This post came out of a journaling session on 750words.com.  If you’ve never used it, I recommend it highly.  Because of the uncensored nature of the journal, there may be some residual disorganization, but I’ve tried to tidy it up the best I could without killing the enthusiasm that drove my original scribblings.

Edition wars are common.  Really common.  Whether a grognard or a 4E evangelist (or one of the Pathfinder nutjobs – this is a joke, in case you don’t know me very well, since I am one myself), many gamers have a favorite edition and are not afraid to extol the virtues of one over another.  This is a good thing and a bad thing, in my mind.  Why is it good?  It helps you figure out what you really like in a game.  Why is it bad?  It creates divisions and sometimes hurts feelings.  I’d hesitate to say that many people get too bent out of shape about it, but I’m sure it happens.  Anyway, here’s my take on how to get the most out of edition wars that begins on a slight tangent about world building:

I started thinking about freedom and rulership and small towns today while reading The Forgotten Realms guide.  I love that book.  I really like the power structure inherent in the Forgotten Realms.  I mean, Eberron’s is pretty neat too, but Forgotten Realms just has a really cool setup.  I like the Dales and the cities and the diversity.  I love the prevalence and power of magic.  Eberron has magic galore, but it seems somehow less awe-inspiring.  It’s not that magic in Eberron can’t be awe-inspiring, but I think it’s been a little too long since I played a real fantasy game.  I like the idea that magic really is magical, that it can perform miracles.  Even if the players are used to their wizards and sorcerers and clerics casting spells and begging for miracles, I don’t know if the characters should be.  Okay, so it’s not so much that the characters don’t expect it, but that it’s still a mystical force to them.  The gods should be kinda realish, too, but perhaps not to everyone.

I love the independence of Faerun’s Dales, and that’s the spirit that I think should be embodied in my entire Pathfinder world.  There should be some powerful merchant nations, owned by the highest bidder, and some powerful theocracies, owned by the priests and acolytes of the holy ones, and there should be some real bastards out there who only really want to amass power and use it.  There should be armies and wizards and towers and castles and wonder.  WONDER.  That’s really the key to this whole thing we call roleplaying games.  A roleplaying game is meant to fill you with a sense of wonder.  Not a sense of oh-boy-another-stuffed-chest-of-gold.  Not a sense that whatever you want, you can have.  Just ask the GM and it will all fall into place.

My God.  I’ve had an epiphany.  Am I becoming an old school gamer?  Am I abandoning my trusty 3.5?

I mean, old school gaming is on to something.  I don’t really see anything wrong with any edition of D&D, to be honest.  I don’t see that any one edition is better than another.  But each does something especially well.  Old school does wonder and realness to the hilt.  The idea of GM as game referee is one that really appeals to me, actually.  Third edition does rules pretty well.  They give you a lot of options and they cover almost every eventuality.  Some are pretty cumbersome, though, which is where Pathfinder comes in and breathes some fresh life into it.  Fourth edition is great for tactics and fairness, and it really does make the game EXCITING.

Now, there really isn’t a way to combine all of those into one mega D&D game.  They’ve been trying for years.  There’s also really no need.  Why spend time creating yet another variation when you can just either: 1) play a kitchen sink game where everyone brings what works for them, or 2) play with all of these elements in mind?  By remembering and consciously thinking about the elements of each edition that make it the best, you can keep that mindset that keeps RPGs alive and kicking.  You can do wonderful things with games if only you think about all the awesome bits and work to make the awesomeness carry through in every single game.  Really pretty exciting when you think about it.

Now, a little brainstorming.  How can I make those awesome elements show through in my game world?  How can I make them really salient to the players?  How can I make them realize that they live in a living, breathing, adventuresome world where tactics and combat and rules and ROLEPLAYING matter?  First, I can set the tone as the GM.  Music, lights, props, etc. should be used sparingly, but can really help.  Better yet, design a world where they fight for their lives on a regular basis.  Make them not the only fish in the sea and they’ll quickly realize that they’re in a real world.  Next, design exciting adventures and combats.  Let them play their roles and use those skills and rituals they never thought they’d need.  Build a puzzle into the game that can only really be solved by thinking.  Maybe a spell can do it.  Maybe brute force will be enough.  But either way, give them options and make them hard to find.  Last, put living, breathing people and politics into the land.  Don’t make a longsword ever cost the same amount twice unless they’re buying from a consortium that fixes prices across the kingdom.  Then you’re rocking.

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