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#dndnext Cautious Optimism 6: In Summary

This post is (for me at least) coming on the heels of my last one. I’ve decided to increase my update schedule for reasons that I hope will become evident. I hope to be up to daily posts soon, so keep your eyes open and if you like what you see, tell your friends.

I’ve been titling these posts Cautious Optimism for a reason – that perfectly expresses my feelings on D&D Next. I choose to call it by the name Wizards of the Coast is using for a number of reasons, even though I feel like a doof every time I say it out loud. Wizards thinks they’re onto something, and I agree with them. What they’re saying about the design – and what little we’re hearing about the design – is promising. A simple core with additions for those who want more depth or complexity? Sounds nice. Sounds familiar, but it sounds nice. It’s a good familiar that we’re hearing about. This is D&D, after all. When it becomes unfamiliar, a lot of us fans balk and go somewhere else.

The fact that Wizards seems hopeful – rather than greedy – with this announcement means a lot to me. They call it D&D Next because they’re hoping major versions won’t be needed anymore. They’re hoping – perhaps unrealistically – that this will be the last real version we’ll ever need. It’s hard to see that and not hope right along with them, even if you’re not sure you can believe it (or them). It’s hopeful, and I like hopeful.

In that regard, I wanted to go over a few of my hopes for Next. Some of these things are abstract, some are concrete, and I want it to be clear from the start that none of these are deal-breakers for me.  I love this hobby, and I’m willing to give a lot of ground and still love the granddaddy game of them all. D&D has, through every edition, had its ups and downs (as I think this series has pointed out rather well). Wizards of the Coast has set themselves up for an ambitious path for Next, and I hope they succeed. I am cautiously optimistic that they will.

But on to my hopes for the new system.

Feature 1: Fast Character Creation

I want to be able to do character generation and start a game in the same night. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I want the core of the game to allow for that sort of thing so that if my game group can’t manage it, then it’s our fault. Our fault for screwing around (which is okay if everyone’s having fun), or our fault for including too many rules modules. From concept to finished character, I want less than an hour for newbies, and half an hour or less once we get to know the system. Ideally, I’d like to always start with core rules, and then add stuff in as we go on a situational basis, which brings me to:

Feature 2: On The Fly Extension

If my game group decides we suddenly want a highly tactical map battle, I want to be able to add that in, and then leave it behind for the next session. I want to be able to do this with most rule modules (or whatever name they’re finally called): I want to be able to plug them in and abandon them at will, mid-session if possible. I do that with extensions in my Chrome Web Browser, and I want to be able to do it in my D&D game. Even if I’m stuck with a module once it goes in, I can live with that – provided adding it in the first place is easy and intuitive. I want new modules to hook onto extant rules systems so that, when I stick them in in the middle of a campaign, they still feel natural. I would prefer, however, that varying levels of complexity be easy to integrate because…

Feature 3: Variable Character Rule Complexity

I have had otherwise great gamers be put off by having to learn a whole bunch of crap just to play their character – they wanted simple, obvious die rolls that were consistent and easy to remember. I have had other players relish diving into the crunch and complexity, fine-tuning each score, and agonize over every spell/power/feat choice, and love every damn minute of it. Personally, I’m somewhere in between these two extremes, and I think most players probably are.

Those two different kind of players don’t usually belong in the same game, though. The game will accomidate one and not the other, and I’m tired of that. I don’t want that anymore, and D&D Next is posturing as if its the game to pull it off. I hope it does. I hope that folks who loved the micromanagement of 3 and 4e will be able to sit down with folks who would be more comfortable with the much more streamlined 0e or one of the games out of the Old School Renaissance (a word neither I nor Chrome, Opera, or Firefox seem to be able to spell without looking it up). If one player can have a nice, simple one-page character sheet, and I can have three pages of stuff, and my real crunch-loving friends can have six – and we can all sit and play the same game at the same time – that will make me happy. Oh, so happy. Being able to add to the complexity of your own character as you go so that it moves with your learning curve and desire for crunch would be even better, and that brings me to…

Feature 4: Extensible Character Classes

I love core classes. I’d love about five of them in the core rules (Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric, RANGER… or, you know, Paladin or Monk – any one of those three RANGER), and then maybe five to eight more in later rulebooks. What I don’t want is an endless procession of prestige and paragon classes, epic destinies, and so on. I want to be able to flavor-up and put my character on a path using feats. I’d love it even more of that particular method of improvement were optional.

It would be really cool if those feats could be put together into a group, showing a particular path of improvement that reflected a specialization within the larger context of the class. Maybe a few small benefits just for using all that stuff, but mostly flavor and guidance for role playing within the context of that set of tools. Yeah – that’s a good way to put it: a collection of tools for guiding your character towards an archetype that exists within the class. It’s too bad there’s not a name for that sort of thing, maybe an older system tat could be dusted off and updated… Oh, wait! There is!

Feature 5: Kits not Prestige Classes

For all my ranting and raving about 2e and the things I hated about it (actually, as I recall, I couldn’t even be bothered to rant about 2e much specifically – I just rolled it all up into a general AD&D rant…), there is one thing I truly miss from 2e: KITS. Kits were an awesome idea. They provided small, specific bonuses, but didn’t really reward min-maxing. They were also packed to the brim with fluff rather than crunch, and could be taken (in fact were supposed to be taken) at level 1 – making them essentially the opposite of Prestige Classes. Kits are the way to go for “core” (although I prefer them to appear minimally, if at all, in the core rule books). By flavoring the core classes rather than tossing them in the bin, they remained special and unique, and that was better.

If you want to add in Prestige Classes or Paragon Paths or whatever the hell in extra stuff, that’s fantastic. Go for it. I won’t buy those books, but I think they should exist. Me, I want KITS, not PrCs. Eff PrCs. We don’t need class bloat. And that, sadly, brings me to y next point:

Feature 6: Fewer Classes, More Kits

This one makes me sad, because it’s admission time: Ranger shouldn’t be a class. If Kits are brought back, then Rangers are a Kit that should be applied to a Fighter or Druid class (Druid could be a Kit for Cleric, but to me the shamanistic nature-worshiper is too fundamentally different in nature from the organized religious miracle-weaver). Paladin could be a Kit applied to Fighter or Cleric. Barbarian could be applied to Fighter or Rogue – or any other class, for that matter; the idea of a barbarian Cleric or Wizard is very, very cool to me.

Sorcerer can be a Kit for Wizard – as can all manner of specialist mage. In fact, any number of alternate spellcasting methods could be Kits applied to existing spellcasting classes. We don’t need a whole new class for Hexblades and Warlocks – we need Kits and funny ways of managing out spell list. What if Warlock was a Wizard Kit that let you cast your spells known as often as you like – but only gave you one new spell per level, and capped your highest selectable spell level as 1/4 your actual level?  Wait… that sounds more like a Hexblade… Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if we have Kits – rich, well-written flavorful Kits – we don’t need an asston of character classes.

And if Wizards has trouble coming up with interesting, detailed new Kits, they can sign my ass up. Err… I mean, ask the fan community to come up with them, and put them into their magazine. You know, their online magazine. What? You say they have two? What the hell is the point of that?

Feature 7: One Magazine to Rule Them All – in more than one media

Alright, guys: when it was a print publication, it made sense to have two different magazines. As an online PDF, however, that’s just… dumb. If you’re going to do an online magazine, here’s my suggestion: call it Dungeons & Dragons Magazine. Put the articles out over the course of a month, available to subscribers. Then, at the end of each month, compile them together into a print magazine that people who are willing to pay a premium can get in their hot little hands.

We’re gamers, Wizards of the Coast. We like hard copies. If I spend too much time reading on my computer, my eyes get rather tired. I like the feel of the pages under my fingers. I like being able to flip between them during a game. PDFs don’t do that, although I will admit that, baring a proper print release, I personally would like an e-book version. Of course, it’s pretty easy and cheap to publish in e-book format, so my real question is this: Why in the 666 Layers of the Abyss aren’t you already using e-book format? I mean, it couldn’t be that hard to push the books to that format, could it? The books and the magazines. As I understand it, Amazon already has some sort of regular update mechanism. I’ve been lead to believe that you can subscribe to newspapers on your Nook (or whatever the hell the Amazon e-book reader is called; I can’t keep them straight, and it’s just not important enough to me to do a Google search).

Online is powerful, but it isn’t everything. Offline is important, too – and so is print, no matter how out of date it seems. We’re gamers. We like books. We’re also fans, and creative people, us gamers – and that brings me to my last point, and if anything was a game-breaker for me, it would be this one:

Feature 8: Bring Back the OGL

This is the big one. The one feature to rule them all. See, with the OGL, if we don’t like something or think we can write it better for some small niche of the market, then we can – and we can sell it. The shoreline sorcerers may be looking at this and thinking “but that way lies Pathfinder” – and they’d be wrong. Pathfinder is what it has become because the OGL was abandoned, a new system was created without fan feedback, and the straight-jacket joke that was the GSL was enforced. That’s why Pathfinder is what it is. It’s not because the Wizards allowed us freedom – it’s because they took it away. People don’t like that. Creative people – like gamers – especially don’t like that. It makes us angry – and you wouldn’t liKE US WHEN WE’RE ANG… HULK SMASH STUPID GSL!!!!!

Ahem.

More importantly, though, is that you guys at Wizards haven’t always delivered on your promises. When the OGL was around, that wasn’t a big deal: fans just did it themselves, and you were off the hook. No harm, no foul. The GSL came around, though, and suddenly you’re shutting down fan sites and projects… without offering anything like what they were providing. I’m still waiting for the graphical character model creator and neat-o 3D online tabletop it was supposed to plug into. You don’t get us to buy your product by excluding fans. You get us to buy it by making it awesome.

As a side note – let me buy it. I’ll subscribe for a magazine. I’m not subscribing for a character creator and an online tabletop. I’ll buy those things, though. I’ll even pay for update packages occasionally. But if you want me to buy your character generator, it needs to be better than this one or this one, and your online tabletop had damn well be better than this completely free one. Remember that 3D tabletop you guys promised us? The one that hooked up to a character creator that made cool 3D tokens for the 3D tabletop? Yeah – I’d pay for that. I’d even pay to use your servers as long as I had the option of not using your servers and establishing my own. People do pay for convenience and service, you know. QuickTrip has based their entire existence on that.

So, to Wrap up:

Most gamers hop systems and editions. Sure, we do it at different times and for different reasons. We use White Wolf when we’re feeling angsty or dark or melancholic. We use GURPS when we want a blend of freedom and realism. We use RoleMaster when we’ve fallen in love with tables (I’m assuming. Neat system, but too damn many tables for me, thanks). And we use different editions of D&D for a whole list of reasons, but two of them are ease of use and familiarity. D&D is comfortable for us because it’s where most gamers started. We like new and neat and different, but if you make it too different, we’ll balk.

Some of us – me included – even have a great deal of appreciation for the “new different” 4e. As I said in my last posting, I think it’s a fantastic fantasy miniature combat game.  If you just ran screaming from 4e, go to a used bookstore and pick up a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manual (and nothing else), and try it out in that context. Just try it as a battle sim. It’s unrealistic as all holy hell, but it’s fun, and that’s what games are supposed to be. I think we roleplayers can forget that bit sometimes. We get caught up in how things should work, or in forging complex stories, or in making deep and fleshed-out characters and forget that when we play D&D, we’re playing a game – and games should be fun. In a specific context, 4e is fun. It’s great in that context, and if you’re into that sort of thing.

TL;DR

Go back and peruse the bold face. Develop an attention span. If you don’t have one, I’m not sure how you play role playing games in the first place. Yes, I’m a jerk.

Coming Up on student 20 Productions

Next time, I’ll be talking about my own development work, the Essence 20 game I’m working on, and I’ll even have a relevant image for you. Interestingly enough, it relates to some of what I’ve been saying about D&D Next. That will be up soon – maybe even tomorrow. I may also drop hints about what I’m building up to. Who the heck knows with me? I’m unpredictable like that.

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#dndnext Cautious Optimism part 4: Edition the Third and the d20 System

In the year 2000, not only did we leanr that many Science Fiction writers were wrong about what the world would be like at the turn of the millennium, we also got a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Well, sort of. I mean, it’s really the third edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but with no current actual Dungeons & Dragons and no plans to make one, Wizards of the Coast decided that it might be better to drop the word “Advanced” from the title. They were probably right, but there really is no way you can call this anything other than a new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – especially if you pay any attention to the edition numbers.

In creating 3rd Edition, Wizards took the property they got when they bought TSR, and the new Big Names in D&D – Monte Cook, Johnathan Tweet, and Skip Williams – contributed together to the three Core Books – the Dungeons Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and the Monster Manual. Each of them then took one book and wrote it. Each book has a single author credit, but in reality all three were written by all three designers. I think they did a  fantastic job. More than a couple people disagree with me and that’s fine. This, however, is my boat, and I’ll sail it wherever I want.

It seems almost like the three designers sat down together and said “How many Sacred Cows can we slaughter and still have it be D&D?” Racial level limits and class limitations went out the window. The weird dual-classing rules vanished, replaced by a much more streamlined multi-classing system (that I still have issues with, but that’s another matter). Ability Score requirements went out the window, as did experience penalties for low scores. All classes used the same experience table, and recieved certain benefits of leveling at the same time. The proficiency system was replaced by a fairly concise Skill System. Feats were ntroduced, allowing fro significantly more character customization. THAC0 was replaced with Base Attack Bonus, and Armor Class went up when it got better, rather than down (which – I don’t care how much you like THAC0 – is more intuitive). A single task resolution system was applied across the board – 1d20 + Modifiers versus a static Difficulty Class (DC) number. This system applied pretty much everywhere – saving throws, attacks in combat, ability checks, everything. I could go on for a while like this, but Wikipedia has done a passable job of summing up the changes, so I will just quote them:

Differences from (sic.) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition

  • The game system converted to the d20 System, which standardized task resolution to a roll of a 20-sided die (“d20”), adding or subtracting relevant modifiers, and then comparing the result to a “Difficulty Class” (DC) in order to determine the outcome.
  • THAC0 is replaced by a bonus to attack rolls. Armor Class (AC) operates as the Difficulty Class for attack rolls, and therefore increases (rather than decreases, as in 2nd edition) as defensive capabilities increase.
  • Ability scores follow a single table and give standardized bonuses. Ability scores are no longer capped at 25.
  • Saving throws are reduced from five categories (based on forms of attack) to three (based on type of defense): fortitude (constitution-based), reflex (dexterity-based), and will (wisdom-based), and also go up instead of down.
  • “Non-weapon proficiencies” are replaced by skills, and become a fundamental part of the game rather than an optional one, with class abilities such as thieving skills being translated directly into skills. All characters are given a pool of points to spend on a wide range of specific skills to further define a character.
  • Special abilities known as feats allow greater customization of characters. Fighters are no longer differentiated simply by weapons, roleplay and equipment selection, but rather by the number of feats they possess relative to other characters.
  • Magic item creation is simplified, requiring a prerequisite feat, spells, and monetary and experience costs, replacing the obscure rules of earlier editions.
  • Barbarians, monks, and half-orcs return to the Player’s Handbook as basic character types.
  • Class groups are removed. “Mage” is renamed to “wizard”, with “specialist wizards” being simply wizards that specialize in one school of magic, and “thief” is renamed to “rogue.” The bard class is no longer considered a type of rogue.
  • “Priests of a specific mythos”, also known as specialist priest classes, are eliminated (except druid), though some make their return in the form of prestige classes or through other options such as feats.
  • The sorcerer class is added to the game as an arcane caster that uses magic naturally, instead of through study.
  • Multi-classing and dual-classing as per previous editions is removed. In the new multi-classing system, multi-classing functioned similar to dual-classing had previously, except that a character could gain a level of any character class upon gaining a level instead of only gaining levels in the second class. Multi-classing is made available to all races, although easier for humans and half-elves, and characters with multiple classes of differing levels are penalized.
  • Prestige classes are added, representing special training or membership in an organization outside the generic scope of core classes. Entry into prestige classes requires characters to meet certain prerequisites. Assassins make their return here, as well as blackguards (fallen paladins) and several others.
  • Any combination of race and class is now permitted, with the exception of some prestige classes. (In 2nd edition, characters of some fantasy races/species are not allowed to belong to some character classes.)
  • Priest spell spheres are removed from the game; each spellcasting class now has its own specific spell list (although wizard and sorcerer share a list). Instead, clerics gain domains that allow them to use bonus spells and abilities based on their deity’s area of influence, as well as the ability to swap out prepared spells for curative spells.
  • Initiative is changed to a cyclic system where the order of resolving actions is determined once per encounter and then repeated, and actions are resolved on the players turn. In previous editions the order is redetermined each round and many actions do not resolve on the player’s turn but at the end of the round.
  • Diagonal movement and range are simplified. Each square of diagonal distance is equivalent to 1.5 squares of orthogonal distance, rounded down.
  • The system for multiple attacks is changed so that, when making multiple attacks in the same round, later attacks are generally less accurate than earlier attacks.

–Wikipedia Article: Editions of Dungeons & Dragons

That, of course, doesn’t really cover it. There’s a lot more, but most of it is more abstract or subjective. Things like a feeling of cohesiveness of rules, significantly improved book organization, less dependence on tables and an increased dependence on basic math skills during play, and a variety of other such things.

It took me a long time to actually start playing around with 3e D&D. I had lost all faith in D&D during 2nd Edition Advanced D&D, and had moved over to GURPS and the occasional foray into White Wolf’s stuff and even Palladium (which I still say has a fantastically fun  map-free combat system, especially as presented in their Ninjas and Superspies books). I didn’t trust the new D&D. I assumed it would still be boring sword-and-sorcery fantasy, with too many tables, weird rules, incoherent design choices, and poorly written books. You’ll have to forgive me – I was young and stupid.

While I was briefly living in Georgia, however, I was invited to join a D&D game, and a friend lent me the Player’s Handbook. I was hooked almost instantly. The book is well-written, the system is coherent, and the map-based combat is actually very usable – much moreso than I had anticipated. There were, perhaps, a few too many rules, but character creation was streamlined and easy. I made three characters in an hour, and I loved every minute of it. I love character creation systems, and this was (and is) one of the best I’ve ever used. Loads of customization even in just the main book – and you could just see all the customization choices you would get to make as you advanced. But none of it was very complicated, and you pretty much always knew exactly how you would use everything on your character sheet.

Before you think, however, this is an “ALL HAIL 3E” kind of post, I have a lot of problems with 3e as well – I just liked it better than 1st or 2nd.

I mean, there were still serious issues:

  • Grappling was awkward and borderline unusable. Even when you did use it, you always had that Why Am I Bothering tickle in the back of your mind. I built a character based on grappling and still got that feeling every time it came up.
  • Some of the other mechanics were… odd. For instance, unless you followed some particular guidelines, you would get XP penalties when multiclassing. Was this a failed attempt at verisimilitude, or was it a even more clunky attempt at game balance?
  • Ability Scores – the actual 3 to 18 human-range numbers – were largely irrelevant. It was really all about the modifiers now, making the actual numbers seem strangely out of place on the character sheet. They only seemed to be used to give padding to ability score damage, and to make “0” a natural stopping place for an ability to be completely crippled. Not enough, guys. Not enough.
  • Many Thief/Rogue class abilities had been integrated into the skill system, making them feel a lot less special. For instance, a Rogue wasn’t really any better at picking locks than a fighter with the same skill level and ability modifier, and that’s just sad.I mean, sure, they had Trapfinding, but that felt like a tacked-on and arbitrary thing, especially in the context of the rest of the Skill System.
  • Attacks of Opportunity had such an easy bypass through the use of the Acrobatics skill that you would frequently see huge behemoth full-plated fighters and bookish gnome wizards who could easily perform handstands. By level 5 or so – or as late as level 10 if it was cross-class for you – if you were bothered by Attacks of Opportunity, you were doing something wrong.
  • Wizards and Sorcerers were essentially the same class with a different method of spellcasting (one vancian, one that was essentially identicle to the spell casting system from the original Final Fantasy NES game). Sure, Wizards got a spellbook and a bunch of extra metamagic feats, and sorcerers had their metamagic so crippled that it was almost useless (and some things, like Quickened Spell, really were useless) – but those differences suck. I still feel the same way about this, all these years later: it’s the same damn class, folks. Make them choose between Vancian and Spontaneous when they start, or find a way to combine the two (something “m currently working on for my Essence 20 project), and then make one class. Also, it’s pretty obvious that Wizards are significantly more powerful, but harder to build or play, especially at earlier levels. Sorcerers are simple, but their main advantage (lots of spells per day) becomes irrelevant after level 5 or so.
  • Monks looked awesome on paper, but in practice were less than impressive. And then there’s the alignment restrictions; seriously, man – I’ve watched Kung Fu movies. Jackie Chan – the ultimate Kung Fu Good Guy in most movies – was seldom lawful. He’s downright chaotic in Armor Of the Gods/Operation Condor. What the hell were you thinking? Must be lawful my ass… Iron Monkey. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shaolin Soccer. Hell, even IP Man – the main character might be Lawful Good, but most of the supporting cast and almost all of the villains are “monks” and not especially Lawful.
  • Druids ruled all, and pretty obviously so, but their flavor text was such that you didn’t want to play one unless you, you know, wanted to play one. Which is okay, I guess, but… did they really have to be that frakking awesome? And for the love of mike – when not taking a Feat cripples you, it;s not a Feat – it’s a misplaced Class Ability. I am talking about Wild Spell, of course.
  • Alignment restrictions were clearly applied as either Sacred Cows (Paladin, Druid, Rogue) or the worst balancing mechanic in the history of gaming (Barbarian, Monk, and most of the new base classes presented in later books).
  • Prestige Classes stole the limelight from core classes after the 5th level or so, and often felt like either bad multi-classes (Mystic Theurge), or something that could have been better handled with specialized Feats (Arcane Archer, Shadowdancer). Only occasionally did a Prestige Class come along that was really cool, unique, interesting, and worthy of the word “Prestige” (Archemage, off the top of my head. By the time 4e came out, there were actually quite a few good ones – but they were completely outnumbered by bad ones, and even the good ones felt like they were just there to make you not want to be a lowly FIghter, Wizard, Rogue, Ranger, or Whatever Base Class You Were).
  • ECL and Level Adjustments made playing many, many non-human spellcasters a… sub-optimal choice. I guess I don’t really care until you get to races like Drow and Fey-Ri and the multitiude of other level-adjusted races that come from heavy spellcasting cultures – including “Monster Races” like Rakshasha who get to count every hit-die as a Sorcerer (or Cleric) casting level with spells and all, meaning that they’re supposed to be completely badass spellcasters.  Then it just gets very dumb very fast. (as a side note about the Drow – would it have been so frakkin’ hard to make their spell-like abilities into Racial Feats? Would it? And then lower their Ability Score Modifiers and viola – no Level Adjustment. If you haven’t already, and you still play 3/3.5, you might want to houserule that. I mean, if you don’t hate and want to discourage Drow in you game.)

Again, I could go on. I have to do this first, though:

Rangers. This is a class that’s based on Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (seriously – that’s the actual source of inspiration according to the original designers of the game. He’s actually called a Ranger in the books and the film.)

Really? I mean, the class is awful. So… Really? REALLY?

You can make a better ranger by taking appropriate Feats and being a straight-class Fighter. You could do that in the original 3e PHB without further supplemental books. The only thing you missed out on was tracking, and that’s just not enough.

Ranger is my favorite class. I love Rangers. From Aragorn to Belkar, they’re my faves in Fantasy Fiction. One of my favorite characters I’ve ever played – Trynn Fairweather – was a Halfling Ranger.

Dude. Dude. DUDE. Dude. Please, Wizards of he Coast: by all that is sacred, try at least as hard as you did with 4e. The 4e Ranger is amazing. I mean, it’s too bad so many other things about 4e were kinda… not good. But that’s a topic for another post. My only point is Rangers are fucking awesome, and you need to do right by them.  I don’t care if you have to make them a Fighter Prestige Class or some other dumb thing to do it – make them awesome.

Ahem. End rant. I love Rangers. Okay, now end rant.

Anyway, I already spoke at length about my love of the OGL (about two Blog Posts ago). I won’t go into  it again here, other than to link to the relevant blog entry.

A little while later, in 2002, Wizards released d20 Modern (designed by Bill Slavicsek, Jeff Grubb, Rich Redman, and Charles Ryan). Now, it retained some of my issues with 3e (the Grapple Rules, and needlessly complicated Ability Score/Modifier paradigms and such), but… I fucking love this game. I wish D&D was re-built around the design principles of d20 Modern. My only issue is that, using Rules as Written, there’s no way to start the game as a spellcaster. Fix that (and you could with a couple of additional – even optional – Talent Trees), add in a few of the Iconic Classes (ESPECIALLY RANGERS BECAUSE THEY’RE AWESOME) instead of the Abillity Score Based Classes (with Talent Trees and all) – and you’ve got me. You’ve got a rules system that I will use until the day I die. In fact, I’m doing basically that for my Essence 20 project. In fact, I’mcurrently planning on keeping the Ability Score classes because they are reasonable character archetypes (not great, but reasonable), even in a fantasy setting. Which Essence Is. Sorta.

So I’m asking – right here right now, of the whole of the D&D community: Is wanting D&D Next to be essentially universal with a basic setting of generic fantasy asking too much? Can we bring not just multiple editions of fans, but multiple  genre of fan together to the same table? I think we can. I think Talent Trees could help.

Anyway, I was going to say a lot more – I was going to talk about 3.5e, and psionics, and rant for a while longer on the virtues of d20 Modern, but… I guess that’ll all have to wait for other blog posts. This one is too long as it it.

It’s just as well. I could easily fill an entire post just with d20 Modern, or Psionics. Maybe I’ll do that next. Alternately, maybe I’ll tackle one of my favorite add-ons to D&D3/3.5 and discuss how to improve it and bring it over to D&D Next as soon as possible.

Yeah, I’ll probably do that next. Incarnum and D&D Next. That sounds pretty snappy.

I’ll have to re-theme the Blog in blue, though. Or cerulean. Or cobalt… Maybe I’ll just write the whole thing in a Blue Font. That might work. That won’t get annoying or anything… oh, wait – it will. Maybe that’s the point i want to make…

TL;DR

I liked 3e and the d20 system, but it had issues. Rangers are awesome, but they weren’t awesome in 3e. I love d20 Modern. If you want to know more, develop an attention span. And, yes – I am a jerk.

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#dndnext : Cautious Optimism, Part 2 – First Edition

Today, I’m going to piss off an entire portion of the D&D playing Community (such as it is): first edition AD&D was a great game for its time. It was ground breaking and amazing, and it had a lot to offer D&D Next. That having been said, there is very little it did that Second Edition AD&D didn’t to in a better, clearer, and more streamlined fashion.

This post is divided into two parts. In the first part, I’m going to go over some of the great things about AD&D. In the second part, I’m going to go off on a rant about the ways it is horrible, and needs to be left in the past. Just like the first post in this series, I’ll sum up the things I think D&D Next can take from First Edition, and some of the things I think it absolutely needs to leave behind. Even though it’ll be bullet pointed like it was in the last post, I’m terribly afraid it will still be a bit of a rant. First Edition tends to produce a 0.1 Rageahol blood level for me.

AD&D First Edition Was Awesome

Okay, last time on Student 20 Productions  I talked at length about the old Boxed Sets – the Red, Blue, Teal (Cyan?), Black, and Gold boxes that made up Dungeons & Dragons. Something I left out, however, was the original plan. Originally, TSR intended to use the Red Box as an intro-to-D&D. The plan was to take folks through 3rd level, and then have them switch up to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This was a good idea as far as it went, but they came out with the other boxes to pursue the market of people who liked the simpler Dungeons & Dragons, and weren’t interested in the “upgrade” to AD&D.

Fair enough, but folks like that were missing out in a lot of ways. AD&D First Edition offered a lot more in the way of character options, and had a vast array of additional stuff for creating adventures, reams of advice for the Dungeon Master, and Monster Manuals – entire books devoted to bringing a little spice (sometimes very weird spice) to combat and other “monster” encounters.

I know I already lined to it, but seriously - look at that thing!

It also expanded the magic system, and introduced new classes (Paladin, Ranger, Druid – before it showed up in the Companion Set). As the supplements started coming out, even more classes joined the troupe, including the Illusionist, Barbarian, and a cast of Japanese-flavored classes like Samurai, Ninja, and Sugenja – my favorite of which was the Kensai (Sword Saint). All of this added variety was a good thing, in no small part because, if you didn’t want it, you could always stick with D&D, and not join the AD&D party.

AD&D also added in the concept of “proficiencies” – things characters knew how to do. Basically, the Proficiency System was a rudimentary Skill System. It was simplistic, but it did something really cool: it made it so that characters needed to specialize. That is, no one was going to wind up being an expert in everything. It separated basic class mechanics from “skills” completely, so that a Fighter and a Thief (they weren’t re-branded as Rogues until 2e) could be on an equal footing when it came to things that had nothing to do with what their class was built for. In 3e, a Rogue always had more “skill points”, and could therefore be better at, say, Craft skills than a Fighter, whose paltry Skill Points needed to be saved for Fightery-stuff like Athletics and… well, other things would be nice, but Athletics is probably where they ran out of Skill Points. I never liked the skill-point deprived classes as much as the ones that had even slightly more generous skill point assignments because they were so very limited in their outside-of-class-ability talents. I could go on, but this is supposed to be about AD&D, not 3/3.5e D&D.

One great thing about 1e AD&D was the lack of Class Bloat: every time a class was added to the game, it was added because its specific flavor was needed. The Japanese-themed classes, for instance, appeared in the Oriental Adventures book. Now, I suppose one could easily argue that a Samurai is just a Japanese Fighter, with a specialization in the Katana and Wakizashi, but that’s just not the case. Moreover, classes like Cleric, Thief, and Assassin just don’t capture the same feel as Sugenja, Yakuza, and Ninja.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon - this book was cool. A little racially insensitive at times, and completely culturally ignorant as well, since it says "oriental adventures" but it really means "Japanese Adventures" - but still very, very cool.

AD&D did have some weird class stuff, to be sure; the original Bard from 1e AD&D is probably the first instance of a “Prestige Class“, for instance, but describing the entry requirements as “onerous” falls somewhat short of the mark. That having been said, it was overall a great system for Classes – because there weren’t all that many, each one felt special and magical and wonderful. If you wanted to cast spells and use a sword, you played a Dual or Multi-Classed Fighter/Wizard – Duskblade wasn’t an option, and I absolutely love that.

AD&D continued the setting-agnostic feel of the D&D boxed sets as well. Very little (read: pretty much nothing) about specific setting was included in the books; instead, very general guidelines concerning what a high-fantasy setting would be like were included. These general setting thingies were so broadly written that they encouraged groups to put together their own settings, or to expand heavily on the details given in the published adventures. If you wanted more detail for a setting, however, AD&D 1e provided campaign settings that are now iconic: Blackmore, Forgotten Realms, and Greyhawk, along with Hollow Word, were all incredible settings with much depth. The setting books tended to shy away from mechanics and stick to flavor and setting information. I still prefer the 1e versions of Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk to any of their successors. (All respect to Dave Arneson, but I never much cared for Blackmore. I couldn’t tell you why on a bet, and I’d love to see it get a modern makeover, but it just never gelled into something coherent for me).

Bringing Back Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Which brings me to a point I mentioned in my last post: we need AD&D back. The way Wizards is talking, we’re going to be treated to a highly modular system, with a core set of simple rules, along with additional “modules” that can expand the rules to make things as complicated as you like. Why not brand these “modules” as “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”?

They could keep the two separate easily enough. The books that are based entirely in the Core Rules (setting books or boxed sets, like Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun) could retain the D&D brand, adding in only those rules needed for the setting and nothing more (adding in things like Harpers for Forgotten Realms, or like Defiler Magic for Dark Sun, or like Spelljamming for… well, Spelljammer). Even books with new Modules could be kept on the D&D labels, as long as they were a.) only dependent on the core rules, and b.) Did not alter the mechanics of the core game. Examples would be books that added new PC Classes and Races, new Spells, and so on.

Meanwhile, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons label could be used for books that added much larger things to the rules, or that were dependent on other Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books. For instance, a Module that allowed for the creation of a character with specifically 4e sensibilities (at-will, encounter, and daily powers), or ones that added additional skills/proficiency to the core set, or that expanded social encounters to include a combat-like mechanic. Books that provided new magic systems, or added things like Incarnum, would also have the AD&D Label, since things like this could massively alter the game.

(A Direct Note to Wizards of the Coast: Please bring back Incarnum! That was, like, the coolest idea ever – although the obsession with the color blue and excessive use of the word “cerulean” could probably stay in the past. Also, if you’re going to have Incarnum Infused Races, it might be nice to have some that aren’t just humans with a funny paint job and a talent for this fairly weird kind of magic).

Alright – that’s the good stuff out of the way. I’ve skipped some things in the interest of actually finishing this post before D&D Next goes into public playtest; AD&D offered a lot that I’m not covering. These are the highlights, though, of the things I really loved about it.

TL;DR: What D&D Next can learn from 1e

I’m putting this here instead of at the end so it’s on the first page of the post. The second page of this post is a bit more… inflammatory.

Stuff to Keep:

  • The two-pronged D&D and AD&D Brands
  • Setting Agnostic Core Books – this can, and should, be done even for things like “Eastern Adventures” and “Arabian Adventures” kinds of books
  • No Core Class Bloat – A Wizard and a Sorcerer are both the same class, folks – they just use a different method to cast their spells.
  • Proficiency, or Skills that aren’t based on Classes or used to create Class Abilities. If a Rogue is better at being sneaky or pciking locks than anyone else, that should be part of their Class Abilities, not part of a skill system. Both my Mage and my Bard should be able to keep up on their Knowledge: Foopimancy Skills if they want.
  • A clear division between D&D Core and AD&D, with continuing support for both. A tall order, I know.
  • Very Strange Monsters should make a comeback – to wit:

Stuff To Avoid Like The Frakkin’ Plague:

  • Non-Human Class Level Limits, mostly because they make absolutely no sense, but also because they just plain suck.
  • A division between Multi-Classing and Dual-Classing – one or the other, please, but preferably multi-classing. If both are available, they should be available to all characters regardless of race, and while in the process of Dual-Classing, you should still be able to use the abilities of your old class without screwing yourself. Oh, and you shouldn’t be forced to abandon all advancement in your old class.
  • Mages whose bones break in a light breeze or when they are spat upon. Commoners have the same problem.
  • Racial limitations on class selection. I don’t actually go into this anywhere in this dissertation, but it’s still a crappy rule.
  • Very badly written and organized books
  • Table Bloat – oh, ye GODS, the Table Bloat in 1e…
  • Arcane or outright strange “Prestige Class” rules. Frankly, I think you can just let Prestige Classes stay in add-on Modules (the new AD&D books), and leave them out of the core rules completely. Yes, this belongs here – I mentioned the 1e Bard earlier, remember?

If you’re a big fan of 1e, I’m going to suggest you don’t continue reading. I’m going to rant a little, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m not trying to criticize anyone who likes 1e, although I think you’re foolish if you think it’s flawless (no game is). So, if you really love 1e, please feel free to skip directly to leaving comments about what you really love about 1e, and why you think its awesome, and what D&D Next needs to take from it.

Don’t get all pissy in the Comments section, though. That’s not going to do anyone any good. Neither is my rant, I suppose, but you know what? This is MY craft on the Astral Sea, and I’ll dive into any Chrystal Sphere I like, thank you very much. Oh yeah – harsh language ahead. You’ve been warned. Mom, you should probably stop reading now. I’m likely to get downright offensive.

Read more…

Dungeons & Dragons Next Part 1: Cautious Optimism

Wizards of the Coast

Image via Wikipedia

So, Wizards of the Coast recently announced that a new edition of D&D is on the way. They also announced that, starting this spring, they would have open playtest material, and were basing a lot of their design decisions on player advice. I’ve got a few things to say, and since this is my little slice of the internet, I thought I would, you know, say those things… that I have to say…

I’m planning to cover some serious ground in this series of posts – discussing the things I love and hate out of each edition is a start.

D&D has been a big part of my life for a good long time. It’s like an old friend to me, and I find myself coming back to it time and time again. I’ve played every edition of it except the very first one (0e, if you keep track of that sort of thing), and there are things I love and hate about each of them. Every time a new edition is announced, I get excited. I love the new ideas and the new takes on old ideas that accompany each new edition. I don’t always completely love each edition, however.

Dungeons & Dragons Red/Blue/Teal/Black/Gold Box Sets

As I said, I have no hands-on with the 1974 oD&D; in fact, my experience with D&D -and Role Playing Games in general – begins with the 1981 revised edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. Despite having undergone a grand total of four revisions since oD&D, the Basic Set still had some pretty obvious connections to the War Game (Chainmail) that it had evolved from. Character movement speed, for instance, was expressed in inches. Tactical map combat was part of it, whether people realize it or not – it just wasn’t given much emphasis.

Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set

Image via Wikipedia - THe version of the Expert rules that I had. There's an older edition that a friend of mine had, but this is the one we had in our house.

The Red Box contained some pretty simple rules. You chose a “class” for your character rolled 3d6 for the same 6 stats D&D has today, and got with adventuring. It really was pretty much that simple. The Red Box covered levels 1 to 3, the Blue Box (Expert, 1981) levels 1 to 15, the Teal box (Companion, 1983) levels 15 to 25, and the Black Box (Master, 1985) levels 26 to 36. These different boxed sets each covered a different stage in a character’s adventuring career: Basic games and Expert games were similar in all ways except scale, Companion games generally dealt with establishing kindgoms and traversing the planes of the multiverse, and the Master Rules primarily dealt with world-shattering levels of power where the characters faced demon lords and even deities in combat. The Gold Box (Immortals, 1986) covered rules for characters becoming deities and continuing the game through a quest for immortality and “adventuring” as gods/goddesses.

Dungeons & Dragons Companion Set

Image via Wikipedia - the Companion rules. I had 'em, practically memorized 'em - but never actually used them. Weird, huh? It did contain mass combat rules that my brother and I used a few times - they were pretty fun.

The Basic D&D Rules were great in some ways. They were simple – the actual character creation process took about 10 minutes, even for beginners. The books were well organized, and keeping the different “tiers” of play in different books made them seem more special. The art was good (all black and white, but still pretty good), and the boxes all came with adventures that many of us can still remember to this day – Keep on the Borderlands, for instance. The whole thing eventually culminated in the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, which contained the whole damn thing – Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master rules (Immortals got left out, but no one seemed to miss it very much). It also had basic setting infor for the Known World (Mystara) and Hollow World settings. D&D as a whole (back in those days) kept most setting-specific detail out of the rulebooks, which was another plus.

Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules

Image via Wikipedia - contained the new "Mystic" class, which in modern D&D parlance is a Monk with no Eastern/Asian flavoring. I've never been able to decide if that;s racist or not. Probably not, though.

I would love to get my hands on a Rules Cyclopedia – the old Basic D&D was a great intro to Role Playing game. That having been said, it did have some problems. You might notice that I put the word “class” in quotes earlier. The original Classes were Cleric, Fighter, Thief, and Wizard; in the Companion rules they introduced the Druid, and in the Master Rules, they introduced the Mystic (a Monk ny any other name…). If, however, you wanted to be a non-human, you didn’t pick a class – you picked a race that functioned as a class. You could be a Dwarf (essentially a Fighter with a few mining and toughness related abilities), an Elf (essentially a combination Fighter/Wizard who could find Secret Doors easily), or a Halfling (basically a Fighter/Thief who was a lot smaller than most Fighters or Thieves). This race-as-class thing never sat well with me.

Another issue with the Race as Class system was that Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings were very limited in maximum level. While all the Human Classes could advance to 36 (except the Druid and Mystic, which were generally weird), the Dwarf stopped a level 12, the Elf at level 10, and the Halfling at level 8. They got expanded combat abilities with additional experience, but they were severely stunted, and not well compensated for the draconian level limitations. As I’ll get to in a later post, AD&D suffered from this problem as well.

Another issue was that there were no options for multiclassing whatsoever. If you started your career as, say, a Cleric, you were stuck as a straight Cleric for all of your adventuring career. The lack of character options made all characters seem the same – and they mostly were, from a mechanical perspective. One 25th level Fighter was mechanically almost identical to another,  with the exception of which Magic Items they had, what armor they chose to wear, and things like that. There was some variance between Wizards, since it was pretty unlikely they’d have all the same spells, but that was about it. You don’t need a bunch of mechanical differences between characters to make them different, but it’s nice to have a few more choices as you go.

These rules (along with oD&D, and AD&D 1e-3.5e and Pathfinder) use the vancian magic system. This involved Wizards, Clerics, Druids, and Elves preparing their spells in advance, choosing from the list of spells available to them that they would be able to use throughout the day. While some people swear by this system, I don’t personally care for it very much – it requires a level of prescience that I don’t possess. When 3e came out and gave us the Sorcerer as an alternative, no one in any group I was in wanted to deal with the vancian magic hassle. In fact, most steered clear from Cleric and Druid as well. I don’t blame them, even though I loved the 3e Druid (despite their Alignment restrictions).

I know that this all seems to be going nowhere… but it’s not. I think that the old D&D boxed games should be carefully looked at during the D&D Next design phase. They have a hell of a lot to offer. I’ll summarize below.

TL; DR: What I think the Old Boxed Sets have to Offer D&D Next

I think the following things should be taken from the old Boxed Sets for the new Edition:

  • Very streamlined and well organized rules
  • Only core Classes and Races (Cleric, Fighter, Wizard, Thief; Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human)
  • Levelable Racial Abilities (they were the only way to level non-humans, which is bad – but the basic idea is good. in 3e’s Unearthed Arcana, they had Racial Paragon Classes, and I thought that was an awesome idea)
  • Tiered releases (the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master rule sets – although I’d do levels 1-10 in the first set, 11-20 in the second, and 21+ in a third, and leave it at that).
  • Include a complete adventure module in each set (for the Basic 1-10 level one, I’d absolutely love a re-make of Keep on the Borderlands)
  • Setting agnostic rules

Stuff from the old Boxed Sets that should be left out:

  •  Races as Classes
  • Severe restrictions on non-human leveling
  • No multiclassing (this is something that should be included in the core system – multiclassing, I mean)
  • Poorly defined map combat rules (If you’re going to have them in the core rules – and I think it should – they should be streamlined, simple, and, most of all, well-defined)
  • Vancian Magic as the only option for spellcasters (Spellcasting classes should be able to choose from two or three different methods on a per character – not per class – basis).

In the next part of this series, I’m going to talk about 1e Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and how I think that the division between AD&D and D&D should be brought back – sorta.

I’m starting a Blog in the Wizards of the Coast community pages, where I will be re-posting this series, along with some other stuff that is D&D related. You can find it here, for folks who would rather read it/follow it there.

As a last note, if SOPA/PIPA passed, this post could theoretically shut down all of WordPress. I know they’ve been shelved, but we need to stay aware and on top of this issue, folks. Stay aware, and follow related  news.

VRP Madness Continued: My All Time Favorites

I’m not really sure how to start this post. It’s pretty easy to rant about stuff that made you hate a game, but things that make you love a game seldom seem to induce such entertaining passion. I think, though, that my best bet is to make a few picks, and then see where it takes me, which is more or less what I did in my last post.

My Brother (in this post) talked about story and had very little to say about play mechanics. I’m not going to go that route, because play mechanics can make or break a game for me. I can’t sit through a great storyline if the mechanics of the game yield no entertainment (this happens to me with Action RPGs on a fairly regular basis, especially older ones); meanwhile, if the gameplay is  frakkin’ fantastic, I will ignore story thinness and issues – or, at the least, I will ignore them while playing (again, Action RPGs are most frequently the culprits, as will become fairly obvious).

Like my last post, these are in no particular order. Also, there’s a game on this list that my Beloved will severely disagree with, unlike my last list. I imagine there will be an interesting discussion. Perhaps I can get her to record a video counter-point for my inclusion of Skyrim on this list… Anyway, you;re going to find more in common between these two lists than the other two because, let’s face it – some games really are that awesome.

Where to start? Which game to I want to rave about first? Hmmm… Oh – I know! Just like last time, I’ll start with one that’s on my brother’s list! Here we go:

Chrono Trigger

Chrono trigger's cast, more or less

Chrono Trigger's cast. The original box art is awful. Not Original Mega Man awful, but pretty bad.

Did I Finish It?: Six times at my last count. I imagine I’ll finish it several more times in the future.

A certain amount of any “I loved this game…” involving SNES or NES games will always be nostalgia. There’s no getting around it – I’ve gone back to play games I loved as a kid, and found them unplayable. This happens more frequently with Atari 2600 games, but it happens a lot with SNES and NES games. A good example is the original Final Fantasy: while I can play the re-makes for the Game Boy Advance, PSP, and so on readily enough, the actual original NES game is impossible for me to play now. The difficulty is preposterous, and the visuals give me a headache. The stilted dialogue, the almost silly frequency of battle, the limited graphics: all of it combine to make a game that I just can’t enjoy anymore – and yet, I still have fond memories of the thing.

None of that applies to Chrono Trigger.

This is, in my opinion, the best game Square (Now Square/Enix) ever made. It beast the entire Final Fantasy series by a fair margin in my book. The combat system is close to perfect – fun and engaging, with opponents you can see on the map screen and occasionally even avoid. The story is fantastic, the characters are great, and you can have an impact on how the game progresses and ends. The art is beautiful in an old-school-game sort of way, and the Dual and Tri attacks are cool to watch and effective.

If you like RPGs at all and you haven’t played this game, you really should. I suggest getting the recent DS release (which I bought for my fiancee as a Christmas Present), since it’s got a lot of neat added stuff, but (unlike the Final Fantasy 4 DS remake) is still the same game.

An Honorable Mention goes here for the sequel Chrono Cross. I didn’t like it as much, and the color-splash thingy in the combat system frankly annoyed me, but it’s a fantastic game with a great story and what I still think is the best opening music in the history of video games.

Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas box art
Image via Wikipedia
Now that’s good cover art right there,

Did I Finish It?: Not yet, but that’s not the point.

My love of Open World RPGs didn’t start with Fallout: New Vegas, but it’s the best one I’ve ever played, bugs and all. Yes, it was very buggy on release – and it still is, with the PC version suffering from the same “I can’t exit the game properly” and occasional Crash To Desktop issues that also plague Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I don’t care. This is a fantastic game.

The world feels very real here – it’s huge and easy to get lost in. There is so much going on in tis game that it’s almost impossible to properly comment on it, since any real commentary would fall short. There are lots of characters, each one individually crafted and loaded with personality (with the exception of some of the troopers for the various factions). The massive wilderness is breathtaking. And here’s the bit I love the most: it doesn’t matter one lick if you never ever even glance at the main plot. In fact, the vengeance basis of the main plotline makes it so that you can just decide that your character thinks he/she is luck to be alive and wants nothing to do with the folks who tried to kill him/her.

This makes its opening the freest of the free. Unlike some other games I’m about to rave about from Bethesda, the main quest is great, but you can ignore it without feeling like your character is being willfully ignorant of the world he/she is in. Maybe your character is terrified of seeing the man who tried to kill hi again. Maybe your character isn”t interested in vengeance. Maybe a lot of other things: the point is, you can do what you want, and have perfectly good in-character reasons for choosing whatever path you like. You can even skip over all the introductory hand-holding by just leaving the starting town shortly after character generation.

This is my favorite Bethesda game so far, although I hold out high hopes for Fallout 4 (which is, if you think about it, inevitable now that Skyrim is out). It does right everything Fallout 3 (which is also awesome) did wrong. The only problem I have is the Perk-every-other-level thing, but that’s not a huge deal.

The Elder Scrolls 3, 4, and 5 (That would be Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim)

Did I Finish It?: Morrowind sorta, the other two, no – but, again, that’s not the point

Starting with Morrowind, all of the Elder Scrolls games have been fantastic. Daggerfall (Elder Scrolls 2) was pretty good too, but it’s overly complicated and by the time I played it, the graphics were horribly dated.

These are open-world games to the core, with main quests you are free to ignore or follow to your heart’s content. Each has its issues, some of which are baffling to me, and all three are/were kinda buggy, but I don’t care. They7 have good stories whether you follow the main plot or not.

My specific objections to each:

  • Morrowind has a clunky UI and inventory system. It works when you get used to it, but it’s still unintuitive.
  • Oblivion has multiple minor issues  – the creepy dead-eye stare of the NPCs, the awful Pie-Chart speechcraft mini game, and the Psychic Guards are all minor things. The only major problem I have with it is the leveling system: you’re better off intentionally not leveling by choosing for main skills things you have no intention of using. As you level up in the game, you start running into bandits wearing fantastically expensive armor, which begs the question of why they’re bandits at all: if they sold their armor, they could live on the residuals for more than a year.
  • Skyrim is my fave of the three, but the main quest is the weakest of the three as well. Moreover, you’re forced to play through a goodly portion of it just to get the best power in the game, while all the other Best Stuff thingies are gained through not-main-questlines and the unbelievably in-depth crafting system. The lockpicking system is stolen directly from Fallout 3/New Vegas as well, but I see this as more of a bonus than a weakness.
The freedom in these games, coupled with the great Alchemy crafting in all three (best in Skyrim, but really good in Morrowind and pretty neat in Oblivion) and the amazing expansions releaced for Morrowind and Oblivion make these games infinitely replayable. Oh – and did I mention how awesome the mod communities for all of them are? That applies to the Fallout series as well, by the way – but that’s pretty useless if you’re playing the console version. I’ve always wondered why they never converted the tools for consoles, a la Little Big Planet – but I guess with these games, that would be terrifyingly complicated.

Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6

Final Fantasy 5 - this screenshot shows off the incredible "Jobs" system of the game. I always made my male characters into wizards and my females into badass warriors, just to go against JVRP stereotypes. Is that sexist?

Did I Finish It?: Each one multiple times

These are the best games in the Final Fantasy series, in my opinion. I don’t really have a lot to say about them, but it seems that you’re required to include some sort of Final Fantasy game or two in any list of favorite VRP games. For the record, Final Fantasy 5 is my favorite: fantastic Jobs system with great characters and some genuinely good storytelling, even if it gets a little thin towards the end.

These games haven’t weathered the years as well as Chrono Trigger did, and if you want to try them out, I recommend getting the most recent re-releases for each – especially the Nintendo DS version of Final Fantasy 4, which is frankly amazing and better than the original in every way I can think of.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment: the Job system in Final Fantasy 5 is something that Square should have kept for later games. I know it wouldn’t fit well into some of them (10 springs to mind), but I loved it so very much. The idea that I could improve my characters how I wanted to, and assign them to the roles I needed them to play at any given moment was awesome. The way you could “buy” abilities that could then be used while playing other jobs made it even better. This should have become the FF default system as far as I’m concerned. It’s almost identical, by the way, to the Jobs system in Final Fantasy Tactics, another game I loved.

Lunar: Silver Star Story

This game has the best story of any JVRP game ever. I'm sorry, it just does - even though it's based on the "rescue the girl" trope.

Did I Finish It?: Oh, YES. Oh, very YES.

I love this game so very much. Yeah, the plot is based on a trope that borders on cliche – essentially the same plot of virtually every Mario game ever made. It works here, though, because:

  1. None of the female characters in the game are portrayed as being helpless
  2. the “princess” you’re set to rescue stays in your party long enough for you to develop an attachment to her
  3. Well, there was a 3, but it’s way too much of a spoiler. Coming from me, that’s saying something.
I know it’s not exactly feminist friendly, but, again, I don’t care. This game is amazing. It is JVRP perfection, and the fact that they keep re-making it again and again has to be some kind of testament to that – doesn’t it?

Baldur’s Gate Series

I love this game. Seriously - I love it a lot.

Did I Finish It: Yes – both games plus expansions, including once using Baldur’s Gate Trilogy, which might be the best mod ever made for any game ever.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, Bioware was responsible for a rash of D&D video games all built of something called the “Infinity Engine”. Now, I want to state that literally all of these Infinity Engine games are amazing. The Icewind Dale series, the Baldur;s Gate Series, and Planescape: Torment are all fantastic games that deserve to be on this list. They’re all worth your time even to this day, and that ain’t nothin’. You can, by the way get them allevery one – in Windows 7 compatible formats from Good Old Games – and if you don’t have them or haven’t played them, you really should.

Still, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 are the only ones I always make sure are installed on my computer, usually with the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy mod added in. Great characters, real meaning in in-game decisions, and a strong and friendly Mod community make these games eternal. BG has a fantastic storyline well told. The UI is a bit clunky by today’s standards, but it’s worth it for the writing, character development, and fantastic combat system. This is the closest to a real D&D experience you can get without actually sitting around a table with other people.

I need to mention, at least in passing, that there are also Console games called Baldur’s Gate. These aren’t nearly as good, and are basically D&D flavored Diablo clones. They’re great fun and worth playing, but they don’t hold a candle to the PC games.

I could go on – for a few hours probably – but I think these are representative. My next post will be about D&D Next. Look for it in the next couple days.

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