Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 37 -- Player's Handbook: Dungeons & Dragons

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: August 28
Finished: August 31

Notes: This is the new Player's Handbook for the latest (ie., fifth) version of the Dungeons & Dragons game. I've been a gamer off and on for most of my life, and though I don't currently have any opportunities to break out the dice, I still enjoy reading the material from time to time. This version of the game is of interest because I want to see what the publisher has done with the game after the fourth edition brought about something of a tumult among the game's fans. Personally, I didn't care for the direction taken by fourth edition, but then I never got a chance to actually play, only to read about the rules, so my opinion might have been otherwise if I'd been able to play. This new version looks more like some of the earlier versions, at least from my quick scanning of the pages before actually reading. Also, this version was playtested by nearly 200,000 gamers during the creation process, so that should have an influence.

Mini review: Every player has their own likes and dislikes, their own reasons for playing a game, and with a tabletop RPG like D&D in which a new version comes out about every decade or so (sometimes sooner, sometimes later), there are always going to be changes, things to like and dislike. Here, there are things I like and there are things I dislike. Unfortunately, the dislikes outweigh the likes. That does not mean this is a bad game, only that it is not for me, and I am unlikely to play nor am I likely to purchase any further books for the game, though I might give the Dungeon Master's Guide a try just to see how some particulars are handled.

So, what do I like? I like how a lot of the magical spells have been reworked to be more powerful for higher-level casters. Though I think it's overly simplified, I actually do like the new advantage/disadvantage dice rolls because it clears away a whole bunch of conditional rules concerning combat. I like the fact that combat has ostensibly been sped up. I like the move away from using maps so much. I also quite like the fact that magical items will likely no longer hold as much importance to characters as before, that characters can be more dependent upon themselves than what they've got stuffed in their backpack. I especially like how saving throws have been simplified. And I like that the rules are basic enough that this would be a good version of the game for beginners. As for the book itself, I find the editing superb, the writing mostly solid, the artwork good, and the general layout and design pretty good.

What don't I like? I don't like all the additional abilities and archetypes that have been laid over the various classes; it over complicates practically everything, in my opinion, and might possibly slow down game play so that the gains from the advantage/disadvantage system will be moot. This version of the game itself is not to blame for the mentality behind this, because it is a trend that has been brewing at least since version 3.0, and perhaps before (one could argue maybe even all the way back to First Edition's Unearthed Arcana). I also feel spellcasters have been made exorbitantly powerful, and at a big loss to the non-spellcasting classes; as far as I can tell, because of the now-standard to-hit ratio, Fighters and their like have been neutered down to a bunch of special abilities that, in my opinion, no way make up for the main job these classes are supposed to be doing, fighting. I miss my skills and my Feats, but that's just me; I felt skills and Feats gave each character an individuality which has now been done away with for archetypes and other rules that brand the characters upon certain paths. For some of my complaints, one always hears the argument, "Well, it's an optional rule." My answer: It's an RPG, all the rules are optional, so that doesn't mean I suddenly have to like something because it's only "optional." Why have rules at all in that case? But maybe I've missed something and need to re-read the rules. Also, I realize there are rules for Feats and skills in this version, but those rules have been so watered down that they might as well not be there.

All this being said, this latest edition of D&D was test played by tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of gamers. So, the gamers got what they wanted, I suppose. What this reveals to me is a disconnect between myself and the majority of modern tabletop gamers. I don't want everything to be easy, my characters to never face a real chance of death, my wizards to be ultra powerful at low levels, my fighters to be nothing more than cannon fodder to shield the spellcasters. I want character, which is built by diversity and adversity. What I do not want is the easiest route to making my character a bad ass, the video game route.

From what I've seen, this version of D&D is receiving mostly rave reviews. I wish the game and the company plenty of luck. Truly, I do. But this product is not for me. To be fair, I've not had much of an opportunity to actually play the game, and base most of my opinions upon the reading of this book and a few skirmish sessions. Perhaps I will change my mind with time.

To add, one good thing about D&D is that if one does not enjoy a particular edition of the game, there are always the older editions, and eventually there will be a new edition to test out.

Also, I would like to add that, though I'm not interested in playing this game, that does not mean I hate the game nor that I think it is the worst tabletop RPG of all time. It also does not mean I would absolutely never play it. If I was with a group of gamers who wanted to play this version of D&D, I'd gladly give it a whirl. More than once I've been surprised and enjoyed a game with rules for which I did not initially care.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I find some of these books really interesting just for the images and the creativity.