Is it a Comb Over?

My current D&D group is clinging to 3.5e which got me wondering – is it really worth it? We’ve been playing it for years and we still haven’t gotten all the rules down. Every week we learn something new or realize we’ve screwed something up.

We’re not idiots.

So why is it we can’t get the rules right for something we’ve been playing for several years and is supposed to be a watered down version of 2e?

“Table top WoW” I’ve heard people call 3e (and I hear the same for 4e – that’s odd, no?), but that was also something said about it when my group looked at and resisted adopting it. “Too much like a computer game” was another one I heard – not necessarily from them. But I’ll move away from that line of thought and come back to why we can’t get it straight after several years of playing it.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: I bet a few of the players probably don’t even crack open a sourcebook to give it a during the week between games but I can’t even blame them. Most of us are married, have kids or other hobbies and responsibilities we didn’t have before. We simply cannot give it the attention we need to or once could. We can’t spend hours in the evening or on weekends sifting through manuals and checking out all the rules. We just don’t have it in us anymore or we simply don’t have the time we once did.

It’s like those hideously long patches of hair aging men comb over the top of their bald head and think it means they’re not bald. This is our nasty little comb over.

We don’t need to cling to that patch of hair. We need to shave it off and accept that we can’t deal with convoluted, complex rules that are loaded with cross references and exceptions all over the place (inluding itty bitty little foot notes under a table). We’ve got too much going on in our lives to remember all that. Our heads are filled with technical specs, programming languages, policies, processes, rates, operating systems, security architecture on top of spouses and raising kids – it just isn’t possible. Sadly, the majority of them are “RP > All” types which I think would benefit the most for the streamlined combats that get resolved faster and with less rules confusion. It leaves more room for story and RP and less for debating some obscurity. But maybe we’re also just a bunch of windbags that want to argue about shit, what ever it is.

Ultimately, it’s better to be bald than cling to something that really doesn’t work but we’ll deny baldness and be keeping those comb overs for awhile yet.

/rant off

I feel better. I’m off to go slaughter the group’s characters now. 😀


11 thoughts on “Is it a Comb Over?

  1. It’s been a loooooooong time since I’ve tabletopped but if the group is Pro RP then would they also be less inclined to be Rules Lawyers?

    Before my group and I outgrew AD&D 2e altogether and moved to greener pastures back then, I experimented with a lot of “house rules” to simplify (and occasionally complicate) things, and even implemented my own version of diceless (kinda like the old Amber RPG) that we used from time to time if it felt right for the situations. Couple of the guys were the Rules Lawyer types but bottom line: I’m the GM, what I say goes. The invitation was on the table for them to have their revenge next week when I was the player in their campaign, but since I concentrated so much on the story and how the characters grew and fit into the story, they never took their revenge because they were so into the story they liked the twists and turns even if their character had a (ultimately momentary) downturn.

  2. “if the group is Pro RP then would they also be less inclined to be Rules Lawyers?”

    They are, but we’re also pretty tight for making sure things are done ‘right’ or ‘fairly’. I’m not entirely innocent there either.

    Last night was a good example. They ran into a Gorgon as a random encounter and it got it’s breath weapon off (they got pretty close to killing it in one round). Fort saves all around and three people failed the save; the sorcerer, the swashbuckler and one of the clerics. None of them were high enough level to have any means of turning those players back to flesh.

    The following rules needed to be looked up: “petrification”, “turned to stone”, “supernatural ability”, “break enchantment” so that we could figure out what option they had to recover the lost characters.

    End result was they teleported off the island and got some help from the large and powerful organization (and its allies) that they are ‘working’ for.

    One player took the opportunity to switch to another character and one actually rolled a natural 1 (automatic failure) on the save to survive the stone to flesh process. So he was returned to flesh, just not living flesh. heh.

    Things are sorted out and people are on their way.

  3. That was a great encounter last night. Once again, the dice are our worst enemy 🙂 Well, Gord’s worst enemy anyway.

    >>I bet a few of the players probably don’t even
    >>crack open a sourcebook to give it a during
    >>the week between games

    Got it in one. I read the books between games. I don’t know if anyone else does. This won’t change in our group irrespective of the game system we use.

    Conclusion: There’s no advantage to changing. In fact, there’s a huge disadvantage because it would be a new ruleset for people to argue and lawyer about, with books that people won’t read between games. Better to run with the incrementally growing body of expertise we already have.

    >>We don’t need to cling to that patch of hair.
    >>We need to shave it off and accept that we
    >>can’t deal with convoluted, complex rules
    >>that are loaded with cross references and
    >>exceptions all over the place

    But we really don’t have that issue until someone tries something new. So we really don’t need to pay a barber for a new look and sign up to the barber’s plan for a monthly subscription to hair-cutting services to keep looking as modern as possible with a hair style that’s going to go out of fashion 12-18 months after we sign up, rendering wasted all previous money we spent on grooming.

    For the most part, we generally play with a pretty simple subset of the rules. As we become more comfortable we start digging up more esoteric rules. That’s the way it goes. I don’t think the solution to that is to eliminate the esoteric rules, nor is the solution to totally change the simple rules.

    I have three primary objections to moving, neither of which is covered in your article (well written, incidentally – you make the point well).

    Objection 1: There is lots to lose and nothing to be gained. What do we lose? All the results of all the years of lawyering that we’ve already done gets tossed aside when we change game system it doesn’t matter if we go to 28e D&D or Call of Cthulhu. That means we get to start new lawyering, only to have it superceded by yet-another-system-change in a year or two. That’s wasteful of time. It’s also wasteful of money. I’ve spent $300-400 on 3.5e books, and another couple hundred on 3e books before that which are still marginally useful. That’s a big investment in a game. If I change game systems, that’s just thrown away – my 2e and 1e books sit on the shelf collecting dust right now. I’m tired of paying money to a company that seems to be changing solely for the purpose of extracting more money from people who don’t see that they’re actually being ripped off. Monthly subscriptions? not bloody likely – when I want that, I won’t play a paper and pencils game, I’ll join an MMO. And I’m one of the guys in our group who actually has the money to throw around… Original D&D was good from 1978 until what, 1992ish I think I was playing pure 1e? Even 2e didn’t really change the core rules, so effectively until 2000. 22 years. 3e barely made it 5 years, 3.5 is running at 3 years. Are we having more fun now than in the 22 years of 1e and 2e for all the money spent? I made this argument back in 2000 when we were talking about conversion to 3e. However, back then I was convinced both from people in our group and other people whose opinion I trust about gaming that 3e was a significant improvement that would add to the game in a positive way. That brought me around. Which brings me to…

    Objection 2: Everyone whose opinion I trust on gaming except you have dismissed 4e. Now, that’s a small handful of people at best, and you’re the youngest player with the shortest time in-game of the lot. Maybe that makes a difference – your perspective is different than mine. But when people are telling me that they considered it a waste of time and money, that it wasn’t fun compared to previous versions, and that they’re giving up on it and just considering the time and money spent to be lost, well, I have to listen to that. I’ve never heard 3.x called the WoW of paper and pencil gaming, but that’s the description of 4e – it’s what I thought of it when I read the book you lent and it’s precisely what my friends who played a 4e mini-campaign said.

    Objection 3: They seem to be breaking up what used to be core content and spreading it around with the purpose of driving up the costs to the player in terms of books and/or subscriptions. Wizards? gone. Gnomes? gone. But we both know they’ll be back in an expansion, a splat book, or something else. I see that for what it is – gouging. If you’re starting D&D for the first time, maybe that’s OK – you don’t know any better and it is what it is… but if you’ve been playing for decades, you can see that they’re just trying to run up the bill like a cab driver taking the long route. Companies that do that do not deserve to rewarded. Add to that the likely release of 4.5 or 5e in mid-late 2010 that will once again invalidate the previous version, and I think even you should sense a frustrating situation.

    I consider 4e to be a totally different game. It’s not D&D any more, it’s something else – something that simply doesn’t interest me. I’d like to wear out the materials I have already paid for before getting new stuff. Maybe in 2015 or so it will be time to reconsider…

  4. “I have three primary objections to moving, neither of which is covered in your article (well written, incidentally – you make the point well).”
    Of course it’s not covered in my rant above, I don’t share the same objections.

    Still, I won’t say your objections are any less valid than my own opinion. 🙂

    The later part of your first objection (time between editions) is something I didn’t consider, and I do tend to blow that off as being the nature of any company. Release product and revisions to bring in money. The lifespan of a revision getting shorter is definitely a good point.

    It does appear they’re moving away from ‘more fluff content’ and focusing on ‘changing the system’. I do agree 4e was rearchitectured to allow them to support this model. It’s something people will embrace or not, but I also believe it is something they needed to do in order to stay affloat. These types of game companies are suffering, from what I’ve heard.

    It comes down to paying for entertainment and supporting the source of that entertainment.

    I actually dismissed 4e awhile ago – a couple of times actually. I did buy the sourcebooks and look through them. It’s been an up and down sort of thing. I see things I really like then I hit something that seems like a deal breaker. I think about it some more and come to understand why they did it in such a way and it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

    3e was called WoWish and MMO-like back on the release. Someone just recently blogged about it and called it as much as well ( – it’s near the bottom).

    Frank also complained that 3e was created because the changes to the systems made making computer games easier. hehe

    Still, I can’t help but think the simplicity would serve our group better for the reasons mentioned but, I know we’re not changing anytime soon and I’m not going to push it like I pushed the other edition switches. 🙂

  5. I have to side with the Squid on this. 4e smacks of a money grab by a company that has a history of doing this with gaming products (witness the “limited-edition” 4 trillion card expansions to Magic: The Gathering, for example).

    The change from 2e to 3e was a big mechanics change, but I think most in our group will agree that the changes it introduced were worth the hassle and expense of changing systems. 3e to 3.5e was a bit of a money grab, but they fixed some problems, so I’ll grant them that.

    I don’t view anything as inherently “broken” with 3.5e. There isn’t a need to “simplify” enough things to warrant converting to 4e. I have never heard of anyone refer to 3e or 3.5e as “Tabletop WoW”. Google does, however, have a lot of hits on the phrase “4e is nothing more than tabletop WoW”.

    I’ll admit that in a typical week I do not spend much time reading the D&D source books. This doesn’t mean that I’m not familiar with the rules that we use on a regular basis. The time spent in last night’s session by the group trying to figure out how to deal with the people who had been turned to stone is probably not that far off from what the non-stone characters would have been doing (i.e. running around going “oh crap oh crap oh crap” while trying to figure out what to do). Unusual situations require more time to resolve — that’s part of the game.

    Sadly, the majority of them are “RP > All” types which I think would benefit the most for the streamlined combats that get resolved faster and with less rules confusion. It leaves more room for story and RP and less for debating some obscurity. But maybe we’re also just a bunch of windbags that want to argue about shit, what ever it is.

    Streamlining combat implies less variety and more cut-and-paste tactics, something I’m not interested in. I want to play a game that allows a player to come up with and implement a complicated solution to a problem that might even catch the DM off-guard.

    Bottom line is this: Based on everything I’ve read and heard from people who have played 4e, 4e is a tabletop MMO. If I wanted to play an MMO I would. But I don’t and I’m not interested in switching to a version of D&D that is crippled and requires me to “unlock” features of the game that were standard in the previous editions.

  6. “Streamlining combat implies less variety and more cut-and-paste tactics, something I’m not interested in.”
    Not necessarily.

    In several cases it actually means more variety (i.e. melee and even ranged combat), but you would have to look at the 4e rules and material to see that.

    I take issue with these sort of assumptions, where as I can live with the previous objections. One is founded on hearsay while the other is personal observations, feelings and beliefs. I can’t argue how someone feels about something, but I can point out someone is either misinformed or misinterpreting what they’ve been told. 🙂

    The biggest reduction in ‘variety’ comes from spellcasters who don’t have a billion different spells at their fingertips while the mundanes stare blankly at their limited options. 🙂

    “I have never heard of anyone refer to 3e or 3.5e as “Tabletop WoW”.”
    You’re either not looking in the right places or you’re not looking far back enough. 🙂

    I’ d like to reiterate, “But maybe we’re also just a bunch of windbags that want to argue about shit, what ever it is.”


  7. I’d never heard 3.x referred to as MMO-ish or WoW-ish either. I hear that *constantly* about 4e.

    But yeah, sounds like y’all just like to blow hot air and argue shit LOL

    One good point was all the $$$ spent on 3.5e books. If you’re not going around to local RPGA conventions or GenCon, why worry about which version you’re playing? It’s your little static group so play what you all like.

    WoW makes you pay to upgrade too (the boxed expansions: TBC for 2.x, WotLK for 3.x) but it’s a single box not hundreds of dollars for a stack of books. WotC isn’t TSR — they built themselves up selling constant upgrades and they’re continuing that tradition with d20/D&D now. Pick the version you like, play it and ignore what else is going on out there, or just drop D&D altogether and pick a game system that doesn’t use WotC’s publishing practices.

  8. Who asked you? :p

    “But yeah, sounds like y’all just like to blow hot air and argue shit LOL”
    Hello Mr. Kettle. =D

  9. >>Pick the version you like, play it and ignore
    >>what else is going on out there, or just drop
    >>D&D altogether and pick a game system that
    >>doesn’t use WotC’s publishing practices.

    When all is said and done, that is the ultimate wisdom.

    >>The later part of your first objection (time
    >>between editions) is something I didn’t
    >>consider, and I do tend to blow that off as
    >>being the nature of any company.

    It’s harder to see because we both work in an industry where that sort of behaviour is normal. Nevertheless, it was one of my objections to 3.5 – if you dig back, I did kvetch about “hey, when is 3.7 or 4.0 going to come out? Is this going to be money well spent?” It wasn’t until I read this blog entry that it dawned on me that I got nearly 2 decades out of 1e stuff, and barely 5 years out of 3e stuff, with what amounts to a beg from the company to spend even more… Now, I might be inclined to spend more on supplementary material – but they’re changing all the mechanics. So then I have to ask “Do I want to play a new game?” as well as “And do i want to spend money on it despite having relatively new/unused materials from before?” It’s a tough call, but I tend to be a bit Scottish on that one.

    And it’s not even the mechanics changes… it bothers me that some of what has been core content since the 70’s is being ripped out so they can sell it back to you later. I just find that petty. Maybe usurious is a better word for it.

    My conclusion is that 4e is not aimed at any current player of D&D but rather at a totally new audience. They don’t seem to want to bother with any of their previous players – they want a whole new customer base. That’s a fair business decision, but I don’t have to support it. It’s simply a different game, and should be considered as such.

    For Scott: WoW didn’t make me pay to upgrade – I got my copy free and it included the first expansion and a 90-day game card. When the 90 days ran out, I stopped playing 🙂 60-something warlock on some European server (I played WoW europe).

  10. Downside to that sort of wisdom is that there aren’t any game systems that follow that sort of publishing practice anymore… the ones that did are out of business or bought up by some bigger company that is changing the way things are.

    Yes, you did question whether spending the money on 3.5e was worth it. Looking back, I’m not totally convinced it was either. I’m at a loss as to what actually changed; two weapon fighting rules, Ranger HD, favored enemy stuff, Spell progression for the hybrids sorcerer spell swapping, some of the feats, spell descriptions – not really a lot of big changes, just a whole lot of tweaks. If I remember right, Scott pushed that one (other Scott).

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