Game the Game: Building a Better Dungeon, Part 0: Foreword-A Competitive Exercise in Game Design

So, one of the folks in my gaming circle was one of the setting finalists in the Wizards of the Coast setting competition from years ago.

I will admit, he joined my gaming circle after he was a finalist, but that is the way of things. He was looking for a gaming circle, and my gaming group was looking for a member, so, we made Chuck Woolery proud.

End back-story

So, Scott and I were discussing D&D, not just 5e, but all editions of D&D.

I will tangent again. I was recently visiting my friend Chris, whose 9th grade age son (what is that 13? 14? Is he driving yet? Old enough to get married?) is getting into gaming, I was thrilled to see a 1st Edition PHB and DMG on his bedroom floor, but Chris said that his son was playing some sort of custom, streamlined, bastardized version, that his son’s friend had taught him.

This started me thinking. Thinking about D&D. Thinking about how for so many people D&D was something they discovered when they were that age, maybe a tad younger, maybe a tad older.

But then, the “game designer” in me asked this scholarly question “What is stopping this upstanding young man from playing the game with the Rules As Written (RAW)?”

And then I thought: Imagine If: there was a version of D&D simple enough for a bunch of young men to play, but robust enough that older folks could play as well, enjoying some creative freedom, without feeling like they are playing the “kiddie” version of the game.

And, this brings me back to Scott. He and I were discussing this. He has certain opinions about what he wants out of a fantasy game, and I have certain ideas as well. Some may be the same, some may be different.

And, Scott, suggested, instead of a collaboration (because as much as Scott is a super smart, awesome guy, our design philosophies are a bit different), that we each design what we think could go into this ideal version of XXXXX D&D.

So, this is the start of it, we are hoping to be done by the end of November.

As this is my first entry, I will start off brainstorming:

In 1st Edition (and 2nd to somewhat, though kits complicated things), it is my argument that at the end of a day of adventuring, when the party is hanging out by the fire, the Ranger is off playing in the woods, the Paladin is praying, and the Fighter is sharpening his sword. My first challenge is to make being a Fighter cool again, but simple. Scott and I both agree that the 4e fighter was a ton of fun to play, due to the many options available, beyond “I roll to hit” each and /every/ round. So, I think I will attempt to tackle this first, and it is my hope that this will help many of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Some other design considerations:

Unified XP: This started with 3e, and one could make the argument in 1st and 2nd this is also what separated the Fighter from the Ranger and Paladin. I would not disagree, but when everyone was the same level, or close, the two classes should feel different, flavor-wise, and mechanically. But, having just one table for XP that all classes use is something I want to keep.

gtgUltimate01Multi-classing: To someone who played D&D from 1st Edition on, who fondly recalls (and still has) a copy of the Rogues Gallery (favorite character: Lassiviren the Dark), multi-classing is something that needs to be included, I want something nice and simple and elegant and not subject to… abuse. There, I said it.

Spells: Scott wants to attempt to rewrite the spells. I don’t think I have the right kind of creative energy to do that. I could try. I would posit that Magic Missile and Fireball and other iconic spells are intrinsic and should be part of D&D.

Mechanics: there will need to be a d20.

Inspirations (aka Thievery roll): I am going to look at Castles and Crusades as well as 13th Age, as well as D&D and lots of other games, drawing upon what they do well, what could do better, and possibly what their intent is.

Why D&D? It is a common language that most RPG nerds speak. We can share stories, praise what we like, and bitch about what don’t we like(4e made Scott cringe as a DM, I really liked a lot of it, but will admit it had some flaws). It is the game every other game must acknowledge. My friend’s son isn’t interested in Dungeon World, or something akin. He wants to play D&D. He doesn’t want to be the kid with the Atari: Jaguar, he just wants a Nintendo like every other kid.

I am not expecting to create something that will necessarily be publishable, but who knows-I want to try and see what I can come up with. This is my challenge to myself.

I would love to be able to hand Chris’ son a set of rules that worked with his 1st Edition books and amplified his fun, I’d love to hand a similar set of rules to a 5e player, and have them say “hey, that’s really cool!”

So, in a way, I am reinventing the wheel.

What can I break, what can I rebuild, and how can I do it so that D&D is still D&D?

This is my personal challenge.

I am excited to see what Scott comes up with, I am excited to be part of his process and have him be part of mine. I will surely comment on his posts, and hope he will do the same.

Let the games (design) begin!

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