I feel like I am done with Dungeons & Dragons. I started with this game 16 years ago and while I had a lot of great fun playing, I stopped being thrilled about the rules very soon after. The d20 system just seems excessively over-engineered, and the older AD&D system is just a total mess. But the d20 system was the over-engineered devil I knew inside out and the vast majority of other RPGs I’ve come across over the years were even less suited to my needs. It’s not like I wanted to run Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder games, but there just wasn’t anything there to replace it with.
B/X was a bit of a pleasant surprise, being a much more lightweight version of the incomprehensible chaos of AD&D. But even if you replace the magic system and fix the way attack rolls are made, it’s still the basic D&D system at the core. The system where characters start extremely fragile and you have double your starting hit points at 2nd level, tripple your starting hit points at 3rd level and so on. Using a d20 as the standard die for attack rolls, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws is certainly an improvement over using d100s, but you still end up with a game of pretty big numbers you have to juggle around. And because of those two things, the gameplay changes quite a bit as your characters progress. At lower levels you can’t fight giants and by the time you’re able to deal with giants goblins are no longer a threat. And if you play relatively rarely with a moderate pace of level advancement, a great number of possible adventures only becomes possible after you’ve been playing for a very long time. And my campaigns usually go only two to three years. Except for the one time we played a published adventure for high level parites and started at level 16, I’ve only seen characters reach 10th level once. I almost never got to use dragons, giants, and demons. And all those huge piles of magic items!
At it’s very heart, this game is made for dungeon crawling and tactical combat. And that’s just not what I want or what I need. E6 was an interesting patch and I heard the 5th edition actually adresses some of the things I’ve long been having problems with. But there is still so much about the game I can’t stand anymore. Alignment is what I consider the worst idea in RPG history, and the magic system can’t emulate any other kind of fantasy. As someone said a while back, “Dungeons & Dragons really only can represent Dungeons & Dragons.” And I just don’t plain like this style of fantasy.
Planescape and Dark Sun are wonderful settings, which I still enjoy and consider among the best that were ever made. Planescape completely embraces the strangeness of the D&D system and commits full to creating a fictional world based on its assumption. That works for me. Dark Sun does almost the opposite and shoves all the conventions of the game out of the window. It’s a great world, which I think actually works perfectly well using entirely different rules system to play it. And I still like the old Baldur’s Gate games. But not because of being Dungeons & Dragons, but despite it. There are so many compelling things about them, that I can live with the mechanics being weird. And being a videogame, I actually don’t have to bother with the mechanics at all. That all happens invisible from me inside the computer.
The most interesting thing currently happening with D&D are the creations of the OSR crowd. Say about the rules of the old editions whatever you want (and I want to say “they are crap”), but there were a couple of good ideas that are very much worse being reexamined again to learn lessons from them. “XP for treasure” being one of them, and of course the highly important “Rulings, not rules”. The effect of using Encumbrance and tracking supplies is also a very interesting one, as is the whole idea of wandering monsters, morale, and reaction rolls. And of course, there’s been a good number of very intriguing settings and adventures in recent years, which are being released for use with various retroclones, but really exist mostly independent of the rules. While I think the old editions of D&D are terrible, the general ideas of the Oldschool style are still very intriguing. So I’ll still be keeping an eye on what the OSR people are doing.
Just no more 1d20+14, please.