Ok, so the word should be out by now. WotC revealed they are hard at work designing the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons. If you missed this announcement you can check it out here. When I first read the news, I was curious and intrigued. I had been following the Legends & Lore columns of both Mike Mearls and newly re-hired Monte Cook for the last few months. I very much enjoyed their ruminations on past editions of the game, what we learned from them, and how they might impact modern design goals. The comments frequently devolved into a hot mess of hate-on-hate action but were frequently peppered with thought provoking responses. It was a heady time and a fun place to be as we all collectively speculated if these seemingly innocuous conversations had some higher purpose. It turns out they did. Hit the jump to find out how.
Many of the readers of L&L complained bitterly that the articles written by Mearls and Cook were evidence that WotC intended to pull D&D back to what it once was. I disagreed at the time, but now it appears they were at least partially correct. However, unlike the angry rants that were everpresent on the WotC forums, it appears that WotC intends to do this without completely abandoning current fans of the game. If what they say is true, they are diligently working to design the ultimate edition of D&D.
According to Monte Cook in the most recent L&L article, “…this isn’t another salvo in the so-called edition wars. This isn’t an attempt to get you to play Dungeons & Dragons in a new way. This is the game you’ve already been playing, no matter what edition or version you prefer. The goal here is to embrace all forms of the D&D experience and to not exclude anyone.”
This sounds like a very laudable goal. I sincerely hope they can pull it off. Monte goes on to say “Imagine a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game. Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You’re good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It’s all there.”
The very idea of this has me pretty excited. I know that for my main group, this would be a marked improvement. In that group (my other group wouldn’t care either way), currently, I have a guy who loves 1E, a guy who loves 3.5, a guy who loves 4E and a young person who doesn’t know one from the other. We’re currently playing 4E (because I’m the DM and that’s my preferred system) and it’s quite serviceable even considering the wild variation in my players tastes. However, I do work very hard to bend and twist the ruleset to make it do what I know each of the players want it to do. I can imagine a system where the bending and twisting is built into the ruleset and tools already exist to please my players gaming palate. I can also imagine a customized level of complexity so the 14 year old girl can play next to the 30 year veteran and they can both experience the learning curve that suits them.
Unfortunately, as indicated by the raw number of such comments responding to the L&L article, there is some skepticism of whether this design goal is even possible. A very knowledgeable commenter opined that “A fully modular, interlocking, user-tweakable rules system is very much a holy grail.” but on balance, added “However, the degree of effort required to do it right, vs. the time and resources available, is extreme.” I’ll agree with that assessment, that the concept is a good one and that it will be darn hard to make it all work together. Where I disagree is in his overall conclusion of “I hate saying “impossible” and “can’t work”….. I just can’t see how they’re going to get there.” I, in fact, CAN see how we’re going to get there. And the key is right there in front of us. That being, a lengthy and robust open playtest environment.
If we are willing to work together as a community; willing to compromise on the edges of the design space, and willing to allow others to get what they want from the same ruleset we’re looking to use, I think these differences are very workable. Will each player get EXACTLY the ruleset he would want, as if he were houseruling his own favorite system? Certainly not. But will that player be able to replicate the feel of playing said system while still being able to interact with someone who may not be equally attracted to those features she finds interesting? I really hope so. That is the key. We, as players, need to be willing to give a little in order to get a lot. The “a lot” being the end of the edition wars, at least to some degree. Naturally, there will always exist disagreements. However it is in this very environment of disagreement that 5th edition stands to reign supreme. That is…..assuming it works at all.
Now, having said all this, I’d like to refer you to a post and comment thread over at 2d6cents.com. It was written by the sites curator, Brian, a man I very much respect and enjoy interacting with. His concern is a bit different from that of the average WotC forum poster. He’s not hyperventilating about whether or not D&D will move forward or backward. His concern is a more systemic, more structural one. That being: Is D&D even the game he wants to play anymore? Is it even designed for him? And I’ll add further, should they attempt to make the changes necessary to once again attract him to their products? Given that I think Brian is a cool and talented individual, the easy answer is that yes, of course they need to concern themselves with attracting such players. But having followed his site for over a year now, I don’t know how realistic that is. Brian has been playing some games that strike pretty far afield of what D&D is designed to be. And that’s a good thing. Playing those games has helped shape his aesthetic tastes going forward, both to change them somewhat (I think) and to help him recognize what they probably were all along. I’ll be very interested to see what players like Brian have to say about the next edition of D&D and if it holds any more sway for them, assuming it achieves its stated design goals of offering a unifying experience that simultaneously nods to the classical idea of what D&D is while doing so in a modern, streamlined and modular system.
I’d love to hear your ideas on what D&D 5E will be and what you want out of it. Also, please include what you’re willing to sacrifice to get it there. And if you want to read my assessment of 4E with my predictions for 5E, you can see how right or wrong I was by clicking here.