Itâs raining like crazy here in Seattle today, and my crawlspace is swimming once again. I think Iâm just going to give up and put in a pool down there. Anyway, a visit to a nice dry locale sounds like a great idea, so letâs talk about Athas a bit! This weekâs ruminations: nonmetal weapons.
When I played (and wrote) Dark Sun back in the day, I never regarded the lack of metal as a terribly important aspect of the setting. In my experience, the alternate materials penalties were so obnoxious that most players found/stole metal weapons within a level or two, and the nonmetal gear just got left by the wayside. Hereâs what the penalties used to be, in case youâve forgotten: Bone weapon, -1 attack and -1 damage; Stone or obsidian weapon, -2 attack and -1 damage; Wood weapon, -3 attack, -2 damage. In addition, you had a chance to break your crummy weapon. Yowch! Sure, most folks werenât wearing heavy armor, so the ACs you were attacking were generally poor. But monsters armored with chitin, scales, or whatever had ACs that were perfectly fine, thank you. I think that this implementation of the âAthas is a metal-poor worldâ notion simply pushed player characters into metal weapons ASAP, so that most players didnât really experience this aspect of the setting in their Dark Sun campaigns.
When we were concepting Dark Sun 4e, we chewed over the question of inferior materials and how weâd deal with them. Iâm something of a simulationist and a military historian at heart, so my temptation was to keep some difference between crummy weapons, okay weapons, and good weapons. (Ask the Incas or the Aztecs whether steel weapons are difference-makers.) But applying penalties is no fun at all, and itâs the sort of thing that even well-intentioned players can forget to do. Taking attack and damage penalties leads to longer, more grindy combats. It seemed like a better idea to us to make inferior material weapons the *baseline* that lets you attack and defend normally, and then make metal weapons and armor above baseline. Fortunately, the 4e Playerâs Handbook offers an interesting solution to that problem: masterwork armor. If you assume that steel armor (and weapons) have a minimum enhancement value by virtue of the fact that theyâre made out of something better than most other weapons, you can solve the problem of non-metal weapon inferiority without applying really onerous penalties to attack and damage rolls for weapons made from stone, bone, or whatever. We also took a long look at the inherent enhancement bonus notion kicking around in DMG 2.
That left the question of weapon breakage open. We went round and round about this one, arguing about whether we wanted to see breakage or not. Is it cool when your weapon breaks and you have to adapt in the middle of a fight? Or is it bogus that all of the sudden you have to recalculate your basic attack and damage numbers, possibly losing a highly valued magic item at the same time? Should breakage happen when you hit someone really hard, or when you miss disastrously? Should breakage be a narrative event players can influence, or something determined purely by the fall of the dice? Ultimately we decided that weapon breakage was best handled as an option under the DMâs control, and we presented several variants the DM could choose from for his or her game. If you donât care, you donât have to have weapon breakage. If you do care, youâve got a couple of simple and workable systems to choose from.
So, there you go: In 4th Edition Dark Sun you arenât forced to graduate out of your obsidian-edged wooden swords and mekillot-jawbone axes by a brutal set of penalties. Your character might be running around with a plain old stone-headed spear even at paragon level, and you arenât behind the power curve. Unlike the 2nd Edition world, itâs perfectly reasonable to enchant inferior-materials weapons, so you can have a +3 jagged bone longsword or a +2 thundering stone warhammer. You can enjoy the particular look and feel of Athasian gear as long as you want toâyou arenât under pressure to arm and armor yourself like a âtypicalâ D&D character as soon as you can.
War at Sea Releases
Iâve seen a lot of online chatter about changes to the release schedule for the Revised Starter and Condition Zebra. The Revised Starter is looking like an early March release at this point, and Condition Zebra is planned for the 2nd quarter. Iâm not privy to the reasons for the changesâthese sorts of decisions take place above my paygrade. (In fact I didnât find out about âem until I started reading posts from customers comparing notes on their order status!) Most likely itâs a reflection of the current marketplace and the need to coordinate our production across all our product lines. I know that AANM has been more variable than most of our other lines in terms of moving around on the schedule, and Iâm sorry for the inconvenience. But I think youâll like what you see when these releases get to your friendly local gaming stores! Â
Movie Review, of Sorts
I took my family to see the megabudget spectacular Avatar last weekend, and I have to say I was pretty wowed. It was an amazing film to see on the big screen. I especially liked the attention paid to the ecology. It reminded me a little bit of Barloweâs Expedition, the book by artist-author Wayne Barlowe that presented a complete world with its unique creatures and plants. (It was made into a TV movie by the Discovery Channel back in 2005 sort of along the lines of Walking with Dinosaurs.)
I admit that I went with a little trepidation because Iâd heard that Hollywood politics were a big part of the experience. Iâm often profoundly annoyed at the way the military is portrayed in most films. In fact, Iâve created a Movie Law on this score: If a movie features a nuclear bomb and a military officer, it is 100% likely that at some point in the film the military officer will attempt to set off the nuclear bomb at an inappropriate time. However, in this case, I think the sermonizing wasnât as obnoxious as Iâd been led to believe. Sure, the mining corporation is not nice, and the security chief is psychotic. But the Humans-Are-Evil! angle implied by those stereotypical elements is countered by the human anthropologists and biologists who are good guys, as well as a couple of military characters who arenât willing to go along with the plan. In addition, there are decent hard-SF groundings given for why Pandora is so special and why the Navi worship their planetâitâs not just a simple value judgment against technology. All in all the bad guys are kinda comic-book-villainish in the sheer intensity of their Evil-osity, but the wonder and spectacle of the alien world really make up for the predictable elements. Go see the movie â I donât think youâll be sorry.