Saturday, September 21, 2013

Thoughts on D&D Next

I try to avoid discussing games other than Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, Mage the Ascension and the other Classic World of Darkness games on this blog.  Plenty of blogs and podcasts exist for fans of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder.  However, I’m going to take a moment and discuss D&D Next, which is the forthcoming version of Dungeons & Dragons.  Wizards of the Coast has just released their latest and final play test packet for free on their website. 
With that in mind, I’m going to talk about some suggestions that I have for the future of Dungeons & Dragons.  I’m not going to complain about a new edition.  I’m not going to make suggestions for how to improve the rules.   I’m not going to complain about 4th Edition or any edition.  What I am going to discuss are the things that I like about older editions of Dungeons & Dragons and how certain parts of those editions should be incorporated into D&D Next. 
These are broad suggestions and not rules suggestions.  I’m not an expert on rules and I know almost nothing about the development of RPGs, their marketing, etc.  I do know what I like and what I think makes an edition “better.”  In the case of D&D, I believe that a better edition is broader, offering a variety of settings and adventures for players.  D&D and more specifically AD&D was one of the first games that I played.  Even though Vampire the Masquerade is my favorite game, I still enjoy D&D and like many of you, I will continue to play D&D. I want D&D to do well, because it's always been the best medieval fantasy RPG. 
I suggest that all of you download and read this new play test packet.  Take a chance and play them.  This is a great time for role players because the development process has become democratic.  The fans can offer suggestions and ideas that will impact development of the system.  Take advantage of this, but make sure to provide constructive criticism.

With all that said, here are my suggestions:

1.  Stick with an Edition

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition was released in 1989.  Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 was released in 2000.  D&D 3.5 was released in 2003.  4th Edition was released in 2008.  D&D Next will most likely be released in 2014.  It’s time for Dungeons and Dragons to settle down into one edition for more than five years.  Yes, I understand that WotC/Hasbro needs to make money, and they get the most money by releasing a new edition.  However, I’ve been hurt too many times by these rapidly changing editions. I know that I’m under no compulsion to purchase these new editions, but I want to.  I want to be a part of the new edition and the new conversations and the new adventures available in the newest edition. 
So, all I ask is that WotC sticks to an edition for at least 10 years.  10 years would give time for a new edition to mature.  It would allow the developers a chance to explore the new edition beyond just adding new classes.  They could add new campaign settings and revisit old ones.  Developers and writers need time to create these settings and adventures.  

2.  Explore New and Old Campaign Settings

One of the biggest problems with 3rd edition was the lack of campaign settings.  Eberron was released but many of the older campaign settings didn’t get updated.  Some, like Ravenloft, were even licensed to other companies.  It wasn’t until 4th edition that WotC printed new versions of Ravenloft and Dark Sun.  While Forgotten Realms has always received new editions, other settings have been pushed aside.  I believe that WotC should be publishing a new campaign setting each year. 
Starting by updating the two biggest campaign settings, Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, and then branching out into other settings such as Dark Sun, Ravenloft and Planescape (oh please, new Planescape!  PLEASE!), WotC can provide not only provide new options for their players but they also get to make money by selling tons of new material.  Sure, it’s great fun to go back to old favorites, but WotC should create new settings for players to explore.  It’s been over a decade since Eberron, the last major new setting to be released.  The developers have a chance to offer something new for players rather than more of the same. 

 3.  Bring Back Campaign Box Sets

I like box sets.  I love pulling the shrink wrap off a box, opening it up and finding all kinds of books and adventures and maps and posters inside.  Unfortunately, WotC has moved away from box sets.  In third edition, WotC released the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide as a single box with a map glued to the inside back cover.  Boxed campaign settings provide a great way of packaging a lot of material together but in separate books with lots of additional material that can bring a setting to life.  Having separate books for players and the DM and putting an introductory adventure in another book makes it much easier for everyone to reference material at the table.  I’m not sure if these are still economically viable in the changing RPG market, but box sets offer a great introductory product for a campaign setting. 


4.  Produce Less Class Books

Players love new character classes and new prestige classes.  Players love options.  I love options and I love new prestige classes.  However, at some point, these books are less about options and more about escalation.  The biggest lesson that I learned from D&D 3.0 was that players love to stack character classes and prestige classes to build the most optimized and badass character that they can get away with.  And if WotC offers too many of these options, players will start building Pun Pun or worse.  I’m not against new versions of the Fighter’s Handbook or the Complete Fighter, but eventually, there will be too many of these books and too many options.  Then the system will deform as players and DMs seek new combinations for more and more powerful games. 


5.  Produce More and Better Adventures

Every old school Dungeons & Dragons player has a story about encounters in Keep on the Borderlands or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  Just saying The Tomb of Horrors evokes images of despair even from players who have never delved into that dungeon.  Most third edition players have a story about the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.  Like campaign settings, WotC should produce more adventures and more importantly WotC should create new adventures for players.  Paizo, the publishers of Pathfinder, has shown that good adventures are the cornerstone of a good role playing system.  

I hope that all of you will take a moment to look at the new play test packet for D&D Next.  WotC has put together an amazing play test packet that includes all of the familiar character classes, rules for multi-classing, a bestiary, a how to play guide, and several adventures.  This is as complete of a document as one can expect, and it’s entirely free.  (Unlike Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire role playing game which charged for their beta test packets.)  Try playing a session or two of the new system.  Explore this new game, and remember that D&D is not only the grandfather of all role-playing games but it’s also the bellwether of the industry.  I hope that D&D Next is not just a great system, but that it’s also successful.  I also hope that they release a Planescape Campaign Setting Box Set really really soon!  
I'd love to hear your opinion on D&D Next.  As always just leave a comment below!


  1. Well, I like your post and agree with your thoughts.
    Ten years is good. Since I'm from Brazil usually takes 1-2 years to the new versions arrived translated and this space between the realeases that maintain the hobby alive for here. About the scenarios I don't have much to say 'cause I'm a FR huge fan, so most of my campaigns are in this realms. But I agree again, we need more options in scenarios and adventures, not classes and mechanics all the time.

    1. Thanks! Planescape is obviously my favorite campaign setting, but FR has to be my next favorite. I've run an entire campaign in the realms in 3E and I had a lot of fun. I also love many of the FR novels. My favorite writer is Elaine Cunningham. If you haven't read her novel, Daughter of the Drow, you're missing out.

  2. I couldn't agree more with your points. Using the same tone of constructive advice, I would like to add a couple of points of my own for WotC to consider:

    6. Make the core rules of the D&D game open. The OGL and d20 license created a renaissance of game design, and encouraging people to publish their own adventures is good for the hobby and therefore good for D&D and WotC / Hasbro.

    7. Consider what customers want when implementing the next version of electronic tools, and don't assume we all use them. Charge for them if you must, but don't assume everyone who uses these tools always has an Internet connection.

    8. Allow us to buy PDF versions of the core rulebooks too, and update those versions with errata on a regular basis. Yes, some people will pirate this, but it will also generate sales as people who try the game will like it and want a printed copy, and they will buy adventures and supplements too. I'd settle for a Kindle version, but that's just me.

    9. Once the errata seems to be complete, do another print run with the errata applied, and if feasible, perhaps a collector's edition.

    10. Bring back miniatures, but not as a separate, collectible game or randomized. Sell me packages of mini's that are made for adventures that you publish.

    1. I don't necessarily agree with all your points, but I think they are all good points of discussion.
      6. I'm not sure about OGLs and the D20 License. There was such a glut of products after 3E, and I'm not really sure if I want to see that again.
      7. I am not a fan of D&D Insider. I don't think that WotC should charge for that service. It's too expensive and does too little. I would like to see Apps
      8. PDFs are a must. The market for RPGs is changing and PDFs are a requirement now. Many players and DMs use ebook readers and ipads. I do.
      9. Errata is never complete, but an edition with errata after 5 or 6 years would be nice.
      10. Collectible minis in randomized packs are a huge market or were. I think Paizo does mini packs that aren't random though.

  3. Regarding OGL/d20 license, I think if it's done to promote the publishing of adventures and campaign settings, it's a win for everyone, as you can never have too many of those. It's all the splatbooks, etc that I feel there were too many of. Pathfinder wouldn't even exist without the OGL, and though I don't play it, lots of people love it.

    I'm not a fan of D&D Insider any more and my subscription runs out in a few days, but at one time I felt they produced a lot of content for the money, especially in Dungeon magazine. The electronic tools however, have been frustrating, especially when they redid the character generator to be online only and slower.

    It is true, errata never really ends, but at some point it reaches a critical mass, and yeah, five or six years sounds good to me too.

    If collectible mini's still made them money, I think they'd still be making them. I like the latest mini games they've produced, but they're too expensive if you just want a squad of goblins or skeletons to plop down on a battle mat. By making mini's to go with their published adventures, they could make some very nice boxed sets that I would pay more for.

    1. I agree with you on pretty much every point except the OGL. There was way too much bad stuff published because of the OGL. Sure we got Pathfinder which was awesome, but we also got Sword and Sorcery's Ravenloft, the crappy OGL DragonLance D20 setting, and the book of Erotic Fantasy. That's not to mention the other terrible stuff that I've seen or just the fact that the amount of stuff for D20 was just overwhelming.

    2. We'll have to agree to disagree on that one then. Sword and Sorcery did give us a lot of good products particularly early in the 3e cycle when there was a vacuum of material, and we also got things like Ptolus from Monte Cooke, Mutants and Masterminds from Green Ronin, Spycraft, Iron Heroes from Mike Mearls, and a host of other great games and campaign settings. Many of the people who worked on these games are now producing fantastic RPGs, making this a good time to be a gamer. It may be that the license didn't benefit D&D as much as it did the industry, but I think it was a win for everyone.

      Don't like Erotic Fantasy? It seems simple enough...don't buy it. It's pretty easy to sort the wheat from the chaff nowadays with all the reviews on the Internet, so it's not like you're going to accidentally buy something that horrid. At least I hope not. :)

    3. I'm not going to disagree with you that there were some good things that came out of the 3e OGL and D20 License. However, I just remember my local gaming store being completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of those books. No one knew which book was going to be good or not. And in the end a lot of bad books sat around on the shelves. Some very good games came out of all that and I love Mutants and Masterminds, but for every M&M there is a ton of bad product.

      It's not a problem of what I buy as much as a problem of what game stores buy whole sale and have sit on their shelves.

  4. One of the things I love about 2nd Edition AD&D supplement books is the huge amount of detail and background material. There are at least 15 pages in most every Complete Class book from 2nd Edition with ideas for how to develop your character's personality and culture.

    Also, I would love, love, love to buy a full blown box-set each for Forgotten Realms, Planescape and Birthright.

    1. I just re-read the Complete Guide to Elves and was blown away by all the details available for role playing elves that just isn't found anywhere else including things information on holidays and elven mythology.

  5. Great post. Several of your points directly reflect the reason why I've played some D&D but have never invested as a GM or collector.

    1. I'm a collector by nature. I collected comic books, action figures and dozens of other things over the years. Now, I'm more into RPGs and trying not to be a collector (although I am collecting World of Darkness books), but since I first started playing RPGs I've been a GM.