Game Designers Seek the Impossible for D&D Next
As most people in the Dungeons and Dragons gaming community know already, Wizards of the Coast has undertaken the mammoth task of trying to recreate a game that will please everyone, allowing them to pick and choose what rules they want to use. Wizards of the Coast will do this by attempting to implement a modular rules design.
Can Wizards of the Coast really pull this off? I hope they can, I really do, but I just don’t see how it is going to work, at least not without some serious re-thinking. I don’t see how people are going to enjoy looking through tons of unfocused books and difficult-to-navigate content and online compendiums to find the actual rules they want to use; and I don't see how a modular game design with multiple sets of rules will work side by side in the same game.
The first thing I think Wizards of the Coast needs to do, if they are going to make this work, is to create a better system of providing personalized content, perhaps find a way to utilize the DDI Compendium in this manner and to create books that use on-demand-style publishing to give gamers more focused modular compendiums. Why not use today’s technology to deliver this personalized content? Is that even possible, though? If it is, it would be revolutionary.
Without such personalization and presentation, though, I’m afraid they may be doomed to failure. Trying to please everyone will only prove to be an impossible task that serves to provide an expensive-to-produce and overly cumbersome set of rules that will be extremely difficult to navigate and contain countless rules gamers will have to pay for and ignore as they search for rules they actually want. Even now, with fourth-edition’s rules-focused version of the game, it can be difficult to find a rule on, say, ongoing damage when one is uncertain as to how it is supposed to be implemented. Imagine having to wade through dozens more books and heaps of extra material and add-ons to find the specific rules you are actually looking for? It will only serve to slow the game down.
Even if the issue of personalized content is resolved, though, Wizards of the Coast is still going to need to deal with the problem of group play. How will multiple players operating under differing gaming systems be able to play together, and how will popular public-forum game get-togethers, such as D&D Encounters and D&D Assault, work in an environment where total strangers gather to play?
For instance, if you have one player in a gaming party using a Vancian-style wizard, and another playing a fourth-edition style wizard, I think things are going to get whacky real fast and game balance, especially, will become an issue. On the other hand, I do see how making the two styles a play choice before a campaign starts is possibly a viable option (i.e. everyone agrees either to operate under Vancian-style wizard rules before the campaign starts, or they operate using 4e wizard style rules, etc.). That, too, has its problems though. For instance, who is going to want to shell out $30 for a D&D Next book full of countless "options" that will never be used at their table? That is just valuable and wasted print space that would be better served to improve a more focused style of game. It will also make the books difficult to navigate and use because players will need to flip past countless optional rules to get to the ones they want. If this is the case, WOC might as well release two different versions of the game at the same time. That way all the rules being used in both styles of the game are optimally organized and fully devoted in design for each type of game play. But if you do that, then why not improve upon the existing systems as they are and release these improved versions side by side and forget the whole idea of trying to please everyone under one cumbersome and confusing system that will likely be too difficult to search through to locate the actual rules options you plan to use?
The more I think of it, the more I am convinced WOC’s “please everyone” methodology will fail.
What do you think? Do you think WOC is doomed to fail? How about the idea of personalizing delivery of rules? Is that something they should be exploring? Is it even possible?