As much as I often feel like D&D isn't suitable for modelling any kind of fantasy other than itself, I'm starting to move beyond complaining about it. In fact, I'm starting to think that trying to drag D&D too far from its roots in "dungeon-crawling/treasure-grabbing" gaming is probably a mistake.
(Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of people who play entire sessions of high-intrigue, character-driven D&D with nary a single instance of monster-killing or stuff-taking. I think that's admirable, but I don't really think that's what the system was designed for.)
AD&D 2nd edition's greatest strength was in its deeply detailed and unique settings. Unfortunately, the system operating all these settings was a slightly tweaked version of Gygax's convention-focused 1st edition of AD&D. The system was built for "Fantasy Fucking Vietnam"-style gaming, which is fine until you try to use it for psychic dominatrix cage fighters struggling against corrupt life-sucking sorcerers on a desert planet. The ideas were awesome, but the system just couldn't take the strain of trying to be all types of fantasy to all people.
The endless options available for 3rd edition, especially when taking third-party material into account, made it technically possible to tinker with the system pretty heavily to match the feel you wanted. Still, doing so was often kludgy. 3rd edition gave you the transparency and the tools to twist D&D into nearly any shape, but doing it felt like banging a square peg into a round hole.
4th edition, as I've discussed before, really focused its design on kicking ass and taking... well, stuff. The honesty of this iteration of the game has really opened my eyes to the potential strengths of D&D's own idiosyncratic take on fantasy. After all, if I want something grittier, more folkloric, or more story-oriented, there are a number of other RPGs I can pick up and play (well, providing I can find players or game masters, but that's another story).
I wonder if this is part of the reason that some people have gotten miffed about D&D's newly narrowed focus. I think that for a lot of people, D&D is the only RPG they'll consider playing, so when they see that it's difficult to make 4th edition do things other than magic-rich, combat-heavy delving, they feel like the designers have placed constraints on the game. I see it as the game going back to being honest about what it's meant to do.
Of course, that doesn't stop me from wanting to bolt new stuff onto 4th edition...
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