So. D&D Fifth Edition is announced. Now what?
At this point, we know nothing about the actual game – it’s way too early in development – but its design process sure looks interesting. They want feedback from the community, and will start an open playtest sometime this spring. I definitely intend to participate, and post my opinions on the process on this blog. That said… I don’t really know if I’ll make the switch to the new game.
As you may have guessed by now, I’m in love with D&D 4E. It is by no means a perfect game (I wouldn’t be able to write as much about how to fix it, if it were!), but it is the closest thing I’ve found. It has an amazing tactical combat system, a solid rules framework, and requires an extremely low amount of effort from the DM. It has been a live game with regular updates, fixing most of the broken stuff, and overall polishing the engine. It is quite easy to generate house rules and new content for it. And it’s FUN.
On the other hand, it can’t be said that 4E has been a rousing success, from a business perspective. I wouldn’t call it a straight failure, either, but it’s clear that it has not lived up to the high standards that should be expected from a brand as strong as Dungeons & Dragons. The strong reaction against 4E from a significant portion of the D&D community, which eventually led to the huge success of Pathfinder RPG (an independent D&D 3.5 spinoff which has reportedly overtaken D&D in sales over the last year) was a big hit against it. Also, the controversial semi-reset of the edition brought by the D&D Essentials line by the end of 2010 (barely 2 years after the game had come out) was a sign that something was off – and an attempt to turn the tables which didn’t work out all that well.
In light of this, it’s not surprising that one of the primary goals of D&D 5E will be to regroup this fragmented fanbase. The open playtest (an idea borrowed from Pathfinder’s book, by the way) is a step in this direction, as are most of the ideas and discussion presented on the Legends and Lore column, over at the official D&D site. They want “a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game” – but is such a thing really possible? Right now we have three very different kinds of players, between the players of D&D 4E, those of D&D3E/Pathfinder, and the ones that enjoy older editions of D&D or retro-clones. Those groups share in common the love for exploring Dungeons and slaying Dragons, but other than that, their games of choice are quite different from each other. I honestly can’t imagine how a single game could please all of them.
I have a lot of faith in Wizards of the Coast as a company, and in the ability of designers like Mike Mearls to produce great games, and I fully understand the reasoning behind their current design priorities. That said, while I believe that however D&D 5E turns out it will likely be an enjoyable game for me… I suspect I won’t enjoy it as much as 4E.
If I could make the wish, the best possible fifth edition for me would be a light revision of 4E, cleaning up all of the minor problems with the system (feat taxes, masterwork armor, multi-attacks, skill scaling, defense scaling, minion design…) and presenting a clean slate for classes, feats, and magic items… while remaining mostly backwards compatible with existing 4E material. This is something I would greatly enjoy, and gladly spend money on. It’s also NOT what D&D 5E is likely to be – rather, in order to appeal to the majority of the fanbase, the new edition will need to take elements from 4E, but also from 3E, older editions, and something brand new. So chances are that this new game will have less of what I currently enjoy, rather than more.
Of course, they might still surprise me – and I keep my fingers crossed. For now, I expect to spend the following months trying to make D&D5E as great a game as possible… and maybe, when all this is over, I’ll go back to my good old Fourth Edition – and keep playing it and slowly changing it to be my own Perfect Game.