Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Crossing the same river twice

I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over 30 years now, on and off. I frequently switched to other systems, and frequently returned to D&D. I love Dungeons & Dragons. And I am deeply worried about the direction it is heading and its future.

It is possible that the period I had the most fun with D&D was around 1st or 2nd edition. I was at university, and D&D was my main hobby, with which I spent many hours every weekend and some evenings. I was young, and didn't have all the worries of a middle-aged man yet. Compared to that my current 4th edition D&D campaign has severe drawbacks: We can only play for around 4 hours every two weeks, sometimes less. And me living in a foreign country means I have to DM the campaign in a language I don't master completely. And my carefree university days are certainly over.

I wonder how many people are in similar situations, where the D&D they are playing now is not the D&D of their high school / college / university days. And I wonder how many of them blame the rules of D&D for having changed, not realizing that it is THEM who have changed much more. There is a huge "edition war" raging on the D&D forums, with a lot of nostalgia for 1st and 2nd edition AD&D rules.

I've seen exactly the same with MMORPGs. Some people still believe that Everquest is the best MMORPG ever (and then offer various excuses why they aren't playing it). Some people earnestly believe that Blizzard is paying millions of dollars to a huge development team tasked to make World of Warcraft worse with every single patch and expansion. Even single-player games are said to get worse with every sequel.

Isn't all that blaming our games for the changes that happened in our head? As Heraclit said, you can't step into the same river twice, a saying which got transformed into "you can't cross the same river twice", with the idea being that the river changes all the time and is never twice "the same". Any game experience we have now is influenced by our previous experiences, and by the other circumstances we live in.

I can't just tell my group that we are switching back to 2nd edition D&D rules (or the D&D Next rules which evoke it), and somehow magically get the fun experience back I had during my university days. In fact it is likely that if I reverted to such an old school rules system, the fun would actually be less than with a more modern system. Rules systems evolve with the players, with the times, not against them. A lot of the 1st edition D&D rules today appear as strange as the naked corpse runs, level loss at death, or forced grouping of the original Everquest would appear to a MMORPG player of today.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, but as you can't actually turn back time, it is also a powerful trap. You give the players what they say they wanted, and find out that it wasn't actually in your power to give them their youth back. You end up with trying to sell an outdated rules system very few people actually want to play. And you end up destroying alternative streams of income, like D&D Insider, which is very useful for 4th edition, but would be much less so for D&D Next. As I said, I am worried about the future of Dungeons & Dragons. I see the path they are heading down, and I feel that path is a mistake.

As Baz said, nostalgia is fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
As you said yourself, D&D 4th edition is wrongly branded, and is not a suitable successor for players of D&D 3rd edition. They are complaining that D&D 4th edition has changed their game by mioving it towards a platoon-based tactical wargame, which wasn't the game they wanted to play. With D&D Next, Wizards of the Coast have listened to their customers and reverted to the game the original players wanted to play.

Everyone can be happy, if your rebranding ideas are followed up on.
Back when I was into this, my little group barely acknowledged the rules (I think third edition came out while I was playing). We played how we wanted to play, and that was with the dice being used fairly rarely.

Basically what I'm getting at is that I really don't see the point of all this controversy. If you don't like the way its going, don't use the rules. Or change them to whatever you want. There's absolutely no reason to let rules you don't want to play under into the game.
Having missed the everquest revolution I think ffxi is the best mmo ever & I'm still playing it.But even the original fun in that has "evolved"
Other than not seeing the benefit of any improvements, I don't see how D&D Next has a negative impact on you.

Can't you just keep playing 4E?
Well, if WotC stops support of 4E on D&D Insider, I'm losing a valuable tool for playing.
Take a look at Pathfinder from Paizo. Its an evolution of the 3.5 ruleset for people that want to go back. Our group gave up on 4th edition around level 7 where things started getting silly.
Rules stop evolving when they reach maturity. Just imagine the flame wars if the rules of chess, checkers or go would change every now and then. I bet there were those wars way back when, but the rules are now mature and standardized. It is worthwhile to note that for example checkers has a standard way of playing and some rule variants, to be agreed on before the game starts. Another game, domino, has even more rule variants.

D&D ruleset is still incomplete, trying to find it's final form. That might take a long of time. Would it be the time for D&D variants, instead of editions? With variants I mean there would be multiple official rulesets of different complexity, all supported. For example one could be a very simple one for kids.
Well, the ruleset could have evolved into a form of tactical game with some of the unnecessary complexity removed. It is going back to something that looks as if 4E had never happened that makes it look so much like a step backwards.
I still think 4E was/is fantastic. It has some huge advantages over 3 and 3.5.

Finally every player gets to actually have a meaningful choice every combat turn. Gone are the days of my brother, half asleep at the table as he works night, being jigged awake, just saying: I hit this critter, throw his X dice and slumber of again until his next turn.

The reason I don't play DnD now is I moved countries and I couldn't find a group to DM easily, which is what I prefer. I did DM 4E for a year back in Belgium and play it here for the same amount of time, up to about level 12 or 13. And at every level ALL the character types felt useful. No more usless wizards until they get fireball, no more useless warriors past about 10 or 12. I haven't seen DnD Next but if it is reverting to 3.x style, I don't like it.

And don't argument that stories don't work in 4E. They do, that HAS NOT CHANGED. Stories are stories, the combats just link them together. Or vice versa. When my play group here needed a 2 break from the usual DM (as he needed time to prep his next adventure) I volunteered to run a small small adventure over 2 sessions. After the "opening battle" they diverged very quickly from the script as usual, and we spent essentially a full session in story mode, with them searching down what should be dead leads and me ad-libbing them as I used to do in 3.5. But the whole combat system in 4E is so much better than in 3.5... No longer does the enemy strong wizard die before his turn due to a bad init roll. No longer does a level 2 thief die irrevocably in the first round (as I did in college with my thief) due to a litlle slip-up. Seriously in my opinion DnD next should have been an evolution of 4E.
Point was... I had some marvellous games playing ADnD. I had some great games DM'ing 3 and 3.5. But the better system, is 4.
DNext is a mistake. It is truly a retro game. Why is that bad?

A. This isn't what 4.0 should have been. This isn't the next step after 3.5. It would be closer to say it is the next step after 1.5.

B. If you are happy with pathfinder or one of the older editions or other retro games (some of which are free), why spend your money on DNext? If you really love a few of the changes just add them to your own game.

C. If you like 4e. You aren't changing, because DNext is throwing 4e under the bus with Wizards basically saying "we don't want you as customers"

Who does that leave? Not a large number of people to be sure, imo.

I understand Wizards makes a lot of money with new Editions and I don't fault them for doing it. I am also not saying 4e is the best game ever, but that's why you make a new edition, to improve upon what came before. If Dnext was at least the next step up from 3.5 I would be a lot happier.
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