Earlier this week (Jan 9th, 2012) Wizards of the Coast announced a new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. Interestingly they have not used the phrase 5th Edition, but rather “next” and “iteration”. What this announcement says about 4th Edition, which I never played, is irrelevant to me. What is of interest is that some things have been said about the new version of D&D which should pique interest in those interested in dungeon fantasy gaming.
The first and most apparent part of the announcement is that there will be a public play-test before the rules are locked down. This does two things: shows players the direction the game is going and help temper expectations as well as gets thousands of eyes on the rules to find the rough spots. This public beta testing has been used by Paizo and Green Ronin to good effect. Maybe the crowd won’t sway the developers in everything, but at least they know what they’ll be getting into before they per-order.
The other more ambitious thing that came out after the announcement is the idea of an inclusionary game. Basically the designers are saying if you played AD&D up to D&D 4e then this game is for you. (There might even be room at the table for you Basic people too.) How are they going to make a game that appeals to retro gamers and reformed MMOers you say? Modularity.
Supposedly the core of the game will be very light and flexible. Then you drop in the options you want for your game. D&D just became in import tuner, well it will if they can pull it off. It is nearly implausible that someone would take on the task to make a game that allowed me to use my AD&D Planescape stuff while a table over my younger friends are agonizing over if they should blow a Daily power this early into the evening.
On paper I can see it, it’s dead simple. Build a basic, easy to understand core. The core books give some options you can turn on to expand the game. Then publish options. Then invite third parties to build and extend that simple core. But at some point there will be far too many options to keep track of. Further, no two groups will play the same way so we’ll be back to AD&D days where you ask groups what rules they use. Or even worse you’ll end up with standardized D&D with certain defaults that everyone uses even if they can’t explain why.
Even though I see potential madness on the horizon for D&D, just like every other version change I remain cautiously optimistic. Because even though I probably won’t like 5e when it comes out, a part of me desperately wants to like it.