Thursday, May 29, 2014

Unification Through Diversity

Can you imagine a two year delivery?

The creation of fifth edition was like childbirth.  I imagined those frustrating early stages, glimmers of hope and dread, small victories but miles and miles to go before anyone gets to sleep.  The screams, crying, shouting, pain, blood... everything.  Where in the fuck is my wife's epidural?  I wanted to be a part of it, to be there from beginning to end.  I wanted to know, and yet I didn't want to put myself through all that.  Not for two or more years.

So, that's why I only started paying attention these last couple months, finally allowing myself to get excited about what was just three pushes away from arrival.  Dungeons & Dragons s is coming!

Just to recap, this has been the OSR consensus regarding fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, based on the feedback from my last couple blog posts...

  • The OSR had an enormous impact on 5e.  This makes sense because there probably wouldn't have been an OSR (as we know it today) without the missteps of 4th edition.
  • The OSR isn't going anywhere.  It still has meaning and value.  It's a type of gaming, a style, an aesthetic... a feel.  It's many things to many different people.  A new version of D&D isn't going to eradicate it, but 5e will undoubtedly have an influence.
  • Since 5e is pretty darn old school (at the very least, OSR compatible) the majority of OSR gamers plan on trying 5e at some point (especially since the basic version will be available for free online) and from there will decide on one of the following:  1) incorporating bits and pieces from 5e into their established RPGs (like S&W, DCC, LotFP, AS&SH, etc.).  2) adoption: switching over to the point where their primary RPG of choice is 5e (while possibly incorporating bits and pieces from the aforementioned OSR games).  3) decide against continuing with 5e in any form. 

My personal belief is that roughly half the gamers who try 5e will fall into one of the first two camps.

For those who ask, "Why would I want, let alone need, another edition of D&D if I'm happy with what I already have?  Isn't 5e supposed to be like AD&D 2nd edition minus Thac0, plus feats?"  Good question(s).  If you haven't been keeping on Next news, it's easy to be swayed to one side or the other based on rumors and hearsay.  

I've been reading Mike Mearls' articles on the game design process for Next / 5e.  This new version of the game will be radically different than what we've known while still feeling like home. Sure, it incorporates a lot of things that we love about all the previous editions (yes, including a few bits from 4th) while ditching odds and ends that hold the game back.  And 5e does a great job of that.  However, it brings a lot of fresh, innovative choices to the table (choices, options, and support for DM cherry picking are huge in 5e).  Things that D&D fans have never seen outside of home-rules and Dragon magazine!

Here's a brief rundown of what I've found...
  • Magic item attunement.  Appendix N readers may recall some of their favorite fantasy characters possessing magic items which are somehow tied to them.  That's in 5e.
  • Backgrounds.  Character history, including contacts, ties to places and NPCs, ideals, and flaws was an important part of the 80's 90's gaming sessions I was involved with... but a small part, unfortunately.  From a rules-standpoint, backgrounds were definitely in the background (no pun intended).  Writing out a personal history on the backside of a character sheet isn't the same as having options hardwired into the core rules.
  • Armies battling.  D&D has its roots in miniature wargaming.  Admittedly, I don't know too much about how D&D handled large forces fighting each other on the battle field in the last couple of decades but its being addressed now.
  • A smarter, more intuitive option for leveling the party.
  • Rolling 2d20 and taking the lower of the two when at a clear disadvantage and the higher when at a clear advantage.  This replaces all the +1 bonus for this, -2 penalty for that, and +3 bonus for the other thing.
  • Concentration for magic-users (it's cool, but I'm not going to explain it here).  And an option for using spell points instead of the traditional Vancian magic!
  • Apprentice feel for 1st and 2nd level characters for either campaign introduction or system noobs, as well as, rules for starting established characters and veteran players at 3rd.
  • Inspiration:  in-game bonuses for good roleplaying!

There will be more, of course, when 5e is released.  This is just a taste based on Mearls' Legends and Lore column.  A fascinating read!  I'm still waiting on a friends' last playtest material for more info on how 5e will look and feel.

Am I excited for D&D?  Oh, Hellzzz to the yeah!  It means I can easily run or play in an old school kind of D&D session which can handle a Tiefling alienist sorcerer or a Warforged warlock/fighter who loves tactical combat while accommodating a Halfling thief who performs shadowy murders for the city's high priest of K'tulu because of his sordid past. Or keep things as fundamental as possible by allowing only wizard, rogue, fighter, and cleric.  All this without having to remember what true roleplaying is about from a prior edition or slavishly adhere to a thousand fiddly rules that are supposed to counterbalance each other into infinity.

Those who don't share my eager anticipated are free, as always, to hate (or simply ignore what's coming).  It's cool.  Alternatively, those who want to bathe in the afterbirth may do so as well.  Either way, I'm interested in reading whatever it is you want to say.  Speak!


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