(a broadside)

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Fourth Edition and Girl Genius.

I didn't care for either when I first checked them out. However, time and circumstance has sent me back into the edition fray, and a lark brought me back to Girl Genius.

I've been doing this whole gaming thing for almost twenty years. I was leery about switching from my beloved AD&D 2nd edition and from the adored TSR in favor of those card pushing fancy boys over at Wizards of the Coast and their 3rd Edition. I remember standing in the local comic shop overhearing how higher AC was new nomenclature and being filled with righteous indignation. ( "No THAC0? What is this demonry!?" ) Feats? Double Bladed Orc axes? What is this crap?

I got over it. I got over it, adapted, blew the dust off of my Planescape Boxed set, picked up the fantastic Iron Kingdoms setting, and had many a good time rolling twenties and never shedding a tear for THAC0. Then . . . then 4e came out. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Fortunately, I missed most of that nonsense. I don't think that the game somehow damages the role playing factor. Sure, the combat feels less like "this is my gentle slayer guy" and more like a a board game or, dare I say, HeroQuest, but everyone's more useful than before. I can't stand the new fluff, but that's easily remedied.

Besides the board game aspect, my biggest issue was the spirit of the PCs themselves.  The PC of 4e is set a world apart from the average person. Certainly, PCs in D&D have always been powerful, comparatively speaking, but the PC of 4e is downright superhuman. In 2nd edition, a 1st level mage was had only one spell per day and, after blowing that, was at the mercy of a lone kobold. Or a house cat. Or a stiff wind. Compared to earlier editions, the 1st level 4e wizard is a monster. At will powers that never go away, an encounter power that "refills" every encounter, AND a spell that can be cast every day. And a load of hit points to boot. The two just don't compare.

This, at first, was a turn off to me. Too much. Too much like World of Warcraft (cooldowns? the devil! harumph!), too much reliance on the map grid (slip sliding bollocks), too superhuman PCs.  The first two issues dissolved for me when I realized that, A, I use a map anyway and I should quit bitching, and (B), it's a different game. It's not 3.5. Things change. Don't be a conservative NeckBeard.  The superhuman problem, however, dangled over my sense of realism like that blasted blade that kept bothering that Damocles guy.

This is where Girl Genius comes in.

Girl Genius, if you aren't aware, is a delightful comic by the highly skilled Phil Foglio. He has created a wonderful world, parallel to our own, steeped in "Gaslamp Romance," which is similar to steampunk.  It's funny. It's weird. It's gold.  Now, how this ties in with 4e for me is that the power players of the world, called "Sparks," are, in every way, superior to the common man. They command respect.  They are ridiculously powerful. They have massive egos. They are also targets, both socially and politically. To the Powers that Be, they are problems. These are the people that would be kings. If there's a powerful Spark in town, the local lord is gonna be falling all over himself to cajole, control, or kill this upstart, because there's a good chance that the new guy is gonna wreck the local lord's shit. They are the Big Damn Heroes. Or Big Damn Villains, whatever the case may be.

Interesting. Immediately, since everything apparently comes back to gaming, 4e came to mind. This, to me, frames how I should be looking at Fourth Edition. The PC is the equivalent of a Spark. A Grecian Hero. A mover and a shaker who will, if he lives, soon have people wanting to be on his good side, sliding a knife into his back, or writing incredibly puffed up and ribald operas exploring his exploits.

Thanks for the idea, Mr. Foglio.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the quibbles of 4e. I skipped completely over 3rd or 3.5 or whatever it was. We played 2nd back then. I only recently got back into D&D. I love the map and movement aspect of it as I am a very visual person. I did think that the PCs were overpowered. I didn't want to use an at will or encounter damnit...I just wanted to hit something with my axe! But the more I got into it, the more I like it. And that is a good analogy that you made about them being the hero types. Definately helps put things into perspective.