So I’ve been playing a lot of D&D recently. D&D in lots of different varieties, and so I wanted to go over these different systems nd highlight my thoughts, feelings and experiences of them.
Aka BECMI, aka the Rules Cyclopedia. I started my gaming in basic D&D and because I wanted to have a table of it at ukt5, I ran myself through the Escape from Zanzer Tems dungeon from the black starter set. Basic D&D is a weird beast. It, like all the games in this post, has all the things you expect from a D&D game, ac, hp, saves, 6 stats etc.
But it really was basic, no skills, 4 classes and demi humans (elf, dwarf, halfling) as classes… Theres no customization. It had thaco, downwards ac, and a really weird movement in combat and initiative system.
For years I’ve resisted the appeal of the OSR moment because I always felt if I wanted to ply old school I could just pull out my basic D&D stuff and play it. Turns out I found it a really big backwards step and was wanting better healing, more choice in combat, better movement, fairer initiative etc.
I’ll always hold a place in my heart for basic D&D, because without it, I wouldn’t be gaming today, but my god, it was hard to play/run.
Next up we have 4e. I love 4e. I loved it from the moment I first read the pdfs leaked on the torrents and I still love picking up the books today, years after most people have turned their back on it.
I’m not so in love that I can’t see its faults, hell, other people go out if their way to tell me about them often enough! The thing is, the faults never really got in the way for me. I never really played above the sweet spot of level 6 and I could keep combat moving. I gamed with great people for whom story was expected and it happened. It was also a breeze to run.
I kind of expect 4e to find its fans in 15 to 20 years, for people of the future to look back and go ‘damn, 4e really pushed the boundaries and wasn’t as bad as I remember’.
4e though, however you look at it, was very combat focused, and had a super heroic, big darn heroes style vibe going on. A level one 4e character generally has more options than anything in any other system at any level. To me, that’s a good thing, it means that games don’t become “I hit it”, “I cast heal”, “i’m out of magic let’s go to sleep”.
Then there’s D&D Next. Thanks to the tweetups, I’ve been private playtesting this for wotc for 2 years.
Its been fun but at times its been hell, public packets to test, a private packet, a revision of a fighter or rogue etc and a secret adventure module. At times we were playtesting 3 or 4 times a week, and that much gaming, on a system in flux, takes its toll.
So when I say that some of the most enjoyable going sessions of my 20+ years have been with D&D Next, that’s some pretty damn good praise of it.
D&D Next is a very specific kind of game, it’s 40 years of D&D history, distilled and refined by people’s feedback. Every time I look through the packets, I can spot something I wanted tweaked or a suggestion I made or something that I praised. That makes me smile.
The trouble is, it also makes me sad. I’ve had so much input into the game and I feel like I’ve made a difference, but it’s not the classic d&d game I would write. For ever piece of feedback I made that was changed, theres 4 more that weren’t. It doesn’t mean Next is bad, it just means it’s not the game I wanted it to be.
And, to be honest, after 2 years of playing it pretty much exclusively, I’m kind of sick of the sight of it. It really has been an enjoyable experience, but I’m ready for a change.
Pathfinder… 3.75 if you believe the Internet. I never really played much 3e/3.5e, so I can’t say for certain, but Paizo have done an incredible thing with Pathfinder.
They have a massive, vocal, aggressive fan base. They churn out lots of incredibly illustrated and detailed source books. Their iconic characters are cool, their goblins are cool, they have an organised play system, minis, card games, even audio dramas. Put simply, Paizo is a power house.
I pick up pathfinder stuff now an again because of the detail they contain, but I don’t play it, I find the rules, with cmb’s and cmd’s and bab’s and a thousand other acronyms a barrier against entry. And despite all their books being detailed and illustrated, their layout sucks.
So when a couple of years ago, they put out the beginners set, saying it was pathfinder with the complex rules removed, I jumped at it, got the pdfs and played it. It was ok, but at the time, I was still heavily into 4e.
Time has passed and with a work colleague wanting to game, and the Tweetup due, I decided to pick the beginners set up in physical form.
This is where this product excels, it is a sturdy box, absolutely jam packed, and it has a totally different layout to the core pathfinder books. It’s world’s apart from the 4e starter sets, and is supported, not only by paizo, but the fans, with people using the ogl nature to make beginners box set versions of all the Pathfinder classes.
Given you can get this box for £19 and it has 5 levels of play and so much support, it’s almost a crime to pay so little for it.
I decided to play through it for myself and then again with my family, and both times have been fun.
Pathfinder isn’t exactly modern. It’s nearly 6 years old now and is built on 3e, so it’s really nearly 15 years old. It’s missing so many things that all the other systems on here have, such as in combat healing, extra actions, simple movement, class balance… none of this is essential, it just feels a bit incomplete to me. I’ll do another post in a while to discuss ways I would address this.
What the Pathfinder Beginner’s set is though, is fast, fun and simple. The lettering of various sections, the removal of complex stuff like opportunity attacks means we breezed through 8 rooms, 3 fights, exploration and interaction in 90 minutes. If you go on the standard accusations against 4e, that would be 8 fights with no exploration since 4e is only about combat, and each fight with take 4 hours and i’d still be playing this time tomorrow! (if you didn’t quite get the point, I’m making fun at the idiots who say 4e is only about combat and that combat takes forever).
My son and wife have mainly played 4e, and they really got into the less combat options, so we must explore/interact mindset.
The final thing I’ve been playing and reading recently is 13th Age. My previous blog post covers this in a bit more detail, but 13th Age rocks. It’s a story based version of 3e, with 4e like combat options, but it doesn’t drown you in choice. It’s fairly fast paced, and it’s definitely fun.
It’s not perfect, it’s got this cool concept of free movement if you aren’t engaged with an enemy, but the engaged rules make 3e opportunity attacks look simple imho.
To me though, 13th Age is the game I want to play at the moment. With playtesting of Next winding down, and only a few if my friends still having an interest in 4e, we’ll be looking for a new system to use and I think all of us will agree that 13th Age has our attention. We’re eagerly waiting the bestiary, eagerly devouring snippets from 14 True Ways and some of us have all the organised play adventures, downloaded and ready to run…