer, creating a story arch where your former allies have to decide how to get past you without killing you to save your ass. Nope. Saving throw. Probably with a bonus. And if you fail it, your warlord will give you another one, with a +5.

There is nothing you can do to even begin to threaten this asshole.

The problem comes from a very rigid system. The only way to challenge heroes is to have attacks that stun with a penalty to saving throws and drink 8 healing surges. That’s not very fun. Often, challenging fights become frustrating ones because of the lack of actual choice (reliance on powers), and frustrating status effects. The game is scared of killing characters, because losing the character you’ve been playing for 6+ months is not a fun thing. But without fear, why are we fighting at all? Without risk, we have no reward.

I’m not saying heroes shouldn’t feel like heroes. Especially at epic level, the threat should turn from a personal one to a grander one, like the Avengers. You should be worried less about dying, and more about saving the city. But there should still be monsters that you fear for their nature, not for the fact that you know they are 5 levels higher than you. And beating a monster that is actually scary? That’s far more heroic than permadazing a beholder and destroying him in 2 rounds with your dailies. Seriously. I feel like the average D&D character is a godamn bully.

The team vs a Minotaur

I really hope that Next brings back the monster. I’m going to smile so big the first time my party charges a beholder, realizes all of their magic is useless while it looks at them, and suddenly gets ripped apart by multiple eye-beams. Where’s your Periapt of Cascading Health now you SONOFABITCH? OH, you don’t have one? DISINTEGRATE!! DEATH BEAM! PETRIFICATION! POLYMORPH! NO MORE RAIN OF BLOWS FOR YOU! NO MORE LIGHTNING DAGGERS! DIE! DIIIEEEE!! TPK! TPK!! GARHL:Kagoindglknaidgliyaohaiu328adbjk

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Posted in: Game Talk