Dungeons & Dragons Next and 4th Edition or Dude, Where are My Powers?

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It has been months since the first public playtest of the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons game was launched, and gaming forums continue to buzz with speculation on how the game will ultimately shape up for its official release.

Now before y’all start googling D&D Online or heading over to Atari, I’m talking about the deadtree version here, not the MMO RPG developed by Turbine, Inc. D&D was developed by the late Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson back in 1974 and published by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc., or TSR. Originally an adjunct to the miniatures wargame Chainmail, D&D introduced rules familiar to role-players everywhere: character races; class; and even level. D&D and roleplaying games spawned after it (e.g., Runequest, Champion, Traveler, Vampire.) use paper, pencil, and dice, and are called “pen and pencil” or “tabletop” rpgs to separate them from virtual rpgs like MMOs.

In 2008, current D&D owner Wizards of the Coast launched the fourth edition of the game, or 4e. The new edition caused a major schism within the D&D community, with rules radically different from previous editions. The most controversial were the inclusion of “powers”, or in-game special abilities, for all character. These powers, and other changes like how to characters attack their opponents (versus AC, Fortitude, Reflex, or Will) caused massive flame wars as prior edition fans passionately argued how their version was the “true” D&D versus fans of 4e. I remember similar protests in the comic book community as pre-52 Kyle Rayner took over the role of Green Lantern after Hal Jordon went insane after the destruction of Coast City.

In January of this year, Wizards announced plans for the fifth edition of the game, tentatively called D&D Next. One of the stated goals of the new edition is to make the game modular enough so fans could build the edition they wanted to play. I participated in two playtests so far and see trouble ahead. Gamers to whom 4e is their first D&D game struggled with he older concepts, like fighters with no abilities beyond just move, roll to hit, and damage. I distinctly remember one gamer lamenting he won’t play a wizard ever again because he could only his spells once a day. And so on. To them, 4e edition is their Rayner, not Jordon.

Wizards has yet to release the second playtest rules. Here’s hoping the rules will have more to encourage 4e to switch over to Next when it goes on sale. There’s already discussion on rpg boards on how to “save” 4e.

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