Why I Don't Have High Expectations for D&D Next
by , 04-26-2012 at 12:32 AM (9808 Views)
This one was intended to be quick, but I was writing it while watching my Caps' game 7, overtime win against the Bruins (screw you, Moquin!), so it was composed as an email. When I got home, it wasn't so small. Still, this is really just a very long tweet, expanding on what I tweeted earlier this evening but couldn't do justice in 140 characters.
The primary mechanical reason I believe D&D Next will not serve the 4e segment of the community is that the base system is essentially a 1e/3e hybrid, onto which they plan to layer a "4e module" (among others, we assume) to allow a customized feel to play. At best, this will be awkward and feel like a module designed to shut us up and get our money anyway. At worst, the modularity idea will fail completely. Either way, either sooner or later, we'll give up on trying to play 4e characters in D&D Next, leaving us with a system we don't fully enjoy. This would be bad for both WotC's bottom line and our community, so it's a concern neither they nor we should ignore.
Making matters worse, the reason I believe WotC is willing to give us (i.e., players that prefer 4e) the short end of the stick is that they believe we're less prone to complain if our game is changed radically. After all, we didn't complain when 4e was released, and that system contained major changes. Some said, "This isn't real D&D!", and the rest said, "No kidding! It's better!" My post from earlier today demonstrates that this might not be true, and 4e players are going to unreasonably complain they're being "abandoned," but regardless of whether that plays out, it appears to be WotC's approach to how to deal with us.
Okay, so what should WotC do? I suspect the only way to make the modular approach work is for the system to be much more generic than it currently is. Thus, we shouldn't be able to say, "Gee, this game plays just like #e." Instead, it should be as basic as what the developers use to design, for example, classes, providing us guidelines on how to build our characters at their most basic level, then provide modules to layer on top of that basic character, which will give the character the feel we individually want. Being based on the same, generic system, the characters can at least in theory be balanced, so they can be played together, but they'll each feel the way the player wants them to feel. In other words, give us the tools to build the game we want to play. Isn't that exactly what they claim they're trying to do?
Of course, the problem with this suggestion is that the developers want to hide their formulae for those sorts of things. Without copyright or (almost certainly) patent protection for their system, all they have is trade secret law to make themselves needed. (See, it really is always about IP law!) :-) If they give us the means to build our own game, we might not buy their products anymore. Sure enough, as I was writing this, some tweeters were complaining with how secretive WotC is, as if it's fair to expect them to give away internal information. It doesn't even make sense to do so. However, by promising us modularity, they're essentially putting themselves in a position where they have to do so. When they don't, they won't properly deliver modularity. They're wanting their cake and eating it too, and in the end will piss off everyone.
So, they could provide modularity, but I'd be surprised if they actually did, and that's a PR nightmare waiting to happen. For the reasons stated above, I'm guessing they'll choose the path of appeasing the squeaky wheels (as well as fair-minded 3e fans), and gamers like me will have to make some tough choices. I say it's a tough choice because, assuming I'm terribly unhappy with the eventual outcome, I'd still prefer to stick it out and support WotC (and by extension, the industry and community as a whole), which is ultimately the reason they're not concerned with meeting my needs.
Robert E. Bodine, Esq. practices real estate and intellectual property law in Virginia. He is one of the founding members of the Gamersí Syndicate, a Washington, DC-based gaming club, and part owner of synDCon, a table-top gaming convention. He authors the article series on Loremaster.org, Protection from Chaos, dealing with intellectual property law matters as they relate to the gaming industry. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertEBodine for legal matters, @GSLLC for gaming matters, and if youíre a sports fan, @MMADork.