Dec 30, 2011

The State of Dungeons & Dragons: Future

Greg Tito over at the Escapist Magazine wrote an interesting article on the state of Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension the roleplaying game business in general.

There are several quotes by Mike Mearls scattered through out, a man largely responsible for 4th edition. Mike is a smart talented designer but I have to disagree with some of his assessments of the problems with 4th edition.
"Mearls admits 4th edition might have gone too far in creating a perfectly balanced game." 
No, I don't think that's the problem. Setting aside the impossibility of creating a perfectly balanced RPG, a task harder than catching a unicorn in real life, the real problem is how far it strayed from D&D and the fact that it is weird - and not weird in a good way. Mike was actually closer to the problem in a later quote:

"You don't want a situation where someone comes into a room and says 'Hey guys, I'm playing a Shardmind Seeker' and the response is 'What the hell is that?'" he said. "I know what it is because I worked on it, but it's not even in the Player's Handbook. If you [publish] too much, that shared language, it just evaporates."

The production values of 4th edition are great, and some of the products are really impressive. In particular the Map Tile sets are spectacular, and the board games based on it are wicked cool. It is a fantastic game, if they had just called it anything but D&D.

The best summary of the problems with 4th edition I heard was at Gen Con the year it was released when a (well rounded gamer) friend came back from a demo session with a puzzled look on his face and all he said was "what the hell was that?". That pretty much encapsulates my whole experience with it. It was like something from some strange outer dimension called Left Field.

The solution is given at the end of the article, and this is something I wholeheartedly agree with:

"Let's just play D&D," he said. ... [Let's] get back in touch with what makes role-playing games great, what makes D&D great."

I think the OSR is busy doing that.