The Waiting Game

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 09 February 2012

Cuckoo clock (from Wikipedia)Cuckoo clock (from Wikipedia)The last 2 months have been filled with a lot of waiting. Waiting for announcements. Waiting to learn more. Waiting for the mourning period to be over. Lots and lots of waiting.

The hard part, for me and a fair number of others, is that we love most, if not all, of the changes that were made in 4e. I realize that in presentation, the game easily could be seen as a radical departure from the past. And the particular way the designers evolved the rules of the past to form the 4e ruleset at least makes it harder for some to see the game's past in them. I can only speak from my point of view, but to me, 4e was an amalgam of previous editions, letting the non-combat be more freeform and rules light like my experiences in OD&D were while providing rules to make fair the life and death combat scenarios. I know others will disagree, but that's how I've always seen 4e.

Some of you will remember this but it bears mentioning anyway. When I started playing, I was enthusiastic about the game. I loved to post about what I did and how I enjoyed it. I'd get some people who would put me down for not playing D&D correctly and others in the community would support me. The latter is and will continue to be the awesome part of what we have online.

But I also learned something else, not everyone enjoyed the game the way I did. Part of what led to me learning game design was a desire to take the 4e ruleset and create the type of experience they talked about because I have a huge amount of empathy for people who love D&D but don't feel like the rules support their style of play. Why? Because I spent over 20 years on the sideline, watching, and unknown to me, waiting for 4e to come out. I truly want this to be a game that captures the feel of D&D in all, ok, most, of its forms and also supports the vast array of playstyles shared by the D&D community.

The early editions of the game, because they were the seeds of the D&D tree, were lighter weight and more tightly focused on the implied style of play of the time. If we're going to have a game for all, the core of that game has to look very similar to them. This makes sense because everything we know today was built out from that core. We need to test that the game can handle an adventure from that time period and still both feel like D&D and come across as fun. And Caves of Chaos, part of the introductory Keep on the Borderlands, is the perfect adventure to use since many, especially at a convention like DDXP, no longer play D&D that way, at least not on a regular basis.

So, it's going to take some time before they get to the mods that form the basis of the 4e playstyle. I'm ok with that. I'm going to do my best not to worry about whether or not every mechanical choice in the core rules feels like 4e, because, in fairness, they probably shouldn't. I will try to give my opinion of what I think is fun. I will try to figure out if the proposed core rule precludes the feel of a 4e game. When I think it does, I'll say something constructive. Beyond mechanics, I will be a voice who tries to push to a more inclusive world story, but again, doing my best to stay constructive.

To the fans of the later editions: Our time will come. We just need to be a little patient and wait.


One word: Amen

This is what I'm worried about-- not from WotC, but from the player base they are trying to coerce to "come back to the new edition". It's ironically the opposite of the die-in-a-fire debacle that was the 4E marketing campaign. I am afraid that because they are billing the game as "feeling like all the previous editions at the same time", that people are going to take that really to heart and not get it into their heads that this is going to be a NEW edition, and that things will be different. And then, when they aren't EXACTLY the way that people wanted, the flamewars begin and the Edition Wars get even worse.

I have confidence that the Design Team can make a great game. I am even confident that it will be LIKE the past editions-- a Greatet Hits, if you will.

What I don't have faith in is the fanboys and nerdrage which often screams the loudest and gets heard the most.

I'm looking forward to being able to play in a game that will have some of the great innovations 4E brought to the game while still having more of a classic feel to it. :)

There are so many ways to play the game, and so many ways to arrive at that play style. Your example really shows that - you call 4E rules-light and free-form (and I can agree!) where others would say the opposite and say they favor 4E because it works so hard at establishing clear detailed rules and focusing the experience in a common way (and I can agree with this view as well!).

I do think that D&D Next can do a good job at pleasing both. The key will be on the modules, but I think even Essentials has shown some great ways you can have simplicity, flexibility, and still be competitive with complex options. The Hunter is a very complex class for Essentials, but the way it can use a basic attack and turn on one of three options is a great capture of providing tactical choice but keeping builds simple, making things balanced, and providing fun play variety. My Hunter used to be a Crossbow Rogue with Cunning Sneak and I had to convert when the Sup Xbow no longer was allowed for sneak attack. Despite a much lower power selection my PC is just as effective.

Similarly, I've been having fantastic story and role-playing in my Dark Sun 4E home campaign. But I realize this is not true for all players. Some of it is experience, but a lot of it was how the game was written and what it "sold" to DMs and players. D&D next can balance that better, creating flexibility rather than driving at tactical play.

There's a lot of things to love about old-school D&D, I cut my teeth on it and the lessons it taught me inform my games today, but I can honestly say that I really enjoy the mechanics of 3e and 4e a lot more (not a big fan of esoteric subsystems and a complete reliance on player skill vs. character skill). If 5e looks too much like 1e or BX mechanically I am going to be disappointed.
What I want from the new edition is the customizability and mechanical differentiation of classes from Pathfinder on the player's side and the preparation time and monster rules (ease of creation, monsters' mechanical differences reinforce story differences) of 4e on the DM's side. I really hope that with the rules modules I can have that.
Looks like I'm just going to have to be patient and wait for the public playtests.

The great thing about different style of play is that it means that there is something for everyone. I hope that you will continue to write about your experiences of the game and thank you for sharing.

"I truly want this to be a game that captures the feel of D&D..."

Unfortunately, the designers of 4E were explicitly NOT trying to do that. So that was always a bit of a quixotic quest. And now 5E has the unenviable task of somehow trying to bridge that gap and unite two games that have fundamentally different gameplay.

Frankly, I doubt it can be done.

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