D&D 5th Edition: The Great Unifier?

by on Jan.16, 2012, under Articles, Entertainment, Gaming, Roleplaying Games

Wizards of the Coast, creators of the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons (3rd and 4th edition) have announced (via the New York Times and elsewhere) 5th edition D&D. They also announced, somewhat surprisingly, an extended public play testing, where in the general public will be able to attend events and publicly play test the game and provide feedback. This has caused all sorts of responses from naysayers, to the confused, to the cautiously hopeful. I fall into the latter.

Monte Cook, one of the more well-known roleplaying game designers and a prior designer on D&D 3rd edition and an announced designer for 5th edition, wrote up on article on his column on the D&D website.

Let me quote you some really interesting paragraphs:

“The goal here is to embrace all forms of the D&D experience and to not exclude anyone. Imagine a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game. Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You’re good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It’s all there.”

“Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won’t believe it right now—we’re designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options. Again, imagine a game where one player has a simple character sheet that has just a few things noted on it, and the player next to him has all sorts of skills, feats, and special abilities. And yet they can still play the game together and everything remains relatively balanced. Your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need. Or vice versa. It’s all up to you to decide.”

Those are some serious goals. I know because I’ve worked on helping to design games to meet goals like that before and it is difficult. If they can pull it off it’ll be an awesome game. There are a lot of complex problems with goals like this. Particularly in how to present the rules to make the game easy for entry-level players. Modular systems leads to complexity. Additionally this kind of system could lead to a scary route for marketing and sales. Will they sell entire game with sufficient rules to be able to play any edition or will some of the rules be handed out in a video game “DLC” like fashion, where we pay $2-$20 bucks for each rule module? I don’t doubt Wizards wants to create the game everybody wants to play but I also don’t doubt Hasbro, Wizard’s parent company, wants to make the serious dough.

So I’m still cautiously hopeful and I plan on attending the play test in order to help, and maybe practice my own game designs kills a bit more. If you’re interested in joining int he play tests as well there is a sign up link at the end of Monte Cook’s article.

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