D&D Next is coming. Yet another reinvention of Dungeons and Dragons. And I do mean a reinvention. When AD&D came out there were changes, sure, but it expanded and deepened the game we were all playing.
When Second Edition came out, it was the same sort of situation. There were more changes, but AD&D characters could be converted with minimal effort. Some new options were popular, like the increased number of specialist wizards and specialty priests, and the introduction of nonweapon proficiencies (replacing second professions). Other changes drew rampant mockery, such the removal of devils and demons and replacing them with the off-brand baatezu and tanar’ri.
But then with 3rd Edition the game was entirely revamped. Devils and demons came back, but experience and hit points were reworked, THACO was thrown out, and the statistics were broken down along modifier lines. And these are only a few of the changes. Converting characters could still be done, but required significantly more work, not least because of the new feats and skills systems.
Those last two represented the largest single mechanical changes to the game since its inception. They represented methods of customizing characters beyond their classes (taken further with advanced multiclassing and new prestige classes) and began to represent with mechanics what had only been done with roleplaying before.
They also represented a shift in the philosophy of the game. Through Second Edition the mechanics had been focused on combat and left everything else to the players. It also worried little about game balance, leaving the control in the hands of the Dungeon Master, for better or worse. 3rd Edition expanded the role of mechanics, trying have them cover both game balance and roleplaying.
This shift continued through 3.5 and into 4th edition, where game balance became central to design (primarily through combat effectiveness) with roleplaying a major secondary concern. This had the effect that characters from previous editions were left behind. They could not be converted, per se. Too much had changed. They could be recreated with an eye toward concept, but that’s it.
Is 4th Edition fun? Absolutely. Hell, I ran the most successful D&D campaign ever using 4th Edition. (Of course, that was more the result of the players working with me than a direct effect of the game mechanics).
But is it D&D?
Apart from certain identifying intellectual property (like Mind Flayers), 4th Edition doesn’t have much more in common with early Dungeons and Dragons than GURPS Fantasy has. Or Dungeon World. Or Burning Wheel.
And now D&D Next is coming, yet another stripping down the system for a complete overhaul.
For the first time since I started playing back in 1976, I don’t know if I care. I’m thinking that if I want to play D&D again, I may just homebrew some of the changes I like from 3rd and 4th Editions onto Second Edition and go from there.
I don’t know. I’ll have to play with the idea some.
For the D&D players out there, what do you think? What’s your favorite version? And if you wanted to remix your own version, what would you do?