The End of History

Recently, I found myself digging around the forum, mainly in one thread in particular. If you’ve looked at Paizo anytime in the past three months, you probably know which one I’m talking about. It’s got me thinking again about the coming spring and the end of the eight-year 3.x D&D run, the future, and the post-future.

Currently, I’ve heard a lot about D&D’s fourth edition, some of which sounds interesting, most of which sounds horrific. For example, they’re cutting down the number of classes, and raising the number of races. WotC is releasing a book this month dealing with the new changes, and some gaming stores in Hungary decided to break street date. The news isn’t great. Never mind the fluff rules–I still use 2nd ed modules and fluff in some games–just look at the “new improvements” to the crunch. Gnomes and half-orcs are gone–well, I don’t miss gnomes that much, and half-orcs went missing in between some 1st ed AD&D stuff until 3.0–but the class thing is bothersome. Many staples, such as the Barbarian, Druid, Monk, Bard, Sorcerer, and the Psionic classes, are getting axed from the Core Rules and instead will re-appear in yearly updates to the PHB, MM, and DMG. Oh, and there will be yearly updates to the Core Rules three–in other words, we’ll see a yearly DMG, PHB, et al series of releases. I assume Monks will reappear in an Oriental Adventures setting, and there are several new classes replacing those axed in the Core Rules, but still–D&D without a Druid or Bard?

Then there’s the fact that the game will go to 30 levels, make it easier to get to each level, with a lot of other wonky new leveling changes. And it’ll be fun to play “every class at every level,” and “wizards won’t be useless when they run out of spells,” and “we’re getting rid of the idea of class, so now everyone can do anything.” Plus, saves and Armor Class work the same now.

And monsters have this “Exceptions Based Design” thing, which basically means they do whatever they want to do without having to interfere with the rules–I mean, seriously, if that isn’t the stupidest thing you’ve heard all day? Why not just make the rules more understandable, easier, whatever, instead of making it so monsters have the word “Broken” included as a core keyword (“Exceptions Based Design”). Here’s an example of the new monster stat blocks, from a D&D Minis promo, compared to the 3.5 rules (bottom). Can you say simplified? Over-simplified, maybe, but since we don’t have the books in front of us yet it’s kind of hard to tell what some of this jargon is.

And don’t get me started on the D&D Insider, online minis, etc. I’ve been playing online for several years, and trust me, the stuff available earlier this year was vastly superior than what Wizards has announced. (Among other things, you don’t have play limitations, and most are pay-only-once instead of monthly). The idea of “virtual minis packs” rubs me the wrong way–I didn’t get into Magic Online for a REASON. While having errata auto-update the .pdf’s included with each book you buy is pretty darn nifty, it’s still not an amazing boost to 4e’s horrible rumors, news, and insultingly weird press releases.

Here’s another statement from another Paizo thread–I’ve been reading at them heavily in the past few days, hence the long ramble.

“I’ve been pretty disgusted by WotC’s attempts to build up 4e by constantly explaining to us how broken 3.5 is and how “un-fun” it is to play.

That amounts to: “We’ve tricked you into buying $2,000 worth of crappy game product over the past 7 years. You may have *thought* you were enjoying yourselves, but now the long nightmare is over. You can now spend $3,000 on awesome new 4e product for the next five years or so, when Hasbro makes us do 5e (based on Candy Land) and we explain to you how broken 4e was and how little fun you had playing it.””

As you can see, I’m in the boat of many people–4e has a few interesting things planned, but overall, it seems to be tearing down the old D&D mentalities and building up from the ashes. Dungeons and Dragons 2.0, complete with pseudo-Web2.0 abilities. Not a bad thing. But once again I’m left in the “D&D Changeover Gap.” Only the playing field is vastly different.

Let me get started by bringing up 2nd Edition. I got into the game in 1997-1998, somewhere in there, and loved D&D. Yes, a lot of 2nd Edition got house-ruled out–demihuman level limits, for example–and some other rules were obnoxiously slanted, like THAC0 and non-weapon proficiencies. Still, we had tons of fun with 2e AD&D, and when 3.0 was announced, we were a bit apprehensive. It had a lot of nifty updates, but they’d just convinced me to buy several hundred dollars worth of core rules, players’ options, and splat books, why would I want to upgrade so quickly? And the bitch lists grew, on forums, in Dragon’s mail pages, in chatrooms and Yahoo groups.

Looking back to the early 3.0 days, there was a reason we didn’t convert immediately. While I loved some of the upgrades 3.0 did to the system, there wasn’t enough material. No incentive. We were offered Sword and Fist and some cool third-party stuff–Tome of Horrors in particular–but the massive outpouring of d20 stuff, such as Bastion Press’ crap-tastic products, inspired me to keep buying AD&D stuff at cut-rate prices instead of upgrade to this 3.0 mess. I had Dark Sun, Al-Qadim, PlanescapeMaztica, Spelljammer, and plenty of rules books from the incredibly long and varied 2e AD&D print run, compared to the varied (and arguably poor-quality) early d20 stuff; you see why I was unconvinced. Tome of Horrors was cool, but not enough to sell a game! And they replaced many amazing campaign settings for a stripped-down Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms.

I eventually got copies of the Core Three and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide from my dad, who was likewise sold more on AD&D than 3.0. The few books I did buy didn’t help. Monsters of Faerun was too expensive for a 96-page softcover–$22! Arms and Equipment Guide was in black and white, but once again, was a hardcover at WotC prices. The MMII was really the only book that was worth what I paid for it, and I bought it (along with M of Faerun and Arms Guide) at massive discounts–$12 for Faerun and $18 each for the hardcovers.

Of course, some years later, I did upgrade.  The 3.5 upgrades fixed a lot of my gripes about 3.0, added a lot of cool new stuff, monsters gaining character levels, the Ranger didn’t suck, etc., etc. The release of D&D Minis helped a bit, too. So, by 2005, I was buying D&D books again.

Flash forward two years. I resisted 3.0 mainly because of the bitterness in buying a large selection of AD&D right before d20 was revealed, not because the rules were inferior, and now my shelves suffer the amazing library of settings and supplements. The same thing is happening again, only 4e is looking less and less like 3.0. I’ve got a medium-large-sized library of 3.5 books (according to some polls I’ve seen, where the average player has 1-6 books), several campaign settings in some phenomenal worlds–we’ve got Eberron, Scarred Lands, Ravenloft, DragonLance, Everquest, Gamma World, Warcraft, and of course, the Realms. The last few years of Dragon and Dungeon were the halcyon days, with an amazing selection of quality material, and Pathfinder looks to duplicate this success fully. Malhavoc Press, Sword and Sorcery, Green Ronin, and Necromancer Games have put out a massive library of useful hardbacks and modules. Again, no incentive to upgrade. Unlike earlier, there was a reason to shelf my AD&D stuff, save for some fluff and adventures. 4e has given no incentive to shelf my 3.5 stuff, and I seriously doubt anyone will allow a 4.5 to be released without a MASSIVE outcry, so the likelihood that another .5 upgrade will draw my praises is slim.

So, now. Nearly 2008. I’ve got more 3.5 material with the advent of 4e than I did AD&D when 3.0 came out. And even less incentive to transfer. Green Ronin is going the way of True20, so I’ll have supplements for a while, and there are other companies following the same route (Castles and Crusades is another noteworthy success). With the 3.5 OGL still in operation, for now and evermore, I’m hoping that someone will continue on the process of publishing 3.x materials.

Paizo would be a fine choice. But Paizo needs to have the customer base, know the customer base is versatile and stable, and hope that competitors (such as Castles and Crusades and True20) will work *with* them, not against them. I also think 4e might actually be the “New Coke” of gaming–it doesn’t taste too different, looks the same, but the idea of change terrifies people. As Vic Wertz said early in the Paizo thread, and I echo now: following the party leader in this case might not be the smartest move in history. What’s good for Wizards is good for the industry; Monte Cook hammered that home. And damn if it isn’t true–remember those old polls back in 2000 that showed the vast majority of people playing D&D over everything else? But if 4e isn’t good to begin with, I’d like to see more 3.5 Pathfinders until Wizards comes back to the 3.x table.

But, think of this realistically. Those of us bitching and drawing our lines in the sand about 4e will probably venture into it after a few years. I’d like to say I’ll keep running 3.5 for many years now, especially with the Pathfinder and Dungeon adventure paths I’d kill to run, but the fact remains that we said that with AD&D. Personally, I feel that’s a bit of a misstatement–I complained a lot about 3.0, but mostly that they were dumping the phenomenal run of AD&D campaign lines and that my new library was useless, not that the rules were trash. But now, I look around at the level of 3.5 stuff I have, which I consider the pinnacle of D&D gaming–sorry, AD&D–and wonder just how long it’ll take before people scoff and say, “You’re using Druids?” or “You still use Spell Schools?” in the same tone that they used to say “Ugh, THAC0.”

What I can say is that I’ll play 3.5 as long as our group continues to exist, as long as we can continue as a campus-based group or grad-student friends or what. We’re not giving it up overnight, and this just might be the game where public outcry creates a new “gaming leader” to compete with the original, real-deal. If anyone stays 3.5, or makes a 3.5 update (3.75, 3.P, whatever), they have my full patronage. I’ll move to 4e, if ever, on my terms, not WotC’s.

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