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    • Owlbear

    Philosophical musings from the Shadow Frog!

    It is 33 years since the summer of 1981 that I was first introduced to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. I have had a lot of ups and downs with the game over this time. I reflect upon the multitude of things that are just not as important as they seemed to be at times in the past. A question I ask myself especially with dawning of a new edition: Is it time to sacrifice more sacred cows upon the altar of change?

    Certain RPG elements have moved over into the discard pile as my preferences have been built and rebuilt over the years.  Descending AC using attack matrices (0e/1e, B/X) or THACO (2e), single-axis alignment (0e, B/X), immediate death from poison after failed save, automatic level drain upon hit without a save, use of percentile dice for thieving skills and magic resistance, magic items with a bonus greater than +3, the use of the d6 for opening doors, finding secret doors, surprise and initiative, use of undead turning table, hit points are mostly physical with a glacial recovery rate…and many others.  The judgment of what is good or bad isn’t a unique process; it varies with a player’s preferences. However, after 40 years of D&D history, there is a certain clarity to what works and what doesn’t for the majority of the gaming community. Inertia keeps many preferences in place that should have long discarded. I am no longer interested in playing in a game where the Referee can stack the deck against you in such way that there is a certainty of death without any meaningful reward regardless of choice other than not crossing the dungeon threshold and heading back to town for a drink at the local pub. Auto-kill with roll of a single die (or no roll) has to be exceedingly rare under the most special of circumstances.

    As a game, it involves the subjective concept of fun. It has to be fair and fun for everyone involved. This is the undeniable truth. No one person should ever be singled out to have more fun at the expense of others especially the Referee. Each time this hard lesson is not learned it diminishes the hobby. Many times, players try to project their own personal fun on others as a universal truth. Doing the same thing over and over again because that was the way it was always done isn’t a solution. My particular game using S&W as the foundation has become a “Frankenstein monster”  sewn together with disparate body parts with a jolt of electricity. As a graphic of the various D&D systems with OGL versions considered and/or used, here is link to my Dropbox:”>

    What is this elusive “wee little bear” system referenced in the title? It is El Dorado, the mythical city of gold hunted by Spanish conquistadors; the Fountain of Youth sought by Ponce de Leon; the archeological search for the elusive Ark of the Covenant. The “wee little bear” refers to the classic 1837 English fairy tale The Story of the Three Bears.  The wee little bear had porridge, chair, and bed that were just right neither too hot or cold, too hard or soft, too high or low.  A modular system that works for 20 levels that is just as vibrant and robust in the beginning as the end. It is the lofty goal of unreachable perfection. Realistically, a system that supports easy modification over wide range of preferences.

    I say the above to say the status quo is changing. A paradigm shift from the super-heroic style of both 4e and Pathfinder. Wizards of the Coast has done the near impossible after doing the unthinkable three-time system reboot. I would have never thought they would have had their heads out of their collective…(well, you know) to create anything that would be considered.  I was ready to stick a fork in the brand and call it done. I have to give Mearls & Co. a giant thumbs-up for a great heartfelt effort in spite of their corporate overlords. Further, my hope for 5e is that they have learned that adventures trump rules splat.  At the same time, they have come to the correct conclusion that previous editions have to continue to remain available in digital form. Further excitement comes from the announcement of official previous edition-to-5e conversion guides.

    “Bounded Accuracy” has made all the difference considering the previous unbounded nature of both 3e and 4e.  In the previous classic but more bounded systems, I still have to reference the various tables of disparate and chaotic information due to the lack of unified core mechanic. The 5e rules are easy to comprehend and remember. Most of the references required are for the spell effects and conditions. The best part is the discard pile elements listed above remain excluded from the core system. I have a lot of systems in my head and ready to purge and hit the “reset” button.

    Time for the take-away points:  1) “All editions available again” ( (check) ; 2) Free Basic pdf  (check) ; 2) Consistent unified core mechanic (check); 2) “Bounded Accuracy” for possible play over 20 levels (Likely but still To be Determined, TBD);  3) A focus on adventures and campaign settings instead of rules supplements (TBD); 4) The DMG will act as hacker’s kit that allows simulation of previous edition play styles. The hope that 5e once more encourages the use of optional elements within the core (TBD).  With a healthy dose of skepticism, the dream of a supported “build your own system” may be coming to fruition. It is going to be an interesting rest of the year and into next year.  I hope players keep thinking and evaluating their best possible options because there is no reason to settle on a game that is not as fun as an alternative choice.

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