Friday, 11 April 2014

D&D Next - how to make it a winner

My thoughts have been turning to the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons recently, which I'll call Next for the sake of simplicity, even if this risks confusing it with a chain of fashion stores here in the UK! It is finally heaving into view and with it I expect there to be plenty of excitement and also controversy, as the owner of a well-loved brand unveils its newest take on the original RPG system. There are. however, many vociferous doubters, particularly as 4e, Next's predecessor, left a bad taste in the mouth for many gamers.

Dungeons and Dragons is a bit like a village. Residents come and go, some never to return. The village also inevitably changes over time, partly due to a succession of mayors or builders, and partly through the activities of its residents. While the original settlers might still recognise the settlement they founded, much has changed as well. A new edition has to recognise this.

The game itself, if it is to be successful, has to be able to speak to the old school crowd that has reverted to playing the simpler game of their youth, those who joined in the 1990s or 2000s and are now probably playing Pathfinder, and also the more recent recruits who have come aboard with 4e or have been converted to it.

This is no easy task, but it could be achieved by starting with a simpler structure that resembles the old school clones like Labyrinth Lord, and then grafting on to it optional feats and a skill system, and finally some kind of more advanced system of combat powers. Groups can then pick and choose which components they would like. Basic style game but with skills? Check. Feats but no prestige classes? Check. Wizards could then expand different aspects of the game with new supplements, like a book of feats, a book of dungeoneering equipment, a book advanced player character races, etc.

One of the things that irritated me about 3e was the way feats and prestige classes were littered across numerous books. Luckily the online SRD has fixed much of this, but still, having everything you need in one volume has its advantages.

Secondly, the other big selling point should be the resurrection of many of the game's more successful commercial properties. While the choice of the Forgotten Realms as the default setting was obvious, money could be made by re-launching many of the best-loved worlds the game has brought to life, including Eberron, Athas, Ravenloft and Sigil. Heck, even Greyhawk can get the old school treatment! Each of these properties has thousands of fans who would be looking to catch up on and game in the worlds they use to delve into in earlier days.

Heck, I've not played any Dark Sun or Planescape, but I'd be interested in giving them a go at some point, just because I've heard so many good things about them.

And let's not forget the opportunities for additional spin-off merchandising, like miniatures, board games, war games, video games, etc. Wizards should really be seeking to utilise the re-launch of the game as a multi-platform effort, embracing a range of different delivery mechanisms.

Of course, they may already have plans for all of the above, which would be GREAT! Then at least the game would stand a good chance of success. If not, heck, I'll go write my own.


  1. The original concept was to have a simple, old-school core with lots of additional options to make it work like AD&D or D&D3 or D&D4 but I think that plan has been abandoned in favour of more broad support for older editions.

    (That said I would not be surprised to see them drop the older editions once D&D5 is out. I hope they don't but I can see it happening.)

    It will still be modular it seems, but the idea of using that format to emulate other styles of play seems to have been put aside.

  2. I really hope this edition brings with it:
    - simplification for the GM whilst at the same time
    - allows for as much customisation as a player wants
    - with excellent online/ web/ IT support possible
    - with a variety of settings supported (some older settings: Dark Sun, Planescape and the dull but money spinning Forgotten Realms) but also some new ones. Breaking away from the dullness of FR style settings: eg their points of light - really developing that - in a grittier setting (sort of like (but not as full on as) a Death World planet); a proper gothic horror setting - Ravenloft/ something like this - with a planar explanation for it ...
    - I prefer as a player having tons of options - but as GM the stat bocks for creatures/ npcs is INSANE! the maths in the magic system MAD. Simple things like the advantage rule - roll 2d20 keep the best far far better than all the maths in PF (bonkers!)
    - end magic jar and other game breaking magics which totally nerf the fun/ excitement.
    - magic needs to be reigned in big time....

    but am with you. It needs flexibility to cope with a wide and fractured audience. It needs to draw on older product lines and update them for the grognards and to help them produce some setting content quickly - to make some money to pay for future investment in new material. But it has to be simple/ basic enough to play without needing a computer in its most basic format!