Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back and Fourth

I wonder if anyone is contemplating an OD&D conversion of H1: Keep on the Shadowfell.

On the various blogs and boards that I frequent, there seems to be a remarkable lack of understanding between the grognards (self-styled or otherwise) and the unaffectionately dubbed 4ons (before this, it was 3etards, which also got a giggle from me). I think some of this friction could be due to the lack of a shared vernacular when it comes down to what each edition contributed to the style of play.

Ask a grognard about "shifting" or "feats" and the best you'll get is a blank stare.

Ask a fan of fourth edition about re-rolling hit points at every level, or the concept of "Race as Class" and you'll be met with the same reaction.

Many of the conversations are one-sided, with the OD&D gamers sounding suitably venerable and crotchety (with frenetic exclamations that often begin with "back in my day") while the newer 4th Edition gamers who have migrated from a crunchier 3.5 are busy drooling over potential synergistic exploits and cool factor.

For instance, after the "shift" to Third Edition, character optimization became character concept. I fail to see anything really wrong with that. My OD&D players optimized the heck out of their characters whenever they were given the chance, and as a DM (a mantle that when worn, does not give you the game-given right to be an ass) I encouraged this. The magical sword found in the crypt in Chandlerwood, the musty tome of forgotten fire magics found in an abandoned monastery near the Lavafalls, a set of Gnomish Thieves Tools that when commanded would be wielded by small spectral gnomes who actually climbed into the lock to pick it, the players loved these things because they made the characters more awesome. I know, "These goodies were handed out based on DM fiat" you protest! "Players had no where near the control that they have now!" Wrong. The only thing limiting player control is the DM, and as "bringer of fun" it's your job to insure this happens, not to tell your story. Seriously, your story is only mildly interesting at best.

But back to our sheep, what would be nice, however daunting, would be some transcripts of Actual Play for each of the editions, for the same adventure. This would do wonders to eliminate some of the fluffiness that causes the veterans to weep and the greenhorns to cheer. The crunch is what could serve as a universal language, the much-maligned "Common Tongue." Even though OD&D didn't have rules for governing some of the things that the newer editions do, gamers and game masters everywhere still have the same baseline of creativity. All D&D games edition-neutered can be just as fun and memorable as each other, but very few have attempted to accept the challenge of dissecting why. Less rules in OD&D served as a springboard for creativity and house rules, but people are house-ruling things in 4e right out of the box. Why is this? The reasons seem to revolve around either More Balance or More Fun. The problem is Balance can be an enchantment applied to a FunBane sword. Just as Fun spells counter Balance.

A first level Mentzer Dwarf could Cleave as a critical hit house-rule (on a natural 20 naturally) with the approval of a non-adversarial referee. Is this balance, or is this fun? It is highly likely that 4th Edition is no more fun or balanced.

I think we all forget that there is no wrong way to have fun, and that D&D has been about fun since its conception. It is not now, nor will it ever be, "more fun." Rules and mechanics simply don't do that. Instead, rules and mechanics are there to tell you "how" and "when" and "where" a predetermined amount of fun can take place. While certain groups and play-styles may lend themselves to certain editions, they do not limit.

My initial reactionary thoughts on my WoAdWriMo contribution for this month were as follows:

A Chaotic Evil Dragonman Wizard and his Neutral Evil half-devil henchmen are disenchanting magical items across the land and systematically destroying the economy, it is up to our intrepid band of Neutral Good gnomish PCs to stop him.

Instead, I might try to eviscerate as much fluff and IP from H1 (a dangerous task, all things considered, as the last thing I want is to cleave through a swarm of legal minions). As purely a thought exercise, I believe that that Fellshadow Fortress is just begging to be a rollicking OD&D romp.

Or better yet, design an adventure that can be run in any version of D&D, so that my dreams of uniting players from all editions under a common banner may someday be realized, or at the very least, help to bridge the chasm of incredulity that players on both sides of Edition Canyon seem to be camped on.

Perhaps even better, an OD&D adventure with 4e feel and vice versa. Hmm.
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