We're getting to that point in time now when we know that something's cooking in the Wizards of the Coast offices. From book cancellations, the new skirmish game and Mike Mearls' column; it's clear that the company is getting primed for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition.
The comment feed on JoeTheLawyer's latest blog post has sparked some cynical conversation about the future of the game, most notably concerning Hasbro's influence on WotC. One commenter recognises that sales can be enhanced by collectable elements, which we can see has happened with Fortune Cards to some extent. However, in my mind Wizards is going to go one of two ways.
The 'Traditional' RPG
The smart thing for Wizards to do would be to try to appease the players they've lost by going back to a more traditional game, but keeping elements that make 4e a good game. If they begin to focus more on roleplaying and storytelling than dice roll checks, but still keep the dynamic monsters, I think they would reclaim some of their 'lost souls', as it were. Perhaps dial down the emphasis on powers, so the characters have a small but focused group of At-Will, Encounter powers etc, like the recent iteration of Gamma World. Furthermore, they need to make it easy to write characters up by hand or at least type them. Not everyone is going to want a DDI subscription and having to flick back and forth through the Players' Handbook can get tiresome.
The 'Board Game' RPG
Fans are critical of WotC because of their allegiance with Hasbro, which has obvious influences on the way games are made. 5th edition could introduce more collectable elements to the game, such as card expansions to go along with campaign books. While Fortune Cards are currently entirely optional, it's entirely possible that the next edition could go down the Gamma World route and make them compulsory. Now, I don't mind the card elements in Gamma World because they add a great feature that fits in well with the gameplay style, but D&D is fine as it is without them.
A further emphasis on DDI could also emerge with 5th edition, with a deck creator and online tabletop (finally?) to create a more digitally integrated experience. Even boxed expansions could become commonplace, containing minis, cards and the adventure, along with a code for DDI to unlock hidden extras in the scenario.
In the end, WotC is a business and like any other business it needs to make money. Clearly there is more money to be made at face value with the latter approach, but winning back fans could potentially make them more.
What I want to see in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons
I've sort of outline my feelings above, but here they are in a more concise format:
- Less emphasis on roll playing and more on DM/ PC imagination in the mechanics
- Keep powers but trim the fat. Go for the Gamma World approach
- Character sheets players can write by hand without taking half a day
- Official adventures with less of a focus on encounters
- Sets of miniatures dedicated to sourcebooks
Of course, these are my opinions and I don't expect everyone to share them. I know plenty of people who love encounters and others who despise them. 5th edition won't please everyone, but the question is: will it please most?