One of my resolutions was not to talk about Fifth Edition D&D until I had it in my cold grubby hands. But… c’mon! It’s been announced today (check out EN World for coverage)! How can I possibly keep quiet?
Not gonna happen. Resolution, broken.
Three words get me excited about 5e D&D more than any others. These are “open playtest” and “modular”. Let’s take ’em one at a time. Or rather, two at a time, then one. You know what I mean. Shut up at the back.
One problem (in fact, quite possibly the only problem) with Fourth Edition D&D was that it was extensively playtested in-house, which is not the same as extensively playtested, period. It quickly became apparent that certain elements of the rules (Skill Challenges, naming just one) just didn’t get the playtest treatment they deserved, and that gave rise to a mentality where it was acceptable (desirable, even) to continually update and errata the system after the event. Having an open playtest across as wide a group as possible should mean that the vast majority of game issues will be resolved before it sees print. This is how it should be, both at launch and for any further supplements down the line.
One of the joys of D&D is that it should support a wide range of play-styles, from immersive story-telling to intensive all-or-nothing combat, from low-level urban adventures to wild battles across the planes, and anything in-between. Having an open playtest ensures that divergent groups can help contribute to D&D and ensure that their particular play-style is well represented by the rules. Whether they want a fast-and-light low-rules retro feel or a multitude of feats, powers and meta-game options, D&D should cater for them.
Sounds impossible? That leads us to…..
Picture an edition of D&D where the base rules are incredibly light – say, four Races and four Classes, rules for Hit Points, Armour Class & Damage and that’s it. This is clean, fast D&D in the style of the Pathfinder Beginner’s box, or early Classic D&D.
Everything else is a Lever (my terminology, not theirs).
Want Skills? Pull the Lever.
Want Feats? Powers? Backgrounds and Themes? Mass Combat? Strongholds? Planar Travel? Psionics? Anthorpomorphic races? Wushu Martial Arts?
A campaign setting could have its own Campaign Character Sheet where the GM can choose what Levers are pulled. Hand that to the players and they know how to build they character in accordance with the GM’s vision for the setting. If you want to run the Forgotten Realms as a rules-light retro D&D setting and another GM half-way across the country is playing it as an urban Wushu Martial Arts, it’s all cool, and it’s all D&D, baby. And the rules should support that.
Supplements could add new Levers (Psionics, for example) or expand existing ones, and published Adventures could state what default Levers it’s designed for, and provide suggestions how to use it for other Levers (“If you are using the Mass Combat option, add a further 1d1000 Orcs in Room 1”).
Fifth Edition D&D will be modular. The control of the game is back in the hands of the DM.
Amen to that.
One thing I hope they also plan is to do away with the ghastly Striker, Leader, Defender, etc terminology. Create decent Class Tree starting with Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard and put the classes in some kind of genealogy under that (Fighter+ Cleric = Paladin, Fighter + Wizard = Swordmage, Cleric + Rogue = cool class we’ve not seen yet, etc).
That’s what I hope, anyhow.
Time will tell. And these are exciting times indeed.