For me, reading the official articles and blogs from WotC about D&D Next is like being Dazed (Save Ends) and never rolling a save. Every time I read a design blog or the Legends & Lore Archive, I end up sitting there in front of my laptop slack-jawed and eyes agog, trying to puzzle out just what the D&D Next developers think they are trying to create. And more importantly, which D&D audience they are trying to please with this new iteration.
The last three articles that really have me shaking my head in a dazéd sort of way were Mike Mearls’ Save or Die II: Die and Die Again!, Bruce Cordell’s Iconic D&D Clerics, and today’s Legend & Lore article The One-Hour D&D Game. While some of the concepts put forth in the articles are sometimes baffling in how the development team is trying to define what is and is not “Classic D&D”, more often I’m finding the comments section filled with the most extreme points of view on what D&D should and should not be.
More and more after reading the comments section of these articles, I am reminded of the Penny Arcade comic from January entitled The Way Forward which featured a WotC rep talking to a group of D&D fans. I remembering chucking at the webcomic a few months ago, but as we get deeper and deeper into to development of D&D Next, the ideas purveyed by Jerry and Mike are not quite so funny anymore. Every gaming group seems to have a completely different and unique perspective on what is the quintessential Dungeons & Dragons experience, and every gaming group is assured that their way of playing D&D is the “right” way.
Really…what’s so fun about Save or Die?
I have to applaud Mike Mearls for this blog, even if there were tons of comments to the article which baffled me. I definitely agree with his assessment that no one effect should kill a character outright, and using the 4E model of multiple saving throws and using the “hit point threshold” provides not only a better gaming experience, but is actually better storytelling as well.
However, there were plenty of comments to the contrary, claiming that SoD (Save or Die) is the only way to go in order to make encounters and individual monsters threatening. I can only assume that this style of play which would crave SoD powers and spells are the same group of gamers that want every encounter to be life or death, and who enjoy a good TPK once in a while.
As I mentioned in my own comment on Mike’s blog, all SoD does is make it such that low level players are forced to lose characters frequently, and have to bring in new ones, or forces high level players to yank out raise dead and resurrection spells after every other combat. For low level play, it makes players less attached to their characters, especially after the third or fourth one has to be brough in because they didn’t roll a high enough save – which in most editions of D&D, the saves of SoD was set at anywhere from 13-16, representing only a 25% to 35% success rate! For high level play, raise dead, resurrection, and wish spells all become cheap and meaningless under SoD, and all it accomplishes is making a hero take a time out for a combat until the party has time to bring them back once the fighting is done.
Frankly, I see that sort of save or die business being more desirable in Toon or Paranoia. It certainly doesn’t promote campaign continuity or the sort of epic death one would want to see happen in a fantasy role-playing game with a long term story arc.
The Heavily-Armored Divine Whipping Boy
Clerics have never seemed to have gotten the “lovin” they deserved under older D&D rules, and as much as I’ve enjoyed playing Clerics in the past, I really felt they finally got it together in 4E. Clerics are healing powerhouses now, and what’s more, they can deal decent damage while still throwing around temporary hit points… and buffs… and heals!
Sadly, the Vancian Magic system which Monte wants to force into D&D Next will take us back to a cleric that must choose to be either a heal-bot or a sub-par fighter with a little healing option here or there. The difference between a paladin and a cleric in older editions came down to only a few minor differences, and from a play feel, there was little difference between them. Certainly, the 3.5 Domains and Domain powers, as well as additional weapon choices from deity selection really helped to make the cleric play style more unique, but the limited spell slots per day still limited the actions of the class to either healing or fighting.
I like that Bruce brought up the Priest class in his blog, which came from the Second Edition Skills and Powers books. While still limited to the Vancian Magic spell slots, it would be interesting to see how that class might be developed in the new edition as a different option to the mace-and-platemail heal-a-bot that the old cleric used to be.
Frankly, I cannot for the life of me recall a single example of the “iconic cleric” from fantasy literature – and I’m not talking about any novel that references a D&D setting, thank you. Healers in almost every fantasy novel I’ve ever picked up have reminded me more of a wizard than a cleric, and quite often, the healers in those novels ARE wizards or sorcerers. That sort of healing comes from years of training, or alchemy, or herbology, or magic – or a combination of any or all of these.
So while the Iconic Cleric is a part of “Classic D&D”, maybe it’s time to be retired in favor of a new type of healer that is more like a subclass of Wizard than a pseudo-fighter with cure spells? I know it’s radical, but there are probably more fantasy fiction fans and RP gamers out there that can identify with Elrond, Polgara, and Master Herbal than a healer-in-a-tincan.
First Speed-Dating… now Speed D&D?
Hey, I know that all our lives are busy, and we want mobile devices to get us news, movies, and social media at the touch of a button. But exactly when did we, as a D&D gaming community, decide we wanted to play D&D in only an hour?! Today’s Legend & Lore article strikes me as both baffling, and shows a complete detachment for what D&D gamers really want from their game.
Oh sure, I know there has been some concern about the length of combats in D&D 4E, and there are length of blogs out there with great advice about how to make them shorter using minions and other tricks. And frankly, it’s not just a problem with 4E, because I recall plenty of encounters under OGL/3.5 could last an entire night. But I don’t think that I, or any of my gaming buddies, have ever said, “Hey, we got an hour, let’s roll up characters and run a complete D&D adventure!”
D&D is not a board game, it’s a role-playing game. It has never been about how much you get done in a session, but rather it’s about the characters, the story, the mystery, and the danger of being an adventurer. It’s about how the heroes solve their problems, work their way to the end of a mystery, and triumph in the end – whether it is by cunning and wits or by swords and sorcery.
While simplified character creation and rules are well and good, they should not be a priority just to get things done fast. When I go visit my friends for my campaigns on a weekly basis, I’m looking to spend an evening entertaining them with my adventure, spinning a tale of combat and intrigue that will transport them away for a time from the mundane world to a world where they are powerful wizards and heroic warriors and cunning rogues. If we only have an hour to play, we pull out a beer & pretzel game, but we sure don’t want to play D&D. Trying to pack an adventure in an hour would cheapen the experience, not enhance it.
As to what you can get done in a heroic campaign, and in a short time, well D&D 4E works just fine for me. In my last session this weekend, I ran two encounters, role-played, and ran a skill challenge, all in three-and-a-half hours. And that included the time my gamers and I all sat down to dinner together, caught up on current events, and took a break for dessert. Sounds like a full evening to me, and it got them two-thirds of the way through a sidetrek adventure they stumbled upon as they were fleeing from the country as enemies of the state!
I daresay that the only folks that want to play an adventure in an hour are the promoters of D&D Encounters. But let’s try and remember what Encounters is supposed to be – a way to get gamers into the brick-and-mortar stores, and to get them educated and interested in D&D 4E. Adding an expectation of one-hour D&D adventuring into D&D Next, and making that concept part of the design paradigm goes wildly against what “classic” D&D has always been: a role-playing game where it takes as long as it takes to get through an adventure and a campaign!
So again, why are we, the gaming community and a group of Wizards of the Coast designers, going through this exercise of trying to create the “perfect” D&D gaming system, when the no two groups of gamers can ever reach consensus on what D&D is all about? Isn’t this project more likely to create a game system that no one will like, either lacking in or presenting features, which one gaming group or another will consider to be “Not D&D” to them?!
Even in my own 4E D&D game, I have a couple players that love my game, show up at every session, but still claim that D&D 4E isn’t “really” Dungeons & Dragons. While they don’t really care much for the 4E system, they still show up for the camaraderie of gaming with good friends, and to enjoy the role-playing in my campaign – which I take as compliment to my DMing skills. They don’t consider what we are doing “real” D&D, however, and to them my game is more like a time in years past when I ran a fantasy role-playing game using the HeroSystem. Sure, the setting was pure D&D (i.e. Greyhawk), but the system wasn’t the real deal, even if it was a fun diversion for a while.
Personally, I can’t see anything but trouble ahead for D&D Next. I cannot imagine who this new version of D&D will be marketed to, and I’d love to see what data WotC used to decide that there was a market out there for a Frankenstein’s Monster of a game system, slapped together from the odd body parts of every previous edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m sure that there is someone who might see past this mess to love the monster despite its appearance, but really isn’t it more likely that there will be a mob of D&D gamers, armed with metaphorical pitchforks and torches, once again pounding on the castle walls of WotC for creating another abomination that’s “Not D&D”?
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!