Monday, January 9, 2012

A New Edition of an Old Game

So, normally, I use this blog to talk about writing stuff. Which makes sense. I mean, I am a writer, after all. But, today, I want to talk about something else. I believe that I have mentioned before that I am a Dungeons and Dragons geek. I have been playing that game since I was around 8 years old, thanks to my Dad and big brother.

And today, Wizards of the Coast, the current manufacture of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), announced that they are producing a new editionof the game. If you’re into table top gaming, then let me tell you that this is a really big deal.

You see, a few years ago, Wizard’s released what is called the 4th Edition of D&D, and it was met with mixed reception, at best. The previous edition (3E, or 3.0, or 3.5 even), was well loved by pretty much everyone that played D&D, and even those that hated it didn’t hate it as much as the 4E detractors hated that version. And 4E was, let’s be honest, an attempt to bring some of the esthetics of an MMO to the tabletop. Now, personally, I don’t have an issue with that. It makes a certain amount of sense. D&D inspired many video games, up to and including World of Warcraft and Skyrim, and so it seemed only natural that the last edition of D&D be inspired by video games.

But, many didn’t agree. They hated the video game like properties of the game.

Myself, I ran a 4E campaign for around a year, and I enjoyed the system. It was streamlined in a lot of ways, and playing went a lot quicker, especially combat.

However, after playing for a year, I discovered the things about the edition I didn’t like. The first is that the game is really focused on mechanics. REALLY focused. I mean, sure, mechanics are important to every tabletop RPG. But, in 4E, the mechanics started becoming the REASON for the game, and not the way to play it. Story got lost in mechanics.

And note that I am saying mechanics here, not rules. There’s a difference.

For example, in my campaign, I got caught up in making sure that each adventure I wrote had the correct number of encounters in it, and that each encounter was perfectly balanced to my party. I made sure that there was enough treasure to keep the party balanced. Balance was super important. But, at one point, I noticed that keeping the balance, sticking to the mechanics of the game, became more important than the story I wanted to tell. I was adding encounters and treasure that didn’t make sense story-wise. And my players noticed and were starting to complain.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that 4E sucks and you should never play it. I have learned from this what rules to ignore in order to play the kind of adventures I want to play. It’s been the same in every edition of D&D I’ve played. Some rules you learn to ignore or ditch altogether. Some rules you replace with house rules. 4E wasn’t any different.

In this case, I learned that to make my games work, I needed to ignore the mechanics of adventure construction, and just write the stories I wanted to tell. The rules would remain the same, but the mechanics would be different.

But, as I stated, 4E divided the D&D community, in a way that previous editions had never done before.

And so instead of finding a D&D game to join, or getting some players from the local game store, finding a game became a matter of “what edition are you playing?”

And if it wasn’t the “right” edition, it could lead to blows.

Geeks takes this shit seriously.

So, when I heard this morning that Wizard’s was announcing that they were going to work on a new edition of D&D, I sighed in relief. Because as much as I enjoyed 4E, and still love 3.5, a fix for both the community and Wizard’s plummeting PR was needed.

And they have done two things with this new edition that will help with these problems.

The first is that they’ve re-hired Monty Cook, who helped craft 3E when it first came out. He’s a wildly popular game designer, and there’s a reason for that. He’s good at what he does. So, having him on the new edition team bodes well for it.

The second thing, and probably the more important of the two, is that they are crowdsourcing the new edition.

According to the official announcement, they want player participation. They plan on sending out emails to volunteers to playtest rules and provide feedback. Kind of like an alpha version, later to a beta version. Or perhaps this is the open beta. I’m not sure.

At any rate, I’ve signed up for this. Because I’m a big D&D fan, and I want to have some kind of say in the development of a game that has meant so much to me for so long. I want to have a game I can enjoy playing, and one that I can introduce to my own son.

So, personally, I’m excited for 5E D&D. I can’t wait to see not only what Wizard’s comes up with, but what all my fellow gamers come up with.


  1. This is great news! Thanks for sharing. I've only gotten into D&D in the past two years and I really enjoy it, but it has been really hard to find a game. I've played both 4E and 3.5 (and I enjoy both), but because of the challenges people have had with the system I've had a hard time finding a group to play in. (Add in my group all dissolved to return to work, which has made it worse.) So I'm hopeful I might find a game again soon. Again thanks!

  2. You're welcome, Jayrod! And really, I think that you're not alone in your difficulty finding a group. I'm hopeful that 5E will help with that.