How should D&D Next be published?
I’ve been thinking a little (ok, maybe more than a little) about how the finished version of D&D Next should look when it finally hits the shelves. Not about the artwork or the typography, but about the books themselves.
Should the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons follow the tried-and-tested pattern of having a Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide, or something new? Should it start small with a single starter box of just the core rules and the first few levels of the game, or try to pack all of the levels into a single weighty tome?
Should there be books at all, for that matter, or is an entirely digital solution the smart way to go?
I’m sure these are things which the nice folks at Wizards of The Coast are considering already, so thought I’d throw my hat into the ring. If I had a hat, that is. Or a ring.
One problem with the three book format (PHB, MM, DMG, or 4e Essentials equivalents) is that the balance of cost is with the DM. This increases the likelihood that Players will remain Players (after all, they’ve got all they need with the PHBs) and the DM is stuck in the lonely chair at the end of the table. Even when we’re looking at online gaming where the lonely chair is replaced with a headset and mike, players are less likely to take a turn actually running a game as they simply lack the game resources to do so. Of course, there’s nothing to stop them borrowing the DM’s DMG & MM, or buying their own, but that’s a barrier (or, at worst, an excuse) that’s stopping them from enjoying all facets of the game.
The other issue is that (in my experience) many game groups play most of their sessions at lower levels (through preference, campaign length or natural attrition of players) and rarely rise high enough to use a large proportion of the higher-level material in the books they own. Put simply, they’re not getting value from those parts of the rules material, so why have them there at all?
Dungeons & Dragons also has a heritage. It’s a game with a 30-odd year legacy, and that’s something which is important not to ignore in the presentation of the next edition of the game. It is, I feel, possible (essential, even) to reflect that even as the game moves forwards into the future. How the game is presented should reflect some of that heritage.
So. Here’s my idea.
The first book released for D&D Next should be a single hardback containing character generation, rules, encounters, monsters and an introductory mini-campaign for Levels One to Ten, and it should be called Dungeons & Dragons Red Book One. It should have a red spine and border surrounding the (awesome) front cover artwork.
This one book will provide Players and GM all they need to play the first ten levels. This means anyone in the group can step up and be the GM. The focus here is primarily on dungeon-based adventures, with the wilderness and civilization playing a secondary role in the game. There will be wilderness encounter tables and guidelines for creating adventures in the wild and in urban areas, but the focus is primarily on the dungeon crawl experience. This isn’t a cut-down introduction to the game, but the complete core rules and the supporting modules (battlemat play, etc) required to suit a variety of play styles.
The next book will be Dungeons & Dragons Blue Book One, detailing Levels Eleven to Twenty. This expands the classes and bestiary to fill this range and expands the game fully into the wilderness and urban adventuring. Additional (optional) modules introduce domain-level play with castle building and managing a part of the campaign world.
I think you can see where this is going.
Cyan (or possibly Green) Book One gives you Levels 21 to 30, expanding the domain rules, adding a mass combat module and planar travel, Black Book One has Levels 31 to 40 with world-spanning threats and finally Gold Book One sets the heroes able to challenge and even become the gods themselves.
So why not call them Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal and be done with it? And what’s all this Book One nonsense?
Ah. Colours are easy. They’re identifiable. Saying “you need the D&D Red Book to play” gives the product an identity, whereas “D&D Basic” just means you’re playing a basic version of D&D, and that implies that you’re playing a lesser or cut down version of the rules. The brand identity of the classic D&D Basic Edition became “the Red Box”, not “D&D Basic”. Use that identity, and make it something new.
The game can also expand both upward (in levels) and outward, in depth. D&D Red Book One can be followed with Red Book Two, offering new races, classes, monsters and modules (and another mini-campaign to showcase those modules) for levels 1-10. Ditto for Blue Book Two, Red Book Three, etc.
From a commercial perspective, it’s the difference between one gamer at the table buying DMG II, and everyone at the table buying Red Book Two, because it has content which should (hopefully) be of use to them all. Maximised sales = happy Wizards of The Coast, and happy gamers too.
I know we games have a love of symmetry in all things, but personally I see nothing wrong with the next edition of D&D ultimately having Red Books 1-4, Blue Books 1-3 and just one book for the rest of the series if that reflects how the game is played. The game can go in whatever direction appeals to the widest audience.
A system like this would simplify adventure presentation as well. A supplement could have an icon showing, say, a red 1 in a circle meaning you only need Red Book One to use it and it is designed for levels 1-10, or a black 3 means this adventure uses options present in Black Book Three and is suitable for levels 31-40.
The books should all be released in Kindle format too. Wizards of The Coast already has a great channel in place for their novels, so why not use it? Kindle format is widely readable on darned near any device under the sun, and any errata can be pushed through and updated immediately. It’s a win all round.
Anyhow. That’s how I would do it, for what it’s worth.
What do you think?