Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

The D&D Curmudgeon

Tom (WINOLJ) has an open slot in the campaign he's running and invited me to participate.  He's using the Ptolus campaign setting, which, if you have to use a premade setting rather than rolling your own, seems to be about as good as you could hope for.  He gave me a copy of the player's guide to peruse, and it looks lovely.  I sat in on a run, and it looked like it would be fun.  And I'd started to get some ideas for a character.  Unfortunately, to actually join the campaign, I'd have to come to grips with my hatred of 3.5.

First, let me explain that I feel first betrayed and then shat upon by WOTC/Hasbro.  I bought the 3 core books, which means that I spent more actual cash money on 3.0 than on all role-playing systems I'd played or interacted with before, and in fact, more money than I've put into any non-computer game system other than Magic and the Mayfair crayon train game.  I was annoyed that I had to buy the DMG and the Monster Manual just to be a player, because there's so much stuff a player needs to know that's not in the PH.  I didn't feel betrayed, though, until they started printing a bookshelf full of additional books and supplements, most of which would have a few desirable pages, just the way TSR had done before.  And when they came out with 3.5, telling the public that they'd just asked to shell out $500 for way too many books to throw those away and buy them all again, I had had it with giving them money.

But luckily, there's a chink in their mercenary attitude, and the content of the 3.5 core books is available for free download as the SRD.  (Although I'm not really that surprised that the SRD is distributed in a format that makes it very hard to actually use.  86 separate RTF files, not even named so that they sort in order?  What's up with that?  If you actually meant to be helpful, it would be one PDF, or possibly 3 to mirror the 3 books.)  Skulking in through this chink and skimming through it, I find a few things they actually made better (such as reworking the Jump skill so it's almost usable), and a fair number of things they made worse, like the spells and items they dorked.  (Castrating Heal?  Changing Bull's Strength, etc., from covering the whole dungeon crawl, or the whole traveling day when you got to be mid-level, to single-encounter spells, where they have to compete for attention in the one round you have (if you're lucky) before you start fighting with Haste (which they ruined, but the third level "mass crappy haste" is still worth carrying -- I'd much rather have to wait until 6th level and get the real Mass Haste) and Prayer?  Just further evidence that the world is for Barbarians, Fighters, and Rogues, and spellcasters are only put there so they can be coerced into making items.)  I thought that all these changes, which affect me like the mental equivalent of a swarm of mosquitoes, would be the main impediment to joining the campaign.

But I've thought about it a bit, and I realized that what really keeps me from liking the system is much more basic than the changes between 3.0 and 3.5.  When I actually put together a character that I mean to role-play, I come up with the idea of a character that I'd like to read about in a novel, and then try to mash it into a D&D character.  And because I'm an experienced player, I also try to make sure that I have a character that's actually going to be good for something in an encounter, because it's no fun for me running the character that's a useless dead weight that the other players have to risk their lives to protect if swords ever get drawn -- even if he does pull his weight in the role-playing part.

I wanted to run a fighter-type with a personality, a smart, curious, likable guy who's trying to see everything interesting in the world.  Unfortunately, the math doesn't work; as a fighter, his physical stats have to be good, and the persona requires reasonable, if not stellar, mental stats.  Tom's starting stats are 16,16,14,12,10,8, which is considered generous by the rules, but the closest I can come to fitting the guy I had in mind is to put the 8 in Wis (I didn't envision him as being dumb, but he's certainly more Int-smart than Wis), and 10 in Cha, rationalizing that while he generally likes people and gets along, he doesn't really have much ability to influence people).  The 12 goes in either Con or Dex, either of which hurts, but a fighter without Str is a gun without bullets, and without a high Int I've totally abandoned the character concept.

I then realized that if I modified the character concept just a little bit, I had a character who was meant to be a Bard.  I haven't run a Bard since the first serious campaign I ever played in, back in college.  I should run a Bard.  But I think all spellcasters are screwed in 3E, and Bards are even screwed compared to Wizards.  I've sort of decided that I probably should run a class I think is pimped to make up for the fact that I'm much more experienced than the other players.  On the other hand, my die rolling ability is more than good enough to cover that; I need a super munchkin character just to make up for the fact that the overwhelming majority of my d20 rolls could have been made on a d6.

But I haven't even grumbled about the feats and skills, and they're my biggest gripe.  When I look at the feats, I feel like a kid who has just $10 from Grandma and has to walk through the whole mall looking for something.  There's all this cool stuff, but I can have so little of it.  Skill selection is similar -- from the run I watched Thursday, I counted 11 skills on the Bard list that I would (or should) have been rolling if I'd been playing the Bard, and that's not even counting the Knowledge and Perform variants necessary to be a Bard or a couple of additional skills I'd want that I didn't see actual use for.  But the worst thing about the skill system is the concept that you have to be a very high level character to be good at *anything*, where "good" means that you can confidently expect to get a better result than the average Joe on the street can get with a lucky die roll.

It's way past my bedtime, but if anybody bothered to read this far and has anything to say, fire away.
Tags: dnd
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