I was mildly perturbed last week when game publisher Wizards of the Coast confirmed a rumor that had been percolating in the role-playing community for some months: they are already working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (Yes, I know…the horror, the horror.)
While I’m not filled with nerd rage, it annoys me for several reasons, not the least of which is that I have really enjoyed playing 4th Edition. It was the first iteration of the game since the early days of the hobby–the late ’70s and early ’80s–that left me feeling confident enough to run my own campaign. (Two of them, in fact.)
Furthermore, I feel that it’s much too soon for a new edition. (See the link in the first paragraph above for a brief history of the game’s publishing history.) 4th Edition was issued less than four years ago, making it the shortest-lived version by far.
Whatever. I can deal with it. I understand the business reasons behind the decision. (Google “edition wars” if you want a taste of the internecine conflict between 4th Edition, 3rd Edition and even 0th Edition players.) And, with the announcement of open playtesting, it seems that Wizards is at least trying to respect the hobbyists and bring them all back together for a monster-slaying chorus of “Kumbaya.”
Entirely coincidentally, I’d been working on my own homebrew RPG project when the 5th Edition announcement hit. More about that in a few moments.
Over the last few years, a number of D&D-ish games have been published under something called the Open Game License. The OGL was an effort by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro to bring the open-source concept to paper-and-pencil RPGs. Their notion was that in making the core rules of D&D free to everyone to use in their own compatible products, Wizards would become the unquestioned brand leader. It didn’t work out that way.
First, the hobby market was overrun with dump trucks’ worth of mediocre 3rd party supplements. Second–and most germane to this discussion–is that it allowed other companies to publish stand-alone D&D knockoffs. When Wizards dumped 3rd Edition in 2008, the community backlash was substantial enough that rival company Paizo issued an entire line of very successful D&D-except-in-name products called Pathfinder.
Others have used the OGL to reverse-engineer earlier editions of D&D. Games such as Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC are as-much-as-the-law-allows straight-up reprints of the 1st Edition rules.
I looked at those latter games and thought, “If they can do that, what’s stopping me from creating the kind of D&D game that I would most want to play?”
And that’s why I haven’t been blogging recently.
I’m ready to present a first draft of the project that’s been taking up too much of my time these past few weeks, a rules-lite fantasy role-playing game I’m calling Perils & Polyhedrals. (“Polyhedrals” refers to the funky, many-sided dice widely used in the gaming hobby.)
It’s not all my own work. The beating heart of it is MicroLite 20, which boiled the rules of the s0-called Fantasy System Reference Document down to their bones. There’s even a dash of Pathfinder in there. That’s the beauty of the Open Game License; most of the rules published under it are themselves open to others to use and modify.
However, there’s a lot of me in there as well. Perils & Polyhedrals is my attempt to create a game that offers a basic structure for character creation and combat without a lot of rules to remember. It keeps the things that I like and jettisons much that I don’t.
It’s probably not ready for prime-time just yet. I haven’t playtested it at all. I think that the math should work; it’s at least consistent. Take a look, and let me know what you think!