4E Economy!May 14, 2008
WOTC’s preview on 4E reward economy also is making me smile.
Historically, D&D has always had a big magic item problem.
In order to understand this, you have to realize that magic items represent special powers or buffs, which a) can be instantly gained or transferred amongst the party, b) survive beyond the death of any individual character, c) often break the limited use power economy. (You see similiar issues crop up in older MMO’s, especially around item economy)
So, in way old D&D, you could get a +5 Holy Avenger sword at 3rd level, if you just happened to roll lucky on the treasure tables. The only “restriction” was the idea that the DM would throw out any crazy results (which, then, you wonder why you’re rolling in the first place, especially since each character had a vastly limited number of weapons which would work well for them given weapon proficiency rules…).
But a larger problem is how it looks over long term play. Since characters could die off, the thing was that magic items could simply be transferred back and forth over time. Basically, after a certain point, a party is more measured in power based on their magic item collection than their actual abilities.
The fact that a spellcaster could cast usually a handful of spells a day, could pick up an item that gives them 32 charges of (oh, healing, or fireball) basically spikes out their uses of that spell. Encounters that would have been impossible become pushovers. Depending on the item, you stop needing to ever memorize a certain spell.
But then, people ask, why does randomized reward work in Rogue-like videogames or Diablo? Well, in both cases, you realize there isn’t a DM sitting down to prep each encounter- a computer is generating the challenges – it doesn’t care if you actually get a challenge or blow through it. You also don’t have to coordinate to get 4 or more people together to sit and play for 4 hours to play these games. You simply save the videogame when you need a break and come back to it later.
In other words, tabletop rpgs have to be more efficient than videogames just to justify the amount of effort going into them.
Then we have to look at how randomized reward works – you keep playing because you’re hoping on getting items that combo well with your character build and the other items you already have. D&D would futz this up by also adding in the option to both make magic items AND buy them. If the challenge is getting things to combine well, giving people the option to buy or make things makes it really easy to break the point of randomization. It’s much like the same reason CCGs sell random packs and not specific cards.
There’s also the fact that gold is the universal resource in D&D. You might have to adventure for years before rolling lucky and getting your +5 Holy Avenger. You won’t have to adventure nearly as long to get enough gold to buy it- in fact, you might just stay home and have the wizard make potions or cast spells for money until you can buy one.
With all these broken economies about magic items, it’s no surprise that over 30 years one of the biggest problems has been how to deal with “overpowered parties with super magic items”… And nearly all the advice has revolved around some form of DM fiat to steal/destroy the items along with remonitions that DM’s should have known better than to introduce the items in the first place.
Of course, did you know you could kill the Tarrasque in a few short rounds with a giant growth spell and a bag of Devouring?