Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Foundations: A Free Refresher Course.

Let me begin by admitting that I am by no means a professional carpenter/contractor. I've never built a home nor do I have years of experience in the field. However my grandfather was a highly respected carpenter, one of the most sought after in our town in fact. It is from his wisdom that I know one simple truth - no matter how skilled or experienced a person is, no one can look upon a foundation and instantly predict every aspect of what is going to be built upon it. You simply cannot gaze on the laying of a foundation and presume to know all the issues awaiting construction. Neither can you assume merely from the foundation itself what the final structure will become. In short, not even the most experienced and veteran craftsman can anticipate everything that lays before a project on the foundation alone.

However, in contrast to what cannot be known the foundation itself is a very important part of any endeavor to craft something. Especially if the intent is to create something of lasting value and worth. For example consider the old parable of house built upon the sand vs. one built upon stone. The wise man who built upon a strong foundation of stone's house endured the weather and time to last. The foolish man by contrast had a home that quickly crumbled and faltered against the elements. My point here is an obvious one; getting your foundation is not just important, it's vital. Building upon something flawed or weak will only ensure a short lifespan not to mention inevitable failure.

Why are we even on the topic at all? Simply put, it lies at the crux of a larger topic that I have come to feel that so many are ignoring. From the very beginning, Wizards of the Coast has tried to make it abundantly clear that their intent is to not simply toss out another edition. Their goal is to break down what is at the core of all editions, unify the base elements and craft a new edition that can serve fans of all editions while enduring. A lofty goal to be sure, but one that hinges on establishing a strong foundation they can build on. But the key focus here is that they are trying to establish that  very foundation. Until they can get that base set into stone they can't build up or out, and that's where we come in. They need our help in getting it right, and they genuinely seem dedicated to doing this right the first time, because it's worth it. And if we can build this to last then there is no reason they can't give us the game/rules we want that ensure a long lifespan of our hobby. For that matter, there is nothing that says they can't get the rules established in such a way that then allows them to provide us with the rich content so many crave.

I have heard so many different complaints in the days since the playtest was first released, and I think quite a few of them are centered on the fact people are forgetting that we're laying the foundation. If you loved 4th edition and are lamenting seeing more of it in the materials, be patient. 4th is the newest part of the game's history and while it is still a very controversial subject we have to look at all the history of the game as a whole. Just like in building there have been so many different methods used over time and if we're to build something worth the effort we have to look at the bigger picture. We definitely don't want to find ourselves looking at a whole new edition in a few years because this attempt failed. Nor do any of us want to see the brand shelved only to never know if or when it could return.

To those who cry foul at seeing so much "old-school" material I'd like to remind you that this game has been around for a long time using just such elements. It isn't a weakness but a strength that lives in the very feel of the game. And to those who bemoan even a hint of any newer element or innovation; truth be told without Gygax or others around we don't know what they would of thought about such concepts. For the sake of our favored past time we have to at least give it a chance and try our best. If all we do is fall to stubborn pettiness over the project then we will completely betray the fate of the game and doom the potential of it's future.

And to those who take issue with a new edition solely on the fact that they'll be asked to buy all new material, I can honestly sympathize. However, even living below the poverty level I will be the first to say that if this is done right I would be more than happy to invest in the game's future. Yes, I have in the past felt slighted by the release of a new edition that warranted such an expense. But even so, if this whole thing works out like it might it would mean the beginning of a whole new era of the game. If that is the case then I actually don't mind investing in new books provided the quality merits the price.

You can live in a house most of your life, but if the chance comes along to invest in a better house, especially one in the shape to last it could be a great opportunity. Moving isn't always easy or without it's own myriad of issues but nevertheless it's a part of life. We could simply invest in another trailer-like edition, one that albeit nice would only last us a short time. Or we can dig in and pour ourselves a foundation to build on that can allow us to shape something great and lasting.

I don't know about you but like my grandfather I have to say if it's worth doing then it's worth doing right the first time. It could be argued that the same effort should of been applied to every other edition. But I think that each other edition that came before us, has allowed us to grow and refine the game. And if we don't take the time to really understand that or apply it then all we'll ever be doing is building ourselves houses we can't or won't really live in. We might stay for a bit but they'll never be a lasting home.