Monday, June 23, 2014

D&D 5th Edition: High Expectations?

Today in The Cube:

When Wizards of the Coast announced in 2012 that they were going to do an open playtest of what they were then calling D&D Next, it seemed like the premier of that new edition would take forever.

Well, it's right around the corner: the new Starter Box is set to come out next month, and is already the #1 selling D&D item on Amazon.com.

As a big fan of D&D, I'm going to run a 5th Edition campaign for a couple of friends, and I'm looking forward to it. However, I have to say that I don't yet know what exactly to expect from the new set. I didn't participate in the Beta Playtest (I was on the mailing list but didn't have a chance to run any of the material) and, honestly, didn't pay attention to many of the various debates that there were on Twitter, etc., about it.

One thing that has beeb publicized is that this set is supposed to enable varying styles of play. While 3/3.5 was endlessly customizable and deeply atmospheric (and also too heavy on charts) and 4e was easy-to-run and tactically-centered (but too hard-wired), at least the hype is that this new set will be able to let you make the game your own.

So, with that, here are my hopes and expectations for 5th Edition:

Maintain Simplicity
While consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds (according to Ralph Waldo Emerson), it's not entirely the case in role-playing games. With that in mind, having seen the character sheet for the 5th Edition Fighter from the Starter Box, I'm glad to see that the simplified Skills list created for 4th edition will be kept up. There's also been talk that the character creation process and encounter generation process will only take minutes as opposed to hours, so that's a definite plus.

Promote Atmosphere
While you can introduce intriguing environments and rich characters in any version of D&D regardless of the rules set, it's hard not to recognize that the 4e ruleset was highly focused on character power and battle more than atmosphere and role-playing. I'd like to see sections of the new core books devoted to options that give players and DMs suggestions for more imaginative play.

Fix the Powers System
This was probably the most controversial part of the 4e system – the mechanic that each class had their own attack powers. Some likened them (unfavorably) to "spells" for each class. It made sense for a game that, in all honesty, was trying to compete with World of Warcraft and other video/online games that focused on "epic" player abilities. I actually enjoyed the power system, but it was pretty alien from what D&D had been before, and turned out to be a major shift. While the Starter Box character sheet doesn't mention powers, that doesn't mean they won't return in some degree. If they do come back, they need to be tweaked so that they're not such an overwhelming part of the game.

New Campaign Settings
While at least one report has indicated that we could be seeing the return of popular campaign settings like Eberron and Forgotten Realms, I'd love to see some additional new campaign settings - things, perhaps, that we haven't seen before – or in a long time. This could be the time for WotC to create a Sci-Fi campaign setting, or even bring back something akin to the d20 Modern rules set.

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