Friday, May 15, 2015
Why I Only Play 1e D&D, not other RPGs
I first saw Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. At the time my favorite game was Diplomacy, a seven player cutthroat diceless wargame. I said to myself at the time, “I hate dice games.” But of course it turned out that D&D was not a dice game, rather it was a microcosm of life where you do what you can to reduce the number of times when you have to rely on the dice to save your butt. Smart people do the same thing in life, trying to reduce the number of times when they have to get lucky.
So in 1975 I started playing the game. I settled on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as my game of choice and that has been true until this year. I have never seen a need to switch to a newer edition because the newer editions had a different zeitgeist that I did not approve of. I did play and even referee third edition and I played fourth edition.
I’ve read lots of RPG rules and seen various games being played, but I never saw a need to change from first edition because I could modify it to suit whatever I needed. I am not a lover of games, I am a lover of particular games, and I tend to stick to those particular games. I have never been susceptible to the “cult of the new.” Why bother to learn new rules and new ways of doing things when I’m fully satisfied with what I’ve got? 1e D&D is a simple game despite the great mass of standard rules when compared with games like Rolemaster, but it provides enough detail to treat the game as a wargame rather than as merely a story (FATE is largely story, for example). Typically I set up situations to challenge the players rather than guide them along a particular story; I want the players to write their own story within the context that I provided.
I usually create my own settings, but the one commercial setting I was most interested in is Spelljammer, despite its inconsistencies. I’ve partly devised an alternative set of rules for a Spelljammer-like game, and I have a couple of boardgames in mind related to the same kind of setting.
Because I’ve been satisfied with D&D, I have only once attempted to design a separate RPG. And that RPG is a very limited set of rules to be used in a boardgame. The idea was to substitute programmed instruction for a referee, but I’ve never got far enough to try doing that because I have great doubts that it can be done reasonably.
On the other hand I’ve written a great many supplements to D&D - at one time I was going to write a supplement for Games Workshop that fell through when they lost their distribution rights for D&D in the United Kingdom - among them a 23,000 word set of D&D Army rules that scaled from small groups (a few hundred) two armies of many tens of thousands. I use that a lot in my own campaign, and someday I’ll include it in a book with reprints of some of my many articles from Dungeon and White Dwarf magazines among others. There are unpublished character classes to include as well. So I wrote a lot of RPG stuff but as variants of D&D rather than separate games.
I have been extremely impressed with the professionalism and quality of rules writing and rules creation for the fifth edition of D&D. The ridiculously easy healing rules (a manifestation of 21st century reward-based gaming instead of 20th century consequence-based gaming) ruin the game as written, but it’s easy enough to remove the revivify spell and some of the easy healing rules. But I have to say I have not played fifth edition yet, I’m still working my way through the Monster Manual having read the other two. I tend to feel I ought to spend my time on my own board and card game designs rather than on playing D&D, but that can change.
Some of the excellent additions to the game are advantage and disadvantage, and attunement of magic items. The first is a great simplifier, and the second helps solve the problem of characters with huge bags of magic items. Even little things like the change so that no one has to keep track over long periods of how many charges there are in a magic item are an indication of the thought put into the game. Of course, the writers had 40 years of role-playing game experience to draw on.