I'm having a very busy real-life week which isn't leaving a lot of time for blogging, but so you don't all just assume I've died, here's some loose thoughts, which I'm sorry don't fit well into the overall scheme of the blog. Some of them barely rise above reconstituted news.
Dark Sun in 2010
* Wizards have announced the 2010 campaign setting for D&D as being Dark Sun. I was hoping for Dragonlance, but Dark Sun still excites me a lot more than Eberron or the Realms.
For those not familiar, Dark Sun is a kind of post-apocalyptic setting of barren deserts, slavery and dead gods, where each and every use of magic makes the world die just a little bit more. Metal's rare and psionics are common and just surviving the environment is every bit as much of a challenge as defeating its inhabitants.
Designer James Wyatt says he "felt it was time to show the breadth of what’s possible in the game, just what a broad swathe D&D’s kind of fantasy can cover." That's a noble sentiment, and it's entirely possible that 4th Edition's going to step up to the plate. There could even now be an evolution taking place as the ruleset ripens into a fuller and more mature incarnation.
On the other hand, I can't help but feel they're setting themselves up to demonstrate how essentially weak 4th Edition's non-combat mechanics are, and how little the combat balance is able to withstand mathematical tinkering. Still, better to try and fail than never try at all, I suppose.
Storytelling and the Dungeon Master's Guide 2
* The Dungeon Master's Guide 2 has a whole chapter devoted to storytelling, and the surprise is that it's not merely competent but actually rather good. The kind of D&D For Dummies nuts-and-bolts approach of the first (deeply lacking) DMG holds up surprisingly well when applied to things that are worth saying. The fusion of creativity and connect-the-dots formulaism it uses actually ends up bringing something new and interesting to the discussion.
It sounds like the DMG 2 could be a book worth buying. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Item Sets and Peer Pressure
* Can encouraging teamwork go too far? The idea of your success or failure resting not just on your own actions but those of your allies is great for building party cohesion and social bonds, but when your survival is dependant on someone else's actions it gives you an investment in their decisions. Anyone who's ever been pressured into playing a healbot just because no-one else wants to run one understands this principle.
Adventurer's Vault 2 takes it a step further with "group sets" - collections of magic items that give you bonuses based on how many allies are also wielding items from the set. It's the sort of thing that tickles me as a player - it's just kind of cool - but it's possibly not so good when you're at the less confident end of the player pool. The sets generate a mechanical pressure to wield weapons that are suboptimal or just plain not fun in order to "fit in" and help out your buddies; that's not, ideally, a choice a player should be asked to make, and I can't help but feel that this kind of design is the start of a slippery slope.