Rise of the Arch-Lich


In the mid 90’s I watched with horror as the hobby I had devoted half my life to at that time, died a slow painful death by attrition.

Twice a month we were meeting at Mike’s, who was our dungeon master in those days. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition wasn’t new, and some could argue that it was already starting to wither, with the re-releases and reprints of the same material since ’89, the game was set for something dramatic to happen, good or bad. But we were die-hards who’d bought every supplement and new edition or revision since the early 80’s.

That’s when I started to notice it.
The creeping infection grew like a brown mold, feeding on the warmth, and leaving nothing but cold in its wake.

A new game was taking the hobby industry by storm in those days, a fantasy genre card game that was inexpensive and fast to learn and even faster to set up. We were, admittedly, fantasy junkies. We would devour anything in our genre, no matter how cheesy or ridiculous. So it came as no surprise that this game would be a hit. Since it only needed 2 players, and everyone had some of the cards, it became the #1 pastime for the early arrivers to each game night. With the first couple of players throwing down a quick round before the rest of the party showed up.
If only that had been the end of it, I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Slowly, the card game players became less inclined to wrap it up once everyone was there, and the later arriving players became more inclined to just join in the card game. And so the dice bags and monster manuals sat, unopened and neglected, with increasing frequency. It wasn’t long from there that the campaign began to dwindle and eventually stall out. I was, to say the least, disappointed. The group continued to get together to play cards, eventually getting involved in tournaments at the local comic book shop. The company behind that card game became a huge success, and the company that made my beloved Dungeons and Dragons began to collapse. The end was near.


And then in 1997, it happened. The company that grew so successful from the card game, bought out the company that made D&D. I was livid. many of us at the time viewed this as an act of war and swore our allegiance to what we considered the last pure system. In 2000 3rd edition was released and it was commercially successful, and from what I understand, not an entirely bad game system. Switching to the D20 mechanic and eliminating the THACO was, in retrospect,probably a good idea. But at the time it was tantamount to heresy. Three years later, the 3.5 revision creates uncertainty in the new system and many begin to question the decision making behind this, even though the revisions weren’t extreme and some would say needed. The great schadenfreude wouldn’t come for a few more years. In 2007 4th edition was released and was a completely new system requiring yet another investment. It was met with as much complaint and disappointment as I could have hoped for. With seemingly endless changes, revisions and updates, the company quietly pulled the plug on the whole thing in January of 2011.

A year passed while the old guard reveled in the “I told you so’s” while calculating THACO’s. And then the big company announced something new. In January 2012 play testers were called upon to help create D&D Next. July of 2014 the fruits of their labor were released on the public via free pdf starter, and soon after the boxed set was released with all the hype and fanfare one would expect from a new smartphone debut. With a hardback players’ handbook, monster manual and dungeon masters guide slated to be released just in time for Christmas.
I was still skeptical of course. These were the same fiends who killed the game in the first place, then spent nearly 20 years adding insult to injury by sullying the name and reputation with board game versions and attempts to compete with the video games that were imitating the original game. So, I refused to fall for the hype, even with throngs of sycophants raving about the glories of 5th edition. The internet has become awash with blogs singing the praises and the astroturf movement of support has been hard not to notice.

And then I was invited to play the starter set.

I spent some time thumbing through the starter rules and found it intriguing. Some of the things I’d fought against in the newer versions were in there, and the worked. Some of the things I’d heard were so bad about the newer versions were gone replaced by streamlined rules and detailed back story. I agreed to play, but guarded for disappointment.
After four hours of play, I am eagerly looking forward to the next session. The game mechanics worked smoothly, with ease of use allowing first time DM to pick up and run for a table full of experienced players. The detailed character creation built a full back story that helped add a sense of purpose to the game and helped eliminate the random “meet at the tavern/random monster attack/loot the bodies”, lather – rinse – repeat cycle of so many games.

But this is not a review of the new game. I swore I wouldn’t write a review of 5th edition, and if that’s what you’re looking for, those articles abound on the internet. This is the recounting of the death and rebirth of a great game, and the conversion of one grumpy old grognard.