Now that I have seen GenCon come and go another year without getting even remotely close to Indianapolis to get my game on, there is no lack of buzz on the internet in regards to the keynote address given at the original, largest, and longest running gaming convention the world. Most notably during the address to attendees was the presentation given by Mike Mearls, the lead designer of DnD Next, on what fans of the most well-known tabletop RPG on the market can expect in the very near future. Seeing as I jumped the shark with the roll-out of 4th Edition, I felt it was important to not only fully explain my dislike the current incarnation, but also look to the future in hopes of being brought back into the fold.
I’ve realized that one of the biggest issues I’ve had with 4th Edition stems from the fact the bulk of my roleplaying experience lies with AD&D 2nd Edition. Everyone cuts their teeth on Dungeons and Dragons sometime, and for us myself it was in the early 90’s, right in the heyday of Thac0, Menzoberranzan Mania, and trying like hell to figure out how multiple attacks with two weapons worked. We played with a bit of reckless abandon, constant character creation flux due to the endless supplement books, and spent far more time focusing on the story and roleplaying than really paying attention to the rules.
Oh, sure, I could tell you exactly which page weapons and skills were on in the Player’s Handbook, while Robert was quick to know exactly how much damage just about every spell in existence did, but part of me felt that, aside from multi-classing, the PC classes could be pretty vanilla. Sure, once you got some magic gear things could really get crazy, but in those days, the go-to longsword was the best bang for the buck and it got harder and harder to justify a 1d6+1 military pick when the sh*t hit the fan. Thankfully, 3rd edition saved the day.
Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition was released at a time where our gaming was reaching and unfortunate lull. If there was ever such a thing as too much of a good thing, it was our 2nd edition campaign, and 3rd edition was just the thing to inject some new life into our sessions around the table. I was particularly excited by this incarnation of D&D, namely due to the introduction of Feats. Seeing as I play fighters more often than not, it was great to see how much variation the Feat System provided players in terms of character creation and advancement.
No longer was playing a fighter (for example) simply the combination of damage dice + strength bonus. Options such as Power Attack and Cleave injected enough flavor to add a little more to combat tactically while also helping create a greater scope for players to craft and envision their characters. Two identically stated characters within the same class could end up in completely different places 10 levels later, each one with as much flair and individuality in their “crunch” as there would be in the personalities created by their players. However, it is in this level of success coupled with the rising influence of MMORPGs that I feel Wizards of the Coast overreached in the transition to 4th Edition.
First, I want to set the record straight and say that I don’t hate 4th Edition. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t hate it. For me, having played two other versions of Dungeons and Dragons for close to 15 years at the time of its release, there was too much a departure from the game I knew and too much blatant (in my opinion) coddling of the WoW generation for me to see past. While I could see past the smoke and mirrors and see the framework of the game I knew and loved, the system has felt too often like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Sure, all the basic classes were there – fighters, wizards, rogues, etc. – but the roles that these classic titles played in an adventuring party were drastically different. Now there were terms saddled alongside – controllers, strikers, leaders, etc. – and the dynamic of the game had changed to a degree that it didn’t jive with my old-edition sensibilities. Rogues were like lightly armored fighters, fighters were now just “tanks” like in WoW, and everyone was a jack-of-all-trades. The mechanics felt too tactical, too focused on combat utilizing minis (which in of itself felt like a money grab), and I often felt I should have had a video game controller in my hands rather than dice. In one game a bard could heal better than my cleric due to dependency of die rolls for success. In another game it made perfect sense for my fighter, in full-plate armor mind you, to take massive damage from an unarmed bear hug from a human, I realized that this was not the game I knew and I really couldn’t get behind it.
Maybe I’m just stubborn and too set in my ways, but I recognized Wizard’s of the Coast need to tap a new market. It’s business, it makes sense, but at least I knew I wasn’t alone and another chapter was added to the edition wars. The bottom for me is that D&D is for my roleplaying while Warhammer Fantasy is for my tactical war-gaming, and apparently I do not like when these two are mixed. However, if GenCon was any indication, DnD Next may be what brings myself and others like me back into the fold.
Unlike my earlier predictions of a rushed roll-out, it seems that we still have a good amount of time before we see what the next generation of Dungeons and Dragons will look like. According to Mearls, playtesting is still in its infancy. The second playtest packet was delivered to gamers just before GenCon and the process is supposed to continue for another two years. With a target of mid-2014 for release, and seeing as it’s been reported that old editions of D&D have been getting a lot of table-time at WoTC’s headquarters, the biggest hope for those of us displeased with 4th Edition is a move back to a system we are more comfortable with.
Maybe those of us who balked at the line between 3.0/3.5 and 4E aren’t living in the now, just members of an old guard unable to keep up with the march of progress. Or, maybe, we are better at recognizing and adhering to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and our tenacious hold to what we feel is tradition will win out in the end. Either way, I have a feeling that DnD Next will be the balm that soothes old wounds and the first step in bringing the edition wars to an end…
In the meantime, I’ll be playing Savage Worlds.