When designing game rules, I have often found myself getting stuck trying to invent a rule that makes a game faithfully convey its source material, while at the same time being balanced and fun to play. Some things that appear in books and movies are just very difficult to translate into games.
I therefore found it very refreshing to read the 4th edition D&D rules and see that they had taken what I am calling a “fighting withdrawal” philosophy toward a lot of these rules.
For instance, the idea that a poison is so powerful that a single drop will kill a man instantly is a very classic fantasy idea which you might expect to see in fantasy source material. But it just doesn’t translate into the way that roleplaying combat actually works. D&D has traditionally had this “save or die” idea with poison, to represent the idea that the poison might not affect you. But if it does affect you, you are dead. This just isn’t fun, it just doesn’t work.
Instead of trying to make rules to accurately simulate a power that roleplaying games have never been able to simulate in a fun way, they have basically said, “We will not even try to properly simulate this power. We will instead say that in our game, poisons that work in unfun ways do not exist.” Then they have invented fun ways for poisons to work, and put those in the game. There are no poisons that instantly kill or paralyze you, mostly poisons that causing ongoing damage or interesting tactical effects. This isn’t very realistic, or even very cinematic (how a poison can slow down your movement without affecting your combat ability is hard to understand). But I finding it refreshing that they simply have retreated from fights they cannot win, to concentrate on making rules that actually do work. If you know you can’t create a good rule to cover a given situation, just don’t put that situation in your game and replace it with something different but fun to play.
I won’t give up my quest to make rules that really capture the true cinematic experience in an entertaining way. But until then, I might just make a fighting withdrawal from the really hard-to-create rules, and gather my forces to concentrate on a fun core gaming experience.