"For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback. Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better. System shock rolls. Racial level limits. Gender-based ability score maximums. Lots of bonus types. And so on."
I'll admit, this one paragraph I'm quoting from did a lot to make me feel discouraged at the future of this project, because it points, yet again, to the idea that WotC's design teams in general and Cook especially just don't understand what made the older editions tick.
More importantly, they don't understand that the rules shape a very specific sort of (A)D&D game world. This is where racial level limits and system shock rolls come into play.
a) Racial level limits establish the racial power balance of an archetypal game world. Using AD&D as an example, the best magic-users, fighters, and clerics in a given game world will always be humans, due entirely to the fact that only humans have unlimited level advancement in these three classes (and most of their subclasses). On the other hand, the world of thievery favors the demi-humans due to their combination of unlimited thief class advancement and special racial abilities like infravision. It's highly likely that this archetypal world's most legendary pilferer is a halfling or an elf. Further, half-orcs can rival humans as assassins and half-elves can be among the most powerful druids. Rules like this that set a strong baseline for how a D&D world works lead to shared assumptions among players, shared expectations, and a picture of D&D as something other than a "generic fantasy game" (which it's never been any good at all at being, anyway).
b) System shock rolls enforce the idea that magic is a double-edged sword that can sometimes be as dangerous to its wielders as to its targets, thus simulating a grittier sort of fantasy where magic is frightfully powerful but not fully reliable and understood. It also helps to put the brakes on consequence-free gameplay via unlimited, foolproof resurrection without eliminating all tolerance for the occasional failure. Dropping this aspect simply because "Dude, my spell didn't work like I wanted! Bummer! That, like, totally should never happen." is the perfect example of ignorantly throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I'll cut this one short before I start in about how Fireballs that always fill a specified square footage and reflecting Lightning Bolts fulfill a similar function and make for less casual, "dumb" magic use....
In addition, I worry that the D&D Next team doesn't sufficiently understand how distinctive mechanics can be just flat-out cool.
Take descending AC, for example. I remember in the classic Nintendo 64 FPS game "GoldenEye 007", the player who took the least hits during the course of a multiplayer deathmatching session would often be gifted with the "AC -10" award. And you know what? That sounds so much cooler than the "AC 30" accolade! Why? Damned if I know, but it just does! And it's exactly the same sort of cool as a 6th level fighter being dubbed a Myrmidon or describing a thing as a "dweomer" when you could have just gone with "spell." The quirky mechanics and baroque nomenclature of classic D&D are a totally fucking awesome part of the hobby's heritage and worth preserving completely for their own sake alone.
So, yeah, I'm worried. It takes a real effort on my part to muster any kind of belief in the notion that people who fail to apprehend the game's greatness on such simple, fundamental levels can produce a product worthy of the D&D name and any classic D&D lover's money and time. Reserve final judgement I will, until there are actual products to review, but the outlook is grim indeed.
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