Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Life With D&D, Part V

I have to admit that my first look at D&D 4th edition, just about a year ago, left me cold. Really cold. Antarctic cold. It seemed to me that the game was so different from previous editions as to be a wholly separate game; mechanically, D&D4 resembles D&D3 considerably less than the Palladium Fantasy RPG resembles AD&D1e.

On top of that, I felt that D&D 4 had stripped down D&D to the barest essentials - the dungeon experience - leaving all of the enhancements that had marked 3rd edition in the dust. And it did - to the extent that I questioned whether or not it was even a roleplaying game anymore, instead of a boardgame like the old Dungeon. There's nothing to it but the dungeon and a skeletal framework for handling things that aren't directly parts of the dungeon experience.

Of course, supporters of 4th edition worked themselves into a huff whenever I said this kind of thing, so I pretty much kept my mouth shut about it - RPGNet frowns on edition wars anymore. They continued to insist, contrary to my feelings on the matter, that D&D4 played like D&D, when it obviously didn't.

But something very odd happened last month. The people behind WotC's D&D website started posting a series of videos on YouTube of Chris Perkins, D&D creative director, running D&D for the performers and staff of Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken, a show I've never seen aside from some admittedly funny clips involving Skeletor's burrito breakfast.

I watched the whole long series of videos. Then I watched the alternate versions with Chris' DM commentary, which is sometimes hilarious. The funny thing mentioned above, though, is that the videos show exactly what the D&D4 backers claimed in opposition to my belief that 4e was a debased version of a once-great game; it does play like D&D.

But not the kind of D&D I would have played under 3.0 or 3.5, a sort of melange of classic D&D mixed with elements that you'd see in various other games - the kind of play that 3.0 was intended to enable, if not encourage. No, it's the kind of D&D I was playing back in the early 80s when I first got started. A pure dungeon experience, with as much roleplaying and intrigue and other stuff as the DM could get the group to buy into. But perfectly centered around the dungeon experience.

D&D4 really is a dramatic departure from the mechanical heritage of D&D, but my thinking now is that it may nevertheless manage to hew closely to the spirit of the old days, in many respects better than 3e did in spite of being a nominally more flexible game system. Maybe not OD&D old, mind, but certainly AD&D1e old. It is thus time, I think, for me to actually try it out.

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