This is an entry into this month’s blog carnival about Transformations and Transitions.
Reading over the interview done with the authors of Manual of the Planes and the Design & Development article on Cosmology (DDI sub needed), I couldn’t help but notice the focus (which we were first informed of all those months ago in the preview books) on making all the planes places to adventure. Planes that felt underused were done away with, and a new cosmology was created that both had some new planes, but still drew on parts that existed in previous editions- most notably in my mind, Sigil and the City of Brass.
The push in 4e was to take what were considered the “core” parts of D&D and incorporate them into one solid setting that all worked together, instead of the previous elements of D&D that were added on as time went on and more modules were published. In a way, the transition from the previous editions core setting to 4e’s core setting was an attempt not unlike the attempts by DC and Marvel Comics to clean up their continuity so as to allow new readers (players) an easier entry point and to recreate the continuity to fit together better. DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was the trend-setter there, but the analogue that works better for me is Marvel’s Ultimate line.
As mentioned, both took the elements that the creators/designers thought worked and streamlined it into a whole designed from the start to work together. Many were not happy about the changes, preferring the existing, familiar setup. The creators/designers tossed out a number of elements that had their fans.
Interestingly, 4e seems to also have be taking after the Ultimate universe in another big way that I wouldn’t have expected: people are excited to see the 4e version of old elements. The Ultimate universe has (or at least had) fans waiting for a certain character or event to show up, so they could see the “Ultimate” version of it. “I wonder what they’ll do with Ultimate Rhino” or what have you. In 4e, particular character classes, races, and monsters are of course the main targets for anticipation, but I’ve also seen a lot of calls for the new versions of specific NPCs and locations. “What will 4e Spelljamming look like?” and so on. Of course, just like the Ultimate universe, there are plenty who will say that the new version isn’t faithful to the original or doesn’t follow the core concept of X well enough.
This process is similar to The Teardown, since the goal is to improve by not being confined by anything previously established, only the core elements that are necessary. In a roleplaying game like D&D, mechanics and story are intertwined at least to some extent, no matter how much you choose to ignore for your own campaign. I find it interesting that more companies seem to be taking chances with this kind of process (and it is definitely a risk). I have the feeling that those will always be those that will want to keep around traditions as much as possible, and those who want to destroy and rebuild.