Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Heroes in Dungeons and Dragons


Back in those halcyon days of gaming; when TSR was top dog, much due to the lack of many other dogs, Dungeons and Dragons was a merciless game. Heroes were little more than peasants who were slightly more capable in hacking and hewing goblins that most other dung-covered citizen. In those days it was common for players to roll up characters who were as fragile as Christian Bale's ego i.e. started with 1 hit point. Coupled with a violent trend for Dungeon Masters to throw their "friends" into over-deadly situations, early Dungeons and Dragons was a meat grinder.

Ok, so this isn't entirely fair. Surely back in the Basic/Expert days there were some Dungeon Masters who preferred to keep their players from shuffling the mortal coil at the hands of a bunch of foaming, disgruntled bugbears. It's just that with such weak early level characters it's no wonder many gaming groups decided to start at higher levels.

Anyone who has played or is the least bit familiar with 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons knows that heroes are no longer soggy flannels, but are beefed up superheroes from first level. Wizards of the Coast emphasise the game needs to be fun for players too and as a result killing characters is actually quite difficult unless the DM chucks in monsters 5 levels higher than the party. A TPK is still possible, but it's now frowned upon by the creators.

To be honest, 4th Edition has a point. What fun is it if a) the players can't make it to second level and b) the DM needs to constantly be catering for new characters? Heroes are heroes for a reason; although some of their ridiculous powers could be stripped away. I guess that's why Wizards have given us the Essentials line, which feels more like a call out to the old days of Dungeons and Dragons, where basic attacks were king and spells were limited.

Heroes are tough, hardy and shouldn't go down with a good fight. 4th Edition has pumped characters but Essentials has made them sensible. While the old days of Dungeons and Dragons had a wonderful flavour, fabulously evoked in OSR games such as Swords and Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, this new generation makes heroes more heroic, as they should be.

What do you think? Do you prefer your heroes straight out of the old school or do you like them to be people to be reckoned with?