I know I've said this countless times on this here blog (I could count them but really don't feel like it), but for whatever reason I'm never quite satisfied with D&D. Actually, I'm never satisfied with any roleplaying game of any genre. Take for instance my series of posts a while back about superhero rpgs: it became evident when I finished that what I really want does not exist. I can tell you what I DON'T like, but nailing down what I do is difficult. Random character generation vs. point-buy, for instance. I like both at the same time, even though they're almost mutually exclusive. Honestly, I also like the V&V approach of basing characters on the players; makes it a lot easier to get into the game. Back to D&D, though. I need to stick with one thing...
First of all, D&D is its own genre. I've heard people call it generic fantasy, but really it's not. It is D&D Fantasy. And it is an actual game vs. an exercise in community masturbation. I honestly hate all those collaborative story telling systems, because they're really not games at all. A game is a diversion, played for enjoyment. It is competitive and involves skill or chance. "Everyone's a winner" is a phrase attributed to roleplaying that honestly annoys the fuck out of me. If your character died, sorry, you lost. Losing has nothing to do with having fun. The most fun I ever had during a game was a session of Supremacy wherein I was nuked to bits by the other players. I didn't come close to winning, but it was still enjoyable. No, I do not like losing whatsoever, and am a highly competitive person. So what? The process is fun. Back to D&D, character death is a very real part of the game. Gaining levels means you're winning, getting killed means you lost. You get a particular score and then start over. Without the possibility of imminent death, what's the point? I can arbitrarily make high level characters, give myself the best score and say I'm the winner. That's boring as hell. So much to sticking to one thing; this time, I promise. D&D is a game, and that's cool and it is it's own genre. Alright.
Browsing through B/X, I see the appeal. It's simple, open to interpretation. But I think about adding a few more spells, so I crack open the Mentzer set. This leads me to looking through the Cyclopedia, lamenting the lack of distinct character races, importing that from AD&D and then just using the PHB in toto. But now I'm stuck with a bunch of crap I don't like, namely inflated stats and a much more complex combat system. In the past I never had a problem with this, and I tried to figure out why. D&D was the perfect rpg for years, it was my panacea, and I wanted nothing more. After some careful consideration I came up with the answer as to why it worked so well: I made shit up. All the time I was making something up. When we actually played D&D, I usually ran the games and would do whatever was necessary to have fun. If a player wanted to be an elven thief, who cares? Elf thief it is, I don't give a fuck if that's in the rules or not. There are plenty of spells in the PHB, no reason why I can't just use those. No rules for drinking, I'll just have them roll against CON to see what happens. Etc. Now, there is too much rationalization, too much discussion, too much intellectual discourse, not enough playing. When we played, making up stuff was paramount to moving the game along. If I saw something cool in a magazine or another game I liked, into the game it went. Laser guns and battlemechs? Hey, at high enough level sure. In fact nearly all the high level games turned into some weird pulp action at some point. My best character, a 36th level fighter who became a deity, ended up flying around in a spaceship and conquering alien races. Why the fuck not? It was fun and that's all that mattered. We even used the ship combat rules from some crappy boardgame to play out battles. The notion that things needed to be balanced or make sense wasn't even considered. However, failure was still possible. Even with all the crazy things going on, never once did any of us think our characters were invulnerable or immune to death. Another critical point: the stats on the page really were not very important at all. Outside of combat rolls, no one every really paid attention to their character sheets. Wizards could decipher arcane runes and thieves had lots of underworld contacts.
Every time I try to codify how I want the game to run, I fail. The elusive panacea is nothing I can pin down because it's an ephemeral concept that only exists during play, not externally. There must be SOME beginning, though...right? Okay, how about this. Mentzer Red Box but allow race differentiation, allow clerics to cast at first level. Add the spells from AD&D, use those spell casting charts. Cut-off is 14th level; after that the game breaks down anyway...so use the thief skill charts from B/X. Any of the classes in the PHB allowed, back ported to Basic. Add more stuff whenever it needs to be added. The End.