Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: D&D

It occurs to me that I should review some games on here, because, y'know, this is a blog about gaming and all two of my readers are growing bored.

Just kidding.  I wish I had two readers.

Anyway.  I had another review in mind, but figured it was more appropriate to start with a big thing.  Also, I'll be doing systems first; expect individual book reviews...eventually.

It doesn't get bigger than D&D.  Maybe you've heard of it?

If you aren't familiar with Dugneons & Dragons by some odd happenstance, Wikipedia provides.

Developed in the early 1970s by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, D&D started a new genre.  With a lineage tracing through the wargames of the time (the original edition used Chainmail as the battle system, essentially scaling the system from military formations down to small units) back through Little Wars all the way back to chess and whatever people did before then.

Yes, H. G. Wells helped develop modern roleplaying.  How are you not surprised?

Anyway, I came to D&D in its third edition.  It was not the first game I encountered and read, but it was one of the earliest.  My initial impression was favorable, but I saw the system as being a little limited.  You can make a character that is good at doing one thing, and that character will only get better at doing that one thing, but a skilled generalist is impossible.

I still feel that way, but it's not entirely true.

Coming to D&D 3e from World of Darkness was part of it.  The World of Darkness was ostensibly horror, but was actually completely batshit insane.  Keeping strictly within the definition of the rules, you can play just about anything — the classic incarnation of my Imperial City party was a cyborg, a couple of mages, a vampire, and a weredragon.  (In those early days where I was inclined to answer "Sure!" to "Can I play...?" I almost allowed Doctor Who; I still have a Two Hearts Merit lurking on my hard drive for this very reason.)

A piece of my current understanding of D&D is acceptance of D&D's roots.  D&D originally occupied a niche between wargame and modern roleplaying game.  In that light, the class structure makes sense; you are a single type of unit with a single job (this also makes sense in the light of medieval professions, in which you are your job).  You will get better at that job as you continue adventuring.  This may also explain why I never liked the D&D skill system in 3e, because of its limitations; skills are an after-market accessory in later editions, and the original "do what your character would do" aesthetic makes more sense.

It's also not very limited.  In the original game, you could play pretty much whatever you wanted; this is still true in 3e and is true to a lesser degree in 4e (it requires more reworking in 4e, but is still feasible).

Even so, I still feel D&D lends itself to a certain type of fantastical-exploration-and-combat game before anything else.  In fact, exploration of the Old School Revolution reveals that Occam's Razor is at play here: D&D lends itself to episodic, emergent storytelling wherein characters raid old ruins for treasure and get into mishaps.  In that, it excels; characters start limited and grow powerful as they adventure, presumably retiring in old age after they've plundered.  It is quite possible to run other sorts of games with D&D, but the gonzo, treasure-seeking roots are probably still the strongest mode.

There are other editions besides third, of course.  I currently have a group playing fourth edition, and I am similarly playing a fourth edition game at the moment.  In light of what has come before, I understand many of the complaints with fourth edition: yes, it's true, it is extremely crunchy and promotes railroading.  However, it's still decidedly D&D, and those elements can be ignored as with any other game (as in Fourthcore).  And, of course, some people like crunchiness and they like linear plots (as I've said before, it's good to have a linear plot in a sandbox so characters — particularly those played by new players — can always go do something if they run out of ideas).

I've never played AD&D, but I have briefly run the original 1974 edition (you can read about my brief run here).  It is fast and easy to use — and since I adore fast and deadly combat, that makes me happy.

So, overall, I'd recommend D&D to anybody (though if you're reading this, you probably already have some ideas about it).  Later editions add complexity, though that's not always a bad thing.  It's good for weird, gonzo fantasy, and it's good for combat and exploration.  Play a game rife with intrigue, run with (or against) your Dungeon Master's epic plot, or just scour some ruins for treasure; it really supports all modes of play.  Which, I suppose, is why it's been around for almost forty years, and why it is still (so far as I know) the biggest roleplaying game.

If you want more character customization or nonlinear character advancement, this probably isn't quite the game for you — though, naturally, that might vary depending upon your Game Master.

Edit: I added an actual, albeit brief, discussion of mechanics in an addendum post.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you know you have at least one regular reader. Everyone else who knows of this and *doesn't* read regularly is daft.

    I am intrigued by the Two Hearts merit. I think I've heard you mention this before, but am either wrong or had forgotten. Fantastic!

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