Friday, September 29, 2017

If Mike Mearls Can Do It ...

Mike Mearls has introduced, some time ago now, an alternative initiative system that he is using in his campaign. He calls it Greyhawk Initiative, which I find quite telling. The system is gloriously clunky, but like all crunchy systems, once you get the hang of it, it works quite well in play. It sacrifices some things in favor of others, but overall offers a new and more realistic feel to the chaos of combat, and adds levels of strategy that were missing from the 5e default.

But the real reason I mention this is that the rules are so clearly drawn from old school AD&D. In fact, if you take the time to read the rules, he points out you can make the system even more AD&D like by factoring in something similar to weapon speed. I love this!

Clearly Mike is playing with the system to try and give the game a more old school feel, less 0e-sih and much more like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Which is exactly what I've been trying to do for some time now. I mean if Mike Mearls can do certainly I can! Ummm, maybe. I mean Mike is probably one of the more talented game designers in our current age, so he has the chops to make things work. But, despair not! It can be done and is being done. So my hope of being able to make the game more old school in the vein of AD&D may not be folly.

However ... I'm not sure these kinds of changes are what I'm looking for. As has become clear from my last few posts, the kind of re-design that inspired me was more like Low Fantasy Gaming. A redesign that takes its spirit from early 0e gaming and yet uses updated mechanics to appeal to the modern crowd. Not that I like the "appeal to the modern crowd" but most gamers do nowadays.

When I try and cut out class skill increases and the like most players start wondering where all the good bits went. Which is why the design of LFG is so elegant. Because it also enshrines a swords & sorcery ethos that is common to those early days. Unfortunately, I pause for the same reason I do in adopting Mike Mearls rules experiments.

No matter how much I may like them, or think they are cool--they are not the game as written. Something AD&D sort of ingrained in my bones is that when you do have a rule that you find and decide to play by, then the rules should be your guide. You may find that certain houserules, are good, but when you go mucking about in the realm of houserules there are often ramifications to other rules, and you find that living by your group's new rule is more work than simply going by the rule as written in the core books.

I may be weird in this regard--and it certainly goes against much advice to the contrary in early and recent editions of D&D. The DM is the final word, don't let the rules restrict your play, story trumps rules, etc. etc. But I prefer a different approach. I do like rule light play, but if the rule is written it should generally be followed. It represents a sort of default physics of the game world everyone can rely on. Anything not covered in the rules is fair game, though, and if we need to cover some topic not in the rules we are free to do so as we need and see fit.

This is what has made me realize that AD&D may not be my "thing" like I thought it was. What I actually played was a more rules reduced version, more in the spirit of 0e with AD&D content. I never would have admitted this at the time, and to be honest most of the rules we didn't use, surprise, weapon speed, casting times, weapon armor factors, etc. were because we didn't understand them. But you can bet we used. AD&D classes, races, weapon specialization, proficiencies, the Hand and Eye of Vecna, and all the rest.

However, I'm still growing comfortable with actually changing rules or even adopting optional rules into 5e. I've tried it and it didn't work the way I wanted it to. It was easier to just say "it's in the rules."

But then again, if Mike Mearls can do it, maybe I can to ...