While not as catchy as Zubon’s Tabletop Tuesday, I will admit it took me half a cup of coffee to forsake Tabletop [RPG] Thursday and get another mildly catchy title. I’ve noticed that a lot of MMO players, especially bloggers, at least understand the concept of pen-and-paper role-playing games (RPGs). I know a lot of us also frequent the fabled rpg.net, which is the hub for that niche of geek. So to get more posts on KTR, I’m going to branch out on Thursdays to write about pen-and-paper or tabletop RPGs.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Or rather, let’s not. Tobold has been talking about D&D Next for awhile, and I’d rather talk about something we have. Let’s talk about the children of D&D 3.5.
D&D 3 and 3.5 was the contemporary high-mark for Dungeons and Dragons. It was an attempt not only to fix years of mechanical pork that had clogged D&D Second Edition’s arteries, but it also tried a pretty revolutionary concept of opening up the copyright (Open Gaming License, or OGL) so that anybody could create publishable, profitable supplements for it. D&D’s owner – Wizards of the Coast (WotC) – would profit because the license prohibited publishing certain D&D system details that could only be found in the core books. And, it worked and was good, for a time.
The first child of D&D 3.5 was D&D 4th edition, which was D&D completely reinventing itself in views of things like MMOs and the current video game RPGs. The game really boiled down to balanced combat, and everything about the system seemed to be aimed at the progression of leveling, loot, and monsters. In the high-brow lexicon of RPG geeks it was very “gamist”. A gamist RPG is just a few steps from board games like HeroQuest. There’s a bucket list of problems, but it ended with WotC’s lack of support and decision to move on to D&D Next (coming this summer). This child of D&D 3.5 overdosed in its studio when its parents cut the “art” funding.
The golden boy of the family is Pathfinder. Pathfinder looked at its parents and decided that it should follow their good life. It did not want to be “gamist”; it wanted to be more “simulationist” just like its dad. Pathfinder is essentially D&D 3.5, Version 2, and it is mostly compatible with all the vast D&D 3.5 materials, which is a huge benefit since we all love backwards compatibility. Whereas D&D4 turned its back on OGL and that ilk, Pathfinder embraced it all. Good and bad parts came from D&D 3.5, including things like meta-gaming mechanics for the best class/party compositions. I will admit that in the D&D lot, Pathfinder is most popular at the moment, and Paizo is really pushing the brand as a whole.
My favorite is 13th Age, which is the youngest son of D&D 3.5. This child was conceived after D&D4’s “death” by the lead designer of D&D4 (Heinsoo) and lead designer of D&D3 (Tweet). They took an indie approach to what-makes-D&D. The combat blurs more towards “gamist” than Pathfinder, but it retains its roots in D&D 3.5. The best part about 13th Age is they decided to add a really healthy dose of “narrativist” to the game system. After all – incoming, horribly overused pun – we are ROLE-playing and not just ROLL-playing*. The system is also incredibly helpful for an overworked GM because it simplifies many things on the GM’s end as well, such as monster attacks and skill challenges. Plus I have been really impressed with Pelgrane Press’s support.
Next week I will break down why 13th Age is my favorite son of D&D 3.5. I’d love to hear more “reviews” of any progeny of D&D 3.5 below, or even what is coming with D&D Next.
*as in just roll the dice. Sigh.