If you’ve been following the information on D&D 4th Edition from GenCon this year, available from WotC themselves, as well as other sources, you no doubt have some opinions about the game already forming. Here are mine thus far:
Pros (in no particular order)
1. It has been confirmed that the rules set used for Saga Edition is the closest one yet released to D&D 4th Edition. This will probably include the simplified Defenses, simplified Skills, and lack of iterative attacks in favor of a single attack roll per round with a damage bonus based on level. I think all of these are good changes that will make D&D a better game while it remains D&D. I am also looking forward to something like Talent Trees in D&D 4th Ed – another way to customize each class in interesting ways.
2. They have also talked about making low-level characters as fun to play as high-level ones, and also making high-level characters as simple to run as low-level ones. I’m not sure, of course, that they’ll succeed, but this is a noble aim. Saga, for example, starts you off with 3x the base Hit Points at first level as previous editions, meaning its less likely that a single shot will kill you outright, and you can also endure a few encounters in succession without breaks between them.
3. Developers have discussed openly that they are moving away from a system where power is mainly based on magic items and equipment toward one where power is based on class abilities. This is fantastic news. Magic items in 3rd Edition and 3.5 were one of the aspects of the game that I enjoyed least. Everything becomes a scramble for loot, and DMing turns into a process of doling out magic items which are quickly bereft of any meaning or real interest beyond “ok, now my attacks do one more damage.”
4. The Open Gaming License will continue for 4th Edition. I don’t personally own much of the third-party material that has come out for d20, but I’m really happy that it will continue to come out. I like the opportunity for more writers and artists and designers to make money in the hobby and keep it alive and vibrant.
Cons (in no particular order)
1. I think everything they’ve shown about the internet functionality for the game, especially the online dungeon software, is pretty disappointing. If I want to play D&D online, I’ll play D&D Online. I’ve heard its a fun game. If I’m going to play D&D, however, I want it to be with human beings who are sitting across the table from me. I would only game online in the way WotC depicts as an act of desperation.
2. I understand why WotC is moving toward a subscription-based service to replace things like Dungeon and Dragon magazines, to provide errata, and the like. I don’t like it, but I understand it. It is the model to make lots of money in games, and I’m actually ok with D&D making lots of money. It means that D&D will hopefully continue to improve and expand, growing the hobby and all that jazz. I honestly don’t know if I’ll actually pay for the service – that remains to be seen. At the moment, it looks like paying for one or two things I want and having to pay for a dozen things I don’t care about at the same time, which doesn’t appeal.
3. It seems like much of the development team for 3rd Edition has disappeared – folks like Monte Cook, who were longtime gamers and lovers of the hobby who were brought in to design the new edition. My impression is that the current team is somewhat more geared toward the marketing end of things. This may be more effective business-wise – that remains to be seen – but I personally prefer the hobby to be in the hands of enthusiasts, for it to be a labor of love. This is of course idealistic foolishness, but what can I say? I want games for geeks, by geeks.
Conclusion – for now
I’ll continue to follow the emerging stories about D&D 4th Edition. I still expect to buy the basic set, and when I move away from graduate school there’s a good chance the first game I start playing with a new gaming group (or maybe, if I’m lucky, an old one) will be D&D 4th Edition. I hope they do a good job. It looks like the new Edition will be a concrete improvement on the old one (as far as I’m concerned), but we’ll see.