Thursday, June 21, 2012

Babies, Bathwater, and House Rules

I hate to admit when I'm wrong about something. Not like a date, or a math problem, but wrong in my thinking. So, here I am to own up to some wrong thinking.

I've been unfair about the latest iteration of D&D currently in playtest. I'm not at all happy with calling it Next, and everytime I did, it was with a sneer (I know you couldn't see it, but trust me, it was there). I haven't given it my fair and honest opinion based on its own merits. Rather, I've been basing my opinion on the opinions of others, and my own preconceived prejudices. I may come to love it like no other. I may hate it more than I hate admitting when I'm wrong. Either way, my feelings on it will be based on what it truly is to me.

Great, so where does the title of this post come from?

Basically, it comes from the same thing that motivated my feelings on Next (I'm calling it that for clarity and expediency). In my current ADD funk (yes, I'm still in it), I was just casting about for something to fixate on, and decided to give the playtest another look. In glancing over the character sheets I noticed that all the characters need 2000 XP for 2nd level and 6000 for 3rd. I groaned. Another run at a unified XP table. I'm not a fan. I'm not all wrapped up in the idea that classes need to be balanced at each level. I prefer individual XP charts to reflect the power each class provides, as well as the dedication needed to attain that power.

It was then I was struck by an epiphany. I've been playing some form of D&D for over 35 years. I've never played it as written. In every single version there has always been something I didn't like, sometimes a lot of somethings. I worked around it and kept going. I didn't wring my hands or gnash my teeth. I didn't look around for the tallest soapbox I could find, just so I could shout about how that version was total shit. I worked with it. I either modified what I didn't like, cut it out, or accepted that even if I didn't like it, it did in fact work as part of the whole.

I didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And another thing . . .

I think we all game to have fun. At least the majority of us. I also think we can all agree that drawn out combats suck, even if you prefer combat-heavy games. In that spirit, I really don't have a problem with the Next Fighter doing damage even if he misses. I've played a lot of fighters, and one thing that has always frustrated the hell out of me is when my dice go cold. So my guy, who is supposed to be a sword-swinging badass, misses more than Mark Reynolds in '09. Meanwhile, the other, non-combat types, are mopping the floor with the bad guys. I'm all for some randomness and excitement, but I don't want to have my character taken from me by a frigid d20. I play fighters because I like to crack heads. Period.

That lead me to another thought. I started thinking about my kids. They've played some, but they're Gen X-Box, so pen and paper is not their go-to medium. They do enjoy it, though, when I can coordinate a time with two teens. Incompetency, as expressed in their character failing at something on their turn, is not something they enjoy. They're not brats, they know they'll miss a roll sometimes, and they understand that mastery is something they have to work toward with their characters. Yet, even understanding that, they play to have fun, and failing utterly 70% of the time is not fun.

It wasn't for me, either. I distinctly recall a 1st level magic-user I rolled up. It was during my very first forays to the community room on the Navy base at Millington, TN, where I first learned to play. I rolled my d4 hit points, wrote down my 1st level spell (Magic Missile) and proceeded up a dusty back stairwell while the rest of the party made a more frontal assault. Something attacked from the shadows, which I blasted with the MM. I'm still not sure what it was, but it had enough hit points to take the missile and knock my ass back down the stairs.

I know my guy was no master wizard, and that 1st level mortality was high back in those days. Those mitigating factors notwithstanding, that was not a fun gaming experience. There were no other games I could get into, those guys weren't allowing second characters, so I went home disappointed. Sure, there were a number of ways that could have been different. I'm not busting on the experience or the edition of D&D. What I am saying is that one of the ways the experience could have been different, and better, would have been more competence at lower levels.

Well, this has turned into something closer to a rant, which is not my desire, so I'm going to wrap this. I will be talking more about that auto damage thing, but in a post dedicated to that topic. Until then . . .

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