This is the sixth of my ten-part series of articles, in which I look at the Design & Development articles released in the early part of Fourth Edition. This article examines the articles penned by Chris Sims. Please feel free to add coments below, or in the related discussion thread.
Bruce Cordell is listed as one of the designers of D&D Next.
Here are the other articles in the D&D Before series:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford
3. James Wyatt
4. Rob Heinsoo
5. Peter Schaefer and Matthew Sernett
6. Bruce R. Cordell
7. Chris Sims
8. Rich Baker and Logan Bonner
9. Stephen Radney-McFarland
10. Andy Collins
Bruce Cordell authored three articles for the 4e Design & Development series. The articles he penned were Elves, Wizards and Wizard Implements, and Forgotten Realms (co-authored w/Phil Athans). Let's examine each of these three articles...
Elves, by Bruce Cordell
Summary: This article, revealing no mechanics at all, details how elves would be approrached in Fourth Edition. What is notable of the article is not so much what it says, but what it omits.
Elves are described as "wild, free forest-dwellers, guarding their lands with stealth and deadly arrows from high boughs." Pretty standard fare for fantasy elves. But, in D&D, there was always a second facet of elves, known as the "grey elf" or "high elf". This elf who lives in a tower, using his increased longevity to study arcane lore and become a master of magic. What this article omitted was that the eladrin would also be included as a new second race, given the ability to fey step at will and fill the niche of the scholar elf.
Evaluation: The elf and eladrin always remained separate. However, the distinction was lessened when Essentials introduced the idea of "variable ability bonuses". When Fourth Edition was first released, every race gained a +2 bonus to two ability scores. Withthe release of Essentials, the races were changed so that you had a choice of stats to improve with racial bonuses. Originally, elves could only improve Dexterity and Wisdom, which accentuated the wild woodsman aspect of the race. But midway throught he edition, elves could choose to improve Intelligence instead of Wisdom. But Dexterity and Intelligence were also the two abilties that the eladrin could originally improve. (In Essentials, the Eladrin could choose to improve Charisma instead of Dextrity.)
This change meant the elf was reclaiming territory that once belonged to the eladrin. The divide between elfin races was diminishing. The elf was expanding to re-introduce the idea of the high elf.
Result: Pigeon-holing the race was not a great move. It limited the race's usefulness and led to introduction of new an unique races. I think people really appreciated when you could have variable racial stats. Essentials got a lot of flak, but variable racial abilities was not one of the changes that many people objected to. This indicates to me that the original design choice -- as illustrated by the narrow definition of "elf" presented in thsi article -- was reconsidered midway through the edition.
Conclusion: The elf is not limited to the wood/wild elf concept in the playtest. The most recent iteration of the playtest offers two subraces for the elf: wood elf and high elf. And the eladrin has yet to be revealed. In fact, it has yet to be revealed i the eladrin will indeed be revealed. All we have seen in this quote from James Wyatt's article, "Fairest of them All!":
If the Feywild becomes an optional element of the D&D cosmology, designed for use by DMs who want to make heavy use of the fey in their campaigns, it's easy to relocate the eladrin from Arborea into the Feywild, tone down their strong chaotic good alignment, and have something that looks very much like what we've presented in 4E.
So we still don't even know if the Feywild will be included as an optional element, much less whether the eladrin race will make an appearance! That speaks volumes as to the change in approach between Cordell's article and today.
Wizards and Wizard Implements, by Bruce Cordell
Summary: This article introduces a new innovation to Fourth Edition: the implement. Here is what Cordell says about the new mechanic.
What sets wizards apart from others who wield arcane magic are wizards’ unique implements. Most people recognize the three most common tools associated with wizardcraft: the orb, staff, and wand.
What is remarkable about the article is that it offers almost no mechanics. There is no mention of the bonus an orb gives or why you might want to carry a wand. It includes only evocative images and story elements.
Evaluation: The implement, despite what the article states, is not really what sets the wizard apart from others who weild arcane magic. Artificers and sorcerers also weilded staves. Artificers, bards, and warlocks weilded wands. And lots of non-arcane classes got to wield orbs, staves, and wands. So, this article did not accurately state how an implement would make wizards unique.
Result: Despite the inaccuracies of the article, the implement was a welcome addition to the game that served several purposes. First, mathematically, it gave the game a vehicle for providing the ever-escalating accuracy and damage bonuses need to ensure the math would work. Second, narratively, it was a great way to allow a spellcaster to distinguish himsef from other casters. An "orbizard" felt a lot different from a "wandizard". Third, it was a much better resource mechanic than material spell components of prior editions, using less bookkeeping and shopping. Fourth, it was iconic. What was Harry Potter wihtout his wand or Gandalf without his staff?
Conclusion: The playtest has done away with implements in the current edition. It has also done away with spell components , except insofar as they are used for rituals. Partly, this is because implements were simply a way for casters to improve their attack rolls to keep up with the weapon-users. With bounded accuracy, there's no need for a body slot to keep the treadmill moving. Also, with NADs being dropped in favor of saving throw, awarding bonuses to DCs can become quickly unbalancing. I will miss the implement. I thought it was a great innovation, but I do not see it making it into the next edition fo D&D. Rather, the ideas may be cannibalized into minor magic items, such as a wand of accuracy or staff of defense.
Forgotten Realms, by Philip Athans and Bruce Cordell
Summary: This article may expose the rawest of nerves of all the edition warring that occurred with the release of Fourth Edition: the Spellplague. Bruce Cordell describes it thusly:
At first glance, the century leap forward is the most shocking part of the new FORGOTTEN REALMS setting. It is a jaw-dropping change. But it wasn’t a decision made lightly. In fact, it was felt something drastic had to happen in order to breathe new life into a shared world whose well-trampled edges were quickly approaching.
The article reads like a medical text explaining to a patient why their leg had to be amputated. "I'm sorry, Joe, but that thigh was Gangr(e)en(wood)ous and Drizzting with pus. It had to go. The idea was that the Realms had too much history, too many high-powered NPCs, and no room for PCs to roam.
Of particular note is that Philip Athans was the Realm author chosen for this inglorious task. Ed Greenwood, the Realms' creator, is nowhere to be found. And even though Greenwood always put ont he best face possible about the change (and did contibute material for the Campaign Setting), the lack of his intimate involvment speaks volumes.
Evaluation: Perhaps Greenwood said it best when he wrote "So many of the supporting cast I wanted to tell more stories about were dead and gone, lost to the almost-century of time 'jumped' between the 3rd edition Realms and the 4th edition Realms." Which sort of contradicts the article's statement that there were no more stories to tell or adventures to run. And even thought he idea was to make room for PCs to be world-spanning heroes, neither Drizz't nor Elminster actually perished in the Spellplague. There they were, a century on, still making headlines and killing villains.
Result: Cordell was right to describe the Spellplague as "jaw-dropping". This was the Realms-shaking event to dwarf all prior Realms-shaking events. This article -- and the subsequent releases -- unleashed a hellstorm of Realmsfan fury the likes we may never see again in our (or Greenwood's) lifetime. It divided the fanbase. It gave grognards a rallying cry to show how Fourth Edition was a poisonous money-grab. Fans felt betrayed. DMs felt lost. Players felt abandoned. While there is a significant core of people who love how the Spellplague rewrote the Realms and opened it up to new stories, I think it is generally acknowledged that the Spellplague did much more harm than good.
Conclusion: The Realms is going through a much different transofrmation and the Spellplague has made that endeavor all the more treacherous. At GenCon, the company announced that they were takign it slow with Forgotten Realms. It will be the first camapign setting released and it would not be the "default campaign setting" as Greyhawk was to 3e. The company was compiling a "Forgotten Realms Bible" that would have all the ifnormation, particularly visual infromation about every region in the Realms. The undertaking, given the Realms are nearly fifty years old., is massive.
As for a release, the current indications are that the company will give people plenty fo options to decide for themselves what time period they choose to play in. Before or after the Time of Troubles? Before or after the Spellplague? You decide, and, apparently, you will be given the tools to play in any era. Inclusiveness, not triage, seems to be the word of the day.
Overview: I find Bruce Cordell's articles a refreshing air. He was given responsibility for revealing three of the most radical changes in Next -- eladrin (obliquely), implements, and Forgotten Realms. Unlike the mathematically oriented articles we have been reading, these articles offer no mechanics. They offer us story. Oh, how I missed story.
But, remarkably, every article topic Cordell discusses has been roundly rejected in the playtest. Eladrin? Nowhere to be found, with only a possibility of a possibility that it will be brought back, and the gray elves his article shot in the head? They've been resurrected and placed back into a position of prominence in the playtest packets. Implements? Gone. No mention or whiff of them and, mechanically, there's absolutely no need to include them in the first place. Spellplague? Ha! While Wizards hasn't exactly retconned the Spellplague away, they do appear intent on ensuring that the century before the Spellplague is always available and kept current for the fans of pre-Spellplague Forgotten Realms to enjoy.
And yes, Bruce Cordell is one of the designers of Next, while other developers whose mechanical ideas are being continued into Next are not. Why? Well, one reason may be that the authorship of an article is not necessarily an indication of ownership of that idea. Cordell may have been assigned to write the articles that killed (albeit temporarily) high elves, spell component bags, and pre-Spellplague Forgotten Realms, but that doesn't mean those were his ideas or that he should shoulder the blame for their rejection by the community. But I think there is a more important reason: story.
Cordell's articles do not focus on mechanics. When he sells an idea he sells it as an idea. He did not feel the need to explain that elves exude an aura of perceptiveness. He did not have to discuss why implements are important to allow casters to receive the enhancement bonuses to attack and damage the game asusmes. No, he justified each approach using narrative reasons. And the playtest has shown itself to be all about the narrative. Cordell is writer's writer. He seeks out story, he elicits story, and he describes story. That's what the playtest has been about and that, in my opinion, is why he is listed as a developer of Next when others have moved on or been passed over.
Next week we will examine the articles of Chris Sims, the most prolific author of Design & Development articles for 4e.