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.