Thursday, March 16, 2006

That Ubiquitous Game System

I have mixed feelings about Dungeons & Dragons, and it's Open Game License sibling, D20. I have fond memories of getting my first taste of D&D in the 80's with a magenta Basic Set, followed soon after by the original AD&D hardcovers. It wasn't that the gaming was all that good (I was too young for that), but the potential was amazing. I remember spending hours rolling up characters, mapping out castles on graph paper, and dreaming up worlds that never were. But when I discovered my first real gaming group in my junior year of high-school, we quickly left D&D behind for systems that agreed with our sensibilities at the time. Middle-Earth Roleplaying, Rolemaster, James Bond RPG, and Warhammer FRP were big winners for us. But the biggest for us was GURPS, a game that I would continue to run and play continuously until just a few years ago.

I loved that in GURPS you could create any type of character you wanted. I also loved the way that its combat system actually seemed to reflect the action of what was going on in a fight, whereas D&D had cheesy notions such as armor that could help you avoid blows, or hit point totals that made it impossible for most characters to be killed by anything short of ridiculous amounts of damage. But the best thing about GURPS was that the magic system was capable of being fit to more interesting models, ones that actually reflected literary or occult source material better than D&D 's antiquated Vancian model. I especially loved the magic system that was introduced in GURPS Voodoo and later perfected in GURPS Spirits. To this day, it is one of may favorite magic systems.

So, throughout most of the 90's, I was a bit of a system snob. I looked down on D&D and those that played it. Things started to change when I realized that gaming is, first and foremost, a social activity. The people you play with are more important than the systems you use. One of my friends was running an AD&D 2nd Edition game and I eagerly joined. I still hated the system (and 2nd Edition AD&D is the worst incarnation of that game...ever), but the game was pretty good and the company was excellent. Slowly, my snobbery was falling away.

What finally killed my anti-D&D prejudice was the simultaneous release of D&D 3e and the gathering of a new group of friends to play it in Charlottesville. My good friend Nakia is a excellent game master. He proved that even though 3e retained some things that annoyed me, a really good fantasy game could still be run using it.

That brings me to the present. I have a new favorite system to run (Risus), and my long running Slaying Solomon game uses the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG. But I'm also a part-time player in a D&D 3.5 game and I am considering running a D&D/D20 version of my Dragonspire game. While preparing for this new game, I have been forced to confront many of the things I don't like about D&D. Things that have stopped irritating me as a player still really get under my skin as a GM. But it's not my old gripes that bother me so much as my new gripe: it takes too long to prepare D&D games. I've been spoiled by Risus and BtVSRPG, and even GURPS would probably annoy me now.

I'm persisting, mostly out of my desire to prove to myself that I can run a D&D game that is as cool to my players as Nakia's game was for me. That, and I'd like to be comfortable running D&D when I get a chance to participate in "round-robin" games with the cool ENWorld folks at GenCon or Game Days.
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