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I have been playing D&D for the majority of my life. I was lucky enough to be born into a family of nerds and so I grew up with D&D, embarking on my first adventure at the ripe old age of 10 with the goal of rescuing The Great Wizard Ringlerun’s magic chickens from a group of goblins who broke in and stole them while we were all at the market. I’ve played many versions in various groups, ranging from my first game where we played basic, to 1st edition AD&D with my parents, to 3.0, to 3.5, to Pathfinder.
So one would expect, with my familiarity with such a variety of D&D systems, that I would have been relatively happy when my current gaming group told me that they wanted to start up a new campaign and play 5th edition. Unfortunately one would be mistaken. I was decidedly less than happy. If I had to describe myself, I’d say that I was downright irritated. It’s not, as some people have suggested, that I am simply resistant to change. Nor is it that I was so disappointed with how abysmal 4th edition turned out that I never wanted to look at a newer system again. It’s that the only reason I learned all those systems in the first place was because it was necessary to. I learned 1st ed. AD&D because that’s what my parents played, so to play with them I had to learn it. I made the switch from 3.0 to 3.5 only because I couldn’t find anyone who played 3.0 anymore. I played Pathfinder because the group I joined was playing Pathfinder. But we have a group that is already mostly fluent and rather comfortable using 3.5, so why make the switch?
This is not to say that 5th edition isn’t well crafted. Now that I’ve sat and read through the Player’s Handbook and made a character, I’m actually rather impressed by aspects of it. They have simplified many things and the writing is quite concise (I’ll be the first to admit that 3.5 had a tendency to be quite verbose). As such, the game designers were able to include material that was scattered through various books in previous editions. Very well done on their parts. In fact I think it’s so well designed that, if I was starting a new game with all new players, I might even consider running 5th –now that I’ve read it –because it looks like it is very easy for new players to pick up. But my group is not new players. Some of them have been role-playing possibly longer than I have.
My issue is not that I am in particularly love with 3.5 either. It has its flaws and its balance issues. For example, some people hate the skills and think some of them are quite redundant, I can agree with them on some of these points. Others have claimed that leveling up their character is like doing taxes, in fact 3.5 has been described as a tax code (though to be brutally honest about that topic, 3.5 is nearly identical in its layout and verbosity as 3.0 which came out in 2000. At the time I was 11, and rather an idiotic 11 at that. If I could digest it and understand it at age 11, I don’t think it’s that hard to understand). It is rather number crunchy and has an excessive number of combat rules. But all of this falls on the quality of the Dungeon Master. Any DM worth his or her salt should recognize how much number crunching their group is interested in doing and whether or not newer players are getting lost in the “tax code.”
And after reading 5th, I am having trouble finding innovations that couldn’t be easily house ruled into a 3.5 game. Tired of +2/-2 circumstance modifiers? House rule in the 2d20 advantage/disadvantage system. Don’t like how long it takes to regain hit points through resting? House rule that you gain more back when you rest. Think the skill point system is too complicated for new players? Tell your new players to pick a certain number of skills that they’re proficient in and simply max out their ranks, while letting the experienced ones customize their characters the way they see fit. I have yet to encounter a group without some manner of house rules, so I’m having trouble understanding why any established group would have interest in spending time and money learning a new system when they already have one that works and can be tweaked on a whim if the DM wants. To me it seems like someone who has a perfectly good car buying a new one for the purpose of experiencing new car smell.
I don’t play D&D for the mechanics. I’ve never been one to dig through all the supplement books to find the newest and shiniest ways to optimize my character. If you play that way that’s fine, that’s just not my style. I play for the role-playing, and as such I view the mechanics as simply a vehicle through which my character interacts with the world. Tarka, my druid from an icy tundra, would be just as (excuse the pun) cold and logical while being utterly devoted to Obad-Hai if I had to determine if hit something using THAC0 in 1st ed. as he is in 3.5, and as he would be in 5th ed. Nublin TwinKnives would be a conniving and cowardly halfling thief no matter what system he’s played in. And Rekero, who was ported from one system to another, was still an idiot. He didn’t need his wisdom score of 6 to be an idiot though, I was 10 after all.
I understand why Wizards released a new edition. My first DM, a family friend who was/is my parents’ DM who selflessly (and somewhat insanely) decided to teach the kids how to play, once told me something that stuck with me for some reason. “They invented a game where all you have to do is buy a book and you can play forever. You never have to replace a piece or buy new content. How could they ever make money without releasing new versions?” And it’s true. But that’s why there is a part of me who views experienced players who want to buy and switch over to a new system “just to see what it’s all about” as suckers, and forcing other people to switch to sate your curiosity is just wasting their time. In the end, you’ll still be playing D&D but you’ll be out about $30 per book plus the time it takes to read them. You already have the tools to weave a story with your friends. Go use them.
Look for the response article for this Still Debating post soon! If you have an idea for a future Still Debating post, let us know in the Comments below!