Friday, September 24, 2010

RANT: Racial Profiling

So I've seen a lot of chatter lately about how the Essentials line of products is destroying the collaborative spirit of Dungeons & Dragons. The theft of our daily powers in exchange for higher raw damage output has left many in a lurch. Is it a dumbing down? Is it the nostalgia hydra rearing an ugly head at those who don't really miss it? I don't know. Frankly, I'd prefer to spend my time preparing for my next session rather than caring.

What I do know is that the Essentials line features compatible, fully optional rules (meaning they'll be the standard for future production going forward). Some of those rules are pretty neat (flexible stat bonuses for some races) , some are pretty crunchy (feats that are far less conditional for their bonus that their previous counterparts), and some I downright don't care for (changing roles for classes, essentially making each build a class by itself, etc.). Overall, they strike the same chord with me that edition resets in CCGs do. Is it necessary for growth? Probably. Does that mean I have to like/accept it? Since I don't play competitively, I sure don't.

The thing that's bugging me is that the Essentials line doesn't do much to really push the envelope. Sure, we're getting Heroes of Shadow later in the year, but there are lots of games that let us play badguys/antiheroes already. Fourth Edition did an awesome job of pushing the boundaries of what D&D was and how it was played. As a DM, I've got an amazing toolbox full of fun because the design math is finally transparent. As a Player, I've got one of those rare games where nobody has to sit and twiddle their thumbs while the combats happen - everyone gets to contribute. Heck, as a Fan, I've got endless stuff to read and write about.

But I want my new stuff to be new. I want to kick things over a notch and turn classic assumptions on their ears. I want my heroes to break rules and push boundaries. I want something like this:

Against the Grain
You are an extraordinary member of your race, possessed of unusual potential and faculty. Are you a mutation? Are you the future? Only time will tell how your talents shape your destiny.
Prerequisite: character creation only, non-human
Effect: You lose your racial bonuses to attributes and gain +2 to two different attributes of your choice. This feat choice may not be taken or retrained without DM approval.

Balanced, elegant, and above all else, game-changing - it's an expansion on the idea that any race can be any class, kicked up a notch so that now any race can be good at any class. I could finally make a decent half-elf ranger (or warforged bard or gnome barbarian or a dwarf wizard).

In short, I want groundbreaking. I want new. I want to see something I haven't seen before or to gain a new way of thinking about something I see all the time. I want enough of the old that I still feel like I'm playing a new edition of the game, but enough new that I still feel like I'm doing something better. D&D will be good no matter whether an edition or supplement improves it or not (and the results will be just as hotly debated by purists and edition campers and the like). That means the key to designing new stuff is to change things (as improvement or detriment will always be subjective) and see what happens.

Have fun,