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Archive for the tag “Character class (Dungeons & Dragons)”

#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.

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