or, A Love Letter to Wizards of the Coast,
or, Is it time for "WotC Next"?
It has to happen, so here goes. Keep in mind that my opinions are not direct-from-source, because there is no way that getting the D&D Next playtest materials is worth agreeing to the terms of the NDA.
Overall, what I am hearing – even from those saying negative things – makes me cautiously optimistic about 5e. It sounds as though the designers took my “Why System Matters” blog posts and then, point by point, made sure that 5e would work for sandbox gaming. Understand that I am not saying that they did any such thing, but, if they did, kudos for them. Also, it seems as though the Delve Format is dead! That particular thorn in the arse of WotC adventure design couldn't have been removed soon enough!
5e has moved, for me, from “D&D Pass” to “D&D Maybe”.
5e has moved, for me, from “D&D Pass” to “D&D Maybe”.
This “Hit Dice” thing is needlessly confusing. In RCFG, the almost-identical mechanic was called “Shaking it Off”, and, as that is OGC, I don’t see why Wizards wouldn’t use it. It sounds a hell of a lot better than calling it “Hit Dice”, which has a completely different meaning. Shaking it Off went through numerous incarnations while playtesting RCFG, and it worked very well there.
The idea of Themes and Backgrounds should make a character different, but make character creation easier. Kudos on that. Likewise on adopting a simple Advantage/Disadvantage system….although, for my money, the “Dice Chain” of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is the best simple system for this that I have come across.
I am a bit dismayed by the continuation of disassociated mechanics, such as fighters doing damage on a miss, and the idea that wizards can endlessly magic missile. Magic is cheap when there is no cost, and magic should not be so cheap in D&D. May I recommend a “lesser missile” as a cantrip, that requires an attack roll and does less damage than a dagger? The advantage of this lesser missile is that you don’t need a dagger. Moreover, each “cantrip” could be linked to an actual spell, which must be memorized in order to continue using the cantrip. Use up your real magic missile, and you can no longer use your lesser missile, either. Making these sorts of choices – dealing with real trade-offs – is a big part of the game.
(Not an original idea or observation, that, but a better plan than at-will free magic missiles.)
I have previously said that if D&D Next fails, it won’t be the fault of the fans. That remains true, but it is also true that if D&D Next succeeds, it won’t be because of the fans, either. It will only succeed if the product is good, the marketing is good, and Wizards creates goodwill with the fans. Announcing the release of earlier edition materials was a good start on generating goodwill. Now, if WotC can keep the lawyers from messing things up, there is a chance of a successful edition here.
The NDA was a bone-headed move that tells us “We’re going to keep doing business like we did with 4e”.
I don’t think D&D Next can survive that.
I have said previously that, for any new edition of D&D to be relevant to me, Wizards is going to have to reinstate the OGL. As things stand, when 6e comes out, no one who signed that NDA can legally make a “derivative work” like OSRIC or Pathfinder for 5e. And the people who signed the NDA are the hard core gamers who would most likely wish to see support continue for an edition they like.
Grab the bull by the horns, WotC, if you want to see this edition succeed. You need to make us believe that the needs of the game – and the gamers! – are as important as the needs of the lawyers and the shareholders. You need to tell us why there are some weird terms in the NDA (or better yet, get rid of the NDA altogether). Likewise, you need to be upfront about what kind of licensing this edition is going to use. The longer you wait, the more people you lose.
(1) The design of the new edition shows some promise. You still have work to do (obviously) and you need to ditch disassociated mechanics from the core rules. Add them as modules if you must.
(2) The marketing is certainly good enough to attract attention, and although there is a certain amount of “dancing around the elephant in the room” in the fan outreach, it is otherwise following a good course. This is especially true when compared to 4e.
(3) You have a lot of work to do on goodwill. Deal with licensing upfront, deal with the NDA. Set some limits on where the concerns of the lawyers take precedence over the concerns of the fans. You need us more than we need you. Show us you understand that, and that you are willing to make us want you instead of need you. Oh, and plan ahead so you don’t have to lay anyone off for the holidays.
You need to be “WotC Next” as much as this game needs to be “D&D Next”. The Wizards that gave us the OGL is gone. You cannot afford to be the Wizards that gave us the GSL, that gives folks the old heave-ho for the holidays, or that values protecting itself from the slightest risk over fan enjoyment of product. That Wizards has to go.
Be WotC Next. Embrace it. IMHO, it’s your best chance for success.
Now, I’ll be perfectly honest here. You probably aren’t getting my “favourite go-to game” spot – Goodman Games already has that sewn up with a tidy little bow – but you could still end up with a version of D&D that I want to play. As I had written you off some time ago, that’s actually pretty amazing.