Monthly Archives: September 2011

Why I Don’t Miss the Great Wheel…Much

Like many Planescape fans, I was drawn to the Big Picture it provided for looking at the D&D multiverse. Its planar symmetry implies a kind of grand order behind all the bizarre places and creatures roaming the game’s pages.

Here’s the thing though: the implication of order is only skin-deep. The planar symmetry doesn’t make much sense at all, once you think about it. Here are a few examples:

Air opposing earth makes a certain sense, but fire opposing water? C’mon! One’s a chemical reaction, the other is a state of matter. And what’s with the quasi-elemental planes? Negative energy annihilates air completely, extracts the salt from water, and splits earth into dust. The effects of positive energy are also inconsistent.

The creatures of the planes don’t make much sense either. It’s tempting to imagine underlying patterns in the fact that each outer plane has its exemplars, but again, the symmetry is only skin-deep. The tanar’ri of the Abyss come in all shapes and sizes, as makes sense for a group spawned by a chaotic plane. But the slaad of Limbo are all anthropomorphic toads, and the eladri of Arborea are a race of super-elves. Meanwhile, the archons of Mount Celestia are almost as varied as the tanar’ri.

It makes sense so long as you don’t think about it.


Dear Mr. President,

I wish to express my full support of your proposed Buffet Law. I find it amazing that taxing the super-rich is even an issue; to my mind, ‘tax the rich along with everyone else’ goes without saying.

On a related note, I think Warren should be given a medal of honor, because apparently his people and mine are at war. I suppose his fellow billionaires must consider him a traitor to their cause, but I think he deserves recognition for speaking up for our collective well-being.

I understand that some people are concerned that the Buffet Law won’t solve our national debt problem. Now I’m no economist, but it doesn’t take one to know that it will help. So while further measures may be necessary to reach an ultimate solution, by no means should the greed of the few blind us to part of that solution.

Now, in the event that the Buffet Law projections don’t promise a balanced national budget, I’d like to suggest additional solutions. First, legalize pot and prostitution, and then tax the hell out of them. These luxuries are no more dangerous than cigarettes and football, and have no business being illegal. Second, tax corporations and religion-owned land. I don’t know why the titles ‘corporation’ and ‘recognized religion’ give their owners a free pass, but it’s time everyone starts paying their fair share. Again, it doesn’t take an economist to see how these things will help solve our problem.

After we’ve seen our budget with all of these additions, then will be the time to consider cutting frivolous spending, like NASA and the defense budget.

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Posted by on 19/09/2011 in Uncategorized


Behind the Smoke and Mirrors: D&D’s Level-Up Treadmill

A while back, someone on an ENworld thread mentioned how 4e disillusioned him to D&D advancement. It cleared out the smoke and mirrors, allowing him to see the level-up treadmill. If you already know what the level-up treadmill is, skip the next three paragraphs.

What’s the level-up treadmill? For example, take a 1st level PC. That PC goes adventuring with his party, kills a few orcs, takes their stuff and then levels up. During level up, he gets a few more hit points, and another bonus or two. Maybe he identifies his first +1 weapon amidst the orc spoils. Now he’s a 2nd level PC, and he goes on another adventure to fight hobgoblins.

Despite his improved combat ability, the PC isn’t any better at killing hobgoblins than he was at killing orcs, because the hobgoblins also have a few extra hit points and another bonus or two. Essentially, he’s fighting orcs with hairier costumes and a different label.

The level-up treadmill isn’t unique to 4e, but the 4e dev team went out of their way to make monster stats fairly uniform and more importantly to make monster design transparent. The 4e DMG is the first DMG that takes an honest stab at monster-writing guidelines: a DM assigns his monster stats based on what he wants the monster to do, and then adds 1 to each of those stats per level. In this way, a monster can be made more or less challenging simply by adjusting numbers up or down. That’s an oversimplification, but it demonstrates the fundamentals of D&D monster design, and the level treadmill — no matter a PC’s level, he’s essentially using the same numbers to fight the same monsters.

Back to our disillusioned ENworlder: I was actually surprised when he explained his problem to us. Not surprised that the treadmill exists, but that he never recognized it until the 4e DMG pointed it out, and that the treadmill is a problem for him. Maybe I’m more tuned in to what lies behind the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of game rules, but I recognized the treadmill not long after I started gaming in my 2e days. (The dragons I fought got older and bigger, but weren’t all that different when it came down to rolling dice.) I’ve always assumed that most D&D gamers recognize the treadmill too, and enjoy it. (Or accept it, at least.) After all, fighting bigger and meaner monsters is a simple way for DMs to give their players a sense of accomplishment and advancement within the game world.

So my question is: have I assumed wrongly? Did you already know of the treadmill, or have I just shattered your blissful ignorance? Is the treadmill a feature or a problem? And is it a mistake for game writers to make the treadmill clear for all to see?


Posted by on 01/09/2011 in Dungeons and Dragons