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D&D Next Goals, Part Three

Posted in Indies & More

The most interesting part about the latest installment of Mike’s D&D Next Goals posts is how it throws the previous posts in a different light.

The topic this week is the standard rules, as opposed to the basic rules discussed last week. The fact that these aren’t the expert rules suggests that there may be more rules beyond this. I guess we’ll see next week.

Before we actually get into the details of what’s in the standard rules, let’s talk names: I really hope they reevaluate these names before launch. Presented with a choice between Basic D&D and Standard D&D (and maybe Expert D&D) most people are going to choose Standard. Basic has a connotation of being a discount version or a simple introduction, not (as Mike says here) something that an active experienced group of gamers might use. The software industry has known this for years, and continues to make money off of it. Present a user with versions of your software at different prices and watch them sell themselves up.

Of course we don’t know that Basic will be it’s own product, but even if its part of the core books alongside other flavors gamers are likely to step over what could be a great fit for them in the freewheeling fun of basic to Standard because it’s, well, standard.

This is likely to be a problem with any approach that puts basic and standard content side-by-side: if you’re already paying for more content you’re going to want to use it to get your money’s worth. The presentation and branding of the different flavors of D&D is going to be a real challenge.

Getting on to what standard D&D Next is:

*Complexity and options *Customization over archetypes *Specific rules *Less need for rulings

If you think that sounds a lot like 3E, you’re not alone.

Being like 3E (and therefore Pathfinder) is a great idea from a money-making perspective, of course. Sales figures regularly show that Pathfinder is the top selling game, so there must be interest in it. Creating something that hits that audience is an easy choice.

For me, personally, it’s a less exciting option than Basic (which I talked about last week). That’s fine though—the goal of Next is to present something that appeals to everyone.

The question that remains, then, is how this will actually work. The character creation is easy enough to see: if you’re playing Basic you get this, otherwise choose between these. Examples Mike lists like grapple rules are tougher to imagine. Mike mentions situations such as Basic characters in Standard game and Standard characters in Basic game. This, obviously, presents some problems. If my Standard character has taken a feat that provides a bonus to grapple, but we’re playing without grapple rules, what happens? If the bonus is simple enough to port between them it’s not really engaging with the Standard rules. If it’s incompatible we have to patch between the systems.

So that’s what I’m hoping to see from D&D Next this year: how can these different rules live effectively side-by-side in play and on the page? If I only want to play Basic how many useless pages will there by in my book? How can we really mix and match between these different approaches to D&D?

It feels like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too goal to me, but the D&D design folks are smart people. They wouldn’t be pitching this stuff if they didn’t have an idea how to make it work. I just can’t wait to see it.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and senior test engineer at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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