Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Man of La Mancha, starring Mike Mearls

I sit before the magic 8 ball with great anticipation.

Me:   "Will D&D Next be the type of game old schoolers like myself will enjoy playing?"
Reply:  "Reply hazy, try again".

Is this possible?  Mike Mearls is on the case.  His most recent Legends & Lore column claimed his primary goals are to "Create a version of D&D that embraces the enduring, core elements of the game", and "Create a set of rules that allows a smooth transition from a simple game to a complex one."  That sure sounds like the kind of D&D that should appeal to someone like me - with such lofty ambitions, how could this project possibly go wrong?

But I see a problem with that mission statement.  The fine print doesn't indicate what are the recognizable elements of each edition that are being "embraced".  Hmm.  Better tune in to the next column and see where this crazy train ride is going next.

In the meantime, the evidence is all over the place.  Character creation is a bit... bloated.  I had the chance to listen to some D&D podcasts from the past year - there are like 4 hours of Penny Arcade podcasts going through character creation.  Lots of time is invested discussing combinations of classes and specialties and backgrounds - so you can make a fighter bounty hunter defender, or a rogue guide skirmisher and similar amalgams of words.  4 hours.  I don't think they're using the word "simple" the same way as me.  Here's some advice - put some random tables in there so folks that don't want to read 20+ pages of options can just roll their combination of words and figure it out later, or even better, make that stuff totally optional and stick it in an appendix.

On the other hand, the Isle of Dread adventure has wandering monster tables!  It's a simple thing, but that implies an expectation that characters are going to wander around aimlessly, running into things.  Exploring, even.  Heck, all of the adventures look 90% closer to something from before third edition than anything that came out using the 2-page encounter and delve formats of the recent regimes.  People, that is downright heartening.  Modules look like modules, the strawberries taste like strawberries, the snozberries even taste like snozberries.  I'd like the bestiary even more if it had things like # appearing in dungeons and wilderness, maybe some outdoor encounter tables by terrain type, like the old DMG, Fiend Folio, and MM2.  The 1E DMG was all about world-building.

Question for readers, who else is paying attention to the D&D Next playtests and what's your latest take?  At this rate, I might just read through one of the packets seriously and even consider coaxing the Spitsberg Pirates to give one of the sample adventures a test drive, when we reach a Black City lull.  I've heard characters are too robust and super-heroic in actual play.

In the meantime, here's to you Mike - keep reaching for that unreachable star:


  1. i saw an image in spectrum magazine from wizards of the coast and it crystalized everything i dislike about them. A party of adventurers looking more like gods than any party of old. Burning hair, armour that looks like battlesuits, neon, chrome, etc. Like a cross between tron and masters of the universe. Reminded me of Gygax stating modern game is a superhero game. My dnd retro clone has a bloated proficiency system and you've helped convince me i need to do a simpler version of skill lists for newbs.

  2. Replies
    1. Roald Dahl was either subversive or really naive.

    2. Or else the meaning I imagine to which you're referring (found via googling), is a post facto definition made up by some kids who wondered what snozberries were and, being 13 (or 18 going on 13), came up with a rude definition. Actually, I found more than one rude definition, along with some non-rude definitions that still fit the 'subversive' mold, but without the sexual overtones and still suitable for children, e.g. 'snozberries' is derived from the word 'schnoz' and they come from your nose. Kids have and make up lots of words for stuff like that...

      I guess I find 'schnoz' to 'snoz' a more believable leap (what? an author playing with words?? and with words that kids would find funny???) than 'snozberries' being something overtly, if obscurely, sexual.

  3. When Monte Cook stated, "The days of edition wars and divided factions among D&D fans are over." My first thought was that I was about to witness Mr. Glass cause the most horrific train wreck at WotC to date.

    Not that I blame Monte Cook for such an ambitious and flawed goal. After all, he was stating that as a WotC employee. No one at WotC was stopping him.

    But then Monte Cook left WotC.

    I thought this would allow WotC to save face. They could easily backtrack, "Monte said that. Those aren't our goals!" Regardless of the truth.

    Samuel Jackson (not Peter O'Toole) is now going to be cast as Mike Mearls.

  4. I wish WotC luck with their next incarnation. I played 4E until it seemed the whole thing was still being play-tested because of all the rules changes and errata. I want to pay money for a complete game, not one that continually needs "software patch updates". I've went to Pathfinder in the meantime.

  5. I guess on the one hand there is only upside. If D&D Next pulls off something interesting, then we all win. If not, well we've still got LotFP, Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, DCC RPG, Crypts and Things, Adventures Dark and Deep, Fate, etc, etc.

    The latest rumor that I came across re, Monte Cook was that there was a conflict between his work for D&D and his work for Numenera. Faced with a choice, he went with his own Numenera, and given its success on Kickstarter, who can blame him?

    1. @Mel
      I wasn't suggesting Monte left because of 5E's goal of world peace. =]

  6. I haven't played D&D since the 3.5 Edition, and I haven't even noticed the discussions about the newer versions; I had to have someone explain to me what Pathfinder was the other day. :)
    The advantage (and drawback) of living in a backwater place like Sweden...

    I abandoned 3.5 because it fel like a system that was constantly limiting me as a GM; I spent most of my time working around the system, rather than having the system work for me. Unfortunately, I don't think newer iterations of this system will change, given who they are being designed for, but you never know.

  7. There are some good ideas in D&D5 and my experience of it is that it's quite light and simple. Character generation didn't seem too onerous.

    That said, they've retracted or undermined some of those good ideas in more recent playtest releases, and have also smoothed out some of the more swingy, fun elements of the rules.

    The current ruleset comes across as a bit po-faced, with a clear striving for "balance" at the expense of unpredictable fun. There is a long way to go before the game is released, so things might go back the other way, but they could also get worse.

  8. "The 1E DMG was all about world-building." Still my favorite RPG book ever.

    My son was running his 4e game, and I signed up for the DnD Next playtest. I had his entire group sign up as well, and we ran the initial module. The kids (well, 15-18 year olds) LOVED how much faster things went, and how much simpler... but to me it was still too complex and too high-powered. More than anything, the playtest inspired me to quit talking about running an OD&D game, and start running one... I'm using the LBBs as primary rules, with additional info from MM1, DMG1, and, because I don't have the original supplements, the thief class as written in Jimm Johnson's "Planet Eris House Rules."

  9. I think the recent play test packets have been mixing in lots of elements from the prospective "advanced" version of the game. The follow up article sounds pretty great to me. Here are some excerpts from Mearls' most recent column:

    The basic rules cover the absolute core of the game. They capture the strengths of basic D&D. These rules form a complete game, but they don't give much detail beyond the rules needed to run dungeon exploration. Characters are created by rolling ability scores (though we have discussed the possibility that your class gives you an array that your race then modifies), picking a race, and picking a class. Skills aren't part of the game, but we've discussed integrating skill dice into the classes (fighters get their skill dice on all Strength checks, wizards on all Intelligence ones, and so forth) to support improvisation and the use of checks. Each class has a default specialty, and its benefits are presented as class features. The specialties are simple but effective, such as bonus hit points or spells.


    The key strengths of the basic rules are that they make the game easy to pick up and play, with fast character creation and classes that default to simple but effective options. Like basic D&D, the rules are more freeform, with DMs encouraged to use the core mechanics to adjudicate corner cases as they come up.

    The basic rules will succeed if they support the key concepts of an RPG, namely that you can try anything and that there are no bounds to what is possible. Like basic D&D, the focus rests on the core concept of an RPG, rather than exhaustive rules or character options.


    In terms of a product, you could imagine something along the lines of a set that covers levels 1 to 10 and includes an adventure of the size and scope of Temple of Elemental Evil. Keep in mind, though, that our specific product plans aren't close to being done, but the example gets at the scope of what we'd like to do.


  10. I agree with Brendan - I checked out the latest column and it indicates a return to the sensibilities that make BX such a simple yet customizable game. Very encouraging to fans of older D&D.

    It's likely the playtest packets to date have involved more complicated options that represent testing the advanced or end-state of D&D Next and have given folks a wrong impression of the Basic version WOTC has been planning.