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January 18th, 2012


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09:26 pm - I have met the grognard and he is me
Anyone interested in roleplaying games (and anyone not interested in RPGs probably should find a better LJ to follow, to be honest) would have heard the news last week that, roughly three years after releasing the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is gearing up to release a new edition in the next 12-18 months, probably called D&D Next or something similar to avoid the shameful term '5th edition'. And lo, there was a wailing upon the internet, as if a million gamers with a million opinions rolled on the Loudmouth Opinion Table all at once and were now arguing about who won the Shrieking Initiative roll.

The announcement came with a strong subtext that Wizards had Done the Wrong Thing with 4E and alienated too many existing D&D fans in the pursuit of new players, driving them into the arms of Pathfinder and Castles & Crusades and a bunch of other games that are quite openly and deliberately just rehashes of 1st/2nd/3rd edition D&D with some additional house rules and a smaller art budget. The public self-shaming was followed by an announcement that Wizards wanted the new system to be all things to all gamers, to have modular levels of complexity that would magically make everyone happy, to bring the 'experience of D&D' back, and in order to foster this would run a mass open playtest of the new system - which, like Paizo's open playtest of Pathfinder a few years ago, would probably do little to effect the end result but would allow gamers to feel like their opinions were valued and to get a head start in becoming unhealthily emotionally invested in a game where you pretend to be elves that hit monsters with magic sticks.

My response to the whole thing?

...yeah, I think I'm done.

Not with gaming, hell no, and not with D&D - or more accurately, not with 4E D&D. I really like that system, which for me hits a sweet spot where a generally low-complexity system unpacks into exciting and cinematic action scenes and then folds itself away again when not required. My 4E games feature plenty of character-based fun and roleplaying, for all that the PCs don't have ranks in Blacksmithing or Trick Turning or Wetting Their Pants When Trouble Breaks Out, and the occasional glitches have been easy enough to overcome. There are things that could have been done better (skill challenges are a good idea but generally don't work, and feats are boring), but it's going to remain my go-to system for over-the-top big-explosions fantasy for a long time to come.

But I'm done with staying current with D&D; this new edition can go on without me, bolstered by the power of 99% of gamers having shrieking arguments in a thousand web forums about what form the new edition should take and why the features of [THEIR FAVOURITE EDITION] are objectively better than the features of [THAT EDITION THAT ONLY DOGFUCKERS LIKE]. I already sat on the sidelines of 3+ years of edition war bullshit, and I'm not interested in being part of Edition War II: Electric Fuck This Shit.

And I'm not much bothered by this, since for most of the ~29 years (fucking hell) that I've been gaming I haven't been that interested in D&D. Like most gamers I got started with D&D, in my case a dusty copy of the Basic Set that I found in the local gifts & homewares shop in my small country town, but within a year or two I had left that behind for more refined and cerebral games like Rifts and Call of Cthulhu (whichever edition let us blow monsters up with dynamite). For close to 20 years I didn't think twice about D&D, and it was a year or so after 3E came out that I decided to check it out, mostly because I had a pile of game-store credit burning a hole in my pocket and it had to be spent on something. And I dug it; it had a mix of approachability and density that I appreciated at the time, rules-robust without being too rules-heavy (for me), with lots of dials and knobs to play with and a couple of interesting campaign worlds. Suddenly I became Mister Dee Twenty, juggling a bunch of campaigns while writing game material for WW and Green Ronin, and I had a real good time with it. Still, when 4E rolled around, I'd had enough of the system mastery requirements and the GMing workload, and the emergent gameplay that the 3E system fostered wasn't as interesting to me; a game where I got some cool powers and fought bad dudes in exotic locations was just what I needed.

That's my D&D story arc - 2001 to 2011 is when I got to be one of the cool kids. For various values of 'cool' and 'kid'. And I don't feel like continuing; I have my preferred edition now, and I don't feel like changing. Which is a cause for some concern. Have I become a grognard, fearful and resentful of change and convinced that my favourite game can never be improved except through my dense folder of house rules? Well, probably not, since I don't listen exclusively to Rush and Jethro Tull, which is the mark of the true beardy-weirdy gamer; the rest is mere details.

But I'm not that interested in being on the cutting edge of commercially-successful RPG gaming any more. That edge is uncomfortable and smells like Doritos. My 4E books aren't going anywhere, there are mainstream games that I've been wanting to explore - like finally diving into that 'New Jerusalem' city-based nWoD game I've been mulling over for a couple of years - and a whole host of intriguing indie games that merit a session or five or play. If focusing on those for the next 10-20 years means that I don't get to be part of the D&D Nextwave Revolution or whatever, well, shucks.

Guess that's how the gelatinous cube crumbles.

(EDIT TO ADD: Man, I likes me some boldtext.)

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:ashamel
Date:January 18th, 2012 10:37 am (UTC)
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Not quite sure I'm into 4th ed -- 98 sessions in and I still haven't run a successful Skill Challenge -- but I'm really not keen on following the roller coaster yet again.
[User Picture]
From:mrteufel
Date:January 18th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
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Looks like it's time to buy that Rules Compendium before What-See pull the plug on the 4e DDI.
[User Picture]
From:barrington
Date:January 18th, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
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I knew I would agree with this post. I feel exactly the same, though my history is different. I didn't start with D&D (my first two RPG experiences were with Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Paranoia), I've never been into it that much, I generally play it because that's the easiest thing to get players to play. But I too like 4E for all the same reasons as you; it's probably my favourite edition (though I also really like one of the 3E derivatives, and no, it's not Pathfinder). I am sad to see it get such a short run; even assuming the next edition or whatever doesn't come out for another year or two, it's still only getting half the love of previous editions (I'm deliberately ignoring 3.5; the Essentials line was the equivalent, and for all the fuck-aboutery, that was way less disruptive to the material that had come before than 3.5 was).

I can't help thinking that if Wizards of the Coast weren't Wizards of the Coast - if another, smaller company owned D&D, one the size of Green Ronin or Fantasy Flight, say - they would stick with 4E longer. But Wizards is a beast, and must answer to the Beast's corporate masters; 4E doesn't sell enough to keep the wheels of such a juggernaut rolling. But that's uninformed gamer twaddle of the kind we're opting out of D&D Next to avoid, so I'll leave that thought there. Here's hoping the support for 4E continues for a similar length as previous editions. If I can get three or four more years out of my Insider subscription to get 4E content, I'll be happy, though I'd be even happier if I could download complete issues of Dragon and Dungeon and keep them against the day it all closes down.

As for the next wave, well, I signed up to have a look, but I doubt I'll like what I see. All the stuff said so far is saying they want to make it all things to all D&D players - and that's balls. Even should they succeed in some kind of generic D&D kit, why would I stop playing 4E to play their new thing that works like 4E? Or a grognard stop playing their retro-clone of choice (or, indeed, early edition D&D, still readily available second hand) to buy their new thing that plays like the one I already have? 4E's strength lies in it not being like the edition before it. If they want to do a new edition, they should have their experienced, professional game designers design a new edition, not crowd-source some kind of horrible hybrid.

But hey, enough of that. You know I'm on the other games train. I still have stuff I bought 10-15 years ago I've never had a chance to run. Fading Suns or 7th Sea? And of course there's that V20 game I keep promising, which is a step closer not the POD edition of the rulebook is out...
[User Picture]
From:damien_wise
Date:January 18th, 2012 11:57 am (UTC)
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Thinking about the rules and game balance...
Fans are fond of the first edition because it was the original (okay okay, it's cos it wan't Basic D&D); liked the complexity and choice of 2nd ed and all those spin-offs, but hated the way it didn't fix many of the problems of its predecessor; barfed all over 3rd ed for introducing so much overhead, and grudgingly played 3.5 because it finally got a grip on the D20 thing. 4th ed is their best and most polished by a long shot. It fixes a lot of problems the previous editions had, makes the game more consistent, and is in no way looking long in the tooth. What major changes would you make? Other than to drum-up more sales? Could it be that WotC need regular turnover of customers/editions/supplements to keep the money rolling in?

PS: hey, don't diss the Gelatinous Cube! I'll have you know that the D&D5E setting, Cubeland, is crawling with Gelatinous Cubes, and is so not a MineCraft rip-off.
[User Picture]
From:pete23
Date:January 18th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
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I loved 2nd edition. It was so mundane and balanced.</p>

Erm... Probably compared to 1st edition.

Dear Oriental Adventures Monk Class,

Billy no longer wishes to play with you as your special abilities drastically unbalance his game.

Love,

Tiamat (relegated to Ba'atezu or something - bring back the Gods!)

[User Picture]
From:ashamel
Date:January 18th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
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I liked 2nd ed too.

Although I do seem to recall making a huge Access database with spells to assign to NPCs. I was obviously more keen in the old days.
[User Picture]
From:bruceb
Date:January 22nd, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)
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I'm playing catching up, but...right on, Patrick.

For me, for instance, 4e is the only edition of D&D that ever had a whole mess of magic-using classes I'd like to play, or run for. 3e started getting there with variant systems in Unearthed Arcana and various 3rd-party books, but 4e casters are what I wanted back in 1977 dammit. (I see your bold-face and raise you some wasted italics.) Really, given either a cap on feats to match the cap on powers or the simple courage to toss out feats altogether, 4e would be perilously close to my non-HeroQuest ideal system.

And I really, really don't care to follow months/years of bickering predicated on the idea that people like you and me were jsut dead wrong and should be ashamed.

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