Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why NOT 4e?

I'm a self professed fan of what many have come to call "old school" gaming. I LOVE the older versions of some games. They were amazingly well suited for the type of gaming that I fell in love with.

It was 1976 (I was 12 or 13 at the time) and I had been painting Napoleonic miniatures for a guy named Jim, a work-mate of my mom's. This guy played wargames...and I was entranced. He knew I was a big fantasy fan, we had spoken many times of the Hobbit and how I adored that book. One day he lent me his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I returned it soon afterwards and just gushed about it to him. He laughed, knowing that I'd be drawn in. About a week or so later he delivered my next box of minis to paint via my mother. I opened it and "What?!?"... I was staring at 4 lizard men. I had NO idea what they were at the time, and I couldn't for the life of me, imagine what they could be for.

But man, they were soooooo cool! I can remember them as if they were lying in front of me today: Each was carrying a round shield and curved scimitar, standing splayed-legged with their swords over their heads, long tails trailing out behind. I immediately phoned Jim to ask what they were. He told me that they were miniatures to a new game he was trying out with his buddies called Chainmail. He invited me to come over and check it out the next weekend.

Well I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but I do remember that I started playing after being introduced to a super brainy group of guys in 7th grade; Fish, Dave and Wayne. We hit it off immediately.

Now, this all took place in a pretty small cow-town, I knew Wayne via his father, who was a basketball referee and baseball coach. I had played against Wayne in baseball for years. You have to remember that back in the 70's there wasn't really a stigma attached to Dungeons and Dragons yet. EVERYONE played...Or at least wanted to play. It was a "cool" thing to do.

We four (Fish, Dave, Wayne and I) played every chance we could get. We even played in the stairwell at school once during a fire drill. We were very much entranced by the game.

Initially we played with the Holmes set with a bunch of rules thrown in out of the LBB's, which Fish owned. In fact, the game was introduced to Fish via a girl he was infatuated with who had family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She had heard of this game during her summer break and she brought it home, to Loveland. Where she showed Fish. And then viola! Viral marketing at its best.

So anyway, we played and played and played. Most of my Jr. High and Highschool experiences were with AD&D, we had left Holmes behind because of the level restrictions. On into university we played this crazy game.

It's now the 80's and our group of friends in Boulder is ALL about Dungeons and Dragons. We often had 10 to 12 people at the table. It is with great fondness that I remember those insane nights and weekends, playing AD&D until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. We even went so far as to take the game with us on Spring Break.

So there you have a brief history. I started with an amalgamation of Holmes and the LBB version of the game and very soon afterwards moved naturally into AD&D. We completely skipped the Mentzer editions...and I sometimes regret that. I'd be willing to bet that we would have loved that version. But in all honesty, Fish, our DM, was a very detail and rules oriented kind of guy. Not that he was a rules lawyer, what he said was law. And we all knew that sometimes you couldn't find those "laws" in the book. That's just the way it went.

Flash foward to modern times. I've played nearly every version of the game (Not Mentzer), and have had fun with each and every one. But one of the things that I noticed over the years is that the game had somehow changed. Now of course the long tread of years have also left their indellible mark on me as well. I've changed too.

But the game, it seemed to bog. And the DM just wasn't a DM any longer. How can I explain this? The rules had been codified to the point where there was an entry in the books for nearly anything you could think of doing. And unfortunately I wasn't playing with my best friends anymore. I had moved on to play with different people. And some of them were REALLY into the rules as written.

Turns out that since there was a rule for nearly everything, the DM wasn't really needed. He / she was there strictly to read out of the module and roll for the monsters. And even then, the players dictated nearly everything. That fine balance that was responsible for so much of the experience of yesteryear was completely missing.  It was all player driven now.

Don't get me wrong, I undersand what part the players take in a game. But the game was now all "plot" driven, rules spelled out, souless muckery. 3.0 and 3.5, while initially shiny and pretty, soon lost their lustre. I played them the entire time, I didn't really have much choice in the matter due to my compatriots, but the game grew boring. This was a first.

I had played the game for over 20 years and I don't ever recall growing bored with the game. What was going on? Had I just grown jaded? Enter my daughters.

My two little girls were just getting to the age that they were asking to play "Dungeons and Dragons". My eldest had read nearly all of the fantasy (appropriate for her age of 9) that she could get her hands on, and the youngest always wanted to play as long as it was a game.

So I thought, I can't introduce them to Dungeons and Dragons in it's current incarnation. It's just not made for people of that age. So I went out and looked around. And I came up with Castles and Crusades, a game from Troll Lord Games. (Troll Lord) It was just what I was looking for. A game who's main guide included both player and DM rules, was hardbound and cost less than $20. Oh, and the serious selling point? It was compatible with ALL of my older stuff.

I sat down with the rules and had them basically down pat in the span of 2 hours. The girls and I rolled up characters and within an hour we were playing. It was honestly THAT simple. And guess what. That feeling of joy had returned. The game was fast, free-flowing, and simple. That was all it took.

Now, there was the problem of my regular group. We had invited a new guy into the fold (6 of us) and he was now DMing. He is in all honesty and EXCELLENT DM. Very creative and quick with rules adjucation. He was also a very big fan of WotC and the newest and greatest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons: 4th Edition.

We we tried it. And frankly, I liked it. Initially. It was, and continues to be (after roughly 10 or so sessions) a miniatures based tactical war game. There is a little bit of story and plot in there somewhere, but it's nearly all centered on encounters, powers and squad-based, coordinated combat.

I won't malign our DM. I think that he's still getting into the swing of things and the game has the potential of changing once we all have a decent grasp on the new rules. (They are NOT at all similar to the old rules. It's a different game completely.)

My enjoyment of the game now stems from playing with a group of contemporaries. But in all honesty, I really like the game with my daughters a little more....It's much more free-spirited and less "heavy". No huge plot lines. No constant battles that run on and on. I'm at a loss here, I don't know what to say. The game that I'm playing with my daughters seems to embody what "old school" means to me.

Why NOT 4E? Well, to be truthful, it's not nearly as fun as other systems out there. Mainly Castles and Crusades. I'd be willing to bet though that I could insert Mentzer or Holmes and we'd have just as much fun.

I wish I could get our group to try it out. But unfortunately I don't think that would be at all possible. Well, that's OK, my daughters are turning into fantastic little players...and their best years are still in front of them. ;-)

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