I just got done reading the press release for the Fourth Edition of D&D. I know a lot of cats out there are pretty steamed at WotC for updating the rules, but personally, I’m pretty excited about it.
I’ve always had a weird sort of love-hate relationship with D&D anyway. I played the old boxed set a couple of times as a kid, (anyone else still have their chits?) but I didn’t really get into it until it became AD&D. Back then, the game system was kinda crazy. You rolled to hit and added your bonuses, then went to the chart which corresponded to your class and cross-referenced your total against the AC of the monster to see if you connected. When you walked outside feet became yards, and wizards became the ultimate anti-infantry device. Things which should have been simple were complicated, and things which should have been complicated were non-existant. As a result, almost everybody had an extensive set of home-rules they used, with the net effect being that no two groups played the game the same way, and there was constant confusion over whether a particular rule was game canon, or just the way everyone played.
Second Edition was no damn help. I enjoyed some of the extra things it brought to the table, weapon specializations for fighters and the seventh ability score — Comeliness. (This last was a rating of physical beauty broken apart from Charisma, and was in my opinion a misguided attempt to lure women into the game.) Unfortunately it also added things like THACO, the bard as a stand-alone class, and the seventh ability score — Comeliness.
Third Edition was the first time the designers really seemed to go for the guts of the game, and make some significant and badly needed changes. D&D had, at this point already lost me to GURPS. But 3.0 reached to far too fast, and apparently without enough play-testing. One wonderful thing they did was to open up the D20 license to allow other companies to use their deep yet streamlined system for their own games. Combined with the aforementioned lack of finish on 3.0, this resulted in each company who used it making their own improvements and once again everyone was playing something different.
So WotC responded with 3.5 — a move that seriously brassed off a lot of fans. I myself totally refused to buy it… until I ended up in a game run by a D20 game designer who has to keep up to date… and I upgraded. When I did I realized that 3.5, while still the same game, was vastly improved over 3.0. Holes had been plugged, classes had been balanced, and it made a lot more sense. The down side was that combat ran a bit slower and they stillhad a bard class.
Looking ahead, 4.0 seems like it is going to be great. We are being promised speeded up combat, a huge web presence that will include online character sheets with 3-D representations of your character, online DM’s tools for mapping and stocking adventures, and a whole new way of handling feats and skills.
My opinion is that D&D has never really had the best system in town. GURPS is much more intricate and useful, while White Wolf is much more simple and faster paced. Yet D&D is truly where my geeky heart is. If WotC can take my favorite game and give it the system it deserves, then I’ll be there… even if they don’t lose the bard.