March 24, 2009

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Needs Blue Bolts from Heaven

A little retrospective:

Back in the day (1E AD&D), there was this notion of the "DM's Blue Bolts from Heaven". The idea was simple - some PC is too annoying to deal with, too powerful compared to their peers, or just plain ignored the warning from the gods. Blue, firey bolts of hot lighting would come down and, potentially, strike them dead on the spot. I think the rule of thumb was 3d6 bolts would come down, each carrying a saving throws vs. Death inside. I lost several characters myself this way. Luckily, a couple of them had friends in high places who could raise people from the dead...
No one doubted that BBFH were a very real threat to munchkin players. Power gamers and munchkins were always justifying their awesomeness as a result.

"He must find the Holy Avenger, like his father before him! It is his destiny!"
Declarations like that early in a character development not only added to the backstory, but it also provided the munchkins among us a foil against future BBFH should they find the sword in some kind of ass'hattery kind of way. Everyone was happy, story gamers and munchkins alike.

Enter 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. You start out as a "hero" at first level. The game is designed for power gamers, munchkins love it, and roleplayers either hate it or are heard frequently defending 4E as just as viable an RPG as any other 'older' one (me included). Regardless though, there's nothing in the rules-as-written about controlling over powered characters. The RAW in fact supports accension to godhood (which, in all fairness, every other edition of D&D has supported as well including BASIC).

Nonetheless, throwing down blue bolts from heaven in a 4E campaign strikes me as a deal breaker. I can already see the players standing up and crying "That's Bulls***!".

So... Are munchkins a problem, or a welcomed part, of your game? If you are running a 4E game, what measures have you taken to limit the obscene power gaming munchkinism that the end-days of 3.5E D&D faced? Or, is this not even an issue for you?


  1. It's not an issue for me as all my PC's are new to DnD and roleplaying in general. Additionally, I nearly TPK'ed the party in our very first encounter - so that seems to have firmly fixed the idea of their own mortality in their minds.

  2. I haven't seen an "overpowered" 4e character since Kenshiro Cascadero, who was nerfed by Wizard's anyway. At least, not "3.5 Overpowered" the way we know it.

    Munchkins will be munchkins. The measures I took are...not playing with them. I don't have to put up with bullshit in my games, I'm not so at a loss for hamsters to run through gauntlets that I will beg and plead them to remain in my game.

    But there really aren't characters in 4e that end up "accidentally" overpowered compared to others. Even the strongest ranger is going to get creamed if he fights a full encounter by himself just to be a badass.

  3. I've not typically had issues with over-powered characters, because of two things: I carefully watch the character-creating process, and I "adjust" my economy by not allowing the characters to purchase or acquire items that are out of balance with the rest of the campaign.

  4. Having recently resumed GMing, I'm still in the process of forming my gaming group, but I fully intend to weed out munchkins. And should any sneak in, I will devise my own BLBFH to rectify the situation!

  5. Blue Bolts from Heaven....that's just awesome. We took to calling the concept "The Blue Light Special" and felt EVERY RPG needed it for the munchkins.

    One time as a joke, we decided in a homebrewed Highlander-knockoff game we were working on that there should be an entire chapter of esoteric conditions for the Blue Light. I think we went as far as two immortals, passing by during the Ides of March and both have sisters named Janet, will both succumb to the Blue Light. It was a gag, of course, and sadly I think we spent more time writing the gag than our game idea.

    Another DM of mine once had "Wandering Damage" which were clouds of all those extra points of damage that never went into account for killing an NPC and anytime the players acted up, they would be swarmed. Good times.

  6. I haven't had to deal with munchkins for quite a while. I just don't put up with it.

    Powergaming's a different story, though, as it's not quite the same thing. I tend not to put up with that, either. However, I do run a fairly high-powered campaign (and did even in earlier editions of D&D).

    I think 4e is actually lower on the power scale than most editions. Not at level 1, no -- it does away with that whole "don't let the housecat claw you, you might die" stage. But it also cuts off the top end of the power scale. It's a more linear progression, whereas earlier editions (especially 3e) were an exponential one, at least for certain character classes.

  7. While I can't claim to have extensive (or any, really) experience with very early editions, I think that the two largest factors are the improvement from full-splat 3.5 to 4e in how out of control characters can be, but perhaps more importantly advancements in DM/player dynamics technology. Instead of letting a player get really out of hand and then just striking them dead by DM fiat, I feel like most I know would really rather talk to the player about the character or else at least work to limit that character's power using more naturalistic in-game means. Both are good solutions, and depend on the nature of the problem, but I can't imagine any player who, upon being informed that their character is just too powerful or annoying to play with, would be okay with death by DM fiat but not okay with altering some things.

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