New edition of D&D – OnlineDM’s first take

So, the big news announcement on January 9 was indeed about the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of folks have been chiming in with their thoughts; here are mine.


Wizards of the Coast has said that they want the game to be modular, offering groups the chance to have more complex or less complex games as they see fit. It’s a lovely notion, and if they can pull it off, I think it will help to make the game appealing to a wide audience.

I expect to see options for omitting things like opportunity attacks. I expect to see a wizard option that’s Vancian and a wizard option that has at-wills. I expect to see separate books for whatever the next iteration equivalent of tiers will be (heroic, paragon, epic), with big changes between them.

Open Playtest

The other big news in the announcement was that WotC would be engaging in an open playtest of the rules. A friends and family playtest is ongoing (and no, so far your OnlineDM does not rank highly enough in the D&D community to have been invited; pity). The first public viewing of the current version of the new rules will be at the D&D Experience convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in a couple of weeks (under non-disclosure agreements from the players involved). A wider public playtest is supposed to start sometime this spring.

I’m very happy to see that WotC is making this move. I opined a couple of weeks ago about the importance of the company focusing on good community relations as they move forward; so far, so good. Actively soliciting feedback from everyone who offers it is a good idea. Obviously, they won’t be able to take everyone’s feedback, since some of it will conflict. But at least giving everyone a chance to be heard is a powerful step in the right direction.


This new iteration is explicitly intended to appeal to players of D&D from its entire history. WotC is trying to unify the D&D community with their new game. A lot of folks have moved to Pathfinder or OSR games, and WotC is trying to interest them in this new iteration.

It’s a tall order. I was shocked to see the level of vitriol on a bunch of OSR blogs on the day of the announcement. I understand that these folks don’t like WotC, but wow. It seems like this company is reaching out to them, and they’re just not interested at all in many cases. There are definitely folks in the OSR who are open to the idea of this new rule set, but I was shocked to see how many flat-out are not at all interested. So, not an easy task for WotC.

What I’d like to see

I’d like WotC to use a game license that lets third party publishers get their content into whatever electronic tools they develop. I find it annoying, for instance, that my players can’t add the ZEITGEIST themes to their characters in the Character Builder.

I’d like to see continued strong support for online tools like the Character Builder.

I’d like to be able to get PDFs of adventures at the very least, and preferably PDFs of everything for the game. I run games using my computer, and I’ve actually gotten to the point where I scan my hard copies of adventures like Madness at Gardmore Abbey so that I can use them more easily as PDFs.

I pray that we don’t go back to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. And if such a class option exists, I pray that it’s an optional rule that isn’t present for organized play events.

I want magic items to be rarer and more interesting. Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is the right paradigm. “Expected treasure by level” is not.

I’d love for WotC to make more use of the digest format for books, as they did with Essentials.

I certainly hope the new version keeps the 4e style of monster stat blocks, with everything right there rather than making the DM look up spells and so on. I like being able to run combat easily. Heck, monster creation in general in 4e is fantastic; stick with that!

I want great community outreach. As I said, I think they’re already doing a good job on this one. Keep it up!

What I expect to see

I expect a license that’s more restrictive that the OGL but less restrictive than the GSL. I also expect WotC to do more work with third party publishers to keep them in the loop farther in advance on this issue. Community outreach!

I expect to see Vancian spellcasting in certain classes and probably even Quadratic Wizards in those classes. Sigh. I hope they’re optional rather than the default.

I expect to see the traditional hardcover format books rather than digests. Not a big deal to me, but I’m guessing this will be important for bringing back players who’ve left. They probably don’t want digests (but it’s worth asking to find out).

I expect the PDF issue to be worked out, somehow. They’ve got to get past the “no electronic books” issue if they’re going to have wide appeal these days.

I expect some option for stripped-down rules that won’t require electronic tools in order to build a character, and more advanced rules that basically will.

I expect options for gridless combat to have actual support.

I expect more focus on exploration and adventure and less focus on combat in the core books. Combat will still be well-covered, but the meat of the text will try harder to evoke a sense of wonder.

I expect lots and lots of changes throughout the process. I expect things to come up in the rules that people HATE, and for those things to subsequently go away or become marginalized. I look forward to this.

What about my own games?

I realize that it’s possible that the new version of D&D will be something that appeals to me less than 4e does, in which case I’d probably keep playing 4e. But I expect that WotC will do a good job with this new game, and that I’ll migrate over in the end.

I can say that as soon as I get the chance to playtest the new rules, I will do so. Hey WotC, you want someone to see how the new rules work in an online game, right? Drop me a line at!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

8 thoughts on “New edition of D&D – OnlineDM’s first take

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  2. Hm. I suppose that I have two issues with this post; or, more accurately, the views expressed.

    The first one is this line: “It seems like this company is reaching out to them, and they’re just not interested at all in many cases.” You are implying that WoC is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts; for the desire for the community of role players to unify. Which is a worthy goal. But it’s simply, and demonstrably, not the case. WoC is doing this to require market share. It’s that simple. It’s demonstrable for at least two reasons: first, if they wanted a unified community, they’d go back to the OGL. Again, Pathfinder has shown that money can be made with this model. Second, working with a community, and then being selective about the members of the community, is contradictory (all men are equal, some are just more equal than others). In this day and age, there is no downside to a fully open play-test. There is simply no community reason to be selective. Now, to be truly open and community based, even Piazo should be open to a community governance. What better way to involve the community, then by involving the community? An open play test does not accomplish this; it merely market tests the product.

    Secondly, whereas I do applaud your well-written editorials, they’re not as unbiased as they appear. They also are not required to be. I do realize this. And I do not intend to imply duplicity. Merely that your a WoC fanboy. I do not mean this in a derogatory manor; there are products for which I clearly fit that category. But the overall impression in this post is that WoC is good, and are doing good, and are therefore deserving of success. This is a very general simplification of course. But here is a question, based on the scientific principal (if it’s not falsifiable, it’s not science): what would it take from WoC to make you leave WoC for another role playing system? To say that another system was better; that it was more community-centric?

    The last post I replied to spoke of community outreach; there seemed to be many responses that loosely echoed my sentiment. Well, that post, as well as this one, could very easily fall into the PR category. I think both are very much tilted in WoC’s favor. Which is your right. But it’s a very common ploy for ‘unbiased’ community members to be more biased than they state. This is an observation, not an admonition. But, please, think about your position, and if you find you do just outright want to play WoC’s versions of role playing games, think about making that explicit instead of implicit.


    • Timothy – thanks for the comment.

      On the first point, I’m not sure where you got the implication from me that WotC is doing ANYTHING out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to make money! I’m sorry if you got the impression that I thought WotC was operating a charity or a non-profit devoted to harmony in gaming. They’re a gaming business, out to make money. I’ve never thought otherwise. That doesn’t mean they have to be soulless or money-grubbing; they can be decent people and still try to make money, and that’s been my read on things so far.

      Second, my posts are most assuredly biased! The title of the post includes my own name. These are my personal opinions; nothing more, nothing less.

      I don’t have any negative feelings toward WotC, and I’ve enjoyed most of what they’ve produced for 4e (not all of it, though; Heroes of Shadow wasn’t my thing, for example). I do feel that calling me a fanboy is derogatory, as it implies that I’m blinded to anything that WotC could do wrong; I’m not. But that’s your own opinion, and you’re entitled to it.

      My posts are not complaining about WotC. I don’t have reason to complain about them so far! I enjoy what they’ve done so far, though I know they’ve alienated people in the past. Remember that I only started playing D&D about two years ago. My perspective is very different than that of someone who felt alienated during the 4e transition, and I freely admit as much.

      What would it take for me to play a game other than WotC’s version of D&D? Well, I have. I’ve played Pathfinder, and it’s cool. I prefer 4e, but I could totally see playing Pathfinder again in the future. The same is true of the other games I’ve played so far (GURPS, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu).

      What would it take for me to hate WotC and swear off their games on principle? I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me feel that way.

      Let me be clear: I have very much enjoyed playing Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition. So much so that I’ve written a blog about it for a year and a half. I’m not trying to hide this fact. It’s not because I love WotC the company so much; it’s because I love the game so much. I don’t love it to the exclusion of other games, but I do happen to love this one the most so far of those I’ve tried.

      My preferences in gaming are not supposed to be a secret on my own blog, and I apologize if I’ve somehow come across as someone holding himself out as being totally neutral on 4e. I like the game a lot. And I’d like to see the future of D&D also be something that I like a lot. That’s what these posts are about – what I want to see from the game as we go forward.

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  4. What I would like to see:
    – More bundled products. It’s much less tempting to pirate a book if that book comes with a Book of Vile Darkness, a module, a sheet of dungeon tiles, and some high quality color grid scenery maps.
    – Eventually they should release the trade digest books. $14 for a D&D player’s book will get a lot more new players!
    – Boxed sets for the monster manuals, like Monster Vault.
    – Boxed sets for published modules, including maps, handouts, plastic minis or pogs, and other cool stuff. They can sell “just the module” as a PDF, but, again, anyone who’s seriously going to run it would much rather have the box for $30 than the PDF at any price (or pirated).

    What I would like eliminated:
    Splatbooks! I’m much *more* tempted to pirate a book if it’s a hardcover volume retailing for thirty bucks, which I only want for one feat and a 6th level utility power. Heroes of the Feywild was a step backward. They probably already had the content, and just pushed it out.
    …But (going back to what I want to see) it could have been a digest format book bundled with the start of a Paragon tier Essentials campaign; or Feywild specific monsters with pogs for them and dungeon tiles that mesh with the Wilderness set, etc.

    What I don’t want to see come back:
    Game changer magic that can be used in a combat round. Very glad to see the back side of Forcecage, Shadow Walk, Rope Trick, Sleep, Teleport… I could go on…

    What I expect to see:
    – Old 2nd/3rd edition spells brought back as rituals with a little section that says “if you want to use a ritual as a Daily power, here’s how you convert it…”
    – Vancian Wizards that aren’t broken. The Essentials Mage, if you look carefully, memorizes all his powers except his at wills. And a Tome Wizard…
    – Essentials style martial classes
    – Modular design, in modular books. They will release a set of books, if they’re smart. There will be a core system in each of the rule sets. They will have D&D, D&D Light, D&D Advanced, and D&D Optimized (my tongue in cheek names).

    D&D will basically be Essentials-point-five; and I strongly suspect this will be the most heavily supported line. Most of the modules and published settings will default to this version, with “if you’re using…” options. Frankly, I can’t see how they could publish modules and settings in a modular system without defaulting to the most popular options (and love it or leave it, 4e has been the most popular…)

    D&D Light will support gridless play and have character classes (in the expansions for it anyway) like Noble and Spy. This will be the least supported line, because those players that want less tactical combat and granular combat rules… don’t play D&D. They never have, unless you count the old days when the only alternative was, like, Gamma World.

    D&D Advanced will be edition four-point-three-point-five and have Vancian spellcasting, a lot more feats (some of which open up long chains or significant new tactical options), and options for casting rituals as dailies; there may also be an option for unlimited multiclassing and a longer skill list. If Dragonlance ever comes back, it will come back for this version.

    D&D Optimized will be “if you want to use all the options from all of fifth edition, here’s how; oh also, hybrid gestalt classes, and hey why not take feats and classes and stuff from Forgotten Realms and Eberron and all that for your character too. Screw it, who cares as long as you can do six hundred damage a round by level three?” OK, that was a little tongue in cheek; but if they can sell a book that lets you min-max across all the other books, they will.

    • Great thoughts. I’ll say, however, that I have different preferences when it comes to boxed sets. Since I run my games online, I get no utility out of physical poster maps or pogs (unless I want to scan them, which is a pain in the butt). I thought Heroes of the Feywild was a fantastic book, and I didn’t care that it was “just a book”. If it had come with maps for an adventure and pogs, I wouldn’t have used them.

      I’m with you on the digest format, though. I’d love to see WotC use it more frequently, though I don’t expect to see the D&D Next core books in that format because it’s not “traditional” and they definitely want to appeal to folks who appreciate tradition with this new version.

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