One aspect of D&D 4th Ed. that I like a lot is its simplicity in letting you make the game as customized as you want, both rules wise and story/role-playing wise. The other day on twitter I went as far as calling it “possibly the most abstract D&D yet”, and some people didn’t really understand what I meant, because admittedly, it’s hard to see something as abstract when you are holding 15 minion minis in your hand, but I’ll try to explain.
As DM’s, we have tools in our arsenal to let us carve out a custom game made to the type of campaign we want to run, with minimal effort. Let’s look at monsters first. The way that monsters are setup in 4th ed., they are all power based, their equipment and armor (if the monster is wearing any) being a little inconsequential. If the guy attacks at a +10, then whether or not he’s holding the falchion that his stat block says he is doesn’t really matter, just know that the +10 is fine for a monster of his level. So if you really like some of the attacks this monster does, and are looking to create an original guy, don’t sweat the details. Take this guy and re-skin his name and powers. Build something creative without having to worry about mechanics.
Let’s look at the following monsters as an example, let’s turn a drow sniper into a Dilophosaurus spitter from Jurassic Park. Odd right? But it should be easy.
Here’s what the Drow Sniper reskinned into a Jurassic Park spitter looks like:
So what did I do? Not much. I didn’t touch the numbers at all. I replaced the drow name every time it came up with “spitter”, and added a blinding effect to the poison, because the movie showed that this happened.
For game mechanic purposes it is the same monster, just reskinned to be a spitting dinosaur. Your players will never know that this was a drow sniper, and the balance of the game does not suffer.
Now what about keywords? Well, you can use keywords to more or less create the type of campaign you’d like. Let’s assume you want to create a world where all wizards are winter mages. All you have to do is tinker with the wizard powers’ keywords.
The idea is that you are taking the power, adding a specific type of damage to its keywords, in this case cold, and reflavoring it for your needs. “Magic Missile” can now be called “Icy Frosty Laser Beam” and you have a winter wizard. Silly example, but the idea behind it isn’t.
And what about the abstraction thing I mentioned at the beginning of the article? Well, let me give you my opinion. A lot has been said about 4e’s power-based characters, and how they are cookie cutters and all that. Well, that is the furthest from the truth, as long as the DM running the game, along with the players, put a small amount of effort behind their powers. Who says that every instance of “Righteous Brand” has to look the same for every cleric in the universe? Remember, the Character doesn’t name this attack, that’s just for bookkeeping purposes. His version of the attack can look like whatever he wants it to look like. Take advantage of that. Have character creation also become an exercise in creating and imagining neat power descriptions.
This, coupled with the relative ease in reskinning monsters in no-time, along with fiddling with keywords, lets you make whatever game you want rather quickly. The tools are all there, you just need to put on your creative hat in order to use them.