30 June 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 7 - Favorite Edition.

Ooooh, boy.  This is a can of worms.  Yes, I'm a veteran of the Edition Wars.  The experience has left me with some insights into what makes for great games, and what gets in the way.  Oddly, I'm a bit contradictory myself about a lot of my own conclusions- so I don't find it too hard to believe that there are zealots out there who champion one edition or another to the exclusion of all else. "Your favorite game sucks" has become something of an in-joke, since it seems that no matter how universally appealing an RPG seems, someone out there hates it with the fiery passion of a dying sun.  No game seems immune, and no edition of D&D seems to be immune either.

Let me start by saying that there is no edition of D&D currently in existence that I will refuse to play.  Yes, even 4e.  I find that each edition has strong points in favor of its use.  I do have a favorite, and I'll get to that, but I want to talk about other editions first to express my appreciation for D&D in all its incarnations.

0e, or the original 1974 D&D, has only recently become something I can say I've played.  Thanks to reprints, PDFs and Swords & Wizardry, I got introduced to the original D&D game more than three decades after it made its debut.  I expected to find clunky- and to a degree, there was a fair amount of clunk to the rules.  Some classes were missing from what you'd expect.  All weapons did d6 damage.  High ability scores got you a +1, low a -1, end of story.  What this, and Scott McKinlay's excellent Dungeon Mastery showed me, was that 0e D&D could be an incredible game because of the primitive and incomplete nature of the rules.  Go for it- rules don't cover something?  Roll a die.  Any die.  I don't care.  Decent roll?  OK, you succeed.  We played a campaign that was every bit as much fun as any game with more "complete" rules.

B/X Moldvay/Cook D&D Basic deserves a shout-out here.  It's recently been the basis of many retro clone projects from Labyrinth Lord to Stars Without Number.  It's a complete, self-contained RPG in two volumes covering 1st level to 14th level.  B/X has no more levels.  B/X needs no more levels.  If you want D&D in a medium-range campaign, this is all you need in 128 pages.

AD&D 1e was the first AD&D I played, as 2e wasn't out yet.  I still love AD&D, and would readily jump into a campaign.  Yes, some of the subsystems were almost random in their rules- no such thing as a "universal mechanic" back then.  Thing is, it opened up a LOT of options, and with things like Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures, there were a lot of classes and races that could be played.  Nothing wrong with 1e AD&D if one considers it a product of its time- it was the first multi-hardcover RPG.

AD&D 2e was the game I spent most of high school playing.  It launched my Freshman year, and we jumped to it almost immediately.  I loved the art, trade dress and layout of the 2e books.  I loved the brown leatherette cover splatbooks.  The 3-ring binder Monstrous Compendium.  It was a streamlined AD&D, and maintained everything we loved about AD&D.  We didn't miss the things that were left out, because we just grafted them in from our 1e books.  Again, I'd play this in a microsecond if the opportunity arose.

3.0 and 3.5...  Well, I liked them well enough.  Feats were a neat idea that quickly became open to bloat and abuse, but a lot of things we'd house ruled for years became standard.  Full HD for 1st level?  Yep.  Skills as a standard thing?  Yep.  Mages getting bonus spells for high INT the way Clerics got them for high WIS?  Yep.  I did not like the increasing complexity of PC, NPC and Monster design that the feat system wove into D&D, but all in all the system was robust enough to spin off lots of D20 System games I still like.  Spycraft and D20 Modern stand out in my mind.  Yeah, I'd do 3.5 again if a group wanted to - but I'd probably choose AD&D over 3.x if given my druthers.

4e isn't D&D to me.  Randomness seems to break 4e, it's math is built tightly to do a certain kind of game and do it well.  Old school campaigns I found difficult because of the whole formula for encounter difficulty versus encounters between levels plus it was assumed everyone in the party was the same level...  Yeah.  Now, ask me why I love it?  I love 4e, not for being D&D, but for being a tabletop RPG that rewards tactical thinking and teamwork on the part of the players.  If I wanted to run a campaign based on a traveling gladiator team, or something like Final Fantasy Tactics, this would be my go-to game.  And yes, I'd love to run that game.

5e is amazing.  I couldn't have asked for a better improvement on what has come before.  5e manages to scratch my Old School itch at the same time it scratches my New Shiny itch.  Things are simplified, streamlined, and clarified.  The game just... works.  The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic is sheer genius.  The revamped Feats are what Feats should have been to begin with.  I love that it mixes OS with NS.  I like spellcasters having "At-Will" cantrips, it means the mage is always a mage, even when his big spells are blown.  I mean... it's just what I wanted.  But it's still not my absolute favorite.

OK, who called it?

Yes, BECMI D&D is my favorite version of D&D ever.  I know 5e is cleaner and tighter, but I LOVE this version of D&D.  It was my first D&D, and it continues to be the one I want to play above others.  I like race-as-class.  I like level titles, and "name" level, and the Mystara setting, and I find that the Rules Cyclopedia is the best single-volume RPG I own, bar none.

Is it just nostalgia?  Is it just Elmore art?  No, not really.  It has just the right balance of crunch for me.  The rules are there, but I have room to play with ability checks, or saves, or just saying "toss a die."  It has optional rules for skills, weapon proficiencies, mass combat and domain rulership.  What's not to love?

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