Sunday, November 23, 2008

2d4 Answers

About a month ago, I posted about d4s. In that post, I mentioned two questions I intended to ask Andy Collins next time I saw him*. Last night, he answered my questions for me. What follows is a very rough-paraphrase of his answers, please don't take these as word-for-word quotes. None of this is official, either, it's just stuff he said as a friend and fellow gamer, not in any Wizards capacity.

My two questions were:
  1. What's with the 2d4 weapons in 4th Ed? There's 4 mundane weapons that roll two dice in 4th Ed, and they have precious little in common. Greatclub, Falchion, Glaive, and Spiked Chain all roll 2d4. Heavy Flail and Maul do 2d6. Everything else has a flat damage probability, but those 6 weapons have a curve. It's been bugging me, no doubt because I hate d4s.

  2. Does Wizards own this patent? If so, why not make that style of d4?

Apparently, the 2d4 weapons are an artifact from an earlier draft, and now devoid of the meaning they once had. At one point in development, all 2-handed weapons rolled 2 dice for damage (and all one-handed weapons rolled one die). That was a fairly fun and flavorful idea, but the many 2d8 weapons at the top of the scale proved broken in playtesting. So, everything had to be scaled back. The 2d8s probably became 2d6s or 1d12s, which meant the existing 2d6s became 1d10s and 1d12s. The 2d4s at the bottom of the two-handed scale were largely left untouched. Roughly. The phrase "I think" was inserted generously into his answer, and this was far from priviledged information or a prepared interview. Purely off the top of his head.

I share it because I think it illustrates a point about game development. The 2d4s made perfect sense in the original context, but now that the "2 hands = 2 dice" concept had been abandoned, they stand out as just a touch odd. The next time I'm ranting about some game mechanic I don't like, I'd do well to look for the greater context that might facilitate understanding of how and why that mechanic came to be.

As to the other question, well, it took some effort to explain which version of d4 I was talking about. Not a regular platonic solid that rolls so poorly, nor the d6 with pyramids on two ends that only rolls one way, nor the four-sided curved surface football-shaped one that also only rolls one direction, nor the d8 numbered twice which could lead to accidental rolls of the wrong die... Eventually, we were both talking of the correct top-reading isoceles d4 shape. Apparently they'd been used for Magic Items in Dragon Dice, which was news to me.

Andy's recollection was that the very acute angles resulted in a die that had very little plastic (or, more importantly, weight). As a result, they don't actually roll as well as you'd hope. In order to make ones with the right heft to roll better, you'd have to make them larger than the other dice, and then the size would make them awkward. Again, with a lot of "I think" and "if I recall correctly" punctuating the very informal discussion. Off the top of his head, he didn't know (or didn't comment on) the legal status of the patent that was filed by TSR.

*sigh* I guess I'll just have to suck up my hatred of traditional d4s, 'cause they ain't likely to be replaced anytime soon. Ultimately, why go to the trouble (and expense) of using a new/abnormal die mold if it's not going to dramatically improve the die-rolling experience? I don't want to put words in Andy's mouth - he didn't actually say those sentences, it was just the impression I walked away from the conversation with. The statements above were a very rough-paraphrase of his answers, please don't take them as word-for-word quotes. Again, none of this is official, it's just stuff he said as a friend and fellow gamer, not in any Wizards capacity. I certainly never thought to ask "can I quote you on that?"

But man would I ever love to see d4's culled from the herd.

*: Andy is a friend of mine, but the friendship is not so tight that I can just randomly call him up out of the blue and ask about dice mechanics in D&D. Maybe he'd be okay with it, he does love gaming afterall, but I'd feel like I was taking advantage of him and/or our friendship.
I also could have asked Gwen Kestral, his wife. My rapport with her is at least as strong, but I'm not sure at what point in 4th Ed development she left Wizards. The 2d4 weapons decision might have been after her departure. I'd hate for anyone to wrongly conclude that I went to Andy for gender-discriminatory reasons.
Part of it was the timing issue, and part of it was that I've actually connected more with Gwen, and wanted an excuse to just "chew the fat" with Andy. I wanted the question to come up organically. That didn't happen, but I was at his house for what I expect to be the last time until January, so I just decided to risk rudeness and ask about (his) work rather than wait another month and a half (or more) for the answers. The resulting conversation was fun and enlightening.
Besides, Andy and I were both sitting around dead duing werewolf, repeatedly, so I had my chance(s) to ask.

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