D&D 5th Edition

WotC have announced that they've started work on a new edition of D&D. Assuming they stick with numbers, and don't call it "iD&D" or "D&D: The Next Generation" or something, this will be the 5th edition. It'll probably be out in about 2013, which means 4th edition will have had a five year lifespan.

4E was widely deemed a failure by people who didn't play it. For those who did, it was a different game to its predecessors; much more tactical, less strategic, far less narrative. It came with a lot of simplification in setting, too, particularly in cosmology. It isn't a bad game, but it's a very different one.

Expectations for 5E seem to be that it will hew closer to 3.0 and 3.5. As far as many players are concerned, 3.5 was the ideal, and the success of the Pathfinder game - based on an engine very similar to 3.5 - bears this out. However, WotC are saying that they're looking for large quantities of player input on this edition. I'm not sure what to make of that, really. Design by committee is never a success, but listening to the audience is important too. Early - and public - user testing seems to be the route they're going down, and that seems reasonable enough.

Monte Cook is on board for this edition as well, and I've a lot of respect for Monte's design skills. Notably, he was involved in 3.0 and 3.5, but not in 4E. I'm not saying, I'm just... saying.

The announcement was heralded by articles in the New York Times and in Forbes. The NYT article is higher profile, but the Forbes coverage is more interesting, for two reasons.

First, the writer of the article - David M. Ewalt - has played an early version of 5E, and likes it. And indeed, he has now published accounts by other people who have played it. That means that there has been some solid development work done already.

Second, there's mention from Mike Mearls that the new edition will be modular, in the way that Burning Wheel and Diaspora are - you choose the subsystems and levels of detail you want per campaign. This is interesting because it allows for more flexibility than previous editions, at least officially. It was commonly accepted that some rules - grappling in 3.0, for instance - were just not used, except by that small subset of players who loved them. If you can decide the level of granularity of combat and magic use within the rules, that opens up a lot more possibilities. Here's a quote from Mearls himself, in the Forbes article:

Mearls says the new edition is being conceived of as a modular, flexible system, easily customized to individual preferences.

“Just like a player makes his character, the Dungeon Master can make his ruleset,” says Mearls. “He might say ‘I’m going to run a military campaign, it’s going to be a lot of fighting’… so he’d use the combat chapter, drop in miniatures rules, and include the martial arts optional rules.”

“You can have as little or as much customization as you want,” he says. “It’s about letting people find their own way to play.”

It is very unlikely that I will adopt 5E as a main system for my games; I like Fate too much to back to number-based systems. But it's entirely possible that sometime in 2014, I'll convert the 4E game I'm running now to the new edition.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 10, 2012 9:24 AM

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