Hurray, another edition is on its way.
Oh no, another edition is on its way.
And now everybody is rushing off to tell how a new edition war is going to break out, and they are telling us how it saddens them, and that they are not part of the war.
Then there are those who tells us, what the publishers should do, and some who present their own visions of, what the next should present. And that is what I want to do.
The various editions that I play
Two of my campaign-groups play by the D&D-rules. One uses what we usually call 3.4, since it began as a 3.0 and more or less upgraded to 3.5. My other group began with the 4th ed.-rules, then went on to D&D BECMI and now to AD&D 1st ed. Once we played 1st ed. for a while, we intend to shift to AD&D 2nd and from there on we have not really decided what to do. Perhaps 5th ed is around then?
Having tried the many versions – besides all the other stuff, that I play (for instance my Delta Green-campaign, various indie-games (most recently Trollbabe) and Scandinavian Freeform – I have gathered an image of the D&D I like and want to play.
It is not about combat
It took forever to play through the dungeons in the good old Basic-modules (B4, B6, B9) using 4th ed.rules, whereas we could go through a wizards castle/tower in two sessions at Companion level using D&D BECMI and we handled the ruins of Xak Tsaroth and the sunken city in Xak Tsaroth in two sessions playing low-level AD&D 1st ed. DragonLance-modules.
The whole element of combat heavy roleplaying and encounterbased designs is not the D&D I want. Besides it being very long combats – and I have plenty of board games for that – very little playing roles, exploring, plot development or anything else happens. It does not matter if it is 4th ed or 3.5 ed, both fails with their focus on establishing encounters, much as Pathfinder fails me. We spend several sessions playing module B4 The Lost City just covering the first few levels (and they are not large) was tiresome.
Give me quick rules for combat, let them be simple and abstract, let combat be brief for the D&D I play is not about combat, and encounter-based designs to D&D into nothing but combat. Being able to handle multiple combats in one session is great and it changes to tone and the style of the game in ways, that I like.
It is the roles, the weirdness, the exploration
Once we are outside combat, there are plenty of opportunities to play roles, to have the players engage each others’ characters and various NPCs, and that is plenty of fun and is often the focus of my campaigns.
Secondly there is the weirdness. The further back I go, the weirder the modules get. There is some great stuff in the late eighties and nineties settings (Dark Sun (1st ed), Spelljammer, PlaneScape (pre-revolution), Ravenloft (Gothic Horror-period), Al-Qadim and Mystara (pre-AD&D-period)), and though many of the later modules are not necessarily great to play, they have plenty of strange ideas to steal and use. The same applies to the older modules from the early period (pre-1987 – yes, I am applying a very broad early period here), that contains interesting, strange and weird things. There is something interesting and wonderfully different to the early D&D-materials, that seem to use ideas and concepts from early weird fiction, sword & sorcery, (Lovecraftian) horror and science fiction, which creates an entirely different vibe than modern fantasy novels and roleplaying does. I do understand many old schoolers interest in recreating older D&D-experiences.
This naturally brings me to the exploration-part. This third element is the pleasure of exploring a fictional universe. Sometimes it is just drawing maps and navigating a dungeon, but this is usually only a minor component, and rather it is about strange ruins, long-lost cultures and fallen civilizations, and the remnants they left, and the challenges this leaves us. The mysterious ruins inhabited by headhunters on the Forbidden Plateau on The Isle of Dread (module X1) or the weird castle, where the d’Ambrevilles reside (module X2 Castle Amber) or the wizards tower hidden beneath a rock in which an elven temple has been built (B6 Rahasia). Naturally not every module was a success (X3 Curse of Xanathon for instance was boring).
Looking back at D&D and having played several versions these last years I have come to the realization, that even though detailed combats filled with complex actions and exciting choices seems so tempting, and yet it so very easily becomes a drag. Rules mastery becomes important for the players, prep-time increases for me, and we spend a lot of time with combat, when I play 3,5 and 4th ed. It becomes about the encounter, i.e. about combat, and that was not really the appeal of playing D&D. I don’t mind combat, but I would rather have many quick combats in one session, than one or two that makes most of the time.