I have an admission to make: I've never been a big Dungeons & Dragons fan.
That's not entirely true. I've actually been a huge fan over the years, immersing myself in the various worlds of the D&D universe, enjoying the stories and settings of mighty and fallen empires, the great heroes and villains of the realms and the dark, imagined hallways of ancient dungeons and haunted caverns that criss-cross the planes. Those fantasy settings were hugely influential on me, giving me a love of sword and sorcery that has never waned. No, the truth of the matter is simply that I've never been a very good Dungeons & Dragons player.
I've participated in a few campaigns - the last and best of them spanning almost an entire summer more years ago than I care to consider - but I never developed a knack for it. I was never able to immediately recite what rolls I needed to accomplish one particular task or another, and my grasp of THAC0 was very much like my grasp of the infield fly rule: Every time I thought I had a handle on it, it would turn around and bite me in the ass like an angry kobold (or David Eckstein). While the other players at the table were rattling off spells and saving throws at a blistering pace, I would be furiously rifling through books and papers, trying to find something to say that wouldn't make me look even stupider than everyone already assumed I was. Fun and frustration seemed to come in equal measures.
The advent of the computer RPG, then, was a godsend. Arcane number crunching was suddenly not my problem, and if I wanted to take a minute to consider my options, nobody was going to get on my ass about holding up progress. The Gold Box games and, even more significantly, the Eye of the Beholder titles cemented my love of the genre; they provided a solo approach to what was until then an inherently social form of gaming. When Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment arrived, my brain just about exploded; here, on my computer, was the full D&D experience as I had always imagined it, the real deal, an epic tale of high adventure that even a dice-dummy like me could handle like a pro. It was perfect. I've played a lot of different games across a lot of different genres, but since those days nothing suits me better than swords and shields, monsters and treasure, deep dungeons and soaring castles.
So isn't it odd that after finally buying Mask of the Betrayer, the expansion to the Forgotten Realms-based RPG Neverwinter Nights 2, I'm closer than ever to throwing up my hands and walking away from the whole thing?
I wish it wasn't that way, but in truth, it's been a long time coming. Every D&D-based release since sometime around the Temple of Elemental Evil adaptation has been source of increasing disappointment and annoyance, and it's not too hard to figure out why. Let's have a show of hands: Who wants to play a Half-Drow Sacred Fist? No? Not your cup of tea? How about a Svirfneblin Red Dragon Disciple? Anyone? Maybe a Strongheart Halfling Eldritch Knight? That sound like fun to you?