I remember what I thought when 4th Edition D&D was announced. I was excited, because I’d been playing enough D&D 3 and 3.5 that I had begun to see things that I felt were flaws. I hoped that these things would be addressed in a new system. As articles appeared giving us a glimpse of 4E, I got even more excited. Which weapon a fighter chose to use could have a significant effect on what sorts of abilities they would get. Clerics wouldn’t have to give up all their actions to be a human bandaid. Bards would be playable! Hurrah!
When the announcement for 5E, or D&D Next, or whatever you want to call it, came, I felt a little knot of dread in the pit of my stomach. But…I like D&D 4E! I don’t feel like it needs so many changes that there needs to be a new iteration. Yes, I see systems that could use some tweaking, but they seem like pretty easy fixes.
With my predictions behind me, I now turn to the purely emotional spectrum. I have hopes for D&D Next, and I have fears, and I’m going to look at them from an edition to edition standpoint.
Before I start, there are certain things I almost don’t feel that I have to mention, because their return seems absurd. I don’t want to see a reduction in classes to OD&D levels, or a system like Basic D&D where Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are classes. I think it’s pretty clear that the game has moved on past these.
I’m using this edition to encompass OD&D, Basic D&D and its permutations, and 1st Edition Advanced D&D.
I hope (and I know from reading various articles) that Next will have more emphasis on role-playing/interactions and exploration. Personally, having played D&D all along, these elements have never left my campaigns, but I’d like to see them addressed in ways that will make them easy and fun for new DMs.
I fear that, with the Crowdsourcing aspect of Next, we’ll see a return of rules I think of as bad. I don’t want to see a return of arbitrary tables, like Saving Throws that differ by classes. I don’t want to see limiting rules, like level limits set by race, or ability scores that have a maximum based on gender. While the latest article from Monte Cook says, basically, that “We don’t intend to revive these,” it also says “unless you guys want to see them?” That alone makes me nervous, because there are always vocal people with strong opinions. The fact that gay marriage isn’t legal in all 50 states (a subject that has nothing to do with gaming, but which is near to my heart) is a testament to vocal people with strong opinions. My hope is that most gamers don’t want to see these things return
My main hope for 2nd Edition is a kind of a combo 2nd/4E one. I want to see more of what might be termed Kits, Backgrounds, or Themes, depending on how you look at it. The Kits from 2nd Edition and the Backgrounds and Themes from 4E fill a very similar niche. They present a way for your Fighter, for example, to differentiate what makes him or her different from every other Fighter. A Peasant Hero fighter is very different from a Cavalier, and I like this. It gives newer players, or players who aren’t confident at creating background a way to have at least a minimal background concept. What I would like even more than just a lot of generic themes, kits, or what have you are rules about how to design your own, to better fit them in with your campaign world. My main complaint about Themes in 4E is that there’s no real guideline, other than looking at the existing ones, for how to make your own.
Most of what I remember disliking about 2nd Edition is similar to what I disliked about 1st Edition, because there was a minimum of difference between the two rules systems.
Mostly what I want to see kept from 3rd edition is about choice. We got skills and feats from 3rd Edition, and I love both of them dearly. 3rd Edition also let any race choose any class and advance to any level. Please, please, please keep this level of choice. Playing D&D should be about coming up with a cool character idea and being able to play it. 3rd Edition also brought us the best version of multi-classing, and I hope something can be found to make this a better option in D&D Next.
And something I think a lot of people want to see is something a bit more robust in an OGL. It doesn’t need to be as open as 3rd Edition, but I hope it won’t be as closed as 4E.
What I don’t want to see brought from 3rd Edition is a sort of genericism (for lack of a better term) that I began to feel towards the end of the game. I will never forget playing a game in New York at a Worldwide D&D Game Day where the new guy playing the Fighter finally asked, “Is all I really do smack things with my axe?” The fact that he was at a table with a 5 year old girl who was essentially playing the same character by looking up and rolling a D20 when prompted, then going back to her coloring probably didn’t help.
I also don’t want to see combat go on interminably. I don’t care what people say about 4E; combat at high levels in 3rd Edition was torturous. So many games were played where we waited for our fighter to roll five or six attacks, keeping track of how they were getting lower on each roll. Or had our Wizard or Cleric looking through a list of 50 or so spells to decide which one to cast. Given that this would often be the same combat where our Bard would be saying, “I use Inspire Courage. Okay. My turn’s over,” didn’t help. Or combats where the Druid took 7 rounds to buff everybody and didn’t get to do anything else, because combat was over. Hey, the fact that one of my players created a dry erase combat shield just to keep track of all the buffs a party would cast in combat says something significant.
4E has flaws, but it’s still my favorite iteration of the game. That said, there are things I want to see stay and things I want to see go.
I want characters with powers, even the fighter. Call them stances or maneuvers or tactics, or whatever, but I like people having interesting options every round. I don’t ever want a Fighter to simply boil down to “I hit it with my axe,” again.
I want Death to be uncertain. I can’t tell you how many combats I played in earlier editions where people would say “Oh, he’s only at -4, we can just ignore him for a few rounds before healing him.” Death Saving Throws are brilliant, and I want them to stay. And yes, I’ve had a PC die in 3 rounds with 3 failed saves in a row.
I want to see revisions done to Rituals. I think the concept is great, but I think there needs to be a better limitation than “these cost money”. Something that levels over time, along with your character. Maybe something like, “You can only cast twice your level in ritual levels per day.” This would let a level 1 caster cast 2 1st level rituals, a 2nd level caster cast 4 1st, 2 2nd, or 2 1st and 1 2nd, and so on.
I want to see more flexibility in terms of multi-classing, or in taking powers from other classes. If I want to have a Rogue who dabbled in magic before his true training began, or something with a wild psionic talent, I want a way to represent that without massive feat expenditure.
To Sum Up
I think every edition has had something good and something bad about it. My real fear, truth be told, is that in trying to create something everyone will enjoy, they’ll make something no one will enjoy. I have hope, though, as the design team has a lot of names on it that I respect. At this point, I can but watch and wait…and hopefully play-test. Hint, hint, WotC!
Do you have something from a previous edition that you especially want to see return, or especially hope is cast into a Donjon? Do you have a particular hope or fear for D&D Next? Let us all know.