I think the internet and twitter likely exploded among RPG fanatics last week with the announcement that Monte Cook left the DnDNext project. At first I was spouting off maybe he left due to differences in what direction the newest D&D would be going. Then the other shoe dropped and the public playtest of DnDNext would be coming out late May. After that I’m falling in the camp that maybe there was a division on how ready the ruleset was for public input between some of the designers and Hasbro/WotC.
All in all it’s sort of giving me a sinking feeling about the next version of DnDNext. At times I even wonder if it’s to get that chunk of 3E/Pathfinder consumers. I could have seen some fictitious conversation months ago like this:
Hasbro Suit: Hey, I was taking my kid to Barne’s and Nobles to spend this gift certificate. He bought this Pathfinder book. You’ve seen this thing?
WotC Designer: Yes.
Hasbro Suit: You have? Man, we gotta get our attorneys on this. I looked through this thing. It’s got wizards, sword guys, dwarves, it’s just like D&D. Those guys stole our IP!
WotC Designer: Actually, it’s closer to our older editions, published under OGL.
Hasbro Suit: OGL material? God don’t bring up that mistake again. So all this stuff in the book is under that massive screw up. Okay, no lawyers. What are we doing about getting these geeks back to our product?
WotC Designer: Well, a lot of people enjoy the older editions of D&D. Pathfinder sort of built on that rules-wise. Fourth edition has gone in a slightly different design direction. I mean it’s pretty much the same game, just utilizing some unique game mechanics.
Hasbro Suit: What do you mean different? There are wizards, spells, dragons, friggin’ orcs. This Pathfinder and our product are the same thing. They’re both Dungeons and Dragons. So why aren’t they playing our product?
WotC Designer: Again, they are fairly similar. However 4E has some interest-
Hasbro Suit: You aren’t listening to me. Why aren’t they playing our product? Fix it. Get these mama’s basement dwellers playing our game. And for God’s sake don’t put that OGL anywhere near it.
Okay, I’m actually sure something like that never really even came up but I’m certain folks have been looking over at the Pathfinder camp and wondering how they could get players back to ‘official’ D&D. I like the concept. Get just about everyone under the banner of D&D. I just don’t think it is going to happen.
First off you have the OGL of 3E/Pathfinder. Even with a newer edition out there that can incorporate older editions, I don’t expect for a minute it will have an open licensing scheme. I’m going to be massively unpopular stating this, DnDNext shouldn't have an OGL. They should however, be very open to licensing the game. Whether it’s cash up front or an agreement to split profits, other publishers should be able to put out D&D products with an agreement that encourages this. I think that was one reason why support for 3/3.5 sort of evaporated. If WotC supported that edition it'd give it legs, and meant other companies could use that as a sign to keep putting out stuff WotC would never get a dime off of.
Lastly I think the community is split. Folks have set up tents in respective camps and are unwilling to get behind another product. In a way, I don’t blame them. If they love AD&D or Pathfinder is their edition, they have the rules they want to play. Why try something ‘new’ that is drawing them away from games they already enjoy? This point I think should give WotC pause about how much effort should go into calling back lovers of past editions. Which audience is really the future of D&D?
I’m hopeful they can pull it off. That they can make something with enough working parts to get everyone behind. But I’m unsure if players of older editions (including 4E) will be willing to make that jump. Just because the game worked one way in an earlier edition doesn’t mean it was better or ‘more true’ to D&D now. If something might not fly with new player expectations, but is some classic ruleframe from an older edition, new players should get the rule shift every time. The focus should be getting new players into playing the game. Getting lovers of the older editions, the fans of existing rules, may not be the best in the long run. Instead I’d be trying to make a game that future generations would want to play.