Tobold's Blog
Sunday, February 10, 2013
D&D Next Live

Last year's GenCon had a D&D Next Live session with Chris Perkins as DM, and Ed Greenwood and several WotC game designers as players. Funny, if you enjoy dirty jokes, but I was actually watching it to learn more about D&D Next. And under that aspect it was kind of a failure. Except for the names of the spells and skills, the game might as well have been any other rule system, from earlier versions of D&D to 4E to Pathfinder.

What I found especially telling was that the advertised faster combat didn't really happen. Combat didn't appear to be any faster than in a Chris Perkins 4E game. There were a couple of one-shot kills (which can easily be done in 4E as well), and the DM having to speed up combat by making the enemy surrender. The players were using battlemaps and miniatures, so it was impossible to judge whether D&D Next would have allowed the same game in a "theater of the mind" mode.

I can't playtest D&D Next with a group, as I don't have an English-speaking group of players available. I'm still playing 4E in the French translation. But frankly, what I have seen from D&D Next up to now doesn't make me hold my breath. I simply can't see any improvement over already existing rule sets. I will probably just stick to 4E and give the next edition of D&D a miss.

I'm not really tremendously excited about it either; it hasn't come through, as of the latest playtest packet, on any of the promised features.

On the other hand, the attitude in the D&D community at large these days seems to be "play whatever edition works best for you," whether that's 4th, 3.5, or D&D B/X. I think 4th has enough adherents that will keep playing it even as WotC moves radically away from its design underpinnings.
" DM having to speed up combat by making the enemy surrender. "

Morale rolls are an integral part of D&D.

This is a feature, not a bug. The resources you're shepherding are more than just HP and spells - D&D Next is simple enough that you could (and should!) be using henchmen, who are more vulnerable to long combats than main characters are - every round of combat is yet another opportunity for the bad guys to get in a lucky shot in.
I'm not in any way excited abut Next either. 4E was a big change and took quite a bit of time getting used to, in fact I think I still remember 3.5 rules somewhat better than 4 as I DM'ed 3.5 and played 4. But still, 4E is to me quite good. Moving away from it, back to the old style is simply wrong. Boo WotC.
The problem is Wizards has to make new editions to sell to stay in business. Maybe there is another business model they could use though. Take a cue from Valve with Team Fortress 2. Wizards could create the definitive repository online for people to sell their own adventures and other materials to other players. This would include tools by Wizards to help create these adventures. Wizards gets a cut from every sell while the creators benefit from getting more traffic, more people to see their adventure and possibly buy it. Then they can make new editions when players are really interested in it, not just because they need a fresh influx of money.

This is a problem that plagues textbook publishers too. That have to keep selling books. Sometimes there's a good reason to make a new edition like some big history event needs to be added to the history books. Usually they are just small things like spelling corrections and rewrites for clarity. But unlike textbooks there is a lot of creativity in the D&D community. Wizards needs to harness that creativity.
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