Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Which Unconnected Brain Burps Give Birth To Synaptic Siblings, Sorta

This blog has never been particularly prolific, and sometimes I think about torching the entire operation. A number of factors contribute to this, laziness being a principle, but bad health and career stress also play a role.

I’ve recently come out of the second serious and prolonged threat to my life, alive if not unscathed, and slipping the Hangman is beginning to feel like a recurrent theme in my life. It feels a bit like being a low-level player character to be honest.

 One leap of logic later, I’ve come to realize that this is the source of my growing reservations about 5e. I’m happy to see WotC return to a style of game that feels familiar to me, but I think much of my enthusiasm is of the OMG NEW STUFF TO GET variety. This is typical behavior for many fandoms. The need to waste money is probably a deeper psychological issue than I’m ready to confront when it comes to Elfgames though.

There’s a whole lot of hit points in this game. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing. I’m okay with certain videogame-like breaks in verisimilitude because it is, after all, a game. But on the other hand, I spent 18 days in the hospital last month recovering from a particularly gnarly infection —exactly the kind of thing someone living in a shit-smeared, battle-infested medieval milieu might be forced to deal with— and I can tell you firsthand that the “meaningful possibility of death” is good for the protagonist. I feel as if I’ve accomplished something by merely surviving.

There’s at least two ways to look at the protagonists in a D&D game. One is the ragtag group of adventurers wielding rusty swords and secondhand armor, exploring a brutal and mysterious world with two spells and a dozen hit points between them. Let’s call that the George RR Martin version.

The other way to think of PCs is the Robert E Howard version, competent adventurers ready to tread the thrones of Earth beneath tastefully sandaled feet, wading balls deep into every horde of subhuman bastards foolish enough to challenge their magic blades.

There are things I like about both approaches. One of the things I enjoy about my experience with the DCCRPG is that it tends to encourage crazy cinematic exploits while still managing to be quite deadly. I want the threat to be real, the lofty potential of 2nd level to be earned, but I also want to see PCs kicking ass like Sho Kosugi. And players (at least mine) get off on that kind of blockbuster action hero madness.

Honestly, there are better systems to accommodate this balance than D&D has ever done, but those all share the sin of “not being D&D”. This is problematic for my aesthetic obsessions, even though I know it shouldn’t be.

My group is committed to giving 5e an honest chance, but I’m already thinking about fucking around with the rules. I have enough experience running these games to know it’s usually a good idea to play the damn thing as written before you fuck it up, but damned if I don’t want to just swipe a handful of things from it and bolt them onto LotFP.


  1. Sorry to hear about your health issues. It is certainly true that feeling close to death can often give people reason to savor life more, I wouldn't wish that on anybody!

    I agree with you about the two approaches to fantasy heroes both having their appeal. Oddly, I'd say not only is D&D probably not the best system for achieving the balance, it's probably not the best for either version. It does "nasty, brutish, and short" well at low levels, but that breaks down at high ones. It does "hard to kill" well enough at high levels, but wasn't really made to deliver cinematic action of the 21st century sort.

    I haven't given 5e a solid read-through yet, but what I've heard has been encouraging.

    1. Thanks Trey. If you have suggestions on a system that somehow does gritty, yet swashbuckling action I'd be happy to check it out. I've heard Savage Worlds does it but my one experience with it was less than stellar. Maybe gritty and cinematic are mutually exclusive.

      I should note that I'm talking about 5e without actual play experience. We made a half-assed attempt during the beta testing but I think the system changed considerably since then.