Friday, December 22, 2006

Wherein It Dawns On Me, And I Barely Notice

Let me tell you - when D&D 3rd Edition came out, I was all over it.

A lot of things came together for me in that game - the mix of designers, the re-engineering of the system into a coherent whole, the roundedness of the rules. Finally, I felt like I could play D&D again. I played a good chunk of it, sold a lot of it (I worked at a games store), I shared it with friends.

Time went by and things, as always, changed. I was no longer down with this game.
I was not down with Attacks of Opportunity.
I was not down with class/level progression.
I was not down with micro-managing my character's progress.
I was not down with Spot and Search being separate skills.
I was not down with Feat bloat.
I was not down with having to tally up skill points, feat slots etcetera for NPCs.
I was not down with 'dungeonpunk' at all (as we've seen), and frankly I never had been.

My wife and I both drifted away from it, and started goofing with Fantasy HERO instead. Incidentally, she digs HERO. Bunches. So that was good.

Recently I became aware of Microlite20, a seriously stripped-down version of the d20 rules. They're simple and they're compact; you can even print them out in Pocketmod format and fold them up into little booklets which fit into your pocket. I was fooling with it the other day at work, running a little solo boardgame-style combat scenario involving a PC and three lizardfolk warriors.*

Memories started to kick in.

Hey, I thought, If this lizard guy gets on the other side of Kerlynn, he and the one that's coming at her can flank her out! Tactics! However, I continued, if he moves out of this space, she gets a free whack at him - that's the price of his tactical decision. Hmmm...

None of this flanking stuff, attacks of opportunity or what-have-you were in Microlite20. They weren't supposed to be. But...umn...

...I kinda missed them.

That night, I made a straight-up 3.5 character while my wife and I watched "Bones". I used a racial paragon class and everything. I also hauled out a copy of Dork20, just to see what cards I'd get with my new character. My wife, who loves random surprises, drew 4 cards of her own to see what she'd get.

The cards were kinda cool and kinda goofy-- in my case, they granted (among other effects) the chance to make one character charm another with a Diplomacy roll, as well as a sundry bonuses to specific skill rolls and so on.

"This is about the only reason I'd play this game," she said.

"What?" I asked. "The cards?"

"Yeah. Listen to this..." and she described a card which, when played would allow its possessor to subtract a random amount from any one given roll.

And that, my friends, is when the giant bucket of fish was upturned over my head and I spoke these words of revelation:

"You know, honey, if we tried playing this game not as, you know, the fantasy game we really want it to be but as the wild, crazy Wahooo! that it really is...we might actually enjoy it."

I waved my hands over my head and everything.

She gave me a sidelong glance, held it for a moment, and then said, "Hmm."

There's a lesson to be learned here: Don't expect a zebra to win a horse race just because it has stripes.

*...on a Post-It note, with a grid and trees sketched in in pencil. Kerlynn ended up getting captured, by the way, and now someone needs to go rescue soon as I find out who she is and what she was up to, fighting lizardfolk out in the woods.