This article is coming in a bit late, but after a few days of reflection, I figured it was time that I weighed in on what the gaming community is now calling, “DnDNext”.
I have to admit, the news that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) was working on another edition (probably the 5th, but they’re not calling it that yet), took me by surprise. While I knew that a big announcement was coming, I wasn’t prepared for them to announce so soon. The 3.0/3.5 version of Dungeons & Dragons lasted at least 8 years. I figured that 4e would last at least as long, particularly with Essentials cooking along well. Alas, I was way off.
You know, if you season the crow just right, it tastes fine.
So, while my guess was way off in what I thought the “big announcement” was, I am also excited. New editions of things can be awesome (or terrible), but WotC seems to be wanting to take the correct steps in order to make the process more transparent AND accessible to the gaming masses. For the first time (that I can recall), WotC will be conducting open play testing – not just in convention or organized settings, but in your home game group as well. This development is pretty exciting, and I’m eager to enlisted my own players as guinea pigs.
One of the reasons WotC is so eager to gain the community’s buy-in for a new edition, is that in the recent past (and probably going back to the 3rd Edition), the community has been split based on how each group defined the game. Each edition of the game has its loyal adherents, and it often takes quite a lever to move those adherents into another frame of mind. Moving that lever translates into additional money for the company and a more homogenous player base to support. Good things from the perspectives of both sides.
Of course, there’s always nerd rage to be sure. In fact, “edition wars” continually clog up Twitter, Facebook, Forums, and any other location where a comment field is an open invitation to laud your game while dumping on another’s.
WotC seeks to change all that by creating a new edition whose goal is to enfold elements of ALL the previous editions into it; brewing up a stew fit to sate the beardiest grognard or hippiest inde-gamer. I’m not sure how that’s all going to work out, especially since my experience in the corporate world tells me that “design by committee” isn’t always a great plan. However, in light of the split that I think is keeping everyone from playing what is essentially the same game, it’s probably a good idea.
With that in mind, some of you might remember an adage that I’ve used on Twitter and in my previous blog, “Initiative Or What?” That adage went something like this: “Role-play like it’s 1st edition; build worlds like it’s 2nd edition; manage your table like it’s 3rd edition; and do it all playing 4th edition.” Since a DnDNext is coming, I’ll probably need to change that quote a bit, but it does speak to what I really want to talk about today – what makes each edition worth keeping. If WotC does truly intend to fold elements of all of it’s previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons into this new “Super D&D” then I have some suggestions on what you might want to retain:
Original D&D, Basic D&D – Wonder and simplicity. While it is probably impossible to capture the wonder of a 34 year old gamer in the same way you do a 13 year old gamer, that should be the goal. These versions of the game showed me a fantasy world where I could be a hero. Not everyone gets that chance in real life, but it’s a nice feeling when you can play a game that does. DnDNext needs to have that sense of wonderment about it.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition – Scholarly Storytelling. One of the things that always impressed me about the AD&D, 1st Ed. is that it seemed (even if it really was not) a scholarly work. There were real life examples of concepts that were being illustrated. Many of the tables and charts captured a little bit of “the real” and actually provided some education. I had no clue what a “melee” even was, before reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide for the first time. While I don’t believe recent versions of the game have “dumbed it down”, I do believe that it’s lost some of that “Indiana Jones Literacy” that made it so appealing. DnDNext should be able to do some of that. Provide some real world examples for things in the game. Get your facts right, and use them to illustrate the fantasy.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition – Worlds Beyond Imagining. In my mind, AD&D 2nd Ed. did one thing that was amazing – it provided us with so many worlds to explore. Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Spelljammer, Ravenloft, & Planescape (to name but a few) all explored different aspects of the D&D Multiverse giving each one a unique flavor. DnDNext needs to be able to (either with prepared campaign settings or by giving DMs the correct modular tools) accommodate the amazing worlds that are limited only by our imaginations.
Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition – Table Management – While D&D was originally designed as a “skirmisher’ set of rules for more traditional table-top war games, it evolved quickly into something much more. Gygax & Arneson were faithful to their roots and provided rules for using miniatures while playing Dungeons & Dragons in the earlier editions. Unfortunately, those rules were often needlessly complex. The 3rd Edition of the game brought back the excitement of using miniatures for more than just establishing the party’s battle order. Tactical combat is a great element and needs to remain a part of the game. DnDNext needs to keep miniatures in mind, but be able to leave them behind as necessity or practicality require.
Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition – Everyone Participates. One of the big failings of the earlier editions of the game, is that certain classes really couldn’t participate effectively over the length of the entire “in game” day. Wizards that spent their spells early, either had to twiddle their thumbs or resort to ineffective weapons that exposed them to heavy damage by placing them in direct combat. The 4th Ed. changed all of that. Now, every round, regardless of the class you chose to play, you can do something. Even if that something is just casting a simple spell, you can participate and become a part of the action. DnDNext needs to maintain this element. While I’m not married to the “everyone has a role” concept, I do believe that the game is less fun when certain characters have nothing to do.
DnDNext will likely bring a lot of folks back to the game without (hopefully) alienating the new adopters brought into the fold by the 4th Edition. With play testing coming so soon, it’s clear the designers already have a good idea of what the skeleton of the game is going to look like. I’m hoping that during active play testing, we’ll be testing out different concepts and perhaps more than one way to solve a problem in order to get a feel of what we enjoy more. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Dungeons & Dragons community and an exciting time to be a Role Player in general. Go forth and make Dungeons & Dragons what YOU want it to be.
My name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game
Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.