D&D Next Early Thoughts – It Works But It’s Boring

DD-Next-Image-660x499As I’m sure you know, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, branded as “D&D Next,”  is in open playtest. I brought you stunning coverage of the 4e debacle and resulting edition wars, so surely I need to chime in here! Here’s my take on Next.

I liked and have played Basic, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder in their turn. I hate 4e and eschew it. I said earlier what I’d like to see in 5e – moving back to a really stripped down core more at 2e levels of complexity. And it sounds like they’re doing that.

The D&D Next rules seem fine to me. I welcome a more light approach and removing a lot of the minmax frenzy from 3e+.  When 3e came out I was really excited and migrated from 2e but now in retrospect the rule bloat, christmas tree syndrome, legalism, and min-maxing made me sad and I like what I see in the D&D Next rules per se. Not everything is how I’d design it, but it’s well within the scope of “rules that will work for D&D.”

However, they are committing the cardinal sin of game design – it’s boring.

I can barely make myself read through the playtest packets. I think they’ve miscalculated badly in having no art, no layout, no fluff in there. I’m sure they’d say that’s by design (ignoring how much of a positive impact that had with the Pathfinder playtest – to this day Paizo makes sure to put all playtest docs through layout). But even without that, the text just has no voice.  It could – Savage Worlds, for example, presents a ruleset about the same size with some flair and savoir faire – but reading the Next playtests is like reading a really boring car manual.

Maybe that’ll all be in there when it launches – maybe.  Maybe Aleena the cleric gets whacked by Bargle again and gives us a hate hard-on for him and pulls us into the action. Maybe the art will be inspired and not just aping Pathfinder or using the current “I airbrushed this on my van” art style they seem to like. But even just the writing style does not say “Adventure!” to me, it says “Technical manual!”

Part of a playtest should be to whip up enthusiasm, but like many of my friends, I downloaded and eagerly read packet #1, I downloaded and skimmed #2, I downloaded and didn’t bother opening #3, I didn’t bother downloading #4 at all… It’s not the rules’ fault, and I’m sure if I playtested it my group of good roleplayers would have a grand old time. We know how to add “zazz” on top of any system you put before us.  But if I gave it to some 12 year olds who haven’t played an RPG before? Are they going to bother to finish reading even the reasonable and short page count? Will their imaginations be fired up by what they read – because mine’s not being?

Guys – lean doesn’t have to mean boring.  Someone at WotC, please force the Next design team into a room at gunpoint and tell them they can’t come out until they can tell you the most badass D&D story ever, and then make them write the rules around that story.


9 responses to “D&D Next Early Thoughts – It Works But It’s Boring

  1. I agree about it being boring and have had no interest in trying it. I don’t like the rules either.

  2. “I downloaded and eagerly read packet #1, I downloaded and skimmed #2, I downloaded and didn’t bother opening #3, I didn’t bother downloading #4 at all…”

    That matches my experience almost to a tee. I think I would be following th playtest more if they had more open editorializing/self-criticism explaining what was changing between each packet, instead of just sending me an email with a new download, with no guidance as to what had changed.

    I liked the first packet and how slimmed-down the system was. Then the second packet seemed to abandon that philosophy and become a more complex system with “class kits” and the like. I didn’t know what direction they were going in anymore, and to this day I have no idea.

    Maybe if I perused their playtesting forums and got involved in the discussions I would, but that’s too much involvement for me because I’m currently playing Pathfinder and I’m happy with that for now.

  3. Mad Tinker Gnome

    I hadn’t realised it before but i completely agree. I also find it humouress that this was posted just after the latest release which made it even more boring for me by getting rid of most of what i found fun – namely the skills and some of the character class choices!

  4. I am in complete agreement. I liked what they did with the first couple of playtest releases but after that they seemed to be stripping the fun out of it. I’ve deleted the last few emails they’ve sent me without reading them. I’m sure my group will give the new edition a try when it’s released next year (!) but we’re not excited enough about D&D as a brand to stick with the playtest when there are more interesting and fun games to play.

  5. I’m guessing you haven’t read much about the playtest. WotC has been clear that the playtest rules are just that – rules. The art and flavor text are being developed separately. For info on flavor, check out the Wandering Monster articles by James Wyatt. For info on the art direction check out the Dragon’s-Eye View articles by Jon Schindehette.



    • Eh. Went and looked at those links. Art: “we’ll have art eventually!” Yes, I’m sure. I think it’s a bit pushing it to call those monster articles “flavor”. The existing game plus a big list of monsters is sure utilitarian, but not inspiring.

      Having read some of those articles, I’m still pretty bored and not really inspired to read them more, is the bottom line, and I’m not a priori hostile to Next, so they need to punch it up a bit.

    • Mad Tinker Gnome

      Well i think you are both correct. WotC have been pretty clear that they are just rules and nothing else, and other companies playtests have been less utilitarian and included more flavour. And i think the crux of the article – that in his opinion it would have appealed more to klpzyxm, and possibly others, if it was more flavourful – is one that really resonanted with me.

  6. Eh, I don’t really care what happens to D&D now.

    They told me to fuck off, so I fucked off, and I found Pathfinder to scratch that particular itch. Why should I return to a company that not only didn’t need or want me, but actively told me to leave?

    I suspect this is going to be true for a lot of folks

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