Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons Memories

Those of you who are gamers and have been under a rock for the last few weeks may have missed that Wizards of the Coast announced that a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is in development.

ENWorld has the best overview I've seen of news and other information.  It can be found here.

Looking at the design team, I have faith that it will be a quality product.

But I come here not to bury 4e, but to remember my experiences with D&D over the years.

For those of us who are roleplayers, D&D has been a constant. For the majority of us, it was our gateway into the hobby. Even if you've never played it, it has impacted your role-playing in some way - many many games were created to fix its perceived flaws.

My first experience with D&D was around my tenth birthday. It was still First Edition at this point. I saw kids playing on the playground, and wondered what was going on. "It's a game," one of them told me.

"Do you have room for one more?"

He looked around at the other players, "Erik's not here. Maybe we can let him try?"

"Sure," said another, "he can use Erik's character."  The DM shuffled through his folder and handed me a scuffed-up piece of paper with numbers scrawled on it and crossed out and re-written and erased.  In short, a well-loved character.

I was completely lost. I had no idea what any of these numbers were or what they meant. "So ... " I said, "When is it my turn and what can I do?"

"Anything," was the answer.  "You're an Elf, so you can even do some magic." He turned to the DM, "And he can find secret doors.  Don't forget to tell him if he finds any."

Even with this in-depth introduction to the hobby, I watched for a few minutes before contributing. The party was in a room with a throne at one end. "I approach the throne," I said.

"You die," said the DM. "A pit opens under your feet and you fall onto spikes and die."

"This is stupid," I informed the group. And I gave the sheet back to the DM and wandered off to play kickball or something that wasn't stupid.

A few months later, my best friend (Chad) was drawing something. When I asked him what it was, he told me that it was a dungeon map. "For D&D," he informed me, gravely. Not wanting to start an argument, I didn't tell him that D&D was stupid.

"What are all the marks on the map?"

"This is a trap," he said, "and this is a secret door.  The treasure room is over here."

"If you put the trap on the map like that, won't they just go around it?"

Chad looked at me for a long minute. "The players don't get to see the map," he eventually informed me. "Only I get to see the map."

That conversation was why I am a gamer. In large part, that conversation is why I spent twenty years as a DM. Because I wanted to see the map.

My parents were (and, to a degree, still are) anti-gaming. They were caught up in the anti-D&D hysteria of the 1980's, so I had to hide that I was playing. And I definitely couldn't buy any books.

The first gaming book I ever purchased was the Star Trek: The Next Generation Officer's Manual for FASA's Star Trek rpg. I didn't know it was a game book. Had my parents known, they wouldn't have purchased it for me. As it is, I figured out it was a game book pretty quickly - but I couldn't figure out what the game was. After all, those weren't D&D stats.

The first game book I knowingly purchased was the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Player's Handbook. I still have it. In fact, I think it's the book my wife will eventually be making an AD&D character from. It has the old square TSR logo. I bought it with my first-ever paycheck in 1992.  By this time, I was already playing (regularly) several games, including my friend Lee's Dark Sun game. Most of the games were one-shots and short campaigns, generally lasting a few sessions before the DM lost interest or had another good idea ...

When 3E came out, I hadn't played D&D in several years. I was into several other games - but 3E with its promise of being a universal game via the d20 License drew me back. I called my friend Aaron and informed him that I was "putting the band back together."

The campaign never went anywhere, and the players had no idea what they were doing on the map. The first session was so bad that I actually reset a combat to the beginning. "Now that you know what flanking and attacks of opportunity are," I said, "let's try that again. This time without the TPK."

The first gift I bought for my wife (then my girlfriend) was the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragon's Player's Handbook. I didn't even have one for me, yet. And, to go with the PHB, I got her a set of dice. In purple.

Her first session was - for me - a bit of a test. Would she throw her hands in the air, declaring it to be "stupid," or would she come back?  We're married, now, so I'm sure you can figure out the answer to that one.

Somewhere along the way, roleplaying took a back seat to boardgaming. Until 4E brought me back to the table - as a player rather than as a DM. I'm currently in two campaigns (one of which is on hiatus while the DM figures out the best balance between gaming and his small child).

I don't get involved in the Edition Wars. I have fond memories of collaborating with Chad on elaborate dungeons for 1E. I smile when I remember the 2E games with the high school crowd. I can't dislike 3E, either, as it confirmed for me that my wife was The One. And 4E brought me back to the table.

The 5E development team looks solid. It looks like people who know 1E and 2E and 3E and 4E. People who enjoyed all four versions, and who are willing to make sure the fun comes before the rules.

The announcement has turned the Edition Wars up a few degrees.  There is a lot of anger coming from both the 3E and the 4E factions - before any of them have seen the rules or what's coming.

I don't know how deeply I'll invest in 5E. I'll get a PHB for sure. Probably a DMG. Or their equivalents, if WotC throws a curve ball and does something weird.  If they're good, I'll get some more.

We'll see.  Either way, it'll be an interesting ride.

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