So now the playtest for D&D Next has officially reached its conclusion (The Next Phase), now begins the winter of our discontent. Or perhaps, I should say the winter of our paranoia. Allow me to explain...
For some, myself included, this playtest has been seen as a great success. The measurement for that success can be quantified in two ways: 1) D&D Next seems to have very little to do with 4th Edition; and 2) The game designers for D&D Next have not only been listening to the playtesters but have also been implementing their suggestions. I personally feel that this D&D by committee was the way to go. It engaged the Dragoneers (that's my own word for people who play D&D) in unprecedented numbers. Suddenly the basement-bound and the closeted dice-rollers had a voice! And they continue to share their opinions by the hundreds even now (D&D Next Forums).
But, as suggested in article "The Next Phase", the goblins and ogres, elves and gnomes at Wizards have now taken over for a few months of tweaking, tinkering, and tampering. That's where my paranoia kicks in because, just like WWII France, it only takes a few months for everything to go wrong. What will they change? What will they keep? What will the final product look like?
In theory, if you figure that the last playtest packet will form the foundation for the final product, then we may be in for something really special. From my view of the playtest, D&D Next is blending together a sweet cocktail of the best from every edition that has preceded it. This makes for a dynamic, easy to learn system, with just the right balance of opportunity to combat and opportunity to role-play. Personally, I would feel great about releasing that last playtest packet as the final product with just a few bells and whistles and art work.
Sadly, I fear that the wooden shoes will be flying during these last few months (look it up!) and things may not pan out as well as I hope. What really scares me is the idea that some of the design team over at Next have to conform the game to the expectations of their masters (i,e. Wizards and ultimately Hasbro). Unfortunately, this means the supreme commercialization of the product in as many permutations as can be humanly conceived. Put simply, the fear is they might kill the game to make more money.
Part of my beef with 4th edition, and the beef of many others, was the amount of planning and purchasing involved to run a game "properly". This included the inclusion of books, supplements, adventures, power cards, tiles, and countless miniatures. I swear that planning a 4th edition campaign sometimes felt like I was making the calculations to land Armstrong on the moon with all of the expenses. For clarification, let's break this down by the numbers:
Purchasing: I would respectfully submit that the average PC of 4th Edition had to buy around $300.00 in materials to play and the average DM around $1000.00. Maybe this is not that much considering that you could be entertained for hundreds of hours, but still staggering when compared to other roleplaying games. For a struggling economy and historically high unemployment numbers, this is quite intimidating.
Planning: In 4th Edition, your average night of game play (3 or 4 hours) required a minimum of 3 to 4 hours to plan out. Compare this with the fact that back in 2nd Edition the planing for the same night of game time might have been an hour at most. Thus you can see why many DMs were turned off. In my opinion, if the game is not as fun for the DMs to run as it is for the PCs to play, it will not survive.
Thus, imagine my surprise and pleasure to find out that the D&D Next playtest was free and simple! It offered to free up my planning time, it offered to cost me nothing except printing fees, and the fun was back! To date, I have tried out D&D Next with as many as thirty players, including two campaigns spanning more than seventy hours each and the results have been impressive. With the exception of those few people who enjoyed the overly detailed, strategic style of 4th Edition (yes Virginia, they do exist!) or those folks who feel that 3.5 will never be topped (that's what a lot of people said about 2nd Edition), I have had few complaints. In fact, I have taken note of the compliments such as: "It's so easy to learn!", "That's just like we used to play.", "Oh! This is a lot of fun!", and many more.
Hopefully, what we will end up having is even better than the playtest. But until that fateful day when the books arrive and we get to see what has changed, my paranoia will remain seated upon a throne in my mind laughing down at me and proclaiming that Murphy's Law shall prevail. However, if that happens, I shall be more than happy to carry on with what I already have: a playtest that I love. Wizards and Company, take note.