Penny Arcade, Monte Cook, and the Good Old Days

The Good Old Days by viba

Poking around the internet this morning (don’t tell my boss) I found two different references to other systems than the current (fourth) edition of D&D. They’re from some different sources but they are interesting takes on the state of the game. First, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade published a little more about trying to revamp a 4e game that’s been on a year-long hiatus. After a few webcomics talking about the need to break the stereotype of “hiatus = campaign death” and talking some tough talk about using two DMs to scare the PCs into splitting their own party, he revealed their secret weapon: giving up and playing Pathfinder. Call me a pessimist, but this seems like a cheap way out. There’s a certain Robin-Hood-esque panache to turning over your Wizards of the Coast books and grabbing a semi-independent set of rules, but is this really being a solid DM or is it giving up because you can’t hack it?

Relatedly, Monte Cook put out a new Legends & Lore article, which I liked more than previous articles. Monte makes some good points about needing to focus on speeding up rounds (a constant gripe about 4e) and as he transparently sets the stage for 5e it’s good to know that game speed is going to be a factor. On the other hand, what is all this harking back to the “good old days” of AD&D? I loved AD&D but I agree with the posters on the L&L article that the game has progressed in awesome ways since those days and codified actions are part of that. It’s not that AD&D was flawed, just that people put great thoughts into 3e and 4e and things are a lot easier to understand and to play now. Plus, if you’re stuck on slow games in 4e, try using the Combat Out or other options to speed up your game. Let’s not throw the baby out with the minor action, alright?

If you’ve read other articles on the site you’ll know that I have a problem with faithlessness when it comes to gaming systems. Thankfully for my wife it is limited to only gaming systems, but the truth is that I (like Tycho) love reading other systems and try to talk friends into giving them a shot on a monthly basis. Whether World of Darkness, Eclipse Phase, Deadlands, or something more off the wall like Hamunaptra I can’t help but picture us all rolling up characters and setting off at a run.

However, it makes me squeamish to think of changing campaign systems as a panacea for fixing your game. Pathfinder is pretty good but it’s got it’s own set of problems as well. If Tycho and Gabe are thinking that taking a step back to a Third Edition framework is going to solve the problem of power-creep and unstoppable PCs, for instance, I think they’re in for a rude awakening. The core problem is that they’re dealing with power gamers who are living high on the hog and that’s not going to change if they switch to Pathfinder, Arcana Unearthed, or even Burning Wheel. Let’s face up to things a little: you can never make a perfect RPG and as the DM you shouldn’t need it.