Dungeons and Dragons: could the Next version end the edition wars?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree ... ition-wars
Tweaks and alterations to the rules of Dungeons and Dragons have created vastly different play experiences â€“ and often spawned monstrous arguments in their wake.'
At a casual glance, the basic rules of Dungeons and Dragons don't seem to have changed much since its inception in 1974. It's still a game played by rolling dice under the auspices of a games master, whose job it is to create a story for their players. The setting still primarily revolves around dungeons in which dragons may well be found. But for the players, it has evolved significantly with each new edition of the game, as tweaks and alterations to the rules have created vastly different play experiences â€“ and often spawned monstrous arguments in their wake.
I first picked up a D20 at the relatively late age of 21. I found a group of gaming friends at university, and quickly discovered that pretending to be an evil monk with an affinity for elemental magic was surprisingly good fun and a great way to get to know people. D&D is often a gateway game for new tabletop roleplayers, as it's so widely known and universally played. It fosters a strange loyalty: thanks to its pop-culture status as iconic nerd hobby, its players tend to band together, and thanks to its complex nature, it's possible to have great depth of knowledge of the rules, and to develop a technical vocabulary that makes little sense to people who don't already play (if you can define THAC0, understand Vancian magic or explain the Cleave feat, you'll know what I mean). It has spawned a catalogue of other tabletop games, but despite newer, cooler titles starting to cross over more into the mainstream, tabletop roleplaying is still a niche hobby, seen as amusingly geeky in spite of the creativity and imagination it inspires at its best.
Good-natured debate about whether sorcerers are better than wizards, or disagreements about which is the best spell in the game (it's grease, if you're wondering) can be just as much a social, friendly experience â€“ or an epic battle â€“ as the games themselves. But at times, rules debates can morph into a strident defence of the best edition, with fans of one loth to admit there might be any merit at all in any others. So creators Wizards of the Coast are taking something of a gamble by deciding to let their vocal fans loose on D&D Next, the latest version of the game, before it goes to press.
There are sensible reasons to try to get the community onside before the game is finalised. In 2007, the publication of D&D Fourth edition splintered the player base. Paizo's Pathfinder, which is built on the open rules of 3.5e, proved wildly popular with players who much preferred the older game. The term "edition wars" has been used to describe the impassioned arguments between player bases, which have even spawned a satirical board game in which players must slavishly champion their preferred version.
With the fifth edition, Wizards are trying to lay the edition wars to rest. They are aiming to create a game that can be enjoyed by new players as well as everyone who played earlier editions â€“ a risky task. So far the results of the open playtests are too mixed to tell how it's going to play out. Some friends see it as a step backwards; others like the new features. All, I'm sure, will have debates about them as the game progresses â€“ and it's surely a good thing that Wizards are open to being argued with.
Regardless of the system you prefer, the most important element of a good tabletop game is the players. A good games master and a good group of storytellers can make or break the experience, and what the edition wars have taught me is that it's a shame when the rules get in the way. In Dungeons and Dragons, the rules are meant to be there to resolve conflicts, not to encourage them. So far, D&D Next looks like a good step down that road â€“ but whether it's enough to prevent more edition wars remains to be seen.