That Fifth Ed Feel…

So I’ve started a D&D 5e game. And I like it. I’m a fan – as my review noted – but now with character creation and two full sessions under our belt, it seems that 5e is going to work for me. A few of my immediate observations, which I’m looking forward to writing about more, have to do with the incredible ease of character creation (the first player I helped create a character we were done in under 10 minutes), and the easy, freewheeling sense I have that I can just do whatever the heck I want (and so can my players) during a session. I don’t feel the obsessive, painful need for three full working days worth of prep just to get an adventure right. Maybe I was doing that to myself… but maybe the games I was playing had something to do with it as well. I think it’s a little of both.

Anyway, my real inspiration for this post came when one of my players – during character creation – asked a pivotal question of his fellow gamers, “Do you pronounce it Drow or Drow?”

The range of responses was pretty spectacular, from “what is that?” to “Oh, definitely this way.” to “does it matter?” Of course it matters!

Well – personally – I’m a “Drow pronounced like Crow” type – but heck, it doesn’t really matter because I don’t have them show up at my table very often. I just don’t like them at all – and tend to refer to any such creature strictly as a Dark Elf. And they tend not to be coal black with white hair cause that’s just silly, right?

Anyway. It got me thinking about the generational and experience gaps in my current group – which came together for the summer Star Wars and stayed together for D&D. Myself and one of my players are late 30’s, two of my players are early 20’s college students, and two are right around 30. Of that breakdown, both of us old guys have been playing for a long time. One of the college students is a pretty experienced gamer who also DMs and plays a lot of other stuff (Magic, etc.). The other college student is a fairly new gamer with limited D&D experience (but has played Pathfinder) and also enjoys other games (Heroclix, BSG boardgame, deckbuilding games). My two in the middle include a long-time player with a lot of gaming experience, and my wife, who started gaming with D&D 3.0, moved on to Warhammer Fantasy RPG, then 4th ed D&D, then Pathfinder and Savage Worlds, and has run a couple of Pathfinder and Savage Worlds games.

We have a pretty broad group there.

My player who was asking about Drow also brought up Kobolds. Well, to me kobolds will always be the scaly dog men of the 1e monster manual (because that picture is awesome and really stuck with me) and halflings will always be more like this:jeff-dee-halfling
than this:Stone_DnD5e_F Halfling Bard 5e Halflings are seriously terrifying creatures, ya’ll. And that got me thinking about what influences us across editions. Because stuff changes. Monsters evolve and take on different looks, characteristics, histories, and players have different first encounters or significant memories of these things.

My feelings about kobolds and halflings are pretty significant (to me) and will always conform more to an old-school aesthetic but when it comes to Hobgoblins, the 3rd edition monster image is my go-to. Hobgoblin01 I love the insanely militaristic hobgoblins of the 3e era who feel like they are always on the verge of starting nations and empires to compete with the humans, elves, and dwarves, but are held back by their fellow goblinoid brethren. I love these guys and it’s partly (mostly) because during the 3.0/3.5 era I ran extended games which included powerful hobgoblin foes doing just what I mentioned above – making a nation. So they’ve stuck with me.

But that vision we carry around of what D&D “looks like” inside our heads is important. To me, I really started my D&D journey with the Endless Quest books. Return to Brookmere is an all-time favorite. Pillars of Pentagarn was surprisingly deep considering its audience, and Revolt of the Dwarves may actually be the first “D&D” book I ever bought myself. Maybe… It’s been a long time. My point is – those experiences significantly shaped my inner vision of what D&D looks like. Like so many of my fellow gamers, Keep on the Borderlands was my first adventure and that cover art still impresses and amazes me.

For many of my players though, they may have a view of D&D worlds shaped more by Wayne Reynolds than Jeff Dee or Erol Otus. There’s nothing wrong with that – but it’s a different vision and I feel like, in many ways, that is just as important as monster stats and traps. It’s not just about stated expectations of a game but also underlying perceptions which may not ever translate into conversation because they are so underlying.

My other player who is older – like me – mentioned that his first adventure was Castle Caldwell. While I was aware of that adventure, I never ran it or owned it back in the day… though I had bought it since all the B-series adventures have been released in PDF. Mine, as I mentioned, was Keep on the Borderlands… but I also have another very strong D&D influence, the Thunder Rift era, and having read, run, and run again, all the Thunder Rift adventures (except one!) I have this other lens on D&D which comes from the Rules Cyclopedia, late-TSR era. And all of that mashes together to form the 5e player/GM I am today… and some of my players have no experience with those parts of D&D history at all.

So, for my part, I like to embrace the spectrum of D&D and understand that I am influenced by little bits from all its eras – and now it’s time to start adding my experiences of 5e to the mix, and I’m looking forward to it… but I’m still doing my little part for the old school… kobolds will always look like this…


As always, thanks for reading.


6 responses

  1. ” It’s not just about stated expectations of a game but also underlying perceptions which may not ever translate into conversation because they are so underlying.”

    RIGHT ON. And it is useful information to bring out into the open where it can be included into the social contract. No one wants to play Ravenloft with sparkly vampires…. or maybe they do? And vampires as far back as 1870s (a quarter century before Stoker’s Dracula as I recall) did not have trouble with daylight so the expectations of that monster goes back to the readers/players’ initial exposure.

    Still if players can accept the GM’s game = GM’s rules, this can be a wonderful new beginning. A unique experience in group bonding. Player’s of Mike’s Game have a different experience than player’s of RA’s Game, and the social reference stops being about the brand system mechanics and more the GMs and the story.

    Or so I think.

    1. I do think it is more important to stop being about the “brand” and more about each table’s interpretation of the brand. That said, I think one of the reasons I continue to enjoy running D&D despite all the changes is the comforting shared experience of playing the game with thousands of other people… does that make sense?

      1. That’s the magic of a game/brand that started by giving its owners the permission to change it and make it a unique experience. and the tragedy of a business model trying to confine/standardize the brand. The edition crusades did much to damage that and 5e is trying to repair the damage by, of course oxymoronically, putting out another edition.

        So you are sharing more in the ritual and less in the transmission of communication. That makes perfect sense to me. It’s like being a Catholic despite the varying degrees of adherence to teachings by parishioners in practice.

        That permission to be unique, given by earlier editions, IS special.

  2. The Dice Mechanic | Reply

    Reblogged this on The Dice Mechanic and commented:
    Really nice blog post here on how we all come to RPGs from slightly different perspectives and with different influences. A nice read.

  3. I’ve enjoyed the changing look over the years. For me a new look to a creature inspires new uses. That 3rd edition hobgoblin for example has forever altered how I look at those guys!

    There are a couple of things I really like in the new artwork:
    1: Bugbears, goblins, and hobgoblins look related for the first time. It’s amazing what a similar nose and brow can do.
    2: Classic hybrids (minotaur, centaur, merfolk, manticore etc.) look like unique creatures instead of animals with human parts thrown on (or the other way around).
    3: The general anatomy of most creatures looks “functional”. In the past some creatures were drawn in a way that made things like feeding or movement seem nearly impossible.
    4: Although I too remember the 1st edition kobold fondly, the 5th edition one looks a lot more “monstrous”. Well, maybe not monstrous but at least more sinister!

    Anyway, great article.

    1. I really dig a lot of the art in the new Monster Manual. I wasn’t so happy with the PHB but the Monster Manual is great. I also dig the Centaurs and other hybrid/chimeric creatures. I do still love the 3e hobgoblins the best but I was happy with the look in 5e… and they do have that “family” resemblance you mention with the other goblinoids. Which is neat.

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