Sunday, September 28, 2014

D&D legacies that just won't stop

I've been thinking lately as I read 13th Age and DungeonWorld and the new D&D that we still have a number of rather odd legacies in D&D based on the original edition.

Obviously one of the big ones is spell slots. While they made sense in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, they have stopped making sense in 5th edition. I mention this because during/after my first official 5th edition game, I had to argue that a first level cleric can only cast 2 spells. The guys had somehow confused spells prepared with spell slots, which might be a legacy of the playtests, but I couldn't fathom how they did that and why it took an hour afterwards to convince the DM how the rules read. Eventually I did citing the multiclass rules as my evidence (you combine slots, not spells prepared/known). Anyway, there's no real reason not to just say those are magic points and your magic points have levels. Slots are the currency of the game and they really function just like the slots did for 3rd edition sorcerers. Buy why call them slots? Tradition.

The paladin and ranger come to mind as another odd tradition. Both have survived since shortly after the dawn of time, but they've drifted quite a bit from their original incarnations. Rangers were originally more like fighters in 1st edition, gaining giant-slaying powers but weren't tied to bows or two-weapon fighting. Second edition expanded rangers by letting them choose favored enemies and rolling a few thief skills into them. But rangers Rangers lost their magic in 4th edition, only to gain a little back in the essentials classes (when they realized two power sources weren't terrible for a class, also power source was largely meaningless). Paladins likewise changed from the cavalier-like devotion to right and good (alignment-based powers) to serving a deity (4th edition and 5th edition). I think they're reasonable as classes, though the fighter steps on their toes (and vice versa) to an extent. But now we're stuck with warrior druids and warrior clerics which, imho, aren't as distinct as the older versions of the classes.

Elves and gnomes are another case of odd tradition. Third edition brought us the Sorcerer class, but Elves who are said to have innate magic got wizard as their favored class. Even long ago the Druid came to the party late: it's not hard to envision elves as being primarily associated with druidic magic. Gnomes had illusionist in 3.0, but it changed to bard in 3.5 rather than sorcerer, and their innate magic was something that ought to have distinguished them from dwarves and halflings a little more. Sorcerer could have been a better fit here than wizard, especially if sorcerer were given a way to focus on enchantments or illusions.

Bringing us to Sorcerer. Its kinda cool that the third edition sorcerer has this vague story of dragonblood to give magic power, but they ran with it in 4th edition and 5th edition (13th Age does likewise). This means now that sorcerer is a traditional class, its also stuck with draconic and wild magic as its essence. A beguiler or trickster option would really speak to the idea of the elf or gnome with innate fey powers.

Tradition. Rangers and paladins have been popular classes (I think because they not only have some distinct powers that other warriors don't have, but also because they fill a warrior role), so we're stuck with them. Elves originally cast wizardly magic, so they need to be good with that but we can't switch them to sorcery. Or god forbid giving them druidic powers that actually might mesh more with ideas of what Elven culture might be.

We have done away with some aspects of tradition, such as the Paladin's alignment restriction, or now the bard's limited spellcasting. And that's not a bad thing. But 3rd and 4th edition have been really conservative with setting material, so we didn't really get any broad new archetypes entering into the distinct forms of that d20-rolling fantasy roleplaying game or its followers and acolytes. 

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