A letter to Mike Mearls I never sent. Funny how so much of what I mentioned is now a part of 5e...
Hi Mr. Mearls,
Thanks for taking the time to read my note. ; I know you're very busy. I'm a long time gamer that started with 1e back in 1981. Though I've played 3.5 and 4e they are not really my style of play. I'm an old school gamer mostly playing C&C, but have played OSRIC when unable to get a 1e game together.
I'll be honest I've been a bit dismayed by the current directions of D&D, but I'm not really here to write about all that. I, like many others, are wondering about the rumors that Wizards is contemplating a 5e release. This is, as always, exciting. Especially since I hope against hope that maybe this edition will be closer to the way I like to play.
So I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to express my hopes for a 5th edition. I copy to you here my most recent blog post regarding these hopes and recommendations. I know I'm but one voice in the wilderness, but I do know that there are others who think similarly to me. So without further ado, my post:
What Wizards of the Coast Could do to Win me Back With 5e
Well, not win me back, but win me over. They never really won me. They seduced me for a time, but I have always abandoned their editions after short stints of trying them out. But I can't help but wonder what would 5e have to look and play like for me to become a devoted 5e player and WoTC Customer? This is what I came up with:
Go Rules Light: The core of the system needs to be light and flexible. It would have to resemble 0e and B/X more than 1e and certainly lots more than 3.5 or 4e. This includes several things,
Stick with iconic classes: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic User. Make PC creation about character development, not adding lists of skills, proficiencies, powers, feats, prestige classes and blah blah, blah. Other games have already done that. But about _real_ character development. About history, background, parentage, personality etc. etc. Lead the way into letting people know that D&D is about telling stories not building the perfect program of a character. Skills are linked with class, you don't need to list them. If a fighter should be able to do it he can do it. Have it roleplayed or maybe linked to an ability check.
Simple, but elegant and flexible, Vancian Magic. There's some room for play here imo. Magic could be more dangerous and wierd ala Swords & Sorcery. In most Swords and Sorcery literature magical items are powerful and dangerous, not useful little trinkets. And spellwork can cost you your sanity, your life or your soul. You could incorporate some optional rules to make magic more complex, and perhaps more flexible, especially in magical combat.
Fast, streamlined combat as a base, with options for making it more complex. GURPS is sort of the icon for complex combat. But GURPS gives a basic combat option. I'm not saying to make the combat like GURPS, but maybe build two combat rule sets. Basic combat and advanced or full combat rules. So people who like all the crunch can add it in, but don't have to. And I'm NOT talking about PC options or power builds. I'm talking about combat rules like crits, movement, dodging, parrying, grappling, etc. etc.
Stick With The Core Rules!
PHB, DMG, MM only!
New supplements should be adventures, worlds, novels, magazines (please bring back Dragon in print!), articles, comics, minis, myth & legends, homages to Appendix N style literature, art, posters, T-Shirts, retrospectives on past supplements, etc. etc. But NOT a freakin new core rulebook addition every blasted 15 minutes!!!!!
Take Submissions! What a novel idea!! Instead of paying 60k/yr + bennies to five or six writers, pay 60k/yr + bennies to a good editor or two and take submissions for material. You save tons of money, involve your fanbase, and still maintain control over content. Nothing gets out without your approval, at least not officially. And heck, look at all the overnight sensations that have cropped up in the OSR. You've got tons of gamers dying to write stuff for games. Pay them $1000 or so a pop and I bet you get all sorts of stuff pouring in.
Keep The Community Alive. Don't ditch Wednesday Night Encounters. Just shift to the new edition. And beef up the RPGA and sponsor more RPGA events. Let some fans run living campaigns sanctioned by the RPGA. They can even be at minimal cost. Allow it on a volunteer basis. Instead of your massively flopping DDO attempt, set up a website that caters to pbp and skype gaming where DMs can run blog-like worlds that gamers can participate in. Don't go MMO--stick with what D&D does best: in-person RPG play, even if people are coming together digitally. It would work like this: A DM volunteers, registers with the RPGA/WoTC and gets set up with a framework site that includes a blog feature, a pbp feature (like a forum), and a skype feature. The skype like feature is a virtual tabletop where all the players log on and can see each other and the interface allows everyone to be seen, maybe has a pc view feature, digital dice roller, mapping tool, etc etc. You could charge monthly fees, and could even offset costs by selling advertising on these sites to third party publishers. These games could be RPGA sanctioned or they could be purely private. Then a group of skype players scattered from all over could actually get together at conventions and the like and played sanctioned games. One of the hardest things for some people is to find people and time to play with. Wednesday Night Encounters has gone a long way to eliminating this and I'll admit that I prefer physically present play; but I am really considering skype play simply because of lack of local players.
I'm telling you, WoTC could be at the cusp of a revolution. Such a change would not only win me over it could win back the gaming world and rise to the top once again. By creating a "Universal D&D" model that is compatible with all the big names of the gaming field: 0e, Basic/Expert, OSRIC, 1e, 2e, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, Castles & Crusades, Lamentations of the Flam Princess, BECMI, Dark Dungeons, Delving Deeper, Swords & Wizardry, etc. etc. etc. You open up a new era of gaming. An era where the biggest and most powerful publisher is bringing back in the fan base and returning to its roots. The new game can be a key that unlocks the worlds to all these games and much much more. WoTC owns the D&D name. They might as well use it to reassert itself. Become the D&D that will serve as the true Archon of the hobby it deserves to be. What Wizards does not own is the rules. Only the content. Don't create a new game with new rules, you don't own those either. You own content. Presentation. Play with those factors. Using all of its proprietary material and trademarks D&D can stand apart as the unique and original source from whence all fantasy gaming springs. But at the same time embracing the grassroots passion it has ignited in the hearts of so many.
Imagine a world where the name everyone thinks of when they think of fantasy worlds is Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Dark Sun. Use the content you already have! Make the worlds even bigger and better than before. Don't wrench them from their foundations and slap a new rule set on them. What you've done to Forgotten Realms is heinous. You haven't just changed it, you've erased it. Shame on you. And you've completely dropped the second gaming world of all time: Greyhawk. A game IS its world. Yes, we all create our own worlds. But games are often linked thematically and spiritually to the worlds against which they are painted. And yes there can be more than one if they are done in high enough quality. D&D had several. Think of Runquest. RQ did not get played because of its rules but more so because of Glorantha. Glorantha served as a shining beacon to what RQ could be. We need more of that and less rules tinkering. No one else can do this because you own every whit of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Mystara, Gamma World, Boot Hill, etc. etc. Reclaim them!! Reclaim them and take us on new journeys within them. You do this and hordes of gamers will flock to the stores to buy your products. Discussions will begin to be again about worlds, races, political intrigues, mysteries, murders, adventures, treasures, heroes and gods. Not rules and playstyles. Please! I beg of you. I long for a world like this once again. A world where magination is the reason we play, not some sort of gaming activism.
It really wouldn't be that hard to do. But that is what it would likely take to win me over to supporting a 5th edition. Anything else won't do. I'm not sure what they have in mind, but it has to get back to its roots. D&D should focus on the content that made it famous, not the rules. Sure implement the new and great stuff in game design that we use today. Fine. But reclaim the game's spirit.
GenCon is August 4th to the 6th. On the 6th at noon WoTC is holding its product announcement sessions. There it will announce what new products players can expect for the coming year. I, like other more respectable names in the gaming industry, fully expect an announcement that 5e is in the making. I guess we'll see. You just might have the chance to bring the gaming community back together again Wizards. You've failed my twice already. Please make the third time a very powerful charm. Please.
Thanks again for taking the time to listen to my suggestions. I apologize if in any way I have offended. That was not my intention. My blog posts are a bit acerbic at times. But what I truly desire is to help the game be the best it can be.
Chris Jones aka Sizzaxe