Returning to Dungeons & Dragons

Young Love

Dungeons & Dragons occupies a special place in my heart. It gave my imagination a means of expression, and it taught me a great deal about everything from teamwork and negotiation to goal-setting and preparation. In junior high and high school it helped me forge strong friendships and shaped a sense of belonging.

I played in and ran campaigns, pouring countless hours into mapping dungeons, thinking of clever tactics, and pouring over the minutiae of the AD&D core books and scads of supplements. It didn’t take me long to try other TSR games, Gamma World and Top Secret in particular. Then I discovered Chaosium’s RuneQuest.

The Break Up

D&D faded rapidly into the background as I leaped into the world of Glorantha, percentile dice in hand. Aftermath! followed, then Twilight:2000, Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, Fate, and a host of other games. I explored a range of mechanics, settings, and gaming styles. Classes and levels fell by the wayside.

Over the years I popped my head back into D&D from time to time. I played 3.0 and 3.5 a handful of times, but these versions came across as a dense accumulation of rules designed more for collection than actual use. Reviews of 4.0 convinced me it wasn’t my kind of game, so I give it a wide berth.

Eventually I played in a short-lived Pathfinder campaign. The game’s beautiful presentation and rules clarity rekindled my interest in d20 fantasy, even though it was fundamentally similar to 3.x D&D in its focus and complexity. It was a cleanup, not an overhaul.

The Reunion

d-and-d-at-eriksThen D&D 5 came along. Intrigued by the positive reviews, I jumped in with both feet when Matt suggested running it for our Friday night group. We’ve played many sessions since, and I’m really enjoying the campaign. I can’t help myself; I’ve purchased the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and am coming up with ideas for a campaign of my own.

For years D&D has been its own thing, existing as its own gravity well outside the hobby it engendered. But fifth edition feels like it’s a part of the broader world of tabletop roleplaying, not just because it incorporates mechanics proven in other games, but also because it of how it is presented.

Fifth edition is more inviting to people outside traditional tabletop RPG demographics. The chainmail bikinis are gone and the cast of characters is more diverse than previous versions. The writing is crisp and clear, the art is fantastic, and it all feels tight and unified. The mechanics are clean and elegant, and D&D 5 encourages players to make the game their own with easy house rules options. It emphasizes the things that make D&D compelling – exploring the unknown, using your wits, and gaining power as you confront new challenges – without getting bogged down in myriad class-specific rules and exceptions.

Bounded accuracy is one of my favorite things about fifth edition. It eliminates the arms race problem that used to plague D&D and makes it easier for Dungeon Masters to plan adventures. Characters are still heroes, but no monster should be ignored.

The Future

This edition also emphasizes Dungeon Master creativity. As someone who almost never ran modules back in the AD&D days, I don’t need never-ending flood of published adventures. To me, creating your own adventures is a core element of the D&D experience. In that vein, Wizards of the Coast’s current strategy of releasing a small number of high quality campaign books, some of them produced by licensees, makes sense to me. The campaign books provide broad adventure paths that can be run straight through, interleaved with DM-created adventures, or mined for locales, NPCs, and baddies.

dnd-and-scotch-in-a-skull

Overall, I’m happy with this new approach because it keeps the total number of D&D books relatively low. The danger in adding too many rules supplements is that the game becomes daunting to newcomers. It also makes long-term players feel like their allegiance to the game is being manipulated. There’s a fine line between producing too little supplementary material and too much, but in the 12 months since the release of the boxed beginner set, Wizards has released the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, The Rise of Tiamat, the Dungeon Master’s Screen, and Princes of the Apocalypse. It’s better to release a smaller number of high-quality supplements rather than a slew of less useful ones.

Our Friday night crew has been going up against dragon cultists for many sessions. We’ve done some smart things and more than a few stupid things. Slowly our characters are becoming more powerful, and they are discovering the true nature of the diabolical powers that threaten the Sword Coast. As much as I enjoyed AD&D as a teenager, fifth edition is my favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m happy to see the original roleplaying game going strong once again.

Find links to reviews and other D&D 5 info here.

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