PAX 2011: "Dungeons and Dragons Is Like Gospel Music"

PAX 2011: "Dungeons and Dragons Is Like Gospel Music"

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Dungeons & Dragons has changed a lot over the years, and some of the biggest authorities on the game recently reflected on its ongoing evolution.

Since Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974, it's been a major force in gaming. That said, the RPG (and its various campaign settings) have undergone some major changes over the decades. As a result, The Escapist's own Greg Tito hosted "Dungeons & Dragons Through The Ages" a PAX Prime panel that looked back on the game and its evolution across the years.

Aside from Mr. Tito, the panel featured some pretty big authorities on the subject. There was Keith Baker, creator of the delightfully macabre card game Gloom and author of "Have Dice, Will Travel" on The Escapist; Mike Selinker, a D&D 3rd Edition creative director who was also at Paizo for the launch of Pathfinder; and Mike Mearls, Senior Manager of the Dungeons & Dragons Research and Development Team.

The first - and biggest - issue that was addressed was about how there have been four different editions of D&D; namely, what led to the changes. Each panelist had different answers along the same idea: Essentially, new versions of the game allowed for more complexity and detail to be worked into it.

Baker explained that D&D's origins laid in it being a miniatures game, though it transitioned to include more adventure. Mearls, meanwhile pointed out that "the story of D&D changing is the story of it getting more complex."

On top of this, it was pointed out that the additional complexity was comparable to videogames over the years. Mearls pointed out that comparing the First Edition to the Fourth was like comparing the original Bard's Tale to Mass Effect.

However, Selinker had the most unusual way of phrasing this perspective on D&D's new editions adding more rules and details: "Dungeons & Dragons is a little like Gospel music, it reaches out and grabs everything. It says 'I can make me sound like that.'"

While the new versions of the game keep giving players more options and ways to act out their fantasies, it was also pointed out that some folks keep on returning to older Editions of the game. In a nutshell, this is probably due to the fact that these older models provide much simpler and rewarding play experiences, partially because there aren't so many rules in place.

Mearls pointed out that removing rules from the game could actually create a more rewarding story: "In the older games, the DM has the ultimate authority. If you're playing the original D&D, there are no rules for climbing or jumping or swimming. Instead, you had to convince the DM to let you do that. In some ways, that's the core essence of a tabletop RPG: the DM."

"The decision of which edition you play depends on which one your Dungeon Master wants to play," Selinker noted. "The presumption is that the Dungeon Master either finds something lacking in the current Edition or finds something greater in a previous one. I don't see how that could be considered a wrong decision."

Now, even though the rules have changed over the years, the default settings and environment have generally stayed the same. However, there has still been an evolution to these elements, thanks to the changing taste of the general public.

Selinker made a point of highlighting that the world of Greyhawk defined situations for the First and Second Editions. However, the Third Edition switched over to Forgotten Realms.

Mearls noted that this is (at least partly) due to the fact that the fantasy genre has changed a lot over the years, using the Penny Arcade Expo as an example: Essentially, if the show had been taking place thirty years earlier, he pointed out that there would be a lot of people cosplaying Michael Moorcock's celebrated character Elric.

Gary Gygax once said "don't spend too much time merely reading. The best part of this work is the play, so play and enjoy!" His words are still valid, perhaps even moreseo today because of the expanded rules that continue to be added to Dungeons & Dragons.

Baker himself summed up the strength of this logic simply and eloquently: "the DM may have narrative power, but you don't know how it's actually going to end up."

Selinker, in turn, noted that DMS are the "ultimate arbiters of fate." However, they also have to be good storytellers capable of improvisation because, "things don't always go according to plan... rules and story provide a box that you can do a lot within, but you can't do a lot outside of it because you don't know what to do."

Finally, the trio speculated on where they envisioned Dungeons & Dragons in five years. The common consensus was that the game's increasing complexity will allow it to continue delivering play experiences that are more customized to the folks who are playing it. Mearls likened it to a DVD player, comfortably allowing gamers to play whatever they want.

Selinker, meanwhile, summed up the game's potential in an abstract, yet definite, manner: "It can be all the things that it's become."

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Just to throw in my 2 cents. 4th Edition D+D isn't in my opinion about complexity, its about attracting the MMO crowd and in fact simplifies and dumbs down the system making things more accessible to people with short attention spans.

Quellist:
Just to throw in my 2 cents. 4th Edition D+D isn't in my opinion about complexity, its about attracting the MMO crowd and in fact simplifies and dumbs down the system making things more accessible to people with short attention spans.

I'd say it's simplified to attract new players, not people with short attention spans. All the MMO players I know can play the game for hours and hours on end. That's a committed attention span if you ask me.

4th edition simplifies everything to make itself accessible. I assume you play D&D or another RPG, you have to admit that the rule books aren't exactly an easy read, especially for a complete newcomer.

And here I was thinking it was like gospel music in that everyone knows it exists, but they all would rather play something else. I don't know anyone who actually plays 4th edition.

Simplifies it? Really? I'd like some of what you guys are smoking, please.

Fourth edition is more complex, and I can summarize why in very simple terms - the average time it takes to play out an appropriately balanced fight.

With 4e, a full size group is lucky to be able to finish two combats in an average 3-4 hour session. That's just insane.

It's why my group has abandoned tactical RPGs like D&D in favor of narrative rulesets (my particular favorites are FATE, Gumshoe and PDQ). Now, we are able to focus on the story rather than the combat, and even our combat monkey is loving it.

There you go, first post raging about Fourth Edition. Didn't take long at all.

And in regards to deathyepl: yeah, our DM started halving enemy HP for our encounters to speed them along. 4e fights were taking us an eternity to get through, they ended up consuming our whole evenings, unlike 3.5e.

This reminds me, I should get around to setting up that 4e Forgotten Realms game for my friends. Hm.

I''d suggest its like gospel music in that a vast number of people don't 'get' it, but those who do love it, and it's essentially harmless.

D&D 4th edition is simplier than the 3.5... and they changed the forgotten realms so much it's berelly recognizable now.... They laugh at us seriously

I've been playing D&D since the late eighties when I was still in primary school. Started off with that red box, went on to old school 'Official' Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, then 2nd Ed. I've tried the newer ones since then, but it just doesn't work for me.

Like the article says, it's ultimately down to the DM; and in my groups I have consistently been the DM/Storyteller/GM in around 80% of campaigns we did (played D&D, World of Darkness, Rifts, and Rolemaster).

I can still recall almost every adventure I've DM'd, from those nightmarish episodes of player vs. player (when people *actually* play their alignments they're at each others throats all the damned time) to the glorious 'day-to-day' campaigns. My favourite possibly was a small group - 2 rangers and a druid - in the woods not too far from Greyhawk Free City, using 'Official' Ed AD&D. Just had them surviving from day to day.

If anyone's played the old Greyhawk setting you'll know how *insanely* detailed it was. Weather patterns, seasonal migration of animals and creatures, even the kind of flora locatable for alchemy by month. Perfect for wilderness adventures - they just survived day-to-day in a magical world. Sadly, one of the rangers was crippled by an owl bear that they were hunting. The other ranger fell into alcoholism (yes, there are rules for the kind of damage prolonged drinking does). He managed to claw back from the edge after the crippled ranger almost drowned when a barge they were on sank. The campaign continued with them travelling around trying to find some way of restoring their crippled companion.

Actually, thinking back, it was kind of touching.

Or, you could play new D&D with its MAD HAX. :/

vansau:

Finally, the trio speculated on where they envisioned Dungeons & Dragons in five years. The common consensus was that the game's increasing complexity will allow it to continue delivering play experiences that are more customized to the folks who are playing it. Mearls likened it to a DVD player, comfortably allowing gamers to play whatever they want.

I thought D&D 4th ed was a reaction to MMORPGs and thus had to simplify it a little from 3.5 to help ease new players in?

"The decision of which edition you play depends on which one your Dungeon Master wants to play," Selinker noted.

This Selinker guy doesn't know what the hell he is talking about!

Last time our Game Master came to the group and said "hey guys We are gonna play 4e!" we laughed at him and told him where he could shove that game.

A Dungeon Master doesn't mean SHIT if he doesn't have any players, and if the players don't want to play an MMO wannabe RPG the DM isn't going to run jack.

So yeah, screw this "the Dm is teh ultimate decisions makzer!" BS, it should be about your GROUP. If there is an issue that needs to be decided on or a rule that needs to be fixed then everyone in the group should have a say because its not only effecting one person, its everyones game.

Riobux:

vansau:

Finally, the trio speculated on where they envisioned Dungeons & Dragons in five years. The common consensus was that the game's increasing complexity will allow it to continue delivering play experiences that are more customized to the folks who are playing it. Mearls likened it to a DVD player, comfortably allowing gamers to play whatever they want.

I thought D&D 4th ed was a reaction to MMORPGs and thus had to simplify it a little from 3.5 to help ease new players in?

Sort of except its more like they threw out over 30 years of game evolution and replaced Dungeons and Dragons with a different game entirely based on the physics of MMOs. For example in 2nd edition people healed 1hp/day in 3rd it went upto your con bonus/day in 4th IIRC the whole party is fully healed by 8 hours rest.

It's a radical change to how the game works and is almost 100% combat-centric

comparing the First Edition to the Fourth was like comparing the original Bard's Tale to Mass Effect.

That statement is incorrect because unlike video games the technology of table top RPGs hasn't changed in the last 40 years. If they made a version of ME in 2010 for the Commodore 64 then that would be a valid comparison.

I think 3.5e was the greatest system and I love it as a player but I hated it as a DM. Making an adventure and following all of the rules was like doing taxes. 90% of the time I ended up just winging it and faking most dice rolls behind the screen so the outcome was dramatically appropriate. To really DM 3e right you need about 15-20 hours of prep for every 4 hour game session. I don't have that kind of time anymore.

I ran a couple of 4e sample adventures and they just seemed kind of boring. Some powers, particularly the "taunt" powers were really overpowered, not sure if that was balanced.

vansau:
There was Kevin Baker, creator of the delightfully macabre card game Gloom and author of "Have Dice, Will Travel" on The Escapist

Erm ... I believe its Keith Baker
*coughs*

What a coincidence, I dislike gospel, and I dislike 4th edition. I suspect that players going back to earlier editions has more to due with the radical thematic and gameplay changes they made going from 3.5 to 4 then people wanting simpler games. Not to mention what they did to forgotten realms (I have yet to meet anyone who likes the changes to forgotten realms)

I like the changes to the Forgotten Realms. On the other hand, I wasn't invested in it as it was, it's just another gameworld. At least there is space for heroes now, before the big names could deal with all the threats easily.
I have played all editions of D&D. I tried playing 2e after 3e came out, and couldn't do it. Going back now and playing Pathfinder is fine, however it's a very different design esthetic from 4e.
3e is for worldbuilding, 4e is for ease of play.
4e also spells things out a lot more in terms of what happens during the game, it has much more robust skill rules (skill challenges), which can be a good or a bad thing depending what you want. On the other hand, 4e is much better balanced, and the combat is more involving in my experience, it's a much better tactical minis game.
In short, they are different games, and I enjoy both.

I flogged all my old 2nd ed books on ebay a little while ago...I was never going to get a game in but a small part of me has pangs of regret every time I read an article like this.

I enjoy 4th edition for a few reasons over earlier editions. Ease of play, balance between classes, lower need for system mastery, lower prep time for DMs.

Does it do everything right? No. It never will. But neither does 3.x/Pathfinder. Neither does the World of Darkness (old and new). Neither does Shadowrun, Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, Big Eyes Small Mouth, GURPS, Rifts/Palladium, etc etc etc.

I can say the same things about table top wargames, MMOs, FPS, RTS, and on and on and on.

No system is perfect. Period. But many systems are fun, when played with the right group.

I've had fun playing almost every edition of D&D. Modified 1st edition, 2nd edition and its abominable THAC0, 3.x and its permutations, and 4e.

I think 4e is a good basis for a great D&D system if / when WotC decides to figure out whether 4eEssentials or 4eBase is the direction they want to fully support. (note: I don't hate essentials either, I think essentials does a few things very right, and a few things worse in character design than regular 4e.)

Other people prefer Pathfinder/3.x. Good for them! :) Have fun playing games. Enjoy yourself.

But don't piss in someone else's pool because you think "Round pools are dumb, only rectangular pools are fun to swim in".

I don't see 4th edition as adding complexity to the game, it simplifies things pretty radically. Which is fine for some, I don't like it but I'm not going to hate on the folks that do. I personally greatly prefer the rules for Pathfinder (and before that 3.5 edition), as I find them to be a lot more flexible for me as a GM and a player. Again, just my opinion, it's always been the GM and the players that make the game, not the system. Even the weakest system can be used to play a great game with the right people.

Play what you are comfortable with, play what you love, but for God's sake, PLAY! Anyone playing any RPG is good for the hobby, far as I'm concerned.

 

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