I Don’t Like the New D&D

Disclaimer: This is not to go knocking other people’s preferences or to start screaming that Mike Mearls is a poopyhead[1]. I had this conversation with Rob yesterday (largely spurred by his post about Dark Sun) and I’m trying to work this out in real time in public because, oh, hell, why not.

Onward we go….

I don’t like the new D&D 4th Edition.

I have played it. We played it when it came out and I took photographic evidence to prove it. And when we played it, I enjoyed it. It was fun. We used LEGO guys for Minis and some grid paper and some index cards and all was good. It didn’t feel like regular D&D but it wasn’t bad.

And we never played it again.

Since then all sorts of tools and widgets, from online character creators to minis to cards to a re-balance release to D&D Essentials have come out. Lots of toys, lots of books, even some settings. I thought to myself: it’s an age thing. I’m not interested because of age. I am simply too old. A simple, easy, pleasing answer. I started with D&D Red Box God knows how many years ago and I’ve just outgrown it. Off I go to read comic books which are so much more adult[2]…

Yet, since I acquired my precious iPad, deliverer of media, I have started reading games again. I went on a seven year hiatus but today I buy them from Drive Thru RPG and slurp them onto my iPad and they look spectacular. Then I lay on the couch and read them. I think about them. And I’ve actually played a little bit lately. I don’t think it’s an age thing.

I wandered off and thought about why I don’t like the new D&D. Right or wrong, I came around to this conclusion:

D&D 4th Ed takes the old Dungeons & Dragons formula, smooths out the lumps, shakes out the dust, and offers a pure, undiluted, shining new D&D formula. No more worrying about calculating weird negative THAC0s. No more 5 foot steps. No more worrying about buying a spell that turns out to be utterly worthless. No more Tasha’s Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter. No more 1st level mages with 1D4 hit dice. Everyone gets to be awesome. Everyone gets cool magic foozles to use in a fight. It has maps and minis and dice and cards which show you what you can do. Pure reward cycle of kill things, take their stuff, get the ex-pees, and move on.

It’s the perfect Utopian D&D. It is well designed.

And yet I’m the John Savage of Brave New World of gamers:

“But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

There it is.

I appreciate the design and the goals of the new D&D. To my perception, it’s not so much an RPG as an interesting and complex board game; an in-person version of Final Fantasy Tactics. I love Tactics; I have played it and many variations on my gameboy, but that’s where I want it to stay. I am pro-tactical turn-based strategy board games. I’m not certain I want that in an RPG.

I can see where the rabid split lies — between those who want to play this exceptionally tuned game and those who “don’t think it is real D&D.” Here’s the rub: it is real D&D. It’s the realist version of D&D ever produced. It is real and pure and shiny. It is D&D rubbed of all its little barnacles and fungus and clingy little bits that made no sense and balanced and made easy and neat. All the things: maps and spells and minis and killing kobolds, it is all there in the box. Who hasn’t played D&D with graph paper and markers and arguments? It’s D&D.

Yet I want THAC0s. I want 5 foot steps. I want Mages with 1D4 hit points. I want 10 foot poles! D&D happened for me in the little inconveniences and variances. The game lived and breathed for me in the stupid little spaces where we argued if Monster Summoning IV would allow you to summon a whale 50ft up and drop it on your enemies in a horrible splatter.[3] Those arguments made the game special. Frustrating and stupid, yes, but also special.

Yes, I know Pathfinder exists. I will take a look at it. Meanwhile I am immersed in FATE variants and the CORTEX system and GUMSHOE[4] so I’m good. A little sad, but there it is.

Update: I have been told I mean SKULLDUGGERY and not GUMSHOE. But they are both Robin Laws systems and thus both awesome by definition.

[1] I have it on good authority that Mearls is not, in fact, a poopyhead.

[2] I went on another ripping tear about “Why I Hate Green Arrow” yesterday. So much for maturity.

[3] The only way we could find a good area of attack spell for Bards in 3rd ed. No one bought it.

[4] Based on the system from the Dying Earth RPG! You’ve at least read the Dying Earth RPG, right? RIGHT? No? *shake fist* And I think it’s out of print, too. It was marvelous beyond words. *sigh*