Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sword & 4thery

I've been thinking about sword & sorcery again lately, having recently purchased the RPG.net darling Barbarians of Lemuria from Lulu and the decidedly nasty new comic Viking from my local shop (which doesn't have any sorcery, but gets me in the S&S mood anyway). This, in turn, got me thinking about injecting more of the genre's flavor into the game of high-magic asskickery known as D&D 4th edition.

Soon I was reacquainting myself with Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting, which, despite the name, is more of a S&S-flavored pulp fantasy mashup than "high fantasy" in tone. I am a proud owner of all of Necromancer Games' d20-based Wilderlands material. Though I don't plan on running D&D 3rd edition ever again, I will probably hang on to those books (and especially the Wilderlands boxed set) until I keel over.

Anyway, I was flipping through the Player's Guide to the Wilderlands the other day with an eye towards using it with a system other than 3rd edition, and I actually think it'd be easy to use 4th edition for it without eliminating any of 4e's core elements, since the Wilderlands setting is chock-full of weird D&Disms in the first place (having been designed for that game, after all).

The 4e classes, really, fit just fine. Sure, having a bunch of friendly spellcasters running around with the fighter-types isn't very S&S at all, but as I said, I think the Wilderlands are more about putting a Frazetta veneer over D&D than anything else. If you wanted to make things more true to the genre, you'd probably want to dump a few of the newer, crazier classes - like the swordmage or artificer - but if you can have a crashed Soviet MiG in the mountains, I guess you can have a guy who shoots acid out of his sword.

Even "non-traditional" 4e races like tieflings and dragonborn are a surprisingly easy fit. The existing Wilderlands history already includes references to "Orichalan dragon-lords". Dragonborn are easily recast as a former servitor race of the Orichalans, or maybe even as degenerate descendants of the dragon-lords themselves.

Likewise, the Wilderlands already include an entire region to the south controlled by infernal powers and a shadowy race called the "demonborn". Using the 4e stats for tieflings, you have an easy stand-in for the demonborn, who are pretty much overpowered as written in the Wilderlands Player's Guide anyway. Or you could just use tieflings as-is and tie their backstory in with the demonborn.

You would need to write up a new Amazon race for 4e, though. Making a race that doesn't use much armor is tricky in any system, but at least there's already the beastmaster ranger build, so it'd be easy to have the archetypal Frazetta spearwoman, complete with smilodon friend.

I have a feeling that adapting the Wilderlands gods would be as simple as reassigning the various Channel Divinity feats from the 4e deity to Thor or Armadad Bog or what have you. There are already plenty of them between the 4e PHB and the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide, with more coming in Divine Power.

It... could... work!


  1. I think it'd work great for the Wilderlands, which IMO is at least as high fantasy (right there in the name!) as S&S anyway.

    As matters of personal taste, I'd take steps to make magic items less freely available to PCs, and I'd probably cut the rate of advancement, which some of the 3e Wilderlands products suggested, anyway.

    But yeah, the Wilderlands *certainly* has room for the sort of high-flying craziness endorsed by 4e ... if a lot of the stuff in 4e had appeared in an Arduin Grimoire (or if they'd had Hargrave write the 4e flavor text, instead of whatever fluffbot was actually responsible), then it'd be readily embraced, or at least grandfathered in as acceptable.

  2. Scott: "As matters of personal taste, I'd take steps to make magic items less freely available to PCs, and I'd probably cut the rate of advancement, which some of the 3e Wilderlands products suggested, anyway."

    I'm with you on the magic items. The good news is that it's pretty simple to figure out what the "expected" bonuses from magic items are supposed to be at a given level, then just compensate for those bonuses.

    I'm not with you on advancement. I like the idea of slow advancement, but I, like most people, can't play as often as I'd like and thus I find the 4e rate of advancement to be just about right. I've been playing a combat-heavy campaign once a week for almost a year and have just gotten to 12th level. (Keep in mind that they go up to 30th in this edition and that's not that crazy.)

  3. I love some S&S/pulp feel to my games, as well. I am currently running a 4e game in the vein in works best . . . high fantasy. But I've already began prepping a much grittier campaign.

    For a S&S feel, it seems like less is more. I plan on limiting racial selections to six. I plan on dropping some of the classes, as well. The big thing, for me, is the removal of so freakin' many magic items from the standard progression. Fortunately, there are ways around this . . .

  4. Blizzack said: "Making a race that doesn't use much armour is tricky in any system..."

    *Pshaw!* Why not just take a leaf from Savage Worlds' "Savage Sword of Conan" setting and use your mighty DMing powers to decree that a lioncloth + good oiling is armour equal to X?

    Jaguar pattern bikini/posing pouch + magic Frazetta oil = leather armour
    Chainmail bikini/fuzzy wifebeater + MFO = chainmail
    Brass pan lids/posing pouch & single pauldron + MFO = platemail

    Hey, I never claimed it was a *good* idea. :p

  5. With D&D 4e, you just need to include a +1 bonus to attack rolls, damage rolls and all defenses at 2nd (you get magic items at 1st level, but you don't actually START out of the gate with magic bonuses, so...) 6th, 11th, 16th, 21st and 26th levels for all players. This is essentially what items do. For more varied effects, you could have your players find rare herbs, or oils, or powders or something, whatever, at your discretion. But for the basic math, that's pretty much all that needs to be done.