Sunday, December 30, 2012

One Book to Rule Them All!

Despite the title of this entry, I don't believe in one specific set or edition of rules to define an entire game or genre. Hell, even Chess went through iterations before settling into the game we all know and love today.

The D&D game has gone through so many permutations and editions that I have stopped trying to keep up. In fact, I now insist upon B/X, 1E AD&D, or Pathfinder. I think I'm mostly done with the rest...time will, as always, tell. A lot of gamers complain about the rules-heavy later editions of D&D - basically anything after AD&D or 2nd Edition AD&D. They complain as if having so many rules and options is a personal affront. As if they are forced to use any of it - usually because it is the "currently supported edition and everyone wants to play it to the exclusion of all else."

Funny. I have always managed to find players willing to use ANY edition of the D&D rules, as long as the adventure is good. Maybe I'm spoiled - or picky. In the end, it often comes down to the amount of rules given.

To borrow from my own example, D&D is not (for example) Chess. There are no set moves and counter-moves. In fact, D&D is not even wargaming...though later editions try to pretend it is. That is far more like Chess. One hallmark of the D&D game has always been the idea of using what rules work for you and adjusting or trashing the rest. Admittedly, in later editions, this becomes nigh impossible, as every rule is intimately connected to every other rule in the overall system. It is difficult to adjust without breakage. Still, many gamers (especially DMs) seem to feel that their favorite edition is "the one."

It all seems to come down to one question: Do you want a game that leaves you free to imagine and adjudicate as you go, or do you want one that tells you what to do so you don't have to do so much pesky thinking? My poor wording aside, that is how I see it. That is how I have seen it in countless debates and outright arguments. I favor something in-between...I'm just that kind of guy. I love the editions I mentioned above. They all suit my ideal in one way or another.

I essentially jumped from B/X D&D to AD&D 1E - then to D20 3.0...and, reluctantly, 3.5...and then, to Pathfinder. Why? Because each successive edition I mentioned seemed to take my own house rules and incorporate them into an official edition - thus saving me a lot of work and headache. Few players wanted to join my game when they discovered I had a binder full of house rules, the page count of which rivaled the Player's Handbook itself.

You may note that I didn't even go from B/X to BECMI. I didn't really like the later sets. Maybe I'll blog about that in the future. The whole Immortals thing turned me off, I think.

For me, BECMI was too much rules - and yet, not enough. It is difficult to put my finger on exactly how this could be the case. I think it might lie somewhere in just WHAT rules were detailed and which were not. Possibly, I didn't like the way the previous rules were presented in such a way as to try to balance it all. I feel that D20 did it better.

I've been told that earlier editions of D&D aren't meant to be balanced. That is their particular flavor. I guess I prefer some kind of internal balance and at least a feeling of sense. No, I really don't like that demihumans have arbitrary level limits, simply because they would outshine humans. In a world where these demihumans have far more inborn advantages and enjoy such extended lifespans over humanity, they SHOULD dominate civilization. If we're going to pretend that all elves can only achieve half of what a human could, then you've lost me. You made elves greater from the start - don't pretend that they aren't, just because it doesn't suit the game. I am creating entire worlds here, and I need more than that. My world needs to make more sense.

And that's where D&D struggles with itself. Is it a cooperative storytelling experience? Is it a glorified wargame? Is it a detailed fantasy simulation? Something more? Something less? It is whatever you want it to be, and some rulesets seem to support one ideal over others. Still, it all comes down to the players. Most every player seems to have a personal preference when it comes to gaming style. With so many generations, types, and competencies of player, is it possible for a single edition to satisfy them all?


I say no, because players are about options. Some want it all. They want skills and feats and powers to cover every possible whim or situation. Others want the flexibility to imagine the best way to handle a given challenge, without having to rely upon countless tables and unreliable die rolls. There is no such edition.


I say yes, because the DM has the ability to control the game. Note, I say, "has the ability." This is important. Yes, the later editions of D&D strive to balance the levels of influence enjoyed by DM and player. They definitely feel more "player-friendly" to me. Of course, this also puts more responsibility onto the player - a responsibility many of them do not want, or cannot handle. If the game is more balanced in favor of the player, the player must invest more in the progress of the game. The player cannot rely upon the DM for every nuance of the adventure when the DM is no longer in complete control of every nuance - according to the rules. Because, in later editions, the idea swings heavily toward balance. Characters can affect their surroundings more directly. Characters are harder to kill - theoretically. It isn't so much a matter of escalation (though there is that), what we have now is an effort to ameliorate the situation for the players.

I find many "old-school" DMs prefer pre-D20 editions of D&D. Sometimes, I count myself among them...but not always. I like options, too. I like having everyone on a level playing field - or, at least to present the illusion of such. The D20 rules say I am supposed to tailor every encounter to the levels and abilities of the PCs. They can forget that. No matter what edition of the game, I am an "old-school" DM. I tell my players this up front. They know this. They are aware that they may need to occasionally practice the better part of valor if they want to survive. They are adventurers in my world - not the other way around. Is the campaign still essentially about the heroes? Yes, it is. But, not by the book. I am not running a book - and neither should you.

The rules are a foundation - a means whereby everyone can operate on common ground. I like balance. I like verisimilitude. It frees me to run my game the way I want. It frees me to present three-dimensional challenges for my players. It frees me to give them an interactive milieu in which to play. It frees me to relinquish a little of my control so that we can all have a hand in shaping the future of this world I've presented.

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