Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The caves in Keep on the Shadowfell may well be the first time players come to grips with the new illumination rules. Where previously the crypts had been lit by goblin torches, in the caves the players will have only as much light as they bring with them.

This brings into focus a design disparity in the 4th Edition rules. Elsewhere, we've seen how the sundry items of exploring and travelling crap have been folded into a neat "adventurer's kit". The encumbrance rules are forgiving, allowing even the weakest of characters to lug around plate armour, two polearms and a backpack full of loot without penalty. These are good design choices; we don't need to analyse how our heroes make camp or stay fed any more than we need to know how often they use the toilet. The focus stays firmly on what D&D does well, and away from the minutiae of daily living.

Lighting is problematic, though. How far you can see has very real effects on your decision making, your tactical situation, and on the mood and atmosphere of the game. It seems like something that there are benefits in paying attention to. On the other hand, it's a bitch to track. Putting aside virtual tabletop technology, there is simply no easy way of marking the boundaries of multiple moving light sources.

4th Edition can't decide which side of that problem it wants to fall on. It provides a little over half a page of rules for lighting at page 262 of the Player's Handbook. It also sets out the usual illumination equipment. A torch lights 5 squares, a lantern lights 10, and these are both items that involve a naked flame so someone has to forfeit their shield or weapon in order to carry them.

But then it mentions "sunrods", which magically illuminate 20 squares in every direction and can be safely strapped to the haft of your polearm or suchlike. They cost two gold pieces each, burn for four hours, and you get two of them packed right into your adventurer's kit. They render every other form of illumination in 4th Edition completely redundant; there's no good reason that you can't have one of these tied to every player's helmet all the time.

I suspect the intention was to provide sunrods for groups who just can't be bothered tracking lighting, and DMs who like doing it old-school can house-rule them out of existence. That's a pretty good solution to the problem, but it would be nice if this intention was stated. Would it have cost so much to have a little sidebar talking about sunrods, illumination, and play preferences?


Zubon said...

The light spell also deals with a bit, and there are a few other items to make your head glow.

Just to mention, I'm enjoying the in-depth dissection. Not commenting much, but I am reading.

Greg Tannahill said...

That's the sort of comment I like! Thanks for letting me know people are still out there! I'm doing this more as a conversation with myself than anything else but it's even better when other people are following along.

Light is effectively worse than a torch, providing a "burst 4" light effect. On the other hand, you can target it on things other than yourself and move it as a minor action so it has some interesting tactical possibilities. I'm glad to see they've removed some of the sillier side uses of light such as blinding opponents etc.

Light is one of the wizard cantrips; they're an odd bunch in that they seem to have been forgotten in the 4th Ed reorganisation. They're still just as silly and broken as they were in every other edition and they're still the first resort of any player who really wants to be a first class jerk. I can see how that's possibly the point of them though, so I might talk about them in a future post.

yasu said...

Are sunrods magical light? It might become quite important in a higher level situation where you are facing anti-magic fields in a series of dark caves. Assuming they have antimagic fields in 4e -_-;;

Sunrods under 3.5 only had a radius of 30 feet. They were slightly more useful than a hooded lantern but with the same radius of effect, and it cost 20 times as much for a sunrod as a pint of oil that lasted as long. It's probably something of a balance error that they left the pricing of sunrods at 2gp.

Greg Tannahill said...

Sunrods aren't italicised when printed; following the 4e formatting guide, that means they're, strictly speaking, not a "magical item". I haven't seen anti-magic in 4e yet, which I suspect is a deliberate decision (dispel magic has been significantly nerfed) and in the event you did encounter a complete anti-magic effect it would be up to the DM to rule whether sunrods are affected.

2 gp IS 20 times the price of a pint of oil, but considering the most basic level 1 magic item sells for 72 gp it's not likely that 2 gp is ever going to present an obstacle to a player who wants to stock up. I'm pretty sure this was deliberate, given that they lump you with two sunrods in your starting gear - it's a hint to say, "Don't worry about the lighting rules unless you want to." And if you're worried about the economies of "all sunrods, all the time", an everburning torch will set you back a mere 50gp.

There really is a focus in 4e on helping the players stop being accountants and start being heroes. It's a wonder they even bothered to list prices for pints of oil rather than just saying, "When you buy a lantern you get an unlimited supply." The DM who stops play to make players fork out one measly silver piece for a pint of oil is a DM who has a lot to answer for.

Jazzlvraz said...

I've seen a lot of folks use the "cast Light on a coin" idea liberally in 4E, followed by throwing it into dark places and all the rest...

Raymond said...

When I played in a 4th edition campaign, my character would frequently use sunrods for everything, throwing them in places, tying them to the Ranger's arrows (the Wizard also liked to cast Light on arrows, too.)

The best use of them, though, was getting a Tenser's Floating Disc, a Battle Standard and some magic weapons, tying fifteen Sunrods to it on ropes and then combining the power of two pairs of Hedge Wizard's Gloves and a Hat of Disguise to make my character look like an avenging angel, complete with heavenly music playing, Prestidigitated wings, rays of divine light and a hearty cry of GLORY TO THE PRINCIPALITY OF AVERNON (which led to facepalming from the other players, but was totally worth it.)

Then we fluffed our Initiative roll and couldn't hit a damned thing for the whole fight.

The point of this wandering anecdote is to say that indeed, Sunrods can be a little too useful, but can also be used creatively.