Monday, December 12, 2011

Man or Superman?

Why would I ever play a *human* in a game? I get to be a crappy human every day at work.  The whole point of gaming is escape; when I game I want to kick major ass.
-Paul, 3.5 gamer

A few weeks ago, I spent some time looking at a series of AD&D rules that were controversial to gamers playing versions of D&D older than 1E - there was an interesting poll (dubious AD&D rules) that inquired after who actually uses those AD&D rules.  Despite the controversial title, I ultimately came out defending most of them on the grounds of creating interesting tactical or logistical choices.  However, one thing I skipped at the time was ability score inflation and race/class sprawl.

It's fair to state that one reason you're still playing an older version of the game is some distaste for characters that are described as "half-dragon elemental lord sorcerer artillery, optimized for area damage".  But the sentiment expressed by my buddy Paul above isn't wrong; wish fulfillment and power gaming sells books and is a big draw for the later edition crowds.  Playing a scrappy "ordinary guy" that straps on armor and descends into the dungeon is an acquired taste, if you didn't grow up playing that way.

The AD&D 1E DMG purports to be a human-centric game, but by the time 1.5 rolls around (the Unearthed Arcana stuff) there are tons of race variants, all with nifty new abilities, ability score generation methods that are off the chart, and power creep classes like the cavalier and barbarian.  This became clear when my son came running downstairs a few weeks ago with Unearthed Arcana.  "Awesome!  When do I get to be a Drow?  Drow are awesome!"  He's been wanting to read the Drizzt books for inspiration for his future Drow; I'm certainly not going to discourage him from any reading at his age (9).  He's already called dibs on making a Drow Ranger if the opportunity arises.  So would a Dragonborn or Tiefling be that far out of place in the milieu of Unearthed Arcana?

I'm firmly in the 3d6-in-order camp for ability score generation, and prefer the simpler classes and races in classic or basic D&D.  It supports emergent character concepts and avoids the dump stat mentality.  Emergent characters means this:  the combination of random generation, decisions in play, and survival, ultimately leads to a more interesting character than if the player scripted everything out via a point buy or rearrangement of the ability scores.  Emergent character is about discovering the character organically through play, and overcoming deficiencies; modern character generation is about creating a tactical build and then measuring if it performs as expected through empirical observation.

Which brings me to an issue I have with the 4d6 methods in AD&D and later - if you're going to swap scores around and do the whole min-max thing to get the character just right, why not just use an old school point buy and be done with it?

Seems like a good time for a poll, since ability score generation is one of those oft-house-ruled procedures that splits the community, and I doubt the 3d6 in order method is the most popular.  So drop a vote on the right or leave a comment.