I’m a huge geek, shocking I know. Me a pillar of popularity, poise and culture. But yes, I’m a huge geek, and a large part of that goes back to pen and paper RPGs. I actually owe quite a bit to the RPGs, in fact a ton to none other than Dungeons and Dragons, my gateway drug.

To understand this post I need to drop a small bit of background quickly for you. I’ve been playing D&D since I was a kid in all honesty. It was a haven for me and allowed me to escape my life at the time and do something that felt constructive, was social and helped me make friends. I liked D&D because I could do what I want in it, and I primarily played Fighters. I appreciated their versatility. I could be a bowman, a pit fighter, a tank/ meat shield a duelist and so much more. You could honestly make your character however you wanted to, as long as you figured it out. 3rd edition and 3.5 added much more versatility, and while I originally resisted it, I eventually came to embrace and enjoy it. While it was different, it still had the fundamental be anything you want to be mentality. In 3 and 3.5 I tended to play clerics more often than not, but I kept my fair share of fighters.

Then along came 4th. I hated D&D 4th edition. When I say I hated it, I mean I despised it. I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t feel like D&D to me. It didn’t feel like D&D for a few reasons that I can name off the top of my head. First, the characters felt like they were on rails. When you picked a race and a class it pretty much guided you and gave you a pool of choices to pick from, and deviating from it was arguably beneficial at best. It took away some of the fun and flavor of the previous incarnations.

Second was the power level of the player characters. At first level, characters had a plethora of powers that they could use once per day, once per encounter and at will. Level 1 wasn’t as scary as it was in the other settings. To me this takes away a key element that made players greater than they were, fear of dying a horrible death, so you took your time and thought things out instead of just charging blindly into battle. In previous versions, at level 1, a brown bear could kill a party of player characters. In 4th edition a party of level one adventurers (6 of them) could take down an adult black dragon. I’m sorry, but that just seems wrong.

Third was the combat itself. Between everyone getting self healing, a bushel of abilities, and just the mechanics of the combat itself, it always seemed to take bloody forever. I can honestly say I wrote MANY articles for WoWinsider basically in the downtime between my rounds in the 4th campaign I played in. The combat was just drawn out, and overtook a lot of the game play.

In honesty I felt that 4th edition moved away from Role Playing and moved into Roll Playing. While it was great to try to get some folks who might have only had MMOs and video games under their belts before, it wasn’t (to me at least) a genuine D&D feeling.

Enter now the D&D next, which is quite literally the next incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons, marks a pretty big shift in the ideology of the game as a whole. For once, instead of asking for a focus group of volunteers, they are completely crowd-sourcing in regard to what to put in the game, and what not to. It’s a process that I find utterly intriguing, and leaves me feeling a bit giddy. I’ve missed D&D, I missed what is probably the classic role playing system. It is my roots, so to speak, after all. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a group that feels like I do and have been eager to test out the new setting.

The Review so far

This is going to be a brief review of the things I noticed so far. The initial play testing is to make sure that the mechanics of combat work. After all an adventure will have combat at some point, you can only avoid it for so long. Upon looking at the background, the characters, the dungeon master’s notes and the adventure itself there was one thing that was very clear. What was presented before us was very much like AD&D 2nd edition. This is a good thing, in my opinion. While some folks thought that the idea of THACO and others were a difficult concept to grasp, the point was that the combat worked really well. That said, THACO is not making a return, and it’s still just like in 3rd, 3.5 and 4th where you compare your to hit roll with bonuses versus their armor total to decide if you hit. The character customization though is there, with proficiencies, racial features and even character themes (otherwise known as templates).

In this particular case the Dwarf Fighter can wear all armor, use all shields and wield all weapons, the classic fighter. Background was that of a soldier, which gives bonuses to the skills Intimidate, Perception and Survival, as well as the feature called Endurance which lets you do any strenuous task for twice as long as normal, and carry twice as much as your strength normally would allow without becoming encumbered. The theme was that of a Slayer, which gives the Reaper feat which gives all of your attacks the characteristic of Close Calls. Basically, when you miss with an attack, you still deal damage equal to the ability score modifier of the ability you used to make the attack. Anyone who wants to argue that the classic fighter doesn’t do much, well there you go. And, anyone who remembers their honest to goodness AD&D 2nd edition will recognize that ability as something that existed back in the days of AD&D 2nd edition.

Combat flows easily, and more importantly, quickly. When you consider that a round is supposed to represent 6 seconds of action, if combat drags on for hours and hours and hours, then you’ve lost the point of quick rounds and swirling melee and combat. This however moves right along, and combat is balanced enough that it wont be the focal point of the game sessions. It’s also brutal enough where you will still fear things at first level, which you should. The powers seem streamlined enough that they won’t threaten to be overwhelming. I’m eager to get my hands on more, and honestly can’t wait until the core book comes out.

What’s that about a Fighter?

This part is going to be a little bit of a personal rant. Fighters and Warriors have this weird reputation of being solely meat shields or tanks, and not being able to dish out the damage. Well I personally feel as though this is a bit due to misinformation and ignorance of the threat that fighters have posed all throughout the history of D&D. In second edition, they had the most consistent hit points, could wear every scrap of armor they could find and wield any damn weapon then wanted. As a GM during this time, fighters were always the biggest thorn in my side. Sure they weren’t as hardy as others when it came to spells, but you have to be careful and in a balanced encounter not specifically designed to kill the party outright, that mean you had to have meat to deal with other classes as well. If the warrior survived, there was a chance that no matter what dropped they could use it. Basically they were this giant “I can do whatever the fuck I want” blob on my radar. The post image of Lodur vs a Tarrasque isn’t far from the truth of what happened in a game where I was playing a warrior.

We had a long standing campaign stretching out over the course of several years. My Fighter had managed to survive, was the head of his personal army of followers, and had collected quite a bit of loot over the years. He was a Juggernaut, no other way to say it. There came a point where the keep he resided over was being attacked by a competing nation was invading and had to go through my keep to get into the lands. A wizard was leading an army, and they had unleashed a Tarrasque against them. The GM really wanted that border keep to fall. Well, my character, Gromgor Dwarven Warrior of Ironhaven, strode out not willing to risk his warriors lives and challenged the beast in single combat. You have to consider that after a decade of playing this character, he had acquired quite a bit of armor and weapons. Rings and talismans. Yes he fought the Tarrasque one on one. In Dwarven Defender plate, with Axes of retribution and a ton of other wonderful magic items, he took a charge from the beast and wasn’t moved. At the end, when the beast finally fell over, I was at 5hp, out of healing charges on all my items, I then fought through the army to get to the Wizard, and made him wish the Tarrasque to death before taking his head. I then died to a poison wound I had sustained fighting my way to the Wizard. The poison was magical in nature, and my Dwarven constitution couldn’t fight it like others. So I died, after a decade in that campaign, after facing down a Tarrasque in single combat. I was OK with this death.

That said, warriors carried on that tradition of being constant sources of resilient damage in 3E and 3.5, but in 4th, they were just so linear. It made me honestly sad. D&D next however gives back that multi faceted nature of fighters/warriors that was the tradition of 2E and 3E, and honestly it’s something I’m excited about. Anyone who says warriors are just meat shields, I will invite you to say otherwise with all the goodies they get to deal damage, and tank like a damn boss.