With the announcement and the pending release of the DnDNext playtest several of the blog sites I follow have put down their own wish list of what they would like to see as part of the next iteration of DnD. I've had some thoughts on this as well, but I wanted to think through them a little bit longer, plus I just didn't want to mimic what others had said.
As a reminder, I have been with the same group for 25+ years, and some of the other group members have been playing together for 30+ years. The group moved to 4E in 2009 but before that we played a mostly 2E with some ADnD mixed in. When one says they have "house rules" it almost sounds like someone had taken the time to actually write down in canon what their own rules variations were. For us it was mostly just over time we slowly adapted, adjusted, ignored, or compromised and just played 2E as the way that worked best for us.
Given that it was just us, it worked fine. Every once in awhile some sticky rules discussion point would appear and we'd break out the book(s) and adjudicate it accordingly, but to say that we played a strict version of any DnD version would be incorrect. But when we sat down to play 4E (remember - we had never played 3.0E and 3.5E) we decided the best way to do this was to take our time, walk through the the new game mechanic, play the game by the rules at least initially, and then, like before, we could adjust over time.
Overall I would say we are satisfied 4E customers.The game mechanic works well, it's easy to DM, we adapted to the use of a game grid easily, and the rules are pretty consistent ... as long as we can keep "immobilized", "stunned", and "dazed" straight anyway. What we noticed immediately was that our combats took forever. We do have a large group (seven players plus a DM), we do run a low key/high fun table so we aren't going to start using a stopwatch on anybody's turn, but still, I thought by now things might have picked up a little.
What's happened instead though is that since our characters have moved up to 8th level (and will be 9th after next week) the characters sheets have started to be overrun with many, many powers, including the additional powers our magic items have. Even if a player does strictly pay attention and has a power ready to go by the time his or her turn actually rolls around again the other six players plus whatever number/level of monsters have had their turn so the chances are their plan will need to be reevaluated regardless. We have also started to accumulate an abundance of "immediate reaction" powers as well, so anytime our DM makes a serious move he can potentially expect a flurry of additional actions that need to be resolved. I suspect this doesn't get any easier as we eventually move out of the Heroic levels of the game and into the higher levels.
In the 2E DnD days my fighter could attack, roll, hit or miss, do damage (hopefully), and if I had a "Flame Sword" or some such maybe I could do a few points extra damage to certain creatures. I like the extra flavor of my 4E attacks and I like the potential additional abilities (i.e., knock prone, daze, etc.), but at some point it does become burdensome to players like me who don't really want to live and breath their character, but just want to play. Can there there a compromise between 4E and pre-4E versions of DnD in this regard? Was Essentials, as a simplified 4E character model, intended to be a harbinger of what's to come?
The other thing I would like to see is more of a separation of the classes. I mentioned this a few posts ago, but while I agree that having a single game mechanic for wizards and fighters does lower the learning curve, historically wizards and fighters are completely unique archetypes as are clerics and rogues, but in 4E these have all become cookie cutter versions of each other. It may make the game a little more friendly to new players and it may ensure a certain level of balance in that all character types can contribute equally throughout the game, but it does lose that certain sense of DnD history that was carried forward by earlier versions of the game. If the consensus is that old school wizards are too weak at early levels and to strong at later levels, well, then fix that.
In one of the seminars at DDXP last week the idea of returning to more of an old school version of magic (aka Vancian Magic) was brought up, so I am assuming this is being looked at as part of the playtest. While a magic user may be the obvious point of discussion here, the same thing holds true for the fighter, rogue, and cleric as they, at least historically, followed their own unique path for leveling up and the benefits from therein.
So to summarize, here is my wish list for DnDNext:
1) Simplify, or streamline, the characters in such a way that marries the 4E and Pre-4E versions of the game, basically paring down the myriad of 4E powers to provide a character that is more similar to its historical counterparts.
2) Allow the different character archetypes (magic user, fighter, rogue, cleric) to follow their own unique growth and skill curve.
I have some additional thoughts about the number of character race and character choices and electronic tools in general, but that can wait until next time.