Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Battle of New Jersey: Tales from the Edition Wars

Just got back from a trip back east to visit family and, for the first time in almost two decades, I got the chance to sit down with a quorum of the ol' D&D gang and hack some slash.  My brother and my next door neighbor from the homeland both happen to live in New Jersey, and so we ditched our families for an evening and chucked dice together.

Is that Natty Bumppo?
As things turned out, this would be my first taste of action in the edition wars, as my old neighbor--we'll call him Bruce--is a full-on Pathfinder enthusiast.   As I've probably mentioned elsewhere, up to now I've avoided the edition wars via the old head-in-the-sand technique: I have never knowingly held a post-Gygaxian D&D rulebook in my hands, much less read or played any of 'em.   That is to say, I have nothing against P'finder or other later versions of the game except one thing: none of them is the version that I am familiar with.  As such, I was not at all interested in tainting my old-school view of the world with intimate, firsthand knowledge of a later edition.  Plus, for nostalgia's sake, I suggested we stick with good ol' AD&D.

Bruce did not feel this way at all.  He believes that Pathfinder is an objectively superior game and thinks that I am a fool and a Luddite for not adopting it. Indeed, he'd been anticipating this gathering as the perfect opportunity to indoctrinate me into the 21st century, fully convinced that I'd instantly see the light.

My brother--who played D&D somewhat more than I did during the 90s and 00s and is thus somewhat familiar with later editions of the game--at first professed indifference on the matter but, as usual, once Bruce and I started arguing he came in on my side; fraternal solidarity can be a wonderful thing.  Bruce's Pathfinder books got shouted out of the room.  Besides, we'd already wasted too much of our limited gaming time arguing about which edition to use, did we really want to spend even more time learning/teaching a new version of the game?  Right?  Shut up Bruce.

Anyway, as winner of this skirmish in the edition war, I got to be DM, and I'd brought my revised T1 along as fodder.  We did make a concession in the character generation dept., allowing Bruce to slap together some sort of trans-editional amalgamation I referred to as a ranger-ninja-pederast.  Basically he was an AD&D ranger with a few thief abilities--pretty similar to how I run rangers in my game--and some other weird-ass crap that migh have been feats or something; whatever they were, they were forgotten by all once the game started.

The argument left a pall of tension in the room that didn't disperse for the first half hour or so, which made the trip through the streets of Hommlet a pretty curt affair compared to the Bacchanalia of mayhem that we all loved so much back in the day.  Actually, Bruce didn't have a good time back then either; it was his paladin that bought it in the rumble with Elmo.  

This sort of tension is an aspect of the old game that I had forgotten all about.  But when you play with family--and Bruce is nearly as close to family as my own brother--you have no qualms about arguing full-throttle over stupid shit, which inevitably leads to some acrimony.  When I play with my chums back in Seattle, things are pretty light and no one gives a crap about things like rules or characters getting killed or rolling the appropriate dice so, though insults are extremely common, arguments are nonexistent. 

Bruce and my brother do not share my obsession with T1 and thus hadn't seen it since that fateful day in 1982--nearly 30 years to the day--when we wreaked havoc on the V. of H.  Like me, they remembered little of the action in the moathouse except the frog incident, though we couldn't agree on how many or which characters were eaten.  I still think two dudes got the bight, but they both agreed that it was only the gnome.  I'm willing to concede that only one dude got chomped by the frogs since I really can't remember who the 2nd dude might have been, but I'm absolutely certain that the gnome was still alive when we fought the puncture-resistant zombies.   They insist it was the halfling who was still alive, but I think their memory has been colored by the buff little dude on the cover of the module.

With only a few hours to play and a lot of side chatter about things like life and family, we didn't get very far.  I'd love to say it was a blast, but the curfuffle about Pathfinder really did put a bit of a damper on the evening, to the extent that I almost regret not submitting myself to the indoctrination.  Almost.