Reading @SarahDarkmagic's latest post, named Recently Initiated Loud Mouth, made me think of the pipe dream I had after Unearthed Arcana came out for D&D 3.5e. So instead of rambling on in a comment over there, I'll clutter up my own corner of the 'Net with it. Yes, it will require some work. Yes, it will be a different approach to D&D, and it may well be unpopular. But I'll tell you anyway because I like you.
Centralize and digitize the rules, then let GMs pick the rules they want to include in their games. No elves? No problem! Uncheck the box and they're gone. Want inherent bonuses to avoid the magic item glut? Click and done. Alternate hit point and healing rules? You've got 3 options, go crazy. After the GM is done selecting rules, an email goes out to the players with a link to the character builder pre-loaded with campaign-specific options and ready to print or save as a file to use on other campaign-planning sites. Also, the GM can download a PDF of the hyperlink-riddled Rules Handbook for that particular campaign, complete with simple personalization like the campaign name in the header of each page.
As new rules come out, add them to the list of options, but they won't change any existing Rules Handbooks. You could offer "pre-set" rule choices so if you wanted a bare-bones Starter Box game or a Dark Sun game, one click would get you the rules as written which you could then customize. You could even extend this idea to allow sections of user-generated house rules inserted into specific locations within the PDF. If the author wishes to share his house rules with specific fellow GMs or even with the whole community, that's as easy as clicking a button.
For the publisher, this gives incredible insight into what rules and settings are popular, and so what products would be well received. For an enthusiastic fan base who create House Rules, the community can "vote up" a particular house rule by using it in their campaign. The publisher would have access to the house rule usage stats and provide a convenient stable of new rules and content authors. The publisher could approach the author of the house rule to develop the rule further to make it an official rules option through the rules site or develop it as a full-blown adventure or setting supplement.
Truth be told, I'm a systems guy. I love tinkering with how the world operates and then turning the players loose to figure out how the world works. I view rulesets as toolboxes, as ways to express the stories and scenes I have in my head. This approach would be the ultimate toolbox. You could cover the gamut from extremely rules-light Blue Book D&D to really crunchy settings like Birthright or Dark Sun with a click and a printout.
Further, it moves the rules from static book form to a digital format from the ground up. Integration with tablets and smartphones would be easy with a smart enough API. Granted, no core rulebooks other than the Rules Handbooks the GM prints means no aftermarket for used core products, which makes me a little sad. But I think the freedom granted to GMs more than makes up for it.
What do you think about this approach? Too radical? Too practical? Like it? Hate it? Do you want your five minutes back?