Friday, September 16, 2011

Which version of D&D do you play?

I was going to do a post about different gaming attractions and such, but then I decided to break it down into different versions of Dungeons & Dragons specifically. Reason being is that I have several friends who play older versions of Dungeons and Dragons as well as the more current 3.0, 3.5 and 4th editions as well as the DDO MMORPG. (Eberron? Really?!)

I have been staying current, albeit reluctantly at first, as I generally fear change! Actually, not really, but, I saw no good reason to move forward as I thought that 3rd edition was pretty good and advanced D&D as far as it could go. I may have been right! Current 4th edition D&D is a far cry from your older versions and really mirrors the feel of an MMORPG, which I assume it feels as its competition.
Again, these are my opinions, so feel free to disagree. I love a good debate.

I think each of the versions has 'good' and 'bad' characteristics and I wanted to touch on a few of the good and bad. Let me preface also by adding that I think all of them have their place and they are meant for you to have fun in whatever form that may take.

Older versions of D&D were fun, simplistic and a bit generic. Role-playing was the key as well as the imagination of the DM and players both. Managing your inventory is another factor as it added a ‘realistic’ quality to the game. I personally did not enjoy this as I felt it detracted from the overall game-play and felt more like homework than actual fun! In addition, I felt that there was nothing heroic about an average guy picking up a sword and shield to go adventuring—it’s just silly. Add in the fact that all classes were basically the same. (ie. all characters have the same statistics, hit points, etc, like your fighter is made in a production line like a car or a piece of equipment), detracted from it further as more modern versions became available. But, it was an older representation and sometimes classic is the way to go. It was very dependent upon the story and the environment to move the game along. I personally enjoy the character that I play and want him to be a bit more…heroic? But, I digress--to each his own--que sera sera.

Third edition was pretty unique in that it diversified from the norm and really brought old school D&D into the modern age. It felt like an amazing leap in game mechanics while still keeping the familiar names, spells and abilities we all knew and loved. You could custom build your fighter, rogue, barbarian, etc. so that he or she was different from the others. Multi-classing, prestige classes and customizations were its strengths. Third edition was also ground-breaking in that they opened the game up to the community and made it essentially an open-source product (think Linux) which enhances the overall game experience as the consumer has a vested interest in the end product. However, as supplements became more and more available, power-gaming eventually put an end to this version and the market was saturated with over-the-top classes/variations/prestige classes. Sometimes, we experienced that a player accidentally created an overpowered character! Yikes! 

In 4th edition, I kind of miss the skill selection or separation as I think they may have lumped too many of the individual skills into one overall skill. That being said, simplification has its place, I suppose. DM’ing has seriously gotten easier, encounters can be extremely easy to prepare and balance and the monsters are quite easy to manage now. As opposed to third edition where a significant monster may have two pages of spells, abilities and powers of which would send your head spinning when it was the monsters turn to go! Balance I think is the key to 4th edition and it is very clear that they wanted combat to be very gripping and encapsulating to the point of making the battles a bit more epic. It certainly has become a tabletop game for the most part.
I have also heard grumblings on the internet that 4th edition loses the RP feel, which I disagree with totally. This is completely up to your DM as it is his or her job to add that element. I have also heard that 4th edition isn’t deadly enough. Wrong again…I have gotten my derriere handed to me several times and have been in one TPK (total Party Kill.) It was vicious! 

I am the DM! Whatever I say-goes!

All in all, I think you can take each framework of the game and add whatever style you like to it as they all have their own charm and ambiance. The bottom lines is that we are having fun, exploring dungeons and slaying dragons…After all, this is what it’s all about!

My question to you is: What version do you like best and why?

See you in Wothlondia! Cheers!

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  1. I love this post Gary!!!

    This has been a very common thought and discussion for me lately. In fact I will more than likely do a follow up post to your with a link back to you original here.

    In a some what short answer I agree with you on many points. I hear the same arguments that 4e doesn't have enough RP, death isn't common enough and that the classes are TOO balanced. Personally I think the balance and character survivability lends less to less worry on that area and allows everyone to focus more on roleplaying.

    My group is torn between characters being average/realistic versus heroic. I lean toward the latter and would rather participate in a heroic campaign rather than constantly roll up characters every 3 or 4 levels.

    With that being said, I want to give 4e another try if I find a willing group to do so. I have played 2e (cut my teeth on that back in the day) and my current group plays basic and advanced D&D. We play some other things too but those are my D&D specific edition experiences.

    I would also still like to give 3.0 and 3.5 (or its off shoot which I won't name due to you focusing on D&D here) sometime in the not so distant future.

  2. Role-playing has to do with whether A)your DM is capable of pulling off the event and B)whether or not the players WANT to RP...I think, anyway.

    Heroic doesn't mean they cant die, that's for sure, but it does mean that you are 'heroic' in a fantasy setting. As an example, who would you rather play: Regis or Drizz't?

    I am not saying at all that there is anything wrong with the older stuff, it's just not my cup of tea is all for the reasons that I listed.

    I wish you much luck in gathering a group of steady players to play anything at all, these days! It is tough with jobs and families, but can certainly be done. I hope you get a chance to experience the other editions. Let me know if you do!

    (PS. How are you making out with the read? Just curious. Hope all is well.)

  3. I think heroic is often confused with super heroic. 4e is super heroic. High level 3.0 and 3.5 are super heroic. What makes a hero in my book is someone facing real danger to do something good. All editions of D&D can be heroic. I would say since 4e is so mechanical it is the least heroic. It is too easy to manage the risk in the game and characters are too defined by their class to transcend their role.

    As far as which game is best to rp, I agree that you can role play in any edition. 4e, 3.5e, 3.0e all focus on ROLL PLAYING which can be a big determent to the role playing. Want to con a guard sure roll this XX (or in 4e roll X Y times) does not appeal to me. I prefer letting the players act out what they are saying and rolling only when the outcome is not clear. We recently played AD&D 1e by the book and it was wonky IMHO, so I would have to say BD&D is the best for role playing. No excessive rules to get in the way of judgment. No decks of cards to determine your next move. No designing your character so at 5th level you can become what you really want to play.

    But more than that the game becomes very slow in 4e ROLL PLAYING (to a lesser extent 3.0 and 3.5.) When playing 4e we were lucky to complete 3 rooms in 3 hours. In BD&D we can easily complete an entire level of a dungeon. I will never play 4e again. I would play 3.5 or 3.0 with just the PHB but prestige classes and designing your character really sucks the life out of the room for me.

  4. Tom, thanks for sharing and jumping into the discussion. It is certainly another take on the varying styles and editions of Dungeons and Dragons and what play styles that folks enjoy the most. I am happy that you added to the discussion.

    You bring an interesting position with the roll-playing vs. role playing aspect and I agree with you that 4th edition is not conducive to a speedy game! It is IMHO, more heroic, which you describe as super-heroic and I think that is what I enjoy personally (advancing my character, etc.) I do enjoy a good story, of course, which can be done in any and all versions of D&D and hopefully will continue to happen.

    I also think that conning a guard, etc can be done in any edition and if handled properly by the DM, can be successful whether a skill check is need or not, but I do see your point there. Thanks for sharing, Tom and I look forward to hearing from you again!

  5. I like the older versions (I run B/X but started out with, and 'think in' AD&D1e). I even like race-as-class, because I don't like demihumans to be humans in funny suits. My preference in order would be B/X, then AD&D or C&C, then 3e or 4e.

    I like 'old-school' games because:

    1) to me, being a fairly normal dude and managing to kill an ogre 9or dragfon or whatever) IS heroic. Far more so, in fact, than when a Conan or Hercules does it. Overcoming hardship, deprivation, and difficulties is what makes things heroic. YMMV.

    2) I like simpler rules, and rules that give wide leeway for ruling on-the-fly rather than having every possible circumstance covered by something. The new editions do a good job with having a 'core mechanic' but then spoil things, in my opinion, with all the conditionals what not. I know a lot of players love 'mastering' a rule set but that's not me.

    3) I find the lack of *mechanical* differentiation of PCs (all 1st level fighters have 1-11 HP in B/X, the same to-hit mods, can use all the weapons equally well, etc.) to be liberating rather than restrictive.

    "Wha-wha-what?," you say?

    On one hand, I've played too many sessions of 3e and 4e where players rely on skills and feats etc. as a crutch. "I make a diplomacy roll." Ugh. I know you can try to impose roleplaying in those situations but why struggle against the rules? The guys who like 'rules mastery' in my experience also hate being told they have to do something not called for in the books, like role-play the diplomacy. And if you don't make the roleplaying have some added mechanical benefit, you have just wasted their time making them roleplay when the outcome was really going to depend on the roll anyway. Or you could go old school and make it depend on the roleplaying rather than skill roll and why bother with all the skills and rules in that case? This is larelgy a style rather than rules isssue. In older versions there are thief skills and 'find secret door rolls' and what not too, which could be a crutch, but the rules are much more explicit about making rolls only when called on to do so by the DM, not every time you open a door or whatever. You could use more discretion in later versions, and roll less, but you are subverting one of the design goals of the game.

    On the other hand, I would say: if you want your PC to be different than mine, why not just *play it differently*? Your fighter can be a barbarian, or hire some hirelings and boss them around imperiously, or be a stoic, grizzled veteran, or whatever, the rules aren't STOPPING you just because they don't give you mechanical benefits for saying "I'm a swashbuckler" or "I'm a barabarain" ... just play the PC that way already. :) Did not care for 2e's "kits" for the same reason.

    I don't mean to edition bash, I have enjoyed every version of D&D, and even refrain from dismissing 4e as a glorified board game as some old schoolers might. I guess it is just play styles. Give me skin-of-your-teeth survival and on-the-fly rulings and differentiation through roleplaying.

  6. As later editions put more and more power and options into the hands of the players, they made it harder and harder on the DM to be able to run unplanned or improvised adventures on the fly; take a look at a 2-page monster stat block in a Paizo adventure, or the typical 2-page encounter spread in 4E. Those version of the game support intricate tactical combat, at the cost of everything else.

    There's a good reason not a single wandering monster or random encounter chart exists anywhere, in any 4E book... when a typical encounter takes a few hours, each encounter needs to be a carefully planned and balanced affair, with just the right amount of danger to threaten the heroes. Thus you have all these artificial game elements like scaling armor classes and to hit rolls, sacrificing any sense of simulation for balance.

    From the DM's perspective, I want a game that supports free-form exploration - go anywhere, do anything - and the simplified approach to monsters and random encounters in older editions supports that. As a 4E DM, I spent so much time carefully planning the next linear set of encounters during the week, the thought of the players showing up and abandoning my carefully prepared encounters to go do something else was horrifying. I don't like that style of play any longer.

    Likewise, everywhere the players go, they expect to see monsters in their level range - creatures that are too high are unhittable, creatures that are too low can't hit the players because player AC scales. It's all very artificial and too much like the MMO's.

    Hopefully, 5E figures out a way to give players their optimization options, interesting tactical combat that gets done in 15-20 minutes, *AND* supports adventure design and encounter design that allow free-form exploration instead of the balanced and linear approach in 4E. It's interesting to see WOTC start to come around to the idea that they built a really good tactical minis combat game, throwing the baby out with the old bathwater.

    In the meantime, I think we'll see more independent groups in the retro-clone space develop add-ons to classic D&D that back-port the optimization options in new school D&D to older editions, giving players that need that mechanical differentiation for their guys, while using the streamlined old school rules chassis that support a free-form style of campaign.

  7. Thanks for the comments, Mike and Beedo and I am glad that you guys have chimed in!

    Mike, I agree with your perspective and you are certainly entitled to your opinion as far as what makes it fun for you. I also believe that what you are saying as far as the die-roll vs. the role-play aspect is concerned in the skill checks and believe that there is a happy medium somewhere. Again, rules are meant to be guidelines in my opinion and the DM is free to modify it however he or she sees fit. That being said, knowing the rules helps, no matter what edition or game you are playing!

    I don't think that you are edition bashing and that is not at all what I meant when I started the blog, I merely wanted to know what folks liked about different editions. I believe that we are provided with choices for a reason and ultimately we should play whatever game makes us happy.

    One point about playing a barbarian vs. a fighter. It might not make a difference to you and you may want to call it something else, but I feel that a barbarian is very different from a fighter. Some RP'ers want those mechanical game terms defined already for them so that they don't have to do it themselves...I don't know. :)I'm just spit-ballin' here.

    I certainly agree with Beedo in that there is not a ton of flexibility in 4th edition when it comes to wandering monsters and yes, it certainly is a planned encounter type of game--linear if you will. I suppose if you wanted to be prepared for many situations, you would need to prepare as such, which falls completely in the lap of the DM.

    Also, I find that some encounters in the new game can go long and I personally lose interest if the battle goes on for more than half an hour or so, but I have experienced some that are ten minutes and some that are an hour and a half. Not sure really what else can be done about that and I am hoping that 5th edition also addresses this. I'd go so far as to say that what you are suggesting for 5th edition would be having your cake and eating it, too.

    Personally, I didn't have a huge problem with 3.5 and probably think it will always be my favorite. I think it took the old game and modernized it to the point of making it updated enough while still having the 'feel' of the original Dungeons and Dragons games. But--to each his own.

    Great stuff, guys, and again, thanks for stopping by.