I've downloaded the latest D&D Next playtest materials with the Sorcerer and Warlock. I started reading the PDFs and I started ticking items off my mental checklist of what was in there:
- Basic Character Classes? Check.
- Character Creation Rules? Check.
- Notes on How to Play the Game? Check.
- A Starter Pile of Monsters? Check.
- Treasure Tables (even though some are copied from the AD&D books)? Check.
- Experience Rules to Advance Through Level 5? Check.
- A Demo Module (actually two of them with the Caves of Chaos)? Check.
All we need is a few starter traps, a fold-out map or poster, and a set of dice. Then you know what we have?
A D&D BASIC BOXED SET.
If we're talking about a modular ruleset, and if we have the system basics buttoned up with this playtest, it seems like we can push off more advanced topics and more complicated rules to other sets or supplements, right? If that's the case, can we get a Basic Set in time for the Christmas rush?
Consider: This'll be a shot in the arm revenue-wise, rather than stringing the playtest along for another year while everyone waits for a product to ship. You may hook a younger crowd with a boxed set in time for Christmas - something that was missing from 4e, I think. And future sets can roll out as the years go on. it's a softer launch with a clear upgrade path, both in game play and product line.
On Rolling Power Levels
In my mind, waiting to design the whole system before shipping any of it works if there's not a large power scale. Amber Diceless or FATE or any of a pile of Indie games fits this category. D&D really doesn't. the role of a character changes as they level up. Sure, there are still larger monsters, but if that's the only challenge facing the PCs, the players will get bored. At Paragon, the PCs become movers and shakers in the world, but their role is still handling wetwork for existing rulers? I don't buy it.
The Tier system in 4e makes sense, but I'm not sure it went far enough compared with the old BECMI boxed sets. Paragon makes sense for introducing leadership and land ownership, but nothing of the sort came out for 4e. Under BECMI, once you hit name levels you can own castles and run your own fiefdom as spelled out in the Companion set. And since every rule is a guideline, they can still leave their holdings in the hands of a trusted regent or steward and run off to beat up the occasional big bad monster.
I'd love to see guidelines and systems for letting PCs ascend to godhood and still remain playable. In the old Immortals set, you only directly challenge truly unique monsters and rarely at that. The rest of your time is spent competing with other gods for followers and sources of power. It's still very much questing for power, but it's a very different game. Even so, it still reads as D&D if it's done right.
Disclaimer and Plea
I don't know what the plans for D&D Next are, nor am I affiliated with Wizards of the Coast in any way that I know other than "Playtester". I have zero pull on the design process other than aggregated responses to a questionnaire. But the more I think about approaching D&D Next as a linked series of sets based on power level, the more I think this is the way to go, especially in the short term.
Is it even possible to get something on the shelves by this Christmas? Electronically, definitely. But for traditional distribution I just don't know. I'd love to see it happen in some form, but I'm not holding my breath.
Having a Rules Cyclopedia after all the D&D Next sets come out would rock. The old Rules Cyclopedia is one of the hardest supplements to find on the secondary market, which speaks to its lasting value.
I don't know what internal discussions have happened on what D&D Next is going to look like in terms of product line, but please consider the BECMI model. Other non-core set rules modules can come out as quick PDFs or inexpensive small paperbacks. I'm not sure there's a need for a slim hardback for one focused rule expansion.
If we're going modular, let's try for the smallest units possible like when normalizing a database. New players can pick up the basics with one product and then add on whatever they want to play with from there. Cheap entry, but deep product line, and a happy customer base no matter how much they happen to buy. Everybody wins.
Thank you for reading this open letter. This thought just had to come out of my head today or there would have been trouble in Wombat's head. Nobody wants that. Also thanks to the folks in the Gamer Assembly chat for encouraging me when I first brought it up, specifically Fitz and Adam. Even the smallest feedback is greatly appreciated.
As for you on the Next Design Team, keep up the great work. I can't wait to see what's next with Next.