Friday, March 2, 2012

Screen Cred

Now that we've established a little of the tone and background of this blog, allow me to present my bona fides.

I started playing the D&D game before I knew what the D&D game was. This was around 1979 and some older acquaintances were playing this game with three brown booklets, saw me drawing dragons, and asked if I wanted to play. I ran a dwarf that died in furious single combat with the royal guard of the goblin king. It was the best thing ever!

A few years would pass before I saw the D&D game again. In 1983, some classmates were playing D&D at indoor recess. The books were different, but the game was the same. Having a paper route at the time, I took my next paycheck and hied me to the mall. I came home with the Moldvay Basic Set. A week later, I got the Expert Set and the AD&D Monster Manual.

I didn't know AD&D was an entirely different game - I just drooled over the hardbound book filled with cool monsters. I read through the Basic Rulebook from cover to cover and immediately started drafting a map for my own campaign world, writing adventures, and creating new monsters. What else was I going to do? There were very few campaign settings, adventures, or new options available and I was just that kind of kid.

The next fifteen years went by in a blur of D&D to AD&D games, but all of the games I DMed were set in my own world. That has never changed. In fact, the campaign setting I use now is an evolution of the very first map I ever drew, with all "the good stuff" from every campaign between. As much as I loved AD&D, it was with little hesitation that I picked up the first D20 3.0 books at the turn of the century. "Oh look!" I thought, "Almost all of my house rules in an official book!"

While D20 was great for putting the entire game into a sensible and logical structure for everyone to get on board with, it never felt like an adventure to me. It was more like a homework assignment. New monsters that used to take me five minutes to create were now taking five hours. A player character turned into a day-long venture. And let's not even talk about writing an entire adventure. The sheer investment in time and page-turning was crippling for me. Even after I got used to the rules and structure - it just seemed more work than fun.

With furious anger, I moved to 3.5 a while after it was released and I saw that it was mostly a step forward. When 4.0 was announced, I jumped the Wizbro ship and tried my fortune with Pathfinder. Wizbro will probably get no more of my D&D money, forevermore.

For my D&D future, I see OD&D and Pathfinder - for the duration. I have more books and supplements than I will ever need and I run campaigns in my own settings. The vast majority of my D&D experience has been "behind the screen." Even when I manage to join a gaming group as a hopeful player, the DM tends to abdicate the screen in my favor within 3-5 sessions.


Still, I remain a devoted fan of the game, if not in its future incarnations. Moldvay Basic and Cook-Marsh Expert will always be "my D&D" since they were the books I started with. They showed me what heroic fantasy adventure could be and none have equaled that thrill since. For rules-heavy D&D, I favor Pathfinder. It just feels more like D&D than 3.0/3.5, 4.0, or any of the rest so far. Even if 5.0 turns out to be just what I've always wanted, I can't justify the investment in my mind. Wizbro lost me when they abandoned 3.5 to give us a MMORPCCG tabletop experience. Then they took away my Dragon Magazine and put it online. For that, they have earned nothing but my scorn.

As a DM, my forthcoming D&D adventures will carry me back to the glorious past where heroes lived by blade, spell, and wit - and monsters had d8 hit dice. Game on!


  1. I've briefly played a little bit of Castles & Crusades, which on the surface has captures a bit of the AD&D (1E) Flavor.

    The Moldvay version of D&D was also my first. Only a couple of years ago (when I was considering an alternative to 4E as well), I went back over the rules and was really impressed with the actual system. While it's not the game I'd prefer to play *today*, it'd be a great game to get beginners started on the game. Go figure! I think Moldvay did an amazing job. If only Armor Class went up instead of down... ;)

    Pathfinder is definitely my fantasy RPG flavor of choice these days. I agree with you 100% - it feels more like D&D than 4E does by far. I don't know if it's closer to the older games in flavor than 3E / 3.5, but it seems to be closer in "spirit," if that makes sense. It seemed to me that 3.x got a little too far on the mechanics side of things. When all of the alternate "core classes" seemed to be mechanical variants in search of a context to justify them, the alternate Pathfinder core classes seem to be really cool classical archetypes cleanly integrated into the 3.5-style system.

    And then the cleaned up the system a LOT. I'm really fond of it. But it feels like they are less... I dunno... anal-retentive about the rules in general than 3.x. It's still not as open-ended as the older editions, but it feels a little more --- relaxed, I guess. Or maybe it's just me.

  2. AC can just as easily go up, it is a simple tweak.

    I understand about Pathfinder feeling more like D&D and coming closer to capturing the "spirit." Probably why it is my D20 venue of choice.

    Are you currently running Pathfinder? I miss our games...

    Thank you for the comments - and for reading!

  3. I'm currently a player in our regular gaming group's Pathfinder campaign. I just started running a game for my family and a couple of extra friends. While I don't think it's an ideal choice for new gamers (as both my daughters are, kinda), they are getting the hang of it okay.

    Incidentally, I'm running them through the 3.5 Adventure Path, "Age of Worms" that appeared in Dungeon Magazine several years ago. We're still in the first adventure, but it has a really good, classic "feel" to it that I like. At least thus far. While it's not specifically for Pathfinder, for the most part it can be played with on-the-fly conversion. Later in the campaign I expect things will get slightly more complex with NPCs with class levels, but so far it's been working well "out of the box."