Look until tomorrow for a recap…

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.  Even now in the time of the geek in which we live there is still room to mock the D&D geeks like me.  Which is awesome.  Roleplaying is pretty darn geeky.

Why?  It hasn’t been long since 4th ed.  Money of course.  But that has always been the primary motivator behind a new edition.  Like all editions though 5e (marketing labeled for the moment as D&D Next) it seems that the designers and developers have interesting and compelling goals to achieve as well.

4th Ed

The main watchwords in 4e were unity and balance.  It also attacked some nagging issues: “The cleric paradox” and “The 15 minute workday”.  It took a hard look at every aspect of the game before deciding whether it was CORE to D&D.  The result was a game that probably achieved its two goals and solved the first problem.  It also got rid of some D&D mainstays like Vancian magic, alignments and saving throws.

It also introduced its own issues.  It is the most complex of all the versions and it had a definite emphasis on roll-play (using dice to resolve issues) over role-play (having the players act as characters).  The main strike against it was that it was VERY different.  While still obviously D&D it was the biggest change that ever occured between versions.

With 5e announced it looks like most of the items dumped in 4e are coming back and some of the truly innovative ideas in 4e like roles and power sources.  I wonder if 4e will become just an odd footnote in D&D history.

The Big Split

When 4e was announced, 3e didn’t go away.  The biggest contribution of 3e to D&D history is the OGL and the d20 system – an open license allowing other designers to make games with the base D&D ruleset.  4e dumped it, but those who loved it and 3e picked it up and produced Pathfinder.  If 4e was too big a move for you, you went to Pathfinder.

Every edition release of D&D has left fans of the old system behind.  I think my high school group is still playing 2e up in Peace River.  But the Pathfinder/4e split seemed to actually divide the customer base in two.

This is just speculation, but I wonder if that had enough impact on the bottom line that is hurried the release of this new edition.

D&D Next

With the stage set, the goals for the new edition seem to be:

  • capture a “classic” D&D feel
  • have a modular approach to complexity.  The base system will be quite straightforward.  But modules of complexity can be added without impacting the overall balance
  •  use a large open playtest to raise the enthusiasm for the release in the same way that the OGL raised enthusiasm for 3e

My big concern is that a design goal of making everyone happy is impossible to meet.  The second is that I don’t see how you can implement a modular approach while maintaining balance.  I am skeptical.

D&D Experience was this past weekend and more general experience was released.  People got to playtest an early version (under NDA), but several seminars revealed interesting features.  Roles are gone.  Vancian magic is back.  The nature of how skills and abilities interact is changing.  They are playing with a new idea called themes. And each class is made to be distinct and exciting on its own.

These changes are reassuring.  D&D Next will be its own thing.  It isn’t just a representation of old ideas.  But it does bring back some old ideas I miss.  And the modular approach isn’t overly apparent – but that might be just because they are showing the base idea.

The cool thing about this is that now the big playtest starts.  Nothing is carved in stone.  A year of following the potential updates is upon me.  That makes me pretty excited.


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