My recent posts on WotC's "Tomb of Horrors" and Gamer Generations both included some not-so-flattering remarks about 4th Edition "Dungeons & Dragons."
Now, long-time readers will of course be aware that I've denigrated many editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the past...most especially 2nd Edition AD&D (which I have often claimed to loathe with a passion) and D20 in both its 3.0 and 3.5 versions. Likewise, I'm no huge fan (anymore) of BECMI or the Rules Cyclopedia, finding that Mentzer's system is a little too "kiddy-fied" for my taste. My preferred edition is B/X, hence the name of this blog, but 1st edition AD&D is the version of Dungeons & Dragons that I played most often in my youth and is the one with which I have the most actual play experience.
Now, a lot of times in this blog I talk about "good game design" and what makes a good game (these are table-top RPGs I'm talking about...just want to avoid any confusion out there). I own a LOT of games, and in the past I owned EVEN MORE, and there are some games I have played that I've NEVER OWNED (like say, GURPS). All of these RPGs were designed by real people, people with the best of intentions (I assume), and when I criticize a game I try to be objective about it.
Often I fail. That's just me...I get worked up sometimes.
However, just because I lambast or beat up or curse a game for some reason or another, it doesn't mean that I don't find something good and (God Help Me) "fun" about it. Case in point: I recently (within the last year) re-purchased Palladium's Rifts, a game I all-but-swore I'd never play again. It's STILL terrible and practically un-playable (except by masochistic 13-15 year olds...at least that was the "peak" of mine and my friends' Rifts experiments). But it's still representative of, not only history, but some real nuggets of powerful imaginary content...not to mention some sweet artwork and the chassis to run a post-apocalyptic Borg game (namely using Warlords of Russia).
And who wouldn't want to do that?
Not every game is good for every occasion...not even necessarily in the genre for which they're designed. Capes is a great little superhero game...unless you and the other players are interested in a superhero slugfest. Then its lack of permanence makes the end result O So Un-Satisfying (I know this from experience). Vampire was great at setting the Dark and Gothic Punk mood/ambience...and then turned into a superhero fang-banger game with lots of running gun battles. Hollow World Expedition (or HEX) is a fantastic-looking game, chock-full of inspiration for running a fast-and-furious pulpy adventure game...unless you really want fast-and-furious since the mechanics of action are a little on the clunky side. Castle Falkenstein appears to be a fantastic game all around...except that every time I try reading it I fall asleep.
These are games that I own and will continue to own, providing inspiration and possibly things to tinker with and get a game going with the right people. In some ways, I'm like the guy who collects old junker cars and has them spread all over the front yard, buying 'em for cheap with the idea that I'll fix 'em up "someday" and either sell 'em for a profit or (at the least) own a classic vehicle that is the envy of the local car show.
Yeah...I'm that guy.
Now regarding Dungeons & Dragons: I have owned, played, and run ever edition of Dungeons & Dragons EXCEPT the so-called "4th Edition." Did my faithful readers know I've actually run a 2nd edition game before? I know I've mentioned I've played and run both 3rd edition and 3.5, both at the table and over the internet.
In fact, D2o may have been my single-biggest RPG investment of all time...though I had almost every Vampire publication ever issued for the 1st & 2nd edition, and I had more than a dozen or so Rifts books at one time (not to mention a ton of AD&D stuff). And that's just the 3rd edition...I never bothered to buy 3.5 books (with the exception of the Complete Warrior and Adventurer books), instead just downloading and updating my 3rd edition stuff with the on-line System Reference Docs (SRD).
However, I stopped buying any WotC-issued D&D product long before 4th edition was even announced...and I mean I stopped buying cold, both new and used. Why? Because I wanted to stop the cash sink from a company intent on sucking every last dollar from my wallet? No...I continue to buy gaming product, both used and new, and even purchased Saga Star Wars last year. The jalopies continue to pile up in my game room, much to the wife's chagrin.
No, I stopped playing D20 because it sucked. Running it as a DM or playing as a PC. On-line or at the table. Every game came down to frustration and eventual disgust. With people that were friends, acquaintances, or even outright strangers.
Fortunately, my friends and I are still friends...we can all agree on our mutual dislike of D20.
What was it about D20 I disliked so much? Well, I blogged about it a lot when I first started writing the ol' B/X Blackrazor, but in the end it comes down to a couple things: it emphasized character crafting over good play, combat over adventuring, and unwieldy mechanics over abstract models...the latter creating a steep learning curve that I find antithesis to creating easy access thus stifling the ability to grow the hobby.
Oh...that and WotC usurpation of every old RPG's system with their shiny D20 system. Yeah, I convert most existing games to B/X if I wanted (and I've known people that converted EVERY game to GURPS or Champions)...but just because you can doesn't mean you should...or that the result will be better.
However, setting aside my ideals and indie-gaming rhetoric for the moment, those other things I mentioned all led to a disturbing realization...the game was looking more and more (or trying harder and harder to be) like an MMORPG. You know, like a certain World of Warcraft game on the market?
Now let me be perfectly clear: I have played WoW. I have played it A LOT in the past. I see the attraction, especially for the lone gamer who, perhaps by chance circumstance, doesn't have a group of people with whom to game. Or for people that want a relaxing way to un-wind that takes no prep, imagination, or stress, yet is still a form of escapism that has an "interactive" quality over chilling on the couch in front of the television.
So yeah, I understand it. I've done it. And I know it for the complete soul-sucking waste that it is. Because at least with table-top RPGs you are connecting with humans, having human interaction, creating a community...in addition to stretching and flexing your creative muscles by being forced to use your own imagination and visualization, to create your own stories and decide for yourself which direction "the quest" may take.
Discussing the best group tactics for handling raids and such in an on-line game is not "role-playing." Planning and execution can be done in chess, too, but it lacks the richness and creativity of real role-playing. Of course, if you've never been exposed to that how would you know what you're missing...?
SO...4th edition. I've never played it. I've never DM'd it. I've never owned it, so I've never read it. I've read a lot of reviews of the individual books over at RPG.net. I've skimmed its core book pages at the local book store or game shop. I've had discussions with people that HAVE purchased it and read it. Nothing I've seen or heard has led me to consider investing in it.
And yet here I denigrate it and piss off the people that profess to play and love it. How dare I!
Well, what can I say? To me, it looks like its designed to appeal mainly to players of computer games. I've said this before, but I'll repeat it in this post: you can't make an RPG designed to play like a computer game that plays BETTER than a computer game. If people want a computer game, they'll play a computer game. Maybe WoW doesn't have a "dragon born" race yet, but when they DO (or something equally cool...like DEATH KNIGHTS), people will jump ship to play it. And if WotC and Hasbro design an on-line computer game that plays like 4th edition D&D...with all the races and classes and spells and magic items and cool powers...well, why would you need to play a table-top game if that were available? And why would WotC/Hasbro want to support it if they could get people to pay a $10-20 monthly subscription?
But, hey, that's just my objection to the game on principle...something I wasn't even talking about in those last couple posts. What I WAS saying (that upset some people) is A) 4th edition is not conducive to role-playing, and B) 4th edition isn't really "Dungeons & Dragons."
I suppose people have a point about the former...I haven't played the game so perhaps I shouldn't judge. However, I can say that D20 wasn't (very) conducive to role-playing, mainly due to its focus and emphasis (resolving challenges with combat and/or D20 rolls). But I suppose that really depends on how you define role-playing. And that's a much longer, and much more complicated post for another time.
As to my claim that "4th Edition isn't D&D," well, I stand by what I said. I suppose in a way this patently ridiculous as it DOES hold the title "Dungeons & Dragons," so it is in fact Dungeons & Dragons. But if Pepsi bought the rights to Coke and re-labeled their own drink "Coke" and burned the original Coke formula...well, is the drink in the can really Coca-Cola? People who'd had Coca-Cola in the past (Old School Gamers) would say, "no."
[and just to continue the analogy, Indie Gamers would ignore it and drink RC while Non-Gamers would drink beer...]
If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck...but 4th edition doesn't walk the walk or quack the quack of older editions of D&D. Not even of D20, which was pretty far removed from the original game. It has elves and dwarves and gnomes? Sure...so do a number of other fantasy RPGs. It has classes and levels? Ditto that. You find monsters and fight treasure? There's a lot of RPGs on the market, past and present that operate with this premise...that doesn't make 'em Dungeons & Dragons. It just makes them "fantasy RPGs."
People: you're allowed to purchase and play whatever you want. But telling me that 4th edition is "the best edition of D&D there is" or that "this is the newest edition of the world's most popular fantasy RPG" is pretty absurd in my opinion. When I see people saying that, it reminds me of people who said, "D&D sucks, we should play Dragon Quest instead." Or Chaosium's Basic Fantasy RPG. Or Burning Wheel. Or Dangerous Journeys. Or Palladium Fantasy. Or RuneQuest. Or Fantasy Hero. Or MERPS. Or The Fantasy Trip. Or Rolemaster. Or Tunnels & Trolls. Or Warhammer Fantasy RPG.
Or whatever. A commentator in an earlier pointed out Ron Edwards's article on Why System Matters. I would instead point interested readers to Ron's discussions of what he calls Fantasy Heartbreakers. Now of course, 4th edition isn't a Fantasy "Heartbreaker;" this isn't a handful of guys self-publishing a labor of love that hopes to "fix" what is wrong with Dungeons & Dragons. But it IS similar if one considers the "fix" to be a necessary change/adaptation to the perceived idea of what gamers want in the 21st century. However, unlike the independent Fantasy Heartbreakers, by making use of the NAME (i.e. "milking the cash cow") they can ensure some degree of success, regardless of the content of their game, by branding alone.
At least until they drive the value of the brand down.
And whether or not THAT actually happens in my lifetime doesn't much matter to me, as the 4th edition game is not the type of gaming in which I'm interested.
Okay...that's enough for now. Here I was going to put up something more fun on the old blog and I'm talking about this stuff again. Sheesh!