Yesterday, I said I wasn't going to talk about yesterday's announcement from Wizards of the Coast that the 5e iteration of Basic D&D was going to be released as a free pdf, and when I said that, I meant that I wasn't going to be talking about it today. Many people far smarter than I, I knew, would have things to say about it, even if that thing to say was "enough already!" Of primary interest, I thought, was +Gerardo Tasistro's blog post in which he dared to ask: is it this free release what's important or is it what WotC bothers to do with it? It's a great read and, while I'm not likely to reference the post again, I would totally understand if you took a break from my gibberings and look into it while I wait here patiently. (And yes, I'm aware that Gerardo says plenty more than the little nugget I distilled him down to, but for me, that's the point that grabbed me.)
And so, I will not be talking about how great free D&D rules are for the industry, because you, dear reader, probably already know that. You've probably got the art-free Labyrinth Lord and LotFP's latest Weird Fantasy release and every edition of Swords & Wizardry, which you got for free. You know because we did it first and WotC is copying us (how's THAT for coming full circle, eh?). Well done, OSR community, the side you came down on was the victor in the war for players' (and publishers') consciences, and for that, you deserve a round of applause.
No, the idea of releasing your Basic rules isn't new for the industry, just new for the Subsidiary of Hasbro.
Instead of lamenting particulars of the next edition, I thought I'd tell you how I plan on using it, if I use it at all. Every other edition of D&D I've ever played, I first engaged with the rules as a DM. This time, however, I plan on engaging with the rules as a player, since I'm not particularly jazzed up about the edition. (Sure, I think there's some promise, just not in the "OMG DRAGONZZZZ!" crap WotC & the Kobolds are shoveling down our throats right now.)
But I'll need a DM.
Enter my lovely wife, +Kathryn Muszkiewicz who, for years, has threatened me with learning how to DM. Since the new Starter Set is aimed at teaching board gamers how to DM, she decided that it might just be up her alley. With her learning all of the DM-side stuff, I don't have to worry about it and get to screw around with just the player-side stuff. Which, if we're starting with the Starter Set, would be the Basic rules.
Here's the part where I talk about how I want to use the Basic rules. These rules, as WotC has stated, include everything you need to level one of the "core four" classes from level 1 to 20. I'll cut them a big amount of slack and say that I probably don't care about anything over level 9 or 10 or so (probably less; I can't recall the last character I had over level 6). I want these rules in print, but WotC is only giving them to me in pdf, but that pdf is at least free. Now, these days it's really easy to just upload a file to Lulu.com and have them print you however many copies you want at cost. This is how I have several "all-in-one Moldvay Basic, Cook Expert" books (two in paperback, in hardcover; they're sexy and you should be jealous unless you already have them). So yes, that's how I'll be dealing with the distinct lack of a print Basic: I'll just make my own.
That's the deal, though, isn't it? That's what keeps coming back as the refrain of the old schoolers: "If I want it, I'll make my own." "Don't sell me something I could make on my own." If we're going to pay for a thing, we want it to be something that we (a) can use and (b) is unique enough that we might not have been able to cook it up in an afternoon with a pad of graph paper, a Vernor's SLURPEE (it's a thing!) and a pint of Sailor Jerry. (I'm pretty sure this logic is why monster books sell well. At least the ones that introduce lots of new stuff.)
Why the hell wouldn't I print my own? As my BX Conjoined Twin experiment proves, Lulu really doesn't care about copyright so long as you don't try to sell it, so there's no real barrier in my way to have the thing that *I* want out of the new edition. Plus, my wife is kind of geeked about learning how to DM an edition that I don't know anything about. I've promised her that, until she runs it, I won't even look inside the Starter Set without her approval.
Of course, all of this is predicated on me actually playing 5e, which I'm not opposed to. I would rather, however, stick to my guns and engage with the rules as a player rather than as a DM and, for the first time in my 30-year D&D career, I might be able to.