JonCon 2013, part IV: Ultimate

Sunday’s game was D&D (Iron Heroes, specifically) in which we were high-level characters fighting our way to save the kingdom. The game basically just consisted of two huge combats: the first again some fire giants, the second against some snake people and their dragon master.

I almost never play D&D. I think this was the first D&D I’ve played in a few years; I’ve only played D&D a handful of times in the past three decades. I’m really out of practice — I get the basics of D20, but that’s about it. Prestige classes, feats, tanking… all these are pretty foreign concepts to me.

This is not to trumpet my ignorance, nor to dis D&D players. There are clearly a lot of people who enjoy D&D immensely; more power to ’em. But I am now more clear than ever that D&D is not the game for me. There is a lot of information to keep track of for characters, with every character having multiple highly complex, heavily interacting special abilities. Not only that, but one character’s abilities will interact with another’s in subtle, complex ways as well.

At least I wasn’t playing the master strategist character. That player (another Rachel, as it happened — I don’t think I’ve ever gamed with someone who had the same name as me) had a lot to keep track of. She had to track multiple sets of tokens, trade them back and forth, dole them out to us other players, and try to figure out the best strategies at the same time. It was something of a logistical nightmare.

I tried helping out with the strategizing, but I was pretty lost, to be honest. It wasn’t until the second combat that I realized one of my special abilities didn’t require tokens to use, so I should’ve been using it all along. That’s an argument against cinematic yet highly complex games, for me: if I can’t use realism as a basis for possibility in my mind’s eye, and I can’t just brainstorm freeform stunts, it feels less like I’m trying to come up with cool or immersive actions and more like I’m trying to manage a stock portfolio. I find it hard to get into the role, because all the numbers don’t seem to be quantifying anything in particular beyond complexity for its own sake.

The game was also a little tough for me because it seemed that most of the other players had gamed together a fair amount and that they weren’t really into having me join them. A couple times I got talked over, and a couple of my suggestions took a long time to sink in. Maybe I just shouldn’t have joined a group or a game I didn’t know — but then, isn’t the whole point of cons to play games you don’t usually get to play, with people you don’t get to play with?

All in all, it was still fun. Like the GURPS game, I started to get a hold of it by the end, and there were some smatterings of roleplay here and there, as well as some nice worldbuilding and scene-setting by the GM. (The final battle took place on a floating island that was nicely evocative.) Will I try D&D again sometime? Probably, though it may be a while.

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