The King is Dead

Friday, February 12, 2016

Time to Put the d20s Away...

from d20 Shaming
My enthusiasm for Dungeons and Dragons waxes and wanes. Right now it has waned yet again.

A significant reason for this is simply Robin’s horrible luck with 20-sided dice. It’s epically bad; our last session ended with her rolling nothing but 6s and 7s on five different dice. If this misfortune was more evenly distributed around the table, it might actually be funny (or even fun), but given that some of the other players have suspiciously good luck, it instead becomes frustrating and unfair. I've belatedly realized why so many games utilize dice pools instead.

(The fact that I roll my own dice out in the open in order to show I’m unbiased toward my wife winds up biting me in the ass because I can’t just fudge lightly in her favor every once in a while. I’m beginning to understand why DM screens were invented.)

Robin’s terrible luck with d20s does not extend to smaller dice, which is why we settled on Savage Worlds as our default system for duets years ago. The first session of our new swashbuckling duet was blessed with multiple instances of exploding dice and wondrous feats of swordsmanship. It’s almost enough to tempt me to houserule rolling different dice for D&D – 2d10, perhaps, or 3d6 and lowering some difficulty numbers – but there’s a couple of other factors contributing to my fading interest.

One is simply that I’m a nobody in D&D circles and a somebody in Savage Worlds circles. It’s a petty reason, but regretfully true; I get a bigger ego boost out of interacting with the SW Google+ and Facebook communities than with the D&D crowd. Honestly, conversations in the Google+ D&D 5e community tend to feel like we’re shouting towards each other across a howling void.

(They also tend to point out my own failures to correctly parse 5e’s deliberately vague yet annoyingly precise language. I would have never assumed that a Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature is expected to be used every round; my reading of the ability’s description – informed as it was by AD&D 2nd Edition – was that the Rogue had to work to maneuver into advantageous positions before using it, something that is not guaranteed in every round.)

Similarly, I have to admit that I feel underwhelmed by the overwhelming amount of fan-created material popping up on and elsewhere. I feel incredibly snobbish for saying that (and guilty for feeling that way) but a lot of it is just poorly written (by which I mean “amateurish and full of spelling errors,” not “lacking in game balance”). The people posting Star Wars classes or monsters – or that one guy who posted a Gunslinger class and stole artwork from Marvel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s books – offend me more for the way it displays their poor reading comprehension than for their disregard of copyright laws.

There’s very good, almost necessary work being published at the Dungeon Masters Guild, too. The very fact that some of it – like stats for normal, commonly-encountered NPCs or supplemental bestiaries – is almost necessary is pretty annoying. D&D 5e is a little more fast and loose than the previous two editions, but it’s still much more granular than Savage Worlds. I tried tossing some Way of Shadow monks at the party during the last game and I really , really wish I’d taken the time to stat them out well ahead of the game. Making them up on the spot did not work well.

 D&D 5e doesn’t fit my loose, improvisational game mastering style as well as Savage Worlds. It isn’t meant to, so that’s my problem, not the game’s. I haven’t been interested enough in any of the pre-packaged campaigns to run them, so I haven’t been taking advantage of the best tool to run 5e the way it’s meant to be run. It’s a moderate- to high-prep game and I’m a low-prep kind of guy. So be it.

I’ve created other problems for myself, too. I’m a “give them the moon and let them aim for the stars” kind of GM, so I’ve been ludicrously generous with attribute scores and feats (and – sort of – with magical items). Do not – DO NOT – allow your players to take both a feat and an attribute boost at the appropriate levels. I thought it would be fun, but it just leads to overkill (yes, overkill was obviously intended, but this was overkill overkill). Hell, I’ll probably dump feats entirely from future games, and scale back on the attribute spread I give players.

I say “future games” because I know I’ll be back. After I get Ultimate NPCs: Skullduggery – and after Ed Greenwood starts publishing through the Dungeon Masters Guild – I know I’ll start getting nostalgic again. I’ll succumb to the lure of the Forgotten Realms and try to start up that “Scumbags of Waterdeep” campaign that’s been flitting at the edges of my imagination…

But I’ve had enough for now. For now it’s Wild Dice and Action Cards. The Guild of Shadows book should be showing up soon, so maybe I can exorcize my Waterdhavian yearnings in Kurstwahl instead.
Also, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is making me question a lot of the basic assumptions of D&D-style fantasy, but that's another post...

1 comment:

  1. d20 is a prison. Savage Worlds set me free.