For those who hadn’t heard, D&D 5th edition is in development. My reaction is at once unsurprised, but interested. Dungeons and Dragons players tend to be a bit cynical, and so when 3rd (or 3.5) edition was killed off in favor of 4th edition, many players predicted that it wouldn’t be long until Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast killed 4th edition to force players into purchasing another set of books.
I’m not sure if they were right, but it sure looks like it.
It’s a shame, because I liked 4th edition a lot. I personally thought it was a pretty well designed system that resolved a lot of my problems with 3rd edition. Of course, I also liked 3rd edition a lot, and thought that it was a good improvement over 2nd edition (granted, my recollection of 2nd edition is very fuzzy). Both 4th and 3rd edition had their problems, although I would argue that a lot of my perceived problems with these editions simply arise due to the constant production of power-creep enhancements and the ability of the internet to disseminate it all.
I’m currently running a 4th edition campaign, and I’m often surprised at what my player characters can do. Why? Because my players subscribe to the online D&D service that provides all the latest munchkin book goodness for player characters in a handy web application. I am willing to work with players to let them do what they want with their characters and the campaign (it’s a collaboration after all, not my own little lordship) but it’s somewhat annoying to find that players are airily grabbing this and that to min-max their damage and to-hit bonuses. I’m pretty convinced that the sheer volume of crunch leads to the swift decline of the game system as a whole. When the game is mastering the system, then mastery of the system is the end of the game.
In any case, there isn’t much information about 5th Edition out there yet, but Mike Mearls’ letter introducing it seems to indicate that 5th edition will have a modular design whereby players will be able to decide for themselves what they want to use. The goal seems ambitious but also infeasible. There’s a lot of different ideas out there on how D&D should work, developed over the last 30+ years. In that time frame D&D has gone from the archetype to the grand-daddy to the computer-game-simulator. I don’t think it’s possible to bring everyone in under one tent, at least not without essentially publishing a bunch of different rulebooks.
Myself, I’m skeptical of their goals but I’m hoping it goes in an interesting direction. My hopes are especially high that this edition of D&D will focus on delivering a good product that will really embrace new technologies (like phones and tablets) that are becoming ubiquitous and could totally replace reference books for most players.
If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll elaborate a little more later on what I’d like to see in a 5th edition, as a “Best of all Worlds” approach.