In Which I Ponder the Future of Dungeons and Dragons

Twice a month I play in a Savage Worlds Rippers Campaign. I rarely play Role-Playing Games (RPGs) outside of D&D so this is a pretty new experience. (For the curious I play a Victorian Banker by Day and monster fighter by night named Silas Barclay.) What makes it work is the DM (who I’ve spoken about before) a good group of players and lots of imagination.

After a good night of role-playing (the only fight we had was with an animated feather, seriously). We discussed the latest news, rumors and innuendo about DND Next (i.e. the next edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game). You can search the web for all the juicy bits, but the point of the discussion is what we want from the next release. As I sit here as a MidLife Geek with two kids, a wife, church commitments, work commitments and a whole bunch of other stuff going on, what I want is simplicity and support.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, for me, what I’d like to see is a fairly simple rule set and play. Right now I run a game for a group of friends. We get together once a month to play for about 6 hours. During that time we get to play maybe 4 encounters. Why? The pace of the battles is just slow. Lot of powers, lots of effects and lots of decisions drags things out. Is it fun? Absolutely. Do I wish we could do more? Absolutely. From what I’ve read, the designers of the next edition share my goal for simplicity and straightforward play. I really hope so. My players get more battles and role play opportunity. They level faster (maybe?). And they get to do a lot more in the brief time we have together each month.

Beyond simplicity, what else do I want? I want content. As much as I want to create worlds and adventures I just don’t have time. So what I need to enjoy the game from my side of the screen is content. And by content, I mean adventures. It seems to me (and I really came on with 4e) that Wizards has generated tons of content that is useless to me. As a DM, what I want is the ability to plug and play. I want adventures, encounters, maps and minis all packaged up and ready for me to go. I’d pay willingly for this stuff. I can customize and what I need from a pre-established base but give me a world and things to do in it.

We also discussed something which I think is very important for Wizards of the Coast (owner of Dungeons and Dragons for the uninitiated). Once you get D&D Next released, stop making new editions and rule sets. Seriously, just stop. I get that you have a business that requires a new product to be released to generate profits. But after D&D next you have at least 5 editions of the game out there. Why don’t you build your business around generating content for those editions? You can grow your market by reducing the barriers to entry for the new player and new. Make it fast and easy to jump in at any point with any group. Develop more content; envision the worlds that not all of us can. Develop tools to make it easier and quicker to DM and play. That’s how you open things up. I think a lot of people just get turned off by the level of work they need to do to prepare.

It’s just my two cents, but it’s the two cents of a guy who desperately wants to play within the confines of a life that doesn’t allow for it.

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8 thoughts on “In Which I Ponder the Future of Dungeons and Dragons

  1. Great blog entry, Craig! While I would first like to say that as a DM I think you do a fantastic job, I get exactly what you are talking about. And while it is difficult to speed up player decisions (unless you resort to the earthquakes I remember not do fondly 🙂 ), I agree that based off of what I’ve seen, WotC could do a much better job providing easily actionable content for 4e (and beyond) to make game preparation more enjoyable and less onerous. In this arena I would say that WotC could either take a page out of the Pathfinder Society book, or even better take a page out of their own history which really is THE book and revisit the AD&D years. Having recently reawakened my love of RPGS (thanks to a couple factors, including a pick-up D&D game after hours at Sun King during GenCon two years back, and a gracious invitation by you to host a new game of 4e), I’ve found myself scouring the available resources on the web and discovered literally hundreds of non-copyrighted “old school” AD&D modules fit for inclusion in a campaign, as well as a decent variety of Pathfinder Society “adventures” to build a campaign around; but for 4e – not so much. Each of the games I’m currently playing (AD&D 1e, Pathfinder Society and D&D 4e) are fun in their own way, but each have some weaknesses. I like 4e a lot (although much of that is because of our DM), and appreciate the “flavor” of all the Feats and Powers, which can make combat very interesting, cool…and long, if your group isn’t particularly experienced tacticians.

    Pathfinder Society pre-generated adventures don’t seem (as yet) to have the depth and feel of a freehand campaign, but the mechanics are there (pretty much from 3.5e) and Paizo has done an admirable job of making it easy for a decent GM to put an enjoyable 4 hour session together without having to do a whole lot more than just show up with the materials (I’m very new to PFS, but this is my impression do far). Maybe 4e Encounters is similar in this respect, but I haven’t played an Encounter, so I don’t know.

    Now AD&D 1e is something different. On one hand, the depth of available content is unmatched – but the game mechanics themselves can be as simple or complex as the DM desires. My 2nd level AD&D character right now is the proud possessor of a sharpened iron bar and some studded leather pieced together from scraps taken off a party of orcs – and improved equipment seems few and far between. Combat consists of an Initiative roll, a whack upside the head to an opponent (hopefully), the wizard trying to get a Sleep spell off, and if we survive (which is very much in doubt) we roll Initiative and do it again. It’s not flashy at all, but it’s quick and the tension on every roll is palpable.

    I’ve only read a little bit about what D&D Next is going to look like, but hopefully they will go down the path of providing the support you’d like to see, while leaving plenty of creativity for the DM and the players.

    And lastly, I don’t think you should bear the burden of preparation and gameplay alone – ask more of your players. If they can help provide materials, flesh out content, or find resources, ask them to! If its difficult on the GM to run a game, the game disappears; and nobody has fun then. 😦

    • Thanks Erik. The most fun I’m having with our game is weaving your backgrounds into the pre-generated content. The biggest frustration is having and generating maps for the stuff Wizards doesn’t provide. That is something you guys can probably help with. We’ll talk. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I like this post not because I share your needs from D&DNext, but because I enjoy the process of clarifying what my needs really are. And I share your experiences with boundaries on time and energy. I do *not* have 20 hours a week to devote to content generation. I have at most 1-2 hours, roughly half time it takes for play itself.

    Clearly I cannot follow 99% of the suggestions given by the community of players and publishers. In my experience that advice boils down to “plan everything”. Map it out, pre-plan the plot, write it all down, formulate all the stats, draw all the maps, square all the tables.

    These procedures simply do not work for me. They are not fun. In fact, I find them very frustrating. I never achieved the level of enjoyment from D&D when I followed this advice. But for a long time I believed that “just this once” it would work, and I would continue to slave away.

    I had to adopt a radically different method of preparation and a new set of skills to augment existing ones to enjoy the game again. I rejected the notion that I had to pre-plan outcomes or that I needed to fully imagine every detail before play took place. Without these adjustments, I would not be gaming any longer. My career and family priorities would not allow it.

    I’m also making a continuing effort to evaluate my own fun with every game. Did I like it? Why or why not? How many minutes were actually fun out of the 3-4 hours? Did I like playing with these people? In some cases my conclusions led me to abandon play with certain people or certain games. That’s not an easy process for me. I am painfully shy. I’d prefer to smooth over social wrinkles than deal with head on. But I know I have to keep playing in a healthy and happy manner.

    I share your desire for content – the raw bloody meat of play. Monsters, environments, spells – color and challenge – I can always use that.

    Unfortunately, WOTC is now a publishing organization in the largest toy manufacturer in the world. They are under immense pressure to maintain and grow revenue. I fear that this next edition, for good or bad, is just what is says: the “next” version. Not the last.

    I am very hopeful they return the game to one that supports exploration of setting as important leg of the stool, so to speak. We’ll see.

    Many thanks for the blog post!

    • Thanks for your comment. You’re right, who has time to plan for everything? I do get some inspiration from SlyFlourish who offers a number of ideas for shortcuts and faster game play. I also love to read Chris Perkins column on the Wizards website. He runs his games very off the cuff from what I can tell.

  3. Given the incredible number of smartphones out there, it seems like it would be relatively easy to create an android app (or iphone, I guess) to do a LOT of the stuff that DM/GM/s need to handle – mostly, who goes next, but honestly, I’d have to look at gameplay now to see what takes the most time. I know that combat, as defined in the game, is a major timesink, It’s one reason I like MMO’s for that kind of hack and slash thing; they pace the combat and no person has to.

    • Thanks for comment foomf. I think automation can help but it speaks largely to the in game time. The tougher part for me is the prep. I want a good experience for my players and fun for me. That happens when I get good content.

  4. As I got older I found I much prefered spending my time on improving the experience for the players. Things that engage the players and make the game memorable. I don’t want to waste my time figuring out if the encounter is balanced for the group or did I miss a mechanic. And while I have ideas for my own adventures I just don’t have the bandwidth to make them a reality. I’m getting ready to start a need game in a month and what have I spent my time on? Reading the module, helping players make the characters they have in their mind work out on paper and props. Sure I note all the treasure they’ll be getting per the module and modify if I feel its needed but I want the players be able to enjoy the experience and not worry about the mechaincs details. My players get character binders with their character sheets and any rules that is common to what their characters can do, so minimal book flipping trying to find the rule for something the character regularly does. They all get miniatures for their characters that I paint myself. I have a huge 10 foot gaming table with a second tier to build the dungeonscape in dwarven forge. I have thus far for just the first adventure have made a player map handout burned onto a patch of leather, built a spell book for the players to find with all the spells described in detail fluff wise and mechanics wise. I still have a note to write in ink and quill to be wax sealed plus two scrolls to write with actions on them that if the player performs the actions that get a free metamagic feat added to the spell at casting. Where am I going with this? At our age the players have alot on their minds. Kids, work, bills etc and I feel that spending time to do things to take them out of that reality is what I’m looking for. How does it relate to the new addition? I want them to make it complex enough that people imagination can be made “real” with realative ease and then I want material that covers all the mechanics crap for me so I can spend my time on the experience.

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