new year is a good time to take stock of where we've been and where we're going. To begin, I'd like to walk you through the basic goals of D&D Next. Starting with this column and continuing on through the next few installments, I'll cast a light on the goals behind our work.
To start with, here are our two guiding principles. These ideas guide everything we do.
- Create a version of D&D that embraces the enduring, core elements of the game.
- Create a set of rules that allows a smooth transition from a simple game to a complex one.
So what do these mean in detail? Well, read on.
The Core Elements of D&D
Over the years, the D&D tabletop RPG has undergone several dramatic revisions. The rules for the game today look very little like the game of 6 years ago, or the game of 15 years ago, or the game of 25 years ago. That's an outlier in the world of tabletop games. Although plenty of games introduce new content, such as a new set of cards for a TCG or a new unit for a miniatures game, few games rebuild their core rules from the ground up.
Changing the rules of a game in a fundamental way creates rifts within your community. There are the obvious gaps between people who play a new version and those who stick with the old one, but there are more subtle issues at work. Someone who stopped playing your game 10 years ago and wants back into it must start over from scratch. Why go back to a familiar game if you find out that it isn't really familiar anymore?
So, the first big picture goal is to make a version of D&D that speaks to the recognizable elements of the game. Anyone who played D&D in the past, even decades ago, should be able to step into D&D Next with ease. D&D Next must provide a home for the variety of play styles supported across the history of D&D, with rules terms and procedures that D&D players recognize and understand. What that actually means will be covered in part two, but the design implication is that D&D Next should deliver the primary strengths that each edition brings to the table. If an edition was good at something, D&D Next needs to do a good job of providing it.
To talk about D&D and complexity, we have to start by thinking about new players. Do a lot of new people try D&D every year? Yes. In fact it attracts far more people than you would guess. The real strength of D&D has always been in its ability to pull in new players. But what we noticed starting a few years back is that even though people were seeking the introductory product, fewer and fewer players were moving deeper into additional material such as the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual.
Back in the early 1980s, the game rules were accessible and play was supported with a lot of adventures. Since then, the game has become increasingly complex. New editions have added more rules, more options, and more detail. Even if one area of the game became simpler, another area became far more difficult to grasp. We need to reverse that trend and make a version of D&D that new players can pick up with ease and that existing players can continue to play by utilizing a wealth of world-class adventure content.
This brings us to the second big picture goal. We're going to make an RPG product called Dungeons & Dragons. It will be the game, Dungeons & Dragons, not just a sampler or a game that guides you through making a character and playing a single adventure. You can buy D&D and play a full, tabletop RPG campaign. You will be able to start playing, regardless of experience, and will easily find other products to migrate to if you so desire.
For the established D&D players out there, this is where modularity comes in. To create a continuum of options and complexity, we need to make a game that has a simple, robust core that is easy to expand in a variety of directions. We can't change the core game to accommodate those later options, whether they're new classes or detailed rules for climbing. The core must remain unchanged as you add more rules. If we achieve that, we can give new players a complete game and then add additional layers of options and complexity to cater to more experienced gamers.
Part Two: All Editions, All the Time
That wraps the overview of our two core, guiding principles. In the next installment, I'll dive more deeply into what these two points mean for fans of the various D&D editions.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.