Either ya get it, or ya don’t…
“Either ya get it, or ya don’t.” – Dr. Phil McGraw
This catch phrase sums up my feelings after have spent the past couple of weeks digesting the “previews” that have been released of “D&D Next,” or D&D 5th Edition, to be more honest. Or D&D 2.5, to be further honest. If you haven’t seen this stuff already, here’s some links to the aforementioned previews.
After reading these, my initial impulse was to pull them apart and respond to every proposed system change and tell the world why I don’t care for them. However, I have to admit, I like a couple of the ideas I’ve seen (like classes providing stat bumps to the favored stat of the class), but I’d have a massive novel of a post that I’d have trouble breaking up into multiple posts. As well, I’d have trouble not making it into a huge rant, full of name-calling of the individuals involved in the development of 4e, not to mention some of the apparent hostility of the writers to their own works. So instead, I took some time to think about what I’m seeing and feeling, my impressions of the data provided, and to summarize those feelings and impressions as my post.
First, I did a little self-examination. See, I don’t get the whole “I want to play what I played in high school” mentality that has spread through gaming in the past few years. After said self-examination, I realized that this is partially a personal thing for me. I’m not a big reminisce-er, mainly because remembering a lot of my childhood and teen years just makes me feel bad. I won’t go much farther than that, as this is not a therapy session, but rather a gaming blog. The converse of this lack of desire to look backwards is that I’m a bit of a futurist. I look forward, not back. I look for ways I can change things for the positive, and I like seeing new ways to do things.
That said, WotC’s push for history, no doubt spearheaded by Mike Mearls (who has made no secret of his love of 2nd Ed), further confuses me. The only historical version of D&D I have any fondness for is the old Moldvay Basic D&D. Not Gary Gygax’s, but Tom Moldvay’s. However, I have no strong interest in playing those sets again. I might get them out and run them once or twice for my friends’ kids, but I doubt it. The kids are playing 4e and enjoying it. The only reason to play the Moldvay Basic edition would be to show them what D&D was like in my day. The Boy might be happy with it, as he could play a character more like the Zelda series’ Link, but that’s about it. He likes his ranger with Twin Strike far too much. It would ultimately be lost on them, I think. So the retro movement has no appeal to me or my players.
None of my players are particularly interested in returning to old ways of character creation, or not being “Big Damn Heroes,” which 4e does encourage. We have no interest in having to have our characters by junk like 10′ poles, iron spikes, or other miscellaneous bullshit items in order to “survive.” Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that “tricks and traps” do nothing to serve a story nine times out of ten. They’re needless obstacles that are relics of a bygone era.
My players and I have played a variety of games together, including long runs of OWoD Vampire and Mage, which are more akin to 4e than 3.5 or older games (mainly in respect to the powers systems). I’ve got one player who played Mage with us who refused to try to learn Vancian Magic rules in 3.5, avoiding spellcasters entirely, until 4e, because she found the Vancian systems too confusing. She did not want to have to poor over dozens of spells to try to figure out which were best for the game. OWoD and 4e are modern games with modern gaming systems, that don’t rely on these outmoded rules systems. That’s why some players have adopted them; to go back to a retro system is not appealing to those of us who have adopted these modern systems.
So, adopt a new game that amounts to a retro-clone of D&D (which is what I’m reading in these previews), is another thing I don’t get: Why will anyone buy this new edition? The desire to reminisce and return to older editions is fine, but it won’t keep D&D alive. If the designers think we’ll all just jump on the “Next“/5e bandwagon because they think we all want a retro-clone that will force us all to buy extra “rules modules” to get back to what we are already playing, I think they’ll be sadly disappointed, and out of jobs. People play the editions they do because that edition works for them, and they already have the books they need to play that edition. From what I’ve read of the transcripts linked to above, this is something the designers are missing; something they aren’t getting. We all play editions and games that work for us, “community” be damned. The past five years should be telling them this. Once the “reminiscing” trend fades from the zeitgeist of current gaming (and I’m thinking this edition of the game will do it, fast), sales will plummet, as this ponderous set of multi-rules won’t seem modern anymore, but archaic and not expressing the needs of players or DMs. I mean, I’ve see tons of posts in various places in which folks say “Our group wants Old School gaming, so we’re switching to Pathfinder.” If people think Pathfinder (which amounts to D&D 3.75) is Old School, why will they come back to 5e?
On top of this is financial concerns of my own, and my players. I’ve been unemployed for a long time now, and WotC’s presently reduced publishing schedule has been a bit of a boon. My friends and I have spent thousands of dollars, collectively, buying three editions of D&D in the past twelve years (D&D 3.0, 3.5, and 4e), and none of us wish to spend more money on another edition of D&D, especially after only three years. The cycle of rulebooks have come too fast, with too little backwards compatibility, especially 4e. I didn’t feel as taken advantage of with all the various editions of the World of Darkness games, as the older edition books were ultimately compatible, as each edition was a refinement of the previous editions. In fact, with a little adaption, from everything I’ve seen, you could still use OWoD books with the NWoD rules (even before WWGS published their conversion manual for Vampire).
What will this game get us? Well, if the posts I’m reading are any indications, Monte Cook’s grand proclamation that “the edition wars are over” was as premature as George W. Bush’s proclamation of “Mission Accomplished!” Already, people are either loving what they’re seeing, or hating it, from what I’m reading. Some are taking a “wait and see” attitude, but I’m willing to be that once the open beta begins, that will end abruptly. The various rules elements are already being criticized, and sides are being taken. These new rules aren’t reuniting the community; they’re splitting it more. And sadly, WotC and Hasbro have sunk too much money into this to back down now. Just like they did with 4e. If anything, the Edition Wars will be back with a gusto. Especially if anyone really comes to the realization that WotC is beginning to again dictate that only their product is really playing D&D.
The wiser idea that developing a new game would be supporting all the editions already out there. They just have to convince customers to accept that their favorite edition won’t be getting supplements very often. Sadly, this would also likely be cost-prohibitive. The sales figures for supplements for older editions would likely not pay for printing costs. However, if they were to go to an electronic purchase model similar to Steam or mobile app style system, they could sell books for micro-publishing prices, and they might find the ROI works for them. Then, they might go back to physically publishing only a couple of editions of the game, 3.5 and 4e, and actually recover some of the community with less development costs. This would be saying to the community that they are supporting our choices without trying to force us to buy a whole new set of books. Of course, this is Hasbro we’re ultimately discussing, a company that is focused on selling physical goods (toys), that doesn’t get digital media, and for their primary products, don’t need to.
In the end, they just don’t get it…