Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "My Favorite Edition"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 2- Favorite Edition
            To start off this discussion I have only played to any significant level the 3 latest editions of Dungeons and Dragons.  3rd edition, which includes 3.5, Pathfinder, and numerous other D20 based systems released from Wizards of the Coast, takes the brass ring in total play time and in sheer number of books I own related to the system, but it is not my favorite.
            4th edition is currently in second place as far as play time, and I include the Gamma World box sets in there (and I talked about them before, IN MY VERY FIRST BLOG ENTRY ON HERE).  4th edition is also not my favorite.
            I have only recently started playing 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons and it is my favorite.  I will try my best to explain why as I am sure it is not just the novelty of something new that is causing me to like it so much.

Smart versus Dumb
            There is perhaps an unfair assumption about certain aspects of gaming.  I would describe it as the “Smart vs Dumb” argument.  The idea that certain types of games are inherently better or worse than others because one is the “Smart” way and the other is for “Dumb” or babies.
            Think of every person who has ever said the phrase “Filthy Casual” as a derogatory term when talking about video games.  Dungeons and Dragons has a similar issue and I will point to people who think there is a “Smart” way to play and a “Dumb” way to play.  This is wrong.

            Smart play is seen as being typically two things: Dense, with many rules nuances and Dense, with lots of lore.  You practically have to take a 3-credit history course to have a working understanding of the Forgotten Realms and the life and times of Drizzt Do’Urden (spelled it right on the first try) and the numerous other NPC’s you will be facing.  And the rules are seen as being so deep and specific that any and all situations are covered with flow charts made by crazy peoples (3e Turning of the Undead and Grappling would be good examples, there is a two-page flow chart for Grappling).
            I have noticed that “Smart” play is often the play style of people who like to say “No”.  Because when a player wants to do something clever that falls outside the rules a GG in this style will say, “No, it is not in the rules” or “No, it is not in the lore”.  I am not saying you should never say “No” as players often have stupid ideas and you want to have a consistent tone to your game/story, but GG’s who would describe themselves with the “Smart” play style say “no” all the time.

I think 4e gets this sort of criticism the most.
            “Dumb” play is when the rules are hard to pin down.  GG’s are encouraged to solve their own problems by quickly making judgements or inventing quick little systems that the players can have fun navigating.  Things are uneven, the lore is inconsistent, there are discrepancies.  When a player wants to do things the GG not only says “okay” but will have a bit of a production of it.  It is freewheeling, but turbulent, it can be fun, but is often frustrating.
            These could be seen as Lawful-Evil “Smart” versus Chaotic-Neutral “Dumb” styles of play.  But I feel that there are better ways to split things.

Maybe this sort of reductive view of the gaming community is just my baggage by the way.
It might be you have never had your play style criticized in such a fashion or don't see what I am talking about.

The Alignment Axis of Play
            The difference between play styles is not “Smart versus Dumb” but can be split into two axes.  The first is “Complicated versus Simple”.  3e is complicated as HELL.  There are charts and charts, there are tiny precise numbers awarded for every slight advantage and disadvantage in the freaking game.  Are they prone?  Surprised?  I wrote a series of blogs on how many types of Defense statistics are in the game, which of those are they using?  Do they have concealment?  Cover?  Is it half-cover, three quarters cover, or nine tenths cover?  FUCKING GRAPPLING!?
            By contrast 5e is simple.  Saves are simpler.  Skills are simpler.  Advantage is simpler.  Rather than dozens of tiny nuances there are just a tiny handful of ways to give a bonus to a situation and most of them amount to rolling two dice instead of one and taking the better or worse of the two.
            In fact, 5e is perhaps too simple.  Proficiency bonuses are uniform and 90% of the time you either have them or you don’t with little deviation from that.  Sure, you don’t have to worry about the 10,000 various flavors of magic item that can affect your armor class, but to some people, a big appeal of the game is finding every knob to turn to affect the rules.  I am not one of those people, and when I GG’d 3e I would hand out too few or too many magic items which kind of warped the game at times.  If I was about anything being complicated it was my own Lore, not the rules.
            4e is a paradox in this regard, the rules are all simple in that many numbers increase in a uniform fashion as you level up, but all class abilities are as complicated as spells.  The system provides an ultra-simple base set of numbers, but every rung on the ladder is a rubix cube whether you are a Wizard or a Barbarian.  It is a Simple system made of Complicated parts.  It is balanced like crazy, but it has no class that is a beginner or striped down model for people to start out on.
There are perhaps better images for this, as it really is more of a spectrum than an either/or situation.

            The other axis in this little explanation is “Vague versus Specific”.  4e was the vaguest when it came to Lore.  Aside from a bare bones presentation of some gods and the explanation of a play philosophy “Points of Light” (IT IS NOT A SETTING) 4e had no substantive information to offer people on how to run their games in regards to story.
            By contrast I think that 3e was only marginally better in this regard and that seems to be a business strategy.  They might have taken out all but the basics (more than 4e but still little) from the core books, the sheer number of books released which included NPC’s, Organizations, Pantheons, Lore, and whole worlds was dizzying.  They were trying to turn Dungeons and Dragons into a 100 Million Dollar IP like Magic the Gathering by releasing a book a month, it kind of worked, but felt a little skeezy.
            5e has the best lore specifics in its core books.  It mentions Eberron, the Realms, and Greyhawk among others with explanations of those world’s tones and histories.  They give a good jumping off point to learning about these places.  It should also be noted that we live in a more online world compared to when I started, and it is perhaps assumed that if you want more specifics on lore you can hit up Wikipedia, TV Tropes, and any number of fan sites that will provide the details.  This might be a feature, they give you the hints and some basics in the books and the GG and players head to Google.  5e is the most Specific on the topic of lore in the books and out of the books because of the assumed use of the internet.  (You can feel free to disagree with me on this if you want).
            What about rules?  Not everyone cares about the Vagueness of story, Vagueness of rules leads to arguments.  Let’s look at 3e, which is the most Specific.  The specificity is what leads to the Complicated nature of the system, in an effort to cover all possible situations they caused a lot of bloat with instances that are too situational and come along maybe every other blue moon.
            4e has Specific instances, and then it also has Vague instances.  Look at weapons as compared to armor.  Weapons have numerous damage types, critical hit complications, a bonus to accuracy, and are sorted into different categories based on the skill of the character using them, this is a specific system, bigger differences in how your character plays can happen here.  Armor is sorted into three categories, and there are three types of each category, armor is lame in this regard and exceptionally Vague.
            4e also makes the effort to ignore situations that come up rarely (maybe I am missing something) but its emphasis on combat as almost a tactical miniatures game allowed it to jettison much of the situational rules that 3e was clogged up with.
            5e is perhaps the best compromise in many ways.  They acknowledge the existence of strange situations and tiny nuances, but ignore giving each instance its own specific bonus, this is another instance of Complicated and Specific overlapping in the case of 3e that I feel 5e takes the approach of slightly Vaguer but much Simpler.

5e Vaguer but Simpler Rules
            I prefer Simple rules and 5e has Simpler rules.  There are places where those rules need more specificity (like prices for magic items) or could be more complicated (like being more aware of the various options for Defense I mentioned) but it is so clean and it is so quick to build a character.  Making an effective character (especially one of a high level) in 3e or 4e would take forever!
            4e is somewhat complicated, but ultra-vague, especially with Lore.  3e is Complicated and Specific, which is part of the appeal.  5e is Simple (which I prioritize) and maybe a little too Vague (which I can forgive).  5e is my favorite, but then again talk to me in 15 years if I am still playing this and see what I think.

Coming Tomorrow
            My favorite setting.  The game world that I think is the best/most fun or at least has the most potential.


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1 comment:

  1. 5E is my favourite, but recently less then before. I discovered the weak points.