I’ve been following the development of DnDNext with intense curiosity. I really like where it is going. I think the designers are making quality choices and I hope the feedback that they are getting is influencing their design decisions. I would like to share my own hopes for DnDNext; things that would be helpful for the game as a whole, not just what I want at the table.
Basic and Advanced Core Player Books
As much as the PHB/DMG/MM model is tradition, I really think they need to return to the an idea from First Edition to do the game well in this day and age: a basic core book. The Basic Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook, if you will, would be 64-96 pages, would contain four races (human, dwarf, elf, and halfling) four classes (fighter, rogue, cleric and wizard) that only go up to level 10, no modules, and reduced character choices. Use the same combat system (perhaps with not all the tactical options, but the same system nonetheless) and be fully compatible with the Advanced game. Ideally, this book would cost between $15-20. This kind of book is ideal for a casual gamer. You know, the gamer that levels up his character five minutes before the game starts, the one that always plays a dwarf or an elf or whatever. They don’t need a 300-page book that costs $35 if they’re never going to use more than the most basic of character choices. Plus it’s a great gateway book to the game.
Then there’s the Advanced D&D PHB. This would be where all the tactical options, additional class options, race options and higher levels are. This is a great place for gnomes and dragonborn and warlocks and non-vancian magic systems and many options that were not in most editions of the game. This would appeal to the hardcore gamer and the graduated basic gamer. Basic gamers that are looking for more than just the most basic of character options will find what they are looking for here. This would also be the go to book for veterans of previous editions.
Now here’s the thing, make sure both books are capable of being used completely independent of each other. So if you’ve got a group of all advanced gamers, no one needs to bring the basic book ever. And for a group of all newbs, make the basic book so no one (not even the DM) needs to own the advanced book.
Here’s why: Us veteran gamers will probably buy BOTH books anyways. We all know someone that would like to join but got intimidated by the 500 page Pathfinder core book or even the 300 page 4E PHB. But if we had a 96 page book that we could hand them, it would be much easier to get a casual gamer into the group. Even better if I don’t have to show them the more complex game until I know they’re not going to disappear.
There’s An App For That
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really hope the core book is available for download as both an Android and iPhone app. Neither of these has market supremacy at this point and ignoring one would be seen as a slight to the other. If you make it an epub, that would be better because it is platform independent. Sure you’ll be giving up some control over the book’s presentation, but then you can have someone that picked up a WebOS device use your book right next to someone using a Windows 8 tablet. You can make it available just about anywhere and almost everyone can use it. Bonus points if you can get it on the Kindle as well. With Borders dead, B&N in negative hit points and tablets just taking their stuff, making it a downloadable book will insure the game’s long term survivability and marketability for quite some time to come.
Focus on Adventures
I’ve read a few of 4E’s adventures. While I’m sure they’re really easy for a DM that’s running the game, they don’t make for an enjoyable read. Considering that Paizo admits that the majority of people that buy their adventures never run them (they just read them), by making your adventures not really an enjoyable read makes the long term market smaller. Don’t get me wrong, easier to DM is a very important goal, but can you find a way to make them more fun to read as well.
The nice thing about adventures is that they do not add anything to the wealth of crunch out there. Lots of crunch means more weight that the system must bear. So more adventures that are more fun to read should be a goal. Remember, you rebooted the Forgotten Realms because so much setting material was previously available for it that it made it difficult to write more. Adventures do not add to that.
A Quality 3PP License
I keep talking about this subject but its because it is that important. With a quality license the burden is not all on you to meet gamer’s needs all at once. Allow electronic publishing and apps.
I know this sounds like I’m just saying, let some of us take sales away from you with no definite gain for you. That’s a very closed, protectionist, and short term view. Here’s a different way of looking at it: my most recent print release (Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Shadow Plane) includes a list of monsters from Pathfinder’s Bestiary 1-3 of all the monsters in those books that would work in the setting. So Paizo got a full page of free advertising for three books in my print book that I was not required to do. Does that help them? Yes it does. It reinforces the usefullness of Paizo’s books in the GM’s mind. This may encourage some to buy more of Paizo’s books that are starting to look elsewhere (like at 3PP books). It says that all these monster books are still useful (and not just the first monster book). Sure the positive effect will be difficult to measure, but the positive effect will be there.
I know the things I mentioned above have little to nothing to do with the game’s development and more to do with the physical products themselves. But 4E was a great game as well. Its just that the products got in the way of the game truly coming into its own. I really do hope that These suggestions are helpful.
Dale C. McCoy Jr. is President on Jon Brazer Enterprises. Read Shadowsfall Legends: Pawn, Deception and Sacrifice – Valdia’s Tale, the first story taking place in Shadowsfall, written by Mur Lafferty.