By now, the “D&D Next” materials have made their way out into the interwebs. I spent a good ten hours participating in an all-day playtest of the system.
Yeah, it’s pretty bad. However, someone else made a point I think is important:
The game system we have in front of us is exactly what they told us it would be.
I can’t emphasize this enough. This playtest meets all of the stated design goals: it plays like an old-school game, it is ostensibly “modular,” and it has already been lauded among many players as a return to pre-3e design sentiments.
What this really speaks to is how isolated and unsupported the D&D team is at WotC. I remember stories from 5+ years ago where any team that wasn’t Magic had to go around begging for playtesters any time they released anything. With the growth of the Magic brand, this has obviously only become more of an issue. The reason this looks like the product of a couple old dudes in a basement is because it really is.
D&D is a drop in the bucket as a brand when compared to the $200+ million that Magic brings in. (Even generous estimates had D&D bringing in about 1/20 of that revenue per year.) In a sense, I kinda feel bad for Mearls & Co. They are working on something they love, but they have the dual burden of being under corporate supervision without any sort of support from the rest of the company. Somebody gave them the goal of “reuniting the editions” after Pathfinder has eclipsed D&D, and then gave them no money or time to do it in.
I remember opening the 4E PHB and my jaw dropping – not because of the rules, but simply because of the production values inherent to that book. Full-color 3/4 page illustrations for each class and chapter. Beautifully templated, color-coded power descriptions. It was the first time I’d felt that since I opened the GURPS 4E Characters book, and the only other time I’ve been so taken was with the Mouse Guard RPG.
That was the height of branding D&D for WotC. They released one of their flagship games in full force, and it still didn’t make a tenth of what Magic does. It’s over. They’re done throwing that kind of effort into a brand full of toxic fans and endless bickering about products that won’t get sold.
I’m not saying it won’t sell, or that it won’t get played. However, I can tell you that we aren’t going to see the support for D&D that we saw for third or fourth edition. D&D is officially a legacy brand now.