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Posts Tagged ‘creative outlet’

A few photos from around the table. This is my little corner of the universe.

I am the dm.  The dm am I.

I am the dm. The dm am I.

Here I sit upon my throne, framed by the eternal pink and green flames of destiny, ready to judge and be judged. I am the dm, you can tell because of the hat.

My little corner of the universe.

My little corner of the universe.

I no longer hide my rpg material in the closet like a junkie, but festoon the walls overlooking the dining room table.

The gamers gaming

The gamers gaming

Here is a photo of a game in progress with actual role play happening, including epic role playing moves.

I play d&d -- all of it.

I play d&d — all of it.

This is a meme I made one time. It’s my bookshelf of rpg material, with my iconic black panther standing guard. Also yoshi sitting on a a pile of choose your own adventure books.

Twinkie Pie and Jinx Bell

Twinkie Pie and Jinx Bell

And here are the kittens who make it all possible. (Their cuteness is the reason people agree to visit our house.)

Twinkie is big now

Twinkie is big now

One time after a game, Twinkie Pie carried a puffball in his mouth and dropped it into the dungeon. He then chased and batted it through the corridors of the dungoen, knocking pieces everywhere. He was playing dungeons and dragons!

Typical encounter

Typical encounter

This didn’t actually happen last night… but it could have! (And quite possibly should have.)

And there you have it.

fridaynightatmyhouse

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D&D Shelf

Such momentous news, even if expected. So many emotions about what is just a game, yet also more. In a busy life, it is a social outlet, a creative outlet, hell even an outlet for pent up violence. I mean there has to be a reason we all love splitting goblins heads open with axes, right? The Wizards of the Coast are designing a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. So soon!

I am divided. One part of me is disappointed, like the last few years were a waste, or at least the money spent was a waste. That if I had been more conservative, and stuck with 3rd edition, or moved into Pathfinder, the whole debacle could have passed me by unscathed. Then I think of the fun we had, and I know that is not right. For one thing, the D&D Encounters program alone was enough for me to switch to fourth edition. Indeed I have learned more DMing the first 6 seasons of that program than in a lifetime of DMing comfortably amongst friends. And I am not talking about anything as foolish as rules or mechanics. Ironically, getting a good understanding of the rules was one of my original reasons for signing up for Encounters.

Indeed, the mechanics are the dullest part of any game, and in a perfect game they fade into the background to the point of invisibility. So why are we all so uptight about them? What is the edition war, if not a giant kerfluffle of opposing rules lawyers? I’m not sure, but I know I have enjoyed every edition of D&D (except 2nd edition – blech! I kid… seriously) and this article is an attempt to highlight something unique and personal from every edition.

The Original Edition

In the beginning… Sadly I was too young for the Original Brown box, or for the first Blue cover Basic rulebook. A friend’s older brother, however left us a treasure trove of original edition material, including a tackle box full of miniatures, but we cut our teeth on Basic and Advanced, so to us these little books were little more than novelties from a past era. Our game was big and shiny, and ADVANCED.

One thing I took away from those old books however, was the feel of the game. Those books were dripping with flavor, and little things, like the note that dungeon doors will always be hard for players to open, but rarely difficult for the monsters – that struck a chord with me. The dungeon was a place of fantasy and mystery, and there was a REASON those doors worked that way, though it might be unknowable. Even the weird creepy drawings caught the eye, like that freaky giant lizard mount at the beginning of that first basic manual, just staring out over a vista. Another funny thing about those early books was the jargon, like mentioning “A unit of foot” to describe a group of footsoldiers. The game was a rough framework erected over its wargame roots and much of the wargame showed through.

But what can we really take from it, to bring to the new version of D&D? The modularity of design might be a good start. While the mechanics themselves were improved as the game grew, the original set started out as basic as you could get. Not even all the archetypes were there – the thief would come out with the first expansion, Greyhawk. The orginal set ws three books, but there were another 4-5 books produced which added everything from the rogue to ranger class, alternative combat styles, including a location chart for hits. This modularity of design, created by literally building the game up from book to book is something the new edition can take from the Original Edition

Basic and Expert Sets

A funny story. I was an ignorant sixth grader (which was still part of elementary school in the 1970’s) and I had a gift certificate for Waldenbooks from X-mas or something. I knew about the game, but not enough. I ended up picking up the Expert Set (in the same manner someone might choose a ‘medium’ drink or fry, I tried to split the difference between basic and advanced. I was sadly mistaken. To go along with it, I bought the module Q1 Queen of the Demonwb Pits. I spent that spring playing D&D in the cafeteria with 2 or 3 others during recess. Playing Q1 with nothing but the expert set was difficult if not impossible, but we had fun. I remember the opening moments of the adventure. My opening words were “You have a lightning bolt betwixt you” whatever that meant.

The basic edition came in boxed sets and everyone loves boxed sets. Even the original three little books of the original edition came in a boxed set made out of real freaking wood. I wouldn’t mind if the new edition came packaged in a mithral and titanium boxed set. We have come along that far, right?

Basic D&D to me is a condensed, concise form of the essential rules of dungeons an dragons – with a limited array of race and class choices. Except for the unfortunate lack of race and class (or especially because of it according to some) the basic version of d&d is the absolute essence of the game distilled into its minimum intrusive element. Many people continued to play basic d&d even though they claimed they were playing “Advanced” What was really happening was they were playing the basic game with some of the options of the advanced edition – namely the wider variety of classes and races for the players, and the monsters from the monster manual, and the esoteric tables of the dungeon masters guide. Which brings us to:

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Nothing will ever, or could ever compare to the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for one reason more than any other: the inestimable writing talents of its author Gary Gygax. Reading those books is like a journey into the depths and dungeons of a mad man. The train of consciousness of the dungeon masters guide especially follows a labyrinthine route through the authors expression of the rules. One might find tables for stomach disease followed by the affects of aging, normal and super-natural, mingled with information on casting spells while underwater and a table to determine the quality and class of every harlot in the game. The game had spirit and above all, character.

Advanced D&D was deemed the perfect role playing game by everyone I knew. We all played it, we all slavered over every new release. The modular complexity of the game allowed us to pick and choose exactly how much or how little to use the rules provided. For example, there was a table that cross referenced specific weapons against specific armors. Because everyone knows that a mace is best against full plate, while a morning star can puncture chain or scale. This is just the tip of the ice berg of some of the complex micro-rules mechanics sprinkled throughout the game. To call ad&d byzantine would give credit to the Holy Roman Empire.

I still firmly believe ad&d is the perfect system, because it was whatever you wanted it to be. It could do speed factors and NPC reaction tables – or it could be basic d&d with rangers and paladins, depending on what you wanted out of the game. Whether this was intentional or not, I cannot say, but there was some kind of divine muse at work when Gygax and Arneson created dungeons and dragons. To think that Gary Gygax went one direction with “advanced rules” while Dave Arneson stuck with “Basic set” yet each was made greater by the existence of the other – there is a kind of zen logic to the idea.

Second Edition

Because of the first rule of why 1e ad&d rules above all other rules, I never, ever played second edition. It appeared one day around our old gaming pool table, and after leafing through the first few pages, I was appalled, nay revolted by the lack of Gygaxian Prose. Its release forbode my departure from role playing games for a decade or more as Real Life intervened.

With hindsight, and a vibrant used book market, I was able to re-discover much to love and admire about the second edition era. It had some of the best campaign worlds ever, including legendary Dark Sun, Planescape, Birthright, a full fledged Ravenloft and Dragonlance, Spelljammer, to name the most popular.

Second edition also continued the tradition – started with the release of Unearthed Arcana during the first edition era – of releasing expansions that continued to push the limits of the game as far as character development. Skills and Powers was a very different game than the core rules. There were rules for creating a class, and it was so broken that classes could be made that required zero experience points to level, by taking disadvantages. Also, it was impossible to re-create the core classes using the class builder. But none of that seemed to matter due to the great stories being told around the table each week. Well it did matter after all, because D&D went out of print for its first and only time (so far) during the startified and meandering end of the second edition era. The world was ready for something fresh and new. Wizards of the Coast, creators of the wildly successful Magic card game bought TSR and released an instant classic…

Third Edition

I was 20 something, out of gaming since marriage, children, and work intervened. On the internet, playing great games like Baldur’s Gate, and remembering the good times. I pre-ordered the rulebooks from Amazon months before they were released, though it took until 2008 before I sat down at a table to finally play the game as it was meant to be played. Those first few months playing were like the old days re-born. We fought orcs and undead with abandon as the heroes tried to save the world from demonic conquest. At higher level it seemed to come apart at the seams, and the campaign broke down completely at level 11 – but the campaign lasted over a year and 11 was 3 levels higher than any first edition game I ever DM’ed. It was a complete smashing success.

The picture of the druid in the Player’s Handbook epitomizes to me what d&d is all about, and how well third edition expressed it. The antlers and leaves, the wolf companion and the awesome scimitar she wielded. It was classic yet sexy, and the druid was always my favorite character. This was no Schmuckly, my first edition druid who threw potted plants as his main attack. Oh no, this was something old yet something NEW too.

Character customization was at the forefront of 3e, and it had all that would be considered the core races and classes built into the main game. That was one of its best qualities – all the core classes of the original Player’s Handbook, with playable versions of monk and bard and the new fan fave sorcerer right out of the gate. Now THAT is a Players Handbook. Sure feats would end up being the scourge of the game and multi-classing became ridiculous, and prestige classes threatened to break the game altogether. Those major problems aside, it was a great rendition of classic dungeons and dragons with the best character development and the best stable of core classes of any edition of the game before or since.

Fouth Edition
…broke onto the scene with much gnashing of teeth. In hindsight, it split the foundations of the role playing world down the center like a massive earthquake, but it was a slow simmering process, completed only by the release of Pathfinder and the lackluster reception of Essentials. Fourth edition broke down the barriers between game and simulation, and it went its own way to create the best fantasy battle game of any version of d&d. It introduced powers, and most aspects of character actions were codified by these powers. They complimented the terrain effects, the traps and hazards, and especially the monsters who had their own powers to counter the powers of the characters. Every battle was a puzzle, and it was a great foundation for a campaign.

Powers however are not the thing I would take above all others from fourth edition. They can also act as blinders to the players, and force them to use powers to solve problems instead of common sense or imaginative or cool ideas. I asked my wife why she rarely tried cool stunts or maneuvers, and she replied that her bonuses were so good with the powers, any other stunt she tried would be at an automatic disadvantage.

What fourth did well was to give the DMs those tools to build monsters, hazards, traps, and encounters. It had the best monsters of any edition. It had multiple types of most monsters, which increases the variety in battle, and it also introduced minions, one hit wonders that I think are one of the editions best inventions. It also had elite an solo monsters, and the way encounters were built using an experience point pool was intuitive and easy. The focus of fourth edition was on epic fight scenes like over the top action movies, and we had some amazing fights.

Fourth was also well balanced, even too balanced so might say. The proper level of balance is up for dispute, but having a balance between characters is good because it fosters equal play time for all. Being balanced against the game world is god to maximize the fun. The game achieved that in a commendable way, though at times the balance seemed to dilute the quirky wierdness that is one of d&d’s hallmark features.

Fourth edition was sleek and shiny, ad it took advantage of the most modern rules design in the industry. Other great innovations of fourth were saving throws, healing surges, the bloodied state, non-divine healing, second winds, death saves, and other types of saves. One of my favorite changes were the way certain creatures, like a medusa turn a character to stone. Rather than one save them boom – to the topiary garden (known as save-or-die affets) it is a series of three saving throws. The first one renders you slowed, the second lost save and you are immobile, and only on the third failed save do you turn to stone. Classy, dramatic, and an awesome way to handle save-or-die.

All the editions have great things to offer. I don’t know if the claim that they can make “one game to rule them all” is even possible, but I know that they could take the essence of what makes each edition of the game so great, and put them together to create a great game of d&d. If they can make a game that allows us to plug in features of our favorite edition, and give us a reason to keep and have those old (and new) books out on the table, then they will have made one life-long fan of the game very happy.

I await the future with optimistic trepidation and bated breath of suppressed excitement.

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