Ludonarrative, 4e DnD, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms

I’ve been thinking about what I play, and why I play it.  Now I don’t want to join the edition war, but I think what you play is impacted largely by the fiction the surrounds it.  I want to talk today about my love for 3.5 DnD Eberron vs. 4e Eberron and ludonarrative.


I read a lot.  I love audiobooks.  I listen as I walk around my house and clean.  I love print media.  I say up late and read old books while my wife sleeps.  I love my Ipad.  I keep my wife up late as I read next to her.  So when DnD fiction comes out, I go buy it and read it.  I won’t say it up to King’s level, but I’m not looking for that.  I want people to have adventures in worlds that I play in.  I want to read about people in the Forgotten Realms.  I want to see skyships in Eberron.  I want adventures in Dark Sun.  AND, I want the people to, at least tangentially, follow the rules my characters have to follow.  Make no mistake;  I’m not a guy counting fireballs in a fight as I read, but the healing cleric shouldn’t be able to pull off a fireball without some serious ‘splainin’ to do.  And this is why a specific breed of author works well in these books.  You have to follow the rules of the game, and that limits your creativity a lot.  It’s hard work to write.  I’m not even good, and it’s hard.  If you don’t believe me, then I implore you to do NaNoRiMo.  In one month, pound out 50,000 words.  If you can do it, THEN do it while following fake rules.  If you do that, then my hats off to you.

Now here is where rules hurt and help a book set in a world.  I want to introduce something called ludonarrative.  Here is a link explaining it for the video game crowd.  He also goes into why it’s a bad term, but since it’s established I’m going to use it for a bit.  For ludonarrative, it’s how well the story and the rules of the game mess together.  If in a cut scene your character can fly, but when you get to play the game for real, you can’t, than there is a problem.  That’s the basics.  I hit this hard when I played Batman Arkham Asylum on Hard difficulty; in the cut scenes Batman would one-two punch bad guys to the floor, but when I played for real, I might as well have been using cold ramen noodles to beat them down instead of his punches.  In the end, I felt disconnected from the game.

How does this affect my Eberron play experiences?  Well, if you read the fiction of Eberron, its primarily set in a world of 3.5 DnD.  And that’s OK.  However, when you play 4e DnD, the world doesn’t “work” as well.  Now, I’m not saying you can’t ‘make’ it work, but I would read through things in the book like a dual wand wielding wizard (alliteration!) and be amazed.  But when I got to the 4e table, I could use a wand once an encounter and then be sad as a free action.

Why did this happen?  Well, the quickest explanation is in 3.5 magic is broken. (ah I can feel the angry from here!)  It’s almost impossible for a fighter to deal with a 20LvL wizard who can wish his mom away before he was born.  And, that’s OK.  Those kind of crazy things make 3.5 fun.  When I play some 3.5 Eberron, magic’s broken, so crazy wand wizards are a thing.  I feel like I’m playing the ‘real’ Eberron.  The constant nature of magic without balance really helped me feel Eberron and its world.

Does 4e do something right then?  Yes.   Arguably the longest I’ve ever played DnD is Living Forgotten realms.  And it was 4e.  The fiction matched the books, and it worked in reverse.  I loved to read about the realms in the books, and I loved to read about the rules that supported it.  It worked well together, and how well this worked together really made me enjoy my game and books that much more.

In the end, the take home message is I need fiction to match what I’m doing in game.  I’m seeing more of this with the Sundering.  Magic is changing, and it’s changing how players play.  That’s good.   I might not like the ‘how‘, but the end result will be a system that meshes well with the books and books that mesh well with the system.  And, that what any good system needs.


2 thoughts on “Ludonarrative, 4e DnD, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms

  1. So in other words, Ludonarrative is the setup for just about every joke in a webcomic like Penny Arcade? Movie Bob cracks me up. I guess he goes by a different nickname in other circles, but I know him best from the Escapist column, “Escape to the Movies.”


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