Tuesday, April 7, 2009

D&D Kool Aid: An RPG Jeremiad

My disillusionment came on slow. I drank the kool aid for a long, long time. When 3e came out, I didn't mind one bit. Stale doesn't begin to describe how I felt about the 2e rules, although I was disappointed at Wizards' transparent attempts to sell miniatures via D&D. Prior to 3e, they were deliciously optional. And it was true that choosing feats was more important than one's class, that the weapons didn't offer much variety, and that the combat took so very much longer.

But despite these and other misgivings, I helped myself to cup after cup of sugary red kool aid. I would buy huge splat books just for the six pages with feats, and even then only a third of the feats would be well-designed, let alone useful to my players. The monster books remained helpful, as indeed my 1e and 2e monster books did. I've always had an able hand when it came to updating or improving stats, so I could still use a 1e Deities & Demigods critter in a 3e game without much preparation, for example.


Yes, there were hiccups. Simple fights began requiring three hours per round. The skill system was superfluous. Major books were released that took themselves very seriously and yet failed to satiate this hunger I had for a better game. Still, I persevered. Then 4e came out.

I was optimistic about the immanent release of 4e. All the changes I had heard about sounded good. Things seemed to be getting fixed. Some of my house rules even ended up canonized via some sort of convergent rpg evolution.

When I cracked open the book and was greeted by dragon men and demon men, both big hits with the sixth grader and irc roleplaying audience, it was still fine. I could just skip ahead --I don't need to use that part of the book, and I understand that it's just there to cater to the lowest common denominator of role-player for boosting sales. The rest looked all right, I thought.

Fourth Time's The Charm

Eventually, I tried to actually use the 4e rules, and that's when everything stopped. All of the characters are essentially the same. All of the class flavor has been beaten out of them --the differences between a cleric and warlord (what the fuck is a warlord?) are marginal. And combat is even slower than in my 3e games --even if we make huge allowances for the learning curve of a new system. What was the influence that caused these terrible changes to the game that I love?

World of Warcraft. Thanks to the brand identity witch doctors in Hasbro's basement thinking they can tap into some sort of consumer confusion, you too can know the joyful tepidity of being the "tank" for a band of asperger-lite neck-beards. Thrill as you deal monotonously increasing amounts of damage to overcomplicated enemies in an ever so slightly different way than the other people sitting at the game table.

Not that there wasn't good stuff in with the bad. Many of 3e's foibles were finessed, and even more of 1e and 2e's sacred cows were slain. But the changes in 4e are so comprehensive that one may as well be playing a different game, and that game may as well be WoW. No thanks, Hasbro.

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