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There are a variety of systems out there for role players that display a wide range of systems from the heavily detailed to the over simplified. Here is what I see as the pros and cons of D&D, if not D20 in general:
The Level System
D&D operates on a skill level system that determines a maximum limit on a characters traits and a way to divide up special abilities to certain skill rankings. This makes character power increase suddenly and across the board, making more skilled characters stronger, more skilled, better in their capabilities, and more survivable than their lesser counterparts. This is a fun system for fantasy play and often has me thinking of the various Final Fantasies. But it can and does result in some retardedness that makes me queazy sometimes. By D&D standards, if your favorite smith can make masterworks without rolling, he can beat the living shit out of your veteran fighter. In fact, wiping out merchants row would probably yield as much XP as taking out a 3rd to 6th level dungeon. But if a GM decides to band aid it by filling the world with low level characters, then we face problems. Like merchants- in any D&D world, a merchant would be a very decent career that could let characters advance to 15th level, at least. D&D roads are dangerous, bandit and monster infested, and link together cities filled with thieves and sewer monsters. But flipping through Races of Destiny, the only place where a typical merchant is given stats as a monster, I see that all D&D merchants average at... 2nd Level? WTF!!!
On top of this, there is hit points going up in level. Again, great for a FF game, but terrible for realism. A human-sized creature can, at most, have 20 hit points. Thus, if you wanted to make a very realistic D&D game, the hit points you have now at 1rst level are all you get. I have played in such a game, and it was very realistic. But, it requires a major modification to the crux of many level based systems- more experienced characters are harder, if not impossible, to kill. When in real life, a shot gun used by Chuck Norris's love child with Superman and Mr. T gets the same amount of dead as you and your baby when tied up and decapitated by a shotgun. Thus, I have to conclude any level based system is bad for realistic play.
D&D combat is annoying. According to D&D, I, the Storm (Fighter 1/Rogue 2) would get only one attack in 6 seconds if I only made a slow advance of 5 feet. Which is the same number of attack I would get if I jogged 30 feet or calmly drew my sword before striking. And yet, I timed myself and this is what I found I can do in 6 seconds:
- I can walk 30 feet and make 3 accurate strikes.
- I can run 80 feet, making five accurate attacks along the way, and finish with a powerful lunge or leaping downward strike.
- I can make 10 accurate attacks while advancing 7 feet, pause to take a breath, set up for a power strike that can cleave through three inches of wood with no resistance, and execute it.
- Fire and cock a pistol crossbow, but not reload it.
- Grab, roll and throw, pin down, and strike a target a 6 times.
It is very clear to me and those like me that none of the Wizards on the Coast have ever been in a fight or touched a weapon, archaic or modern. In the sense of what a combatant can do, D&D is the three-year-olds fanfic version.
But it is good for the high fantasy mortal combat duel. Played like it's supposed to every other attack deals damage that for some reason does not hinder fighting ability or risk tetanus, is very flashy and favors outlandish maneuvers, and lets people do shit they can't in a real fight, like hold a conversation. (Seriously, throw a donut in a cops face and try to say clearly "no, this isn't right, this is illegal police brutality." I can almost promise you it will sound completely unintelligible as he proceeds to beat your face in with a flashlight.)
I love the awesome potential D&D has for characters. By selecting from race, class, and alignment, then assigning feats, spells and skill points, nearly any fantasy hero you can imagine can come about. But what blows my mind is some of the completely stupid shit that gets created by this process.
I like most of the races out there. The elven subraces, Hadozee, genasi, demon born, centaurs... the list goes on. But some races are just plain WTF. Like many of the races in the Book of Erotic Fantasy. For those unfamiliar with this one, all I can say is the title is only slightly more dirty than it is, but it is still the go-to book for campaigns that get within ten feet of PG-13. But past all the rules there are two things that annoy me in there, and one of them are the new races. I like that this is the only book that gives options past the generic "fiend-blooded" by giving a difference between the devil and demon blooded. But then it goes into Felids... WTF?!? It isn't even a race, just a template that can be added to other races. And those aren't even the only ones! You can also give your elf a template that makes it a reptilian humaniod. Why? No really, if there are any commenters that can tell me why and how it would happen, please tell me.
Also, while I love prestige classes, I HATE extra bases classes. The original thirteen are great and cover many of the bases of heroic fantasy, especially once you throw feats and variant features into the mix. But the new bases classes that WotC have made are retarded. The Duskblade? How is that balanced? Same problem with the Warlock, only it doesn't even have the excuse to the Duskblade of appearing in heroic literature. The Ninja- a rogue that sucks in even more situations! The Scout- because Rangers don't get extra damage by running in circles! The Dragon Shaman- because my 1rst level magic user can't destroy a village yet! The Spellthief- because I'd like Ray to pick my spells for me. The most laughable ones come from the Book of Erotic Fantasy- three new classes, so that you too can be either a porn star with spells, a porn star with monk abilities, or a porn star with divine spells.
I like D&D for fantasy play, even if there are details that don't make sense, which is why I will continue to play it. But I also recognize other gaming needs, and D&D will never fit them. So instead of of gutting D&D of ALL its stupid bits, I'll be lazy and switch to a different system that will be easier to tweak. Thank you.