Guess who’s not at Gen Con?
I did, however, go to Source Comics and Games, which in my opinion is second perhaps only to Mile-High Comics as the best geeky store in the country (PERHAPS!). I bought the brand-new Pathfinder Advanced Class Guide and People of the Stars books and the not quite as brand-new People of the River supplement.
Along with Inner Sea Gods, I plan to review all of these over the next couple of weeks. ACG adds important new game mechanics to Pathfinder, including guidelines (NOT rules!) for creating new character classes for D&D. I can see the class creation guidelines becoming very popular once people have had time to read through and assimilate them.
Another thing of importance for ACG, for the first time, an RPG book has a canonical example of a transgender player character (Shardra Geltl, the iconic shaman) and a canon permanent sex changing magic item (the Elixir of Sex Shift) that does not carry the dread, snicker-inducing stigma of being a cursed item (“Cursed” you say. Ask me or any number of geeky trans girls from the 80s and early 90s how many belts we tried on, fantasizing that the Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity could be a real thing!).
Legacy of Gary
To a certain extent, Gen Con has for a very long time been about Dungeons & Dragons. It was created by E. Gary Gygax in 1968 as a wargaming convention (its name, “Gen Con,” is an abbreviation of “Geneva Convention,” and a tongue in cheek reference to the town of Lake Geneva, WI, where it was first held and where TSR, Inc. was formed, lived its little time, and died too soon). And indeed, just this month, the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out, and is apparently making something of a splash at Gen Con.
I’ve been playing D&D since the mid-1990s, so it SHOULD follow that I should be pretty enthused about the new don’t-call-it-5th-edition Dungeons & Dragons (it’s NOT actually 5th Edition unless you’re only counting editions of the D&D Formerly Known as Advanced, counting Original D&D it’s more like 10th) – except I’m really NOT. I’ve been playing Pathfinder since I soured on 4th Edition in 2011, and the 5th Edition rules set doesn’t feel like it fixes the right things for me. It’s nostalgic in the wrong ways, and it feels like the ways that it firmly improves on the old way of D&D doing things are things that showed up in Pathfinder first.
And then there was this article, which just seemed to make little to no sense to me. Honestly, it felt like WotC had only sort of learned their lesson from the mistakes of the 4th Edition pre-launch marketing campaign, and made me trust them less.
I had high hopes for D&D 4th Edition when it was released – it was a shiny new system with one of my favorite RPG mechanics gurus (Mike Mearls) in charge of the mechanics side and one of my favorite RPG module writers (Rich Baker) in charge of the story side.
Unfortunately, they rolled a critical failure (see what I did there?) in designing the tone of their launch campaign. Instead of being cleverly self-deprecating, which was clearly intended, their launch campaign ended up looking smug, self-congratulatory, and full of accusations of bad wrong fun (look near the top of the “b”s in that link) to many gamers. Combined with the arrogant way that WotC legal handled the 4th Edition game system license (a sad mockery next to the open game license of 3rd Edition and 3.5), 4E ended up permanently polluting the D20 System trademark (there are no allusions on the 5th Edition cover whatsoever to it being a D20 System product, even though it mechanically represents the third major iteration of the D20 System).
The 3rd to 4th Edition switch is why people utter the word “Wizbro” (implying that like Milton Bradley or Parker Bros., Wizards of the Coast is merely a brand identity of Hasbro without any internal integrity or identity) like it’s an obscenity.
And there ARE useful things in 5th Edition. It’s the first edition of D&D in a decade and a half where you don’t have to pull out a map and dry-erase markers to start any combat of any significant consequence; a tremendous improvement right there. But in terms of story and tone, maybe I’ve just been too burned by my experience of being first enthusiastic about, then bummed out by, 4E to be enthusiastic about the new D&D.