Tuesday, January 10, 2012

D&D 5th Ed and What It Means For Us

With the combat overview done, I think I'm going to cap off the run of System Analysis for Dark Heresy - unless I have people asking me to continue along with it. Now, this is me being late to the party (damn scheduled updates) but I'm sure most of you are aware that Wizards of the Coast recently announced that they are working on D&D 5th edition. There is some cool stuff they're talking about with it too, but you can find all of that elsewhere. There are dozens of awesome blogs dedicated - more or less - to D&D to get that info. Today I want to talk about what this means for you, me, and our respective gaming groups.

The Edition Wars Begin
The first thing you have to know, especially if you play D&D, is that with the announcement of a giant like D&D 5th ed coming out that the edition wars have already begun. Expect to see people on blogs, or at your FLGS, talking about their favorite aspects of D&D past editions and what they hope it goes back to. I've already seen Angry DM make jokes about THAC0 coming back, and while he meant it as a joke I know people who would love nothing more than THAC0's triumphant return. Personally, I'd like a bit of a trip back to AD&D 2nd edition where the game felt more like it was based on epic adventure a bit more than epic dungeon crawling, but that could just be nostalgia + GM styles when I played.

As we get closer to 5th ed though, the Edition Wars will get even nastier. People will start saying they don't need a new edition, 4th ed is great. Others will begin to denounce Wizards as just money grubbing buggers that are making them buy their core books all over again. The fact that Wizards is a business that looks to make money makes these arguments easy to support too, even if they're not as evil as some would like to think. So, basically, brace yourself for geek rage. It's going to happen.

Something To Look Forward To
Y'know, for as much as I'm sure I wouldn't like it, I am kind of sad that I have yet to play in a D&D 4th ed game. I've played every other iteration of D&D except for it. Part of this is my current playgroups prefer other games (most notably, L5R) but part of it is just not having, or making, time for it. Still, one of the things I love about new editions is that they encapsulate new ideas for how to run the same game. There are changes, and those changes can mean a lot. Some people will hate them, some people will love them, and I will try to figure out what they mean and what the designer is trying to do.

This can be as simple as the change in L5R 4th ed's honor roll mechanic where, different from previous editions, the usefullness of an honor roll became completely dependant on how honorable your character was. Now most of my playgroup dislikes this rule - even if we're not using it. Personally, for some games, I kind of like it. Also, I can see what the designer is trying for with that rule, even if it severely nerfs players with characters like ninja.

In much the same way 5th ed will do the same thing with D&D. Will there be changes to daily powers? Will stats change? Core die rolling mechanics? How defenses are added up? Every change will give some indication of ways they're trying to shape and shift D&D for the next few years. Some of those ideas are going to be awesome, even if the execution may seem poor. For others the inverse may be true. Either way, as a gamer, designer, and GM, it is sure to be awesome.

Ultimately Nothing
However, despite all of this, the announcement that 5th ed is coming means ultimately nothing. Sure, maybe we'll see less and less 4th ed books come out. However, there is already a lot of 4th ed books out there. How many more could you need? Groups that like old editions will still play old editions. Groups that like other games will still play other games. A new game is entering the fray, and it will ultimately have to stand or fall on its own merits. It wouldn't be the first time that people abandoned a beloved product to something more akin to what they liked. Hell, that is a big part of how Pathfinder got it's start, complete with most people calling it D&D 3.75 (in other words, not 4th ed) and now it is one of the biggest beasts on the market.

So, ultimately, Wizard's announcement doesn't mean anything if you don't want it to. I know people who still play second edition, broken elven kits and all. I know people still happy with 3.0 over 3.5. A person in my Deathwatch game has yet to transition his L5R game to 4th edition. Why does this happen? Because the group has found the game they like that fits their style, and that is ultimately all that matters.

How About You?
that said, I'm curious what you think about 5th ed? Are you planning on being part of the crowd sourcing they're doing? Have you already set aside cash to buy all the books? Sound off in the comments.


  1. The primary hint about the nature of 5e so far is that it is intended to be modular in nature. I think 4e development attempted this (with the release of Essentials), but it wasn't made explicit enough to players that rules or options could be excluded by gaming groups to customize the feel of their games. 4e's greatest weakness (IMO) is the overwhelming complexity of options when taken as a whole (which so many players tend to do.)

    By making it clear that 5e is modular, and giving players explicit instructions on how and when to add desired components, I think they could craft a game that more people are satisfied with.

    Given a smorgasbord, most of us overindulge. By including some "nutritional" guidelines and better arrangement of options, it should be possible to make a game that "tastes" right to more players.

  2. I hope they pull it off. Making a "tool box" RPG can be quite hard, and I'm not sure anyone has successfully done it before. Still, it could be fun to see it happen.

  3. I'm keen to see a game which is less dependent on a battle-grid style play. That is the area of 4e that I disliked the most, as for most combats the grid made the battles slower not faster. If it was explicitly a modular component then that is excellent.
    Then I'd change classes to be more like roles in Deathwatch, and change skills to be less class restricted, then make magic able to be spontaneously cast like in Ars magica.
    It would be a different game, and probably too far from the core to be viable as a dnd product.
    At the very least I hope they surprise me, 4e was an awesome system at what it did.

  4. I don't know. The problem with 4th Edition was that, as a game many people liked it, that game was not D&D. And so those who wanted to play D&D, as they'd come to know and love it, stuck with that path, and kept 3.5 or move to pathfinder.

    Then Wizards basically screwed the pooch with 4th editions' releasing- with confusing sets of rules, then basically throwing out a lot of these new rules shortly thereafter with newer versions of 4th edition; vaporware Virtual Tabletop, paid technical support materials (That turned off a lot of customers alone), and collectible cards a la Magic the Gathering.

    Those things don't make 4e a bad game. But they did deliver a critical hit to consumer trust in Wizards.

    They wanted to attract a broader (younger) demographic, bring in new blood, by making an MMORPG style mechanic, but the problem is the majority who seek that will basically already be playing WoW. It was an ill-conceived ploy that very much smacked of "Executive Meddling".

    The Damage is sort of done, now, imo. They've already alienated the fans of recognizable D&D, and now that they're bumping off 4th edition, they're alienating the few older fans they retained and all of that new and younger market they were going for, to boot.

    In short, I think taking a step backwards is going to have to be pretty well done, it's going to have to be a clear improvement on 3.5e, or Pathfinder...or AD&D. It won't be enough just to capture the zeitgeist of Classic D&D anymore, because in that case they should just update 3.5...which they would have been better off doing all along, anyway.

    Now there are some serious trust issues with the Pen & Paper RPG market that they'll have to overcome.