Dungeons & Dragons of Future Past

I have a lot of other things I want to talk about here on Critical Hits, but with Monday’s announcement of a new style of Dungeons & Dragons in the works it feels wrong to talk about anything else. The 4th edition of D&D brought about the only long campaign I’ve ever managed to run, and I attribute a large part of that to the ways the new edition changed the role of being a Dungeon Master and the tools it provided. Another large part of my ability to run a long game was this, right here, the (online and otherwise) RPG community that I’ve had the benefit of being a part of for many years now that has provided me with limitless resources to aid in my DMing efforts. After D&D Next (as I’ll refer to it for simplicity) was announced the online RPG community went crazy, and I saw a number of people sharing lamentations that 4th Edition was now “old” and “going away.” I’ve finally managed to wrangle my thoughts about D&D Next, and they are overwhelming in their hope that whatever D&D Next is it helps me to continue running 4e D&D.

I say “continue running 4e D&D”, but what I really mean is that I hope D&D Next doesn’t mean the end of support for and the release of new content for 4e games. I’d say with any of the editions of D&D that I’ve played they never lasted more than 3 months without picking up house rules amongst our friends. My primary desire with D&D Next and its modular ideals is that it effectively presents an edition of Dungeons & Dragons that embraces the house rule approach many groups take and says, “Here’s D&D, here are some different ways to play it, and here are some tools to help you make it your own.

No Edition is Perfect

I believe the primary issue with the “edition wars” and people arguing about D&D is that sooner or later, one or both sides forget that no edition of the game has ever been perfect. There may be some people out there who found Basic D&D, 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition, or 4th Edition 100% perfect as they were published, but I would hazard to guess that these people are in the extreme minority. If you look at the market right now, you can see the proof: Pathfinder expanded and modified 3.x and there are tons of old-school D&D hacks and clones that choose different pieces of the game to change and others to keep the same. The problem is that every person and every group is different and they’re going to have different expectations and discoveries as they play D&D. In the end, I hope that D&D Next is representative of all editions of the game because as a game that has no edition of its own it could really be perfect for everyone.

The old saying, “If you try to please everyone, then you’ll please no one” is a big pitfall for this kind of a game. However, I believe that more than ever before the game of D&D is ready for this kind of an approach. I’ve heard many times over that 4th Edition was closer to the earliest versions of the game than 3rd edition or even 2nd edition. I think that if you approach D&D Next as a game of modular decisions that replicates the design processes that happened over several decades to take Basic D&D to 2nd Edition, then 2e to 3rd Edition and 3.5, and then to 4th Edition and back to Basic D&D you could end up with a solid set or rules modules that would allow you to pick and choose the elements of each edition that you like best and include them, or choose the elements you like the least and diminish their impact or remove them entirely from the game.

The Future of D&D for Me

No matter what D&D Next ends up as, for me the future of D&D is going to be a modified version of 4th Edition. I’ve run and played 4e for 3 years now and there are things I enjoy about to so much more than I’ve ever enjoyed in D&D. The fact that there are elements of the game, the system itself, and how it plays that I don’t enjoy has been a constant in my experiences with Dungeons & Dragons. This is nothing new, and as such I have become used to it and learned to house rule and adapt the game to suit me and my players better. The best thing that D&D Next could do for people like me is provide the tools for me to play 4e D&D as I’ve been playing it but also remove some degree of the “but I don’t like these elements as much” factor.

D&D has always been customizable, it has always been a game that each DM and each player can make their own, but never before have we really seen a company or a system for the game that embraces this idea. Instead it has always been “here’s a game system, you’ll enjoy these elements but you’ll also ram your head against these other elements.” Now we have the possibility of a system that says, “here, take the elements you like, and leave behind those you don’t.” That, to me and I imagine to you as well, could be an incredible achievement for Roleplaying Games.


  1. I guess I am an extreme optimist. Btw – great, succinct and upbeat post, Danny!

    Can you imagine, if they do come up with a system that is modular, so that they can allow “any” of the old editions/styles to be played with it? It would be like, WOW, not only bringing together the 4e and 3.x crowd, but also the 1e and 2e and all of the above crowd!

    It would be hell on Organized Play (“Which edition of Modular D&D is this table of Ashes of Athas running, Mr. DM sir, my kid and I brought a 3e Warmage and a 4e Runepriest to play..”)

    I’m glad voices like yours are speaking. I think we rarely admire the flak those few, brave souls who work for Wizards or Paizo or any game company endure. In this age of instant-internet raving, did you see, for example, what Monte Cook endured from his very post L&L post?

    I’m almost 45, and playing D&D since I was 12 or so. I lost several good friends as players because of 4e, but I’ve also enjoyed DMing so very much. I can modify creatures in my head, improv, change keywords on the fly, add an attack by inspiration. I think the summary of what might bring the community closer, would be a blend of 4e for the DM/monsters, 3.5/3.75 with a little DDI math crunching for the players.

    I know some folks like looking up spells and spell-like abilities in books, and while I buy every book in print copy, I am now spoiled by DDI to do swift Feat changes, drop or add weapons, powers, etc. My last 3.5 game, a year into 4e, I had to use like, 23 books and a week of prep with lots of scribbles, to run the FR module “Shadowdale”. Maybe I’ve gotten old and lazy, but what I hope to see in DnD Next is a swiftness “on and off the battlemat”, preserving the excellent system mechanics, but with tweaks that allow certain things (like combat) to move a little faster, and maybe just a little “Essentials” style streamline of player characters.

    As an event and convention director/organizer, anything which brings in more folks, playing the same game system, and also translates to 150% fun at home, is indeed the best of the best!

  2. Nicely put. I too am anxious to see how this “modular” component of the new edition will work out. One of my concerns is that the game and its audience will become even more fractured than it already is. This could make it difficult to game outside your personal house-ruled group, which would be a shame.

  3. George: Thank you very much for the high praise! What you describe is pretty much exactly what I’m hoping for, and I think the real beauty of it is if they find a way to make it work perfectly with things like Organized Play and conventions. I’m not sure exactly how they’d do that, but I’m pretty sure it’s possible and that there is an elegant solution out there.

    Thorynn: Thanks! My hope is obviously that the “fracturing” aspect is reduced since it will all be based on a central set of rules/concessions. I’m also hopeful that instead of it making things difficult to game outside of your own group, instead you can share stories and bond based on which modular pieces you like/don’t like, and what combinations you’ve tried with your various games.

    I also think it could be very interesting to run a series of adventures that evolve through the different levels of the rules to indicate changes in the game world, but that might get to be a bit overly complex.

  4. I do wonder about the support end of the whole ‘modular game’ concept though. How is WotC going to give the various ‘flavors’ of ‘Next’ the support they deserve? I don’t oppose the goal in principle, but it seems to me that one flavor is likely to end up getting all the love. As a game company won’t WotC be driven to supply most of its support and development effort to just one set of options that are the most frequently used? It is sort of like what happens with CB where they seemed to focus the majority of their effort on a few popular classes. Soon it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I shouldn’t perhaps care what other people run, but when one choice is the easiest path and the one most likely to be accepted by more people at the table…

  5. I am pretty excited also for the D&D Next. Like you, I love 4th Edition. I have played it since its release and have not looked back. It is not the perfect edition, but I found it smooth to run and flexible enough to do what you wanted with the system. There are some aspects though that I would like changed and should change, but like Greek George experienced, I too experienced.

    I just started a new campaign with my 3.5 group(we play 3.5 because they do not like 4th) and since I just finished DMing RttToEE, I had to create a character. I went through hell creating it. Book after book.

    I just hope it is all they say it will be. We shall see!

  6. Great post. When I first saw the announcement, my initial reaction was “Dang!” (or something like that :p). However, I soon started thinking about what 4ed still needed in terms of new releases and much as I love 4ed (I too am currently running my first real long-term campaign) I realized that particularly on the crunch side, 4ed just doesn’t need a whole lot more right now. Obviously I think that Epic Tier needs support, particularly in the area of good monsters, and flavor products (campaign settings and the like) are always nice, but do we really need more classes? More feats? More powers? Sure, more is always nice, but at the same time, it just continues to make it that much harder to balance.

    So, with that in mind, I am not really upset about the new edition per se. Much as we might hate to admit it, WotC is a business, owned by a much larger business. Releasing books is what they do and if they don’t do it for 4ed, they have to do it for another edition. All this talk about modularity definitely has me intrigued, particularly when they talk about players of all editions playing together. I am a bit skeptical that they can pull it off, but I am hopeful they will. Most importantly, as a DM, I rather like the idea of more or less embracing house rules from the outset. I do think that with recent editions being more and more detailed in their rules, there’s been a double edged sword. On the one hand, DM’s don’t have to make stuff up on the fly as much as there are few situations that are not covered by some written rule. On the flip side, I’ve seen a lot of players try to grind a game to a halt as they swear their interpretation of a rule is right and start looking through books to find it. Then it just gets really bad when you have an ambiguously worded rule/feat/power/etc.

    Sure, its up to the DM to keep things running smoothly at the table, but that can often be easier said than done — particularly when playing with your friends. With modularity of the rules though, a DM can simply tell his group at the beginning of a campaign “Hey, I’m going with modules A, B, and C. Anything that falls outside those specific elements I’ll just make a ruling and move on.

    Most importantly though, with my 4ed campaign still ongoing, I’m particularly not worried. In part, I’m guessing it will still be next year at the earliest that we see D&D Next. In addition, I strongly suspect that DDi will continue to run, including running for 4ed material so that those of us who don’t switch over immediately, will still have access to the online tools. Finally, the coming arrival of a new edition also creates all kinds of possibilities for ongoing campaigns that can be fun to play out!


  1. […] Bartoneus at Critical Hits talks about a number of things with the new system, namely support for 4e and the edition war.  Choice Quote: “I believe the primary issue with the “edition wars” and people arguing about D&D is that sooner or later, one or both sides forget that no edition of the game has ever been perfect.”  I’d copy and paste this into every enworld thread, but I’d be accused of trolling.  But man, there are a lot of people out there who need to remember this. […]

  2. […] Danny Rupp (aka @Bartoneous) at Critical Hits (link) […]