February 18, 2014
What Is Next For D&D?
For nearly the past two years, Wizards of the Coast has been holding a public play-test for what will become the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which they have been calling D&D Next. The response to this has been massive, with thousands of players across the world contributing their input to make the game great. Just a few months ago, the final play-test packet was emailed to those who had agreed to be a part of it – myself included – giving us a look at what the fifth edition of D&D promises to be.
Dungeons & Dragons and I go way back. Not the first role-playing game I was ever introduced to, it has definitely had the greatest impact on my life. The third edition of the game remains one of my favorite games of all time and I have spent countless hours pouring over its many books and leading my players through epic adventures in creepy catacombs, temples devoted to evil gods, and ancient ruins. However, that said, the fourth edition of the game is one of the worst games I have ever played. There is very little good I can see in, although I do know that there are many others who took a lot of fun from the game, it simply was not for me and pushed me away from Dungeons & Dragons as a whole and into the inviting arms of other games. So, is D&D Next going to sucker me back in, or further alienate me and the many other players who were turned off by fourth edition?
Honestly, I cannot claim that D&D Next will make all that much of an impact at all. While I was going over it, I could not help but thing “wow, this actually reminds me of Castles and Crusades,” and that surprised me. Castles and Crusades is a game based on the rules of the second edition of D&D, yet the fifth edition of the game seems to be taking a lot of ideas from it. Rather than having skills, you just make attribute roles. After character creation there seems to be little in the way of customization of your character – save for feats, which are a holdover from third and fourth edition. Only the basic archetype classes where included in the play-test; the fighter, the rogue, the mage, and the cleric – which is more akin to the original version of the game than even Castles and Crusades.
Several years ago, as the third edition of D&D was coming to an end, Paizo held an open play-test for what would become Pathfinder, the largest gaming open Beta test ever held, and it was an incredible success, leading to a game that – in my opinion – is even better than the game it was based on. Paizo knew what they were doing, and while Wizards of the Coast were trying to achieve that same same sort of player-inspired innovation, they seemed to have fallen flat. Why? I have a few thoughts as to why. First, when Paizo released their Beta-test, they released the entire book to their audience. There was nothing hidden behind the curtain, no “wait for the game to come out to see how this works.” Wizards held back. Each release of an update included more and more detail, but never were we given the whole thing. Even the final test packet included only a few classes, a few creatures, a list of feats, and other information that is enough to allow for a basic session of D&D, but not enough – I feel – to make an entire campaign out of. Second, Wizards made sure that you had to jump through plenty of hoops to take part in their play-test. I remember filling out what felt like a job application just to agree to take part, where with Paizo there was just a public link to download it and a note that they would greatly appreciate feedback, as well as how to submit it. Third and finally is the feedback itself. With Pathfinder, it felt as though our feedback mattered. I remember reading over and contributing to forums with the actual designers of the game, having discussions about rules balance with hundreds of other players. The game felt alive, and when it was finally released, you could see just how much they listened to you. With Wizards, I have yet to see any real indication that they have been taking any of the feedback they have been getting to heart. I long since stopped contributing any, having felt like I could be more productive smacking my head against my desk.
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