Saturday, June 6, 2009

The RPG Kool Aid pt II

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. The 2e rules were stale, I'd done everything that could be done with them and, although I was disappointed at Wizards' transparent attempts to sell miniatures via D&D, I was ready to move on the next edition.

Still, the many flaws stood out. Prior to 3e, miniatures were deliciously optional. And it's true (as was asserted when creating 4e) that choosing feats in 3e was more important than choosing a class, that the fighting in 3e was more complicated. The weapons didn't offer much variety, the skill point system was an entirely new level of complexity, and the combat took 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 even be well-designed, let alone useful to my players. Fluff in rpg books is usually useless, and often bad, but the text in the 3e books was cliche to the point of being infantile. The monster books remained useful, as indeed my 1e and 2e books did.


Yes, there were hiccups. Simple fights taking three hours a round, for example. Entire books that seemed to take themselves seriously and yet, failed to satiate this hunger I had for a better game. But I persevered. Then 4e came out.

I was a little naive. All of the changes that I heard about prior to publishing sounded good. Things seemed to be getting fixed. Some of my house rules even ended up canonized through some sort of process of rpg convergent evolution. When I cracked open the book and was greeted by dragon men and demon men, it was fine. I could just skip ahead --I wouldn't need to use that sort of thing, and it's just there to cater to the lowest common denominator of role-player, anyway.

Yes, everything would be fine, I told myself.

Fourth Time Is The Charm

At last the day came when I had a copy of the glossy, art-heavy, designed by marketing majors Player's Handbook. And I tried to use the rules. They were useless and actually prevented me from enjoying myself. I'm not talking about the usual hurdles with learning a new rules system, I'm talking about the design choices.

All of the characters are the same. All of the class flavor is beaten out of them --the differences between are marginal. The fights take even longer than 4e, stretching even my patience. Blech.

What caused these terrible changes to the game that I love? What could have made the marketing execs at Hasbro say to themselves, "let's make the game like this."

Well, obviously: World of Warcraft. Thanks to the brand identity messiahs 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 band of asperger-lite neck-beards. Thrill as you deal progressively more monotonous amounts of damage in an ever so slightly different way than the other people sitting at the table. Soar as you experience the wretched grind and quest for purple items.

Not that there wasn't good stuff. Many of 3e's foibles were finessed, and even more of 1e and 2e's sacred cows were slain. But the changes are so comprehensive that one may as well be playing a different game, and that game may as well be WoW.

No thanks.

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