Why D&D next is no good


"D&D next is garbage."

That is a pretty strong statement about a game that hasn't been released. I must be a fan-boy of some other system. I must have a prejudice against D&D and the establishment. I must jump to conclusions in the absence of evidence. Really, there must be something wrong with me.

I acquired my opinion from reading their designer blog. I read carefully and reflected on what I was reading with a growing horror. Horror because I know how well it will sell initially -- far better than any other system released next year. Horror because I knew that they are creating a clay golem. Without heart and without and brain it will dominate next year's game market.

Exhibit A: They are not making the game for any reason apart from "the life-cycle of D&D 4.x is over and they are losing 3.x market share to Pathfinder." They don't know what is wrong with the different editions, but they are trying to unify them into a single product. If they can consolidate 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition players into a single ruleset they can sell more books.

So, they have a mandate from marketing. There is a business reason to make a new edition -- but not an artistic one. To this end they are asking for feedback from players -- giving them voting and polling buttons on banal microscopic elements of the rule set. There is an abundant lack of vision. They have assembled a team of technicians who can write rules; but have demonstrated that they are completely without direction. You cannot make art by pandering to the masses.

Exhibit B: They are building from the rules not the experience. They are specifically trying to create the best D&D game, not the best roleplaying game. First, they list a set of D&D contrivances and identify them as "sacred cows." It would not be D&D without these elements is the argument. Sadly, without introducing novel elements to game, they have set their sights on finding the "Universal D&D house rule System." Like Paizo, they don't want to make a new game. They want to exchange rules -- taking what is already written and combining them into a set of "most palatable" rules.
So, I read over the blog postings for the upcoming edition and can no longer contain my contempt and derision.

I dislike TV shows designed by executives; developed by committee; and scripted by formula. I feel the same about my games. Games like Vox, Burning Wheel, True20, GURPS, Riddle of Steel, and so many others have to take a back seat to mindless tripe. I am sure that the art and marketing budget for "D&D Next" will be massive.

And I'll buy a copy too. I may hate myself for doing it -- but it will have a spot on my bookshelf (right beside the 4th Edition PHB).

D&D has several assets:

Common language: Most gamers don't want to spend hours upon hours learning a gaming language that few other people speak. Learning a set of rules is like learning a new language. When you spend time learning D&D then you know that you will have people to speak it with. For good or for ill it is the default language. I don't advise my clients to get a linux server, or a mac server; I advise that they get a Windows server because of interoperability with business software. This has nothing to do with my opinion of the stability or elegance of the linux or mac platforms.

Nostalgia: In the past they have enjoyed the world populated with dwarves, and gnomes, and drow, and this creates a level of comfort. Beyond that it gives them a sense of credibility or legitamicy. Defeating an ancient red dragon has universal credibility in nerdvana. When dealing with anyone who struggles with issues of insecurity they will cling to the familiar.

Front-loaded: The D&D experience is front-loaded so that building your character is more complicated and important than playing your character. This shift of pressure away from the moment of play creates a bubble of safety for the participants. This prevents the player from losing face during play as bad things are the result of bad rolls and bad builds. Players are safely isolated from bad gaming. This leads to the next point about the action out of game.

Out-of-game: The rules are written so that the important decisions about levelling up are made out-of-game. Using a variety of tomes and supplements you can spend your time out of game plotting your character's improvement. Like Napolean Dynamite, your character is valuable for their nunchuck skills and are blind to their social worth. Focusing the game on levelling characters gives the game a way of measuring results.

I guess I have made a list of some not-so-attractive assets of the D&D franchise. From a business point of view I understand how they are going to leverage them. They are going to take your money. I fear they are not going to move the art of the roleplaying game forward. After reading the blogs I don't think they ever intended to. It makes me mad that they will blatantly take your money on a re-release.

D&D: The Phantom Menace in 3D