July 21, 2012

Accepting the New

After reading countless posts by 4e fans complaining about D&D-Next (hereafter Next), I'm getting worn out. 

I hate to say it, but the majority of the "complaints" simply boil down to "Next isn't 4e." I've got news, folks, it ain't supposed to be. Now take a deep breath, 4e fans. I enjoy the game too. But if you want Next to be a very slightly modified 4e, a 4.5e or 4.25 if you will, it just isn't going to happen. Without having access to private sales data, I can say with some confidence that if 4e books were roaring off the shelves, WotC wouldn't even be discussing Next right now. We probably wouldn't have heard talk of a new edition for several more years. But they are, ergo 4e probably isn't doing as well as hoped and they're probably trying to do something about it.

 A huge portion of have abandoned 4e (or never tried it) in favor of Pathfinder. Other folks stuck with 3.5e. Another segment has gone old school with retroclones, the DCC-RPG, or simply returning to their old 1e and 2e books. This is a problem for Wizards. They're apparently trying to do something about it, via Next.

Let's accept the obvious: This is a new edition. It isn't supposed to be 4e, anymore than 4e was supposed to be 3.5e. If you expect it to be 4.5, you're going to be disappointed. I appreciate that 4e has many fans, many of which would probably rather see a 4.5e. Facing the fact that the official owner of your preferred game is no longer going to support your preferred game edition, well, sucks. I've been there. (Indeed, it's not without some cruel irony that I recall the many people telling 2e fans, "Well you still have your old books!" when 3e came out and took the game in a new direction. And then the 4e fans telling the 3e fans the same thing. It seems we all get our turn at bat.)
There seems to be an urgent attempt by the 4e players to push WotC into making Next as 4e-like as possible, which really diverts the whole purpose of a new edition. The danger is that the WotC boards are mainly full of 4e players, whereas players who abandoned 4e for PF are probably on the Paizo boards or elsewhere, etc., so the designers are hearing more criticism because their active posters in the company boards are happy with the current edition. It's like walking into a Star Wars convention and saying that you're adding Klingons to the official SW universe—the complaints will fly because of the forum you've chosen. I only hope WotC is paying as much attention to the voices outside their own forums as to those within, because otherwise they're getting a skewed sample.

The 4e fans (and not all of them, mind you, some are very open-minded) aren't the only ones demonstrating this style of "I want Next to be the edition I already enjoy" behavior. I purposely went to some of the more popular old-school boards to get the reaction to Next, given it's 2e flavor, and I was both surprised and somewhat disappointed. A number of folks there, the ones that didn't simply refuse to talk about it at all, made comments akin to, "Well next has Rule A, which isn't exactly the same as Rule B in 2e, so I'll never try it." Again, insert a big sigh here, it's a new edition, folks! It isn't supposed to be 2e.
A lot of great, common sense innovations came about in the last twenty years—replacing THAC0 with a target's AC as the target roll needed to hit, for instance?—and it would be foolhardy to abandon those. If Next was supposed to be 2e in every way, shape, and form, WotC would simply reprint the 2e books and save themselves the effort. (Although there's a lot of 2e "feel" to the Next playtest rules, the majority of the rules actually seem 3e-inspired.)

At this point, for better or worse, the D&D market is dreadfully splintered. Getting everyone under one tent is impossible, methinks. It's my own personal belief that WotC should, despite the splintering of R&D staff resources and ad budgets, try to support two editions. And by that I mean actively support them via regular new adventures and supplements (though I loudly applaud their reprinting the 1e books this month). They should make a true 4.5e, to keep the hardcore 4e fans happy, because ultimately that's all a good portion of those folks will accept. And they should make a real old-school D&D, a 2e with some important (but not flavor changing) innovations culled from the newer editions.

Alas, that is a very doubtful scenario. So instead we must accept that Next is a new edition. What we get from it and how we shape it depends on us.
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