The Original RPG Like it’s Never Been Played Before

Polyhedrons 1 Comment

At last I had my first opportunity to experience the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the game that invented RPGs 35-some-odd years ago.  Even if you don’t like D&D or have never played it; maybe it’s too nerdy or culty for you but I’ll just put it this way: if you have ever played a game where you picked a race and a class, you owe that experience to D&D.

That said, D&D has certainly changed a lot over the years.  I started playing D&D in junior high school.  At that time, the current version was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition.  The game was very organic, with lots of room for players and Dungeon Masters alike to diverge from the rules, or invent impromptu rulings for situations not covered in the Player’s Handbook or DMG (Ah, the days when you only needed three books to play…no wonder TSR went belly up).  The game was wonderful for the shear power of storytelling it vested in the group around the table.  The problem was the limited rules set and clunky combat mechanics (should we really need to do long division to calculate a hit?).  This was addressed in D&D 3e.  Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR and revamped the entire game, starting from the ground up, they added many options for character customization, including feats and skills that players actually use.  Most importantly, they created an intuitive core mechanic that involved rolling one die, adding modifiers, and comparing the result to a target number to determin success in the action, weather it is hitting the orc with your sword or jumping over the 20 foot chasm. 

This was all good, in my opinion, but then something happend.  They kept making rules.  There was a rule for almost any situation that a player could come up with.  Version 3.5 came out and it seemed to me, as a player, that the designers were no longer trying to make a fun game, but to create a game that could mathmatically simulate reality at the game table.  Games got cumbersome, and many a play session came to a screaching halt as everyone delved into book after $30 book to find the answer to a particular rules question.  A single encounter at high level could take upwards of 3 hours to finish.  Something had to be done.

4e addresses these issues and more.  With just one game under my belt as DM, I can already feel the effort the designers went to in streamlining the system.  Play zips around the table, not giving my players time to become bored as the wizard delved through his spell book or the DM pondered grapple rules.  The “roll a 20 sided die and see if you hit” mechanic is still central to game play, but the characters are given even more options for customization and playability.  At first level, the most remarkable differences were the fact that players and monsters had upwards of 30 hp, creating dynamic and interesting conflicts that didn’t last too long because each player’s turn took less time than in 3.5.  Also, each first level character had multiple cool things it could do in the combat.  The wizard wasn’t limited to a single casting of magic missile, and the fighter had way more options that just “I swing my sword at its head.”

I look forward to experiencing the game from the other side of the DM screen, but for now I am quite happy to be exploring this fun and well though out revision as the man in charge.  My only complaint would be the sometimes blatant borrowing from popular online role playing games.  Most notably in the Warlock character class.  I was disappointed to see the warlock ability to curse enemies and take pieces of their souls that they could then use to make themselves more powerful.  It doesn’t matter that it’s a spark, not a shard; a piece of soul is a piece of soul no matter how you toss the dice, and gamers are sure to see beyond the rouse.  These instances of unoriginality are infrequent at best and do little to mar my initial impression of the game.