RPG Orphan

Posted by Professor Obscure

I wasn’t always an RPG orphan. For the better part of twenty years I had a game I loved to play: Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the mid-eighties. Its not that great a claim. Its not like I’ve been there from the beginning. I haven’t been an important contributor to the evolution of the game. I’ve never published anything and I’ve never had the ear of any game designers or TSR executives. All I can claim is that I’ve been a loyal consumer of Dungeons and Dragon products for more than twenty years. I won’t bore you with my gaming history and clever anecdotes about trying out different TSR products back in the day. If you are anything like me, you have your own memories from your youth (yours are probably more vivid than mine) of how Dungeons and Dragons has been a part of your world for the better part of your life. TSR was a great source of inspiration for me. All of childhood imaginings are steeped in the sword and sorcerer adventures I read and played growing up.
It is important to understand that I am a Product Loyalist. Perhaps it was my upbringing. I’m a ford guy, I buy my major appliances at sears, and I buy Irish Spring soap even when it’s not on sale. I’ve been the same with TSR and Dungeons and Dragons. I bought all those boxed sets in the 90s (Al-Qadim, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Planescape, etc.) even if I had no intention of using them in a game. I’d read through those campaign settings every night before going to bed. I’d get inspired by the art and descriptions, and cherry-pick the coolest stuff and put it into my own game.
Being a TSR product loyalist, when the news of 3rd edition starting showing up online I was thrilled! I know a lot of loyal TSR gamers left the fold when 3rd edition hit. I was not among them. I welcomed 3E with open arms as I hoped it would streamline the countless rules options available in 2nd edition at the time. For me, the prospect of a shiny new edition of Dungeons and Dragons was great. For a while everything was perfect.
3.5 was a bit of a slap in the face for me. 3E was only two years old when they announced 3.5. To this day I feel like the 3.5 rules changes could have been contained to a 50 page errata & clarifications pamphlet rather than a $90 investment in new core rulebooks. Even after it became clear that WotC’s new owner was trying to make my beloved Dungeons and Dragons into a money machine (I think I clued in around ‘races of destiny’ that these monthly hardcovers were a waste and detracting from the game), I was still there buying $30 rules supplements! It was still ‘my game’ even if it was broken.
4th Edition was announced in 2007. I couldn’t have been more excited. The art looked great, lots of the early ideas I supported, and Dungeons and Dragons was going to take its first major step into the digital age by having an online content and an online gaming table! I was ready. 4th Edition was especially anticipated for me for a couple reasons. One was that I was in a weekly D&D game and we were very good at finding the problems with 3.0/3.5 and I was ready for some fixes. The other was the ‘.5’ in 3.5 suggested an eventual new edition. Fourth edition was the fulfillment of an unspoken promise. That little ‘.5’ also suggested, to my mind anyway, that the new Four edition would feature improvements to the game roughly equal in quantity and game impact as the 3.5 improvements were to 3.0 (3.0+.5=3.5, 3.5+.5=4).
When 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons was released it barely resembled its namesake. Eladrin, Tieflings and Dragonborn as starting races, omission of classic races and classes, World of Warcraft-like talent trees, and a focus on battlefield tactics rather than actual role-playing were all most ominous to me. The various shortcomings of 4th Edition have been covered ad nasuem elsewhere. I will say that for me the most disturbing part of 4th edition to me was (an continues to be) that the designers are taking their inspiration from a corporate model first, people who comment a lot on their message boards second, and actual sword and sorcery source materials a distant last. The people over at WotC can make any game they like, but to call it ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ it needs a few things that seem omitted purely to make us buy the next book, and replaced by additions people on message boards thought were ‘cool’. Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition could be the greatest miniatures game ever, but I’ll never know because I’m not interested in that from a product called ‘Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. It would be like buying a can of soup and finding dog food inside the can. I could be the best dog food in the world and it still would not be what I wanted. Some might argue that 4th Edition changes were no more radical than 3rd Edition changes. I don’t follow that line of thinking. Despite its many changes, 3rd Edition still feels like dungeons and dragons whereas if 4thEdition had a different name (say, Wizards of Coastcraft) I’d completely believe it was not a rip off of Dungeons and Dragons, but its own game I’d never have any interest in or need to write about.
And so Dungeons and Dragons and I must now go our separate ways. I’ve tried many similar roleplaying games before and since 4th Edition’s release, but none of them quite do it for me. Paizo’s post-4th Edition effort Pathfinder is very good and I’m sure many RPG orphans have found a new family in Paizo. Kenzerco seems to be taking their next edition of Hackmaster very seriously and all evidence suggests it will be very good. Time will tell if it can fill the emptiness left by 4th Edition. In the meantime I find myself surrounded by dungeons and dragons materials (just looking around this moment I see more than a dozen TSR and WotC products strewn about my room) but left to my own devices as to what to do with them. I know now that there will never be another Dungeons and Dragons product for me to buy and read hungrily. Any further fun to be had from Dungeons and Dragons will have to be solely on my own terms. I know people who have felt this sense of abandonment since 2th edition was released more than twenty years ago. Abandoned by the game that they love, they choose to forge on, playing the game that they grew up with on their own terms. For them this means playing an older edition of the game, usually with a host of house rules to keep things current and fix the problems they had hoped would have been fixed in 2nd Edition. For me, that ‘.5’ still need rounding up! I will draw from sources wherever I can find them to make my 4th Edition the game I always wanted it to be.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at Wednesday, March 24, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I feel your pain. I was an late 70's TSR player who ran out of time in the mid-90s to play. Now that I've started to RP again, it just doesn't feel the same, both on the mechanics level and on the High Fantasy level.

March 24, 2010 at 11:13 AM

Alas, it depends on the day of the week for me to agree with you. One one hand, I play 4E because that is what is supported. On the other hand, I'm looking for the right group to start up an Ad&D campaign. Can I ever have cake and pie in the same meal?


March 24, 2010 at 12:05 PM

I tried, but did not like, 3.5 and anxiously awaited 4e, only to have my hopes dashed.

Happily, I found a home. Hope you find yours.

March 24, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Preach on brother! I can't stand what has been done to my precious D&D. 4th edition was the absolute death of the game in my opinion. I hope some day some game designers who have an appreciation for the game come along and cast a raise dead spell on it.

March 24, 2010 at 12:31 PM

I had a similar falling out myself. 3.5 was the final straw for me, big slap in the face.

After several years of bouncing around through different systems, I finally decided to make my own.

March 24, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Um, the games (older editions) aren't gone or anything. They're all still there and you can play them if you want. Lots of people do.

And if you want something shiny and new there are retro clones for every edition. I recommend Labyrinth Lord and it's AEC.

March 24, 2010 at 10:31 PM

D&D died in 1989 and AD&D 2 for me. Kits didn't customize a class, they justified power gaming, and then, when Kits proved too restrictive to provide Super Ultra Power Gaming, out they went and in came Powers & Options.

3.x was an attempt to fuse a "universal" game engine onto a class/level structure, hobbled by the misguided attempt to keep the horrible choice 2.0 made to keep weapon skills out of the 'skills' category.

It was a muddle which fell apart so fast that 3.5 was rushed out two years ahead of schedule (Monte Cook admitted 3.5 had been planned from the get go, it was supposed to be annouced in tear five of 3.0.) and I've no doubt 3.5 had originally been planned with a longer shelf life in mind, the state of not really ready DDI shows that.

March 25, 2010 at 5:02 PM

The great thing is we have the ability, now more than ever, to go back to the classic games we loved, with plenty of community support and supplements to go along.

March 25, 2010 at 9:52 PM

This is a problem I've been having with several of the games I loved. D&D as mentioned in this post, Shadowrun, and now Warhammer FRP.

March 26, 2010 at 10:02 AM

It's frustrating that the people chosen to design 4E apparently don't understand why people play D&D very much at all.

They've created the equivalent of a new version of soccer where the only focus is penalty shootouts.

They're very naive, and I look forward to them disappearing from D&D book credits, and soon.

March 28, 2010 at 9:01 AM

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