The Next D&D | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

The Next D&D

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Those parts of the internet that I frequently trawl through pretty much exploded today with the news that Wizards of the Coast is working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.I have a hard enough time ignoring my Twitter feed to do my job most days; we’re chalking Monday up as a total loss. THANKS FOR ENDANGERING MY JOB, MIKE MEARLS.

I won’t recap the announcement for you, other than to say the most exciting thing to me about the whole business is the fact that Wizards of the Coast is opening up the game to mass external playtesting, which you can sign up for by hitting the big red button at the bottom of the article linked above. You can also find more info in The New York Times (with an article written by Ethan “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks” Gilsdorf himself), Forbes, and The Escapist, among others.

Now, you could spend hours reading these articles, the comments, and the hundreds of forum pages on the subject. Which is just what I’m here to do for you, dear readers: expose my vast reach on social networks, sift through the shit (most of which is “4E SUCKED AND NOW WOTC ADMITS IT HAHAHA!” or “NOOOO I JUST STARTED PLAYING 4E NOOO!”) and give you a peek into some of the more interesting discussions going on about the announcement.

It’s Not Fifth Edition

I’ll start with my own first tweet on the subject: “I hope we all noticed that they haven’t called it ‘5th Edition.’ D&D Next, huh.” If I may say so, I am exactly right. This is a new edition, for sure, but it’s not “5th Edition”—Wizards has said this is going to be a modular game that unites players of D&D across all editions, although who the hell knows how they’re going to do that. The official talk on the new edition implies that it’s not going to be a new edition like the old new editions, if you know what I mean—No one at Wizards has said anything that has the number five in it—it’s being called D&D Next. It’s a new edition, but at the same time, kind of not. At the very least it’s smart marketing to not call it 5th Edition, because remember, 4th came out in 2008. We’re barely into 2012. That’s the fastest edition turnaround in the game’s history, and fanboys the world over gnash their teeth if they don’t get ten years of entertainment out of three books.

What The Twitters Said

On to more interesting stuff, said by smarter people:

Fiasco and Grey Ranks game designer Jason Morningstar: “Dear Wizards of the Coast: License Dungeon World and call it a day.” Dungeon World is the brilliant Apocalypse World hack that does D&D in a simultaneously refreshingly new and awesomely old way. I can almost agree with Jason, here, but I haven’t played Dungeon World enough—only once. It might be everything I want out of D&D, but I’m not sure. In any case, I hope WOTC can produce something at least as good, with all that money and a team of designers. Dungeon World is two dudes with day jobs.

Jonathan Tweet, one of the lead designers of 3rd Edition D&D, said: “I’ve long wondered how Wizards could handle the monumental challenge of designing #5E and trying to please everyone. Now I know.” That is ostensibly what they’re trying to do, but—God, could they get more ambitious?

My local (and awesome) game store Guardian Games had a cynical take on the announcement: “Surprise, surprise; a new edition of D&D has been announced. If you care, you get to vote on what it will be.” I wonder how 4E has been selling for them?

Robin Laws, whose oeuvre includes GUMSHOE and Feng Shui, as well as the 3E Dungeon Masters Guide II, said: “Wonder what’s going on today in the alternate reality where the WotC powers-that-were kept Paizo inside the 4E tent.” Oh snaaaap! Seriously though, he’s onto something: if there were no Pathfinder, would we really be seeing this announcement as it is today? Would WOTC be trying to unite players across all editions if a large chunk of its customers hadn’t left for another company hawking a different version of D&D? I don’t know.

More tweeted skepticism on whether they can do it right from my friend Mike Sugarbaker over at OgreCave:”non-retweeted opinion: I don’t envy WotC right now. They can’t possibly do it right for most people, and most people will say so.-M.”

Sugarbaker also points out something fascinating or maybe disturbing that Mike Mearls let slip in his Escapist interview: “Our feedback [for 4th Edition] was summarily ignored, and Mearls admitted that was essentially true of all the feedback Wizards received from the 4th edition play test.”As Sugarbaker says: Wait, what? Maybe that was the problem?

Thoughts from another of our endangered shopkeeps, Chris Hanrahan of Endgame Oakland: “Ah, and then all the tweets by people who can only see system, and not product. Games are sold as PRODUCTS. Overall 4e was a bad product.” This sums up my thoughts a lot more succinctly than I could. I like 4E; it’s my favorite edition of D&D EVAR, but that’s not saying much, as I have only played it a handful of times—most days, I have a lot of other stuff I’d rather play than any edition of D&D. But I’m with Chris on this one: I think 4E is the most well-designed D&D yet, and I hope WOTC doesn’t learn the wrong lesson on this one. It wasn’t the game, it was the product! It was the splintering off of the Pathfinder fans, it was the brand confusion that was Essentials, it was the virtual tabletop never getting off the ground, it was probably a lot of things. But it wasn’t the game’s fault, at heart. The game is good.

Chris has one last parting shot, and from an established, successful, and transparent store owner, this one rings too true to ignore: “If WoTC throws 4e under the bus and not how they ran the business, walk away now and play pathfinder. We’ll be in this exact spot in 6 years.” Well said!

The Sky is Falling!

As I’m looking back over all this, well, a lot of it’s negative. Okay, not negative: cautious. Like I said, it’s been less than four years since 4th Edition was born, and people are hesitant. People aren’t sure what WOTC is doing, and they’re not willing to get burned. Fair enough, but I for one am excited. Even though I don’t have a horse in the D&D-edition race (and that includes Pathfinder), whatever WOTC does with the seminal and biggest roleplaying brand is always fascinating to me, and worth paying attention to.

There are 2 comments.

  1. Hectarion said on January 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

    I played 4E and had an ok time with it. However, it smells to me like there’s a major rules overhaul in the works.

    This announcement caused me to look at Pathfinder (I had never checked it out) more than anything. I don’t like even the notion that they’d toss out the existing system after such a short time.

  2. hans said on January 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Yeah, there’s definitely been a lot of shaking up at WOTC in the last few years (as far as I can tell). A lot of people talk about how Wizards is trying to bring back the Pathfinder fans and various disillusioned D&D fans, but you bring up a good point–how will this affect fans of 4th Edition? Like you, I’m sure most won’t like it! I probably wouldn’t, either, if I were a big player of D&D.

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