Thursday, January 2, 2014

D&D Next & The Next Generation of Kid Gamers

A homemade character of mine from the 80s.
More of a spy than a D&D character. 
Aside from playing AD&D (entirely incorrectly) as a kid in the 1980s, my first true D&D games with real adult gamers was at my local gaming store, Flights of Fantasy about 2 years ago.  As I stated when I began this blog, I got back into D&D because I have two boys and I wanted to play something with them that went beyond just sitting on the floor with action figures. Action figure play is still a big deal with my six-year old son, but pen and paper RPGs are now a part of the family language here, too.

Learning the basics for D&D 4 was not easy. I still, and will never, know every single stat, power, concept, etc. Getting into the extreme nitty gritty of the detail of every single rule is just not how I roll—pun intended. My brain does not even want to function that way. I find that strictly adhering to RPG rules, especially here at home with my kids, to be a mind-numbing experience. Games here tend to never last longer than an hour at most. Sometimes we continue an adventure over the course of a few days. Life here is busy, kids have a short attention span, and let's face it, a PS3, GameBoy 3DS, and the lure of video games is very enticing. Also, I never force my loves on my kids. The kids took to D&D mostly because it's a great game, not just because I said it was great.

My kids are 6 and 12. When we started playing, my oldest was only 10. Old enough to grasp it all, young enough to get bored quickly. When we played at the local gaming store with the big boys and adults, rules were argued sometimes, and that was fine. We had great DMs and when a DM knows a lot, even a young kid can be helped along. Combat though, in D&D 4th edition, often took a very long time. My son played games on his cell phone or worked on homework once his usually brief turn ended as he waited for the six players & other DM monsters to all take turns before the game came back to him. He had fun and wanted to be there, but that was not a game. Not for a kid, anyway. Sure, us adults stayed in the game and payed attention to what was happening, offering advice to our party members even though it was not our turn. For kids though, the menuita of the rules and the massive lulls during combat game easily pushed out the role playing and fun.

I can't speak for all adult players, but as a simple matter of personal experience, I have observed that the majority of adults I've played with tend to enjoy all the rules. This is perfectly fine with me. A full adult game needs to be pretty rules-heavy in order to keep everything organized so that games don't descend into playing-on-the-floor-with-action-figures chaos. Still, there is no reason combat needs to take so long, and get even longer yet, with large parties. I think with D&D 4, many people, even hard core gamers, were in agreement with that.

Here at home we like fast games, lots of story, quick combat, not so many technical rules, and easy resolutions. The kids love minis and maps too. Typical game play here is heavy on story and exploration. When monsters are encountered, an initiative is rolled, turns are taken, and AC and weapons bonuses are mostly all we use. We sometimes do skill checks. Games run smoothly and we all enjoy ourselves. I often wished the minis for monsters had AC and HP printed right on the bottom. Or even 4 sets of AC and HP depending on party size—kind of a S M L and XL size stat guide.

D&D Next will hopefully have simple rules at its core. Already there is an Advantage/Disadvantage system that has me hopeful. I have playtested D&D Next for a full session at Flights of Fantasy. Now while the details were still in flux and kinks were being worked out, for the most part, the game moved much faster. Gone was all the extraneous junk that slowed down D&D 4. All those card-like abilities and powers that slowed the game and made it feel more like an SAT prep test than the high adventure it should be were mostly absent.

All the grumbling online about rules tend to come from those unable to treat rules more loosely. The very name of this blog, "Wizards Never Wear Armor" comes from one such robotic player we encountered about two years ago who barked that exact statement at my then 10 year old son. We did not stay with that group for very long. And if we want armor on a wizard here at home—rules be damned—we will put armor on one. Combat in D&D Next moves faster. I'm hoping from what I read and played that when the books finally come out D&D Next will be truly, the one system to rule them all. For me I hope the rules are put together like an onion. Small and simple in the core, and increasingly larger and more complex as it goes out. I do not mind complex rules at all, but kids and the Next generation needs something simple to grasp, so the hook of RPG is in them before they get bored. Bogging down a 6, 8, 10, or 12-year old kid with thousands of rules and instances right up front will surely sink RPGs going forward and religate the entire industry to artsy fringe people and stinky older men. Why so many gamers are absent from basic hygiene is a mystery to me. Wizards, I suspect, wants a broader base of new gamers who brush their teeth and comb their hair.

I do see hints of what I am referring to in game rules text all the time. The rules aren't in charge—Creating house rules are just fine—Get the core mechanic down and start playing—Use a store bought adventure, or just make up your own. If you are new to RPGs I do recommend reading basic rules of whatever game you chose to play. At the very least get the core mechanic down. D&D 4 core mechanic is so simple.

Here is a link to download the D&D 4th edition core mechanic rules. Wizards wants you to have them. Here is a link to their Learn to Play page.

The rules for D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder are better, if for no other reason than because combat goes faster. D&D 4 is very unique and if you were thinking of buying a new set of books I'd wait for D&D Next to come along first. D&D 4, I suspect, will be the most different from all other D&D editions once Next comes out. If you can't wait there is enough available online on Wizards site to get you up and running.

Because of the lag between D&D 4 and D&D Next, Wizards has reprinted the core rules books for AD&D, D&D 2nd Edition, and D&D 3.5. I suspect this is so when the core rules come out, whatever previous edition you loved most can be easily bent to suit the new basic rules. Obviously I'm speculating. Hoping. Here are links to for the D&D 3.5 Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guid, and the Monster Manual. I'd grab these fast before they go out of print. Books from D&D 4 are everywhere. These are likely to be less common as time goes on and 3.5 is my favorite edition so far. If you are wacky like me you might also want to grab the reprint of The Premium Original Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Box Set. This was the game that Gygax started it all with. A moment of silence.

I also recommend that you start playing something, anything, within minutes after sitting down with friends. Even if your first games are sloppy, so what. Pass around the rules, get moving, and for God's sake, have fun! I often read as I go, even with board games, which often tend to be stricter with rules and heavy with bits. I'll get to bits in another blog. I HATE BITS!

Role playing, for me, is about being creative. As a writer and artist it's a great way to relax while still keeping creative. While many people love purely tactical games that stimulate the brain in one way, I love more story-based games that stimulate imaginative adventure and lean more towards creative writing.

Official playtesting for D&D Next has ended. Whispers and rumors of a summer 2014 release have been growing. I found an official non date-specific release announcement here. Will I get rid of all my D&D 4 books when this happens? Hell no! Hopefully the new system will be made in such a way that all or most older D&D books will still have some relevance. Surely at the very least all the 4e modules and adventures could be very useful.

Even today when I play a store bought module with my kids I need to adjust the numbers of monsters as well as their AC & HP so that a small party of two will not be overcome and killed in one round. Hopefully D&D Next will have an official mechanic in place for using or converting older adventures to the new system.

The first new module, Murder in Baldur's Gate was already open-ended enough that Wizards printed 3rd, 4th, and Next compatibility on the back of it. I like this a lot.

This is an exciting time to be playing D&D. It may be the dead of winter where I live right now, but I'm already looking forward to the summer & D&D Next.

Here are a few decent articles for further reading:

Combat Speed in D&D Next

After A Year Playtesting A New Dungeons & Dragons, What's Next?

The Many faces of Dungeons and Dragons

Are These The Best Dungeons And Dragons Adventures?