As a big fan of tactical RPGs, I often browse GOG for old games that have stood the test of time.
I have re-played Icewind Dale a few times through the years but I wanted something a bit different, yet D&D. So I reviewed the comments and found that at with the Christmas promotion, you can get The Temple of Elemental Evil for just $2.99.
I quickly realized that I have completely forgotten how unforgiving the D&D system is. My observations (rant) in bullet-format:
- Missing – I am level 4 and I still miss a lot. I have missed continuously for four rounds of combat where all my 5 characters attacking a single enemy
- Damage – your enemies miss a lot as well but when you get hit, you can be killed instantly (at low levels) with damage exceeding HP of the wizard well into levels 4+.
- Prior knowledge – the game is designed around a lot of saving and loading. When I exited the first dungeon, I was half dead. I was greeted by 13 fresh new opponents!
- No retreat – there is no way to retreat from a battle, so you have to know in advance what enemy you’ll be facing. There’s also no room for a lot of missing or high damage (see 1&2)
The game is extremely hardcore and I like that. At the same time, I feel that the D&D combat system creates a whole host of issues (above). The way to address the unpredictability of the results is to tweak the hit chance, the weapon damage and the hit points. It’s so basic, yet D&D continues to rely on arcane D20 concepts that produce extremely erratic results when samples are small.
These quirks force you to save and reload often (thank God for quicksave and load), which diminishes any sense of accomplishment. It also justifies you to abuse the AI any way you can find, from sleep to entanglement, to shooting through a door that’s too small to fit the ogre in the other room.
Apart from combat itself, the other major issue is the flexibility of the class system. As someone who haven’t played a D&D game in 10 years, I had to follow a step-by-step guide in order to generate a working “party”. It is extremely easy to gimp your characters with your stats in a way that is irreversible. The other reason to follow a guide is the added element of “surprise” when you realize you have leveled up pickpocket and there’s no one in this game worth pickpocketing!
In short, it front-loads 90% of class decisions. I know WotC have tried to address this by adding flexibility with all the multiclassing options. However, multi-classing quickly veers into gimping territory as there are only a few viable archetypes.