Saturday, August 17, 2013

Missed Opportunities in D&D Next

So, apparently at GenCon they announced that they're pretty well happy with the playtest feedback for the game, so most of the design is done now. Presumably lots of development to do still to get the math right, add in some missing options, etc. That strikes me as a little odd, given that we just got this packet recently and haven't given feedback on this version. I don't think this is all one big marketing ploy, but I guess they don't expect to be making many changes to what we've got now.

I largely like some of the changes they've made. Fighters now get lores, and they acknowledge that some classes/builds should have skills (i.e. expertise dice) including knight-type fighters. After being disappointed that there was a loss of options from the previous packet (particularly in the cleric and rogue), I saw there were some other quite nice options and a lot of the stuff does look like an improvement. I still wish monks had a maneuver system instead of lame ki powers and that there were a few more races included so we could easily run Planescape or Al-Qadim. That said, I think there are a few changes that really should have been made, and I'm afraid we won't see them in the next edition right away.

A new edition is a chance to do more than just revise some old rules, its a chance to set the tone for D&D for the next few years. Second Edition did it by removing some of the "morally objectionable" material to avoid some of the flack D&D was taking (i.e. no more half-orcs and assassins or devils and demons) and focusing on an explicitly heroic theme for the game. Third edition did it by reviving the monk and half-orc, revising the barbarian, and creating the sorcerer: they included some types of material that came in both first and second edition AD&D (e.g. humanoid/monster PCs). Fourth gave us warlords and warlocks and tieflings and dragonborn in the core rules, and a vastly different game style. What will 5th bring? I hope its not just more of a throwback to the old stuff and the Old School Renaissance. I hope its more than third edition gave us, or even second.

Fantasy is dominated by men who are both strait and white and generally Euro-American if not Judeo-Christian. As someone who doesn't entirely fit into that set of folk, I can say that it can be incredibly reaffirming to find characters and options that reflect who you are, and that can't always be done easily with some of the rules assumptions. People who's ancestors were called barbarians in the past 200 years might not take so kindly to a barbarian class which could easily and more accurately be renamed berserker. The cleric class is, in general, narrowly now restricted to worshipping a divinity and the channel divinity mechanic reinforces this. But 4e gave us primal spirits, and second edition had multiple nice shaman classes that could really let people play a priest that more closely reflect their own faith. Its not like the shaman hasn't been around for a long time, it just hasn't been promoted to its rightful place among classes.

Similarly, by divorcing some combat/magical expertise from the deity, we could arrive at crusader clerics or sohei types, and mystic/shukenja option could reintroduce some of the great first edition Oriental Adventures spells. Alternately, a mystic could be its own class even. This might help folk portray the religions closer to various versions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.

I don't think we need to go so far as to add in every class from Oriental Adventures and the Al-Qadim kits and the like. That might be too much and some other cultures might well be covered in their own setting books. And I know that D&D barbarians are Conanish rather than historical peoples. But a couple changes like this: renaming the barbarian to berserker, and adding a few variants of the cleric (namely a Shaman class and mystic as a cleric option or distinct class) would really help show that D&D isn't just the same old nerds reading the same old fantasy books. I don't think we need to add in a sexual orientation line on the character sheet, or define human subraces as black, white, brown, red, and yellow. But removing the "barbarian" and "savage" names that some people might find offensive, and giving classes or class options for non-monotheistic (ok, less henotheistic technically) priests might go a long way towards making the new edition more inclusive.

Ok, the art too. We need at least a 3:1 boob-to-dong ratio if the art is supposed to be sexy. But this is D&D, not some book of erotic fantasy. So instead how about at least realistic poses and styles alongside a variety of body types and ethnicities. Ok, maybe still a 3:1 boob-to-dong ratio on the Drow.

I think it'll be a shame if WotC misses this opportunity to broaden people's horizons just a little bit but more of a shame if they do nothing to try to include a few more people in the game.

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