D&D Next / 5E – Some collected info and random thoughts

  If you follow the news you may know that the first seminar of D&D Experience was yesterday, and it’s topic was Charting the Course: An Edition for all Editions. If you weren’t able to participate you may read the Seminar Transcript on EN World. I think after reading the seminar and the several articles presented by Wizards of the Coast in the last several week, maybe it’s time to collect what we know, what is suggested, and think about it a little.

  So, lets see what we learned from the seminar, above that it”s really, really good for everyone in the world who ever played any editions of D&D. (I highly doubt it, but back on this later) My comments are below the different points.

General things : concepts like classes, races, AC, class abilities, skills etc are still included in the game. They want to keep these iconic building-stones. Rangers are more like Aragorn than Drizz. There will be Fireballs (as they are important)

Thoughts : This is a must if they want to call this D&D. I’m more interested in what they don’t leave in place. The disappearance of Feats  (or making them optional) for example is an educated guess.

Complexity level of characters : If you want to use more complex rules for your character, that’s involves replacing easier defined/used with one or more complex one, while staying at the same power level. In the seminar they mentioned a Fighter as an example for this.

Thoughts : This seems very modular, but also could turn to be a DM’s nightmare if multiple options are present, and his players have different tastes. However it’s could be good for NPC design.

Multiclassing : it seems this will be D&D 4E method, so you replace some of your class abilities with something else

Thoughts : I really hate this, and it’s really don’t make any sense either. For example : you just learned sorcery, so you get a powerful sorcery ability at level 10, while you don’t know even the basics. However mechanically it’s easier to balance.

And here is the most interesting thing said in the whole seminar :

Monte Cook : Instead of the fighter getting a better and better attack bonus, he instead gets more options to do stuff as he goes up in level, and his attack bonus goes up at a very modest rate. I think it offers a better play experience that the orc/ogre can remain in the campaign, and people can know how the monster would work from a previous experience, but they remain a challenge for longer.

Well, regarding everything I heard about the new D&D, this is the idea I support the most. Bringing more options to the player rather than just increasing it’s attack and other statistics is the way to go. So iconic monster will be relevant even higher levels which both makes the DM’s life easier and also bring more consistency to the table. Sure, with your increased options and slightly better attack you could win againts the orcs easier, but you won’t be untouchable because you gained 2-3 levels.

Some rant on the “D&D 5th Edition – the edition for all” concept

Based on what we know, and several things said previously I think that while D&D 5th Edition could be a good game it won’t reach what they intended. It won’t hold together the shattered player base, but maybe it could bring some customers back to Wizards.

Why ? You may ask. There are several things why the developers and optimist players think it should work.

  First, they think it has the potential of uniting players because characters with different complexity, using different available options. While this looks good on paper, how often could it happen? On one part, most current layer groups tend to have their preferences already, and on the other side it’s a Game Master’s nightmare. Joe want feats ? Bill has memorization for spells ? John has a couple of nice daily or encounter powers ? You must count all of this when you plan a series of encounters and thing could get out of hand fast. also, this approach don’t think about that fact that the Game Master has a personal preference too, so he will simply ban what won’t fit his style.

  The second thing : The different play-styles simply can’t work together, since they are fundamental things in the different editions what some people really like while others don’t want to see EVER on their gaming table. For example there is Healing surge. (note : currently we don’t know is Healing surges stay or not, but it was mentioned that player groups shouldn’t need a dedicated healer around). Or how about the Push/Pull/Slide mechanics for combat in 4E ? Memorizing spells vs. encounter/daily powers ? How do you define monsters ? Some of these things (healing for example) surely will be included in the core rules, making some people happy while alienate others.

  Any decision they make with the core rules is dangerous. Stay close to 4E and players of older editions may not even consider to try it. Move away from 4E and some of your current customers may leave you.

And there is one more facet to talk about : a highly modular system means less content per options. While a GURPS or Savage Worlds player is used to have a single sourcebook on many topic I think many D&D players (myself included) are a different folk. We always want new spells, monsters, feats, Prestige classes, Paragon paths, themes etc. If (for example) there are fighters who use “normal” class abilities while other have something like feats than 2 books dealing with fighters mean less content for both player than if we had only one option. And since we could have many options but Wizards could release about a fixed amount of content that means a slower “update rate” than before, while it should compete a whole library of sources for earlier editions, which it’s hopeful players already play. And I didn’t even mentioned Pathfinder with it’s constant stream of excellent books, even not counting the 3rd party material.

Some lessons to be learn…

  There are several things to think about for Wizards of the Coast, both on development and customer care/involvement. As I said, they should recognize that’s it’s impossible to create something to appease everyone : in the history of humanity this kind of approach never worked. Do something outstanding and players will come to you, but we don’t need this peace-love-unity bullshit.

  Even the flood of interviews and articles contain little information which is completely wrong on several levels : 1 – the whole point of these articles is to inform the players, 2 – there is many information they could share, since there is a playable version already developed, 3 – they want to receive feedback from their players, which is quite impossible without something to talk about

  Regarding the 3rd point : whats the point to make an “open playtest” with NDA ? How do you want to get the players opinion, how do you want your playtesters to rise the hype if they couldn’t even discuss about the game ?

 Some times I think that the whole “we hear your voice” and “public playtest” is just a marketing trick, or a ruse. They already created a version of the game and I guess it has some solid foundations if they have time and capacity to work on monsters instead of (for example) classes or magic rules. They may change several things if the majority of the community is against it but they will make their decisions themselves, if they didn’t already.

  Wizards may think about their marketing approach. Sure, conventions, CNN interviews and the like are good. But then, the potential player visits Wizards.com looking for details, and (except he spend a lots of time searching) he find NOTHING.

About the homepage

  Lets follow our imaginary-potential-player. On the front page there is D&D Brand, a link to the current D&D Encounter and a link to the 2010 Red Box. Since we assumed that he is looking for the new edition the only option he could logically choose is the brand link where he find “new” releases… from 2010. Ouch. From there he may check on the “official site” link or the “community” based on personal preferences. Some of us want to read official articles while others are more interested in the opinion of the community.

  On the official site at least you can see the original announcement, but nothing else regarding the incoming new edition. And it’s not because there is no more information available, there are at least a half dozen articles regarding D&D Next… but to find them you should check the Archive. Would anybody who don’t already know Wizards homepage would do that? And adding insult to injury the New to D&D link goes again to the 2010 releases. New info in the archives, while 2010 releases are everywhere… is there a time anomaly on Wizards office or what ?

  On the other side, in the Community / D&D Next (if our imaginary friend find it) at least there are blog posts from the developers and a lots of discussion going. But again, this is not the place where most people would looking for information. And even there, you can’t find a collection of already available information. Honestly, for that you should visit EN World and not the official homepage, which is a shame.

Final thoughts

  I think the new Dungeons & Dragons edition could be great or maybe a total failure. Personally, I think it will have at least as many players as 4E now if not more. However, if they planned their business model on the premise that most of the current old school, 3.x edition/Pathfinder, 4th Edition players will join in they will be unpleasantly surprised. Also, if they don’t change, even the success will be temporal only.

Zoltán “Cain” Mészáros

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