Now, part of that is that the characters the players are making are fairly complex. We're using Arcana Evolved plus a couple skill tweaks from Iron Heroes and items from the Magic Item Compendium, and everyone's running one 10th level character and one 20th level character. About half the group already has a lower level version of their 20th done, but even if the idea's cooked up they've still got all the numbers and fiddling to do. One guy finished his 20th level while on site, but everyone else is still partway through one or both characters; those without pre-existing characters from the last game haven't even started their 10th levels.
Some of the player's really dig the complexity. That's why I decided on 20th level in the first place: one or two of them have been bugging me to run "epic" for a while. Others get kind of lost. They're not as experienced with the system, and what's fairly and simple and fun for the ones into rules-tweakery (and I go into that category; I'm not much of an optimizer but I do enjoy building characters) becomes an ordeal.
Which is what it was. Five hours, and we still weren't halfway done. I've been running Traveller and Swords & Wizardry for the past year, and playing Labyrinth Lord, and it kind of blew my mind. I'd forgetten how much of a pain it can be, wrangling all the skills and feats and everything. Until now, I hadn't fully appreciated just how fast early edition D&D is, compared to 3e. And while Traveller's not quite that fast, at least it's fun, and no one gets lost. You're discovering your character as it goes along, and all the decisions are fairly simple and come one at a time. There's no math, no calculation, no flipping through books and figuring out how much all your magic items cost.
The worst part, though, is that we spent those five hours figuring out stuff I fundamentally don't care about. Fancy combat tricks, largely. Arcana Evolved is not nearly so bad about that as 3.5 D&D proper, and not all of it was combat, but even in the non-combat area, there's a level of calculated codification that, I've realize, I neither want nor need.
What I care about, with these characters, is where they're from and what they're doing in Xanadu. I care about their goals, their enemies, and (for some of them) how they feel about their parents. I care about what they're good at, what they're bad at, what they like doing and what they'd rather avoid. I don't need to know all the situations where they get a +1 bonus to whatever to know any of that, but that's what we spent those five hours figuring out.
I still feel pretty fondly towards the system, and I'm sure things will get better once I'm actually running it, once we can focus on the things that matter and I'm back to running the system I know better than anything. (Though that's another thing that bugged me on Friday. I don't know the system as well as I once did, and what's easily handled if you know it well isn't necessarily so forgiving to someone who's knowledge is a little rusty.) And if we were starting out at 1st level, or somewhere in that neighborhood, I doubt I'd mind at all. But this? This has me just about ready to swear off the high-powered end of the game, at least as a starting point. I doubt the compensations will be worth the trouble.