With all the buzz about 4E D&D I feel even older than usual. The talk concerning what the rules can do; whether they have dumbed the game down to the level of video games; whether ‘fairness’ has been enforced at the expense of fun – or indeed the reverse; whether the new has set in concrete that D&D is now a skirmish fantasy wargame rather than a role-playing engine: all of these things have been debated before.
The fact is that Gygax and Arnesen designed the game to be a skirmish wargame and it grew from there. That it is going back to that should not be so much of a surprise. The writing was on the wall with 3E. The redesign to level out everyone so that every character has exactly the same chance of survival and the same huge range of options is most definitely a learning taken from online gaming. Personally I see this as a political development, albeit unintentional: everyone is as good as everyone else. The subversive reverse of this was in The Incredibles, however: ‘if everyone is special, then no-one is’.
But I’m off topic already. Personally, I say good luck to the youngsters debating the merits of the new version. All power to them for getting into it. But me? I’m over trying out the latest and greatest. I cannot be bothered replacing decades of support material for another set about the same topics. Because, at the end of the day, the system does not matter. There: Ive said it. Any game is fun if the players are engaged in the theme and want it to be fun. If everyone is genuinely playing then you overlook the system.
So I’m settled on 1st edition, basically, but with the very logical simplifications that came from such games as Castles & Crusades. And at this level we forget all about skills and traits and abilities and proficiencies and all that hoo-ha. A character class is a cliche. Everything that the cliche could be expected to do, the character, your character, can do. Simple as that. It is a role-playing pencil and paper game, and I do not need to have miniatures to play it as the spoken word is enough to create the escape in my head. When I want to play miniatures, I’ll play a set of skirmish wargame rules instead.
Update: with the death of Gary Gygax, Castles and Crusades has all but disappeared. So the links I had added here don’t really make sense. Instead, here is a link to one of the many freely available Revised Original AD&D versions.