Husker Dungeons

There’s an old Husker Du song in which Grant Hart screams, “What do I want? What’ll make me happy?”

Lately I’ve been pondering this in relation to D&D.; The game and I go back a long way. I started playing when I was 10 years old and this began a journey that led me into hobby gaming and ultimately to a life of game design, writing, and publishing. So while I can and do play many other games, I find that I like having at least a little D&D; in my life. The game has had its up and downs over the years, but it has a core that continues to appeal.

I’ve been trying to figure which of the many games called D&D; is the one I really want though. D&D; has a certain gestalt that it’s hard to pin down exactly. When I look over the various iterations of the game, there are things I don’t like about each one. Each version seems to fix some problems while creating new ones. I had hoped that 4E would learn some lessons from 3E. It has but the direction it seems to have taken isn’t the way I would have gone. While I will certainly give it a shot and GR may indeed publish some stuff for it, I don’t consider it likely that it’ll become my D&D; game of choice (though again, I reserve final judgment until I see the actual rules). Paizo is doing some interesting stuff with Pathfinder but it is going down an evolutionary route that again isn’t quite what I’m looking for. And GR’s own True20 wasn’t meant to be a D&D; replacement in the first place.

Grant Hart’s answer in that song is, “Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” I’m trying not to be that cynical.

Now I have, off and on, been tinkering with a rule set that tries to capture what it is about D&D; that I like. I’m sure that’s a surprise to no one; it’s what designers do if you give them half a chance. The thing is that I don’t have time to go writing a new game while working two jobs unless I’m going to do something with it. And let’s be frank, does the world need my interpretation of D&D;? This is ground so well-plowed that it’s turned into mud. So I tinker a bit and then I put it away. It doesn’t make any sense to pursue it, and yet I find myself thinking about it on the bus and making notes when I get home. I suppose I either need to find a way for it make sense as a published product or just forget about it. At the moment I am, as the Replacements would say, “stuck in the middle.”

16 thoughts on “Husker Dungeons

  1. What Piazo is doing is not D&D; it is Pathfinder. By that, what I mean is that it has — ALREADY — garnered an identity of its own. So I agree with you in that regard.

    But you also ask: “And let’s be frank, does the world need my interpretation of D&D;?”

    *Need* is an interesting word. The world probably did not *need* D&D; in the first place. But I am certainly happier because of it. As, I would suspect, are you.

    So, if this part-time game designer and freelance writer can ask two favors of a man he has never met, then allow me to ask these two:

    1. Please complete it. Publish it. Support it. It would be worth it in the end, I think. Get GR to hop onboard and support it as well. This is ground well plowed — but it is not yet mud. Not by a long shot.

    2. 3.x lost the feeling that the game belonged to the players. It felt “sanitized” in many ways. So, when you complete it, publish it, and begin support of it — do so with style. Make it *your* D&D; and at the same time, as Gygax did originally, leave it open enough so that each person that plays it has the ability to make it *their* D&D; as well.

  2. Personally, I’m curious now to see what your version would be like, Chris. Whether the world needs another D&D; or not, I’d buy a copy.

    I’ve played the various versions of D&D; since about 1977, and I still can’t say which is my favorite, either. They do different things and promote a different style of play.

    I’m going to support Paizo’s efforts into the Pathfinder RPG with my monty. That being said, my gaming buck isn’t confined to their version of D&D–it; just won’t be going to 4e, as that style is not my style for sure. I’d be interested in seeing what you’d come up with.

    So publish it!


  3. well I’ve read a lot the stuff you have developed and liked most of them, so I’d say I’d rather see your interpretation of D&D; then a lot of other peoples.

  4. Wow. That’s a hard blog to respond to, because (as a minimally-published game designer) it’s *exactly* a copy of my brain state these days. Every word is precisely something I would have said myself. So, “yes”.

    The constant tinkering and asking “does the world need my interpretation of D&D;?” is very very very close to home.

    At the same time, I play in a punk band in NYC and people say we sound like Husker Du. That particular song was like, enormously influential on me (simple though it may be).

  5. This is me, another Husker Du fan coming along to comment about the Husker Du reference and not the actual meat of the blog post.

    Let’s just hope the 4e transition doesn’t bring to mind another HD classic: Everything Falls Apart.

  6. Well, if I may speak From the Gut, it doesn’t matter if 4E is The Biggest Lie. If it’s new and it’s official, it’ll sell just fine. It may not be the New Day Rising that WotC hopes, but it’ll at least get them Beyond the Threshold.

  7. Hell, I’m always interested in seeing to variations on the D&D;/d20 ruleset. True20 was extremely close to perfect for me, but 4e’s big banquet of great ideas and generally wrong direction (speaking subjectively, of course) has really set me adrift as to what system I want to use for d20-ish fantasy gaming.

    Personally, I’m really tempted to hack 4e into a generally True20-ish configuration, while including some elements of 3e and possibly even Spirit of the Century. But I’m always eager for more ideas to steal. I don’t know if the world needs another interpretation of D&D;, but I’d sure like one.

  8. Well, we’ll all have to Turn on the News in a few months to see if WotC has hit the Target for a Celebrated Summer or if they’ll need to take some Chartered Trips to get away from 59 Times the Pain.

    And that’s Every Everything I have to say about that.

  9. “I had hoped that 4E would learn some lessons from 3E. It has but the direction it seems to have taken isn’t the way I would have gone.”
    And what direction would you have taken?
    More specifically, would you have purely followed your heart, or would you have taken into account the “concepts that make that game D&D;, and nothing else”, also called sacred cows?
    For that matter, one might wonder how many of those cows are indeed sacred. But I’m making too many questions here 🙂

    I like quite a few things we’ve seen. I like the idea of a capable first-level PC, and of less random game play even at the very beginning, as most of the stories I spin with my players tend to involve low-level PCs and slow levelling, coming to an end before level 10. In fact, most skill-based games feature capable characters and a less steep progression than D&D; (especially 3.X).

    “Now I have, off and on, been tinkering with a rule set that tries to capture what it is about D&D; that I like. I’m sure that’s a surprise to no one; it’s what designers do if you give them half a chance.”
    The interesting thing about D&D; is that that’s what (most) GMs do if you give them half a chance as well. I understand the need for special rules when you have some unusual setting, but this happens with D&D; even when people are playing the usual setting (and I’m no exception). You don’t see much tinkering with other RPGs around. Maybe it’s just no other game reaches D&D;’s numbers. Or maybe most people who actually go and try other RPGs instead of tinkering with their own D&D; do so because they can’t, or don’t wish to, write their own rules.

    Anyway, tinkering with a game can be an useful exercise if nothing else, and for that alone, worth your spare time IMO… especially if you can’t get it off your mind.

  10. By all means, please put it out in a release or post your ideas on your website.

    I’ve been searching for what you were talking about and am uncertain about Pathfinder as well.

    Eric Noah has some good house rules on his website as well.

  11. I believe 3rd edition was needed but something got lost along the way.

    IMO, too many combat rules combined with more dice rolls(multiple attacks, etc.) put a pinch on the roleplaying aspect of D&D.; There’s just a lot more page turning than I remember with previous editions.

    Some have told me that I’m just nostalgic. However, it just doesn’t feel the same. Maybe calculating CR’s and being a bit pressed to rely on 4 member adventuring parties has something to do with it.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of good experiences with 3E and had a long running group that used it. I will also continue to use it over 4th edition. I may steal a little from Pathfinder but I won’t go over to it.

    Maybe there weren’t enough campaign worlds from the getgo. Ravenloft, Dragonlance, Birthright, Darksun, and Planescape all got cancelled with the new edition. Thankfully, some got new life with 3rd parties but only later on. I was never really much of a Greyhawk or realms guy so that didn’t leave too much when 3E came out.

    Perhaps there is something to be said for simplicity. It was easier to make a character and start campaigning in the previous editions.

    I feel like I’m going in circles and remain unable to put my finger on exactly what it is. Maybe, there’s not just that same sense of mystery. I don’t feel the same when I crack open these new books compared to the old ones.

    The answer could be to make the necessary changes to make the game play faster and not have to rely on miniatures and battle maps. If there was a way for 3e D&D; and AD&D; to meet halfway, that could be it. I know about C&C; and that’s not what I’m suggesting by making that statement.

    That’s all. I just felt like I had more to say on the subject and this is more of what I was feeling compared to my post from yesterday.


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