I was really going to try to make this post about something non-D&D related. Yes, I know, where other blogs apologize for straying too far away from the hobby, here I am apologizing for being too focused. The reason being that I am an attention whore who seeks to please everybody in every way possible. And I mean every way.
And now that we are officially PG-13, I’d like to touch on an entry from a couple weeks ago on Playing D&D With Porn Stars. In it, Zak equates Old D&D with DC, in that the games facilitated by these systems are less about the characters and more about the worlds they inhabit, and New D&D with Marvel, in that those games are more about the characters themselves and how they affect the world around them. (It is strange that I unconsciously capitalize “new” and “old” in reference to Dungeons & Dragons, as if I hold a reverence for different editions of a game almost to the extent that Christians do for different Testaments of the Holy Bible, but I’m afraid if I comment any further, Jack Chick would have a field day)
I think this is interesting in that it highlights an aspect of my personality with respect to gaming that I didn’t really know existed before. As a gamemaster, I love the simplicity and unobtrusiveness of early (B/X, BECMI, and OD&D) versions of the game. When world-building for the earliest incarnations of D&D, there are so few assumptions made by the system that it facilitates an enormous variety of worlds. There is much more room for improvisation around the core three/four classes of fighter, magic-user, cleric (and sometimes thief) than later editions. No matter what kind of world you want to create, be it standard medieval fantasy, feudalistic Japan, time-traveling neanderthals bent on destroying the future galaxy-spanning empire that threatens to eradicate the peaceful spore-producing alien race of the Planet of Unicorns and Lava Floes, the basics will always apply. Your character can fight, cast spells, steal, or pray. Don’t like the magic system? Change it. The changes will affect two classes, as opposed to the 7 spell-casting classes in the core books alone for 3.x and the total unbalancing of the entire power system that would occur if you tried to fundamentally alter the way magic works in the first version of what Wizards of the Coast are now calling D&D.
Building worlds for later editions (I will use 3.x as my basis here, since I am the most familiar with its system) the GM is under much greater pressure to conform to an established, albeit implied, setting. With seven core races, eleven core classes, and more of both in the various splatbooks, at least one of which some experienced gamers in your group are bound to own, the game expects your setting to have room for all of them. And while, yes, you can set your game in the seedy underbelly of a world-spanning city where demi-humans are spat upon and the only way to the top is on a ladder of corpses, there’s going to come a time when somebody wants to play a half-orc paladin, or a tiefling bard, or a gnome anything, and you’re going to have to either downright refuse or somehow shoehorn in an explanation.
You could, of course, handwave all the fluff and just use the mechanics of a class but deck your character out totally differently, but at that point couldn’t we just handwave everything away down to the core three/four? Personally, as long as we’re cutting away certain aspects that don’t fit, I’d rather just cut all the way back to OD&D and take it from there.
The difference, however, is that the classes of 3.x and beyond are specifically and scientifically engineered to be badass. High-level characters get multiple attacks, and the combat types get all sorts of cool abilities that let them kill even more enemies in a single round. Spellcasters develop the power to change worlds and kill at will. Thieves can perform feats of agility and deceipt that would fool any mere mortal. Bards… well, they help everybody else do it. The thing is, while I don’t want to design a setting for these types of characters, it’s sure as hell fun to play them.
Take, for instance, my character in the only 4E game I have played thus far. He was a dragonborn rogue. Upon entering combat with a large number of opponents, he would catch them flat-footed, jump into the middle of them, and explode into shurikens and lightning-breath. And opponents would drop like flies. Yes, this was awesome every single time. No, this never got old. Sure, I was pretty much useless after that unless I could maneuver myself to flank somebody. And no, that character would have absolutely no place in my current setting, especially as dragonborn seem to me to be an inherently new school race.
Does this mean that everybody’s preferences are or should be just like mine? No, of course not. Does it mean that either system is objectively superior to the other? Yes, yes it does.
P.S. Writing this post has led me to the conclusion that the new Google Images system is obnoxious. Probably because it is new, and if it is new, I fear it.