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D&D Next Seeks to Regain RPG Crown
At Gencon, Wizards of the Coast presented panels and a Keynote Address describing the philosophy behind their work on the upcoming incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons, called D&D Next. For the first time in four years, I’m a little excited about the game again. Mike Mearls, Senior Manager of D&D R&D, talked at length about putting the rules of the game in the backseat and keeping fun and excitement firmly in charge, a philosophy long since missing from the game. Rather than cater to gamers in the middle of the spectrum, Mearls said that D&D Next would aim to allow gaming groups to explore the entire spectrum and find their own middle ground, ensuring that the Dungeons and Dragons experience could be modified to their liking.
He also talked about Wizards as being the stewards of D&D, and that it was important to recognize and respect the past editions of the game, something that they’ll do by releasing the entire catalog of products from every edition in ebook format. This will start with the first edition core books (Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook and Monster Manual) and continue from there, though the exact schedule wasn’t spelled out during the panel. Being an old schooler, I’ve got ninety percent of the products in dead tree editions, but it’s a cool thing for people who’ve never played or seen earlier editions of the game.
The new edition will focus on the stories that the players are telling rather than the larger than life super NPC’s we’ve all come to know from the various game worlds, so player’s decisions and actions in the official adventures may have an actual impact on how the canon storyline moves on from there. The mechanism for this wasn’t clear yet, but it might be something as simple as an online survey. This isn’t a new idea, Torg did something similar with paper surveys, and how tournament matches turned out in Legend of the Five Rings card game affected the storyline going forward. But it’s a great idea to let the players influence the metaplot in some way, even if it’s something as simple as “this adventure played out this way in the official setting.”
The first official setting will be The Forgotten Realms (no real shock there.) The plan put forth was to focus on one setting at a time, so that the best material for each world can be created.
But a new edition requires a corresponding change in the world, and for The Forgotten Realms, that change is called The Sundering. Two adventures are planned, and there’s also a six novel series that focuses not on the larger event itself but on the effects the Sundering has on the lives of six different Realms characters, including Drizzt and Elminster. There may or may not be an anthology of shorter stories like those for other Realms-shaking events, but I for one would like to see it happen.
All this sounds great, but there will be people who are understandably reticent to return to D&D after 4th edition (or whichever edition it was that turned them off in the first place.) That’s where the Open Playtest would come in, so that players can give their feedback and perhaps change how something works that they see as not working.
Wizards isn’t rushing the product to market. I heard estimates of a two year playtesting period, but we’ll see if that turns out to be true.
In any case, I’m cautiously optimistic about D&D Next.