Picture the scene. Wall-to-wall dials, switches, knobs and twiddly things. There’s no one else in the room. Just you. I give it 15 seconds tops before every single one of us will reach out a hand to one dial at random and give it a tweak. Then another, and another – small changes at first then an unremitting frenzy of dial-spinning joyous lunacy.
We’re gamers. We’re built like that, and that’s just how it is. Dials are meant for…. well, dialling. Anything else is form ignoring function, and that will never do.
And yet, when we open our role-playing books we treat them like sacred things. These tomes are chock jam full of virtual switches, dials and twiddly things that we can switch, dial and generally twiddle with – and yet all too often, that’s exactly what we don’t do. “But it’s not RAW!” we cry, proclaiming heresy on anyone who doesn’t use the Rules As Written.
Here’s the thing. The Rules As Written are a starting point. They are the dials mutely sitting there waiting to be messed with, nothing more.
Time for a quick example.
One of my gamer buddies loves Classic D&D (as do I), but I’m trying to talk him into giving 4e D&D a chance. He’s read far too much net-spawned anti-hype and I’ve managed to debunk most of it for him, but the one sticking point is that he loves the way that Races are Classes in Classic D&D. There’s no Race/Class combos – if you’re a Dwarf you’re a Dwarf, and an Elf is just and Elf. The Fighter, Cleric, Thief and Magic-User classes are just for humans with ideas above their station.
So, I run a quick solo one-shot for him, and tell him to ignore the whole Races chapter in the PHB. Rangers are renamed Elves, and Warlords are now Dwarves. Clerics, Fighters and Wizards are all Human by default, and Rogues can either be nominally Human or Halfling, but there’s no in-play distinction between the two. His character doesn’t get the attribute bonuses or special racial features, but he’s a happy bunny. Elves are Elves and Dwarves are Dwarves again (even though they’re really Rangers and Warlords under the hood).
All I did was turn a fairly large crank-handle, and the game stopped being the Rules As Written (by somebody else), and became My Rules. Turning that handle drew another gamer into our fold. Later, I’ll turn the handle back and show him the cool things that Races get, but for now he’s happy enough with his Ranger Elf, so it’s all good. His character is a little less powerful than a regular character would be, but that perfectly suits his old school mind.
Likewise, if you don’t like to play using Skills, flick that switch and turn ‘em off. If you don’t like Powers, ignore them or switch in something different. D&D Essentials goes part of the way by emphasising Basic Attacks over Power-related combat effects. It’s your game first and foremost, so if you don’t like something about it, don’t just moan about it – change it. Then blog about what you changed. I’d love to know.
I’d much rather play My Rules than by the Rules As Written, any day of the week – even if My Rules can, and will, change according to the needs of the campaign, players or by random experimentation. That’s the nature of dials. They aren’t made to be left in the same place for long.
You stand before a large panel of switches and dials. Get twiddling.