The latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons is due to hit the streets this summer, with a boxed set coming in July, and the first of the hardcover books slated to premiere at GenCon. I might be swept up enough in the hysteria to pick one up, I can’t lie.
The publisher, Wizards of the Coast, is doing some interesting things with this 5th Edition of D&D: the first was that they did an open playtest. We Acts of Geek members played several sessions, and were left quite unimpressed. The second, and more significant is the fact that they will be releasing a FREE pdf with rules sufficient to play the four core classes, a small handful of iconic races from levels 1-20. For Free! How will this affect actuals sales? Who knows?
But with the impending release of 5th Edition, I thought a reflection on D&D was due, with my biased opinion and thoughts:
Dungeons and Dragons is more than just a game, it is a genre. D&D is about killing monsters, taking their stuff, and cool magic items. I am stating this as fact, although this is my opinion. But, this is my column, so, my rules.
A game doesn’t need to be called D&D to be D&D. Many of these other non-D&D branded games are what is termed “fantasy heartbreakers:” games that are trying to do what D&D does, but better.
D&D has six stats, our system has nine stats!
Fun stuff like this.
Amongst my circle of gaming friends, I have advocates for all 4 editions of D&D. I’m going to break down each one in terms of characters and gameplay through my inimitable filter. And I am going to do it in terms of characters, because one thing everyone likes to do is talk about their characters.
Advanced D&D (differentiating from the Basic, Expert, etc line of games, by branding it differently, thus excluding Mr. Arneson from any share of the profits, as it was a different game, but this level of backstage drama is unnecessary for this column) did several things:
The type (class) of character you played was likely determined by the roll of your dice during character generation. Perhaps your DM let you move your stats, but at the end of the day, if you wanted to play a monk or paladin, you needed some pretty impressive dice rolls. Good luck.
Your character was a vessel for the player, but your character likely lived or died based on the player. Read through some old 1st Edition modules, if the player was not sharp as a tack in regards to problem solving and the like, the character would likely suffer (and by suffer, if the module was written by Mr. Gygax, I mean die). I have some fond memories of this style of play, but at this point in my life, it is not where I am at. I game for fun, and here is a Jack Handey bit of gaming wisdom and insight that I live by:
When I play a game, I might want to play a character who is stronger than me, or a character who can fly, or who is a ninja, or I might want to play a character who is smarter than me.
(and if this last quote raised a grammar flag for you, might I suggest you click here)
Thus, this level of problem solving by the player is not the most fun thing for me. Maybe I had a long day at work, and I want to kick back, drink some delicious soda, munch on some wonderful snacks, and roll some dice. Maybe I am off my mental game. But, if I am playing a character with a high INT and WIS should that not be reflected in how they approach some of these deadly Gygaxian conundrums? In the rules as written, likely not.
Lastly, as your character advanced, they were also defined by their magic items. So, if you had the Black Razor (and who didn’t want the Black Razor? Did this not become a defining feature of your character. But, maybe you didn’t want to deal with the drawbacks, so the sake of this point, let us say that your character has a +5 Vorpal sword. This very much likely defined your character. But, what happens when your character dies in the middle of a dungeon (likely because you stepped on the wrong color tile, or failed your Death save). The next best fighter-type in your party is going to pick up that +5 Vorpal, and you as the player might shake your fist and weep, that sword is now theirs, and it will define their character.
So, your character is defined by the initial random rolls of the player, the savvy of the player, and by their magic items.
When you discussed your character with someone else, you would tell them your class (“oh, you got the stats for a Paladin, that is awesome!”), race (with racial level limits, and even gender stat limits in effect), and their magic items. We all spoke a common language based on some of the iconic modules we no doubt explored, and we all have stories, but if I show you my 19 Int elven wizard, you are going to have questions about how I got that Int, how I raised my level above the racial maximum, and why I am allowed to carry a Holy Avenger. Wishes were probably involved.
Join me next for a dissection of 2nd Edition, and see what is different, and what is the same!