Saturday, April 3, 2010

4th Edition and Me

I played a lot of AD&D during the 80's, probably more than any other game. So when they announced they were making a 2nd edition about 1988, it was a HUGE deal. However, we had not really seen the edition changes with RPG's at that time that we have now, so the idea of a new edition was still kind of a new thing - they're going to make the game better, right? Plus there was some discussion in Dragon magazine and eventually a full insert that described what the new edition was going to do and it looked really good. There were no internet message boards - just friends, the people you met in stores, local game groups, and BBS's. Everyone I knew was pretty excited about it - we liked non-weapon proficiencies, we liked "spheres" for clerics, we liked the initiative changes - it was all good! Well, we did lose half-orcs and assassins but in my experience at the time most of the people who played assassins were jerks anyway and tended to assassinate party members just as often as they did monsters. Anyway, the game came out in 1989, it was huge, and everyone I knew switched over right away and we didn't touch 1st edition ever again.

I played a lot of AD&D 2nd edition in the 90's, probably more than any other game. So when they announced that they were making a 3rd edition about 1999 it was a big deal. We had seen multiple games go through multiple editions by now (Shadowrun, I'm looking at you - 1st ed 1989, 2nd ed 1992, 3rd ed 1998) and had to repurchase books and emotions were a little less positive. Plus they ran a year-long preview series in Dragon and a lot of the changes I saw looked suspicious and pretty radical. I was skeptical right up until the books came out then once I read the "whole" instead of selected parts, I fell in love with it instantly - the unified mechanic was huge and the single experience chart was a massive change for the better, freeing up multiclassing in amazing ways. level limits were gone, finally! And monsters finally had full stats, which eliminated a ton of problems. It was awesome and I totally dropped my misgivings and started up a new campaign within a month. We never played 2nd edition again once we had 3rd.

I played a lot of 3rd ed D&D in the 2000's, probably more than any other game. The 3.5 revision in 2003 was way too early in my opinion and my group largely ignored it as no one wanted to buy the books all over again. So elements of 3.5 gradually filtered into my existing campaign until we started my last 3rd edition campaign in 2008. that one I declared to be officially 3.5 and picked up the last few class books I didn't already have. The games were close enough that at the lower levels (where we spent most of our time) the differences didn't matter a great deal.

Then rumors of a 4th edition started seriously flowing about 2007. WOTC denied them flat-out in January of 2008 so i felt pretty comfortable that we weren't going to be seeing a new edition for another year or two - I assumed they would announce it at GenCon a year in advance like they did the last time. So when they did announce about February or March that it was coming in June of 2008 I was shocked - no dragon previews, no big online previews even. They did put out some books that you could buy (!) that were previews but considering I had not had to pay anything extra for the previous ones there was no way in hell they were getting my money for those. But I did get a good deal on a preorder through the local store so I did it. After all, I had liked each previous revision so why not? Plus, as the bits and pieces leaked out I really liked what I saw - a lot of things were very much like what I had houseruled during my 3rd ed camapigns: skill consolidation, more HP's, simplified languages, stc. Then I picked up Star Wars Saga Edition, described by some as a test bed for 4th edition, and it was awesome - it was everything I would have changed plus a little more and it worked and I was very excited for 4th edition - it was going to be great!

Then 4th ed was released, I picked up my books, started reading the PHB and felt awful - this was not anything I recognized, with the changes going far beyond anything that was in Saga. Radically different, it didn't look or read or feel like D&D anymore. At the time I did not play and had not played any MMORPG's but even I recognized the elements taken from them and didn't like most of them. In short, I thought that I was going to get D&D Saga Edition and I didn't and I hated it.

So we continued with our 3.5 campaign and the 4th ed books gathered dust for the next year and a half or so.

The 3.5 campaign ended and I thought about introducing my "apprentices" to D&D as they were now 13 & 10. I decided I should give 4th edition another chance and start them off with "their" version of the game, the "modern" one, letting them skip all the legacy material in my head from the past 4 versions that I had played. So I started reading the books and I actually got through all 3 of them this time and there was actually some good stuff in there. I can see a lot of what the designers were trying to do and a lot of it actually makes sense and could be a lot of fun. I tried running the boys through the adventure in the back of the DMG and it took FOREVER. Plus, they pretty much focused on their powers to the exclusion of all else - I didn't like that so I dropped it and started them off using Moldvay Red book basic. We've been playing for a couple of months now and it's going very well - see my session reports in my other posts for details, but I like the way they are approaching things. I am running that and Savage Worlds Neccessary Evil and I am quite happy.

But I still can't help but think there's some value in 4th edition. I have these nifty books, and I like parts of the system, and I hate not "keeping up" with what is going on with D&D. So at some point in the near future I am going to try and run a campaign of this thing, with friends, to try and get a handle on it. I have several campaign ideas I want to try, I will post those later.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Editions and Gameworlds

I was thinking about how some of the published campaign settings fit with different editions of the game:

Basic/Expert/Etc D&D: There is the Known World but to me Karameikos is the main part of that worth trying out. The GAZ1 supplement is pretty good if you really want to go with the Grand Duchy as a home nation, but the rest of the world never did a ton for me. I saw it as an example more than a real world. If I wasn't doing a homebrew for my new Basic campaign I would go with my 1st edition choice which is...

1st Ed AD&D: Greyhawk, hands down. None of the others match up so well with it IMO. The history, the locations, the names - there's no need to retcon anything to fit in strange new races or classes. You don't need to adapt anything.

2nd ed AD&D: Forgotten Realms - this is what I played in for most of 2nd edition and a lot of the specialized kits and specialty priests really end up fitting the Realms well.

3rd ed D&D: Scarred Lands (from Sword & Sorcery) I would guess that Eberron is a good fit here too, but I've never played it, run it, or read the books, so I'm leaving it out. I have run a nearly 2 year Scarred Lands campaign though, and it feels nicely different, but still D&D. Intersting monsters can be taken from the Creature Catalogs, much flavor can be found in the region books like Mithril or the Blood Sea, and the Player's Guides have a ton of interesting background and prestige classes. It's clearly built for 3rd edition rules and it shows in every aspect of the material.

4th ed D&D: Not sure - I haven't looked at a lot of the campaign material that's out there and my plan is to use a prehistoric version of Greyhawk when I do run it (as in "before history" not "lots of dinosaurs running around"). I know they mixed up the realms material quite a bit, and they haven't published anything on Greyhawk yet, and no "new" world has come out either. It may be Eberron by default here, being the newest of the campaign worlds.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Plans for the Campaign

The plan for now is this:

1) Finish the starter dungeon - this will take awhile longer if I use "In Search of the Forgotten City" (which is available on Dragonsfoot) which is en expansion to this same dungeon.

2) Head for the Haunted Keep and the expansion which is also available on Dragonsfoot.

3) Head to the Keep on the Borderlands - I mean it's required - this is a training game and it's the ultimate starter module!

They can do the Keep and the Haunted Keep in order really. I envision the Haunted Keep and the town of threshold as a side trip on the road to the Keep right now. After running around in these basic modules I think they will be up around 3rd-5th level and ready for the OTHER classic from this time:

4) Set sail for the Isle of Dread!

After this we will see which characters are still alive and what the party wants to do - maybe Xanathon or the Desert nomads series, maybe the insanity of Castle Amber, maybe some Judges Guild stuff.

I will add in some small homebrew adventures and maybe some JG material at the earlier levels as needed, and we may end up with 2 different parties running around for a while, but as long as they are enjoying it I will keep doing it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Planar Cosmologies

One of the differences between Basic D&D and AD&D (and later versions) is that other planes are a minimal part of Basic-Expert D&D. I only see a few spells and a few monsters that refer to the existence of other planes. Since this is an introductory campaign and is set on a future version of our Earth I am going to eliminate other planes entirely - they can learn about those when we try out 1st ed AD&D.

Spell-wise these are the wrinkles I see:

Dimension Door & Teleport - these use hyperspace as it would be used by starships in the long-ago golden age. So, fine we have one sort-of other dimension used for travel purposes - you still can't go there.

Commune & Contact Higher Plane - these are pretty simple. Commune lets a cleric talk to a higher power, all of which live on this plane. Contact Higher Plane refers to consulting with another being so it should work the same way - call it Contact Higher Being and don't worry about what plane they are on.

Summon Elemental - In this world, elementals live in their element, not off on some other plane full of it. So M-U's summon them from the nearest concentration of earth or fire or air or whatever.

Invisible Stalker - these are specifically mentioned as coming from another plane but they are invisible and do not appear to have any society or culture or equipment of their own. So instead, even if it is believed that they come from another plane, I'm going with a different theory. In this game Stalkers are a localized coalescence of nanites bound together and given a purpose by a magic-user casting this spell. they have no individual personality and when the spell ends they disperse into the air as if they never existed. That makes this spell fairly important as it means that sometime somewhere at least one magic-user figured out how to access and control the nanite cloud in at least one specific way. Alas, the knowledge must have died with him...

If we go to companion level games (and we may) we start bumping into the whole "Immortal" thing that was part of the teal and black sets with spells like Gate and some of the monsters that show up there. I will deal with those when they come up but I will keep the "no other planes" rule in force. Maybe gate opens up a gate to a distant continent, maybe it's a remnant of a communications protocol and opens up to an orbital facility or the moon where all kinds of weird things could live! The more oddball monsters from the various planes could be from the "Plains of Nightmare" rather than the "Plane of Nightmare" and be tied to an actual physical location.

Raise Dead spells and Reincarnation spells are comparatively easy - there is nothing that fantasy nanites cannot do, including respark a dead body.