If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are a gamer, or you at least know what I mean by that term. If not, by gamer, I mean one who plays RPGs, or Role-Playing Games, specifically those of the tabletop, pencil-and-paper variety such as Dungeons & Dragons.
Earlier this week, Wizards of the Coast announced that it has been “developing the next iteration of D&D.” They are not calling it “5th Edition,” at least not yet. For now, its codename seems to be D&D Next. That’s probably a marketing and/or public relations decision, and a wise one at that. I’ve been around for the last 4 (arguably 5) edition changes, and it’s never pretty. In fact, the fracturing fan base is what Wizards seems to be addressing directly with this “iteration.”
There have been scads of reports from various sources, but I take most of it as rumor at best. Even so, there seems to be a consensus on a few things. Here are some of them, along with my reactions to each.
- Wizards of the Coast will have an open playtest of the rules during development. This is huge. While this is nothing new in the RPG industry, this is a huge turnaround from Wizards’ (and TSR’s prior to them) methods before. This was a request (to be polite) from fans since at least the announcement of the 4th edition, and a source of complaints from its initial release, right on up through every new supplement. I am encouraged by this news, because it shows they are listening.
- D&D Next will be modular in design, so you can use whatever sets of rules you like, and ignore those you do not. I’m not sure I buy into this idea. Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of “use what you like, throw out what you don’t like.” I’ve liked this concept since the Original Dungeons & Dragons game. But that’s just the thing: this is an idea that’s always been an official part of the game. This is nothing new. Perhaps the difference will be more precisely defined sets of rules, how they interact with other rules, and how they change the game experience as a whole? Still, it seems odd that they make such a big point of it now.
- D&D Next will be compatible with prior editions, which will now be supported again. I’m skeptical about this one. There are fundamental differences between each of the editions that make it a challenge to use them together without some major modifications. E.g., the difference in power level between a 1st edition magic-user and a 4th edition wizard are huge. The same goes for a 2nd and 4th edition dragon. Or the planar cosmologies of the different settings throughout the editions. My concern here is that Wizards does not have the staff to support every edition of D&D. I hope they are not biting off more than they can chew.
- Wizards will continue to support 4th edition fully during the development process of D&D Next. This is great. I am glad that they intend to give support to their current product. I believe them, and take them at their word. However, I’m not sure the customers will want to continue to purchase something they perceive to have an expiration date. Now, the argument will be that the current products will be compatible with D&D Next, so there’s no need to worry. Still, I’m not convinced that customers will agree.
I hope this doesn’t come across as pessimistic, because that’s not my intent. In fact, I am eager to see how this unfolds. I have signed up for the playtest, and encourage you to do the same. Dungeons & Dragons is the progenitor of this hobby of mine, and it will continue to set the standard. And I am excited to help make that happen.
Part of making that happen is that Wizards has asked for wish lists for D&D Next. On Twitter, they have established the #DNDNext hashtag for just such a purpose. I plan to use it in the months ahead. For now, though, look to a future post for my immediate wish-list ideas.