Dungeons and Dragons, as I have grown, seems to have followed my gaming preference path; Or maybe I’ve followed it, I don’t know.
What I do know is that what first got me into the game back in ’95 was that I could play anything, I could be anything, and I could play out a story in my mind.
This lead to the discovery, with my dad, family, and friends, that stories could be amazingly fun not only to play, but to tell. I DM’d for my family, and eventually for a few friends. Before I could get well and truly established, however, I moved with my family hundreds of miles south to start again
I had, while reading the old books I had found, read of this concept of Campaigns and enormous stories, told over years with the same people playing the same characters time after time. These stories enthralled me, as I had only ever dealt with one off adventures, single night events and all day sessions. Now, in MD, I was introduced to the second edition of the game and all the changes it brought to the system. While many things changed, enough stayed the same that I was fairly confident in my ability to DM. With my new D&D friends, I eventually built up enough desire and material to ask my group if they wanted to try a Campaign that I would run. They enthusiastically jumped aboard, and my RPG life has never been the same.
Fully immersed into the AD&D 2e, I gobbled up every supplement I could find. The book of Gnomes and Halflings, the Complete Wizard, Skills and Powers, the list is almost endless. Every class, every race had its own supplements. DM’s even had DMG supplements and setting supplements. For a very long time, it was glorious. The game has epic encounters:
- One Dragonslaying Ranger named Vlan fought the Cyronax, the Elemental Prince of Cold, to a stand still and eventually slew him
- Quote: “If the North wind was an entity, and it IS, it would be coming after you right now.”
- The Fighter and the Vampire are dueling in the hallway of the castle. The Vampire strikes a telling blow, loping off the fighters arm. Iimmediately and unflinchingly the fighters player says “I kick him out the window.” and so it went!
There are a thousand thousand stories from this time period of my my early and mid teens, and I remember all of them fondly. Somewhere towards the end though, with all the supplements, rules and add-ons, it started feeling a little out of balance. I had played long enough and I had grown enough that I didn’t want any one person to overwhelm the story. I had also grown tired of building adventures without any guides as to how to build the challenges that faced the characters, how to properly prepare for characters of all levels and classes when they might take a trip to the abyss to fight a demon lord, and tag along a 3rd level bard, just for good measure.
We had played 2e past its prime, and we reveled in it. We enjoyed our games so much so that we completely passed over an edition (3.0) in favor of the flawed game system of the past. We did have a friend, however, that loved the new edition so much he had to show it to us. While I don’t remember anything about the game, I do remember that I loved 3rd edition. There were so many things to do, with so many new classes and abilities and feats and.. and .. and! it was a glorious time of expansion.
while we missed 3.0, we caught 3.5 right at the start. With many of the problems in rule writing out the window, we were able to sit down and play games we had never imagined. There were rules for grappling, disarming and trip. There were ways to be barbarians, Bards, and Psionics. Deep in the most esoteric corners of the rules were ways to be Phalanx Troopers, Thieves Guilds and Charging Paladins. Nearly every race and class combination you could think of existed, provided you put your mind to it. More than anything, though, combat was balanced. The DM was given guidelines for challenge ratings of encounters, and the monsters were all laid out based on their power and abilities. Characters build numbers higher and higher into the realms of the unknowing! Where once, in 2e, I had a character with a Thac0 of 3 and a +7 to hit, Now, My character had a +37/+32/+27/+22. In the prior two editions, Stats were capped out at specific ranges, but in this new world of 3.5, your stats were the sum of your character, with no end in sight.
What originally came as a boon, now became a burden. Through my late teens and to my mid twenties I played this game, until even it became to much. Options ontop of options became so burdensome as a DM that I didn’t even have the desire anymore. Combine that with my newfound love of MMOs and a solid foundation in Tabletop Miniatures games, and it looked like 4e was coming around just in time.
In 2007, when 4e launched, I was determined not to be left behind like I was with the glory that was 3.0. Instead, I preordered the books, purchased a players handbook for my friend and started a group up right away.After the initial glow of the first few adventures, and the choices presented to me as both a player character and a DM, something was starting to feel off. Something in this game made it not feel quite right. Maybe it was the reliance on miniatures, maybe it was the MMO party feel, and maybe it was the system that was overly complicated for a game that needed a bit of simplicity. My mid to late twenties, rpg wise, was stunted under
Just like 4e, I ran out of steam fairly quickly. I ran a campaign or two, but nothing like my previous ones. I was out of ideas as a DM, and I felt built into a corner. The monsters were all the same, and the challenges were all the same because the game was focused around combat and fighting. a great malaise sat over me, and even to this day I regret that I never finished that Dark Sun game that I started.
Much of that malaise, however, was a decision and a consequence of a conscious choice. What I had failed to see were the unintended, long term ramifications of that choice. When we played D&D during 2e, we tossed any rule we didn’t like aside. Like growing children, we played with fire without knowing the consequences, I thought. With 3.5, I was determined to stay in the rules and bounds of the game. no made up mumbo jumbo, no insane combinations that aren’t allowed. The rules were the rules, and there was a reason for them. That reason, I convinced myself, was balance; security. How could I know, I convinced myself, that the encounter was balanced around the players, as the DMG said, if the characters were not following the rules that I had to follow?
Therein lies the path to madness. What is most fun about D&D, and all rpgs, is the story behind them, is the creativity and fun of the exploration and discovery of the world and adventure that is being played. That, cannot, and should not be stopped for the rules of the game. While I’d discussed it and felt it with a number of people, It wasn’t until both Skyrim and the IKRPG cmae out that I really understood: RPG’s are inherently, and supposedly, unbalanced, and they cannot retain their flair and fun under perfect balance. What difference is a dwarf and an elf if they are just cosmetic changes to stat scores that can be, due to balance, manipulated in the system to do the same thing. When each dungeon and each challenge is the same because all the monsters are just variants on one another and nothing is truly special, what is the reason.
Now, I’ve got it all out of my system. I’ve gone all ’round and back again. I want to throw out rules that don’t work, I want to build insane characters with absurd backgrounds and play out awesome fantasy stories. I still love the grittiness I cherish in my stories, but I want them to be fantastical as well. Now, in my Thirties, I want to play the games I enjoyed back in high school. I know its not truly possible, that everything changes as you grow older. To that end, I had nearly written off D&D as a childhood fling that I would need to pass on, now, as I grew older in order to catch that same lightning as when I was young. IKRPG could be a great game, and Exalted tickled my fancy a bit. We flirted with Gamma World, as well, and it was a ton of fun.
and then, after it all, D&D arrived back on the scene. While I am still in the afterglow phase, I am having more fun now, playing with most of the same friends I have been playing with for years, than I have in a long time. Gone are the obscure paragraph long rules of 3/3.5. removed are the strict power curve and power levels of the old encounters in 4th, and the stagnant copy and paste of the old days leaves but the slightest trace.
The DMG cements the awesomeness of the trio of core books, and though it took a long time to get my hands on them, I am extremely pleased. The DMG is full of tables of ideas, hooks and stories! its something thats both insane ans completely awesome at the same time. I feel a great kinship between how 2e felt after we dispensed with all the insane rules and bizzare limitations, and it feels as close to the homebrew version of the game we played as kids as I can ask for, and I am head over heals for playing this game again.