The Problem with Sunrods?2 November 2009 in Articles by Iain M Norman
How the problem arose
In a game of 4e D&D recently, the topic of sunrods brightly burned in our groups close scrutiny for a short while.
We’ve just started a new campaign with a new DM. The first time someone used a sunrod the DM seemed suddenly taken aback by it, we guessed he was a little bit worried that it was ruining whatever he had prepared to surprise us with.
In 4e sunrods burn for 4 hours and shine out with a bright light to a radius of 20 squares. Potentially that’s lighting up 1,681 squares!
“How many squares!”, he did quoth.
So he ruled it had lodged under a dead body and was not providing much light at all. We ran with that, cutting him some slack, but complaining about the cheap sunrods you get in those Adventurer’s Kits.
The next two times that sunrods were used we hit a bit of a sticking point again, the game stopped whilst we discussed how we could fix them.
Our DM’s issue was that they would ruin any chance of springing a surprise on us. We as players agreed we’d like to be surprised from time to time, it’d be boring with no sense of mystery after all.
But as players we also want to interact and affect the environment we are put in, this is what makes things seem more real for players. If they don’t feel they have any effect on the environment then they’ve become cast members in a DMs story.
Fixing the sunrod
A few options were provided:
- Lower the radius
- Make them cost more
- Have them be in short supply
- They are so bright they blind you for a round
We never came to a satisfactory conclusion in game, so later on I thought about it in more depth. There are problems with all the above solutions.
Lowering the radius, to say 10 squares, makes them no better than a lantern. May as well use a lantern.
Raising the price or making them rare doesn’t fit with the Eberron setting we are playing. In a world of Lightning Rails and Airships, sunrods are just the kind of thing you’d expect to be common and cheap.
Blinded for a round? Just too unbalancing, no one would ever use one.
The final option – Not a problem at all
Finally I came to the conclusion that, even with sunrods as they are written in the rules, they needn’t mean the end of mystery and surprise at all, not one iota. Collectively we’ve got more imagination than that!
Sunrods can’t help you see what’s around the next corner, or see anything that’s not in your line of sight. Monsters can still hide in the shadows after all.
PCs aren’t going to be using sunrods in every encounter, as not all dungeons are always completely dark, only if all the monsters have dark vision would you expect a totally dark dungeon.
So taking those points into account are they really a problem? I put it to our DM that he should expect people to turn up with them and deal accordingly. Using terrain rather than darkness to provide mystery and surprise. Or using other ways of providing concealment, such as magical clouds, walls, darkness or invisibility.
Everyone agreed. Except of course now the monsters are going to up their game and we’re in trouble!
If you were thinking of nerfing sunrods just as we were I hope our experience can help. As a final thought, if you are still thinking they are broken:
A Drow’s Darkvision is far superior to a Sunrod, no penalies to see in darkness, no range restriction.
If someone was playing a Drow would we be discussing ways to nerf Darkvision?