30 May 2012

D&D vs. G&G

If there is anything that dooms the goal of D&D Next to unite the players of all previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, it's the fact that the fans are divided into two incompatible gaming philosophies: those who think player characters should begin as more-or-less competent novice adventurers who improve dramatically over time if they survive long enough, and those who think player characters should begin as superheroes and retire as gods. For the first group, player skill and referee impartiality are essential; without both, there can be no sense of accomplishment, because D&D is considered a game. For the second group, balance between player characters and their adversaries (and between one another) is essential; without balanced encounters, their story arc might get cut short, and without balanced parties, not every character will be guaranteed an equal share of the spotlight (because D&D is considered a story). There is no way to reconcile these divergent philosophies into a single game.

By all rights, when Wizards of the Coast first decided to lead the game in this direction, they should have renamed it Gods & Götterdämmerung to avoid confusion. Back in olden times, we referred to this as Monty Haulism — a hopefully brief phase one outgrew. Blatant wish fulfillment was easier to resist when the publisher (TSR) railed against it. When Wizards of the Coast made it the raison d'être, the continuity of the world's first role-playing game was severed forever. There were already games for which this playing style was possible. 'Tis a shame the fundamentals of D&D were so recklessly abandoned. Trying to foist the fundamentals on G&G players now, however, will only frustrate them. On the other hand, diluting or ignoring the fundamentals will only enrage traditional D&D players. I do not envy the task of the D&D Next designers.