Brazer Bulletin: My Hopes for DnDNext

February 24th, 2012 by Dale McCoy

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.

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3 Responses to “Brazer Bulletin: My Hopes for DnDNext”

  1. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    I ran a 4e adventure, The one where the PCs fight Orcus at the end, can’t recall the title, and I hate the two book format it had. Half the information for an encounter was in one book, half was in another, and it wasn’t consistent between scenes which information would be where. It was the worst formatted thing I’d seen, and I’ve waded through the typos and failed NPC stats of Shadowrun’s Artifact arc. Even if the stats in that weren’t usable, I at least always knew where to find them. In Orcus’s case I had one book that was fluff and maps, one book that was encounter layouts, and neither of them had all of the information it seemed to be focusing on.

    That aside, there was no plot. The suggestion for how the PCs get involved is a spirit says that they should, and after that things happen to the PCs with no real connecting thread. I recognize that it was the end of a 30 level arc, but there’s no “previously on. . .” There’s not even any real mention of what the plot is. It’s just a string of encounters where things happen to the PCs without context. I run pre-written campaigns when I’m too lazy to plot out something. I can build encounters as well as the guys in the books, and in the case of the final Orcus fight, better, and that takes little effort. I think I shouldn’t feel like I’m doing more work to try to run one of their adventures than I would to do it myself, especially since I was only running it to show off my Orcus mini.

    All in all that was a failed experiment,and one I will not repeat this edition.

  2. Comment by Philo Pharynx

    @Gibbs, first of all, even 4e fans admit those modules suck. But even with a good generic module, it’s up to the DM to lead them into it. The module can suggest hooks, but it’s not easy to figure out. As for the “previously on…”, that’s not going to be that useful. If you played the previous module you have that to summarize. If you didn’t, then getting a recap of what you didn’t do doesn’t help.

  3. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    My issue was mainly organization, but I wanted a previously on because the adventure because it would provide some context for who the PCs are in relation to Orcus and The Raven Queen. I recognize that I bought the last book in a ten book series, but the only reason they can think of to initiate the plot was a ghost tells you something bad is happening? I was fortunate enough to have PCs that worship the Raven Queen when I ran it to give me a decent hook. The module is still poorly plotted. It felt like the Call of Duty of adventures, nothing but one setpiece after another and a giant dungeon that only has two rooms worth entering. I guess I feel like the adventure assumes players have no agency, and doesn’t care. Who makes an empty dungeon? It’s the only time that the players have any control and the only things in the dungeon are the advance the plot triggers. It’s bad design for a video game and worse design for a tabletop. I ended up cannibalizing bits and pieces of it unto my own adventure the second time I ran it, but I think it’s pretty poorly designed.