Okay, stream-of-consciousness, folks. This is something that’s been percolating for a while, and I want to get it down and share.
Most of us seem to care a lot about which play styles D&D is geared for, the various -isms that come from GNS and other game theories, how many and how big we want D&D’s mechanical widgets to be, where we want D&D to draw inspiration from, how much and what kind of game balance we want, and so on. And I care about those things too!
But I also care about consistency. Which, as I’ve come to realize, is a big part of my love-hate attitude toward D&D.
D&D’s inconsistency hasn’t always been a problem for me. Back during my teenage years, it didn’t bother me that 2e has a different irregular table for each of its six abilities, or that alignment is defined subjectively in one place and objectively in others, or that mages can do virtually anything — up to and including achieving godhood in one case — but can’t master the humble Cure Light Wounds spell, or that there are so many disparate dice-mechanics scattered throughout the rules.
But then WotC and the d20 standardization came along, I discovered internet forums, and I left home for college. I started to notice, even after the d20 standardization, all the little inconsistencies — both thematic and mechanical.
Take the spell discussion that sparked this post, for example. It seems that prior to and after 4e, D&D is torn between two ideals: One, where every caster class has a specific role/niche, and each spell is a special trick that a single class can access (Raise Dead, Reincarnate). And two, where casters may be able to fill multiple roles/niches depending on spell access, and each spell is a universal trick that different classes access differently (detect magic, protection from evil, endure elements). But neither ideal is attained; D&D sort of has roles/niches, and has kinda-thematic classes.
Anyhow. Yes, consistency can make the game more playable and internally…well, consistent. But even on a purely gut level, I just want things to be consistent. Even minor inconsistencies that don’t really affect much irritate my sensibilities. Take 3e creature sizes, for example. They’ve got all kinds of inconsistencies that don’t affect all that much, but nevertheless get under my skin.
I guess it was inevitable that D&D developed so many inconsistencies over the years; it doesn’t have a single author, or even a small team of authors. Hundreds (thousands?) of game writers working over decades of time can’t help but result in some chaos.
I think that’s a big part of 4e’s appeal to me; letting go of a lot of D&D’s classical quirks also means gaining a lot of consistency. There are still inconsistencies in 4e — sword mages and Remove Disease, anyone? — but they don’t verily leap out at me in droves. Defenses rather than saves, special spells/powers for every class and clear roles/niches, and so on. 4e is pretty damned close to the consistency I want out of D&D.
Oddly though, my desire for consistency doesn’t demand 4e-style consistency. I’m currently writing a heartbreaker based mostly on 3e!
Because I can’t go back. I guess I’m still in love with D&D, because I haven’t gone searching for other games, but I can’t unsee its inconsistencies. Yeah, I can have fun playing just about anything with the right group…but rules matter too, and consistency matters to me. I suppose it’s just something that I have to live with.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Do you feel the same about consistency, in gaming and other aspects of life? Do you feel the opposite way about consistency? Do you know of a fantasy ttrpg that might fulfill my taste?