Nov 232010

Anyone who’s followed Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (or just Dungeons and Dragons as it’s been known for a few years now) will be aware of how much the game has changed since it first came out and, especially, since TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast [WotC] more than a decade ago. If you’re not aware of such things, then you can read up on any number of gaming sites. I won’t belabor the post with a history of acqusitions and all that. Suffice to say, TSR made some awesome games but didn’t put enough skill points into business management.

WotC came along and, fresh on the heels of their success with Magic: The Gathering, which we were still playing at the time, also set to updating D&D. This was not the first time updates had been made. The original D&D game, released in the 70s had gone through numerous revisions, polymorphing from D&D to AD&D and to 2nd Edition, before WotC released 3rd Edition (3E). Along the way, classes, races, spells and all sorts of rules were added, removed and changed. My 1st-edition AD&D Player’s Manual, at a mere 120 pages, couldn’t possibly comprehend what was to come.

Although now a morass of rules, 3E still held true to many of the tenets of D&D, while actually adding things of value, such as skills and feats that let you achieve customized characters not possible in the olden days. Meanwhile, it was anywhere from marginally to completely compatible with old campaigns and books due to still being an offshoot of the 2nd Edition rules. Depending on your viewpoint, either all was well or probably at least tolerable. In 2003, they made some revisions to rules, but still kept the core gameplay intact.

2008 brought us 4th Edition (4E) which was, at the very least, a disappointment to many people and to some (including me) a total travesty. Now, I have to point out that I’ve never played 4E and that I don’t intend to; what I’ve read of the rules–which are as they are, and aren’t disputed by WotC–tells me that this is D&D in name only. It is in many ways a new intellectual property using the established D&D name. Oh, and it’s crap. I can sum up what is wrong with the game in two words: Magic Missile.

If you’re a D&D player, or indeed possibly not but someone who’s played a roleplaying game, then you’re familiar with this classic staple of the magic-user’s repetoire. Casting this spell creates darts of magical energy that hit their target(s) for a marginal amount of damage, regardless of armor or ability to dodge. It’s a given. You cast Magic Missile, it hits for damage. You shoot, you score.

But what if I told you that Magic Missile didn’t automatically hit enemies and that instead you would have to make a to-hit roll in order to successfully deal damage? “But Mike,” you would say, “that’s hardly a Magic Missile at all. That’s, like, a Normal Missile or something. That’s stupid.” And you’d be right. This fundamental, first-level magic spell illustrates just how different 4E is from any prior D&D game. From reading, it sounds like every spell requires a hit-roll to be effective; that’s a major change.

Characters appear to have been shoehorned into archetypes, a la Warcraft. The reported gameplay of many experienced players is that, without a balanced party of 4-5 characters, you will not be successful in the average 4E game. That may or may not be true, but I want none of it. D&D is about playing the way you want to play. If your party consists of a monk and a wizard and you want to go dungeon crawling, go to it. Granted, not every combination was recommended even under older editions, but the rules basically mandating a healer, tank, damage-dealer, mezzer or other RPG staple, to me, is ridiculous.

I could go on and on, but at this point, I’m almost as long as the average post and haven’t even gotten to the point. Enter Pathfinder. This game, put out by Paizo Publishing, is, to me, the proper continuation of the D&D bloodline. It is the bastard son of the late king, wandering the world and setting things right, while the recognized prince, lacking in virtue, sits upon the throne. Pathfinder is compatible with all existing 3E and 3.5E D&D books and adventures.

I recently finished reading all 576 pages of the game’s core gamebook, which covers everything needed for players and a DM to run game sessions except for monsters, which are coming in a separate tome (and 3E/3.5E books and adventures can provide their own, so existing players aren’t required to buy anything further.) Although I’m not sure when I’ll be able to actually get a game going with friends, I’m excited to do so. Both the feel of the rules and the actual writing endeavor to provide the complexity of 3rd Edition with the flavor and feel of old-school AD&D, even to the point of taking exact text from old item and spell descriptions.

If you’re someone who hasn’t been into D&D since this or even this, then make no mistake, you’ll have some adjusting to do. But what you should find here is a game that feels like what you’re used to, but provides more than you’ve had in the past. As a player, you’ll have a lot more options and character abilities available to you; as a DM, you’ll have a lot more rules to keep track of, which may be the only drawback, but I’ll take that over the apparent homogenized simplicity offered by the current “real” D&D any day.

Yeah, this is an awful lot of text just to say that I think something is pretty cool. So?