While this post is mostly me attempting to sort out thoughts, it’s not very kind of me to work them out with the world watching without a little background.
As many know, I love games, and the grand-daddy of one genre of games is Dungeons and Dragons. I love tabletop role playing, and so D&D is among my collection. I’ve played it for many years, and currently play the 4th edition.
Of course, any nerd with an internet connection can tell you that which edition you play can make or break your reputation in many circles. It’s a bit silly, but that’s the way things are.
In a conversation comparing and contrasting the 3rd edition and its related material and the 4th edition and its related material (Read: Nerdrage argument) the curious case of Magic Missile came up.
In D&D, from its origin through 3.5, Magic Missile was a simple spell that did a little damage without an attack roll, thus had no chance to miss. It wasn’t very powerful, but it was sure. Fourth edition changed that, making the Missile a basic ranged attack for Wizards, with a roll to hit like any other.
This was a good thing, all things considered, as it was part of a unifying of game mechanics that made D&D more accessible.
Then came Essentials, and they gave the Mage (A Wizard variant) a new Magic Missile, which hit automatically for a set damage. The developers changed the official wording of the old Magic Missile to match this new one, thus bringing the old style back to the game.
During the nerdrage I commented that that was a bad design. My opponent leveled the question of why an auto hit attack was bad. I answered, but I honestly don’t remember the answer now, and I feel my position was tenuous at best.
In the interest of self honesty, I must admit that the reason this new Magic Missile is bad is not because of its inherent design, which would be right at home in a number of games, but because of what it created in the 4th Edition rules: an exception.
As far as game design theory goes, I hate exceptions. They create elements of system mastery that make a game obtuse and hard to play. Have to reexamine the rule books to check the exception on slows down the game.
In the case of Magic Missile, due to the already highly modular nature of 4th edition D&D, it’s only a half sin. It’s a power that works unlike any other power, but it’s rules are part and parcel of the power, which will be printed in many areas for easy reference during play.
So, while my games will continue to use the old version (I frankly like the attack rolls) I must fold to claiming it’s bad for the game inherently, though it creates issues due to the prevailing design.