I’m sure the gaming interwebs are ridiculously full of shrieking and howling regarding the announced D&D 5e, but I want put up, for posterity, the things about 4E that I like and the things I hope WotC either goes back to or puts int he upcoming edition.
5) Stay away from “I hit it with my sword. I hit it again. I hit it again.” One of the things I love most about 4E is that it has gotten away from the boringness of melee characters–especially at high level. The AEDU power structure might not be perfect–or even particularly elegant, really– but what it does do very well is give everybody a chance to do something cool and contribute to the fight every round. Even the At-Will powers tend to be something decent besides just dealing damage. As a guy who really likes playing melee characters, this is a godsend. Keep it.
4) Monster Ability Mashup. One of the things that I loved about AD&D but loathed about 3.X is that once an experienced player memorized the monster subtypes and some of the more common spell descriptions, the mystery factor in most monsters just went out the window. If you know that demons have these inherent abilities and those resistances and that they usually come able to use these spells… well a lot of the fear of monsters and/or the “oh, wow– it did WHAT?” factor totally disappears. Each monster in 4E has a discrete, easily-read set of abilities and swapping them from one to another is SUPER easy. The monster building utilities have done the same thing in making monsters easy to build and easy to use. Keep that modularity and that the monsters are UNIQUE, and effectively unknowable. And the unknown is SCARY. Monsters shouldn’t play by the same rules as a PC. They’re onscreen for a microsecond in comparison, and don’t need to be that complex– or that predictable.
3) Keep D&D Encounters and Lair Assault. I think that with the flagging sales of 4E, the Organized Play of 4E is one of the biggest draws for it. Being able to sit down with a known rule set and pick up dice and learn to play in less than an hour is beautiful, and I think ‘its in this arena that 4E really shines. I also think that if they have a “walk in and try it” way of doing things at the beginning of 5E, they might attract a lot more sales for it as well.
2) OGL or Bust. There’s been a lot–and I mean a LOT– of talk about Pathfinder outselling 4E, and I think there’s some merit in that, but I do not think that the ruleset alone is the cause. Simply put, Pathfinder is a clone of a system with some very ugly flaws that does a little bit to correct them, but not really enough. The main selling point of Pathfinder is twofold. First, the adventures and setting material put out for it are utterly top-notch. This, however, is kind of the rub– most people who want to play in Golarion buy the PF rulebooks because they want to play in Golarion, not because they really like the PF rules. It’s a case of correlation not being the same thing as causation. Golarion and the setting material–especially adventures– put out by Paizo are utterly without peer, and most gamers will buy and play the ruleset because they want to use those materials and don’t want to convert. Second, the OGL means that anybody who wants to play in their own sandbox or make their own game and home publish or use something similar or look around for 3PP items is going to use Pathfinder because it’s the only thing out there. I really truly believe that if 4E had been OGL instead of the crap-and-broken GSL, we wouldn’t be seeing 5E on the horizon for another 5 years or so. If 5E has any semblance of backwards-compatibility, it MUST be under the OGL. Period, end of story. If 5E is not OGL, it will be the last version of D&D that WotC will ever make, mark my words. Without the 3PP and Open Community support, it will do what 4E has done and be good, but not GREAT because all the awesome fan ideas will go elsewhere–like Pathfinder.
1) DMs Got Their Lives Back. When 4E came out, one of the things I IMMEDIATELY noticed was that, along with #4 above, the Encounter building setup made DM prep so much easier than 3.x or AD&D. The first time I built an adventure–not an encounter, mind you, an entire ADVENTURE– in less than the time it took me to create a single monster using monster subtypes, hit dice, templates and class levels in 3.X… I think I literally sat down in my chair and laughed hysterically until I cried a little. The burden of encounter building and adventure creation in 4E is so drastically much less than it has been in previous editions that it’s almost absurd. The time I have saved in preparing encounters for 4E is, quite literally, what allows me to have the time to write this blog. Otherwise I’d be bogged up in the math of previous editions and doing college algebra in order to make monsters with accurate, by-the-rules numbers. Switching to 4E literally gave me a huge chunk of my life back, and because of that, this is my biggest requirement for the new edition. If the GM prep time for 5E goes back to what it was… I don’t think I can justify playing it. I have a fiancee, and a soon-to-be stepson and my biological son who I could better devote that time to. This is my single most important factor in grading the new edition. I hope it lives up.
What things do you want to see in 5E? I know you’ve got an opinion.