Jan 10, 2012

"Good Complexity" - Initial Thoughts on the next edition of D&D

In case you missed it, WoTC confirmed Monday one of it's worst kept secrets, that they are hard at work on a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Read about it here from CNN, or here from Forbes. The announcement was also carried by the New York Times and EN World.

This new edition, cleverly referred to at the moment as just "D&D Next", seems to have a very daunting mandate, to re-unite the various splinters of the D&D community that have grown out of a dissatisfaction with the 4e rule set. We now have not only groups that still cling to old rule sets (like Basic, 1e, 2e, etc), but also active supporters on emerging edition variants, including Pathfinder and the OSRIC branch of D&D.

I've tried to take some time to distill my thoughts on what I think would be needed for a successful next edition of D&D, beyond things like Vancian magic and

  1. Digital Support - WoTC needs a digital publishing plan, and they've needed it for the last few years. PDF support is a no-brainer at this point, with the proliferation of laptop and tablet's at the gaming table, they need to tap in to that user base.
        And don't just provide a flat PDF. Really leverage the electronic format. Provide crosslinks to other sections in the doc, use PDF layers to provide additional information.
  2. Optional Tools - I like the idea of online/offline tools to help Players and DMs, like Character Builder, or Monster Builder, or encounter planners, but what I don't like is when game complexity is so high that use of the tools seems almost mandatory.
         And this isn't just a 4e issue. In my 3.5 game, I found it almost necessary to use online calculators for figuring out experience from an encounter.
  3. Some kind of open license like the OGL - I hope the new edition will include something along these lines. It was a bold move when WoTC did it for 3e, and the watered down version of what was developed for 4e, was never really took off. I think the benefits far outweighed the perceived costs. By allowing all those 3rd party publishers to rally around a common game mechanic, you cross promote the system, allow the 3rd party to publish the niche products you can't, and take their resources away from non D&D Next projects.
  4. Bring back Greyhawk - in some form you need to acknowledge the first setting for what it is. It's as much a part of the history of the game as Magic Missile.
         And also a rule system that doesn't require altering the setting to fit the game principles. The ruleset and the setting should be independent of each other (think HTML and CSS for all you web folk out there).
  5. Faster Combat - The single biggest complaint I read for the longest time was about how long combat took. I seem to recall Chris Perkins admitting that combat can get complex at higher levels (in one of the GenCon podcasts). If it takes me 90 mins to run one combat, and my normal play time for a game session is 3.5 hrs, that doesn't feel like an optimal allocation of time per session, especially if I want to fit in some pesky roleplaying and plot advancement. 
  6. "Good Complexity" - one of my favorite lines from the Forbes article about the playtest the writer took part in concerned how the new rules have a return to "good complexity". I know what it means to me, and I look forward to hearing/playtesting what it means to WoTC in the upcoming months.