I have little investment in what Dungeons and Dragons does next, as it is virtually certain that I will not play whatever it is they make. Many insightful reflections on the hobby and the current state of the property and its best choices going forward fill the internets. As someone who is not particularly invested, I figure the bandwagon is big enough for me to join.
As has been pointed out, all versions of the game make somebody happy one way or another, but none of them will make everyone happy or vulnerable to splurging on hundreds of dollars of books. What would I most like to see?
- Monsters. A wiki online that has monsters with stats for every edition of D&D with them. Go to the Githyanki, get OD&D, AD&D, 2E, 3.x, 4E, and “(5E)” as tabs so you can take the stat block you need (but the picture[s] and flavor text are universal.)
- Adventures. Adventures that have the map and text in one document, and a mini-bestiary/rules summary in a separate document, with different versions available for those who want to play different edition flavors (or other systems altogether). Have a shorthand for difficulty level and skill type that is summarized online, so the adaptation is easy.
- Setting Systems. If you have psionics over here, and different magic systems here and there, and a cultural set of feats here, put those modules together (preferably in multiple editions including 5) and make those available.
What about profit? Set up an “iTunes” style store where you can buy stuff for cheap, either as “songs” or “albums,” (documents or sets) for a start. Use a lot of freelance work, with a core of alignment and continuity editors hired by the company. Hire some awesome (mostly part-time) DMs and charge for online games and in-store games with them, payable one arc at a time. And you’ll always have the damn miniatures.
So, why won’t I have any interest in the new Dungeons and Dragons? I have told my players many times that I think 3.X is the best designed RPG I have ever seen as far as balance and cohesion–but I have no interest in refereeing or playing it. That’s unlikely to change. Here are the core things that work well in D&D that utterly stamp out my interest in it.
This is not criticism of the system. This is a matter of taste and storytelling style. These things are not bad, but I do not like them and am not comfortable refereeing or playing games that insist on them.
- Hit Points As You Level. The rationale for hit points (in its glorious vagueness) feels stupid to me. Linking advancement and ability to take hits has never felt right to me.
- Vitality is the exception. In some of the D20 variants, your Constitution is your true hit points, and normal ablative hit points are vitality. This is better, but still not what I like.
- Levels. I like being able to spend experience to gain abilities for the character that reflect what you did, not an abstract that allows you to hitch up your whole character in a pre-set way that has nothing to do with how you got your experience–I want advancement to look like learning. In 3.X, you better map out your feat trees, or you’ll be so sub-optimal others will be frustrated playing with you. In the stripped down OD&D, the main thing that changes is hits and damage and maybe a few generic class abilities, no matter what you’ve been up to.
- Compare to White Wolf experience where you can buy something after about every session if you like, or Warhammer where you have careers that guide your advancement, or the d6 system, or the Chill system, etc. Sure, you level in Old School Hack, but look how flexible it is!
- Armor Class. I can’t stand the idea that damage is all-or-nothing and dexterity is the same as plate mail for avoiding damage. It’s an abstraction that makes D&D what it is, great, have fun with it, but I don’t like it and won’t like it. Armor is about reducing damage, not ignoring it altogether (unless it is reduced to nothing). The dragon bites you for 18 damage, but doesn’t hit your AC, so it–misses? Or, it bites your full plate guy with a shield and magic defenses, and ALL the damage gets through?
- Again, some d20 variants tip to this, and that’s good. However, they struggle to deal with how to handle making the process of avoiding hits and damage work in an adjusted system that, at its heart, works on AC. If people keep getting better at hitting, how do you deal with a static defense score? Base avoiding hits on the abstraction of level? Ugh.
- Fire-and-Forget Magic. “I cast the spell then I forget it.” Even with all the work done to add replaceable spells for clerics, and quick studying for wizards, and so on… one of the strategic roots of the game is picking out your spells and using them through the course of the day. I don’t like it.
- Scaling World. I like the benchmarks that give you a sense of how cool you should be when the numbers on your sheet read a certain way. However, the cranking up of AC and to-hit numbers wearies me. By the time the monster has a 30 AC and +23 to hit, it’s annoying. Also, the more powerful it gets, the more complex, until I get serious rules fatigue by the time I’m playing a 7th level cleric. If there is a “sweet spot” for play, the only way to stay in it is to constrict how experience is given out. That’s grim, I think, and not the way it has to be.
- Player Entitlement. The later the edition, the more carefully balanced the game, to the point where doing house rules gets harder and harder. You want to add rules to a 64 page booklet, whatever. You try that in the delicate ecosystem of 3.x and players will get stubborn in resisting it; every change has costs built in, and players who can read the books that say what they’re entitled to don’t like going along (at least in my group.) You ask me, TSR should never have taken RPGs in the direction of tournaments, that required standardization. The culture of RPGs rooted in D&D (in my experience) resists the DM’s elevation above the rulebooks, even if the rulebooks faintly protest otherwise.
I’m not the target audience for this new Dungeons and Dragons version. I started playing Basic as an interlude between my serious games, and house ruled it as we advanced beyond dungeons. The art was pretty, and there was a skill system, so I was seduced into 3.X until I simply lacked the stamina to plan for it (my black dragon took up four pages noting what it could do, and the information was scattered all over). But I’m not one of the faithful.
I suppose Dungeons and Dragons success is a tide that lifts all boats, and I wish them well.