Remember a couple weeks ago when nobody knew anything at all about the new D&D? Then came DDXP, and a couple things happened. One, a playtest that lots of people took part in and nobody can talk about due to NDAs. Two, a series of seminars that were very light on details and heavy on “big picture” stuff like “wanting to make a D&D game that you can play the way you want”. Nobody who knows anything is supposed to discuss details, but the thing a lot of people are missing is that most of the details are not simply hidden.
Lots of videogames in our modern Internets-enabled future world release beta versions of their games. World of Warcraft has their Public Test Realms (PTRs) for players to view and help test upcoming content. The game developer gets a bunch of free testers and data, and the fans get to try stuff out early. The R&D team at WotC is being all crazy and smart and doing their own playtests and asking us what we want from this thing before they build it. A lot of the puzzle pieces don’t even exist yet, and the ones that do could very likely be very different by release time.
At this point in the game, you should automatically assume anybody on the Internets aside from the people designing the game have no idea what they’re talking about. That being said, I think the modular approach that’s been talked about so much recently is showing its strength here. One of the things repeatedly mentioned at DDXP this year is a very light and flexible core set of rules, and a version of those was what we got to play.
I’m a programmer by trade, and this is consistent with what I’d do if I had a big project that needed to do a whole bunch of things. I wouldn’t start off by implementing functionality for everything it needs to eventually do. I’d start by building a base that only does the things nearly every piece will need, and I’d test it very thoroughly and get it as right as I can before doing anything else, maybe rewriting whole sections of the code if I had to. I have no way of knowing for sure, but my guess is we’re at that stage right now.
The unfortunate thing is that the core rules are in a state where they don’t feel unfinished when you play the game. It just felt like playing D&D. Right now, though, is not the time to worry about all the things we don’t know and remember instead what we do — that the system isn’t going to be ready for prime time for quite awhile.
How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The NDA
At DDXP, the R&D team seemed absolutely genuine in their desire to give us all the game we want, and to get our input to do just that. One thing I don’t think a lot people understand quite yet is that they need a way to channel and distill our hopes and wishes for the new edition into a form more comprehensible than the Internet Firehose. Though I don’t know exactly how getting input from us is going to work, I’m pretty sure they will let us know the ways they’d like to receive it. We already have frequent polls from Monte Cook’s Legends & Lore column, and I’d imagine playtesting is going to be a huge part of this as well.
When I first went under NDA to do playtesting last year, I asked what I could talk about and what I couldn’t. I was, as bloggers are wont to do, trying to determine the maximum amount of stuff I could safely share with the world. I was told that I could say I was playtesting something as long as it had been announced, but that I shouldn’t divulge details.
This is an extra special kind of frustrating for us bloggery types. We are pretty much in a constant state of excitement and wanting to tell people about everything, and we have to be careful about what we discuss. Yes, there’s the NDA stopping us from spilling all the beans, but it’s more than that. It’s so tempting to speculate my little heart out, but all we wind up doing in these kinds of situations is giving people a tiny bit of context that spawns a stirge’s nest on a forum somewhere. We frequently tend to approach things as if we were going to review them, but it’s kind of like talking about how delicious the Thanksgiving turkey is when it’s halfway cooked. You’ll probably get salmonella, and then everybody else will think salmonella is a feature of D&D Next. (I can neither confirm nor deny if it is.)
In a weird way, I think the NDA saves us from ourselves. People are already pretty worked up about D&D Next only knowing a few crumbs of information that may even be out-of-date by the time of this writing. Imagine if we could all nitpick every little detail from afar up until the game’s release. It wouldn’t be pretty.
My function as a blogger, as I see it, is to bring gamers together. We do a lot of D&D coverage here at Critical Hits, but a large amount of what we do here is focused around making it easier for people to have a good time. Gaming has been a huge positive force in my life for a very long time, and I want to preserve that. That’s why I took this gig. However, it’s been my experience (especially since starting here) that stirring the pot — just getting people worked up about nothing — frequently does the opposite.
Keep Calm And Carry On
The thing I keep worrying about is that WotC is setting out to unify the editions this time out. They’re going to find out what we want and bring everybody back into the fold. We are an extremely opinionated audience with a very wide variety of tastes that we have a tendency to fight over. What happens if they can’t do this because we won’t let them?
In my mind, there’s a few things we as a community need to do while the next D&D is being developed. We need to play by the rules, and we really need to relax.
Nothing about the new D&D gives me more hope than the fact we’re seeing playtests this early. Stuff people hate will be addressed and fixed long before release, and the things people want have plenty of time to make it in. It gives me the same feeling I get when I’ve had time to really do a project right, saving myself a ton of headaches down the road.
This is an opportunity for us to be heard, so let’s make it count.