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.

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17 Responses

  1. ambrose says:

    I always like to think of the Woodland Stride ability, in particular, in terms of an alternate path. It seems much more druid-ish to become one with the tree and travel along it’s roots or become a leaf and float to your destination.
    .-= ambrose´s last blog ..Hogwarts RPG Species: Kappa =-.

  2. Oz says:

    I didn’t realize just how common teleport had become until your post. While I knew there were a lot of teleport powers/abilities, my campaign world has always had a strong Fae component that included an Otherworld that was used by some to teleport by stepping between the worlds.

    I guess it’s because my group has only dealt with a couple of classes that have teleport powers – the warlock and swordmage. I didn’t know that paladins and clerics could bampf… even flavor-texting it still seems to be stretching it for them.
    .-= Oz´s last blog ..Firefly + Buffy + Underworld = Win =-.

  3. Rev. Lazaro says:

    Aww, but I kinda like the notion of teleportation as is for one reason: In a setting where Multiverses, parallel dimensions (like the Feywild and Shadowfell) and the like exist, and are often transversed or at least passed through….the notion that some beings could move point A to point B doesn’t really phase me. But then again, it may be because subconsciously I rationalized the whole thing as something akin to either Guild Navigators from Dune or the whole experience from A Wrinkle In Time…these beings, through their arts, are able to fold space and reach said point.
    .-= Rev. Lazaro´s last blog ..When “Fringe” and “Torchwood” influences 4E….. =-.

  4. Elton says:

    To many people performing the art of teleportation? Realistically, not everyone can do it. I think it has to be a very special ability. This should be fixed.
    .-= Elton´s last blog ..Character Set: MH Anny for V4A4 =-.

  5. Random Bystander says:

    ok, this may seem strande, but according to me, there ISN’T enough Teleportation (capital T). A super cool thing of Wizards and Mages (capital W and M) in many fantasy books is that they Teleport, and reach a far away destination. Maybe we read different fantasy books, but in those I read, there was almost never a portal, or a ritual. The Mage just “dissapeared”, or “faded away” and he was in an altogheter other place. Not just 5 squares away… All this small teleports (which indeed could be “fluffed away”), make me think that there isn’t any cool teleport at all. I have the same feeling about flying, but that’s for another post, I guess :)
    PS: Yes, the balance, bla bla bla, I know it… but old style teleport is just cool. :)

  6. Neuroglyph says:

    I would have to agree with Random Bystander – the capital T teleportation isn’t there anymore. All you have left are little baby dimension door spells going off, of 2-5 squares. And when you talk Teleportation to modern fantasy audiances, the fantasy novel that leaps to their minds will doubtless be the Harry Potter books! I share your angst, Greywulf, and i’m gonna make my Players hammer out their own “flavor” for these psuedo-ports, so as not to belittle the real deal when it comes up. But still, as you also pointed out, there is so many things RIGHT about 4e, it’s ok to forgive them on a sticking point or two.

  7. Wyatt says:

    I tend to imagine as anime-style “move fast behind someone and slash them” type of things. Kind of like the superfast slashes in Ruroni Kenshin and Shunpo/Sonido in Bleach.
    .-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Flavor Text of Eden (And 4e!) =-.

  8. Anarkeith says:

    I thought of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos who gets physically sick when he has to teleport. It’d be interesting to add a conditional aftereffect…

  9. Elda King says:

    Well, I have to agree that some teleports in 4E simply annoy me. The Swordmage’s Aegis of Ensarement (Arcane Power), for example; you could simply pull the enemy, but no, you must teleport it.
    But, mostly, I have allways though of most teleports in different ways. Fey Step, to me, is walking through the Feywild for a short time (and I’m waiting for a proper occasion to put a big threat in the midway for my player to face). And I can’t avoid thinking about the Aegis of Assault as a Jedi using the Force to make a prodigious leap…
    In 4E, “teleport” just became a way of describing “kind of movement monsters can’t stop, doesn’t provokes AoO and ignores terrain”. “Real” in-game teleport has nothing to do with the keyword…

  10. Well there is Teleportation with the capital T. It’s a ritual, and it’s been thankfully changed so the far away places that the mage can reach have to have a portal there with a specific key. It still accomplishes the using great power to get to far away places aspect, but still allows a DM to have an overland adventure even in the epic tier.

    I have houseruled out teleport getting you out of a restrained condition and this has added to both the story of the game and the flow of combat immensely (at least for me the GM). I presented it to my two Eladrin players as “Either I can rule it this way, or every time you get captured I’m going to have to hit you on the head to knock you out.” They chose to avoid brain damage. Now we can have stories where they get captured, or battles where they get crushed by a big guy.

    I don’t know if this is by the rules or another house rule, but in return I let the BAMPHers use teleport to get up from prone. They use this like it’s going out of style, and I’m happy when they burn encounter powers to avoid attacks of opportunity.
    .-= Captain Cursor´s last blog ..Superhero Discussion =-.

  11. Stuart says:

    Harry Potter. Which makes me think it’s not a bad thing to have lots of teleporting… but it’s different from Conan, LotR etc.
    .-= Stuart´s last blog ..Starting Items for Fantasy RPGs =-.

  12. Thunderforge says:

    Indeed, in Harry Potter, virtually everyone (at least everyone over 16 or whatever) can teleport at will. The limiting factor is that important places don’t allow for teleporting.

    The Assassin is I think the first 4e class to really do something different with teleporting. You can teleport from adjacent to one creature to adjacent to another creature saying that “You have the ability to walk the shadow pathways from one creature to another.” Still kind of like Nightcrawler, but at least it’s different.

  13. Greywulf says:

    Yeah. So that’s Pug, Vlad Taltos and the Harry Potter novels. We’re not up to five yet! It’s harder than it looks to name five.

    For longer-range “true” arcane Teleportation I feel that’s more than adequately covered by the Rituals which provide such spells as Tree Stride (for the Druids) and numerous Portal effects.

    But Teleport as a combat-ability? No thanks. That’s why I’d much rather re-interpret them as something else instead.

  14. Cooperflood says:

    Here are the fantasy characters that I could come up with that had Teleportation abilities.

    Rand al’Thor (Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan)
    Raoden (Elantris by Brandon Sanderson) Admittedly he didn’t really master his ability until the end of the book

    Obviously this discussion has had to completely ignore any WotC property, but I’m going to mention two that have reached a fairly “classic” status.

    Raistlin Majere (Dragonlance by Weis and Hickman)
    Erevis Cale (Erevis Cale Trilogy and The Twilight War by Paul Kemp)

    Characters in these books actually use abilities closer to “Shadow Walk,” but I’m going to mention them anyways for completeness.

    Chronicles of Amber by Rodger Zelazny
    Malazan the Fallen by Stephen Erikson

    None the less I think you have made a very good point. Once access to long range teleportation becomes available to characters it completely changes the campaign, which is one of many reasons why I play E6 if I use the 3.5 rules.

  15. Greywulf says:

    @Cooperflood Yep. That’s five. You win the no-prize!

  16. Etherrider says:

    There are a lot of powers and true they are more like Blink and some of the other short-range type spells….but one thing…I don’t think many of them have enough drawbacks. There are plenty of powers which grant combat advantage or leave you dazed/stunned or some other “I don’t want to be that!” effect.

    I think it may be cool to have more of them grant CA or some other effect. Afterall, you may grant CA by appearing and not have total realization of surroundings. Or have some effect to show sickness or needing to clear your head and so forth. I think that would have been a good move originally at lower levels for sure.

  17. Greg P says:

    I know I’m arriving late to the conversation, but I immediately thought of another fantasy character that I have liked for a long time and wish more people knew about. Alaric the Minstrel, from Phyllis Eisenstein’s books “Born to Exile” and “In the Red Lord’s Reach”. He is a wanderer who can teleport both within line of sight, and anywhere he’s been before. (IIRC. It’s been some time since I’ve read the books.)

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