Well it was bound to happen and no matter how unhappy the gaming community gets about it Wizards of the Coast is going to charge on, because at the end of the day we’re all pussies and we’ll buy the new books even as we grumble. That’s right, D&D 4th edition was announced at GenCon this year and they’re beginning to put the previews up on their site right now. You can watch the official presentation at GenCon on YouTube.
If you want to get involved in playtesting and rules discussions before the release date (which is May 2008 for the PHB) you can register for D&D Insider on the WOTC site.
Exploring the D&D site you can already see where they’re going with 4th ed. They’ve decided to push hard in the direction of an online community. It’s easy to understand why – it gives you a built in group of people who are going to swallow your marketing whole day and night. Rather than just sell books, they can sell little upgrades, tidbits of information, various networking “services”, and meanwhile charge you a monthly subscription fee.
They haven’t released too much about the game itself yet (though I suspect Doug is right that they foreshadowed some of the changes with Star Wars Saga Edition). Instead of talking about the game, they keep talking about these peripherals like the character generator and the online dungeon builder. I think this is a mistake on their part. Graphically they won’t ever be able to compete with video games, so they’re not going to gain market ground on that front. And for the rest of us – we LIKE the face to face aspect of roleplaying and the limitless bounds of the imagination as opposed to the mechanical restrictions of a computer. Why would I want to add this new computer tool to my game preparation, which won’t be able to do what I can do in my head, and takes 10 times as long to do it? Mind you, I’m assuming about the time, but I’ve never seen a world-builder that wasn’t ridiculously laborious. Even if they’ve got this application screaming it will still be limited by what it is programmed to do, whereas the human imagination is much more liberated. As for the ability to create visuals of characters, that hardly makes me want to play the game.
WoTC is making some of the right noises. 3rd ed is ridiculously clunky. There are many better game systems out there than D20 – it tries to be both a tabletop wargame and an RPG system and it kind of half-asses both, but making it much more complicated. So they could hardly go wrong by streamlining the system and making it more intuitive. The stuff they describe in their design column about making races important throughout a character’s career as opposed to just at the beginning, and making fighter’s weapon choices more significant is interesting, but mostly I’m not interested in whether they can come up with more peripheral mechanics. Mostly I want to see if they can resolve some of the core mechanics. Get rid of the Base Attack Bonus. Combine Saves and Defenses. Simplify Skills. Use a better system than Hit Points. Banish Attacks of Opportunity. etc… etc… these would be good things to tell us about.