Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Off the Reservation, Thoughts on the 5E Train Wreck

Although we don't currently see universal consensus on this, it seems likely that there are a handful of things from prior editions that we don't want to bring forward into a new iteration of D&D. Not everything about every version of the game was absolutely golden.

For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback. Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better. System shock rolls. Racial level limits. Gender-based ability score maximums. Lots of bonus types. And so on. But here's the thing: if I'm wrong about that, get involved in the open playtest when it starts and let us know. If you would like to see things like that be a part of the core rules set, or if you would use rules like that as optional modules, that's the kind of information we are looking for in order to make this a game you want to play.

Further, there's stuff that is kind of on the fence in this regard. What about a system that resembled the weapons versus armor table in 1st Edition? Could we make that work as a part of a simulationist rules module? Maybe. Racial class restrictions? Sure (but why?). Are these good ideas? Bad ideas?

Monte Cook

Bad Ideas.

Unless you care nothing about all of those players who’re going to be lapping up the 1E AD&D books, and that will be a substantial number unless I’m mistaken.

Anyone familiar with Monte Cook's work should have seen this coming. Let's face it, here's a guy that has never seen a rule that he couldn't improve, a game or system that he couldn't make even more complex. Maybe it stems from his early association with Rolemaster, but Ol' Monte likes it crunchy and has a casual disregard for the 25 year history of D&D before he deconstructed it. Now, don't get me wrong, the guy is a fine writer and prolific, but I've seen enough of his work to know what's coming. With 3.0 D&D,  Monte and the gang decided that having multiple saving throws was "inelegant" and so, we got saving throws paired down to 3. Now of course, given one more go at destroying D&D, saving throws are apparently gone altogether (as evidenced by playtest reports circulating in the blogosphere).

Not content to be boxed out by Monte and the gang, I made a valiant though brief attempt at participating in the screaming going on in the D&D Next forums over at WotC. I shouldn’t have wasted my time. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that D&D Next is nothing more than an attempt to hold onto the 4E crowd while figuring out some way to bring the Pathfinder players back into the fold. Almost nothing I’m reading makes me want to play this new abomination and certainly nothing about it seems an improvement over Pre 3E D&D, nor will it be a better game than Pathfinder.

The Ford Edsel Model of Design
I’m not surprised that WotC is going down this road again. Surely, in their eyes at least, the previous approach of “survey the fan base, then build a system that matches up with the results” seemed to have hit the mark. I’ve long maintained that 3E wasn’t just successful because of the profound changes it made to 2E, but largely due to the enormous amount of marketing WotC threw at it and what should be obvious to anyone, the OGL and SRD. I posit that equal sales numbers (possibly better) would have occurred had they simply did a slight tweak to the 1E rules accompanied this with the same marketing effort plus the OGL and SRD.

That obviously didn’t happen though and after a while, a percentage of players grew tired of Monte’s and Skip’s “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG” and moved onto other things, a good number even moved back to prior editions. In the due course of time, WotC decided that they needed another reboot and allowed the smart guys over at Paizo to polish their “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG” while they moved onto a “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG”  which, on some level, looks like it was meant to plant a meat cleaver into the Skull of Fantasy Flight Games’ Descent. This resulted in yet another fracturing of the market.

And now, they’re about to fracture the market once again.

I’ve argued for over a decade now that the 3E design team had one fatal flaw, a flaw that continues to this day. TSR did not fail because there was anything wrong with D&D. It failed as a going concern because of what was wrong with TSR. Once the IP was liberated the only thing that WotC really needed to do was put their own stamp on D&D.

We don’t really need another fantasy RPG, but that’s exactly what WotC is doing here. This will be Monte’s 2nd or 3rd Fantasy Heartbreaker to use B/X Blackrazor’s terminology and somehow it’s supposed to unite or unify the editions. How can you do so when you’re dead set on getting rid of a great many of the things that make those editions unique? The mounting evidence suggests that Uniting the Editions is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

For more on Monte's lunacy, check out Will's excellent post HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely correct. I've seen nothing so far to indicate that these guys are drawing any real inspiration at at from anything published before 2000 or so.