Role-playing games have been a staple of my entertainment since grade school. From Dungeons & Dragons to City of Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds to Mass Effect, from muds and chat sims to play-by-post and table top. Role-playing games have let me live a hundred lives, triumph over thousands of villains and save dozens of worlds. I’ve been a dual-wielding swordsman, a super-powered ice controller, a Starfleet engineer and many other heroes. Role-playing games allow me to venture into unknown worlds with my friends and save the world.
My first taste of role-playing games was back in elementary school. I had been away at summer camp for a week and my parents wouldn’t be able to pick me up until near the end of the day. An older boy and I were about all that was left. I had heard of Dungeons & Dragons previously and he had a few books spread out across the table. He taught me the basics and helped me make my first character, an elf mage. We didn’t get very far in the adventure, I think my character died after a few rounds of combat.1 It was just in the nick of time too, my parents had arrived and it was time to head home. But that taste of role-playing proved to be enough to keep me forever interested.
My next role-playing game was a Star Trek themed online chat simulation. Every Wednesday from 9-10pm, I was Pounce, a hotshot Betazoid engineer. As a cadet, he rocketed through the academy and was picked to join the flagship of Teenfleet,2 the USS Trafalgar, captained by Vice Admiral Selivak Lynx. I have a lot to thank Spacefleet for. They gave me a safe place to role-play online without incident. They provided a well-established universe and top notch sim hosts. Spacefleet is truly where I grew up as a role-player. Without it, I’m not sure I ever make it back to Dungeons & Dragons or even step up to become one of the primary DMs for my friends.
In 2000, Wizards of the Coast finally put their stamp on Dungeons & Dragons and it was beautiful. This is the system I grew up on and it will always have a fond place in my heart. Skills, feats, multiclassing, the interactions. As I’ve said previously, I’ve always loved games and rules and thier complex interactions and D&D 3E fit this perfectly. The rules as a player were wonderful. I could mash classes and skills and feats and spells together to make a unique character every time.3 Plus the d20 System flourished with every genre of game imaginable. Modern settings (d20 Modern), science fiction (Star Wars), superheroes (Mutants & Masterminds). The 2003 rules update (D&D 3.5) made a solid series of changes to clarify things and adjust some power settings. And with that update they released my favorite setting, Eberron.4
The latest (and least?) edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I’m impressed by certain advances they made and the inspiration they drew from MMORPGs. But many other parts of the system are just not fun for me as a player or a DM. As a 4E player, I never felt like my character was really in danger. This really wasn’t on the DM at all.5 I honestly can’t remember a single character death in either of the campaigns I took part in.6 This lack of lethal threat makes the game lack a certain oomph. In addition, the combats just slogged on far too long in most cases. Once the players gained the upper hand, it was never relinquished and everyone was bored by the end. I’ve talked about the negatives enough but I really enjoyed healing get spread out to different classes, the taunt/marking mechanic was well-implemented if a little weak. And the tactical combat was very good if very slow.
The current version of Mutants and Masterminds is a lot of fun. At least from a character creation and game master perspective. Not all of my players enjoyed the free-form combat where distances don’t really matter. But I loved it. Plus you could build any imaginable superhero or supervillain from scratch. Out of all the role-playing campaigns I’ve run, I’m most fond of this one. It played well with the audience and even though it was short, I feel it was a memorable one. One that I hope my players will remember as fondly as I will.
Finally, the preview rules of the next version of Dungeons & Dragons. It seems like Wizards and the D&D brand manager finally understand and convinced Hasbro that D&D is not like their other properties and that it can be successful without being Magic: the Gathering or Transformers. It also seems like R&D has decided to roll back the clock and pretend most of 4th Edition never happened. I’m happy for this change and while I loved 3rd Edition, there are a few things D&D can learn from it’s last edition and I hope they find a way to incorporate a lot of the stuff I mentioned above. We’re playtesting this version right now with my current group but I’ll talk more about it in a future post.
Completely appropriate for a solo wizard.↩
A section of the sim group catered to the younger crowd of simmers.↩
Even if I only really play humans and elves.↩
While Eberron is far and away my favorite D&D setting, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was the single best book during the 3rd Edition run.↩
Okay, there was one instance where I was basically begging for him to kill me and he didn’t.↩
There was a semi-scripted death in the campaign I was DMing to kindly remind my players that characters could die. Unfortunately, the campaign took an extended (and then permanent) hiatus not long after.↩