Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Roll dem stats

Mike Mearls, the head of the DnD Next development team, has made two blog posts talking about the future of DnD.  He talks a lot about their general goals, which can be summarized as 1.  Make Next have all the stuff people are used to from old editions and 2.  Make Next have a simple core that can have lots of modules and addons bolted on to increase complexity.  The idea behind these is obviously to get all the oldschool players on board and find a way to get new players into the game without overwhelming them.  I have talked about the problems with overly complex games attracting new players many times and DnD is the textbook example of this.

I don't like these goals.  First off, what old school players are looking for isn't exact replicas of old crappy mechanics.  They want the old school feel again and that comes primarily from things Wizards cannot provide.  If I could play in a weekly game with Sthenno, Hobo, Iolo, and Wendy again I would play any sack of crap RPG on the market.  We would roleplay, bitch about the mechanics, and have a grand time.  Is Wizards going to sell Wendy, Iolo and Sthenno more time and Hobo a teleporter?  No?  Then any attempt to get me playing for nostalgia's sake is doomed.

Instead Wizards is resorting to a character creation system that consists of three things:  Rolling for stats, picking a race, and picking a class.  So players get literally two choices when building characters and one of those choices is likely dictated entirely by chance.  Write this down folks: beginning the DnD experience with randomly deciding who gets to be powerful and who gets to be crappy is iconic because it is awful.  We remember stat rolling because of how frustrating it was for those who rolled badly or who couldn't play the sort of character they wanted.  Even a super simple stat system where you get a fixed set of stats (16, 15, 13, 12, 10, 8, for example) to assign as you please is fine.  The system where you try to get your character killed so you can roll again and maybe get a better one was a failed experiment.

A year ago I went to the a game designer meet to show off my game FMB.  I got a fantastic piece of advice there from a veteran, which was that I should scrap the multitude of options and just make the best possible game.  I cut down FMB from 2-4 players to just 2 players and from beginner/advanced to one set of rules.  After doing that I was amazed at how much better it was when I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and just made something awesome.  Next is falling into the same trap I did in trying to do everything at once, providing multiple layers of difficulty settings and rulesets.  If you try to please everyone you will end up pleasing no one.

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