The RPS Verdict: Dungeons & Dragons

The RPS gang have been playing with dice. Our Dungeons & Dragons campaign (DM’d by Jim) has been slaying goblins and exploring sinister caves for a few months now, so we thought we’d have a chat about it, and consider how it reflected on our many years of playing videogames.

Jim: Right so we’re going to have a chat about Dungeons & Dragons, which we’ve been playing for, what, six months now?

John: We have seen many dungeons, but ZERO dragons.

Jim: John, how much D&D had you played before this? Or tabletop RPGs generally, I mean

John: Absolutely none. I once did one evening of pen and paper when I was a teenager. In a youth hostel in Scotland.

Jim: What about you Graham?

Graham: The same. My friends and I were much too cool for D&D. I’ve played boardgames as an adult, but D&D was my first pen-and-paper.

Jim: I’ve been playing RPGs like this on and off since I was 12, and I obsessively ran campaigns for friends from 12 to 18. I have always been much cooler than either of you. Pleased to meet you. I have Dragon magazines in the attic.

John: People keep asking me about “editions” on Twitter, and I pretend that I know what they are.

Jim: Ah well, there’s a thing.

Graham: 4th edition is *definitely* the best edition. Editions 1, 3, 8 and B-12 can hardly compete.

Jim: We’re playing 4th Edition, which is my return to the D&Dings after about a decade out. I first played first edition, when it was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (as opposed to the simplified boxed editions) and then ran 2nd Edition campaigns as a teen. In truth, they were too complicated for me aged 12, and it took me years to actually run them properly or appreciate the rules, and I actually played a lot more of the Palladium games, which had the most awful rulesets imaginable. Anyway, it’s been much easier to comprehend 4th edition now that I am a grown up Dad man, and it’s been fun to learn it, and to see why people do/don’t like this edition – it’s a very “gamey” edition. Stupidly, of course, we’re having this conversation at the same time 5th edition is launching, and so we won’t have anything to say about that.

John: I think the 5th edition is RUBBISH. And everyone who likes it is the enemy.

Graham: I bet 5th edition is rubbish. We liked it before it was cool.

Jim: We’re great at this.

Jim: Anyway: what do you gents make of your experiences with D&D so far? Is sitting down and playing a game at a table everything you imagined?

Graham: It is almost exactly as I imagined it would be. Dungeons, number-y combat, and awkward talking-to-Jim but-no-not-Jim-but-a-monster stuff. I am not yet ready for roleplay. But I’m also enjoying it far more than I expected. I like it more as time goes on and we get the rhythms of it down. There’s a lovely sense of adventure to it which isn’t quite like adventure or exploration in videogames. The sense of having travelled. I come home feeling I’ve accomplished something and been somewhere. Which is weird, because I never really accomplish anything.

Jim: The slow-slow-quick-slow of dice combat is something I always relish, it’s nothing like the same processes rendered in videogames.

John: I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m not sure I’d imagined anything, other than a deep awareness that the version presented on shows like Big Bang Theory was likely to be utter garbage. Jim doesn’t sit behind a three-fold stand of card even one bit.

Jim: That’s only because the 4th edition ones of those have been out of print since I got it.

John: But like Graham, I find I can’t quite bring myself to “act”. I feel intensely awkward, feeling the need to frame everything in multiple sets of quotation marks. “My character says to the person Jim’s pretending to be, “Hello,” and offers to shake hands.”

Jim: The role-playing part of it is the hardest part: James has been the most aggressive about pursuing that with his meat-headed warrior and thank goodness, you’re all such cautious men.

John: Yes – but then I find it counter-intuitive to roleplay someone who would be worse at the experience that I would be.

Jim: I’m surprised you find that awkward, actually, you are not someone I’d expect to be embarassed by that sort of thing (I don’t know why I think that precisely, but maybe your youth work and general relaxed demeanour with people).

John: Because it’s YOU GUYS.

Graham: I am terrified if that sort of thing, so my awkwardness is inevitable.

Jim: I don’t think you necessarily have to play a character in a “worse than I am” way, but rather to play up to some trope, like greed or vindictiveness. Spice of character.

Graham: I find the closest I get to roleplay is doing the thing I think will be most interesting in a videogame-y context. “What happens if I–“.

John: I’m somewhat limited by the recent discovery that you wrote motivations and back stories for EVERYONE ELSE BUT ME.

Jim: You do have a back story, written when we kicked off, but I’ve not dropped an event to embellish that yet, as I have with the others. Although not Martin actually, his stuff came out through pure improv. (Go back and read the background doc we started the campaign with, that thing is still set to appear, although I realise it’s less clearly motivational than the other characters!)

Graham: Should we talk through who our characters are a bit?

John: Go for it, Graham.

Graham: Only because a lot of the fun, if not roleplay, has been finding running jokes. My halfling warlock is called Ulmo, because that sounds like Elmo. Marty’s guy is called Moron. We shout “thank goodness you’re here” as a ruse to try to convince every potential enemy that we’re on their side, because it worked that one time, etc. I’m doing other pen-and-paper games now that aren’t nearly so good at creating running jokes. Because there’s something about the structure and repetition of D&D that lends itself to it.

John: That didn’t even vaguely describe your character.

Graham: Yeah, I decided that was boring.

Jim: But also there’s a wealth of jokes connected to fantasy tropes, even when it’s dark, it’s funny.

Graham: A lot of the spell names do seem specifically designed to be funny. Dreadful word, frigid darkness…

John: I’m a half-elf ranger, and I do an improbable amount of damage. AND IN THE GAME. Our running jokes are the best running jokes. And “Thank goodness you’re here!” has worked at least twice so far.

Jim: Yes, it has worked twice, although the baddies have posted it on social media now, so they know to be aware of it.

John: Also the time we had James tie a rope to Graham and throw him across a hole, which he fell down, and nearly died, and then we realised after two tries that Graham could just teleport across, and we all laughed so much that Laura thought we’d gone mad.

Jim: The individual emergent moments in D&D are funnier than anything that could be scripted. An event in another group I played with that led to spraying naked dwarves across a battlefield as a pocket dimension they were in collapsed, remains the time I have laughed most in my entire life.

Graham: How much of this is created by the rules and provided fiction, and how much is just players filling a big possibility space with naked dwarves?

Jim: It’s the play between the two: in that case it was an esoteric spell (a place to hide the dwarves) being dispelled by a monster’s powers, so it was our idea to hide the dwarves there, but we couldn’t know we’d fight an anti-magic giant on the way out. But those emergent things aside, what do you guys think about the story generally? I’ve deliberately just thrown together trad fantasy “evil in the North” type stuff, with things lifted from various sourcebooks. I am running two campaigns, and I am aware that I’ve worked off some of the rust with the other guys and I am remembering the good tricks for you guys.

John: I’m really enjoying it. I’m liking how many unanswered questions there are, and the fragile alignments we’re forming with some extremely dubious people.

Graham: I like that it all comes from a source of trying to earn a bit of money to fix some windows.

Jim: Posing questions that seem interesting to have answered is the most enjoyable part of constructing the campaign, I think. Do you have any theories about what the larger arc of the story might be, yet?

John: It’s not just a story about repairing some windows? I don’t, no, but then I’ve sort of trained my brain not to think about such things, as it allows for more surprises. I much prefer to go, “Ahhh, so that’s why that was that, and that fit into that!” Rather than, “Ah yes, just as I expected.”

Jim: What about you, G-dog?

Graham: I’ve no idea either. We’ve met so many people that I’m mostly focused on whatever our immediate challenge is. There are themes though, I guess. We meet a lot of old mysterious and laid-back magical people… That’s not really a theme. But we do!

Jim: Yes, they’re always a good mouthpiece for a DM. A confident magic NPC is always worth listening to.

Graham: Lots of people who seem like Old Magic and want to restore things and keep balance. And then the big bad with his magical ocean fortress and inter-dimensional danger. But no idea where that’s going. I’m going to guess… Dragons?

John: Dragons!

Jim: Okay, okay, we’ll get to dragons. But re the big bad, I like him. And that stuff is part of what I like about D&D – sourcebook borrowings. He’s an altered villain from the secondary monster compendium “Threats To Nentir Vale”. What I enjoy most about D&D is reading all that pre-made stuff and working out how it can drop into the world we’re playing with. And yes, there will be dragons. My other group just slew their first. It had a lizard ninja sidekick.

Do you guys feel like you have learned anything about videogames from playing pen & paper stuff for an extended period like this?

John: So much. It’s really strange playing RPGs now, how much more present the dice feel than they ever have before. And indeed the necessary restrictions that are on them, most especially the massive limitations of defining your own character’s motivations.

Graham: Most of what I’ve learned has come from pairing D&D with sessions of another game, Numenera (which is being used as the setting for the new Torment). It’s much less about numbers and stats and combat, and much more about story, and players negotiating what happens with the DM by trading XP. The contrast is really interesting, and makes D&D feel really, really videogame-y to me. Albeit one with fewer restrictions. You mentioned earlier that 4th edition is seen as ‘game-y’. Has it taken from videogames, or is it simply that videogames stole everything from the original AD&D?

Jim: Well games had to sort of rationalise D&D rules, which early on were a lot more esoteric and far less coherent than they are now. Many folks argue that makes for a better game, and they might be right. What 4th edition did was make all classes function within in similar mechanics, which is a very videogame thing to do. So I think there’s evidence of a back and forth dialogue between what videogame designers have done with standard RPG tropes, and what tabletop designers have done with the reworkings of them in videogames.

John: Is it true that the rules for D&D are made by actual wizards?

Jim: Yes, The Wizards Of The Coasts, although they’re American wizards, so they don’t have the accents for spell-casting. That’s why they make RPGs.

John: Jim, what’s been the thing we’ve done that’s most disappointed you?

Jim: In the last session you missed all the clues for what the Hobgoblins had to trade with the thing they were summoning. So there were hillmen left chained up in a cave nearby

John: Stupid hillmen. Who cares about them?

Jim: And I had prepared a little visit to hillman country, where you would have got some interesting rewards.

John: Is that it, though? We’ve not done something that had you go, “Oh ffs, guys, this could have been SO much better.”

Jim: Not that I can think of. Your attempt to fool the mercenaries into thinking they were on your side didn’t go that well, but that was mostly me fluffing it. I do want you to start fleshing out the characters, though, even if you feel anxious about the role-playing parts. I think the improv that comes from that is the best part of D&D. It’s shared story-telling. I might guide it, but you guys ultimately act, and I have to go with that.

Graham: How much do you plan of each session in advance? I keep wondering whether you have multiple paths roughed out, or one heavily-developed path that you keep shunting us back onto. How many levels do you have, Jim? And what button is quicksave?

Jim: I don’t really have paths so much as encounters which I can drop in when I need to. And most of any session is ad lib work between encounters. Occasionally you miss them, as per hillmen, and I can’t really ever use that anywhere else. And then other times I can drop them in your journey elsewhere. An encounter you dodged in one session when you were chasing big bad, I was able to reuse in a later session when you were exploring the woods, etc. Also the ruined city stuff I’d knew we’d do, because of the ghost side quest, but I never remembered to plan it, so we made it up on the spot.

John: What’s the best thing we’ve done, the thing that surprised/pleased you the most?

Jim: I think the way you handled the big bad during the ambush was good, I wasn’t sure how that would go. If you had pressed on with the fight, which I thought you would because you were winning, I’d have had to have revealed how powerful he is, and at least one of you would probably have died realising he was going to get away regardless. But instead you played for a draw and consequently got most of what you wanted, even if his revenge meant you can’t hand in the window fixing quest…

Graham: That’s going to be in our quest log now FOREVER.

John: Man!

Jim: Greyed out, undeletable.

Graham: This is good emotional motivation to chase down that big bad. Much better than if he had just, say, killed James.

Jim: One last question from me, then: What do you want out of it? Anything? Or are you just happy with it being a laugh and a dice roll session?

Graham: I always bring flapjacks when we play. I love flapjacks. 10/10 for D&D flapjacks.

Jim: God, yes. Flapjacks are my nectar.

John: I have eaten only one cube of flapjack over all the months, which is INCREDIBLE self-control.

Jim: Well done.

John: I really enjoy a time hanging out with friends, engaging in something creative. That’s my motivation for it. I also like that the fact we’re rolling dice immediately removes any concept of shame for being imaginative.

Jim: Not sure i understand that last sentence?

John: We’ve removed a Cool Barrier, that often stops men from being relaxed around each other. There’s an expectation of certain behaviour types, but the inherent geekiness of the pursuit means that’s immediately dispelled, and we can do away with bravado and such tedium, and get on with being relaxed and unembarrassed.

Jim: Well I have a few surprises to come. Mostly nicked from old f+sf novels, but there we go.

Jim: Yes, I’ll say one thing about that, as much as I loved D&D with every fibre of my being as a kid, I am finding it no less rewarding now. I thought I’d “grow out of it”, but now I can see I am just more competent as a grown up running this stuff.

Graham: I’m mainly in it to see more of the world. We’ve covered a fair bit of ground so far, but the map has so much more on it that we’ve yet to visit. So laughs and dice rolls mainly, yes, but then that urge to explore and see what the place is like. D&D is trad-fantasy, I guess, which I’m mostly bored of, but it’s a lot better when I’m imagining it rather than clicking around it. I think it’s that, when we’re in a forest, I’m just imagining a forest. And not a forest drawn in traditional fantasy artstyles, with all the times I’ve seen that before.

Jim: That’s sort of the tension between this stuff and actual videogames, isn’t it: people’s decisions about how stuff looks can’t be moved by imagining it to be different, but in text or verbal gaming, it’s up to you to visualise, which is less intense, but far more flexible. Anyway, I think it’s clear that we give D&D 4th edition 7/10. The graphics are quite good.

D&D 4th Edition is out now. So is 5th Edition. It’s probably fine, too.

105 Comments

  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    This is all well and good, but I now need to know more about the flapjacks.

    • RedViv says:

      Tabletop session food is always important. When on DM duty, I usually bring carrots with me. For food AND foley.

    • evileeyore says:

      oD&D (1974) Flapjacks are the one true Flapjacks!

    • yoggesothothe says:

      I totally thought Graham was talking about PANCAKES when he said flapjacks, and I was like hmmmm interesting food choice there for tabletop sessions. And then John said a CUBE.

      Imagine a single cube of pancake though.

      • Ace Rimmer says:

        Until this moment, I did not know that ‘flapjack’ had variant meanings in UK and US English. Isn’t learning fun?

        • Premium User Badge

          particlese says:

          I didn’t, either, and now I want to make some — they look delicious!

          However, I’ll still put it out there that a cube of chocolate chip pancakes would be a wonderful thing. (That’s what I had imagined.) You don’t even need syrup, but you had better have some milk on hand.

    • gi_ty says:

      I too thought pancakes would be a horrible table top gaming food. The pieces would get all syrupy! I had to look up British flapjacks. They are just oatmeal cookies! Hopefully you put some raisins or nuts in them. I imagine they are great with tea.

      • P.Funk says:

        I would think that an elegantly assmbled crepe like construct rolled with its contents perfectly balanced to remain contained even during a furious bite ‘twixt saving rolls would be a topper to any night’s snacks.

        Everyone knows how messy wings are, but anyone who knows how important beer is to wings knows there’s an easy way to do wet hand sticky hand (good beer is still got condensation on the outside right?) with wings. If you can do that then I don’t see how you can’t just one hand the dice and one hand the food!

        Solutions my friend, solutions.

      • HauntedQuiche says:

        Unless your cookies are different… flapjacks aren’t EXACTLY like oatmeal cookies… there sorta… thicker and softer and heavier on the syrup? And cut into cubes. Which would be a weird thing to do with a biscuit.

  2. Enef says:

    I would like to watch this :D

    • Xune says:

      I’ve recently discovered Penny Arcade’s D&D series, Acquisitions Incorporated. They have podcasts as well as videos of sessions performed at PAX all DM’d by the brilliant Chris Perkins. link to pennyarcade.wikia.com

      I think RPS are really missing a trick by not recording thier sessions as a podcast of some sort.

    • limbeckd says:

      Also, Shut Up & Sit Down (Quinns!) have been recording their sessions with some Star Wars RPG.

      link to shutupandsitdown.com

      • Ace Rimmer says:

        I have quite fond memories of the old WEG Star Wars. This goes in the bookmarks, thanks!

      • ulix says:

        The new Star Wars RPG by FFG is pretty darn amazing. We’ve recently played two scenarios in it (the others have already played one more), and I love it.

        The rule system is quite simple and easy to learn, but at the same time incredibly evocative in supporting cinematic storytelling, like no other system I have ever encountered. You do really NEED those custom dice though.

  3. Palindrome says:

    Quite a few people on the forums play RPGs over the internet, its not quite the same as face to face but its not that far off.

    There is even an active D&D group running at the moment.

    You also don’t need to do any ham acting nor put on crappy accents. All I do is explain what my character will be doing and the gist of what he will say rather than make up some awful Ye Olde crap.

    • pepper says:

      And it’s awesome! I got addicted in one session to D&D!

    • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

      I pretty much joined the RPS forums to try and find those but never did :-(

    • 0positivo says:

      I have to be honest, I’ve tried both forum-led and chat-driven roleplaying (d&d or others), and for some reason it just doesn’t click for me. I have no trouble DMing my 2 campaigns and playing a character in another one on my live ones, but for the internet campaigns? I either forget about them, or grow tired of it

      And considering I usually prefern staying at home to play videogames rather than hanging out with friends, I find that very strange.. I just can’t explain it to myself

    • buzzmong says:

      A group of my friends and I do this.
      We do forumised adventures (great if the DM can draw!), and also games via teamspeak. We’ve currently got games of SLA Industries and Eclipse Phase on the go via the forums, and a DnD game via TS.

      We have however found there’s a couple of bits of software which make it nearly as good as in person RPG’ing, namely MapTool: link to rptools.net
      Useful for forumised adventures for posting screencaps every now and again, and for TS adventures where the DM sets up a game and we all connect.

  4. naetharu says:

    “We’ve removed a Cool Barrier, that often stops men from being relaxed around each other. There’s an expectation of certain behaviour types, but the inherent geekiness of the pursuit means that’s immediately dispelled, and we can do away with bravado and such tedium, and get on with being relaxed and unembarrassed.”

    This is a really nice point. Its something I really love about RPG gaming – that it breaks people’s barriers down and lets them really engage with one another and do something creative. Yet at the same time its got a very low entry barrier – its not like you have to learn a great skill or be particularly talented to join in.

    Oh, and its really cool to hear you folks chat about these games. Alongside PC gaming P&P RPG games are my big passion. Great to read such well thought-out posts about them! Have you any plans to try some other systems/games any time? The Deadlands games from Pinnacle are pretty awesome if you fancy something a little different and you’re a fan of the wild west.

    • Caspian says:

      Yep, that’s the paragraph that really stood out for me as well. In fact, that’s one of the essences of exactly why I love tabletop RPGs so much and have had so many good times and made great friends through them.

  5. ssh83 says:

    It’s a pity that social misconception is hindering the popularity of PnP RPGs. Want to help the orcs instead of the nobleman? Sure. A good sandbox rpg may have 3 solution to get inside a guarded room, and you have to guess which ones the designers want you to choose. A good D&D version of the same situation could have infinite number of solution, limited only by the player and DM’s collective creativity.

  6. Easy says:

    Numenera is quite wonderful. I’ve been itching to DM a game but so far no party :(

  7. P.Funk says:

    You guys should definitely put a camera up some time so we can watch the dice rolling and the flapjacking.

    I so want to get into DnD with my friends but I know that if anyone is going to do it its going to be me DMing and basically running the show as the know all be all flapjackall, but with so little experience I can’t even for the life of me know how often you slap characters down on a grid and have them walk around and how much of this stuff happens purely in dialogue with players.

    Please revisit this story RPS. Any excuse to talk the good old DnD.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      It is very intimidating being the DM. But as long as everyone is having fun, as DM, you have a huge variety of ways you could run your campaign. You could focus on the tactical aspect and combat, and just sort of use the plot to string encounters together. Or, you could really streamline combat and basically just do it all verbally, without placing little tokens down on a grid or anything, and focus on talking and diplomacy.

      You can completely remove certain rules if you don’t like them, or make up new ones. Granted, the rules in most D&D editions are somewhat though out, so you may see the wisdom in them later and put them back in. That’s fine. As long as everyone is having fun.

      So yeah, watch a few D&D session on Youtube (I think people have linked to a few in this thread already) from a few different sources to get an idea of some of the basics and the variety of DMing styles, but don’t feel beholden to anything they do if you don’t like it. Then, just jump in and start DMing your own game. Really, the best way to learn about DMing is through experience. Good luck!

      • P.Funk says:

        Thanks! I think what I like about tabletop gaming is how it is so much more personal. The internet tends to make you jaded.

        Good encouraging remark.

      • Hypocee says:

        Yeah, but you know how they talk about still being a bit embarrassed in front of each other and unwilling to roleplay? Now, ‘Hey, come on, do it in front of the Internet!’

        It’s worthwhile to learn to curb those requests to be shown everything.

  8. shinkshank says:

    In regards to dragons, their appearance in DnD, and how this is handled, The Spoony pretty much summed up everything that I think about them and how to use them in this particular episode of his Counter Monkey series – link to youtube.com

    I was initially going to say a few things about it, but the above video will put it in a more entertaining, eloquent and better thought-out way than I ever could.

  9. Zankmam says:

    From what I know – and I’m just a noob at it – 4th Edition is the *biiiiiig* Black Sheep of the DnD family; radically different rules, feels like an entirely different game, too simple, yadda yadda…

    Conversely, 3.5 is the de facto “standard” Edition while, from what I hear, the new 5th Edition is getting great reception and praise from both new *and* old players – aka, finally, it is ready to replace 3.5.

    Amusingly, though, people who liked 4th Edition supposedly don’t like it (generalization, of course), so I guess the notion that 4th Edition was radically different is true(ish).

    • shinkshank says:

      Speaking as an oldschool D&D guy, I can safely tell you that after closer scrutiny, 5e has a LOT of faults. I won’t go too far into it, but the gist of it is that they wanted to simplify the system so it’s more accessible, while still retaining depth. They managed the former, but they completely screwed it on the latter. It’s not a case of simplification while retaining the core, unfortunately, it’s a case of dumbing down. The rules for combat, skill usage, magic and other things have been ridiculously oversimplified, and character variety is severely limited as a result. There’s also some glaring balance issues, some particularly game breaking and easily manipulated, but that’s comparatively fixable.

      I think, like 4e, 5e has it’s place. 4e is a wargame, plain and simple, and it’s a very well made one at that, but as a role playing game it’s lacking. 5e. meanwhile, is basically an extremely light version of the oldschool ones – it’s the D&D that’s basically made for newbies who are intimidated by the big scary numbers of the old games, and in terms of rules is extremely similar to a very, very simple CRPG. I think it’s perfectly good for your first RPG ever, when you don’t know any better, but in the long run you’re going to want to get something with a lot more substance.

      • RedViv says:

        Speaking as an old-school D&D lady:
        5E’s mid-dev announced mission statement was to utilise the Gygax Secret to tremendous effect. Which is what they accomplished. If you want a deep system with tons of numbers and a lot of REQUIRED rolls, then you will be very unhappy with it. The system is malleable enough to find a compromise between this and the “dumbed down” pure introductory way to play it out as suggested in the starter materials though. It’s a sharp contrast here between 4 and 5, between focus on rollplay and focus on free roleplay. I don’t think it’s required to move on from this “baby’s first P&P” at all, because roleplaying smarter and better instead of mathematically “deeper” is what it was made for, and very few RP systems do that.

        • shinkshank says:

          I get where you’re coming from, and admittedly my problems with it, as they always are, are subjective.

          I appreciate that the Gygax Secret is a thing that was thought of when the game was being made, and that’s all fine and good, but it also sort of feels like a cop-out – Surely the fact that you can change rules however they best suit you is true of any system, and this system isn’t particularly more allowing of that than others. The reason that I bought any system past the first one I ever bought, or really even the first one, is because I like the rules that the particular system has in it, as well as the fluff. I can, technically speaking, if I really wanted to, sit down and basically convert Shadowrun into a D&D-esque game, except that I use the d6 pool system and edge points, but I think this is an amount of effort that is beyond what should be expected of me.

          My point is that a system/book should be judged on the rules it gives as a whole, regardless of with how much ease I can change them up later. And as such, I found the game lacking. And not in the way that you can easily fix by just giving a house ruling of ” Screw it, just roll this instead of rolling that “. The entirety of the skill system and the significant limiting of mechanical character variety, the lack of granularity when it comes to any form of test, how gamey the multiclassing is, and several other things are just elements that are too big to sweep under the rug and handwave away.
          And it’s not entirely unfair of me to be criticizing it from a point of comparison to the older games, because one of the things they specifically mentioned when making it is was that they intended to bring back the feel of the oldschool. And I’m sorry, but I did not get that feel from this game.

          But yes. Even if I wasn’t judging the game based on how it compared to the old ones, I can’t really see it as anything other than as an introduction to roleplaying games, which is perfectly fine, but it just inherently doesn’t provide the amount of mechanical reinforcement of roleplaying, I feel, without modifications that would require way too much effort out of me to make it be worth it. It doesn’t really encourage ” smarter and better ” roleplaying any more than some of the other things I could be playing, and anyway, at the end of the day there’s no right way to roleplay, nor is there a specific direction in which one should consider the right path to progress down as a roleplayer. Every group will roleplay how it wants to, the way it wants to, and the system is ultimately only there to provide the rules of the universe the game is taking place in. And in terms of rules, there’s systems that suit what I want way more than this.

          • Ace Rimmer says:

            I haven’t played since AD&D 2nd ed., although I’m somewhat familiar with 3rd ed. from Icewind Dale II and the Neverwinter Nighties, but in a fit of nostalgia I downloaded the 5h ed. basic rules the other night and found them … serviceable, on the whole, if severely limited. My one major problem is the way the skill/proficiency system means there’s seemingly very little to set the various classes apart.

            I’m tempted to pick up the PHB just to see what it manages to add in additional depth, but it’s hard to justify the expenditure when I haven’t had a gaming group in the past decade and a half.

        • ffordesoon says:

          @RedViv:

          Agreed. I think that if you’re the sort of player who craves mechanical justification for everything, or if you just really like number-crunching and filling out spreadsheets, Pathfinder (or any of the other numerous D20 System variants) has you covered. I find that 5E gives me a lot more agency in the way I play at the table, though. I’m not constantly wondering if this or that obscure system comes into play when I’m deciding what to do. It’s just me, the DM, and the dice.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        I’m far from a newbie but I’m much happier with the simplicity of D&D5 than I am with the legalistic complication of Pathfinder. Our games of the latter always break down into poring over the rulebooks to see how Rule A interacts with Rules F and Q in that particular situation; D&D5 on the other hand has more of a “roll a dice and get on with it” philosophy.

        All that said, my favourite D&D variant is 13th Age. It’s a less regimented version of D&D4 with lots of fun airy fairy storygame elements.

        • thecommoncold says:

          The moment which defines my 3.5 experience was when our party sorcerer cast Web – which led to about 10 minutes of rules bickering about how the web was expected to attach to the terrain, and ended when the GM finally ruled that all the monsters fled.

          I haven’t yet played 5eD&D (starting a campaign this weekend, though), but based on reading the rules I can’t imagine it devolving to that, which is a perk in my book.

          • P.Funk says:

            To me it sounds like its not just about the rules, its about the players.

            Perhaps what we really have here is a case of different rule books/editions are better for different personalities.

          • thecommoncold says:

            Complete agreement there. That’s why I’m happy that 4th and 5th editions of D&D, not to mention the innumerable other RPG systems out there, are different from previous D&D editions in meaningful ways. Variety means everyone wins (except the never-satisfied edition warriors, or course).

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          Yessss, 13th Age fist-bump!

          • Screwie says:

            13th Age is my current darling. That and Dungeon World for one-offs.

            The 13 True Ways supplement is a great book. The commander, monk and necromancer classes are all exciting prospects.

            The wild mage class is less so, and is possibly the game’s first big misfire for me. It seems a lot of mechanical effort in order to ‘not’ play a class. If they randomised elements of spells that would be one thing, but randomising your tactical choice turns you into an AI at the table.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Fourth Edition D&D was radically different: In part, because it was the first well organized set of D&D rules, ever. It had its own faults and was, essentially, a miniatures game with MMO influences. All the previous editions of D&D were shot through with murky, haphazard, and obscure design elements. Every edition had to continue including various bits of kludged, ossified stoopidity because ‘It was the D&D way’.

      Haven’t paid any attention to 5th edition, but I guess I will have to look at it now, if only to see if they did any sort of decent job at clearing out the deadwood.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      4E being radically different from other editions of D&D is reaaaaaally overstated.

      It’s one of those things that made some sense when all I knew was d20 systems, though even then, there are huge chunks of the engine that are identical to late-stage 3.5E. But as soon as you start getting perspective by way of trying other RPGs – especially non-d20 ones – it becomes clear that the entire idea of 4E being some kind of crazy outlier is just ridiculous. It’s like arguing that American football and Canadian football are wildly different and totally incompatible while having no idea that hockey, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, baseball, movies, books, or opera exist.

    • JFS says:

      Oh great, D&D edition wars. Just what I look for in my daily dose of RPS.

  10. SophiaButler says:

    I feel like this article takez the edge off a considering yet-to-beecome-a-player. The “roleplay” part alwayz sounded very intimidating to do in person, mainly beecauze I worry about finding a group petrified by social anxiety moreso than I :x

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Your lack of commitment to using either z or s confuses and angers me! Consistency!

      • SophiaButler says:

        At this point I’m really surprized nobody actually figurez it out, especially with punz like ‘beecauze’ in there :P

  11. derbefrier says:

    I am 33 and only started playing DnD a few years ago. When i was younger i was too much into sex drugs and rock and roll and spent most of my free time on that. playing in bands and playing local shows took up most of my free time. now that i am too old for that shit and have to be a responsible adult I play dnd. Its great fun and my group runs pretty much every Saturday it can. We run 3.5 which the general consensus among our group is that its the best version though i haven’t played anything else so i take their word for it. We dont role play too heavily either or we do depending on how many beers we have had……..

    Another good PnP game thats not DnD is Mutants and Masterminds. being super heros is fun and its a very open dynamic system that allows you to pretty much create whatever kind of hero you want.

    Also if you haven’t seen the dnd episode of Community go watch it now. its great.

    • Koozer says:

      In Mutants and Masterminds I played an adventure game hero. I could combine anything with anything, and traveled instantly only between important locations.

      • derbefrier says:

        Lol the first MnM game I dm”d I made abig elaborate dungeon out of a skyscraper with the boss at the top. I was proud of it and put a lot of time into it only to have one of the heros just melt a side of the building off and fly straight to the boss.

        Of course that’s one of the things I love about pnp games is true freedom you get with them. It can make being a dm challenging but. There are ways to handle that even if sometimes you have to just say “no”. But usually I just throw out ” if you blow this up civilians will die and no hero points for you! Makes them think twice.

  12. tikey says:

    I’ve found that a good way to start roleplaying and acting is having ridiculous and cartoony characters. It’s easier to play something that’s a bit exaggerated. D&D might not be the best kind of game for this though (depends on the GM). Other games like Discworld are a great gateway into roleplaying. I play Carlos, a magical narcissist unicorn in Discworld that’s a blast to roleplay.
    I think that with videogames we’ve been trained to minmax, to try to be the best at something, be it combat, speech or any skill while in P&P RPGs having a useless or ridiculous character can be a lot of fun. I have an emo vampire that doesn’t fight and only gets depressed ready for a game since forever but our Masquerade DM refuses to play anymore :(

    • JFS says:

      If you don’t use D&D for ridiculous, cartooney, exaggerated characters then I just really don’t know.

  13. aliksy says:

    You guys should play something in another system. Too many people only ever play D&D and internalize its quirks into “but that’s how games work.” I remember trying to explain how magic worked in Mage: The Awakening to a D&D-only guy in college, and he couldn’t get it. “I can cast my spells as much as I want?” he said. “Yeah, but it’s not always a good idea,” I said. He replied, “That sounds so unbalanced.” Ugh.

    • Palindrome says:

      I am in the middle of a One Ring campaign (Set in Middle earth around Mirkwood during the war of the Ring) and its a really good system. Simple rules that don’t get bogged down in minutiae but allow a lot of player freedom (although you can’t really be evil). Plus the combat system is ace, aside from armour being all but useless.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I went from 4E to Star Wars d6, and we’re loving the freedom that comes from an uncomplicated ruleset. I still liked 4E though.

  14. Kefren says:

    Lovely surprise, this article. I have cupboards full of Dragon, White Dwarf, D&D, modules etc. The shared storytelling, humour, improvisation and the ability to imagine things in more interesting ways than you can be shown in a game are great. Also (and I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned): you can’t beat rolling the dice yourself. The solid feel of it, the expectation, and more than that, the knowledge that there is NO CHEATING. The game isn’t taking away your one physical action (as it is in PC RPGs). You never have to deal with the suspicion that the game made a roll succeed in order to be nice, or gave you a string of bad luck because of a software bug. It is you and the D20. To the end.

    • Kefren says:

      Campaigns are the best, but sometimes it is fun to play a one-off session. There are loads of these. With Halloween coming up soon enough I recommend We’re All Going To Die link to forum.rpg.net.

      I had a fun session by candlelight once and it led to the basic premise for my first novel, a survival horror. (One of the Easter eggs is that the novel includes someone yelling “We’re all going to die!”)

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      You never have to deal with the suspicion that the game made a roll succeed in order to be nice

      Really, your GM never tweaked a target number so your party didn’t get wiped out in session 1 of a 9-session club slot?

      • Kefren says:

        True, but that’s a god at work! I mean the rolls you make yourself, primarily for combat. The ones in the open. I never trust a computer to make those. I recently played House of Hell on my tablet, and when I died in my first battle due to continuous poor rolls I was more annoyed than if I’d rolled the numbers myself on real dice…

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          Heh.

          Also, it’s much more expensive to destroy your CPU to teach it a lesson than it is to crush a die pour encourager les autres

  15. MadJax says:

    My biggest regret so far in life is never finding anyone to play D&D with. Mrs. Jax is interested but I don’t have the chops to even consider a solo or 2 player game (Can probably rope in the sister-in-law) as DM. Everyone has always said “try finding a group in your area online or local hobby shops”, easier said than done. Online interests me slightly, but haven’t found a decent community/client for it yet. Any suggestions RPSites (RPSens? RPSages? I really don’t know the name)?

    • Palindrome says:

      Roll20.net is a good free client that seems to get a lot of use. People tend to use Skype for voice chat.

      To actually find opponents you could try :
      link to reddit.com
      link to reddit.com
      link to app.roll20.net

      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      This is the RPS group but I have no idea if they have any space just now.

    • aliksy says:

      rpg.net is an amazing site for tabletop rpgs. Lots of smart, well-written people (including published authors and people who’ve written for tabletop games), plus good moderation keeps things civil. There’s a play-by-post section, and I’m sure you could find people there willing to play online or in person.

    • Premium User Badge

      Skabooga says:

      I’ve always been of the opinion that D&D is best with people you are already friends with. As mentioned in the article, it can be intimidating to act and imagine and roleplay, so it is nice to do it with people you already know where you are assured it is a safe space. But there are other schools of thought, and my own brother has no qualms about playing with strangers.

      If all else fails, tell your friends and family members that you got a new, unconventional non-board board game you would like to try with them, and by the time they realize they are playing a pen and paper RPG, they’ll already be hooked.

  16. Caspian says:

    The D20 in the first picture is from the game ‘Torg’ – The only thing that I remember about that game is that I really liked that particular die. It’s still my favourite die, 25 years later!

  17. DrScuttles says:

    I have never played Dungeons and Dragons but I strongly suspect I may like it. Played Warhammer Quest when I was a young pup and really liked the roleplaying bit between dungeons. But then it’s hard enough finding someone to tolerate Scrabble these days.

  18. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Yay, roleplay! You should transcribe a session sometime.

  19. BluePencil says:

    This was a splendid article and brightened my evening. Please make the whole site this. Well, just for a week then.

  20. heretic says:

    Great discussion! You should tape the next one, you guys are always a laugh :D

    what happened to the wireless episodes too!

  21. Duke of Chutney says:

    i don’t understand how to play this game. I bought the papery thing, but there was no usb slot for my mouse and keyboard!

    • Koozer says:

      Well there’s your problem. You’ll have to get a HB to interface with A4.

  22. EOT says:

    I miss playing RPGs. I played a lot in my late teens and early 20’s and drifted away from it and wargaming some time ago. I even sold off most of my collection (including getting rid of my complete collection of WHFRP 2 sans the core book as I couldn’t bare to see that go).

    There’s a wargames/board game/RP club that runs on Sunday not five minutes walk from my house but, though certainly not an introvert by any stretch of the imagination, I find it hard to feel comfortable there and have only popped in twice to drop off some wargames stuff I couldn’t be bothered to eBay and thought could go to a better home.

    I suppose part of it is down to me, somehow, still holding on to the idea that being a ‘nerd’ is a stigma. This is I suppose not helped by the fact that none of my friends since moving to new city some years ago, share any if my hobbies (PC gaming and scale modelling) so they have stayed private rather than shared passions. Though I have started attending a local Scale Modelling Society here in Newcastle and have found them very welcoming so things are looking up.

    In reality, I think as time passes and my life changes (I have a proper job with a company car and everything, a mortgage and a baby on the way) the little nerd inside me is scared of the future and the real world and wishes to return to the fantasy lands of dungeons and dragons, witches and wizards and drinks round the gaming table. Because that world was safe.

    Sorry, I think I delved a little too deep there. Cathartic though. Carry on.

  23. Spacewalk says:

    I was an awkward role player too but at one of our games someone brought in hats which made it easier to get into it. Maybe you could try that.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’ve played pen & paper almost as long as I’ve played videogames, and I’ve always loved it. I love that I can explore the strangest worlds and do things I could (or would) never do in real life. I love that it is a way to spend time with my friends. I love that it offers a way to be creative.

    Last weekend, I was at a pen & paper (and boardgames) get-together, and the sheer amount of different stuff that the approx 80 people there got up to was awesome. One group explored Rapture at the height of its glory, most of them died. In a different game there was a tourney, and all the great Houses of Westeros participated. There was Dr Who in Nightmare Before Christmas. One group played the Polish crisis of 1981: all 5 players (there was no GM) played a politician of the time and they all negotiated if the Soviet Union should invade Poland or not – in the end, the player who played Leonid Brezhnev decided what happened.

    It was amazing!

  25. welverin says:

    Graham, don’t insult Ulmo by comparing him to Elmo.

  26. Arglebargle says:

    Game designer/author Aaron Allston said that D&D created a generation of game designers: The original rules were so basic and ill defined that you had to do design work just to play a campaign. This lead to a plethora of creative approaches, and led to a lot of the Roleplaying 2nd generation of rules sets.

  27. ffordesoon says:

    Be interested in what you guys think of Fifth Edition. I started my tabletop career with Fourth, disliked it, and quickly switched to Pathfinder, which I quite like even though it’s ultimately heavier on the rules than I’d like.

    I played Fifth for the first time recently, and I fell in love. They culled all the fiddly bits and kept the soul, and the roleplay is built into the mechanics. It’s also superfast. It’s my favorite edition I’ve played.

  28. InternetBatman says:

    I’ve played a bit of 3.5, 4e, a bit of d6, and some other systems in one off games. I disliked the rules lawyering of 3.5, and found that 4e could get a bit cumbersome. D6 is really good as a collaborative storytelling tool, but kinda shitty as a battle system.

  29. Scurra says:

    Of course, it’s quite funny to read you frothing about what is essentially a triple-A title within the genre.
    What the internet (and, perhaps more pertinently, print-on-demand) has given us is the thriving indie scene as well, with games that are meant to be one-offs or quirky alternatives, or psychologically scarring experiences – but which do require you to be sufficiently aware of genre conventions to be able to embrace them.
    But seriously: do yourself a favour and give Fiasco a go.

  30. Dawngreeter says:

    It’s nice to see an RPG article here and I really want to be encouraging. You should do these more often!

    However, as a life long RPG gamer, I have to warn you that this is basically a tabletop equivalent of doing a Call of Duty diary. It’s probably cool to people who only play Call of Duty, but the rest of us are shaking our heads and mumbling under out breaths that literally everything you attempt to do in this game is done better elsewhere.

  31. Traipse says:

    We shout “thank goodness you’re here” as a ruse to try to convince every potential enemy that we’re on their side…

    “Thank God it’s you!” (*boom*)

  32. doma says:

    Pathfinder is the best version of DnD.

    That is all

  33. Premium User Badge

    CdrJameson says:

    Surely you should be playing WFRP.

    (And in my experience, hardly anybody actually ‘role-plays’, they’re almost always be just a slightly-fantasy version of themselves who get to explore and cope with interesting situations – that’s not ‘doing it wrong’ in any way).

    (Unlike playing D&D when you could be playing WFRP).

    (That’s just wrong).

    • Okami says:

      D&D might be the first RPG, but I’d prefer playing almost any other system. Esepcially WHFRP 1st (for the setting and the campaigns) or 3rd (for being the first truly innovative rpg rule system since D&D)

    • Mad Hamish says:

      Yes! Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fo life. 1st ed of course.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Warhammer Fantasy. Great setting. Awfully fiddly rules, in the British tradition. We recently ran a Warhammer fantasy game for about 4 or 5 sessions before everyone pretty much agreed that it should be deep sixed. There are folks who like that sort of thing, but my gaming group pushes for simplifying mechanics.

  34. Everyone says:

    There’s a lovely sense of adventure to it which isn’t quite like adventure or exploration in videogames. The sense of having travelled. I come home feeling I’ve accomplished something and been somewhere. Which is weird, because I never really accomplish anything.

    This … this nails “it”, the essence of the experience. Exploration both in the sense of having personally uncovered new territory, being cut off somewhere dangerous and surviving, and in the sense of having a shared experience exploring a story. I disagree somewhat with the assertion of never really accomplishing anything as I found RPGs to be an essential part of my formative process as a teenager; I believe that without these games I would have not coped nearly as well with my Aspergers.

  35. LuNatic says:

    The best thing about D&D is emergent gameplay. Not the emergent gameplay you get in videogames, where players find an odd exploit and proceed to make use of it to complete the pre-written objectives in a new way. Emergent gameplay where you throw away the pre-written story, and have your own adventure.

    For example, the following is the story of some players who were playing a pretty standard “level up and then kill the big boss” story. Along the way they found an essentially infinite source of salt, related to a sidequest. Rather than just killing the monsters, getting the XP and moving on, they decided to throw the plot away and set up a (decidedly evil) salt mining operation, and their DM was cool enough to run with it. I wish computer RPGs could have this level of emergence, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Part 1:
    link to suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com

    Part 2:
    link to suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com

  36. PoulWrist says:

    Pfffff my last campaign had a black dragonling at the bottom of the lvl 1-3 dungeon! Everyone ran away and never came back despite all the treasure they could’ve had…

  37. revan says:

    Now I’m totally pissed because I live in a country where PnP RPG is practically unknown. Nobody plays it. Really would like to try it. Some final year guys and gals were playing when I went to college abroad. But they were totally not into admitting other people, especially freshman, into their little circle.

    • Little_Crow says:

      The country you live in really isn’t a barrier any more, a decent mic, internet connection and a webcam is really all you need. Check out: link to youtube.com

      I used to D&D plenty before I discovered beer and it’s intoxicating effects, and haven’t picked up a rule book in 15 years. RollPlay pretty much scratches any D&D itch I may have, and has made me realise how terrible a DM/GM I was when compared with someone like Steven Lumpkin.

      I’d recommend anyone watch a few of their sessions. Without any intention of starting a group I still feel I’ve learned an awful lot about how I could be a better D&D player, and a scary amount about how to be a better GM.

      • revan says:

        I was referring more to the “sit around the table with a few friends” kind of sessions. I’d really like to scratch that itch. Playing over the internet is all well and fine, but playing with people you actually know well, all sitting in the same room, is something entirely different.

        I’ll definitely look up these sessions you’ve recommended.

  38. Erithtotl says:

    I’m surprised no mention of Pathfinder in the article.

    I have never seen relative sales numbers, but judging by the space devoted to the various products at the local stores, Pathfinder definitely has a bigger following than 4E. The real debate is not 4E vs. 5E, but whether 5E can recover any of the momentum lost to Pathfinder.

    While I am a Pathfinder player, and the quality of their stuff is very high, it has also become almost ridiculously rules heavy as is the case with most RPGs since the publisher has to continue to make money somehow. And its never been a fast play game. To this day its frustrating we don’t have a definitive NPC generator/editor. I’m somewhat curious about 5E but would like to hear a detailed review from someone who is a Pathfinder fan, not a 4E fan.

    TBH though there are way too many interesting systems for the time I have available. Star Wars, Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, Numenera. Just not enough time, interest and resources to give them the effort I’d like. I just end up reading the rules and they sit on my shelf

  39. TWChristine says:

    I made a group for RPS people and P&P games if anyone’s interested:
    link to steamcommunity.com

    Might be a place for us all to meet up and discuss games, set up games and what not. *shrug* If anyone’s interested! :)

  40. mpOzelot says:

    I’d love to see one play session on youtube.

  41. Premium User Badge

    pertusaria says:

    Thanks for this! I played some 2nd Ed when I was in uni in the mid-2000s, and I’ll always have fond feelings for it even if I can see why it was decided to simplify D&D after that. I was a half-elf druid, mainly because the others had already been playing for some time and there wasn’t a druid in the party yet. I really loved the roleplay aspect, but I’ve always made up stories in my head, and college work wasn’t as distracting as having a day job for some reason, even if it was pretty darn demanding. I would agree that there’s a lot of mutual trust needed for it to work, and I think in-jokes are a big part of the fun.

    D&D sessions involved staying over with a bunch of other people around the same age in a one-room bedsit, because there was no public transport home after about 11.30. Good times.

    Glad to see you doing this, and I hope you have many more years of roleplaying fun with whatever system(s) you choose / stumble upon.