There is a nice post up on A Walk in the Dark that has some thoughts on prioritizing concepts and rules for DnDnext. They look at the challenges of deciding what would go in (and stay out) of a RPG, and how that list of features might be drafted up. However I look at it through a different perspective. Who is the target audience for DnDnext and could you list those groups of players in priority?
Off the top of my head I’d list them as:
1. Pathfinder players
2. New players
3. Players of older D&D editions
You could lump 4E players in with the third bunch, personally I don’t think they are a target group. 4E is too recent and the play test rules seem a pretty far departure from those books. Someone has quipped that the edition wars are dead, and the old-school D&D guys have won. I tend to agree. 4E could use some refinement, but the play test rules pretty much indicate that DnDnext won’t be 4.5E (actually that already came out as D&D Essentials). Some 4E lovers will stick with their books, while others will gladly play the new edition. I’m not expecting DnDnext to be saddled down with mechanics to keep 4E players happy though.
So if folks from older editions and Pathfinder are a big chunk of potential players, what is going to draw them into playing DnDnext? What types of rules and degree of complexity will get them interested in playing this newest version? What are the key characteristics of this new game that are going to make them stop playing an older version of D&D (Pathfinder included)? Folks at WotC have put a lot of time into this. The concept of modular rules have been floated around, likely upping the complexity and realism if a group wanted that. All fine and good.
However I wonder how compatible those ideas, that are near and dear to fans of older D&D, will fly with new players. How many concepts of past editions, like saving throws, fire and forget spells, and negative hit points (hell, even hit points in general) are game mechanics that make for a fun game to the new player. Are we locked into ideas because that is the way it’s always been done? Or are they being used to make a fun game? More importantly, could these rules be used by a brand new DM to run a fair, and fun, game.
With so many folks that have a ton of experience both playing and running D&D, I think we tend to forget about the group of school kids that are playing it for their first time. Hell, maybe I’m totally off the mark and new players are not even part of the target audience for DnDnext. It’d be a shame if they aren’t.
This is a point where I likely diverge from others regarding DnDnext. I think it’s great to have all sorts of players of different editions and RPGs all under the banner of Dungeons and Dragons. However if it comes to keeping an older audience happy, and something that would really draw new players into the game, I’d go with the fresh blood every time.
It’s the new players that will keep the hobby alive. While some may have stopped, or moved onto other games, a player saying they cut their teeth on RPGs first by playing Dungeons and Dragons should be a major goal for DnDnext. That it becomes THE RPG that new players to the hobby are exposed to. It’s the fantasy adventure game that older folks will look fondly back on. Hopefully as rules and systems are tinkered with, and the game is further developed, new players creep up on that list of people that DnDnext is being made for. Having older fans of past editions will be great, but a priority should be towards making rules new players will love.