I got into a discussion with Matt the other night, in regards to the nature of Dungeons & Dragons. I was in the middle of playing Neverwinter Nights when he called, in an oblique effort to make myself comfortable with the rules system. (On some level, it was a wasted effort, being as it's on the same level of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, in terms of invisible rules. It seemed like I was more in tune with the rules of games like Fallout and Baldur's Gate than I really am with these games. Maybe it's a matter of perceptual skew... Who knows?)
In the middle of the phone call, he made an interesting point about 3rd Edition. Like me, he's not precisely thrilled with the way that 3rd Edition has gone, but he's a little more willing to deal with it than I really am. After all, he is the prime mover in getting a game going last year. (For the record, we didn't really get very far with that campaign, but still, it was something...) He's picked up a fair stock of the basic game books that are easily available here, but on some level, he's more of a GURPS guy anyway. (I came down against GURPS a long time ago, not because the games are bad or anything, but because I found the rules and the books to be uninspiring. I far prefer the card games that Steve Jackson comes up with...)
One of the books he was most enthralled with was the new version of the Unearthed Arcana. It's more his speed, in terms of rules variants and styles of play. (I'm not going to get into his long running obsession with trying to figure out how exactly darkness (both capital and lower-case "d" on that) works in the system, since that's something that, while I agree with his frustration, I don't have any real answer for.) Unearthed Arcana is one of those supplements that just strikes me as weird. When they tell you in the Foreword that you're going to have to ignore a sizable section of the book, you really have to wonder who they're trying to sell this to. Especially at the inflated pricetag that they affixed to the book. (Here in Korea, it's a solid 42,000 Won. The main books only run nearly $10 cheaper...)
But, as I say, this was one of the books that really interested Matt. The reason being that, if nothing else, Unearthed Arcana was a way to modify the rules of the new edition so that it was something a little more towards your tastes. So, while he's not so gung-ho about stripping the rules set down to basics and getting rid of things, he wasn't precisely satisfied with it either.
To be honest, I haven't given that much time or effort towards Unearthed Arcana as yet. From where I'm standing at the moment, I'd do a lot better to play some more so I can tell just how much I want to modify the rules. I've always been the type of gamer that does better with the example of play than the dry, basic rules. That, and having a good standing of how things work in different situations would go a long way in letting me know what kind of details really annoy me in play. (This is a lot of the reason that I want to get rid of Attacks of Opportunity and the whole Critical Threat nonsense... These are things that take up time and add unnecessary complication.) Hence, on some level, why I was playing Neverwinter Nights.
Anyway, what he'd noted was that there needed to be some sort of system by which people could modify their games for specific purposes. Want an action-oriented game? Use these specific rules tweaks. Want something a little more horror-driven? Well, here's what we suggest for modifying your game along those lines. How about horror? Romance? Comedy? (Well, okay. That's a little more than just rules tweaks, I guess... It's hard to make a rolling system reflect slapstick.)
This actually made a lot of sense to me. Right now, I'm in the midst of looking more closely at the underlying theories of Eberron, with its Action Points and so on. In a lot of ways, Eberron seems to be trying to get away from some of the main conceits of D&D, bridging the gap to the more action-ready, skill-based games of the mid-90's. (And no, 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons cannot be considered skill-based, even now. Sure, it's a lot closer than it ever was, but that whole level thing is still in there. And yes, I've gotten into minor arguments about that...)
It seems to me that what needs to be made is a concise listing of the variant rules and how they could be applied to games. Ideally, it would include some sort of commentary about how this or that rule would change the feel of the game, but that's over-reaching for my purposes at the moment. Included, of course, would be a section on my own experimentations with getting rid of the entire miniatures-based combat rules, which would take a fair amount of time to cull down to a reasonable system. (At least, I assume so. Again, this is something that would require a fair amount of research and time, rather than the casual moments that I've devoted to it while at work. Perhaps this is something that I can undertake on the plane back to the States in January, should that come about as planned...)
Amusingly enough, I already have a notebook set aside for the purpose. Originally, it had been a way to track the progress in my teachers' class, but the low turn-out ended up having the fool thing consolidated with another class and taught by the other foreign teacher here. (Sort of. Actually, my class stayed prtty static in size, where hers shrunk to minimal levels. Since she's the one that is technically required to teach the class, she gets to teach the gestalt. But that's boring, real-life stuff that has minimal place in this set of notes.) Now, I just have to sit down and dedicate myself to researching rules systems and how to mangle them.