So, yesterday the Manglers decided to playtest the current iteration of the D&D Next rules. We’ve all played every previous edition, and we’re long-time fans of the D&D brand. We ran through part of the Caves of Chaos adventure that is provided in the playtest materials, using the pregenerated characters. What we ended with was mostly a shrug.
In writing up my playtest report for Wizards, I stumbled on the metaphor that makes sense to me: D&D Next is the greatest hits album of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s got a lot of old favorites on it (ascending AC, feats, reach, Vancian magic, standard races/classes) with a couple of new things (backgrounds, themes, advantage/disadvantage). But, like a greatest hits album, you get the stuff you’ve already heard a lot, but not much new, and you miss some of the stuff that was on the original albums that didn’t make it to the greatest hits. It seems like it’d be cool for someone new to the “band,” but most of us older players already have our favorite albums, and don’t need a compilation.
Maybe that metaphor sounds better in my head than it looks on screen, but it still feels right to me as a starting place. At this point in the rules revision, there’s not much new, especially given that we haven’t yet seen the character creation rules, so I can’t really talk about how backgrounds and themes work. The only really new thing that I saw was the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, where you roll 2d20 and take the highest (or lowest) roll, depending on if you have advantage or a disadvantage. Otherwise, the game feels a bit like a retro-clone of itself.
After seeing the radical changes from 2e to 3e and again from 3e to 4e, I guess part of me was hoping for something radical to change again. I’ve found my favorite systems for old school D&D (the BECMI rules and Dungeon Crawl Classics, at the moment). And, so I don’t feel like there’s a real need for Wizards to return to D&D’s roots. And while I’m not a fan of 3e, I think Pathfinder or FantasyCraft would fill that void if I wanted to revisit it. I haven’t played anything that really feels like 4e except 4e, but I own a good chunk of those supplements already. So, I guess what I was hoping for–despite all the talk of modularity in the new rules–was something that kept pushing the envelope of what D&D meant. But, I understand that Wizards cares about market share, and they’re probably gun-shy after 4e lost a big chunk of the player base to Paizo. I’m just not sure that a new edition that repeats what’s been done will bring fans who have transitioned to other games back to D&D.
I am, however, hopeful that the path being traveled by WotC will bring new players into the gaming world. Our group ran about eight combats last night, and the game is fast (like 2e), but with dashes of 3e and 4e tossed in (feats, fighters doing damage on a miss, at-will magic missiles). It relies more heavily on judge rulings than on reference to specific rules, but it still uses specific rules for conditions. I’m looking forward to seeing what future playtest materials do. I think at this point, it’s shaping up to be a solid system, especially for people who are new to the game. But for those of us who own all the original albums, I’m not so sure we need a greatest hits album.