By this time, most everyone who has even the slightest interest in the topic has chosen their side in the great D&D Civil War that goes on between proponents of 3rd and 4th edition. Of course there are some hangers on from 2nd edition and before, but for the most part, the people who are going to shout about which edition is the greatest are likely going to shout one of those two answers. Not ones to let things lie, Wizards of the Coast has decided to throw another side into the fight. 4th edition is ready to go the way of Spelljammer into the annals of D&D history and work on an even newer edition has just begun. Unlike previous editions, this one is going to have the help of the general public in creating its final design.
I’m proud to say that I have played every version of D&D in existence. I started with Advanced and dabbled in the Basic rules set with the Red Box. 2nd edition got me through high school and college and 3rd brought me fully back into gaming a few years after the loss of the free time available in college made me cut back on the hobby. My group was still greatly enjoying 3.5 when 4E came out so while we sampled it, we never really got too deep. Nonetheless, we tried two different campaigns, giving us a good feel for the system. Now that my glasses with the thick plastic rims are adjusted and my rat-tail is properly braided, let’s continue.
Every edition of D&D felt like a natural progression, a steady refinement and betterment of the system. Until 4E. 4E felt like a big jump sideways. It felt like a game that borrowed a lot of concepts from D&D but wasn’t quite D&D. That may sound like a criticism but, I like 4E. Not better than 3.5 but probably as much in its own way. I will be a gaming heretic and say that neither of those editions is better than the other, they simply scratch different itches for different people.
Of course, I would also like to mention that this whole discussion about editions would be moot were it not for the open gaming license. Perhaps there would still be an edition war with what I consider the dramatic shift from 3rd to 4th edition, but it’s awfully hard to fight such a war with no support and if the only place to get rules for 3rd edition was from books that Wizards of the Coast stopped producing, I suspect most 3rd edition proponents might grumble about it but would eventually adopt (and come to enjoy) 4E. It is only because Pathfinder exists and the dozens of publishers and hundreds of supplements that took advantage of the OGL that allows proponents of 3rd edition to remain relevant. Thanks to that revolutionary change in business practices, the d20 system is likely to survive indefinitely.
A few months ago, I finished running a 3.5 campaign that lasted for 7 years. Playing only 3 hours a week, with regular breaks for other games as well as myriad other calls on the players’ time meant that it took that long for the characters to reach 20th level and achieve the capacity to face the ultimate challenge on their world, the Tarrasque. Perhaps it was burnout or perhaps it was the fact that there are so many other great game systems in the world, but I planned to never run another D&D game. Playing was an option, of course. I still enjoy at least 2 versions of D&D and jumping into a campaign or adventure for either system appeals to me.
I wasn’t at all sure about D&D Next when I heard about it, though. While I realize that Wizards of the Coast is no charity and that they make their money by printing books, the time between the release of 4E and the announcement of the development of a new edition just seemed far too short, especially given the rapid pace at which the 4E books came out.
Now that I’ve sampled the beginnings of the playtest, I’m glad that I gave it a try. Obviously, D&D next is very early in its development cycle and it is a long, long way from being a full game, but what has been presented so far gives me hope that the Next D&D will be the best D&D.
What has been given samples from both 3rd and 4th edition. While this could easily be a disaster, it seems that Wizards of the Coast has done an excellent job of pulling what worked best from each edition out and mixing them together. Unlike 4th edition, there are not an overwhelming number of options to choose from or statuses to keep track of every turn. On the other hand, unlike 3rd edition every class seems to have plenty of options to keep their actions interesting and to allow plenty of tactical options for every character.
One of the stranger choices that has been made is that they’ve brought back saving throws rather than a variety of defenses, obviously avoiding the urge to reduce the number of rolls at every turn. However, skills are assigned much more the way they were in 4th edition rather than the myriad of skill points a character got in 3rd edition, making those decisions much easier.
The biggest change from both editions, however is advantage and disadvantage. Rather than have a laundry list of bonuses and penalties that can be applied in any given situation, D&D Next uses advantage and disadvantage. When a character does something that will benefit a later action, or if he has an ability that benefits from a certain type of situation, he has advantage and gets to roll two d20s rather than one. He then takes the better of the two rolls. If things are going against the character, he has disadvantage. He still rolls two d20s but in this case, he takes the lower of the two rolls. This radically changes the probability of success without completely destroying the possibility of a failure or success on any given roll.
The only disappointing thing about the rules as presented so far is healing. The healing rules in 4E were rather fun. Regaining hit points was relatively easy and characters had ample opportunity to stay in the fight and continuing adventuring without having a limitless pool of health. D&D Next is much more limiting. Healing takes much longer and there is far less healing to be had. In this regard D&D Next does not seem to be taking inspiration from either 4th or 3rd edition but jumping back to Advanced or 2nd edition when it was not uncommon for a party to adventure for 10 minutes in game time then set up camp and rest for 8 hours.
All that’s been presented so far for D&D Next are some pregenerated characters, the most basic rules set and a few adventures, so it’s hard to determine what the end result is going to be. And anyone who works in the corporate world knows that decision by committee often ends with the worst results, so crowd sourcing their design might be a big mistake on the part of Wizards of the Coast. But assuming they don’t completely change directions, D&D Next has the potential to be D&D Best.