Why Teleportation sucks
Here’s a quick challenge for you. Name five times when a hero in a Fantasy novel has Teleported under their own power. Go on. I suspect that, like me, you’ll come up with Pug in the later books then perhaps be able to squeeze out a few more, and the majority of those will be powerful spell-casters. Most acts of Teleportation in Fantasy demanded a ritual, magic circle, portal or item of some kind.
Being able to Teleport isn’t a Fantasy thing other than in it’s guise as a plot device to get Our Hero from Impossible Place A to Impossible Place B. Folks who can teleport under their own steam are, really, just showing off and demonstrating their Sheer Awesome Power because they can. It’s the privilege of the Demigod.
But not so in 4e D&D.
There are, according to the D&D Compendium, currently 198 Powers with the Teleport keyword ranging all the way from 1st level up to 29th covering pretty much every class (except Fighter, Ranger and Barbarian – thankfully). There’s even a Core Race, the Eladrin, whose main schtick is their Fey Step Teleport Power. So if you really want that 1st level Teleporting Fighter, you can.
And there’s the thing. If everyone can do the cool thing, it stops being cool. The days of the Classic D&D Magic-User reaching 7th level and finally being able to cast Dimension Door are gone. That was the iconic Classic D&D Teleport spell and all that did was enable to Magic-User to Teleport one creature up to 360′ away. And that’s once per day, if they’d memorized it. Hey, it took 80,000XP to get to that point. Don’t knock it.
But now, all the kids can do it. Bah.
There’s not a lot I dislike about 4e D&D but this one thing sticks in my craw. It’s easy for me, as GM, to House Rule it away but even I’ll admit that a House Rule which nerfs a hundred and ninety-eight Powers is a House Rule too far.
There has to be another way. And thankfully, there is.
It boils down to redefining exactly what the keyword Teleport means within the context of 4e D&D. Usually it means “disappearing from one place and reappearing in another without crossing intervening space”. It’s Nightcrawler. It’s the Star Trek Transporters. And yes, it’s Classic D&D Dimension Door. Some of the 4e D&D Powers – most particularly Arcane Spells including it’s own version of Dimension Door – fall into this definition.
But for most of them, I suggest that the definition is more fluid. It’s “moving so quickly the eye can barely follow your movements”. It’s “flow along the path of Shadows between”. It’s “turn into leaves on the breeze”. It’s anything you want it to be that suits your character, the class and your concept. Basically, the keyword Teleport means that you start at one point, end at another and nothing can prevent you getting there. How it actually happens is, as with any 4e D&D Power, is up to you. Teleportation (ie, without actually crossing the intervening space) is just one way to do it.
Your Teleporting Monk (Wandering Comet Strike) isn’t really Teleporting; he’s wall-running and bouncing off the ceiling so quickly than the eye cannot follow. Your Teleporting Paladin (Angelic Intercession) isn’t Teleporting; he’s lunging forward in an act of ultimate self-sacrifice. Your Eladrin (Fey Step) is becoming one with the wind. Whatever.
I know it’s probably stating the bleedin’ obvious, but sometimes it’s worth saying anyway. 4e D&D provides solid mechanics. How you interpret them maketh the game. You can describe any Power in terms that best fit Gritty Fantasy, Noir, Superheroics, Wuxia or any other subgenre you can think of.
And that includes making the over-abundance of Teleport just a bit less sucky.
Coming up in Part Two: Why Teleportation sucks if you’re GM, and what to do about it.