Monday, June 4, 2012

5e Just Lost Me & Relearning AD&D

I won't be following the developments of 5e any longer. Enamored by the idea of an edition that might unite D&D again I spent quite a bit of time on the Wizards forums, following articles and press releases, signing up for the playtest and listening to the reports of others who were actually playing the new rules. I set aside just about every doubt I had, or at least maintained an open mind. It didn't matter what Wizards had done in the past, it didn't matter that part of the game might include aspects I didn't like, didn't matter that I was having to put up with a lot of haterz online. I just hung in there and kept up the hope that maybe, just maybe Wizards might put together a game I might like to play.

Bear with me for a few while I outline the thought process I went through. My first opinion of 5e, according to all the press releases I had read, is that it might end up looking something like original D&D with 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, add-ons. Like you could play something like basic D&D, or add more classes and races, add skills, add feats and prestige classes, then add powers. Yeah, it was naive, but it was at least a rough idea to run with. After the playtest packet came out I was encouraged. It looked rules light and gave more than a nod to an old school feel. I then spent several frustrating hours on the forums trying to reassure more modern gamers that Wizards would meet their needs too in time. I still clung to the idea that they were starting with something like a rules light approach at first, and would get more complicated later. No, the playtest rules were not really anything like original D&D, but it was rules light.

Meanwhile, having read the packet, and giving lots of new thought to game design and D&D in all of it's iterations something was becoming clear to me. 5e was not at all what I thought it was going to be. And moreover with themes and backgrounds figuring so prominently in the core I was only interested in playing the most basic and streamlined version of 5e. I didn't want or need feats, or power like abilities or the at will spells they added in either. Here we were at the very start and I was already thinking about taking things out of the system.

Something else that had really started to become clear to me was that a good bulk of Wizard's fanbase hated what Wizard's was doing and was droning on and on about how rules light play, old school play or DM as Master was not only not their cup of tea, but totally the wrong way to play--according to them. And there was no reasoning with this crowd. You could politely try and say it was fine they hated to play that way, but that others (like myself) enjoyed that style of play, and had in fact played that way for numerous years. They could care less. It was an inferior style of play and that wanted no part of an edition that had anything to do with it. So I was resigned to simply reassuring them that I was sure WoTC would add in rules that allowed their style of play later in the development process. Truthfully, I wasn't in the least bit sure.

In fact the exact opposite was becoming apparent. I don't think 4e fans will be entirely pleased with the finished product that will become 5e. For you see Mearls is creating a completely new game. A cohesive blend of disparate elements that seeks to appeal to all types of players with a new approach to the game. And I had already decided that the only part that appealed to me was the more barest essentials of their current playtest rules. I wasn't interested in their "further modules". And given the foundation they were laying I truly didn't think their 3.5 or 4e players would be interested with the finished product.

But something else was becoming clear as well. First of all I began to see the the efforts of 3e, 3.5 and 4e were nothing but GURPS wish fulfillment. I mean they were trying to let everyone be whatever they wanted to be within a game that was never originally designed to do that. GURPS had been doing this much longer than Wizards ever had, and they do it much more efficiently. In fact the game had clumsily tried to add in GURPS like customization and was doing the same thing in a different way with 5e. The promise to return to roots was looking dimmer all the while. But still I held on and began to wonder what a very streamlined 5e might look like. So I tried to create it.

Well, it was just an experiment. A thought experiment really, but I scribbled down a few notes as well. I won't give you all the details; but it was basically a d20 system, four basic classes and races, using ability checks for everything else. What I quickly realized was that class construction for combat was a bugaboo that I was unprepared for. d20 was supposed to be easy and slick, wasn't it? No. not really. In fact the considerations behind the system, made me long for a table to make things much easier. Yes, a table based system--just like D&D used to be. And when you come right to it, d20 is no easier in actual practice either.

And this realization came on the heels of something else too. I was listening to the reports of various playtests. The complaints were to me mindless and short sighted. Play testers were complaining about having to choose DCs without rules for it, not being able to adjudicate if Clerics should be able to search for traps like thieves, that the rogue was "useless", that healing kits were extraneous and on and on and on.  The thing was to me these were silly problems that had been solved ages ago, by the game's creator himself, Gary Gygax. That's right, 5e was trying to reinvent the wheel. They were trying to by a game they weren't: GURPS, and trying to solve problems that had already been solved long ago.

This may have been clear to everyone else long ago, but just call me slow. It takes the right kind of eyes to see that the emperor had no clothes. But there I was, with rule books of all sorts around me, reading them, taking them in, and realizing I was looking for something I had all along. AD&D.

You see Gary was a lot smarter than the modern crowd gives him credit for. I mean sure, Dave and others had a hand in the original inspiration behind the game, but Gary did something with it no one else had done. The game was powerful in it's original form, but left lots of unanswered questions. And the original game had expanded in scope via the supplements but was chaotic and loosely defined at best. B/X went a long way towards consolidating that original power of the creative force that was D&D. In fact it really became the legacy of the little brown books, a style of play that was really without limits. But see, that wasn't the game I played.

Recently I bought the original Moldvay Cook and Marsh books again. I had them long ago, but had since disposed of them. I read my new copies and reminisced, but felt something missing. And that familiar feeling that this was just not quite "it". Not "it" in any sense, but my "it". Really, if I had to nail it down, it would be the unanswered questions I have that seem to naturally spring out of play. Answers that once again are given in the AD&D game.

I have dissed on Gary some because in AD&D he sought to cut Dave out of the loop. And that he set himself up as the authority. That here was the definitive game: AD&D. So yeah, it comes across as a little pompous. But you know what--it is the game. The answers are all there. Almost all you need that might come up in D&D play. Even rationalizations for why certain choices were made that might seem limiting to some. And you know what else? Even though AD&D explicitly discouraged house ruling, it was as friendly to house rule as 0e ever was. Things could be dropped or added or changed as you saw fit and the game didn't change too much. Matt Finch spoke to this very fact in an excellent blog article on his Mythmere blog.. AD&D more than anything else, was MY game. It was the game I grew up with, it was the game I learned  to first play, and it is now in my gaming DNA. Like it or not, everything since is judged by its criteria in my own mind.

So I picked  up my PHB and my DMG and started right back at the beginning. And that my friends is where I am headed now. I'm on a journey this summer. A journey to reconnect. I've been allured of quite a few games lately. Castles & Crusades, HackMaster, Dungeon Crawl Classics, GURPS and even 5e. I've spent quite a hefty chunk o' change lately too. But none of them quite cut it. They all focused on one or another aspect, but didn't quite fit the bill. And my recent feelings about 5e and the things I've come to realize and see will give me a new pair of eyes with which to read my old AD&D books this time. And that's what you can expect next on my blog.

NEW DIRECTION: I'll be re-reading the complete AD&D library and blogging on items of note and interest within their pages. Reflecting on the nature of the game that is truly MY game. And preparing to begin a new page in my gaming life by starting over at chapter one. I loved the book the first time around, and have a feeling I appreciate it even more this time.

You can also expect a bit of a blog face lift to go with my new found purpose and direction. I for one am excited and more comfortable gaming wise in my own heart than I have been in a long while. I look forward to seeing you along the journey.