So as many of you already know, the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons will be publicly play-tested by the fans. That play-test is beginning near the end of this very month. That means that like it or not, 4th Editions days are numbered (even if that number won’t be up for a while) So what does that mean for my plans regarding this blog?
I’ll start by admitting that I often can’t help but drink the Kool-Aid of the next new thing. I have a deep love for some out of print games – but the grognard’s road is a hard one, and dependent on a dedicated community. It’s always refreshing to regularly play a game that is getting contemporary and constant support both from the publisher and the main body of the gaming community. It’s a bit of a fallacy that a new edition of a game necessarily means a better edition – even if that’s theoretically true. But it’s a notion I often assume and take for granted. Why?
Everybody is looking for something different in their tabletop RPGs: a lot of folks just want to hack-and-slash some monsters for a few hours, some prefer to tweak their characters like a well oiled sports car of destruction, some come for the storytelling and would be happy barely touching a die, a few want to have an erotically charged high fantasy sexventure, while others simply roll the dice because it’s what their friends like to do – and it’s an excuse to hang out. I’ve always seen myself sitting nearly square in the middle of all the different impetuses for gaming (except maybe that sex fantasy part). I like a bit of everything in my games, both the roll and the role playing. I want to tweak my character, compose a deep background for him, mesh in complex ways with the party, have him represented by a cool miniature, explore randomly generated dungeons, fight in well orchestrated set-piece battles, and have tense negotiations with opponents where high skill scores and player creativity provide the edge. I want a little of everything.
Fans dislike new editions often times because the design team chooses to emphasize elements of the game that they aren’t interested in – but as a renaissance gamer I can’t go wrong in that equation. I won’t mind if the developers swing their game in one way or the other, because to some extent I like those elements. Too much miniatures stuff for you? I love it. Not enough miniatures stuff for you? I think it’s fine, the game runs quicker now!
So while I acknowledge that part of my willingness to pre-invest in a game I barely know anything about is because I have a bad habit of towing the company line – I also think that comes from a level of brand confidence. I’ve really liked previous iterations of D&D, as well as many of Wizards of the Coast’s other products. They aren’t flawless but their designers come from a good place, and I think they manage to strike a balance between what the game needs, and what the suits at mother company demand (“We don’t care that Dragonborn aren’t ‘iconic’ enough for a Player’s Handbook – man-dragon is a 12 year old boys power fantasy waiting to happen. Put it in the book!”) I drink the Kool-Aid because I know it tastes good, I had it before!
I’ve entered my e-mail into the ol’ subscriber list to get into the play-test for D&D 5th Edition (or…”D&D Next” if you insist – though that sounds like a 90’s beverage tie-in). I like a good deal of what I’ve heard about the design ethos thus far, I like the designers (I know Monte Cook is no longer on the project but he put down a lot of the roots, and I’ve enjoyed a great deal of his game content and way of approaching things) and I’m optimistic.
Will I ignore the new game and stick with 4th Edition if I wind up not liking it? Certainly/ I know what I like and what works for me, and a “dead” game has the distinct advantage of being a complete game (a little contrast to my complaint about having no new content in discontinued games – it’s a blessing and a curse). That said, given Wizard’s track record and the notes that the designers have been sharing with the community, I think this new edition will address a lot of my gripes with 4th Edition and come out to be a game that suits my desires better. But I’ll reserve ultimate judgement until I have those books in my hands.
Given what scant information is out at the moment about the play-test, nobody will be overhauling their long term campaigns yet – it seems the early stages will feature limited selections of content, and even partial character creation won’t be out for review for a while (instead, you’ll be playing a handful of pre-generated characters to get a feel for the rudimentary elements of each class/race). As such it’s hard to design encounters (and indeed we don’t even know yet if the “encounter” is going to be the rhetorical unit of measure in 5th Ed adventures) for a system you only have faint glimpses of. On the other hand – writing adventures and encounters – even with only parts of the system in your hands – helps to explore the game’s strong and weak areas, which will make comments on the play-test more valuable. And if we’re all going to end up liking this edition the most (as the impossible pipe-dream goes), we’ll only get there because of fan contribution (which is a great thing!) This public play-test model worked great for Paizo’s “Pathfinder,” and Wizards of the Coast was wise to adopt it.
It’s going to be a long time before N5xt Edition is released. That said, if I get some good ideas, and have enough of the fledgling edition on hand – you can bet I’ll write some 5th Edition content. But for the near future it will be a footnote to my normal 4th Edition offerings.
The long and short of it – I’ll write for both editions until I decide which I like the best. Or at least that’s the plan.