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(TFT) Grouch finally Nukes 3e (review)

Grouch finally Nukes 3e (review)
They have made D&D more like Metagamings' The Fantasy Trip, Melee, and Advanced Wizard by Steve Jackson which is a talent based system. And sure enough each class has an array of new features that all work just like talents. This is just grafting a talent system into D&D. A hybrid that is neither game that came before it. But is any better?

First of all, we set up rotating DM's with their own hand made campaign to run 3-5 weeks each. The only rule on each DM is that you can't play your own character, and no magic items obviously for your own character who is sitting out while you are DM. Great DM's are fun with any game system. We have a blast. Will, his most awesome girlfriend, my brother Steven, and I. In that order. Brilliant campaigns are always to be had in the company of brilliant people. So I will not be relating any stories about "I knew this guy/girl." Instead I will talk about D&D 3e. And I'm not going to be nice either. In fact I plan to deploy fissionable materials. So, if you will come with me down into the bunker we'll outfit you with some special viewing goggles.

Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition brings in a whole host of new abilities and feats for all classes, and this gives players more to write down. More points to earn, more stuff to accumulate, more outlets for creativity, which are all positive things in my mind. More content for the players. In old school reference and index compilations the abilities can be viewed as active role playing with preexisting pantheons and characters starting out granted a few extra powers. In other words we can already do all of that and in simpler terms. But I guess everyone is not like me. I didn't think I would ever have to actually write this review. I salute Wizards of The Coast. They bought Pokemon and were able to maintain their control of the D&D trade mark. But so far they have still not answered for their crimes against Open Gaming, OD&D, AD&D, AD&D 2nd edition, and campaign multiplication. Some of the published campaigns like Earth Dawn, and other favorites, are still growing. So we are talking about entire communities of D&D players who the 3e publishers seem to be disconnected from.

Why is that? What is it that all the fan supported sites are doing that Wizards of The Coast isn't. Do they just not get it. Lets look at it.

"Story is the result of the game. Not a process within it."
-Stuart Marshall

Having special talents in the game is correct. If someone has been playing for ten years then yes, they could easily have built up a much larger array of rules, peoples, powers, and privileges. Much larger. The trouble is that by making an official cannon of much smaller predefined sets 3e is silencing the very creativity that would normally allow the growth of these understandings between players and their DM's. And so in trying to define the archetypes they have failed to allow the architects voice be heard save as mediator in combat. Which is more easily replaced by a computer. I only hope that this isn't the signal that D&D is going to slide in the direction of muds. No I want a fully empowered DM because the computer can not take my simple instructions and construct exactly the world I want out of it. Boy. It sure would be nice if there was this huge selection of published campaigns to choose from.

What 3e completely fails to understand is that the granting of powers, beyond attack and saving throw, to players is a task best suited to the DM. Only after building an understanding and a relationship with the player will the ability or power feel like it has real magic and presence in the narrative. And narrative is what D&D is used to create. It spreads in active hyper virus like fashion precisely because it is a substance who's residue is a really good story. I'm not sure if people used to spend more time telling each other about D&D than actually playing it or not. I mean do you have any idea how long it used to take to construct an entire campaign. Even with a good two month initial investment in development, mapping, rewrites, and testing it could take years to build up a decent setting. But there is certainly at least that much talking about old school games.

So is there a problem introducing 3e feats into old school? No there isn't. In fact I recommend all DMs use the 3e players handbook as a reference for some new boons that can be granted to players if they run in a pantheon game. There is nothing there you can't handle. And you'll be doing your players a favor by letting it grow as a new ability gained in the course of your regular narrative, instead of as a premade set of little glory flash cards, static, defined, and uninviting of competitive ideas. For instance, if you offer a Wizard a super heroic feat and ask them how far they would go to get it, I think you'll be surprised at how far they will go. But traditionally, in old school we would allow the character to grow into the ability along the way so that we could tailor it just to them. As only one person to another can.

So 3e could have done this. Could have I say, but only if they had done it slower, a lot lot slower. Instead of taking all the best abilities and then just cutting support for specific campaigns, these abilities could have been introduced one at a time as entire campaigns. Is it too late? Well let's give 3e a shot. Let's see what they did. Just what does happen when an old school DM plays in three 3e campaigns in a row and then gets to DM.

Well first of all think of a first level 3e character as about equal to a fourth level old school character. A hero who comes with a predefined chess set of abilities with which to game each encounter. So you have to learn the entire individual pantheon of each separate character and how all of those interact with each other player, and with you as the DM. And you have to know and understand all of this instantly the moment they are done building their characters. They are all eagerly holding their $50 writing pads and schooching forward in their chairs bursting with plans on how they are going to game every encounter and even the campaign itself. The level of disadvantage this puts the DM at is staggering. Instead of coming together to explore one persons' creation a gang of mercenaries has come for the dragons treasure. All of it and at once. The volume and rate at which the impact crater of these expectations and precisely shaped knowledge of their feats goes off with the gentleness of a thermo nuclear detonation. Alright, here it comes, put on your dark glasses.

No one tells anyone a gathering card game story, they only talk about deck builds. That process is an artificial story telling process. It does not generate stories, it tells stories. There is a difference. People who are really into D&D will bore you to death with stories about their favorite character. You will probably hear about a ton of abilities and situations you have never heard of before. Some character sheets are records of an adventure. 3e only leaves a record of 3e feats and abilities. Collectible card games leave no other residue than packaging. Where as an old school player, no matter how young, can tell amazingly complex stories very well. Just don't let them talk too long. After the second story I would cut in.

Ok you can take your glasses off now. So maybe if at the end of a card game tournament the story told was made into a new power card, then someone would have created a record of something. I'm not sure what meaning it could have though. But I do know that the old school reference and index compilations already allow fully empowered DM's. The rules are not as blinding and blunting to the imagination as flash card scenes spread out over a mathematical matrix.

I'll describe the fall out too you. 3e players have expectations. 3e DMs are compelled to meet those expectations. A person who DMs 3e is being an unpaid facilitator for erasing the record keeping in the old methods and substituting content already promised in the players books. They have removed the active imaginative process, and just left the imagination. It's almost as if they secretly tried to port the entire game into just the players hand book. Either way, the game is firmly in the hands of the players. The best a DM can do is be attentive and arbitrate combat flawlessly. I really had to escalate the power of rewards to get the slightest interest in anything I made. Eventually I got them to start making their own visions and we left the big books behind. 

My advice to you is to offer your 3e players a second sheet of paper and offer them a new list of things to keep track of. And see if you can get them to write what they really want down there and build that into some super ability. 

So, yeah. It took me all summer to map out the relations between all 3 characters and then to DM all of them for my turn. We had a really good time. But just barely. The game system required 3 months of observation and note taking. This along with a ton of other preparation and still it just barely went well. It certainly didn't evoke any new imaginations from the players. They were just applying the few narrow scripts they had found in the players hand book. I didn't discover any new synergy or active component between their new feats that made all this worth it. They were too busy struggling to play their abilities well as written. Those character sheets are a record of 3e stuff. Even when they got good at them, they are still the products of 3e predefined feats. Not the product of what the players actually think, hope, and dream. 
David Michael Grouchy II
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