With the news of more layoffs at Wizards of the Coast, including long time D&D game designer Bill Slavicsek, discussion regarding the future of Dungeons and Dragons has exploded on Twitter and the various online forums.
At the time, I agreed with NewbieDM, that some sort of ‘new edition’ of D&D was incoming, although I didn’t think it would take until 2014 to come out. In fact, I think NeoGrognard is pretty correct on this timing.
We will get an announcement of a ‘new edition’ of D&D at GenCon in August.
Here are my thoughts on the subject.
D&D is at a crossroads.
WotC miscalculated when they originally designed 4e, in that while it does fix many of the problems that 3.5e had, it created new ones, either within the rules, the presentation of the rules or in the adventures. By taking over the production of Dragon and Dungeon, WotC gave Paizo an opportunity to develop their own product, Pathfinder, in order to support the products that they did well. This had the result of driving a deep schism in the D&D market and fractured it. Some people, like me, went to 4e. Some stayed with 3.5e or Pathfinder. Some went old school either using the original 1e or 2e rules, or their clones.
The fact is though, that there are a lot of people playing D&D (at least according to the definition that Mike Mearls came up with) that aren’t purchasing new D&D products or subscribing to DDI.
The Virtual Table, is an attempt to try to grab some of that lost market, in that it appears that it will at least somewhat support other editions of D&D. Essentials, in addition to providing a more clear way for new players to get into D&D, also was an attempt to attract the older crowd.
I don’t think it’s working.
Early in the year, and late enough that the Essentials sales figures should have been known, we got word that several announced products, all of which were crunch based players books, had been cancelled. The latter part of the year, which had not had any previous product announcements looked rather sparse, and included at least two board game products (Legend of Drizzt and Conquest of Nerath). We recently had an announcement of another board game product (Dungeon of Dread).
There is at least anecdotal evidence that book sales of Pathfinder products is starting to exceed that of D&D products in stores, and that book inventories are being allowed to deplete. Now, that doesn’t mean that the income that overall sales of D&D products is being overrun by Pathfinder, given the existence of DDI. However, there is enough to be concerned about the overall economic viability of the 4e D&D line.
As NewbieDM has pointed out, the designers at WotC have been playing a lot of earlier editions of D&D at the office. Mike Mearls has been writing the Legends and Lore column on DDI for several months, going over what made D&D tick in the past. I have to agree with NewbieDM, that it’s making me feel that they’re going to make one more push to try to grab the old guard.
However, there is no appetite for a completely new edition either. Just look at the backlash over Essentials and whether or not it was D&D 4.5e.
In addition, WotC has spent a lot of money over the past three years developing and promoting DDI. I don’t think that they’re willing to throw that money away by bringing out a new edition that would be substantially different than 4e.
The one thing that would indicate that they’re not planning on producing a new edition of D&D is that there has been no increase in staffing levels (and as mentioned above, more layoffs have occured). However, there isn’t nearly the amount of 4e product being produce as was done at the end of 3.5e, and if the new edition is largely going to be similar to 4e, there isn’t nearly the amount of playtesting that would be required either.
So how do I envision this next edition of D&D to be like
The new ruleset will be based largely on the ruleset that is provided in the Essentials Rules Compendium, though with some streamlining as I’ll explain below.
Most of the changes will be on the player’s side though as I think that the monsters are still the best that D&D has ever come up with (at least now that the higher level monster damage has been fixed, and solos aren’t pushovers).
A push to make combat more fast and furious will be paramount. There will be a drastic reduction to immediate actions available to players. Opportunity attacks will either become automatic damage, or will be restricted to Defenders only. It won’t be necessary to be so fiddly with exact positioning of miniatures on the battlemap, and in fact, this edition could theoretically be played without one. I hope that some sort of ‘stunt’ mechanic (like in Dragon Age) will get introduced, although I don’t expect it.
DDI will support the new edition more, with a reduction in 4e support (but not eliminating it). Adventures written for DDI or published will be compatable with both editions.
The skill system may be tweaked to deal with the complaints from 3.5e players that the 4e system doesn’t have enough granularity.
The new edition will try to have an even better old school feel to it. Adventures will start to include more roleplaying and more exploration. Encounter powers will be reduced in emphasis. Charges for magic items may return. Resource management in general will be re-emphasized. Magic items with enhancement bonuses will actually feel like bonuses, rather that just allowing you to ‘keep up’ with monster power levels.
The new system will be such that you could even take earlier editions and easily convert them. This would allow WotC to begin selling older modules again electronically leveraging all that history and backproduct. I6 Ravenloft is generally acknowledged as the best adventure ever produced, so why won’t WotC sell it?
I think that the 4e rule structure is more than capable of supporting two different ‘versions’ of D&D. One that is complex, and highly tactical. One that is more cinematic, quick and with an old school feel.
The only question is whether or not WotC is actually developing this, and whether or not they have the skill to make this work and try to reunify the fanbase. This may be a difficult job given how much loyalty Paizo attracts, but I think this is the only way for D&D to thrive going forward.
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd