Editions, Revisions, and Design Goals in the 2024 D&D Rules Release

148008I’ve been watching some of the emergent coverage and subsequent reaction to the news filtering out of the D&D summit going on right now (for those of you in the future, that the week of 4/3/2024). I’ve got a few thoughts emerging based mainly on the reaction to the news and the reiterated statemetns by WotC that the 2024 rules are neither meant to be a “5.5” or a “6th edition” of Dungeons & Dragons.

Ghosts of Marketing Past

WotC intentionally named one game release as a “.5,” but there is not universally accepted standard for what IS a .5 edition of a game. In fact, from a marketing standpoint, it was actually a pretty weird thing for them to do.

Declaring it “3.5” probably contributed to the panic about compatibility, because it wasn’t just saying “we revised the same rules,” but tried to communicate that “it’s compatible, but only to a point.”

My point being, there is no naming convention that is going to easily summarize how much a revised ruleset is going to differ from a previous ruleset. There isn’t a published standard where “we’ve changed 35% of the rules-related text, so we’re required to call it a new edition.”

The best way to gauge this is also the hard way. Compare the stated goals of the design to the rules that are presented. When there is a stated design goal, it aids in the playtest process to be able to not only state preference but to measure design principle adherence.

The Archdevil is in the Details

That means sometimes you need to ask questions rather than hope a shorthand is going to communicate everything you need to know.

  • Are spells meant to work, and are they meant to work with or without conversion?
  • Are monsters meant to work, and are they meant to work with or without conversion?
  • Are subclasses meant to work, and are they meant to work with or without conversion?
  • Can you use a class, subclass, spell, or monster from the 2014 rules next to the 2024 rules without conversion, and not have places where the rules disconnect? Are the meta-assumptions too big to avoid touching “legacy” content?
  • When you convert adventures, is the biggest conversion the fact that a defined noun now has a different definition, but the overall structure of the adventure still works?
  • Is adventure design going to introduce new standardized elements that will stand in sharp contrast to adventures that were written before that standardized element?

For that last one, the best thing I can use by way of explanation is an example. Most D&D 5e adventures now don’t assume you are using XP, which means that when to do things expected by the adventure, you’ll be the “right level.”
That means you won’t be doing the CRPG tactic of “I’m going to do all of the sidequests I can find so that I’m over-leveled for the boss fight.”

If the new edition is going to have different assumptions about XP, that might affect adventures more than it would seem on the surface.

Another example is that AL adventures have a different assumption than the core adventures, in that they present a level range and average party level. Is something like that going to be standard, because again, that would affect existing adventures.

Why Ask Why?

Anyway, this is a long, long digression that basically filters down to the fact that no naming convention to the release of a rule is going to satisfactorily answer questions, and one naming convention used once has kind of deformed our expectations revisions and editions.

I also think it IS important to know if a company considers something a new edition or not, IF you can get them to put that consideration into context (i.e. compatibility, degree of design adherence to the previous edition).

Emergent Questions

One thing I didn’t know that I wanted someone at the summit to ask until I started seeing how people are receiving information is “how much are you willing to change in the playtest based on feedback” and “do you have somethings you have decided are “done deals” in the redesign.

People seem to be leaning heavily toward assuming that the changes set, and there might be some tweaks, but the course is set, and that may be the case, but is anyone willing to say, for example, that they absolutely won’t be reversing standardized subclasses, just as an example.

Now I’m going to go back to randomly speculating based on information that hasn’t been thoroughly summarized.