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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mike Mearls Latest Legends & Lore Column - Where Less is More (Maybe)

It's been a while since I turned my sights on D&D Next. Really, what was the point? The game to "Rule Them All" had set itself up to fail, trying to be all to everyone. It wanted to cover the desires of the OD&D Grognards right thru 4e. In that madness lies failure.

Then we had this week's Legends & Lore Column - early as it as pointed out elsewhere. Mike tells us that after the core rules, the emphasis will be on story, not mechanics. Fluff, not crunch. This is a complete turn around from the 3e days.

Let's look at Mike's post (original post is here):


It might be strange for the guy in charge of D&D R&D to say this, but here it goes: After the core rules for the game are done, we really want to stop adding so much stuff to the mechanics of the game and shift our emphasis to story (emphasis mine).

D&D is a shared language. The rules serve to make it easier to talk about the game and make stuff happen. They take abstract concepts and give them clear meaning. When we say "5th-level wizard," we know what you can do and how you do it. (well, we did up through 3x - 4e significantly changed the language) We know that because we play D&D. Someone who never played the game would be utterly lost. (again, 4e is a different game with different assumptions than it's predecessors) 

A language works best when everyone who uses it can communicate efficiently. If I described my character as a "prime tier ensign," that doesn't mean anything to you. Could you guess what my character wears, what sort of weapon he might wield, and what special abilities he uses? Any answer you give is a pure guess. (sure - but again, 4e describes a manner of play that is unfamiliar to those that played earlier editions)

For that reason, in building classes, character options, and everything else in the game, we need to stick to things that make sense and resonate with you. That's why we've adopted things like specialties and backgrounds as tools to organize game rules. Rapid Shot and Precise Shot are abstract things that aren't really clear. You can only understand them by knowing what they are. They don't stand on their own in a meaningful way. Describing your fighter as an archer, though, makes sense to anyone. Your character uses a bow. That's self-evident from the word archer. There are still details to study, but the general idea evokes a key fantasy archetype. (So far I'm following)

The trick is that the list of things that resonate is shorter than an unbound list. It's a challenge, but it's one worth tackling. Realistically, I'm willing to bet that most people didn't start playing D&D because they wanted to take Rapid Shot. You probably wanted to play an archer, or a sneaky thief, and so on (I started with D&D because my friends played it and I loved the Lord of the Rings - classes and skills we the least of my concerns - I wanted to share in the excitement of my favorite fantasy stories). The most resonant elements arise from outside the game, in the myths and stories that we're all exposed to. (Gee, just what I was talking about)

The other side to this coin is that with a much-reduced emphasis on turning out new rules mechanics (who would have expected this from WotC?), the material we make receives more playtesting, development, and care. If you want to make an archer option, it has to be a good option. You don't get a second chance at it.

So, that's the general philosophy on expanding the rules of the game.

So basically, less is more. Which may very well mean D&D Next has to live or die on it's own strengths, not by emulating previous versions of D&D. It's an interesting trip this D&D Next has travelled to get where it is now, and with over a year before release, I suspect there will be even more twists and turns between now and then.

Makes you wonder if the release of the previous versions, both in print and in PDF, have as much to do with a "we aren't going to convert many of the grognards, so we may as well embrace them" as it is a cash grab during the lean year and a half left before the new edition releases.

Yeah, I know Grumpy normally handles the D&D Next posts, but I figured I could handle this one. Maybe Next time ;)



1 comment:

  1. Simple explanation for that particular shift in emphasis by the WOTC brains trust: getting mechanics right is hard (how many iterations did 4E's Skill Challenges go through?), by contrast fluff is easy and cheap.

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