As everyone well knows by now, WOTC is working on the 5th edition of D&D. Maybe this is a bit soon in the product life cycle, but the 4th Edition rules do not have much to build on at this point. Without a more open GSL, there is no impetus to add anything (there's already three books of classes, almost a thousand creatures and Essentials.)
I look forward to the Open Playtest. I can't wait to see the rules as presented. I read somewhere (can't find the link again) that an early playtester reported that it plays a lot like older editions. Considering that playing like *any* edition of D&D is the stated goal, being able to play that way is an important step.
Go what do I think is important? Since WOTC wants my thoughts, here they are:
1. It's gotta play like the old-school.
Seriously. This isn't just because of my current preferences. This also comes from my experiences in introducing the game to others. I've seen new players bogged down in 2nd Edition when all the optional rules were used and strictly enforced. (Aargh! Weapon versus AC + Individual Initiative + Weapon Speed + Battlemats) I've also seen newer players enjoy 4th edition until a combat spanned *three* sessions. When I mentioned Savage Worlds and demonstrated how it worked, the interest was palpable. (Hey, Dragonsfoot has a Savage Worlds section!)
At the very least, it needs to be able to play like the Pathfinder Beginner's Box. Looking around the net, there's more than one person that is trying to make a Pathfinder "Expert" Box covering levels 6 - 10. Ideally, it will be able to play like the Swords and Wizardry Whitebox Rules. SW has arguably been to most like clone of OD&D to date (though I really like Microlite74, too.) The originals were rife with little-known rules throughout the document, but the clones have streamlined those rules into a simple to follow format. The Fifth Edition has to be simple to follow and quick to play.
But, it also has to be able to play like edition 3.5 and 4. Trust me, when the first playtest rules come out, there will be an outcry from two different camps saying the the new rules break D&D. One camp will be the 4e folks. The other camp will be the OSR folks. How can WOTC make it feel like all versions of D&D?
2. It's gotta be modular.
I love me some subsystems. Andras was born out of my attempt to make my own modular subsystems fit into something like 2nd Edition D&D. I want a Skill subsystem to incorporate Thieves' Skills, Bard Skills, Non-Weapon Proficiencies and other class powers. I want a class building system to be able to make custom player choices. I wanted a spell building system to come up with relatively balanced spells. Then there's the monster building system, item creation system, dungeon crafting system, world-building system, etc. I know that some of these of player-oriented subsystems and others are GM only. Still, I want these. I also want them to be able to work with each other, not in opposition to each other.
Second edition did more to include optional rules and subsystems than any other edition. If you play 2e without using the optional rules, it feels a lot like B/X or BECMI D&D. If you add a few subsystems in, you have a game that feels like AD&D. Heaven help you if you use them all, but if you do, you have a game that feels like forever. I would say newer editions of D&D, but that's not a fair comparison.
So now there's rules for playing *my* edition of D&D, but how do I use all the stuff that I have already purchased? I bought this stuff and I would really like to use it. What do I do?
3. Make a conversion manual from older versions to 5e and vice versa.
The third edition Conversion Manual was really good. Step by step, it explained all the changes from 2e to 3e. In what I thought was an easy to follow layout, I found all the changes and how to convert a character to 3e. Although it wasn't too hard to do, I could use the Conversion Manual to go the other way, but I would really like a document that walks through the conversion.
If WOTC plans on supporting every version, there should be a free Conversion Manual for each. Sound outrageous? Not really. It would prove the claim that 5e can be used as a way to play *your* version of D&D. More than that, though, I think it would spur ideas for customizing the game. I could imagine an unofficial, fan-created conversion book that goes back and forth between Pathfinder and 5e. You could even have LL to 5e and OSRIC to 5e guides. Yes, these would be fan-created.
Fan-created stuff? How will that work with the reality of the current GSL?
4. 5e must have something like the OGL.
Not only that, they're going to have to eventually open up 4e stuff. More on that in a minute.
Without an OGL, there will be no reason for players of older editions to buy 5e. There are more than one OD&D clones. There is a 1e clone, a 2e clone and a BECMI clone. There's even a B/X Clone with its own separate Companion volume. In fact, with Basic Fantasy, you already have something that is a version of 3e that plays like B/X D&D. In some ways, Chris's labor of love could be a window into what *your* version of D&D, a version that isn't purely 1e,2e,0e or Alphabet Soup, would look like. The point is, that without an OGL, not only will OSR folks like me have no need to buy 5e, any interest in 5e will stop with the playtests. I say OSR folks, but this would include Pathfinder folks, too.
So what about the 4e thing I said earlier? Well, if there is a new OGL, but nothing for 4e, then 4e folks have no reason to invest in 5e. All 4e users will have been orphaned with no ability to create fan-created material. Fourthcore could have been something great, but the lawyers found a way to mess it all up. For some folks, Fourthcore *is* their version of D&D. If 4e is not opened up, the opportunity to created a Fourthcore-like system will be lost.
More than that, opening 4e material brings in fans to stuff that is otherwise unavailable. How will they retroactively make some of the 4e stuff OGL?
5. WOTC has to sell the entire D&D product line again.
If you're going to let me play *my* version of D&D, I have to have access to all the stuff created for it. I want *my* version of Spelljammer, release the PDFs. I want *my* version of Mystara, release the PDFs. Someone out there wants *their* version of the Amazing Engine, release the PDFs. Take advantage of the Long Tail. Really. Add the OGL to *some* of the core products from earlier editions so that they can be used to make *my* version of D&D.
With many clones already in existence, it can be argued that a gamer doesn't really need 5e at all. I certainly wouldn't need it at all to play. However, even if folks like me don't get the 5e PHB, DM Guide and MM, I would get the old PDFs if I could. The reason is that the only two ways I can get the old books is eBay and Demonoid.
WOTC doesn't like PDFs? Fine, make an app. But if you make an app, the old stuff has got to be free or 99 cents. Make sure you make an Android app and an HTML5 app for the folks like me that don't have a tablet device. Whatever you do, please don't keep the DDI. Nothing will drive away non-4e players more than forcing a subscription model on us. The unscrupulous will simply continue to pirate the PDFs. All the pirating goes away, if *my* version of D&D has rules that are easy to access for me.
Will this all happen?
Probably not, but I really hope so. Good luck Mike and Monte.